Shalom
11. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever

The end of the Psalm is a beginning. Everything we have considered so far in this Psalm prefigures what these final few words reveal.

From the start of the Psalm, the Lord is presented to us as a shepherd who leads us. Throughout our lives, the shepherd leads us to places of rest and restoration, and through the valleys of deep darkness; on paths of righteousness, and through trials and tribulations. Throughout, he is leading us deeper into shalom where everything is in the right place and nothing is in the wrong place.

But as we considered in the previous reflection, these are necessary for this age because we still live with the presence of evil and death, and our mortal bodies are subject to decay along with the whole of creation. Shalom does exist in this age and is accessible to us in this life, but one day shalom will be our ‘natural’ state.

Throughout this age; throughout our short mortal lives; the Lord leads us to and through all these places and situations to create for us an awareness of what it is to live in shalom. It’s as if he is giving us a taste of what is to come; a limited experience of a future full reality; a partial glance of what we will one day fully see. As Paul puts it,

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
(1 Corinthians 13:12)

In all the ways the Lord leads us, he is pointing us to a future that will be forever.

All roads lead to home

As we have journeyed through this Psalm, we have applied it to the journey of our lives. The culmination of this Psalm finally presents us with a destination. The Lord who is my shepherd is leading me home.

Since the beginning, when the Lord created all things, his dwelling place was with man. He spoke with his children and walked in the garden he created to share with them. When Adam and Eve chose to be like God, their idolatry was an act of adultery in the Lord’s own house; they had to leave. Since then, the Lord has been working his plans and purposes to find a human capable of covenant faithfulness to once again unite him with his people. Many showed faith, but none were faithful — except one.

The father’s own son left his heavenly home to take on flesh and blood and become a man — Jesus. He was the faithful human; he is the faithful human. Through him all mankind finds its redemption, and its right to return home.
We cannot live the life of faithfulness in our own strength, but if we follow Jesus, all roads lead to home.

Heaven on earth

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said,
“Behold, I am making all things new.”
(Revelation 21:1–5)

When the Psalm says that, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” for David, the house of the Lord referred to his heavenly dwelling here on earth. In the beginning it was the Garden of Eden; following the Exodus it was the Tabernacle in the wilderness; then it was the temple in Jerusalem which David wanted to build, but was built by his son Solomon; finally it was Jesus himself — Immanuel, God with us.

In John’s revelation, we see that at the end of this age, heaven and earth will once again be joined, this time forever. The dwelling place of the Lord will be with man, forever. Previously, the dwelling place of God on earth was the temple, but not so in the new Jerusalem —

“For its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”
(Revelation 21:22)

The ‘house’ of the Lord is revealed to be the Lord himself; the God who is spirit, and the God who is man. The destination the shepherd leads us to, is not a place, but a presence. We are being led not to a residence but a relationship. Our minds struggle to make sense of what this might look like, or how it might be, but when we finally reach the ‘house of the Lord’ we will know we are home and it will all make perfect sense.

When we look ahead to this new reality, we discover here in the present that shalom is living in the presence of God all of the time, in our true image, with our true identity, always life in its fullness. As we become increasingly aware of this, our hearts long with a sort of ‘homesickness’ to be at home with the Lord.

Every wrong righted

As we draw these reflections to a close, we end where we began, with an understanding that shalom means everything is in the right place and nothing is in the wrong place. We have considered all the ways in which this applies to the multifaceted mystery that is our life in this age. We have recognised that in all these dimensions of our soul, the Lord who is my shepherd is putting right all that is wrong so that we can live in shalom.

Here at the end of the Psalm, and the end of these reflections, we look ahead to that future age, beyond the horizon as we await the dawn of that new age. In the here and now, we can picture the gentleness of our king Jesus as he wipes away every tear from our eyes; his graciousness as he looks upon us as his beautiful bride and calls us his beloved; his compassion as he takes away all our sorrow and pain; his majesty as he declares,

“Behold, I am making all things new.”
(Revelation 21:5)

We can take heart now that all that is old and passing away will be replaced by that which is new and permanent. The Lord is a God of justice and he will ensure that every wrong is righted — his covenant faithfulness is our guarantee, as is his Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

In that day our heart’s greatest desire will be to live in the presence of the Lord who is my shepherd always.

Therefore, “I shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever”

May you live in Shalom, and know the Lord who is your shepherd is leading you home.
May you know his house is your house and he has gone to prepare a place for you.
May you know that every wrong will be righted and you shall dwell in shalom forever.

Shalom
10. Surely goodness and mercy shall
follow me all the days of my life

Those times in our lives when we look back, what do we see?

Do we look back with regret? Or do we look back with satisfaction?

Whenever we look back on our lives, we do so as a different person to the one we were and from a different place to where we were then. We can sometimes convince ourselves that ‘if only …,’ things might have turned out differently.

It’s undoubtedly true that all our decisions have consequences — for better or worse — but the truth about our past is that ‘if only …’ is an illusion, as we wouldn’t have made different decisions, because we were a different person in a different place back then.

The first part of this final verse of our Psalm invites us to see things in a different way altogether. In two places in this short Psalm, we read how the Lord who is my shepherd leads me. We have already expressed that being led by the shepherd and choosing to follow him are essential to a life lived in shalom.

