2020 started fast and furious with one crisis following another. Devastating fires throughout Australia. A series of earthquakes in Puerto Rico. Potential war with Iran. Continuing Impeachment drama in our country. The United Methodist Church I love and serve is likely splitting into two denominations over LGBTQ+ issues. In addition, my community and people in the churches I serve experienced serious illness, emotional difficulties and heartache. It’s enough to ruin anyone’s attitude.
Can the Bible provide answers? Do you remember Psalm 23? You’ve likely heard these comforting words written by King David when he was a struggling shepherd.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
God is our shepherd and he is continually looking after us… the sheep. He leads us to still waters where we can safely drink. He restores our soul. He leads us in the paths of righteousness. Even when we walk through the troubles and the crisis, the valley of the shadow of death, we should not fear for You are with us guiding and comforting us with your rod of protection and staff of loving discipline.
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”
I struggled to understand this part: David seems to be talking about food which doesn’t make sense in a Psalm about sheep and shepherds. Then I discovered something. David could actually be writing about snakes. Did you say snakes? Yes, snakes!
In mountainous regions, a “table” describes a flat section of land within slopes. Before entering a new “table,” a shepherd inspects the ground for holes which are potential hiding places for poisonous brown snakes. Then he “prepares the table” by pouring thick oil in each hole. Next, the shepherd “anoints” the sheep’s nose and mouth with the same oil making the surface too slippery to bite.
Good shepherds who lovingly care for their sheep do that!
When facing snakes or crisis, God, our loving shepherd, inspects the “tables” before us, providing safety plus when a crisis does appear, we are anointed with God’s oil of comfort and grace.
How can we turn to God when we are overwhelmed? I asked this question on Facebook and then added: “How has God provided help or comfort?” In hours I received lots of responses. Here are a few:
- I have been healed. I sing to the glory of God!
- God has blessed me with a 40 year plus ministry!
- I am able to make it through the struggles in my life.
- I was able to face adversity with strength.
- I have truly learned how to forgive.
- Quit smoking. Got a job. Started college.
Then I received this letter written by someone whose wife has cancer: “There are never two days the same. We go through periods of intense pain that has been kept under control. Swelling up, swelling less, blood pressure sky high, blood pressure lower. More pills than I can count. Appetite has come and gone, come back again. And then there is sleep. Some days she is up before me, others not. One day there is a few hours of activity, usually followed by two or so days of mostly sleep.”
On the surface the writer doesn’t offer much hope or comfort. But read on…
“Through all of this, her sense of humor and unlimited optimism are always there and keeps everyone who comes in contact with her going. She is getting weaker but when she’s got her energy, she wants to keep busy, even if only for a short time. Thank God for a great family and great friends and the support from Hospice. They are always there with encouragement, love, and friendship.”
“How she does all this and keeps us smiling? I’ll never know. What I do know, though, is that she is a strong woman with a deep and abiding faith in God. I also know that I am one lucky man.”
How do we turn to God when we are facing crisis?
The challenge is to trust in the Good Shepherd to guide you and comfort you through the valley of the shadow of death and to remember and cling to the final promise of Psalm 23: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”