April 25, 2020 by Brad Diekema
Several years ago, I took a study trip to Israel. On one of the days, I hiked down a wadi—a place where water runs during the rainy season. The wadi laid out before me like a burlap blanket. Rocks of every size scattered everywhere. I had to make sure each step landed on solid ground. But I also had to pay attention to the simple three-color scheme trail markers painted on the rocks. Failing to pay attention to the trail markers or the people in front of me, I could have wandered off the trail. Failing to pay attention to my footing, I could have hurt myself.
Listening to last week’s sermon, I appreciated Pastor Bob directing our focus towards God’s promise that he knows the needs of his sheep. That is a great comfort, especially during this pandemic. But I couldn’t help but think back to walking down the wadi in the Judean desert. For some of us, myself included, this time feels like we are wandering through a desert. Recent college graduates may feel isolated and alone. They may be asking themselves what is the next step for finding a job amidst all this uncertainty. Parents may feel perplexed or overwhelmed by now having to take on the role of a part-time teacher. Kids may feel lonely and confused. They may wonder when they will see their friends again. We may feel ill-equipped and underprepared wandering through the desert. We may feel anxious about what the future will hold wandering through the desert. We may feel lonely wandering through the desert. We may have many emotions wandering through the desert. What does Psalm 23 look like while wandering through a rocky desert?
Psalm 23 opens up with “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” A shepherd knows the layout of the land. A shepherd knows the best paths to walk. A shepherd knows where to find food and water, where to rest, and where the best places of protection are. A shepherd knows the needs of the sheep. With God as our shepherd, we are confident that God knows our needs and will meet them. We rest in that promise when we pray “give us today our daily bread” from the Lord’s prayer.
Not only does a shepherd know what the sheep need, but a shepherd knows the best way to meet those needs. The shepherd leads the sheep along the right paths. What if those paths are not well-worn or easy to see— like hiking down a rocky wadi with only painted stones to guide the way? We may hesitate to completely trust the shepherd. It may be tempting to think we know best rather than trust the shepherd. We may even ask ourselves, “Does the shepherd know where to go?” In these moments, God reminds us to trust him. Trust that he is leading us down the right path; that every step, even if it is the next step, will land on solid ground.
The shepherd calls his sheep to trust that every step they take will land on solid ground. But what do green pastures and quiet waters look like in the desert? It is easy to picture green pastures— rolling hills full of lush green grass and a babbling brook. A place where resources abound. But in the desert, green pastures and quiet waters look different. Green pastures are the small shrubs and a little bit of shade that is available. Quiet waters are a trickle of water in an almost dry stream bed. Just enough resources to meet the needs of the day. For us, that can look like God providing enough money to pay bills. It can look like those brief moments of quiet before the house becomes a beehive of activity. It can be a commute to work. It can be the joyful sounds of the woods. It can be any number of things.
And then there are those dark valleys— places of great peril. The shepherd protects his sheep. The shepherd comforts his sheep and guides his sheep through the places of peril. For some of us, those dark valleys are the valleys of worry, doubt, wondering what to do next, or even being too fearful to move. In these moments, we need the comforting tap of the shepherd’s rod and staff. Through Scripture, songs, and other Christians, God promises us he has everything under control even when it appears he doesn’t. God is at work doing more than we can ever imagine or ask him to do. Going before us, God leads us down the most solid path. Going behind us, God guards and protects us. Walking beside us, God supports us and provides for our needs. May you experience the blessings of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit as you travel through the desert.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In our desert wanderings, thank you for going ahead of us to lead. Thank you for being behind us to protect us. Thank you for walking alongside us to support us and to provide for all our needs. Lord help us to place complete trust in you instead of leaning on our knowledge and understanding. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.