Psalm 23. One of the most recognized verses in scripture. Even if you don’t call yourself a believer, I suspect you are familiar. In the King James version, verses 1-4;
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
What do you picture when you hear these verses? Myself, I picture a man walking through a dark and lonely ravine. There is an indistinct and difficult path to follow, and surrounding are all manner of threatening objects and sounds and dark clouds that cast an ominous pall. But it is the turmoil inside the man that is deathly.
Some days there is strength to persevere. Other days there is little to carry-on. You lie down. Or collapse. Rest, maybe. From somewhere must come the encouragement to stand up and walk, but you feel alone.
Suddenly, from above, at the top of the cliff, a voice shouts, “Have no fear! God is with you! His rod and his staff comfort you! He’s leading you to a place of green pastures and still waters. Your soul will be restored!”
Amazing words. Great promises. And yet somehow, at that moment, empty. Strength is not restored. You lie in the valley, unmoved. Not seeing the person but regarding the dark clouds behind them.
I realize that life isn’t always this difficult, but how often do you pass road signs, church marquees or hear spoken scripture verses and are emotionally unmoved? And, gasp, have you ever felt yourself recoil at the name of Jesus? Commercialized and misused. God’s words. God’s son. Powerless?
If so, you’re not alone. I’ve felt this way many times and still do on particular occasions. On “bad” days, a dear friend may, with loving intention, text me a Bible verse. I read it over and over, hoping to conjure that same feeling that prompted the sender, but I remain unstirred. The message doesn’t come to life. Its contents remain merely words.
But imagine, instead of there being a voice shouting from the cliff top, a friend descends into the valley with you, offers a hand, pulls you up, wraps an arm around you, and leads you forward. Along the way, he speaks encouragingly: “Green pastures lie ahead. WE will rest beside a placid lake. Instead of shadows of death, blue skies stretch from horizon to horizon, and our souls will be restored from the warmth of the sun and a supernatural presence that infuses the countryside with peace and comfort.”
Alas, I can imagine but not envision such an event.
But here I offer a big word: incarnation. Generally speaking, embodying some quality.
It is fascinating that the Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). And what’s more, “the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
So all of creation, the whole of scripture, God’s revelation to man, is the Word. But yet, in a book, maybe beside your bed, your favorite chair, or perhaps on a shelf somewhere, still words on pages. Attributed as holy and somehow alive.
None of this makes any sense and Psalm 23 lacks power without incarnation. The Incarnation. God becoming flesh. The Word becoming flesh. John 1:14, speaking of Christ, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.”
Why does this matter? How is this useful? Because we, as followers of Christ, are called to embody what we believe. In our actions, to testify to the hope offered in the verses we feel called to share, to love by walking alongside our friends and family in need, to remind them that they are not alone.
Again, a big word. Abstract.
But when my friend texts me and invites me to breakfast at Waffle House, I can’t help but sense a deep love in this simple act, as if behind it is the Word.
“Hey Brent, how ’bout we go for a bike ride tomorrow?”
“Hey guys, let’s get together and pray.”
“Hey brother, just thinking of you. How are you doing? Wanna grab lunch this week?”
“Can I come and visit you in the clinic while you’re getting chemo?”
“Here’s a meal we’ve made for your family.”
Voices of believers. Helping hands in the valley. Reminders of green pastures and still waters awaiting us at the valley’s end. Strength and motivation to seek out and reciprocate to those in need. Love and encouragement swirling around and even enticing unbelievers to a life of such richness.
“The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
I thank God for my family and friends who continue to love on my family and me. I pray for strength and opportunities to come alongside each of you if and when you find yourself in a dark and lonely valley. You’ve displayed your belief. Proven your faith. Inspired me to persevere.