Speaker: Benjamin Gonzalez
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I long for the day when we can be reunited. Being at church these past two Sundays without you physically there was very tough. I am so thankful for every one of you and I miss you deeply. I hope that my words might bring you encouragement during our time apart.
With the days of this social distancing adding up and the dramatic changes that our country and our world are experiencing, it is difficult to fight to not be overwhelmed with worry and anxiety. To be honest, this has been a regular struggle for me. I feel the worries of this world press hard against my trust in the Lord like a constant sequence of waves rushing against me as I try and cling to our Lord’s promises of presence, His commands to “6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6), and His teaching found in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 6:25-34).
“25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
I know that I am not alone in struggling with worry and anxiety. That is why, this week, I am writing to you, and to myself, to encourage and strengthen you with the wonderful nourishment found in the Word of our God. As I was contemplating what to preach to you this past week, I had difficulty choosing between Psalm 22 and Psalm 23. Obviously I chose Psalm 22, but today I want to give you some insights into the beloved and favored Psalm 23 as I believe its lessons of God’s presence, care, guidance, and safekeeping are so helpful during this time.
I drive for long periods of time for my job and during my commuting I enjoy listening to podcasts and sermons. One of my favorite pastors to listen to is H.B. Charles. On multiple occasions he has used the illustration of a young boy who is tasked with reciting Psalm 23 before the entire congregation. The boy nervously steps up to the stage, stands before the microphone, and with trepidation in his voice begins his recitation, “The LORD is my Shepherd….that’s all I know.” How true and how helpful is this message. It is the cry of a confident and dependent little lamb. He does not know worry, he has no trouble or care, all his needs are met. Why? The LORD is his Shepherd. See how his statement alone is one of great confidence. There is no “if” or “but” or “I hope so,” but David proclaims the “LORD is my Shepherd.” Also, note the intimacy of these words. He writes “the LORD is my Shepherd”. He is a Shepherd to me. He cares for me. He watches over me. He preserves me. Also, see how the words are in the present tense. Our God, the God who is upholding the entire universe He created, is shepherding us this very moment.
Now the beauty of the poetry of the Psalms is that the words artfully communicate glorious theology; not just what they are saying, but how they are said. Oftentimes, the original form or structure of the words of Biblical poetry further bolster the message that the words are saying themselves.
That is what we see in this Psalm before us. In verse 3, David writes that the LORD leads him “in paths of righteousness.” This phrase in Hebrew reads: ba ma’gele sedeq. Now, if we skip down to verse 4 where we find the “valley of the shadow of death,” this is what we see in Hebrew: ba ge salmavet. As you see (or hear if you try to pronounce these words) they look like very similar phrases because ten out of the fourteen consonants are the same (Biblical Hebrew is written in consonantal fashion with the vowels represented in markings below the consonants), but when you move from paths of righteousness to the valley of the shadow of death, the consonants become rearranged. In life, we often find ourselves walking on paths of righteousness that are beside still waters and then everything is turned upside down in an instant and we are in the valley of the shadow of death. But one thing remains constant: the Lord is our Shepherd. He leads us by the calm brook and as we read in the middle of verse 4, He is with us in the valley.
In verse 4, the comforting nature of God’s presence with us is likewise visually highlighted in the original language. When you look at the original word order of verse 4b you will see this: “You - are with me - your rod - your staff.” The significance of this word order is that it demonstrates God is right beside you and you are sandwiched in between Him and His rod and staff. The reason we fear no evil, even when death’s shadow looms large, is because God is not far. He is not just near, He surrounds us with His presence and protection. We are hemmed in by His sovereign rod and His gracious staff as we walk beside the Good Shepherd through this life.
Dear Saints, I pray that you find encouragement in these truths this week. Your God is with you every minute of every day. He leads you. He guides you. He protects you. And He has promised this to you, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20b). As the hymn writer proclaimed,
“Lord, I would clasp Thy hand in mine,
Nor ever murmur or repine;
Content, whatever lot I see,
Since it is Thou that leadest me.
He leadeth me! He leadeth me!
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me