But as we are being led by our shepherd, we discover that we are also being followed. Yet that which follows us is not what we might at first expect. In this verse we see that if the Lord is my shepherd, and I follow where he leads me, then it is goodness and mercy that follow me.

Redeeming, not regretting

As is often the case with many words from the scriptures, the translation from Hebrew into English can lose something of what is meant by a particular word. There is no better example of this than our word ‘shalom,’ but also here, our English word ’goodness’ can imply something different to each one of us, as it has a moral meaning as well as being a value statement. The Hebrew word used here is ‘towb’ and one of the ways in which this word is also used means ‘beautiful,’ as in something attractive. The Psalm is telling us that beautiful things follow us, when the Lord is my shepherd.

If we considered this word alone, we might not understand what is being expressed here about the nature of a life of shalom. If we couple it with mercy, as the Psalm does, then we can start to see something truly remarkable and incredibly beautiful.

So far in our reflections our focus has been on what our life of shalom looks like as we move forward in life. Our focus has been on the ways the Lord who is my shepherd leads us. But now we discover something amazing — a life lived in shalom not only affects our future, it also redeems our past.

When we choose to follow our shepherd and choose to live increasingly in shalom, everything begins to be put in its proper place. As should now be very familiar to us, shalom means everything in the right place and nothing in the wrong place. That means everything, including our past and our future. We cannot change the past, and we cannot re-live it however much we rehearse our ‘if onlys …’

But if we commit to a life lived in shalom, it frees us to see our past as the path to where we now find ourselves. Our past mistakes now become useful teachers; our wrong turns and dead ends now become the starting points on a new path of righteousness; our trials and troubles now become ways to access new kinds of joy and grace. Instead of regretting our past, shalom redeems it.

The God who wastes nothing

“And we know that for those who love God
all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to his purpose.”
(Romans 8:28)

The redemption of my past is only possible because the Lord is my shepherd. It is in his nature to redeem all things for those who love him. Whatever I’ve done to mess up my life, however many times I’ve strayed, his mercy follows me and transforms that which is ugly into something beautiful. The Psalm expresses this truth with the word ‘surely.’ Surely expresses a sense of certainty, but again, the word in Hebrew can mean ‘only’. Whichever word we choose, we can be certain that only beautiful things will lie in our wake if the Lord’s mercy is following up behind us. And we can be certain that the Lord’s mercy is the only thing he offers to deal with our past; not judgement, not condemnation; only mercy.

If all things work together for good, then nothing is wasted. The Lord who is my shepherd is the God who wastes nothing.

This age, and the age to come

We have already acknowledged in previous reflections that in this age a life lived at 100% — life in all its fullness — might not be possible, but in the age to come, shalom will be our ‘natural’ state. The end of this first part of the final verse of the Psalm says that goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. The Hebrew word translated ‘life’ here is ‘chay’ (khah’-ee) and typically means ‘age.’ It is a recognition that in this age I need the Lord’s mercy to redeem my past so I can be freed to live in shalom, and that I need this all the days of this age — every day. In the age to come, things will be different and we will consider this in the next reflection.

It matters to the Lord as our shepherd that we are not hamstrung by our past, preventing us from leaping forward into a life of shalom. His mercy provides a way to not only free us from our past, but also to redeem it and ensure that ALL the days of our lives — past, present and future — are put into a right place so we can know shalom.

Do you have things in your past you regret? Today they can be redeemed. All that you need is to receive the Lord’s mercy. If you receive his mercy — truly receive — your past will be transformed and open up as a way of life leading up to this present moment, and releasing you to seize the glorious future your shepherd has prepared for you; to know shalom and live your life in all its fullness.

May you live in Shalom, and know your past cannot be changed, but will be redeemed.
May you know his mercy always follows you, to free you to follow wherever he leads you.
May you know the Lord who is your shepherd is the God who wastes nothing.

Shalom
9. You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows

This line of the Psalm is possibly its most beautiful part. So far, we have considered all the ways in which a life lived in shalom requires a right understanding of who our shepherd is, a right balance of being, a right identity, right relationships, and a right attitude towards death and suffering.

But as we arrive at this line of the Psalm, our whole understanding of shalom ascends suddenly to a much higher level as we see just how much the shepherd values and honours each one of us.

What we are about to uncover is that the Lord who is my shepherd pours his gifts, love and grace on us with an extravagance that is truly breathtaking.

Glory hidden in plain sight

“What is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than God
and crowned him with glory and honour.”
(Psalm 8:4-5)

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image
of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called
he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
(Romans 8:29–30)

When we consider the day-to-day ordinariness of our lives it is easy to forget our true nature. In these two scriptures we are reminded that we have been made for glory. We bear the image of the living God. We are being transformed into the likeness of his son. We are a royal priesthood, a holy nation. This is a big deal. You are a big deal.

One of the most effective strategies our enemy has against us is to convince us we are nobodies. Sure, we’re special to somebody — everyone is, but that doesn’t make me ‘special’ special. But the scriptures tell a different story of our lives. Key to living in shalom is that we have a proper view of ourselves as we are seen by the Lord who is my shepherd. As we have stated repeatedly, shalom requires that everything is in the right place, and nothing is in the wrong place. That must include our own image.

