Using the 23rd Psalm to Nurture Our Relationships with God - Pt. 3

By: Scott Ward

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Psalm 23: Part 3

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.

This is a promise that hard times will come our way just as surely as they came David’s way. Not that God wills it but because He knows the nature of the Devil and his evil desire to destroy us—often by the hand of others who are strangers to the voice of God. The Great Controversy is very real. So, the question is not if we will walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but when and how often. We need to learn to expect and even anticipate trials as they come. Not in a welcoming anticipation but in a preparatory anticipation that reminds us to always be connected to God and filled with His Spirit so that we can be victorious in the battle against evil. Just as surely as trials will come they will also send us down one path or another in the Great Controversy. If we are unprepared to meet them trails can fill us with bitterness towards God and others. But when we are engaged in an active and committed relationship with Jesus, God can use the trials to help us grow in our dependence on Him and His word, which leads to greater peace and joy. Yes, more trouble can bring more joy! As James said,

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing (James 1:2-4 NLT).

It is a comfort to know that God is always with us in times of trouble protecting and defending us.

This brings us to the rod and the staff. God has two tools to use as He walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. The rod is for the enemies. The rod symbolizes Gods protective care that doesn’t allow us to endure any more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). God uses this rod far more than any of us realize. It won’t be until we get to heaven that we hear all the stories of the countless times God has protected us so well we didn’t even know we were in trouble!

The staff, on the other hand, is for God to use on us. The staff has a hook on the end and is what God uses to pull the straying sheep back on the path. This takes shape in God’s disciplining activity in our lives. Sometimes we have to endure hard lessons before we change our ways. But just as a loving parent hates to discipline their child yet they know that without discipline the child’s sinful nature will take over their whole lives—so, God is willing to use tough love to teach us lessons just as He did when He had to kick Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden helping them learn about the consequences of sin.
As I pray through this portion of the Psalm I keep all these things in mind and ask God to guide and protect me through the trials I am in the midst of and the ones I see coming. I also try and remember to thank Him for the ones he’s seen me through remembering what a great and loving personal God He is—His name is surely to be praised!

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil

When you are worn out and tired. When you feel like your prayers aren’t getting past the ceiling. When trials have you so beaten down that you wonder if you ever really did have a connection with God—you must remember that God hasn’t forgotten about you. Enemies can be very distracting and disheartening but Jesus always loves you. This phrase of the Psalm is so amazing! It is a promise that eventually—one day—God will lift you up and prepare a banquet just for you right in the face of those who hate you and plot against you.

This is also an assurance that if you have enemies, you are not alone. Jesus Himself had so many enemies that they eventually overcame Him and won the battle against Him—or so it seemed for a while. David was hunted down like a wild animal for years and he was mistreated and disrespected by his own wife and children at times—yet he was exalted to the position of king of Israel. Jesus was mocked, beaten and killed—yet He reigns as King of the universe even now. Trials and enemies may pursue and persecute us now but we have the promise that those who choose Jesus as their shepherd will be anointed princes and princesses of His kingdom and will reign with Him forever and ever amen (Revelation 20:6)!

My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Keeping this in mind on a daily basis will help us to be constantly aware of our true identity and help us to act like princes and princesses of God’s kingdom in all situations. This mindset will help us to approach life with an attitude that will help us to see that our cups are indeed full and running over with blessings our entire lives here on earth and will also continue to run over throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity if we continue daily choosing to make the Lord our Shepherd and King.

If we are to be connected with Christ personally we must stop merely using scripture to prove doctrine or read about other people’s relationships with Jesus. We must start using scripture as a guide for nurturing our own intimate connection with our Lord. We have seen here how scripture calls out to us from the 23rd Psalm inviting us to dwell on who the Lord is, to contemplate His loving deeds in the lives of Bible heroes and in our lives as well.

The invitation is to choose and follow the Lord our God and make choices in accordance with His will as revealed in scripture throughout our days as David did. Some days will be good and others will contain mistakes but just like David we can always recommit and start again. The invitation is to bask in the knowledge and experience that God will provide and protect us and to remember to rest in nature to hear His voice and experience His leading. This scripture calls us to remember that we are children of the King of the universe and that He is calling for us to join Him for an eternity of joyful communion, love and peace. This is what a devotional, scriptural relationship with Jesus can bring to our lives.

  1. What is your natural reaction to hard times?
  2. How can understanding Psalm 23 help you to deal with hard times more effectively?
  3. How has Jesus used His rod in your life?
  4. How has Jesus used His staff in your life? Have you ever thanked Him for this?
  5. How do you want to celebrate in heaven? What will it look like? Who would you like to invite to be there with you? Have you told these people you want to live with them forever in heaven together with Jesus?

About the Author

Scott R. Ward is a husband and father of two daughters and a son. Scott is also a Youth Pastor and the Public High School Ministries Coordinator for the NAD. Scott loves helping people learn to nurture their devotional lives and challenging them reach out to the world around them by Living their faith. Scott’s first book on the devotional life, Authentic: Committed for Life, is due out August 2012 from Review and Herald Publishing Association.

View all devotions by Scott R. Ward »