Psalm 23:4 – Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (NIV)
Often, when we are driving the highways here on Vancouver Island, the tall evergreen trees on either side cast shadows across the street, so that the driver cannot tell whether the dark patch ahead is a real hole or a shadow — with bumpy consequences. Shadows are confusing and hold times of real fear, especially when the shadows are cast by someone's death.
How do we prepare for the shadows that hide the full intent of what is yet to be? I think of Mary on that donkey, preparing for her first baby's arrival. Where would they be by nightfall? Would she be safe with no family around to help, except Joseph? When she had said to the angel, "Be it unto me according to thy word", surely she wasn't expecting such an uncomfortable journey. Being human, Mary must have had fearful thoughts as shadows filled her head and heart while the donkey trudged on.
When I was 17 years old, my mother fell ill, and then died. Back then, in Bermuda, a private nurse was not available, so my sister and I were her nurses. This was a huge learning curve for me — a very sad, painful time when I learned that my prayers were not always answered the way I had hoped. At mother's funeral, we sang the favourite old hymn, "The King of Love my Shepherd is". To this day, I have trouble singing that hymn without choking up, but I have learned what a wonderful Shepherd we have, who is there for us, protecting, guiding, correcting us when we are in fearful shadows.
In such situations, God uses a rod and staff, much like a shepherd does, to correct and comfort us. How does a shepherd use a rod? The rod could be thrown great distances to take down a predator. The rod was also used for discipline, correcting a wayward sheep. The staff must be strong with a hook at the end, suitable for removing a sheep from thorny or dangerous situations. In the hands of the Good Shepherd, we can rely on protection, salvation, and yes, discipline. God is there for us in the shadows, but we may well face a huge learning curve.
Prayer: O Lord, today we may be facing a hard time. All we see now are shadows of what might be, and we dread it. Lord, we need Your rod to set us on another path, that of wonderful joy and peace in the presence of our loving Saviour. We also need Your staff to lean on, a steadying force for good in times of trouble, when shadows perplex us. Which way should we go? What should our decision be? We wait on your guidance, O Lord, as we commit ourselves into Your care and keeping. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.