If we tell ourselves what our true image is, it is unlikely we would speak truthfully. This is not because we would be untruthful if we were to point out our shortcomings, our weaknesses and our waywardness — we all know these things are true of us; the way we would not be speaking truthfully is that we would almost certainly fall short of describing the glory that the Lord sees in us, and often others can see in us.

Why do we struggle to see the glory within each one of us, when others can so easily? It’s as if our glory is hidden in plain sight.

Anointed ones

The Psalm tells us that the Lord anoints my head with oil. In our culture we don’t tend to see many people anointed with oil. But David, who wrote our Psalm, was anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel. Anointing with oil was a big deal in David’s day. In his mind, it meant you were to become a priest, a prophet or a king. David had been anointed to become king. The other contexts where someone might be anointed would be if they were an esteemed guest in someone’s home. To be anointed was a sign of conferring great honour on the person being anointed. For the people of God, their ultimate king was referred to as Messiah, or Christ in Greek: both mean ‘anointed one’.

Anointing required oils which were very expensive and therefore highly valued. To anoint someone with oil was to transfer this great value to that person — a gift which out-valued the monetary worth. When Jesus was anointed at Bethany by Mary, the gospel tells us that she anointed Jesus’ feet with a perfumed nard that was worth an entire year’s wages. Judas Iscariot immediately tried to put it in monetary terms by saying the nard could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. But Jesus describes its true value and says, “She has done a beautiful thing for me” before adding,

“And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world,
what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
(Mark 14:9 & parallels)

Anointing with oil is a big deal and the one being anointed is also a big deal. The Psalm tells us, “You anoint my head with oil.” We are a big deal to the shepherd. We are his anointed ones. It is fitting that we are called Christians — little Christs; little anointed ones.

Sign and Sacrament

Anointing has a deeper purpose than just conveying honour and expressing value for the person being anointed. It also acts as an outward sign of an inner grace.
The word we use to describe this is ‘sacrament’. When we receive the gifts of bread and wine at Communion, these too are sacraments as they are also an outward sign of an inner grace. When we receive the bread and wine, we believe by faith that we receive Jesus.

When we are anointed with oil, it aroma, its flowing texture, its warmth and its effect on our skin all create a sensation that points to an inner grace and a deeper beauty. The grace we receive releases the true image of God within us, free from the distortion of deception, and healed of the marring caused by our sin.

The Lord who is my shepherd wants us to see who we really are, just as he made us to be, therefore, “He anoints my head with oil.”

Grace upon grace

“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
(John 1:16)

In John’s prologue to his gospel, he describes the word of God — the ‘logos’ — taking on human form and dwelling among us, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we receive grace upon grace. When the Psalm says that the Lord who is my shepherd anoints my head with oil, we can hear it as another way of saying that we receive grace upon grace.

There is no greater gift the Lord can give us than his grace. Without his grace, we cannot receive his love, which is his very nature. Without his grace, we cannot love him with all of our hearts, minds and strength. We need access to his love to know who we really are and whose we really are — to know and be known — and without grace we have no way to access his love.

When I receive his grace; when the Lord anoints my head with oil, then I receive his love, and then I receive grace upon grace. As his love fills my heart it overflows. As his grace fills my life, it overflows. As the Lord anoints my head with oil, my cup overflows. The extravagant, ceaseless flow of grace upon grace leads to the extravagant flow of love to overflowing, and it is all because I am ‘special’ special. In the light of this truth, I can look upon my true image and know:

I am dearly loved.
I am intimately known.
I am valued beyond price.
I am precious.


May you live in Shalom, and may you know your true image as the Lord’s anointed ones.
May you know that you have received grace upon grace till your cup overflows.

May you know you are loved, known and valued beyond price because you are precious.

Shalom
8. Your prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies

Trials and tribulations are an unavoidable part of living in this age.
Jesus said they would be.

“In the world you will have tribulation.”
(John 16:33)

As we have considered previously, in the age to come, shalom will be our ‘natural’ state all of the time. In this age, how can we live in shalom when we know we will have trials and tribulations?

There are perhaps several ways to consider this question, but mostly we tend to respond in one particular way. In this way we see our lives as series of steps forward, punctuated by setbacks that mean we sometimes have to pause or even take steps backwards.

In this way of seeing our trials and tribulations, life is what happens only when we are stepping forward. The absence of troubles becomes our best indicator that we are living our life, and in this mode we can make plans, have hopes and even dare to dream. But when the inevitable setbacks come, we effectively put our lives on hold until we can move past the time of tribulation. In this way of being, we tend to reject any kind of suffering as an imposter and an enemy who has come to steal, kill or destroy us. Our life is supposed to be going a particular way but the enemy is preventing me from living it.

In the previous reflection we saw how a fear of making mistakes, often rooted in shame, can limit us and prevent us from taking risks in life — risks that often lead to significant growth and even great rewards. The same is true if we hold the view set our here, that trials and tribulations prevent us from living our lives. Why would we take a risk if we are comfortably living our lives in peace and without any major concerns? Wouldn’t we risk introducing trials and tribulations? If we did that, the life we were living would come to an end, at least until the trials and tribulations ended.

