Monday, June 07, 2010

Learning to Mean What We Pray

“The Lord is my shepherd . . .” (Psalm 23:1).

I had no idea what I was in for. I can’t recall now if I had purchased popcorn and a big Coke. If I had it seems to me I wasted my money. You can’t watch the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan and snack on popcorn. There’s just something wrong, almost irreverent about it.

Yesterday, June 6th, 2010, was the 66th anniversary of the allied forces invasion of the beaches of Normandy, known since that time as D-Day. I’ve never been to Normandy, but I’d like to go someday. For now, as lame as it sounds, my knowledge of D-Day has come entirely from books and documentaries. The most intense experience came from a movie. I sat in a cushioned chair and watched a recreation of the event on a screen.

Maybe that’s what D-Day made possible. A kid born in 1962 would sit a comfy dark theater in 1998 watching a movie about the hell some other kids walked into in 1944. And were it not for the bravery and the sacrifice and horror of what happened in 1944, the 1998 popcorn and movie experience might not have ever happened.

I only saw the movie once, and it’s been awhile. Snapshots of the gruesome opening scene have stayed with me: Crowded amphibious assault vessels approaching Omaha Beach, ocean spray raining down on solemn faces, the absence of frivolity, the presence of courage and fear. Just enough courage to do what the day demanded. Just enough fear to appreciate the gravity of what was being done.

I haven’t researched this and I can’t prove it, but I have to believe that on those boats there was someone, perhaps many, maybe hundreds, who knew and prayed the 23rd Psalm. As the fog parted to reveal a distant shore, as the beaches came closer, as doors dropped and bullets ripped the damp air, surely someone had repeated again and again, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

On June 6, 1944 the valley of the shadow of death took more substance than a mere shadow. Many of the men who walked into that valley didn’t walk out of it. And this begs the question: what does it mean to say “the Lord is my shepherd?” If even one person prayed those words and believed them only to die moments later on the beach, how are we to understand the shepherding presence of God in our lives? What does it look like? What does it mean for us to say “the Lord is my shepherd?” How do we say it and mean it?

In the weeks ahead we’ll be taking a leisurely look at the shepherding work of God by walking through each line of the 23rd Psalm. In his commentary on the Psalms, Old Testament scholar James L. Mays maintains that the entire 23rd Psalm is an exposition of the very first line – “the Lord is my shepherd.” Our reflections in the weeks ahead will seek to give shape and texture to how God shepherds your life.

Most of us who undertake to pray the words of the 23rd Psalm will never face anything like the horror of D-Day. Rather, we seek to affirm the shepherding presence of God in far more ordinary circumstances of life. We claim God as our shepherd as we make career decisions and navigate morning traffic. We claim God as our shepherd as we exercise parental wisdom and prepare a budget. We claim God as our shepherd when we plan vacations and then travel to enjoy what we’ve planned.

In every aspect of life, God is indeed a shepherd to us. The death on Normandy’s beaches did not negate the shepherding love of God for us. The loss of a job and the bad results of a biopsy do not render the shepherding presence of God null and void. The tensions in your marriage and the fluctuations of the market do not make the familiar words meaningless.

“The Lord is my shepherd.”

In the coming weeks we will seek to pray these words and learn what they mean. And along the way, by God’s grace, we may also learn to mean what we pray.

We give you thanks, O God, for your shepherding presence in our lives. Throughout this day meet us in ordinary events and routines and teach us what it means to live in the confidence of your shepherding love. We claim it boldly now in the name of Jesus, the good shepherd. Amen.

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