intimacy with God in a brutal world

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Psalm 91:1-4

If you read Psalm 91 in its entirety, you can’t avoid the reality it’s describing: a brutal world. There’s no two ways of getting around it.

But even in the midst of that God not only wants to protect us, but be intimately close to us. God will take care of us, and help us flourish, even through the worst this life can bring.

But we have to hold on to this promise, and act on it. In spite of ourselves, sometimes God will break through in love. But this needs to be an ongoing daily practice, so that we experience more and more God’s protection and intimacy in a brutal world. In and through Jesus.

God as our shepherd in Jesus

A psalm of David.

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

The Bible aptly uses sheep as a representation of people. We are so easily lost, and in Biblical terms that means lost from God’s good intentions, easily wandering off, and getting ourselves in trouble. And sheep often are hurting as a result.

Scripture’s answer is to point us to God as our shepherd in Jesus, who is called the good shepherd who protects the flock, having laid down his life for them. And gives them life to the full (John 10).

I know I need the good shepherd, who cares for each individual sheep along with the flock. We like sheep are meant to be together in this goodness. Even as we long for everyone else to join us under the Lord’s care. In and through Jesus.

 

the good’s shepherd’s presence in the midst of danger (or threatening circumstances)

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.

Psalm 23:4

We live in a time of upheaval when people for one reason or another feel threatened. And there’s no seclusion or real safety from the dangers of this world. Darkness threatens us in one way or another, the absence of light.

What is likely pictured here is evil in terms of life threatening enemies (see Psalm 23:5). The rod and the staff comforting the sheep with the awareness that the shepherd is present to protect them (see NET Bible footnotes).

Maybe we’re not faced with actual life threatening enemies. Darkness can still overtake us for many reasons. As Christians we know we’re up “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-20). What is called “the dark night of the soul,” is a part of life. And there can be struggles with mental illness which from what I’ve read can be a choking deep darkness.

Whatever darkness or lack of light we face, we can know by faith and be assured that the good shepherd is present with us. That our experience is not what’s definitive, but God’s promise to us in Jesus. That God in Christ experienced the deepest darkness to help us through our dark places and bring us into his wondrous light.

Life and certain seasons of life can seem threatening, certainly not for the faint of heart. But our dependence is not to be on ourselves and what courage we might be able to muster. But on God, who promises to see us through everything, whatever it is. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

the good shepherd guides us along the right paths

He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:3b

Do we think the good shepherd, the Lord guides us, or do we think we’re more or less on our own, in need of the shepherd only when we’re in trouble? Of course we would answer the former, yes, we believe the shepherd guides us always, or that we need his guidance always. And yet do we really act like it? It seems to me that by and large we operate more in the latter, we cry out for help when we’ve messed up or are lost. We pay lip service to the idea that we need the Lord’s guidance always, but we really rely on ourselves, maybe asking for some wisdom from God along the way, which is good and a start, but not enough.

Instead we need to seek to be guided by the Lord throughout the entire day, even every moment. I don’t think the Lord deletes our inclinations, but rather changes them over time. It’s hard to break away from inclinations which may not be all that helpful. For example we might spend too much time on social media, or checking out the news, sports, entertainment, politics, whatever. It’s easy to get lost in any number of things.

The paths of righteousness is the traditional rendering, but along the right paths for our good and for God’s reputation is probably more the thought here (see NET Bible footnote). Certainly learning to do righteousness is part of it. But along the right paths includes much else, such as keeping us away from what would be harmful to us, and close to the shepherd, hopefully along with other sheep.

So each day we need to ask the Lord to keep us on the right path. We are moving, life changes along the way, new challenges, new opportunities. So it’s not like we know, having been there, done that. Age with wisdom can help one know what and what not to do more and more as one gets older. But a huge part of that is to remain dependent on and close to the good shepherd. To depend on God in Jesus to guide us in ways to help us know God’s goodness in all of life.

 

lack nothing?

A psalm of David.

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

In the topsy-turvy existence in which we live, we hardly ever see ourselves not in need of something. Or what the world tells us we need through advertising, or even what the state requires by law. On top of that, we have our own expectations for ourselves, our wishes, even dreams.

Then there’s this psalm telling us that with the Lord as our shepherd, we indeed lack nothing. Of course to know what the psalm means, we have to read on. Lacking nothing is described in terms of God’s provision and protection. So it’s beyond just feeling alright. There are actual reasons given as to why the psalmist, said to be David in the inscription, lacks nothing. It is in terms of having all we need, but still there’s a sense of abundance. Not “the good life” the world projects, but more like the abundant or full life the Lord promises (John 10). Again, we have to read the entire psalm to understand just what the psalmist means when they say that with the Lord being their shepherd, they lack nothing.

So we have to find and learn to dwell in the abundant, overflowing life for us in Christ (John 10). Spelled out for us here in Psalm 23 in real, down-to-earth terms for life in the topsy-turvy existence in which we live. In and through Jesus.

 

the Lord is my shepherd

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Psalm 23:1

Yesterday for a time I was simply quoting to myself, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Sometimes it’s good to just stay on one thought so that hopefully it can sink in. It needs to be put in context for sure, but it needs to be held, as well.

“I lack nothing” along with the rest of this great, well known psalm is helpful. But we might want to jump to that without sufficiently appreciating the simple thought that God is our shepherd. The rest of the psalm does flesh out what that means, but still it’s good just to rest on one thought for a time. Again, to let it sink in, and with fresh applications for one’s life in a way which actually helps one know in experience the Lord’s shepherding.

