One of my great-grandmothers used to read the 23rd Psalm to me every time we were together. It was necessary, as the other reading was Hansel & Gretel! Grandmother Black died when I was three. I soon forgot the scary parts of Hansel & Gretel, which had gone right over my head anyway. But I remember Grandmother like it was yesterday, and I have never forgotten the Psalm. Contrary to what most of us think, the benefits listed in the "scary" scriptures about the valley of death, have nothing to do with going to heaven!
The Lord is my shepherd;
MY shepherd – we need to realize He is our own, personal shepherd. We need a shepherd here, not in heaven.
I shall not want.
The shepherd makes sure the flock is fed, watered and protected – very practical things. When David wrote this he was facing a real challenge. His own men wanted to stone Him. He wasn’t looking forward to what he’d have in heaven, he was in a desperate situation right here in this life, so he spoke out who God was to him in real life practical terms.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
Rest. Peace. No danger of rocky shores or being swept away. Washing by the Word continually available. And it says ME – again, very personal.
He restores my soul;
We all need restoration for our souls here on earth – peace, the joy of the Lord, healing for the brokenhearted, and renewing our minds to the Word.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
His name – not mine. He wants us to be good witnesses – if we fail, He has failed in the world’s eyes. So put His word to work in your life. Believe it and you will not fail.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
It's not the valley of death, it's the valley of the shadow of death. A shadow never hurt anyone! God walks with you THROUGH it. That means you're coming out the other side.
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
The staff is for guiding and rescue, the rod for beating off predators. There are no predators in heaven.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
This is here on earth. How do I know? We have no enemies in heaven.
You anoint my head with oil;
MY head. Anointing, particularly in the Old Testament, had to do with being assigned an office – a position, like being knighted. David was anointed by God to be King of Israel. God has a special posting for each of us. Anointing also implies being blessed. Like feet-washing, it feels intimate. And we use the word today to mean having some special ability (Holy Spirit) to carry or present the awesomeness of God: “that song is so anointed” or “she has a real anointing for hospitality”. We need to realize that each one of us is anointed, made able to show God’s awesomeness to the world – an able minister – are you walking in your anointing?
My cup runs over.
More than we can ask or even imagine, available for every area of life. He has given us everything needed for life and godliness. That’s the Holy Spirit’s presence in you! He wants you to take all He offers -- after all, Jesus died to provide it.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
Life – the here and now – His goodness and mercy all day every day.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Ok, now we can talk about heaven.
We have a tendency to spiritualize the scriptures – to look at them as if they’re mostly about the next life. But what do we really need to know about heaven? Life there will be awesome – no sorrow, no pain -- and it’s the eternal home of everyone who chooses to believe in Jesus and His redemptive work. There’s not that much more we need to know. What we need help with is life here, where it can be difficult just to get from one day to the next. That’s what the Bible is – the manufacturer’s instructions for life in the land He has given us. Jesus talked more about money than prayer – that should prove to us that the Bible is for life here. You can apply scriptures to the hereafter, but try applying them to life on earth first. I think you’ll like the results – no more Hansel & Gretel.