“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 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.
You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” – Psalm 23
As a kid, David was a shepherd, a carer of the flock whilst his older brothers looked after the family and went off to fight. Later on, when David was writing this psalm, though he had been through a lot since then, he always knew the importance of the shepherd looking after the sheep. Being a shepherd meant protecting the sheep at any and every cost, laying down one’s life for them to look after them and be there for them.
We see this connection the whole way through the Bible, of the Lord being this shepherd looking after his flock, and then we see in the gospels that Jesus laid his life down on the cross for us. This passage is an incredible depiction of how much God loves us where books and books have been written on it, and yet we’re only going to look at one verse.
“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.” – Psalm 23:4
God the father is our shepherd, and as our shepherd, he looks after us, he brings us into peaceful pastures and refreshes our soul. When we are looking to him, he guides us in the right direction always in accordance with his will. But in this verse we see something more, we see how in the hardest times in our lives, he is there with us and we have nothing to fear.
For lots of us during exam periods and stressful times of revision it can be hard and it feels like we’re walking along this darkest valley with no peace or comfort, or place to rest in protection. Though there will be harder times in our lives, as students at this time, it can be hard for a lot of us to make it through it however trivial or important they may seem to us.
The Hebrew word here in this verse is ‘tsalmaveth’ depicting us walking more like in a valley clothed in a death-like shadow, and yet, despite this, he goes on to say, I will fear no evil, for you [God] are with me. The rod and staff of the Father here are referring to his protecting nature, and him keeping us from straying away doing whatever it takes to hold onto us. With a father so loving and powerful, we know from this passage that we need not fear but instead find comfort in him by his rod and staff.
No matter what we’re going through, even with exams and revision stress, God will always be with us through it if we let him. We can know just as David knew, that our future is safe with God and we can be thankful in the knowledge that he is our shepherd and will never let us stray from him.
Whenever I think of this protective and present nature of God from the passage, it reminds me of the footprints poem in that, no matter how well or badly our life seems to be going, he will always be there with us. In the times that we need him most and when we feel in that darkest valley, he’s not distant but he’s there with us, protecting and looking after us, just as a shepherd cares after his sheep and wants us to come and find comfort in him.
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.” – Anon
Another time when this analogy of a shepherd looking after his flock is used, is in Mark’s gospel.
“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” – Mark 6:30-34
From this passage, both Jesus and the disciples are getting tired and are in need of some rest, but Jesus, on arriving there, the caring shepherd that he was, had compassion on the people who had gathered. Clearly the people who came did not know of the incredible news of knowing God and so they were depicted as like sheep without a shepherd.
Many of the friends we have around us who don’t know about Jesus will still be going through the same kind of stresses and troubles that we are going through around this exam time. But what we see here is that Jesus on meeting these people, sees that they are lost, that they don’t have someone to look after them or protect them like the great shepherd and so he has compassion on them.
Maybe over the next few weeks if you are a Christian, it would be worth showing your friends that actually, we don’t need to worry about exams but that actually we have God, our shepherd who gives us peace and guides are path and who won’t leave us nor forsake us. By living as examples of what it’s like to be without stress or worry, we can be showing others and allowing them to take an interest in our lives free from worry in such a hard time.
Also, just as Jesus and the disciples needed to find rest in this past passage, we too need regular breaks from revision and time to be refreshed. Just as with David who found comfort and rest in the Lord too, why not try and find your own place of rest and solitude that will allow you to recuperate ready for the final push. Just as it was in Mark 6:31, when pressures and battle is at its fiercest, that’s when Jesus says to relax!