It is true that we have enemies set on stealing, killing and destroying anything and everything good in our lives. If it were possible, they would even take that life itself.

Jesus said,

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”
(John 10:10a)

But here is the thing we need to notice and pay attention to: if we are living in this way, trying to maintain a life free from trials and tribulations, then our enemy has already succeeded without having to do anything. We have done all the hard work.

How so? As we stated earlier, Jesus said we would have trials and tribulations in this life. They are unavoidable. Avoiding trials and tribulations means avoiding life. The thief can’t steal something we don’t already have. But here is what Jesus also said immediately before and after his words about the inevitability of trials and tribulations:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace (that is, shalom).
In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33)

Immediately after acknowledging that our enemies do indeed come to steal, kill and destroy, Jesus also says,

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that you may have life in all its fullness.”
(John 10:10)

Both of these are Jesus’ ways of saying,

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

Here’s how: Jesus’ view of life includes trials and tribulations and puts them in their proper place. As we considered when we looked at death in an earlier reflection, it too needed to be put in its proper place, because shalom requires that everything is in the right place, and nothing is in the wrong place.

There is something about embracing suffering in a proper way that is part of what it means to live in shalom in the present age. There isn’t sufficient time or space to explore this meaningfully here, but we can see from Jesus’ own example — and that of his apostles and many Christians throughout the centuries — that those who live for God somehow draw the suffering of the world onto themselves and are able to absorb some of its sting and turn a curse into a blessing. It is truly a great mystery, but nevertheless an observable truth, that the sufferings of the world are somehow carried and converted in the body of Christ.

Paul wrote,

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
(Philippians 3:8–11)

To live in shalom in this age requires that we accept trials and tribulations and, moreover, we recognise that, as children of God, we are somehow entrusted with these sufferings for the sake of the whole world. As has already been stated: this is indeed a great mystery, but Jesus uses a familiar picture to emphasise this point.

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come,
but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish,
for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”
(John 16:21)

If we have eyes to see, Jesus is teaching us that our sufferings are like birthing pangs that lead to new life — they are birthing moments. Paul says something similar in Romans 8, and includes the whole of creation as being caught up in this struggle. For Jesus, and in turn Paul, the focus is not the suffering; the focus is life and JOY!

Living in shalom frees us to claim every trial and tribulation as a means to a new level of joy. No one wants or enjoys suffering, and neither should we; a time is coming when there will be no more suffering. But in that day, those wounds we bore for love and for the sake of Christ will be glorified in our resurrection bodies, just as Jesus still bears his wounds.

Therefore we can despise the suffering, yet at the same time shake out the joy from any trial and tribulation. It’s always there for the taking, if we have eyes to see.
This is the abundant, extravagant and mysterious provision that only the Lord who is my shepherd can provide.

In the midst of our trials and tribulations, when our enemies are surrounding us and looking for ways to steal our joy, kill our hope and destroy our faith, the Lord sets a table before us and places some bread and wine on it, and offers them to us saying,

“Take, eat, for this is my body given for you;
Take, drink, for this is my blood, the blood of a new covenant
shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Whenever we gather at this table, in the knowledge and sight of our trials and tribulations, we can know this truth of the Lord who is my shepherd:

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

May you live in Shalom, and may you know that there is joy even in trials and tribulations.
May you know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings as you endure in your own struggles.
May you know the extravagant provision of the Lord in the midst of your enemies.

Shalom
7. Your rod and your staff,
they comfort me

The life of shalom is one which is high in discipline. A life lived where everything is in the right place and nothing is in the wrong place requires a lot of discipline.

When we hear the word discipline, it may invoke negative associations for us, especially if we were ever disciplined in a harsh or excessive way. But the word itself is positive. Discipline is fundamentally about learning. We naturally prefer to learn lessons the easy way, but for many of us, the best lessons we learn are from our mistakes.

If we consider this basic example: when a toddler learns to walk they are actually learning how to not fall. Picture a little girl — every time she falls, the opposite of what she is trying to do, she learns from it, making all the necessary adjustments, until she manages to walk without falling. In this case, falling is the best teacher for learning how to walk.

That is not to say that the best lessons are the ones we enjoy the most. Most of us fear making mistakes, or failing at what we aim for. At the root of this fear is shame. In the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked. As their eyes were opened they became self-aware in a whole new way, and their response was to feel shame. In that moment, their mistake was laid bare before them as they now carried a weighty knowledge they were unequipped for. Since then, shame has cast a long shadow across history and prevented many from living in some measure of shalom.

Shame limits us. It prevents us from taking risks and trying things for fear of getting it wrong and experiencing that shame. It is hard to find a usefulness for shame; it is so entangled with guilt that it has no utility other than to remind us that we have made a mistake.

If we are to live in shalom; if we are to live above 50% and aim towards 100% — life in all its fullness; if we are to grow in maturity and attain to the full stature of Christ; then we need to be free to make mistakes. As has already been set out, mistakes make for good lessons.

Falling short well

At this point we should be clear about one important thing: there is a difference between trying something beyond ourselves and falling short because we made a mistake, and wilfully doing wrong and calling it a ‘mistake’. The scriptures call the latter type of mistake ‘sin’. The Greek word “Hamartia,” which is translated as ‘sin’ means to fall short.

