Protected by Perfect Violence

Protected by Perfect Violence

By Erin Bird

Let’s jump back into our series on Psalm 23.

Last week, we looked at the first part of verse 4 which says:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.”
(Psalm 23:4 ESV)

Since we stopped at the phrase “for you are with me,” let’s pick things back up with the last two lines.

Weapons of Mass Comfort
A wise shepherd would almost always have had a rod and/or staff with him while out in the fields with his flock. While I suspect a shepherd would have used his staff as a walking stick, that wasn’t its primary purpose. One purpose for these tools was to get a particularly stubborn sheep to move. But another major purpose for these pieces of wood were as weapons to fend off predators.

If you are into hunting or martial arts, the idea of weapons probably doesn’t bother you. In fact, they might excite you! But let me remind you, these weapons are in the hands of the shepherd, not the sheep. In other words, these weapons are for your Shepherd to wield, not you.

But perhaps you are on the other side of the spectrum and are uncomfortable around guns or knives. You turn the channel when an MMA fight appears on your TV screen. So to hear that God wields weapons makes you uncomfortable. You aren’t alone. Many people in our culture don’t like to think about God’s wrath.

But imagine a mother watching a strange man walk up to her child and swing his arm back as though to smack the toddler. Would you expect the mom to passively observe this abuser hurting her child? Or would you expect “mama bear” to jump into action?

Like a mother toward her child, God the Good Shepherd passionately and fiercely loves his sheep. So when the lions of life come to attack, God the Protector jumps into action, using His “rod and staff” to protect the sheep.

So when a lamb looks up at the Shepherd and sees weapons in His hands, the sheep doesn’t quake in fear and run away. Rather, it takes great comfort, knowing that if a predator comes his way, it will be run off by the rod and staff of his Shepherd.

When God Doesn’t Act
Now, let me acknowledge there is great evil in our world. There are monsters who sexually prey upon children. There are liars who cheat people out of their hard-earned money. There are people who cruelly discriminate because of skin color, education level, gender, or more. Because of sin, horrible acts have been committed against other humans. If you have had horrendous evil done to you, I am truly sorry.

But just because great harm may have been done to you emotionally, physically, or spiritually, doesn’t mean God was absent, unaware, or too slow. Just because the wolf got in a swipe on the sheep doesn’t mean the shepherd was away running an errand or just didn’t care. Most likely, the shepherd was yelling at the wolf and on his way before the sheep ever realized what was happening. Just look at the life of King David.

If you are unfamiliar with David’s story (the guy who wrote Psalm 23), you need to know that at one time in his life, he had a tyrannical king named Saul trying to take his life. Saul knew God had chosen David to replace him, so Saul sought to stop God’s plan and kill David himself. In his fear and running, David cried out to God like you and I would, yelling “God, where are you?!” (See the previous psalm, Psalm 22, for an example.)

And yet, David knew that even when facing evil on this earth, his God was still a Good Shepherd. He trusted that in the ultimate end, justice would be served by God. And that hope brought David comfort.

If you have been hurt or abused or shunned, I am SO sorry for what you have faced. But may you take comfort in the knowledge that God isn’t done. His “rod and staff” will bring ultimate justice and protection, whether in this life or the next. May you trust your Shepherd and know that his fierce love for you has already brought wrath against the sin of our world through the cross and will be completed at the end of all things. May you take comfort in the perfect violence of God.

No Fear in God’s Presence

No Fear

By Erin Bird

Let’s continue on with our series on Psalm 23. This week, we come to verse 4, which says:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Let’s look at the first half of this verse this week. (We’ll cover the last part next week.)

Far From Green Pastures
Two weeks ago, we looked at verse 2, which talked about green pastures and quiet waters. If I were a lamb, I’m sure green pastures and quiet waters would seem like heaven. For many of us, “heaven” is a hike in the mountains, or sitting in a boat out on calm waters, or soaking in a sunset with a loved one, or reading a book at the beach, or watching a favorite movie cuddled on the couch. Heaven is peaceful, joy-filled, and restorative.

But hikes end, storms come, and sunsets fade to black. This is what I think David is getting at when he says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” He realizes life isn’t just green pastures. He is acknowledging the truth that sometimes life is hard – so hard it feels like you are on the verge of death, walking in its shadow.

And yet, did you notice in verse 4, David has the same sense of peace that he had back in verse 2? He seems content even when walking through “death valley.” How can he have no fear when his “heaven” has been snatched away and his life is threatened?

No Fear in God’s Presence
The middle part of verse 4 tells us: “for you are with me.” King David knew theologically that His Good Shepherd is an omnipresent God, everywhere at all times, which means even in his scariest moments, God was with David.

But it wasn’t just God’s presence that gave David no fear. It was the knowledge of Who God is and what God could do that gave him peace.

You have to remember that David spent time as a shepherd himself before ascending to the throne of Israel. Part of his job as a shepherd had been to keep the flock safe. In 1 Samuel 17, David tells King Saul that as a teenager, he had already fought lions and bears who tried to take a sheep from him. So David knew that no matter what “lions” came into his life, God could protect him. And that knowledge gave him peace.

