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Food for Thought - Musings

Psalm 23:4

Psalm 23:

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.

This month as you continue to explore Psalm 23 please remember: this is not a time for you to rush through the psalm but rather to slowly make your way through the psalm, listening for the tender voice of your Shepherd, seeking to linger with God
’s spirit in the verse(s) in which the Shepherd invites you to camp out. Take your time to heed, savor and embrace the words of the Shepherd and fully enter into the invitation and challenge that may be contained in those words. Sit with the questions and explore the feelings that arise as you journey through this psalm. Be willing to wrestle with God, with yourself, through this process.

This month you are invited to discover what it means to trust God in the valleys and in times of discipline. You will be invited to explore what if any impact Jesus
’ promise of being present with you has on the living of your life. As you ponder this verse, pay attention to the words and images you are most drawn to, most resistant toward. What might be God's invitation, challenge, reminder and/or encouragement from those words for you? So, slow yourself down, externally and internally, and listen for the voice of the Shepherd as you meditate on Psalm 23:4 as well as Mark 6:47-51.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou are with me:

What does the presence of God mean to you? What difference does God's presence make in how you view and interact with your circumstances/others? How do you deal with life differently when you lack the sense of God’s felt presence? Why?

What is your definition of evil? What evils do you fear? What helps you to connect and stay connected to God when you feel fears/anxieties arising within you? Does the fact of God’s presence help you during those times? If yes, how? If no, why doesn’t it help?

Spend time speaking with God about your ability or lack of ability to trust God and then listen to God’s response.

What lessons have you learned about God and yourself as you have walked through the valley of the shadow of death with God? How do you experience God's presence during the dark times of your life? Spend some time expressing to God the feelings you have toward God regarding your experience of God during the difficult times of your life. Be honest! Listen for God's response.

A careful reading of this verse shows you that God does not promise to deliver you from the valley of the shadow of death, but rather promises to be with you as you walk through that valley. Notice the use of the word “walk”. This passage is not telling you to run, rush or hurry through the dark valley of the shadow of death but rather to walk, unhurriedly spending time, being present to what you are feeling, experiencing and seeking to embrace that which God is stirring within you and inviting you into. Spend some time thinking through a time when you walked with God in the valley of the shadow of death. What did you learn about God? What did you learn about yourself? How did this time help shape and form your concept of God?

5. Create a collage that expresses the grim reality of walking through the valley of the shadow of death along with the hope, be it ever so small, that God's presence and unchanging character of love and faithfulness brings to you.
Seek to use a combination of images and words.

6. If you happen to live near a cemetery, then take a walk with Jesus through it, reading the grave markers that capture your attention. Be aware of others in the graveyard who are leaving flowers or gifts or are visiting a grave.
Share with Jesus your feelings and prayers. How do the words of Psalm 23, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me”, impact you now?

7. Read Mark 6:47-51. Jesus says to the frightened and weary disciples; "Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid." Using your imagination, put yourself in the boat with the disciples. What impact do these words of Jesus have on you? How do these words make you feel? Now look at the current circumstance of your life - how does Jesus' promised presence with you impact how you view and interact with your circumstance? Share your thoughts/ feelings with Jesus.

Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me:

The rod is a weapon for the defense of both the shepherd and sheep.
It was a symbol of the shepherd’s strength, power and authority. It was an instrument used to discipline wayward sheep. It was also used to examine and count the sheep.

The staff is essentially a symbol of the concern and compassion that the shepherd has for his sheep.
The staff is used in four different ways: to draw a sheep close, as in the case of bringing a newborn lamb into contact with its mother after it has wandered away, to draw the sheep to the shepherd for the purpose of closer examination, to guide the sheep, and to rescue the sheep.

The rod and the staff are both referred to as sources of comfort. Which of these do you most associate with comfort? Why? What is the level of comfort that God's presence brings to your life? What is the source of this comfort? Which of the above (rod and staff) have you most experienced in your life? What has your experience of the rod and/or staff taught you about who God is and what God's role is in your life?

When do you believe you have experienced the discipline/rod of God in your life? What were the circumstances that gave rise to you experiencing God's discipline? What were the outcomes of this experience with God? What did this teach you about who God is/God's involvement in your life? What were your feelings towards God during this time?

When have you experienced God rescuing (staff) you? What were the circumstances surrounding this occasion? What were the outcomes of this experience with God? What did this teach you about who God is/God's involvement in your life? How does this impact your life today? What were your feelings towards God during this time?

4. Using the information you have gathered from the above 3 exercises, write your own psalm or poem that conveys the truth of your life in terms of your experience of God's comfort, discipline
and God's deliverance.

Next month will conclude our journey through Psalm 23 by looking at verses 5-6.

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