It is an archery term that means missing the mark. But this is to fall short of the ideal that the Lord has set for us as those made in his image; we fall short because we try to be like God, only to find we don’t have what it takes.

As Paul puts it,

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
(Romans 3:23)

When we reach for that ideal with a genuine heart of wanting to please the Lord as his children, we may fall short because we make a mistake. But this kind of falling short should not be a cause of shame. As Paul puts it,

“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God
in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 3:13-14)

If, like Paul, we experience those mistakes and, instead of looking backwards in shame, we look forward and press on, trying and trying again, then we will eventually reach our goal.

This is the mindset of living in shalom. We cannot avoid mistakes when we try something new and if we are to live in shalom, we need to find a way to turn mistakes into opportunities for growth. When Jesus says to us, “Follow me,” he is leading us to a new place; a place where we will grow and bear much fruit. He knows we will make mistakes along the way, but he is also there to discipline us and help us to learn. He hems us in with his shepherd’s rod so we don’t fall off any edges, and gives us a prod when we need it to encourage us to press on to what is ahead of us.

By hook or by crook

If we are to live in shalom, we need to find a way of allowing for mistakes as part of our growth. As we will see in the subsequent reflections, the Lord who is my shepherd wants and wills a life of rich blessing for us, with extravagant provision and unparalleled opportunity. As Paul again puts it,

“It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
(Philippians 2:13)

It is the ‘good pleasure’ of the Lord to give us the Kingdom! He is not concerned by our mistakes, only that we would decide to not enter into the fullness of life he has prepared for us. That is why he has his rod and his staff; to lead the way and mark out safe ground for us, to keep us from straying and to nudge us in the right direction when we do.

The most amazing part is this: even when we stray because of sin, his grace can make a wrong turn or a dead end into the start of a new path of righteousness. He is not focussed on our sins; he is focussed on putting us back on the right path. As a beloved friend used to say, “He doesn’t count the sins; he measures the distance.”

The Lord who is my shepherd has determined that we will reach our goal in Christ and, by hook or by crook, he will get us there.

One more pearl of wisdom from Paul:

“I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you
will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
(Philippians 1:6)

This is indeed a comforting thought. The Lord wants us to grow. He wants us to try. He wants us to step out in faith and even take great leaps. He knows we will fall down, but he will be there to pick us up again. He knows we will make mistakes, but we will also learn the best lessons. His discipline is what makes us his disciples.

Therefore, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

May you live in Shalom, and may you know that his rod of discipline will comfort you.

May you not be limited by shame, or held back by past mistakes.
May you know the Lord will complete his good work in you, and you will live in shalom.

Shalom
6. Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me

The strange thing about life is that it includes death.
It was not always so, in the beginning. And it will not always be so, in the age to come.

If we follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and are born again of his Holy Spirit, we already have eternal life. Nevertheless, we know that one day we will die, even as we know that death is not the end. The only way we avoid death is if Jesus returns first.

When we read the scriptures describing the age to come, it is not difficult to see how our lives will be lived in shalom. In a world where evil is banished and death is no more, living in shalom will be our ‘natural’ state. Finally, we will live as true humans, with a resurrection body, just like Jesus.

But we do not yet live in the age to come. When sin entered the world, death came with it: this is the story of Genesis chapter 3. The Psalm also connects these two: the valley of the shadow of death, and the presence of evil. As we have already heard, neither of these will be part of the age to come, when everything will be shalom. So how do we live in shalom right now, knowing that death awaits each one of us?

As we considered in the second reflection, we will likely never achieve shalom entirely in the present world. Yet we recognised that it is possible to live at a much higher level of vitality, health, purpose and shalom than most of us realise. If we bring that future hope of living in shalom all of the time into the present, we will find that we can live in shalom some of the time.

To die is gain

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.
I am hard pressed between the two.
My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”
(Philippians 1:21–23)

Here, Paul is stating quite clearly that his desire is to choose death, because it would mean gain for him. He knows that when he dies he will be with Christ, and that is far better than anything in this life. Paul is writing these words from prison where the possibility of him being put to death was very real. He is not speaking abstractly — he is coming to terms with reality, and in doing so realising that for those who are in Christ, death is gain.

Have you come to terms with your own death? Does thinking about your death fill you with fear and dread or hope and joy? To live in shalom in the present age means we need to put death in its proper place because, as we have already stated, shalom means everything in the right place, and nothing in the wrong place.

For those who are in Christ, death serves us and also reminds us that the time we have for fruitful living in this age is short and finite. This is its proper place. Death means our ascension to Christ; our descent into the valley may carry us to very low places, and it may be deep and full of shadows, but even the darkest night of the soul compares as nothing to the weight of glory that awaits us as we ascend to be with Christ in his glory. This is death in its proper place, and therefore “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

Walk, not run

The Psalm also reminds us of a truth which we can only discover if we find ourselves in the valley. The Hebrew word for “shadow of death” can also mean “darkness” or “deep shadow”. Some of us may find ourselves in valleys of darkness and deep shadow, with no threat of death. If you have suffered from depression, despair, grief and a paralysing anxiety, you will be familiar with this kind of valley. When we find ourselves in this kind of valley, we find that we can’t run; all we can do is walk. The energy and vitality which seem so natural up on the mountaintop can be utterly drained from us in the valley. Above the clouds, the sun shines endlessly, the air is always clear and we can see to the ends of the sky. In the valley we can lose all perspective and every shadow can become a source of anguish and fear.

