In some ways we may resemble sheep a great deal more than we like to think.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
“The Lord is my shepherd…”
Almost instantly upon hearing these words, many of us utter a sigh — of relief, ease, comfort, and perhaps nostalgia. It is one of the first Scriptures we hear as children, and as adults is very likely the only one we know by heart.
The image is gentle, tender, restful: we are in a green pasture next to a bubbling stream, surrounded by bright wildflowers and soft grass, not a thistle or thorn in sight.
Nearby stands the faithful Shepherd who cares for us. He leads us to the choicest pastures, protects us from predators and poachers, and rescues us when we slip or fall. A gentle smile plays across his lips; we are his joy and delight, he loves us, one and all.
Here is peace and grace, defined. No worries, no fears, no troubles. We relax, safe and secure in our little fleece coats, warmed by the sunshine, caressed by a kindly breeze. What a wonderful place to be….
But, like a beautiful dream, the image soon vanishes and we return, regretfully, to what we call “reality.”
It’s odd, isn’t it, that we have learned to accept stress and distress as normal — and to dismiss tranquility and gentle joys as impossibilities: fantasies that can never be. And, along with the rejection of that “impossible dream” is the elimination of a belief in a loving, caring God.
After all, where’s our proof? What evidence do we have for One who watches over us, a compassionate, personal God who feels the loss of a single sparrow, and knows the number of hairs on each of our heads? Where does the power of this so-called Almighty being show forth in a world filled with disease, destruction, and despair; a place where fear and violence stalk the streets, where the rich grow richer while the weak and weary lose the will to live?
With eyes enlightened by faith, we can see signs of this holy Presence: people reaching out to one another, acts of kindness and compassion, generosity and courage; there is healing, and health restored, recoveries by the thousands; “everyday people” doing their jobs, dedicated to making it possible for goods and services to be delivered. And, as an often-overlooked aside (!) babies are being born, people are falling in love, flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and the sun rises each day. There is hope and joy and glorious possibilities — today, and every day.
Yet you might be forgiven for failing to realize these things. They are least reported and little noticed. And that is very troubling.
Perhaps because of the enforced isolation of the Covid Quarantine, I have become aware of incessant chattering, day and night: many, many voices, through multiple channels and venues, repeating the same message — often using the same words — over and over. What is hopeful is ignored, downplayed, or dismissed; what is grim and depressing is endlessly emphasized.
It is a weird and horrifying danse macabre: a gleeful delight in death; an obsession with body counts, contagion, and predictions of disasters to come. It is as if there is a concerted effort to inspire despair, division, defeat.
And I wonder.… Has the mask slipped in this time of crisis: has the Enemy come out into the open, revealing the age-old determination to exterminate life and light?
"The devil's finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist."
~ Charles Baudelaire
It has become routine, so commonplace that we hardly notice: the steadily declining numbers of those who identify as Christians, buildings sold, missions abandoned (large denominations have adopted programs to “facilitate church closings” — choosing to accept these congregational deaths as inevitable, unavoidable); the record number of persecutions of Christians in Africa and the Middle East ignored as church buildings are demolished, worshippers imprisoned, tortured, murdered. Our complaints and concerns are mocked as “persecution complex,” or winked at as somehow deserved.
Our enemy is not a talking snake, nor a scarlet-skinned ogre with horns and a preference for high temperatures. The demonic is the impulse to destruction, the fascination with violence, the unrestrained self-absorption that makes a god of ME and MINE and delights in crushing the “other.” It is, essentially, what that famous Garden reptile declared: the desire to be “as gods”: to manipulate and control the world. What is devilish is the unrestrained, uncritical celebration of the self — the great and terrible I — and all others be damned.
It is real, it is present, it is powerful, this existential and immediate threat to Life. It speaks in a thousand voices, deceiving, twisting, tormenting; preying on fear; fueled by jealousy, envy, hatred, and greed. Slowly, steadily constraining and constricting its victims, evil gradually crushes the life from those under its power.
That is our enemy: this persistent, destructive power. It is the enemy of our God, and of our very lives, our souls — though we fail to recognize it as such due to our “sophistication” and heedless acceptance of the cultural narrative. No, we insist; there is no such thing as a demon, there is no evil impulse; no one would ever try to control life on this earth, it could never happen; we’re all too smart, too well-informed. Besides, no one believes in that kind of thing anymore.
But Jesus believed. He understood and experienced, first-hand, the reality of wickedness; the terrible fact that within the human heart and mind there exists the will to power: the desire to be in charge, controlling and commanding others, the ability to decide who shall live and who shall die. Human beings, from our beginnings, must struggle with the temptation “to be as gods.”
Evil’s greatest triumph is to convince us that there is no evil, no danger to our souls, no power that seeks to manipulate, use, and confuse us. We are at our most vulnerable when we think we know it all; we are blindest when we are certain that we see exactly how things are.
Our Lord Jesus Christ never took wickedness lightly, but understood that evil was His enemy, our enemy, the enemy of God. Without hesitation or making excuses, he sent demons packing — banished them, exiled them from the lives of those they infected. And He told His followers that we are to do the same.
As Christians, we are not to despair like those without hope, but to live with holy optimism, trusting in God and in our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to be persistent in our prayers, strong in our faith, wise in our understanding. We have been warned:
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore you must be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves.”
~ Matthew 10:16
This world, though beautiful, is not free from dangers. Our enemy doesn’t care about healing or hope, or life, nor light, nor new beginnings. It seeks to devour us and all that we believe in and work for and pray for. It would destroy all that is in its pursuit to gain mastery over “the kingdoms of the earth.”
We mustn’t be naive; we face a formidable foe. To follow the Lord Christ requires that we be wise and courageous; not fearful, but not foolish: aware that evil is a reality.
“The Lord is my shepherd…”
We aren’t on our own here, we are not alone, we haven’t been abandoned; God is on our side. We may be like sheep among wolves, but there’s a Shepherd who loves us and will protect us from evil as long as we stay close to Him. There are enemies in our midst, but they are not invincible. Remember, the Twenty-Third Psalm is attributed to King David, who began his career as a shepherd — and who struck down the mighty Goliath; our Shepherd is every bit as powerful.
We are watched over by One Who loves us so much that He sent His Son to show us the Way to follow. The perennial wickedness sought to destroy this Light-Bearer; to claim absolute authority, and eliminate divine hope and courage and healing love. But God has the last word, and that Word is Life: abundant life here, and eternal life hereafter. For those who follow the Lord, the Twenty-Third Psalm is not a fantastic dream of “some day,” but a present reality.
Christ’s wisdom and grace and healing love abound,
Jesus said to His disciples, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore you must be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves.”
~ Matthew 10:16
~ an interpretation by Deborah
The Lord is my guide and my guard; there is nothing else I need. In Him I find rest and refreshment; peace of mind and tranquility of spirit; His love sets my life in the right direction.
Even in times of danger and distress, evil will not tempt me or taint me, for You — You, my Director and Defender — are with me; I am at peace.
While my enemies seek to devour me, You serve up a banquet where I am the guest of honor: my face glistens, my heart is merry.
I am confident that goodness and compassion will be the pattern of my life, and I will remain in God’s presence forever.