I believe in the church, and I know being in this together in Jesus is at the heart of what our faith is all about. But we are also individuals on our separate, unique journeys. This psalm is for each of us as individuals. And to get back to the main point, the thought that the Lord is our shepherd, we need to just sit back with that for awhile. Let its truth and light expose our error and penetrate our darkness. In and through Jesus.

leaving (instead of living) the lie

Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers
who rule this people in Jerusalem.
You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death,
with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement.
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
it cannot touch us,
for we have made a lie our refuge
and falsehood our hiding place.”

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.
I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the plumb line;
hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie,
and water will overflow your hiding place.
Your covenant with death will be annulled;
your agreement with the realm of the dead will not stand.
When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
you will be beaten down by it.
As often as it comes it will carry you away;
morning after morning, by day and by night,
it will sweep through.”

Isaiah 28:14-19

I think it’s far more common than we imagine, just how we live in lies. And I’m thinking of Christians, too. Specifically I’m thinking of myself, included. Part of what got me thinking this way were two posts quoting Dallas Willard who says it quite eloquently in the details spelled out in Scripture (here and here).

We live lies in a multitude of ways. Essentially living in the truth is “truth in Jesus” and an important aspect of that is living in the Father’s care, so that we’re free to seek his kingdom and righteousness, not encumbered with any of the cares common to humanity, or part of our culture. That is so much more easier said than done.

When one is weighed down, maybe nearly stricken with panic, that’s a sure sign one is not living in the Father’s provision, or as it’s been called, his providential care. We’re failing to trust in God, at least not to the extent needed. We need to take our hands off so to speak, and through prayer, find our way into that peace that frees us up to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

Patterns in our lives will have to be broken, and that can be hard. It will require effort by us, but an effort essentially to let go, and let God take over. We need to find his peace. Part of this is not just to be freed up to put first things first, but with the prior commitment to that.

As the text above tells us, life simply doesn’t work well when we make a lie our refuge. And God won’t let it work well for those who name his name, who profess faith in him.

This is something we need to strive to enter and remain, come what may. God has us, as we seek first of all to live in his care and love and will. Part and parcel of being followers of Jesus in and through him.

 

at home in and through Jesus

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Psalm 91:1

Psalm 91 is one of those striking psalms, picturesque, and easy to remember (especially in the old King James). What hits me about the promise here is how we’re simply to live (other versions) or dwell in the shelter of God. And in so doing find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Yesterday I was in the yard sawing and cutting off some branches and limbs of the two trees we planted in our front yard. It was a hot day, high noon. And while enjoying the sun, which is not a given where we live (we have many cloudy days), I certainly appreciated the shade. Certainly for relief, as well as protection from its damaging rays.

Here we have God’s promise of his presence to protect us as a shadow. In other words, God being near. Our responsibility is simply to dwell in that shelter, and so find rest.

One of my favorite memories of the past was visiting and spending a weekend at Saint Augustine’s House, a monastery. It is symbolic of God’s house where God is especially resident through the symbols in place, which depict realities. And actually God is present wherever his people are. Wherever two or more are gathered in his name. We are God’s temple, both individually, and together.

But the key for us is to live out what we are. And that begins by simply living or dwelling consciously, or deliberately in that existence. In faith, simply trusting in God. At home in and through Jesus.

 

peace of mind and heart

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Usually when I turn to this passage, which naturally I know quite well by now, it’s when I’m already lost in anxiety or worry over something. And that’s quite alright and good. We need to go to such promises as this when we’re struggling, or not doing well. But what if we could apply this passage in such a way as to simply avoid worry and anxiety altogether? Or more realistically keep growing toward that ideal, so that any lapse would be short lived, and increasingly rare.

Easier said than done. But words are where we start. And the Word (John 1). Scripture which points us to Christ and the gospel. But the importance of the specifics in scripture should not be minimized.

Trying to apply the passage above means that whenever something happens which might cause anxiety, immediately we bring it to God in prayer with thanksgiving. Praying as best we can, but looking to God for the answer. And more importantly, simply resting in God, or more precisely, as it says, in God’s peace, which surpasses and transcends, or is greater than our understanding, or all understanding, for that matter. To have our hearts and minds guarded in Christ Jesus is what more and more should be the norm for us. But we have to keep bringing the concerns that come our way to God in prayer. And in a sense we can say, leave them there. In and through Jesus.

God’s safe keeping

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4:8

How can we feel safe in a dangerous world? The simplest answer, and maybe simplistic to many is only in God’s safe keeping. We see this at the end of Psalm 4, quoted above.

Reality is that God’s people suffer the same things as anyone else. And when you consider persecution, and even martyrdom, God’s people can suffer more. But even in this life we have the promise of God’s protection, not just in this psalm, but in others, as well (Psalm 91; Psalm 121).

Jesus assures us that the Father who cares even about the sparrow, cares about us all the more. That we can rest assured in him, and not worry about a single matter, even though each day will have its share of trouble (Matthew 6).

We can be completely at rest in God’s safe keeping, in his protective care. But that doesn’t mean that we’re assured of another day. Or that we will necessarily escape the dangers of living in a fallen, broken world. And that we won’t face more danger as God’s people. God does protect us in many ways, at times surely using his angels, or in whatever way God chooses. But sometimes that kind of protection is withdrawn. We can be sure that even then God will be with us with a protection that’s even greater, surrounding us with his presence. And ultimately, at our last breath, ushering us into his heavenly kingdom.

In the meantime, we trust for God’s protection now. While trying to live wisely. Yet ultimately knowing that God alone keeps us safe. In and through Jesus.