During these times, it is hard to believe that life can be anything other than this suffering. When we are forced to walk — even trudge — through these valleys, the days are dark and the nights can seem endless. How then can we live in shalom?

You are with me

The answer to this question is that the Lord who is my shepherd is with me. I am never alone. Knowing I am not alone when I can see that there is someone with me is easy. Knowing I am not alone when I am surrounded by darkness and despair is difficult. Yet this is somehow key to living in shalom. It is not the easy kind of knowing that shows us the true depth of the Lord’s love for us, it’s the hard kind of knowing which does.

Paul discovered one of the most profound truths in the midst of suffering. He writes,

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
(2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Surely this is someone who has learnt to live in shalom even in the valley of deep darkness.

Perhaps the greatest example comes from the Lord Jesus. On the cross, he cried out,

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Matthew 27:46)

Yet we know that Jesus chose to die on the cross because he loved his Father and knew that he would not be forsaken. The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith. Why? Because he endured the cross for the joy that was set before him (see Hebrews 12:2). Jesus knew that resurrection was before him and shalom forevermore. He also knew that he was making the way possible for us to also have what he has. His experience of being forsaken on the cross was surely real, yet at the deepest, darkest moment of loss and despair Jesus still utters these words:

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
(Luke 23:45)

This is the same as, “The Lord is my shepherd… I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” 
Jesus surrendered himself fully to his Father’s love, even to the point of death, because he trusted him. We can trust him too.

Therefore, “Even though I walk through the valley of darkness, or the valley of deep shadows, or the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

May you live in Shalom, and may you know that for those who are in Christ, death is gain.
May you know that Christ’s power is made perfect in your weakness.
May you know the Lord is ALWAYS with you, and especially in the valley of deep shadow.

Shalom
5. He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

The essential quality of a good shepherd is that he can lead the sheep. If the sheep do not respond to the shepherd’s voice, he cannot lead them anywhere.

Sheep are not known for their astuteness when it comes to anticipating threats and dangers, but the shepherd knows all too well what is lurking around his sheep, looking for an opportunity to seize one. Sheep are known for going astray. Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep works thematically precisely because sheep are prone to going astray. The prophet Isaiah, when writing one of the servant songs (which prefigured Jesus) wrote:

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
(Isaiah 53:6)

We, like sheep, are prone to waywardness and we, also like sheep, are typically unaware of the dangers that beset us, often as temptations to go the wrong way. This is why we have to repent daily: to repent means to stop going further along the wrong path, and turn back to rejoin the right one. It’s necessary for a life lived in shalom that the Lord leads us; this means we don’t get ahead of him or try and look too far ahead, instead walking closely behind him so we can hear his voice as he says to each one of us, “Follow me.”

The sheep hear his voice

As we set out in the first reflection, to live a life in shalom we need to be led by the Lord who is my shepherd. Jesus reveals himself as the Good Shepherd and says to us,

“He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him,
for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
(John 10:2-5)

If we are to respond to the shepherd’s voice, and not listen to the voice of strangers (ours included), we need to be in a right relationship with him. This is how we can best understand the word “righteousness” — being in a right relationship.

Paths of righteousness

In the first reflection we established that shalom means that everything is in the right place and nothing is in the wrong place. Shalom is therefore the perfect expression of righteousness where everyone and everything is in a right relationship. If I have any relationships that are broken or not ‘right,’ we might say that they are not in the right place, or even in the wrong place. This is not shalom.

The Psalm tells us that the Lord who is my shepherd “leads me in paths of righteousness.” The paths that he leads us in include those that lead to ‘still waters’, as we considered in an earlier reflection. Stillness is part of how we have a right relationship with ourselves, becoming less about ‘doing’ and more about ‘being’. In the stillness we discover more about who we really are. It’s also part of how we have a right relationship with the Lord, as we are being obedient to his commandment that we

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”
(Exodus 20:8).

Apart from these paths that lead to ‘still waters’, the Lord leads us in other paths. For example, the remaining six of the ten commandments after remembering the Sabbath all concern living in right relationship with our parents, our communities and wider society. And the essence of Jesus’ teaching is right relationship. The new commandment he gives his disciples is that we love one another as he loves us — relationship.

The paths that the Lord leads me in are not ways to a specific destination; they are ways into right relationships of all kinds, with all of creation, and an essential part of the journey of my life lived in shalom. I cannot live in shalom if I am not in right relationships, and the one who shows me how to be in a right relationship, the one who leads me, is the Lord who is my shepherd.

Therefore, he leads me in paths of righteousness.

A new name, a new family

The final part of this line of the Psalm tells us that the Lord leads us in these paths of righteousness “for his name’s sake.” At first glance, it’s not apparent as to why the shepherd leads me for the sake of his name. Yet when we consider what we have already discovered about shalom, it becomes clear that this is the best and only reason he leads us along these paths.

In the previous reflection, we saw that the key to knowing who I am is knowing whose I am. If I know I belong to the Lord then I can know who I really am. Being ‘his’ means knowing my identity as a child of the Lord. If I am his child, then I am part of his family and I carry his name. At our baptism, we were baptised into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit — in that moment we became part of the family of God, and in a very real way we experienced being ‘born again,’ this time with a clear identity of who our Heavenly Father is. Like Jesus, we too can now hear the words spoken from heaven, “You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased” (see Mark 1:11 & parallels).

As a child of God, baptised into his name, I also carry his name, and this is why “he leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” The characteristic that defines this family is righteousness — right relationships. Indeed Jesus says to his disciples,

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another”
(John 13:35).

This is Jesus’ version of the Lord leading us in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. His name means something, and his name has real power; the power to change hearts; the power to set people free; the power to give new life; the power to live in right relationships; the power to live in shalom.

Therefore, he leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

May you live in Shalom, and know that the Lord will lead you into right relationships.
May you hear the Good Shepherd as he calls you saying, “Follow me.”

May you know that as a child of God you bear his name — ‘the Lord our righteousness.’

Shalom
4. He restores my soul.


To restore is to put something back as it was. If we are to live in shalom, some restoration work is needed, and it is ‘he’ — the Lord who is my shepherd — who restores my soul.

The word ‘soul’ here does not mean what many in our culture think it means. The commonly held view (popularised by Plato) is that our souls are a detachable part of our being, somehow contained — or even trapped — in our physical bodies.

The Hebrew word translated as ‘soul’ here is “nephesh”. When God made Adam, he made him from the dust of the earth and then breathed the breath of life into his nostrils and he became “nephesh” — a living being (see Genesis 2:7). A better understanding of our soul is the uniqueness of our being as a living person. Or we could say, our soul is the real person — the real ‘me’. You do not have a soul; you are a soul.

Restoring our soul is about us becoming the real person we were made to be. In the previous reflection we acknowledged that our full lives can prevent us from living in fullness, and fullness begins with stillness. In the stillness, we discover what is essential and what is incidental to our lives. We can then make our lives less full in our doing, and more full in our being.

Similarly, if the real ‘me’ has been shaped by people, experiences and influences that are not the Lord who is my shepherd, then I will increasingly struggle to live in my true identity. To live as the real ‘me’, I need to be restored by my Shepherd, so I can know my true identity. Once I know who I really am, I can grow as that person and live increasingly in shalom. The key to knowing who I am is knowing whose I am. If I belong to the Lord who is my shepherd, then I will know who I really am.

Getting your life back

The best news about the Lord restoring my soul is that I get my life back! When the Lord restores my soul, I start to live as a true human, the one he made me to be.

When Jesus spoke with Nicodemus, he told him he would have to be “born again” to see and enter the Kingdom of God (see John 3:3ff). The Kingdom of God is the place where God is King and all of creation lives in shalom. Throughout the Old Testament period, the great prophets spoke in different ways about the age to come where we receive a new heart; where swords are beaten into ploughshares; where the wolf dwells with the lamb; where the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about seeing and entering the Kingdom of God, both had in mind the age to come and a life of shalom. And Jesus made it clear: you have to be born again to live a life of shalom.

Being born again is another way of saying “he restores my soul.” It is an opportunity to let go of everything that has defined and shaped our lives so far; our dreams and ambitions, our fears and doubts, even our certainties, and especially our concepts and ideas of who God is; and be reborn as the person the Lord made us to be.

A newborn baby experiences everything as new. When we are born again, we too find that our lives are filled with newness: new ways of seeing, new ways of thinking, new knowledge for our renewed minds, new love for our new hearts, and so the list goes on. Even many familiar things now take on a new meaning and they too seem to be restored.

We all know that we can be Born Again (capital ‘B’, capital ‘A’) at a defined moment in our lives where we choose to follow Jesus. But we can also experience being born again (lowercase ‘b’, lowercase ‘a’) every day. New encounters with God; fresh insights from the scriptures; powerful experiences of the Holy Spirit; all these can be so life-changing that we experience another way to be born again. The Lord, our shepherd says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). The Lord’s work of restoration is not static, but ongoing. Every day is a fresh opportunity to be reborn and become ourselves more fully.

This is how it is when the Lord restores my soul. I am reborn by God’s Holy Spirit and I get my life back — he restores my soul.

May you live in Shalom, and may you know that the Lord will restore your soul.
May you know who you really are by knowing whose you really are.

May you be born again this day and every day as the Lord restores your soul.

Shalom
3. He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

The first step towards fulness is stillness.
In the previous reflection we noted that most of us live our lives at less than 50%. We also saw that living in shalom requires we are open to more life — abundant life.

Most of us know our lives are full, but this is not the same as a life lived in fullness.
Which is why the first step towards fullness is stillness.

In our culture, we are programmed to ‘do’. We have lost the way of simply being. Most of us have been ‘doing’ for so long we don’t know how to be still.

In the previous reflections we established that to live in shalom requires that I be led by the Lord who is my shepherd, and that he provides for all my needs and only gives me good things.

