4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
they protect me.
5 You set a table for me
right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
my cup is so full it spills over!
6 Yes, goodness and faithful love
will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the Lord’s house
as long as I live.
We sometimes read Psalm 23:1-3 (“grassy meadows,” “restful waters”) as if it described a luxury vacation. But grass and meadows are the basic stuff of survival sheep need! Scholar John Goldingay wrote, “In the second half of the psalm, literal reality pokes through. The psalm is encouraging us to declare our trust that we can face being threatened by the human equivalent of bears, rattlesnakes, and cougars (compare the bulls, steers, lions, and dogs of Psalm 22), because God protects us with his club like a shepherd protecting his sheep.” *
O God, I’d like a sunny, easy life, with no dark, dangerous valleys in it. And you never promise me that—but you pledge to be with me at even the darkest moments. When the darkness deepens, teach me how to hold more tightly to your hand. Amen.
* John Goldingay, Psalms for Everyone, Part 1: Psalms 1–72. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, p. 76.
I didn’t notice the last words of the 23rd Psalm until this week. I have always thought of the 23rd Psalm as a funeral reading. And it is often shared at Jewish and Christian funerals. But this week, I read it as a poem for the living. GPS writer Darrell Holtz asked a question that helped me see a phrase I had not noticed before.
“Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.” (Psalm 23:6)
The “Yes” indicates to me that the Psalmist has just come to believe the words that follow. As if to say, “Eureka, I just discovered this treasure!” And the treasure is that “goodness and faithful love” are pursuing us every day!
Different translations use various wordings for this verse in the psalm. Your Bible may read that “goodness and mercy shall follow me” or “goodness and love will follow me.” All versions give us the idea that good things are coming toward us.
I was teaching a class yesterday called “Be Still and Know.” We discussed how quiet time with God can be difficult because painful things can come up, pain from the past, unanswered prayers, and worries about the future. When this happens, sometimes we find ourselves running toward distraction. For me, this looks like scrolling through my phone and looking at other people’s lives rather than facing my own.
I shared with the class that I think we have a default setting of fight or flight when prayer and meditation get difficult. We either fight, which is to dive into the painful thought and try to solve it, defend it, rehash it, or tell God what needs to happen. Or we flee, which is to run away from sitting with God in the pain, by seeking a distraction.
What if we stop fleeing and fighting in our prayer time, and just pause to quietly look around? Goodness, love, and mercy are pursuing us. We don’t have to work so hard at finding it. We can be still and know what we seek is within our reach. It is available “all the days.” The treasure we seek is already ours. The Psalmist said “yes” to God’s goodness, mercy, and love. You and I can do that too!
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