Life can be thought of as a journey. It has a beginning, an end, and a (hopefully) long period in between during which we are often faced with choices. Where do I want to go? Which turning should I take?
If I was setting out on a long walk (the Pennine Way, for example), I would be well advised to take with me a map, food and drink, and suitable clothing (something waterproof, and a strong pair of shoes or boots). I would prefer not to go on my own but with a friend or two – ideally someone who has done the route before. And if at all possible, I would want a comfortable bed in a guest house waiting for me at the end of the day!
The journey that we call life is long, and the route unfamiliar (we will only ever pass this way once!), so we are better off with a guide. And those of us who have placed themselves under God’s care know that He is keeping watch over our welfare and directing our lives. “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” (verse 1) David had once been a shepherd, living out on the hills with his flock and caring for his sheep in all circumstances, and he recognised the similarities in his own relationship with God. For the Christian, Jesus fulfils that role. “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:14) He too has lived a human life; He leads us, and we follow Him. He gives us spiritual nourishment and refreshment (“green pastures”, “quiet waters”) along the way.
Sheep are vulnerable creatures, at the mercy of thieves and wild beasts. And even though we follow God’s guidance and live under His protection, we still have to face many dangers in this life. But the mere presence of the Shepherd is sufficient reassurance.
“I will fear no evil,
for You are with me.” (verse 4)
The greatest terror to the living is death. Yet even here, at the point where all other guides turn back and leave the traveller to go on alone, the Lord has gone before us – and He remains with us to shepherd us safely through. In His presence, Death itself is no more than an insubstantial shadow; It can frighten us, but not harm us.
Most importantly, we know that the road we walk is no cul-de-sac – it has a destination. At the end of his journey, on the far side of the dark valley, David knows that a warm welcome awaits him (verses 5,6). And so do we. “My Father’s house has many rooms… I am going there to prepare a place for you… and I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2,3)