In this next line of the Psalm, David, who was a shepherd, writes that the Lord who is my shepherd makes me lie down in green pastures.” To get a fuller understanding of shalom, we must focus on the word ‘makes’. This word does not imply choice on our part — to be ‘made’ to do something is to be subdued by someone or something more powerful than yourself. The Lord, who is my shepherd, ‘makes’ me lie down in green pastures. He imposes it upon me. Remember, the shepherd only gives us good things, so his insistence that we lie down is part of his provision for our life in shalom. If he didn’t ‘make’ us lie down, we would continue to be human doings all the time, instead of human beings. We need stillness in our lives, and the Lord who is my shepherd makes me be still on the path to shalom.

The stillness the shepherd provides is the gift of joyful rest. It’s the gift of time set apart for the sheer joy of doing nothing.

We can see this from the Psalm — he makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. For a sheep — and especially in the hot and dry climate of the ancient near east — a green pasture is a place of luxury; enough grass to eat until you can’t eat any more. And the still waters from a desert oasis means coolness from the heat and enough water to drink and be satisfied. This is not a picture of resting out of need alone; it is a picture of luxurious rest.

But this picture of indulgence doesn’t mean that we don’t need to rest, because if we want to live in shalom, we do. How often do we take time for luxurious rest and to just enjoy the stillness? If the answer is frequently and often, then maybe we are well on our way to a life of shalom. But if the answer is rarely and infrequently, then we can be thankful that the Lord who is my shepherd will make me lie down and lead me to places of stillness.

Yet the need for stillness can sometimes be more urgent, especially if the only times we are still are when we freeze in the midst of difficult situations, or we get so exhausted that all we have left is to stop. An experienced shepherd knows the difference between a real oasis and a mirage; he has to, as it is a matter of life and death for his sheep. In the same way, the Lord knows the difference between the kind of rest that is part of the journey to shalom and the enforced stop that inevitably comes when we don’t practice stillness and become exhausted, or even burn out.

Many of us work too hard, often at the expense of our sleep, believing that it is more productive — perhaps even more ‘virtuous’ — to work hard rather than rest. But as Solomon writes in one of his Psalms,

“It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
(Psalm 172:2)

If we want to live in shalom, then we need to embrace the gift of sleep and ensure we prioritise it as a necessary part of our health and wellbeing. It is worth noting that from the very beginning, the day begins in the evening, which means one of the first things we do in each day is sleep.

We will consider how a life lived in shalom responds to troubles, burn outs and insomnia later on, but for now all we need to say is that the shepherd does not want to ‘make me lie down’ because I don’t know how to; he wants me to be still so I can enjoy being still.

The Sabbath was made for man

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
(Mark 2:27)

Jesus said these words to the Pharisees when challenged about his disciples eating ears of corn on the sabbath. Jesus pointed out that David (who wrote the Psalm we are exploring) took the Bread of Presence from the house of the Lord — something which was forbidden — and even gave it to his filthy fighting men. His point? Everything which is considered holy to God is ultimately for the enjoyment of his children. Therefore, sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.

‘Remember the sabbath to keep it holy’
(Exodus 20:8)

This is the fourth of the ten commandments and preceded only by those concerning how we relate to God himself. Remembering the sabbath and keeping it holy is a commandment. It is not optional. It is the explicit version of the more implicit line from our Psalm, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.”

Jesus often took time out to be still and to simply ‘be’ with his Father. He needed it, and we do too.

Presence in the present

All of us can practise stillness. For some, simply stopping and doing nothing for the sheer pleasure of it may seem so alien to us that we wouldn’t know where to begin. For others, we may have spent years taking time out for meditation or contemplation and will undoubtedly know the value of stillness.

However you choose to find stillness, the wonderful, life-changing power of being fully present in this moment in the presence of the Lord, who is my shepherd and made me, is something that can only be experienced firsthand.

Wherever we are on our journey, practising stillness is necessary for shalom.

Do you want to start today?
Start with something very simple: sit comfortably, close your eyes and breathe in for 5 seconds, then breathe out for 7 seconds. Count each second; observe your breathing. Do this for a full 3 minutes.

Soon, you will find that stillness comes more naturally and you can start to notice more than just your breathing. Before long, you will be enjoying being in the presence of the Lord as “he makes you lie down in green pastures; as he leads you beside still waters.”

May you live in Shalom, and know that the Lord will make you lie down in stillness.
May you know the joy of being present in the Lord’s presence.
May you know that the Lord gives to his beloved sleep.

Power

Power, true power,
Knows the love of One
Who truly frees, to
Live, die, and live again.
Power, true power,
Does not hold on to
Things that are decaying,
Or hopes that are fading,
Or a life that is dying. No.
Power, true power,
Embraces death
In a defiant grip;
Not letting go until
Death itself has been
Subdued and overcome by
Power, true power.
And then a life beyond
And a life which was, before,
Flows in (to the place
Where death once stood),
And is gathered up and
Lifted high – a trophy prize –
To One whose love freed to
Live, die and live again, in
Power, true power.

“The Father has an intense love for me because I freely give my own life—to raise it up again. I surrender my own life, and no one has the power to take my life from me. I have the authority to lay it down and the power to take it back again. This is the destiny my Father has set before me.”

John 10:17–18 (TPT)