Over the past few months I have been reading Psalm 23 a lot. It has become a bit of a vocational hazard. It has been chosen by many families to be read, or listened too, at one of the most difficult moments faced by all; a funeral. Yet, there is much to be learnt from this psalm beyond the moments of death.
Psalm 23 is probably one of the most well known, and popular, psalms and although wholly appropriate to be read at funeral services this psalm has as much to say to the living as it does to the bereaved. For this is a psalm which puts our daily activities; our eating, drinking, resting, seeking security, into the hands of God. This psalm shifts our self-entered perspective into a radical God-centred perspective.
I wonder if there is something that you could not have lived without during these past few months. Whether it be music, or food, or warmth, or the internet (and the dreaded Zoom), things which have enabled you to fill your life and make sure you have been okay. Things which have enabled your life to be comfortable no matter what is going on out there.
I wonder if you panicked when the shops got low on toilet roll, or if you stocked enough pasta to get you through to Christmas. Did you trust in the kindness of others, or did you cling to self-protection and a culture of grabbing what you needed before looking out for those in need.
Whatever choices you made there is a passage in the Gospel of Matthew which, when linked with Psalm 23, promotes a different way of life and tells us to trust in a different story. Jesus, speaking to his disciples, says this:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear . . . But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” (Matt 6:25, 33 NRSV)
Strive not for the things of the world but, instead, strive for the things of the kingdom. Look first to God, then to the world. Focus on your heavenly needs rather than your earthly ones. This is the message Jesus is giving the disciples and they are words which we need to hear as well.
As you return to this famous, and often read, psalm. Why not reframe your thoughts. Instead of reading it as a psalm within a context of death and dying instead read it as a psalm about striving to not worry now. For who has added a year to their life by worrying. No-one. Before worrying, pray. Trust in God. Live counter-culturally.
In our culture we are told to trust no-one. The state will let us down, our friends will let us down, God will let us down. Ultimately, we need to trust in ourselves. For it is only through self provision that we will survive. Yet our Gospel tells a different story. Our Gospel tells of a story of hope in the midst of suffering. Our Gospel tells us that there is someone else to trust and that He died and rose again for us. That has to be something to be thankful for, even when we didn’t have enough toilet roll or pasta!
So, as you re-read this psalm pray that you will trust more in God, and less in yourself. Seek to live humbly and walk faithfully as a child of God. Pray to God trusting that He will answer your prayers when you call. For, as we read in Psalm 23, God provides all our food, all our security, all our hope.
Maybe this, over and above any other, is the reason that I have spent a lot of time with this psalm of the last few months. Not because it speaks of hope, and comfort, at a time of death. But because it reminds us that God is our hope and comfort now and that we can put our trust in Him. Maybe it reminds us all that rather than going it alone we should let God into our life and trust that He will provide for our needs, even when we run out of toilet paper and pasta. Maybe, just maybe, in this psalm we find a purpose and prayer. In this psalm, more than many of the others, we hear of a God who loves us completely and does not want to see us go without. Our God has abundantly more than we can ask or imagine we just need to trust.