Our pastor did a sermon on Psalm 23 a few weeks ago and he said something that I’ve been really turning over in my mind ever since.
“The hallmark of the human race is that we prepare a table for ourselves.”
There is truth in that comment, more than I’d like to admit, but even more than truth there is a valuable lesson.
Psalm 23 is familiar–especially if you grew up in church. So familiar you may even take it for granted, roll your eyes a little and say ‘oh that one. Its for little kids to say in Sunday school or at bed time. It’s not for me. I’m learning about Levitical law now because I’m a grown up.”
I have nothing against Levitical law, but there is definitely more to Psalm 23 than a bedtime prayer. Like when you grow up and realize “Ring Around the Rosies” is actually about Bubonic Plague. There is MORE to it. Words are Powerful, so God’s WORD will ALWAYS have something more to say.
And here is where my insight begins.
Psalm 23 has awesome verbage.
He MAKES me…
He LEADS me…
He REFRESHES my…
He GUIDES me…
I am not meant to do the hard work here. The only action verb really attribute to me is “walk”, “not fear” and “dwell”–far less controlling than the action on the part of the Lord.
We want so badly to be in control of our own lives. To what end? For comfort? For protection?
How ironic. We want control for the same things relinquishing control to God will give us.
And if you think about it. I mean truly think about it. Who is better equipped to prepare a table before your enemies anyway? The creator of the universe…or you?
They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. – Psalm 19:3-4
I love the word yet. It’s such a little word and YET it contains such power. It turns a sentence on its head and a person’s thoughts around in a single moment. And that moment can be either beautiful or terrifying. In this case, I find yet to contain hope.
Even though you can’t hear it, doesn’t mean it isn’t speaking to you. A flower, a mountain, a stream–all these have voices. They speak in different ways. A wheelbarrow. A balloon. A baby. It’s probably why I’ve always admired those who can’t hear. They communicate on levels that are sometimes more profound than we can with simple words alone.
Don’t get me wrong. I love words, but there is so. Much. More. And people often forget just how much more and so they think God doesn’t speak to them because they can’t HEAR him.
YET just because He doesn’t use words doesn’t mean he doesn’t speak…His voice travels to our hearts, minds and spirits of we can just be open long enough to hear it. Most of the time it isn’t that He has stopped speaking, but that we don’t listen or hear what is right in front of us.
It reminds me a lot of teaching the Imagist movement to my students. William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound said so much with so little, but students will say every time ‘what if he didn’t mean anything by this? What if it really is just a red wheelbarrow and teachers just you know add all that other stuff to make it complicated?’ What if indeed, but you miss the point little grasshoppers. It’s not about teachers adding stuff, but about what’s already there. The voice that you can’t hear is every bit as important as the one you do. It speaks, if you’ll just listen.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matt 26:41)
Sometimes the world worries me. I read the news, I listen to political debates, and I shudder to think what will happen next. What could happen next? How far can we really fall as a nation? As a people?
And then I read something like Psalm 9. Verse 15 states that the nations fall into the pit they have dug. And sure enough, many of the problems in our world are a direct result of problems we created ourselves. We fall into the pit of our own iniquities. Instead of trying to right a wrong, we try to look out for the bottom line, or material productiveness. We don’t ask how can I make things better, we ask how can I profit from this. It is a direct result of this narcissism that has led to an unraveling of our egotistical minds.
When the psalmist declares in the end ‘strike them with terror, Lord; let the nations know they are only mortal’. I close my eyes and breathe deep. That is a terrible price the nations must pay to learn that we are not gods, but a part of the creation. And every time an earthquake, tsunami, or other natural disaster occurs striking down millions, we are reminded of our mortality–not that it is God striking fear into the world, but it is a stark reminder that we do not control everything ergo we should stop pretending that we can or even that we should.
A healthy respect for the world, for God and for each other is the only way we will ever really achieve any kind of peace on earth. And unfortunately, many are unwilling to do even one of these three things, let alone all three.
Questions to ponder:
1) Do I have a healthy respect for the world, its guidelines and rules and my role in it?
2) Do I give thanks to God regularly for his presence, wisdom, guidance, and protection in the world?
3) Do I have a healthy respect for ALL people in the world and their roles in it?
This is a plea and it makes me think of echos– calling out and hearing your own voice echoing back against the cavernous walls that surround you, or worse, hearing the mocking voice of an enemy and how that pit in your stomach grows as the sense of abandonment and loss grows with it.
Where are you God?
And instead of that peace, knowing God is there…the enemy creeps in and answers. You fool. He mocks. God isn’t there. Why would he be there for you when you rarely make time for him? He’s left you. Abandoned you. He doesn’t have time for you and your insignificant life. Those words echo in your mind as the the enemy builds the foundation of his stronghold on your heart–a lie forged in that shadow of doubt that God has left you and isn’t there when you need him. That echo in the dark cave.
You are alone.
You have to do this alone.
It is up to you alone.
Alone, alone, alone.
That echo, that deception is wrong. It is a lie and it can be destroyed. Verse 3 rips it down with–KNOW THAT THE LORD SET APART THE GODLY FOR HIMSELF AND WILL HEAR WHEN I CALL TO HIM.
God hears. Always. And if he hears, he is there. Always. He never promised a life of peace or free from trials or that we will even be given a ‘fair lot’. But he does promise his comfort, his joy and his peace.
The psalmist is wise. He knows what this abandonment can lead to, which I believe is why verse 4 urges action against sinning in anger. When the world seems to have turned on us, we often rebel against the world, but Jesus told us to love the world. To love those who hate us, just as he did. He died for those who killed him. It’s easy to love our friends and family–but to love the haters?
Taylor Swift was right, haters are always gonna hate, but we have a choice. We can be more like Jesus and live with an attitude of forgiveness and love. Or we can be a hater too. Which would tear down the strongholds in our lives more readily? Which would set us free?
We are children of the light, the deceptions are darkness, so whenever they come we must ask God to let his light shine in us and on us to get rid of those dark and hard places. It’s the only way out of the cave of echoes and into the land of the living where we will have peace and joy.
So while Psalm 4 begins with this echo, it is really a psalm of great direction for how to receive great joy. How to get rid of that stronghold of doubt, fear and rejection and step into the light.
To dwell in safety
Because the Lord is there, and he loves you.
Always, always, always.
Questions to Ponder:
1) What strongholds do I need to pray for deliverance from?
2) Am I letting the dark cancel out God’s light?
3) How can I show others the way to freedom?