Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The 23rd Psalm, Not Just for Funerals

We’ve all read it, whether we’re a believer or not, the 23rd Psalm.  It’s printed on almost every funeral card.

Psalm 23 NIV 1984
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in 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 overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

During 2007, I meditated on this Psalm a lot, particularly, “your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  I was grieving the loss of a dream since the Lord had asked me to leave The Los Angeles Dream Center after my completion of one year of Master’s Commission.  The entire year I lived in L.A. God was silent about whether I would be returning for a second year of Master’s.  I had come to peace with staying as I poured my heart and soul into the hurting of L.A.  Through a series of intense Holy Spirit encounters, I knew I was to return home to Pennsylvania and wait on the Lord to send me to Israel.  I grieved hard.  I felt like the Holy Spirit was gently nudging me saying that if I stayed in L.A. I would be sacrificing the best for the good.  I had already been accepted as a second year student to co-lead the dance team and outreach team with two of my best friends.  I was crushed, but was faced with a decision:  would I chase my dream or give it up to learn what God’s dream for my life was?  As hard as it was, I chose to wait for God’s dream.

I felt that I entered into an intense time of discipline from the Holy Spirit.  This sounds awful, but the bible teaches in Hebrews that God disciplines those He loves and everyone He accepts as a son. (In my case, it’s fair to say, “daughter.”)  It goes on to say that EVERYONE undergoes discipline, for if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be legitimate children of the Lord.  It was during this time of being under the Lord’s “rod” and “staff” that the second half of that verse came alive to me, “They comfort me.”

A rod and staff are used for protection and guidance of the shepherds’ flock, and yes, discipline if one is going astray, not listening, or on the wrong path.  The Psalmist is saying that those very items that are used for correction by our Shepherd bring comfort.  Wow.  I decided that I would allow this discipline season to bring comfort.

When I traveled to Africa in the fall of 2007 I sat at a dinner table in Meru near the end of our trip.  A bishop got up to give a welcome and a short teaching.  He taught on Psalm 23 and explained that God’s rod and staff of discipline bring comfort.  It was the first time I had heard it taught on in the same manner that the Lord was teaching me.  I was encouraged to have confirmation.

Fast forward to the winter of 2012.  I was five months pregnant with my first child and was increasingly having heart palpitations followed by shortness of breath.  I called my PCP who saw me immediately, referring me to the cardiologist to wear a Holter monitor for seven days.  When I would have the heart palpitation, I was to record it on the monitor.  Then, I called a phone number to the cardiologist and played my recording.  It would then translate to see what the rhythms of my heart were doing.  Often, I wouldn’t have the palpitations for over a week.  I was concerned that they wouldn’t happen during the time I wore the monitor and I wouldn’t know what was wrong with me.  On the second day of having the monitor, I had a small palpitation and tried to record it.  The recording came back normal.  I prayed, “Lord, whatever is happening in my heart, let it happen long enough for me to record it.”  Later that same day, I was enjoying lunch with a coworker and friend when my heart starting jumping all over the place at rapid speed.  I started recording, while it continued and I was losing my breath.  I stood up to try to even myself out and breath correctly.  My heart continued to act up and I continued recording.  I asked my friend to walk outside with me to get fresh air.  As we walked around our office building, my heart stopped its anxious pulsating as abruptly as it had begun.  It was the longest issue I had had and I recorded the whole thing.  I quickly called it in.  The interpreter advised that I had an episode of tachycardia, which is just rapid heart rate.  She said she would send the results to my PCP.  Within a half hour, I received a call at work.  My PCP was very calm. “How are you?”  He asked. “I’m well,” I replied.  He questioned further, “So, how long has this been going on?”

I began explaining the symptoms I had for the past couple years and that I always assumed it was anxiety, but now that I was pregnant, I didn’t want to take any chances.  He gently explained that I had an episode of ventricular tachycardia, it wasn’t anxiety and that I needed to go to the emergency room.  He said he would meet me there.

