The Lord is my Shepherd: Psalm 23
I want to write a series called "The Lord is my shepherd," from Psalm 23. The idea of this series would be investigating in what way God is our provider and caretaker of all our needs and desires. It comes from my own experience with God being my shepherd.
In my junior year of college, I started doubting God's very existence. This came about because I had two of my closest friends "leave me." Let me provide some context...
I don't think I ever felt like I had a really close guy friend growing up. I don't know what it was but I just never felt like I was able to make a deep and meaningful connection with my high school friends. Don't get me wrong, they were mostly all super great people and I hung out with them very often. It wasn't a problem with the people I was with, as I saw how close they had grown together and wondered if I would ever experience the same thing. It was a problem with me, at least this is what I concluded. After all, everyone else seemed to be such great friends with everyone else... I was the only one who seemed to have any problem at all with connecting with the guys in our group of friends.
This only, if anything, got worse in college. The guys on my dorm floor were mostly party-ers and I didn't feel like I had much in common with them. My roommate was a swimmer, so he had his own circle of friends. My fellowship had so few guys in my year, and I was the only non-leader guy in my small group.
After my freshman year, in the eleventh hour, through the use of the SARS epidemic (you'll have to ask me about this later :D), God provided me the opportunity to go to Hawaii on a missions trip where we enrolled in summer school, reached out to our classmates, and learn about culturally contextualized ministry. Before arriving, I was truly worried about whether or not I'd be able to connect with the guys in our team. I'm not a very confident person when if comes to social stuff... I've gotten better, but it's still not my strong suit.
In anycase, God had something completely unexpected planned for me. My roommate and I more or less hit it off right from the start. We would have these awesome late night discussions about our lives, the missions trip, theology, relationships, and God. We were only on project together for three weeks, but God developed a deep bond between us in that time. It was something I had never experienced to that point in my life. The following sophomore year after returning from project, we kept in touch about once a month by phone.
Spring semester of my second year, I started meeting up with a senior in my fellowship who led the outreach team, a team I joined in the Fall. We didn't really know each other very well, because I was doing ministry in Unit 3 while he was stationed in Unit 1. So when he asked to hang out, I was pretty surprised and didn't really know what to expect. I assumed we'd probably meet for something like an hour (the usual meeting length), but on our very first meeting, we ended up talking for like over 4 hours! It was an instant connection--one that I can only assume comes once in a lifetime. We seriously talked about the most random things too, from politics, development, and the news, to life,our past, and God.
I mention these stories to illustrate just how rare I felt these friendships were. In fact, to this day, I don't think I've ever experienced the same kind of deep connection with any of my other guy friends. In one year, I had gone from having trouble making any guy friends at Berkeley to having two amazing brothers--the kind of friends one never forgets.
As sudden as God gave them, He also quickly took them away. The summer after my sophomore year, Matt (my friend from Hawaii) left for a year to India to study abroad. Barry (the outreach leader) graduated and went on a year long missions internship to China. Both friendships would never be the same after they got back.
After having such deep friendships and then losing them at the same time, Fall semester my junior year was a lonely one. I still had great friends around me, but I felt pretty empty inside. I kept asking God why He would take them away all at once like this--just when I thought I was learning to make connections with other guys, He takes away the most meaningful friends I had ever had.
It all culminated during finals week that Fall semester. At the time, I considered myself well-read in my Christian faith and so I knew that what I was feeling couldn't be Biblical! How could God be "all that and more" if my happiness seemed to be based on my circumstances... on my friendships... on my community (or lack of it)? Where was the supposed joy that God brings? To be perfectly honest, I was so distraught by this contradiction that the ONLY thing that kept me from giving up on my faith was scientific proof that I simply can't deny that proves to me that Jesus was indeed God.
I expressed my dilemma with my older and wiser roommate, and the first thing he said was, "Well, it's important to be said that the Bible says that God indeed provides for our every need and desire." I was completely shocked. You mean I am... right? I thought that his response would be some rationalization that explained how God is still sovereign or maybe something about how God uses suffering or how God only provides for our needs and these friendships aren't really needs or maybe even that I had placed too much importance on these relationships.
I quickly asked, "Where does it say that?"
"Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want."
I had never ever heard that verse read in this way before. God, and only God, claims that he provides for all my desires. Not just my needs, but my desires... my wants. He claims to be Enough... wait, no... more than Enough.
I decided to put this seriously to the test. The thought experiment I created in my head was, "If I was in an empty white-walled room with nothing but God and myself, for my whole life, would I be happy? Could I be?" I began by seriously seeking out God's face. Every morning, I woke up almost two hours before my roommates to read the Bible, read a book recommended to me by my roommate, and to spend 30 minutes to an hour meditating on the Lord. When I say "meditating," I mean I spent time clearing my mind, giving up everything I had going on that day to God, and then thinking about and imagining God's presence. Sometimes this meant picturing God's face, sometimes this involved repeating and memorizing scripture, and most all of the time this required listening to God... imagining what He would say about my daily life.
Through this process, I began to really, intimately encounter God. I learned what His voice sounded like. I became increasingly grounded in God's vision of myself, my life, and the world around me. And most of all, I learned that indeed the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. That hour every morning... I never wanted it to end--I would hear my roommates waking up and I would pry myself away from God's presence. I suddenly understood the appeal of an ascetic lifestyle--I could sit in God's presence all day and never be in want.
Understanding the Lord as our shepherd goes beyond asceticism and meditation. As I have graduated from college, God has continued to remind me of this Truth time and time again. I have seen this idea permeate throughout my life: friendships and relationships, church and ministry, finances and work, and other important life decisions. I have come to see that if I remind, and ground myself in the Lord as my shepherd, He provides freedom and joy (even dare I say happiness) for our lives.
Last month, God put this on my heart... to share my experience and understanding about God as a God who provides. In my conversations with people and hearing about what those around me were struggling with, this concept or vision of God kept coming up for me. This new year, one of my resolutions is to finally get around to writing this!
God presents Himself to us throughout the Bible in many different ways, as our savior, our father, our friend, our helper, but one way that I feel I have not yet fully fleshed out is the Lord as my shepherd, I shall not be in want. Maybe this is because I've never had a shepherd before... :). I hope this series will give me a chance to delve deep into the idea and really learn (and experience) what it means to have God has my shepherd, and in the process, I hope that God would use it to bless others.
Thanks for reading!