You Are With Me – Always"You are with me..."
One of my most important jobs was to teach my granddaughter how to ride her bike. After a bit of trial and error over the course of a week, she gained confidence and could balance herself without my hand steadying the bike. Still, I ran along with her as she wobbled down the bike path. As long as I was close enough for her to see me and know that I was there for her, she did great. If I was too far away, her confidence would fail and she would lose control and veer off the path. Having someone close by was critical for her confidence.
David, the Shepherd who would later be king of Israel, records in Psalm 23 how important and comforting it was to know that the Lord was with him. David confesses to the Lord that “You are with me” (23:4), and in doing so shakes off fear, despair and loneliness. One commentator has given voice to David’s thoughts: “Though invisible, thou wilt attend me. I shall not go alone; I shall not be alone.” David’s short but powerful statement points to three critical aspects of the Lord’s presence.
The words David utters in Hebrew to express God’s presence are often translated as: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me.” The words “with me” can also be translated as “surrounds me.” David the shepherd would have been exposed to threats, fears and dangers while tending his flock alone day after day and night after night. Even when in the very deep valley of the shadow of death, David could exclaim that he will fear no evil because the Lord is with him.
The presence of the Lord has the power to dispel fear even in the most frightening of circumstances. Like David, we can take comfort in knowing that we are under the Lord’s protection. Fear only has power in the temporary realm of this world. The Lord’s presence endures for all eternity.
Imagine the fear and anxiety that gripped the followers of Jesus after the crucifixion. A great evil had come upon the world. The small band of Jesus’ followers had their world violently turned upside down. They were crippled by fear in the face of an evil so great that it would murder the Son of God. The Lord sends a reassuring messenger of protection to the women who were dutybound to care for Jesus’ body. Mark records it this way: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here” (16:6 NIV). In that moment, they discovered the fear–shattering presence of the resurrected Jesus. The evil of this world had not overcome the light. As one writer says, “Without the shepherd, there is only a harassed and helpless flock.” I am grateful that there is a Shepherd who has not abandoned His sheep but is their continually present protector.
David goes on to declare that the Lord’s protection grants a deep and abiding peace. In the latter half of verse 4, David writes, “your rod and staff, they comfort me.” Some have suggested that just the sight of the staff assures sheep of the presence of the shepherd and brings a soothing peace to the flock. (We will take a close look at the metaphors of rod and staff in the next issue.) For David, the presence of his Shepherd was a comforting assurance of the Lord’s faithful care. David finds rest, peace and comfort in the presence of the Lord.
The third aspect of the Lord being with David is one of permanence. The surety with which David composed Psalm 23 shows that he enjoyed an ongoing and permanent sense of the Lord’s presence and the peace. It is not a temporary or short-lived moment of solace. The Lord’s promise of His presence extends into all eternity. As the writer of Hebrews points out, the Lord has said that “I will never leave you or forsake you” (13:5). The presence of the Lord is the one thing that this world cannot take away from us. Material possessions, status and position will all eventually crumble away, but the presence of the Lord remains forever. It is this truth that buffered the believers in the early church. This was the great triumph of Easter morning. Not even death itself could remove the believers from the presence of the Lord. Those who witnessed the resurrection understood, like David, that their desire to dwell in the presence of the Lord forever was possible because the Lord had made it so.
It is important to note that, while the great Shepherd has made provision for His presence to be eternal, we, like sheep, have a tendency to wander. The same David who desired to live in the house of the Lord (Psalm 23) and proclaimed the impossibility of escaping the Lord’s presence (Psalm 139) also pleaded with the Lord to not be cast out of His presence due to his transgressions (Psalm 51). Our tendency to stray does not discount the eternal and permanent nature of the offer of the Lord’s presence.
Psalm 23 is as relevant today as it was when David wrote it. We can come into the presence of the Lord today just as David did, and just as those first believers who approached Jesus’ tomb so desperately on that first Easter morning. The protection, peace and permanence of the Lord is very much available in our world and in our lives. As anxieties, fears and threats continue to rise, we can find great comfort in stepping out in faith, confident that God is with us.
Take a moment today and thank the Lord for being with you. How has the Lord protected you this week? How has the Lord given you peace? What does it mean to you knowing that you have been invited to live in the presence of the Lord forever?
Lt. Colonel Dan Jennings is Divisional Commander for the Army’s Northern Division, with headquarters in Roseville, MN. He earned a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO.