Journal Prayer: 9.3.11

I wrote this when my older sister was about 6 months pregnant, and the doctors told her that her baby would die before or right after the usual 9 months of pregnancy. They also told her that she was at risk of dying due to her placenta previa. If she started labor at any point in her pregnancy, and she hemorrhaged for an hour without being seen at the hospital, then she would die. Her husband was deployed at that time in Africa, so she was living alone with her two year-old daughter in Jacksonville, 176 miles away from me.

Hymn that the Lord used to give me great comfort: “Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go”

God, My Shepherd in the Valley (Psalm 23)

Father,

I thank You for this popular, yet incredibly rich Psalm of confidence in Your pastoral care, guidance, and protection, even as I sense I lack such confidence in You so often through this valley. A few days ago, You reminded me of Christian’s journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death in The Pilgrim’s Progress. This valley is visited by nearly, if not every, Christian. It is the fiery trial I should not be surprised by, yet, as it comes, I feel its pressure and heat crawl around my heart in a way I couldn’t have predicted. I know, Lord, this is meant to be a valley of vision—a place where I more clearly see the mountains of Your love and grace tower over me. And this is what I pray to see more clearly, Father, even through tear-filled eyes. Let me attempt to recount some of the blessed implications and benefits of Your being my Shepherd…

“The Lord is my shepherd…” (Psalm 23:1)…

and a good Shepherd You are, laying down Your own life for Your sheep, to pick it up again. A Shepherd who calls His sheep so effectually that they hear and come to You, finding that You never cast them out. You may break their legs when they stray, but You do so out of love, protecting them from evils that would harm them. On Your neck they more clearly hear Your voice of holy grace and are restored that their broken bones may rejoice in Your salvation again. You guide, You provide, You protect, You care, You love, and You keep watch over my soul.

“and I shall not want…”

I shall never be in lack of what I need, for You alone are my portion. Your lovingkindness is better than life. What a greater weight these words carry to me now that my only sister, my best friend, may be taken from me in her and my young age. Oh, here come the tears again! But I will not be lacking should You take her. I do not know how I will live with this weight, this piercing twist of the dagger in my heart if You take her home…except by knowing, believing, finding that My Shepherd will not leave me in want.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul…” (Psalm 23:2,3)

What a picture of rest and restoration. Even when my soul can’t find any way to rest, You will lay me down and sing over me. You will sustain me with Your goodness, and I will feed on the green pastures of Your faithfulness. You are leading me to still waters, but when? There may be a season or moments or respite for me, but You ultimately lead me to the still waters of New Jerusalem, reminding me through the turbulent waters of this life that this is not my home. You alone restore my soul, stained by my deceitful lusts, broken to pieces by trials.

“He leads me in paths of righteousness

for His name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3)

Israel was not chosen because of their great number or status among the nations, but for Your name’s sake, that Israel and godless nations would know that You are the LORD. My sins are forgiven for Your name’s sake. I am warned and equipped to obey Your law of love by Your grace and for Your glory. And because You are so committed to Your own glory, I find confidence in Your promise to preserve me and complete the work You started in me. You are reserving an inheritance for me in heaven, undefiled by my daily sins on earth. You will perfect that which concerns me because You will not suffer Your name to be marred by even the smallest hint of any unfaithfulness on Your part to Your very precious promises—Your unshakeable Words that promise no condemnation and necessary sanctification for me. Thus, Great Despair, the abusive giant though he be, may he not imprison me behind bars of despondence, depression, and anxiety. Lead me, Lord, in the paths of righteousness, and away from the path to his unforgiving land. Nor let me be conformed to the passions of my former ignorance, being enticed to fall for lustful thinking or bitter grudges to find escapes from my pain. These paths are slippery slopes. Righteous living, though narrower than I know how to walk on my own, is the path on which I want to be.

“Even though I walk through

the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

Your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

Though I, if I were guiding my life, would have chosen a sturdy bridge to cross over to the celestial city, You are a perfectly wise Shepherd who intentionally leads me through this terrible valley. If I’m honest, I must say I don’t like it here. Death casts a perfectly black shadow, and its dreadful cold chills me to my bones. I hate death. And he believes he will swallow me up as he approaches. But because my Shepherd picked up His life after He laid it down for me, death and this mortal body will be swallowed up by life. Death, thou shalt die. Though you threaten and steal from me my loved ones for whom I would die, yet I will not look to the shadow you cast. No, I will look to that which is unseen and eternal. What is your sting? It is but a light momentary affliction that is serving my good, preparing for me an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. And You, my Father, provoke me to call upon You more fervently, more intimately in this valley. I will cry out, “Abba, Father!” by Your Spirit. “Daddy! Hold me!” I will plead. And You, Daddy, will be to me the Shepherd who gathers lambs in His arms, carrying them in His bosom. Gently lead me, my Shepherd. You will carry me through this valley. This is the only reason why I can fear no evil. Because You are with me. If every support in the church and in this world were with me, to comfort and help me, it would not be sufficient. No wonder Moses pleaded with You to go with the Israelites on their way to the promised land. Both prosperity and pain are miserable places to be without You. Take the world but give me Jesus. He and He alone is more than I could ever ask. He is the pearl of immeasurable price. In Him are thousands upon thousands of graces. And He gives from His fullness, grace upon grace, like wave upon wave to wash over me. In His ocean I want to swim.

If You are with me, then I will not fear. I will be afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. For You alone are God, filled with lovingkindness and compassion, and You have the power to perform Your promises. You remain faithful when I am faithless, for You cannot deny Yourself. You are the love that will not let me go. This I know, that You are for me. And if You are for me, who can be against me? Who or what shall separate me from the love of the Trinity who has saved, is saving, and will save me? Neither tribulation, nor distress, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor danger, nor sword…nor a dreadful report from doctors. Not even the evil of uncompassionate friends and miserable comforters like Job’s will I fear. Because You are with me in this valley. You will never leave me nor forsake me. My comfort is Your guiding Word, Your rod and staff. You know where You are taking me. I need not fret. You will work out every step of this journey for my good and Your glory. I need not accuse You of wrong.

Lord, You know I don’t naturally have this confidence…but Your Word is more sure than my deceitful heart. Therefore, enlighten the eyes of my heart to see that You are my Shepherd, and You are with me. The hymns I will sing as I pray, like Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail.

“Oh joy that seeks me through the pain

I cannot close my heart to thee

I trace the rainbow through the rain

And feel the promise is not in vain

That morn shall tearless be

So anoint me with joy,

And joyful I will be

So anoint me with joy,

And joyful I will be.”