Today’s psalm is among the most famous of psalms. It comforts us with pictures of lush green grass and cool refreshing water in the middle of our world of chaos and danger. In this age, more than ever before, the noise and clamour of daily life comes at us from all angles. We move from one activity to another and seldom ever have time to stop and just be. In our leisure time the sound of radio or television, bombarding us with information and entertainment, keeps up to date with happenings all over the globe, so that it can be quite easy to spend all our time thinking of things well outside of ourselves. We are distracted from what it is deep inside that we need, or that we need to think about, problems to solve in relationships with each other, with God and with ourselves. We are enticed in ever more subtle ways to imagine what life would be like with this wonderful new soap powder, or that amazing new car, to compare ourselves against the stereotypes and role models thrown up by the media, until we begin to wonder if we can ever live up to the expectations of our society, or we just allow it all to go over our heads, never allowing ourselves to think deeply about anything.
And yet this psalm tells us that with the Lord as our Shepherd we don’t need anything else. ‘We will not be in want.’ This doesn’t mean that as Christians we can expect everything we want to appear miraculously on our doorstep. Rather it means that with Jesus as our Shepherd, guiding us through life’s decisions through prayer and by his example, we will be able to discern the value of what we have, and come to realise that we do not need anything that God cannot provide through faith. We are assured that whatever life throws at us, with a good relationship with God as our guide and shepherd, we will be all right. Where we feel despair or bewilderment at the pace of life, of change, of events we only need to turn to Christ and we will feel the restoring grace that enables us to find the resources to carry on. As a shepherd in biblical time led his flock in search of the right pasture, ensuring that their needs were met, so we can expect God to lead us in our life’s journey providing opportunities that promote our well being and safety. Perhaps even opportunities that lead to more material wealth, as mentioned in Proverbs 8:18 ‘With me are riches and honour, enduring wealth and prosperity.’
In the reading from Acts we hear of the death of Tabitha, where Peter restores to life this disciple from Joppa. The concern of her friends was centred on the wonderful clothes and robes that she had made in life. They were appalled that death should have separated her from something so important to her. (Acts 9:39). Perhaps the greatest source of anxiety to us is the fear of death. Here the psalm is explicit. ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’ We need not fear the consequences of this final journey because we know that Jesus has already travelled this path, and won a victory for us. So the threat of death is no more than a shadow. If our lives are built around material things we have acquired, bought or made, then death will separate us from our man made foundations, but if our lives are built around our faith in God, then we know that we will emerge at the other end of that valley still centred, with that part of our lives that has held the most importance to us still intact.
A glimpse of those who have already passed through ‘the great tribulation’ is given in the reading from revelation. It pictures them in beautiful robes of white around the throne, perhaps Tabitha was among them, (Rev. 10.16) ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ Comforting for those whose faith is founded on a firm belief in Jesus as their Shepherd. It is that firm belief, accepting the gospel truth to the extent that we build our lives upon it that secures the help and protection of the shepherd’s rod and staff. For those who doubt, who question Jesus’ position and authority Jesus himself said; ‘You do not believe because you are not my sheep.’ (John 10:26) and continues to reinforce the psalmist‘s message. ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.’
Through our faith, the psalmist concludes, we know that God has prepared a place for us, a banquet in which he shows us how special we are to him. We will in life, want for nothing if we accept those gifts of goodness and love, all the days of our lives, trusting our saviour to lead us until we at last reach his house, where we will dwell forever.