Green pastures, still waters, and God’s refreshing initiatives of love – Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever. – Psalm 23

IMG_E9915This morning’s post is some thinking out loud I am doing in preparation for – and in support of – my Sunday morning lesson on Psalm 23. I am fortunate in that I already discussed this passage with a group of insightful and faithful disciples at my Saturday morning men’s group.

It is a remarkable scripture. Interestingly, Psalm 23 is probably less understood and more under-appreciated exactly because of its familiarity. “Oh, Psalm Twenty-three,” we tend to think, “I already know what that’s all about.” So we remain stuck in our half-forgotten childhood understanding, or some clichéd or throwaway interpretation we picked up years ago when we likely weren’t paying quite so much attention.

Regardless of how good the lesson was when we first heard it, that was then and this is now; God’s word is fresh and vital, up to date and current every day. Surely there is something new for us this time?

Here is a paraphrase that speaks to how this psalm, three thousand years old, is moving in my mind and my spirit right now:

The Lord God is my shepherd, I couldn’t ask for any more than his generous love provides.
     My Creator invites me to rest in the green pastures of his grace,
His Way brings me alongside peaceful waters,
     leaving me refreshed and satisfied.
God’s guidance steers me on the right path,
    a living testimony affirming the story of his good name.
 Sometimes the way is unclear and 
    darkness pushes in on me,
But I am not afraid,
    because it is God who holds me steady;
your guidance and your encouragement,
    work together to give me peace.

   You invite me to a banquet, a celebration of your goodness and love, and I can see that my enemies are welcome too!
I rest confidently in your love; you offer an anointing that honors me; I can hardly handle your generosity.
 There is no doubt that goodness and love have the upper hand, and will continue
every day of my life,
and my place is secure, living in God’s house both
now and forever.

The Saturday morning crew ended up talking a lot about the way God restores us, leaving us refreshed and whole.

But restoration is often a difficult, demanding, and messy process. Sometimes restoration requires surgery, uncovering what is broken, and dealing with the rot before we can move forward with confidence and with healing.

Fact is, being refreshed by God can involve a lot more than relaxing by the water’s edge, sipping a lemonade, and watching the other sheep graze in the pasture.

My enemies are welcome too!

Then we talked about, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

“Lately I have started to think of this as sitting down together,” I said. “Not some ‘in your face!’ gesture to show those other guys who is in and who is out. In my understanding God is inviting all of us to the table. God loves me, God is greater than anything and everything that keeps me out of fellowship with other people, God loves my enemies too…”

Is that a novel idea to you? Do you believe God’s promises are about favoring us (you know, the good guys…) over others… or are God’s initiatives of grace about inviting us all to the table of his love and goodness?

This is how I am reading the psalms today, and I have a firm conviction that God’s purpose in preparing a table is better understood as a commitment to teaching me love, and grace, and mercy, and generosity.

I will be interested to see how our conversation goes in my Sunday morning class. It is always a beautiful privilege to talk about God’s good word with a bunch of honest, open-spirited disciples.

Peace to you all. And may you sit down at the table with both your friends and your enemies and – together – enjoy the table God is preparing for you.




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