May you know God as David did, that when life’s lions try to attack you, whether a lost job, or a health crisis, or a relational struggle, or even spiritual doubts, try to drag you into the valley of the shadow of death, your Shepherd is with you and able to protect you, provide for you, and rescue you. May the presence and power of God help you to lead a life without fear, knowing the peace that surpasses understanding.

Content with the Shepherd

By Erin Bird

After spending the first three weeks in verse 1 of our series on Psalm 23, we are going to spend this week on verse 2, which says,

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.”

How to be a Content Lamb

I don’t know about you, but when someone offers me ice cream, it’s difficult to turn the offer down. Sure, I may have already had some ice cream that day, and my expanding waistline indicates I should pass, but one can always go for more, right?

Perhaps your weakness isn’t ice cream, but you most likely have something in your life you desire to consume all day. It could be your phone, YouTube, Pinterest, Diet Coke, chocolate, or just about anything. Well, the “weakness” of a sheep is grass and water. Just as I wish I could eat ice cream every day, sheep graze all day on grass, and when given the opportunity, they’ll drink their fill of water.

But notice David the Lamb in Psalm 23. David says his Shepherd makes him lie down in green pastures. (The Hebrew actually says “lush” pastures.) Normally, a sheep would eat the grass in a lush pasture. But not David.

Sheep walking on a grassy hill near a mountain lakeLikewise, David said his Shepherd leads him beside still waters. Normally, a lamb would pause to drink from the cool pond waters. But not David.

Why isn’t David “the Sheep” eating and drinking when given the opportunity? Because his contentment isn’t found in the grass and water. His contentment is found in his Shepherd.

Remember last week in verse 1, David said, “I shall not want.” We saw the reason he didn’t “want” was because his Shepherd was enough. That’s why, as a “lamb,” David doesn’t need to eat the grass and drink the water. He is so content in his Shepherd, knowing that his Good Shepherd will continue to take care of him, that he can rest in the grass and enjoy the view of the water.

Too often, I act like a needy lamb, constantly looking for more grass and water. But what would it look like if you and I actually looked to Jesus the Good Shepherd, finding our joy and serenity in Him rather the things of this earth? We might look more like a lamb happily resting in the pasture than a fearful lamb scrambling to eat as much as possible before we head back to the pen.

Can you trust Jesus? I encourage you to daily (and even “momently”) express your trust in God in prayer, declaring that He is enough. Remind yourself that true rest is found in Jesus, and not in your movies, or the games on your iPhone, or a higher income, or more ice cream. After all, if a hungry needy sheep can be that content in his shepherd, I want to be that content in Jesus.

I Shall Not Want

By Erin Bird

Let’s continue the series we started two weeks ago on the most famous Psalm in the Bible – Psalm 23.  This week, I want to look at the second half of verse 1: “I shall not want.”When I look at this phrase all by its lonesome, stripped out of its biblical context, I see it as a lie. Because my inner child wants lots of things!

  • I want good food,
  • I want love,
  • I want comfort,
  • I want to watch Netflix,
  • I want a new “toy,”
  • I want to read a book,
  • I want honey in my tea,
  • I want to be warm,
  • I want respect,
  • I want, I want, I want…

Humans are VERY selfish creatures. Whether it’s due to an addiction, or loneliness, or envy, or pain, we internally “want” on a regular basis. Even the most un-narcissistic person in the world has moments when he or she “wants” something, even if just for another person.

So what’s up with King David? How in the world does he say, “I shall not want?”

I Shall Want… Jesus

lamb enjoying the sunshineTo understand David, put the phrase back in context. In the past two weeks, we looked at the phrase “The Lord is my Shepherd.” If you are a Jesus-follower, then Christ is to be your life’s guide, your inner leader, your object of worship. Just as a sheep finds its comfort and protection in the presence of its shepherd, we are to find our identity and safety within the person of Jesus and His gospel.

And when Jesus is your source of joy, comfort, and contentment, you can truly say “I shall not want.” Or another way to say it: “Jesus, you are enough.”

  • So when you are struggling with an addiction, pray “Jesus, you are enough.”
  • When you are lonely because you aren’t married, cry out “God, you are my shepherd. I shall not want.”
  • When you are worried about how to pay for that car repair, remind yourself, “Jesus, you are enough.”
  • When you are stressed about a project at school, take a deep breath, and exhale “Jesus, I shall not want.”

Please note:

  • Praying or reminding yourself “I shall not want” is not a magic formula. It is simply a reminder that Jesus is your shepherd, and in Him, you can find true contentment.
  • Also, praying these words once won’t cure your emotional malady. This is a moment-by-moment prayer that reminds you to return emotionally, mentally, and spiritually to your loving Good Shepherd again and again and again.

So today, whenever you find yourself wanting things that you know will not draw your heart to Jesus, simply say a breath prayer of “Jesus, You are enough. I shall not want.”

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