When I was a little girl and I was off from school poorly, my mum used to bring me downstairs in the afternoon and put me on the sofa under a blanket. I always felt safe and warm and protected and now I'm a mum, I find myself doing the same thing when Polly is ill, hoping that she too will feel the power and the comfort of a warm blanket when she is feeling under the weather..
Now many of you will know that Our house is really cold and we have a big basket of blankets which Polly and I wrap round ourselves on cold winter afternoons when we lie on the sofa and watch a good film. We think that there is nothing which makes you feel as warm and safe and comforted as one of my hand-knitted blankets. Apart from perhaps, this psalm.
Because whenever I read this psalm I feel the same as I do when I wrap a blanket around me, I feel safe, comforted, reassured and protected. Just like I did when I was a little girl lying on my Mums sofa at home. Because the words in this psalm reassure me, that when times are bad, they will get better if I stay close to God. Because I have the same faith and trust in my Father in heaven, when he promises to walk beside me through the dark valleys, as I did in my Mum when I was a little girl and she promised me that the horrible tasting medicine would make me better.
The words of this beautiful psalm have been wrapped round troubled souls over and over again, these wonderful words which William read today have been clung to, have given comfort, have encouraged and have provided reassurance for believers in times of sadness and grief for thousands and thousands of years and I believe will continue to do so. But why this psalm ? why do people turn to these words over and over again? Why did Marilyn use it as her scripture before her operation?
I believe that this psalm is so well loved and so well known because it's just like my basket of blankets. When we feel we are walking through the valleys we can take it out and read it and wrap its words around us like a protective cozy blanket. We can bring those words out in the darkest of nights as we shiver in the cold and it will protect us and keep us warm and make us feel safe. We can snuggle under it and feel close to our father in heaven during those times when we feel fragile.
Why? because this psalm is like a mighty a sword and shield these words are so strong and so powerful that they can fight off the enemy, because Scripture is always the mightiest of swords and shields, it can cut through satans lies and shield us from his mischief and attacks. Scripture can comfort us in the darkness and restore our faith. Marilyn's testimony has just proved that.
I'm sure that every one of us has a scriptural sword that we brandish when the enemy is prowling. And if we don't have one, then this psalm is a mighty one which will see you through any and every battle. Because this psalm is so powerful, so mighty that it will always defeat the enemy, because it is a song of confidence, a song of confidence in Gods promises. A song which tells each and everyone of us that we can;
Rest in Gods love
we can Feed on Gods word and
we will Be restored when we drink his living waters.
This psalm is a promise of Gods provision, a promise that if we have faith and trust in him, even in the darkest of times will lead us to contentment in life. Following this Good Shepherd will lead us to quiet waters and he will guide us to the paths of righteousness. Don't be mistaken, Trusting in God doesn't stop bad things happening, unfortunately in life there are dark valleys as well as mountain tops. But, trusting in God gives us the faith and gives us the armour that we need to face these battles, to walk through these dark valleys and fight the enemy, confident in our victory because we battle in the strength of God using his mighty words as our sword and shield.
The words of this psalm remind us that the good shepherd will protect us, he will provide us, he will watch over us all the days of our lives, if we put our trust in him. David knew all too well about how important it was for a shepherd to watch over his flock, he knew that by themselves they wouldn't be able to find the right pathways, the best pastures or the most refreshing clear cool waters. He knew that a good shepherd would provide, He would take his flock to lush green pastures for them to be nourished, where they could lie down and rest when they were weary, where they could be restored and renewed. He also knew what would happen when they failed to follow their shepherd.
Thomas Hardy is one of my favourite authors. When I was a teenager I devoured his books and one of my favourites was and still is 'Far for the Madding crowd.' At the start of the story we meet a young prosperous shepherd with 200 sheep. One night as he sleeps his young sheepdog who has still not been fully trained gets out during a storm and drives the whole flock over the cliff top to their death. The sheep were so stupid that they followed the dog and one by one they fell. I will never forget the film with ALan Bates and Julie Christie and this dramatic scene in a storm, as the wind blows and the dog barks and one by one the sheep follow each other and jump off the cliff into the crashing waves and rocks below. They fell because they didn't follow their shepherd, they fell because they followed and trusted in a noisy dog that didn't know what it was doing, they heard its barks and followed, they were so stupid that they followed the dog, a dog which had just come into their lives and wasn't trained they failed to follow the gentle voice of their shepherd who had guided and loved them all their lives. They fell because they didn't follow the right path, they fell because they put their trust in a yapping dog who was just as afraid as them in the storm.
I wonder how often in the storms of life we find ourselves listening to the yapping dog, the loud voices the barks, telling us we are wrong, to turn back to believe lies to think things are pointless, useless? In the valleys the voices can be distorted, they can echo and they be amplified and they can trick us. But the still small voice of calm will never trick or deceive, the still small voice of our shepherd tells us that he will always provide. Remember how Jesus reminds us of God's provision in the sermon on the mount. He tells us how valuable we are and how God will always provide, just as he clothes the lilies in the fields. Living these promises bring us a sense of that wonderful peace that passes all understanding the peace we find when we learn to be content in God alone. The key to this peace in the dark times is to remember that God always walks through the valleys with us.
Because we will encounter valleys, there will be valley times in our lives, the Lord said pick up your cross and follow me, he didn't say life would be perfect and trouble free. This is the truth, but what he did say was that he would carry us through these times, he would be our rod and our staff. He will go through these valleys with us, he will lift us and he will restore us. That is the promise that this psalm holds, and God never breaks his promises.
I was interested to read that the Valley of the shadow of death was actually a real place. It was a road which had sharp cliffs made up of rocks that cast shadows on the valley below. These sharp rocks provided ideal hiding places for robbers and bandits who would lie in wait for passers by to rob and beat up leaving for dead. This is said to be the same road which was travelled by the good Samaritan who found a man who had been robbed and beaten. Its a very frightening place, a dangerous place, a place where you could lose your way and become lost. Its a place full of shadows, full of danger full of the darkest lies . But lets remember what shadows are, why our parents tell us not to be afraid of them, how the frightening shapes they create are illusions, how they disappear when we turn the light on. Because shadows are lies, they steal happiness, they make us imagine the worst, they create monsters which are not there, they distort and make things larger and more frightening than they are - but they are illusions. They can't hurt us but they can frighten us they can make us see things that aren't really there. Thats why its so important that we must remember that light casts out all darkness, light makes the shadows disappear and this psalm is the light that we can use in times of darkness. We can use these words when we are under attack, just as Jesus taught us when he was under attack from satan in the wilderness. Because the greatest weapon against satan is the word of God.
I encourage you to pray over this psalm and take a piece of it to carry with you always. A mighty sword to fend off the enemy and restore your faith when you feel frightened of the shadows that the darkness is casting. Just like Marilyn you can say with confidence 'even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.' This psalm is a song of confidence and it can be your song of confidence, it can be your song to sing when the shadows close in, your song to cast out the shadows, your song which is your rod and your staff.
I have a dear friend who fled Bosnia to live in the UK , she knows all about dark times, but she always tells me that when she feels sad or afraid she turns the radio on and she sings and as she sings it lifts her heart - this psalm can be your song, it can be the song on our heart which you sing in times of trouble. It may begin so quietly its inaudible, it may be a whisper - but Marilyn has shown us today that if we keep singing and if we keep walking close to our shepherd our faithful voices will one day shake the rafters and the roof tops and they will touch and move the hearts of others. Remember the powerful words of the song I played at the beginning of the service:
If all I had was one more song to sing
I would raise a noise to make the heavens ring
If all I had was one last chance, I'd take it
I would stake it all on You
This psalm tells us that when we have one last chance we can rely on Gods promises and we can say with confidence;
I shall not want,
I shall not fear,
I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
We don't have to live with the uncertainty of tomorrow because Gods word will fill us with assurances of eternal hope. This beautiful psalm is a portrait of what our life with God will be like if we remain close to the good shepherd and have faith in Him. This psalm begins and ends with the Lord, just as our life should. Because the most important thing is our relationship with Him. David says the Lord is my shepherd, he belongs to Him, he follows Him he obeys Him he trusts Him to lead along safe paths to bring him to pastures new to give him clear fresh water. When we fully belong to God we know what it is to find peace and protection we know what it is to say I shall not want. To know that God is all we need. Because it is only when we can truly say 'the lord is my shepherd' that we can also say 'I will not want.'
so lets all stand and sing together this song of confidence. Re affirming our faith in God by saying:
I shall not want,
I shall not fear,
I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.