When it comes to what we think of God and how close or far He is, I think we too often think of Him as “out there” somewhere. We aren’t sure where, but He often feels further away than close by. This has an enormous effect on our prayer life.
Over and over throughout Scripture, we are told that God is close. That God never leaves us. That God watches over us. That God cares for us.
That God is close.
Psalm 23 is a great example of this.
Often seen as a psalm for funerals or dying, it is a psalm about living. Life is hard. Life hurts. Life is often more down than up, and David tells us from his experience how to experience God in the depths of darkness as well as the heights of celebration.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
David describes an incredibly close God.
A shepherd is with his sheep. He is not off somewhere else but is with them. He knows them. He knows if they are sick, eating well, eating too little, if they are young or old.
A shepherd knows what the sheep need so that they do not live in want.
A shepherd leads and the sheep follow. The sheep do not arrive anywhere the shepherd does not want them to.
When the shepherd leads, the sheep find food, water and rest. In the shepherd is found life and rest. Many of us find ourselves tired, rundown, barely hanging on instead of living, and yet God invites us to follow Him to rest and life.
David tells us in verse 3 that God restores us. God picks us up. God cleans us off. For the person who feels unloved, who feels dirty, abandoned, not worth anything, this verse is a beautiful picture of God’s grace towards us.
Why does God do this?
To get our lives on the right paths, His paths.
As if that weren’t enough, God does not leave us. God walks with us.
We walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
We don’t stay there. We don’t walk into it, we walk through it. With God. Through the power of God.
There is an ebb and flow to prayer and the Christian life. David starts with comfort and God’s provision, things that help us see the character of God as we walk in new ways of His grace. That grace is just as real, and that grace is the same when we walk through the dark valleys. For many of us, we need the grace of the first few verses to believe the grace that God has for us when the storms roll in.
The rod and staff of a shepherd were used for protection of the sheep, warding off predators, but they were also used to keep the sheep together, in line and to discipline the sheep if necessary. In all this, God’s protection and discipline are a comfort.
How can David say this?
Because they keep me on the path that God has for me. They get me to where God wants me.
David ends with a powerful statement: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
If we don’t understand David’s life, we miss the power of this statement. For David, life was not good. Many times King Saul tried to kill him. The whole Philistine army (the most powerful army of the day) chased him to kill him. They killed his best friend, Jonathan. He lost a baby with Bathsheba. His favorite son Absalom stole his throne, and David was overthrown and had to flee for his life. Then Absalom was killed. For David, life was hard, painful, difficult and full of loss.
Yet because God was close, because God walked with him, he was able to face life and pray to his God.
Here’s my challenge for you this week. Use Psalm 23 as a prayer guide:
- Simply read through the Psalm several times in one sitting.
- Whatever word or phrase that jumps out to you, ask God why that stood out. Is there something happening in your life that God wants you to think about or draw your attention to? Is there something about yourself or God that the Holy Spirit wants to make you aware of?
- Throughout your day (when you’re standing in line, waiting for a meeting, etc.), ask God to remind you of His closeness to you.