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Lent, day 21 – For you are with me!

Today’s Lent Reflection comes from Margaret McVeigh our Parish Diocesan Lay Reader

The Shepherd Psalm
Psalm 23: 1-6
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Yea, 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.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Psalm 23 is one of the most familiar and best-loved of all the Psalms. It’s a psalm which has brought comfort and strength to many going through difficult circumstances. You may be in a difficult place today and feel that there’s no one who particularly cares for you as an individual or who ‘looks out for you’ in the confusions of everyday life. David, the psalmist, knew what it was to feel isolated.  He had been a shepherd boy often out alone looking after the flocks and defending them single-handedly against the lion and the bear. But he had found the answer to his isolation:
‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing.’ David had discovered that the Lord, the God of all creation is not just a distant God, far away and unapproachable – but actually one who comes close – like a shepherd.  David knew from his own experience just how closely the shepherd cared for his sheep. He guarded them, protected them, and ensured that they lacked for nothing.  But there’s something else here – that little word ‘my’.  This implies relationship – He knew his Lord in a personal way – he understood that he belonged to him. 

I grew up in a rural community and sheep were a familiar sight on the foothills of the Mourne Mountains – and sometimes on the roads too!  You see, sheep are prone to wander and can be easily led astray. We are all capable of wandering off from God and from His purposes for our lives.  David was conscious of this in his own life too – but he points us to the capacity of the Divine Shepherd to draw us back. ‘He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.’

Jesus longs to draw us back to himself when we wander off – he wants to lead us in paths that will be the most fruitful and purposeful for our lives.  He wants to restore in us God-designed patterns of living that have positive outcomes both for ourselves and for the lives of others.  Like the shepherd who goes after the straying sheep so the Good Shepherd has gone after us – all the way to the cross.  He gave his life so that we could be forgiven and freed to live life to our full potential.

Sometimes the path of life can lead us into dark and difficult places. David walked through many dark valleys in his life but he had found that God was always there.  He had complete confidence in God’s care even in places of deep darkness.  ‘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 staff, they comfort me.’ God promises to be with us and alongside us in the dark places – because he is the one who directs our paths.  Trust him in the dark places and even there his presence will bring shafts of light and the promise of a new dawn.  And remember the key thought in this psalm – that little word ‘my’.  When we can say ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ we have found the key to a life of purpose. We will find ourselves uniquely known and loved by the Good Shepherd himself.

Every blessing,
Margaret.

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