So, of course, what does a medical billing supervisor do when she receives her diagnosis?  Look it up on Wikipedia, of course!  One phrase with two scary words stood out to me as I quickly read over the description, “may result in sudden death.”  I had been battling fear of death my entire pregnancy, particularly the doubt that Jesus would accept me into heaven.  I was having panic of what the afterlife would hold, particular the transition between earth into heaven.  I did not want to go down any long tunnels, unsure of what was on the other side.  I went into full blown panic on the inside as I started crying right in the office, while trying to maintain a professional composure.  The women of the office started gathering around me, as a dear friend volunteered to take me to the hospital.  A believer put her hand on me and I looked her square in the face and said, “I don’t want to die.”  She said with all gentleness, “You’re not going to die.”  My boss even came out of her busy office and held my shoulders, “Dawn, you are going to be ok.”

The entire ride to the hospital, I sat as if I was calm, but inside my mind, I was panicking.  “God, why would you let me go through this knowing how scared I am of death right now?!  Please, don’t let Scott be alone!  Please don’t leave him alone on this earth!  Please, don’t take me and his unborn child!”  I thanked my ride and waited in the emergency room while my husband arrived.  I said, “Please, just read the bible to me.”  As I stilled my insides, I asked the Lord what I should read and I kept feeling the prompting, “Psalm 23.”  “The 23rd Psalm!?” My mind screamed!  “That’s for funerals!  I’m going to die!”  I refused to tell Scott to read that Psalm to me, thinking the Lord was trying to prepare me for death.  (And for those of you reading this who don’t know me, yes I am that dramatic.)  Meanwhile, the believers at work had gathered to pray for me and they specifically prayed for a Christian nurse.

God knew what I needed.  He didn’t give me a Christian nurse, but a Jewish one, who had Hebrew words tattooed on her wrist.  It comforted me, as we shared stories of our visits to Israel.  My other nurse was a wonderfully feminine man who joked and laughed with me as he took the utmost care of me.  When my doctor arrived, he advised no caffeine, and that “this is what happens to people who go jogging and don’t come back.”  Thanks, doc.

Once I was settled in my room, it quickly spread that a pregnant woman was being looked after.  The nurses on my floor were abuzz with excitement.  My husband, as always, was so caring and gentle towards me.  I cried and cried.  I had never been admitted to the hospital before!  Well, ok, once before I knew the Lord, but I was tripping on acid, so it doesn’t count.  He tucked me in, kissed my forehead, told me to get rest and spend time with the Lord.  When he left, I cried, and turned on our local Christian television station.  Wouldn’t you know, a Jewish man was playing the piano and singing…the 23rd Psalm.  God was bringing it into my life, although I had refused to read it.  Having more sense and calmness, I listened to the words.  This Psalm wasn’t written by David in the 10th century BC for all American funerals!  It was the cry of his heart to the Lord he had gotten to know so tenderly while taking care of sheep alone in fields.  What was God trying to convey to me?  What truths can I, and all of us, take from each verse of the 23rd Psalm?  This is what I sense Him speaking to me through each verse.

Verse 1:  He is my shepherd, who guides me, protects me, even corrects me, so that I will never lack.

Verse 2:  When I won’t quiet myself, He makes me rest beside a quiet stream.

Verse 3: He restores me.  He guides me along the right path because He is good.  His name is Faithful and True.

Verse 4: Even if I am faced with death, I don’t have to fear, because the Lord is with me.  He is protecting and guiding me.  He is bringing comfort to me.

Verse 5: He would put out a table, spread a beautiful table cloth on it, and make me a feast while people who hate me watch.  He would gently touch my forehead with scented oil, while I hold a golden chalice overflowing with good wine.

Verse 6:  I am followed by His goodness every single day, every single minute.  I am followed by His purest love every single day, every single minute.  I will dwell inside of God’s house on this earth, and for eternity.

See, the 23rd Psalm is not just for funerals, it’s for everyday life.  It holds truths that we so desperately need to make it through our LIVES, not to only read when someone dies.  I encourage you, meditate on the 23rd Psalm.  What does the Good Shepherd wish to speak to you?  Is He disciplining you as He was me in 2007?  Is He lovingly guiding you through a scary, vulnerable time?  No matter where you find yourself, you are not alone.  The Shepherd is with you and His rod and staff always bring comfort.

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