Psalm 23 is a psalm of recovery!! Though frequently read at funerals, it is not about death – it is all about life! It is a psalm of victory for those who, like me, have struggled with addictive issues in their life – a great song of praise to the God who restores.
"The Lord is my Shepherd" :
He is the one who initiates the process, and remains in total control of it. He has it completely in hand, and will ensure that it progresses exactly according to His plan. Because He is my Shepherd, and because He is Lord, He will take perfect care of me. In the process, I need to let go control of my own life. I have proved many times over that I am not safe in control, and can only be relied on to continue making a wreck of things.
“I have everything I need” :
Whatever I need while going through this process, He will provide. When I hand my life, and recovery, over to God, I give Him permission to start removing from my life those things that are harmful. In their place, He will provide those things that I need that are healthy, helpful, and necessary. At times, it may feel as if He is stripping away everything that gives my life meaning, but He knows what I really need, and will ensure that I have that much, even if not much more.
"He makes me lie down in green pastures" :
His forceful hand pushes me into stillness. I spent all my time and energy rushing round; I ignored His voice; I tried to cover the gaping emptiness and deep wounds with 'doing', I tried to medicate these hurts with addictive behaviours, and I just dug a deeper hole. A farmer trying to save a trapped animal sometimes has to tranquillise it so it stops its thrashing, and so God has to do that with me. The longer I fight and struggle, the harder God will have to struggle against me. But He will make me rest, whether I want to or not, because until I do, He can't work. I fight because it all seems too hard, to change. But when He finally has me on my back, like a sheep corralled by the Shepherd, to my surprise I find it's actually a pleasant place. I had been expecting a rocky place, not green pastures.
"He leads me beside still waters" :
“Be still and know that I am God,” says the psalmist (Ps 46:10). To put it more bluntly: shut up, stop complaining, and stop kicking. Let it happen. Be still and know that He is God. Quit my thrashing. Start really listening. Recognise that the God of the universe is calming me down, taking me to the places of His choosing, but also providing me with His water of life. Until I am still, He can do little with me. Stillness – what a change from the turbulent waters I have been ploughing through! Maybe it's the first stillness I have known in what seems a lifetime of anguish. Stillness is such a precious gift, I find it hard to accept at first. I want to strive, to earn my recovery, to do it my way, or the way all the voices of the world, authorities and family are insistent I should do it. But the way of stillness is better – a peace I have not known in a long time. And the stillness is beside water. How I have thirsted, and chased all the wrong things to satisfy that thirst. But Jesus says, “If you are thirsty, come to me and drink” (Jn 7:37). And the water He gives will become a well of living water that springs up to everlasting life (Jn 4:14). Stillness and water – what a combination! And He leads me – He doesn't drive me. He walks alongside, encouraging me, holding my hand, knowing I am weak, and helping me over the bumps in the road or around the potholes and pits that would otherwise trip me up.
“He renews my strength” :
My strength is wasted away from fighting countless losing battles with my addiction and my inner turmoil. I became stressed, I soaked the bed at night with the sweat of anxiety, I became depressed and impossible to live with. Outwardly, I might have appeared strong, but it was a hollow shell of nothing, waiting to collapse. And collapse it did when everything came to a head. But God's diet of stillness and living water has flushed out so much that was wrong, and I am growing stronger as I walk with Him and drink from Him.
"He restores my soul" :
My soul became a waste land, my spirit fragmented. As my addiction progressed, all the parts of me – body, mind, soul, conscience, spirit – became disconnected. I was a shattered shell. Healing prayer, which identified the roots and drivers of my addiction, laid the axe to the roots of my disobedience, as I forgave, sought forgiveness, and took everything to the Cross. As I did so, He reintegrated my spirit, soul and body, bringing me back to right balance, healing those parts of me that had become desperately sick; I became a coherent personality again. He is transforming me by renewing my mind (Rom. 12:2).
"He guides me in paths of righteousness" :
In my sin I wandered far from the paths of righteousness. Now He is leading me back into them again, and it is a great joy. It's like walking on a summer's day through a lush meadow, beside the stream of living water that is Jesus. Righteousness is wholesome, bright and refreshing after the experience of the desolate valley of sin. It brings a peace I have not known for many years.
"For His name's sake" :
I brought His name into disrepute. Now, through His forgiveness, I have been restored to fellowship in His family; and through repentance, grace and regrowth, I am beginning to honour His name again. His name is precious to me. But first and foremost, God is doing all this for His own name's sake, before mine.
"Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil" :
There are two valleys. As my sin deepened, I was heading into a deep, deep valley, and the end of that pit was real death. But God, in His graciousness and severe mercy, pulled me out of that pit and set me back on a rock (Psalm 40:2). There is a second valley, or series of valleys, but they are only the shadow of death. These are the valleys of the dark night of the soul, which God puts through as part of His training programme. Some journeys through these valleys last longer than others, but ultimately we emerge back into sunlight. And the final valley we call death is also only a shadow, and I will emerge from that into the brightest light of all, the light of His full presence.
"For you are with me" :
I don't always feel it; some days, even weeks, are dry, lacking any sense of God's presence. And it is then I have to walk by faith and not by sight or feelings. But looking back I see the evidence of His reassurance – “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5) – and can know that despite the lack of feeling, His word is sure and His presence is real.
"Your rod and your staff comfort me" :
I am learning to use God's rod of authority, His word of truth and the power of His Spirit within me. Walking in sin, I had no power, no authority; I could have no confidence in prayer; I was a wasted warrior sidelined from the army of God. Now He is teaching me to once again exercise His weapons of warfare, and to have confidence in His name; to become the man of God He always intended. There are still many times I stumble, feel very weak, need support; and then I know I have His staff to provide that support and to comfort me, even if at times it seems as if I am only just hanging on by my fingernails.
"You prepare a table before me..." :
I am emerging from the valley into a new place, a place of provision, of abundance. And this table is not even the result of my hard work or striving. I used to strive to win approval, to try and be accepted. Now as I am learning to be still, to lie down, He is providing a table with all the things I need. "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added."
"... in the presence of my enemies" :
In my long walk of sin, I made many enemies. Some of those enemies were those who led me into sin, appearing in the guise of friends. In His great grace, God is not only restoring me, but demonstrating that He has forgiven me and enfolded me in His family. My enemies now have a choice. They can continue to be my enemies (in which case they are now fighting God also), or they can choose to change sides and join the joyous celebration. Even if they choose, though, to remain enemies, my job now is to love them, not resent them, to pray for them, and to always keep a seat for them at the table in the hope they will decide to join in.
"You anoint my head with oil" :
You fill me with your Holy Spirit; You commission me for service; You fill me with the oil of joy. Before, my service was barren, un-joyful. Now, with my life based on a new kind of walk with You, I look forward with expectation to where You will take me. My life is not over, my ability to serve in Your Kingdom is not lost.
"My cup overflows" :
"Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life" :
Once, I had no confidence in this whatsoever. I knew in my head that grace is nothing I can earn; it is purely the wonderful gift that God bestows on me. But now I know even further, deep in my heart, that I have been adopted, made a child of His family, and am the recipient of His overflowing love and goodness, and this will continue all the days of my life. I continually pray, 'Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner', not out of fear, but out of the knowledge that I am indeed a desperate sinner who is nonetheless loved by a great Saviour who will never abandon or forsake me.
"And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." :
It is finished!!! Or rather, it is begun!
© John McNeil. All rights reserved.