“In the extreme, your blood work indicates you have a serious disease.” I had used all the available over-the-counter medications for my burning feet, and now it had come to this. I was too stunned to ask, “What do the lab reports indicate in the non-extreme?”
I was busy multitasking–exerting great effort to avoid hyperventilating–while trying to look calm and collected at this surprising and sterile pronouncement.
Once I stopped unraveling, I began to saturate myself in God’s Word. I looked to 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, which reads, “Praise be to the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” God’s words comforted me and his Holy Spirit quieted my soul. I knew without a doubt that the peace I felt was supernatural and God was confirming his faithfulness to me.
As I waited for additional lab reports and specialist appointments, I reflected upon Psalm 23. In this psalm, David considers his life as a shepherd and uses it as a metaphor for his relationship with God. He knew intimately the manner in which a shepherd has to completely provide for, guide, and protect his flock.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (v. 1).
This verse reminds me that the Lord is my personal owner and provider. With him, I am completely satisfied, no longer needing or desiring anything.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures” (v. 2).
The Shepherd makes his sheep rest. Sheep cannot rest unless they are free of fear, pests, and hunger. The Lord gives us this freedom, saying in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest.”
“He leads me beside still waters” (v. 2).
Sheep have no sense of direction. They don’t recognize landmarks. They don’t obey commands like dogs and therefore need to be led.
“He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (v.3).
If sheep lose their balance and fall to the ground, they are physically unable to stand up again on their own. The shepherd must upright the sheep, or they can lie for long periods of time, scared and struggling until they eventually die.
The first three verses tell what the Shepherd does for the sheep, then the last part of verse three tells us why—for his glory, and to honor his name.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (v. 4).
David did not indicate if he wandered from the path and into the valley of the shadow of death intentionally or on accident. In the first three verses, David tells us the sheep belong to the Shepherd, and he provides everything the sheep need to be safe and grow strong.
We are also told the Shepherd guides us in righteous paths, chosen for his own purposes. There is no transition time between verses three and four that suggests the sheep are alone. The Shepherd is with the sheep in the valley, leading them all the way. Not only are the sheep always with the Shepherd, but they are in the valley of the shadow of death for his honor, and for his name’s sake. And because the shepherd is with the sheep, the sheep do not fear.
“your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (v. 4),
A rod is a club used to beat off or defend against wild animals. Secondly, 2 Thessalonians 3:3 again affirms the Shepherd’s strength, saying, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” A staff is a stick with a hook on the end of it, often used to retrieve lambs that are ensnared. A staff is also used to guide wandering lambs back to the path. The Lord our Shepherd is faithful to rescue us from danger. He also promises to comfort his flock. Psalm 119:76 says, “May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.”
“you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows (v. 5).
The Shepherd prepares a table not in private, but in the presence of enemies. He is able to defend his sheep and defeat any foe. He treats his sheep like royalty, providing more than enough and treating them with high regard.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (v. 6).
The pursuit is not temporary; the Shepherd does not forget his sheep. They will live with him forever.
I was really struck by a new awareness of verse four. I have always taken comfort in knowing Jesus, the Good Shepherd, provides for my every need. However, in walking through my personal valley of the shadow of death, the Holy Spirit has taught me the truth about his presence and his leading into dangerous places. I learned that my circumstances do not change the character of my Shepherd.
Since receiving my initial diagnosis, it has been downgraded considerably to a very manageable, perhaps even reversible condition. Praise the Lord!
Even still, I will fear no diagnosis, no treatment, no evil. My Shepherd is with me.