Head’s Up! God is Coming After You! (Psalm 23:6)

For several years I was part of a small company that helped people with large delinquent medical bills apply for and receive Medicaid. These were people who either had no clue they would qualify for assistance or they lacked the motivation to apply. However, they did have an extremely good clue that creditors and collectors were in pursuit, which turned our skip-tracing into detective work. Some of these folks were experts at covering their trail, but the couple I worked with had a nose for working out trails. It was always a little awkward (and occasionally a little dicey) to catch up with people and initiate a conversation about their bill, so our opening line was strategically crafted for their peace of mind and for our safety.

“We are not here to collect; we are here to help you pay your bill.”

When the individual accepted that we had caught up with them in order to help them and bless them, they usually became more cooperative, even grateful. I met some remarkable people during those years.

This is my fourth article about Psalm 23, and it covers the last verse. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In verse 1 we learned that God our Shepherd is in front of us, ahead of the action. In verses 2-5 we learned that God is also alongside us, leading and nurturing and restoring and comforting and protecting and correcting and sustaining and blessing us. In verse 6 we learn that God is also behind us, pursuing us with goodness and with loyal and merciful loving kindness.

Theologians use a massive technical term to describe this divine character trait – omnipresence. Omnipresence means God is everywhere. Carla and I once owned a Dodge Omni, but I doubt it’s the same thing, and besides, that car only lasted a year. We can generally know God is everywhere without that realization making any difference to us. I mean, air seems to be everywhere, but how often do we think about air, much less appreciate air? But once we grasp that God is generally everywhere AND that God is specifically ahead of us and with us and behind us, we are making spiritual progress.


If your image of God tells you God is a stern and punitive Judge who is out to get you, then Psalm 23:6 makes you paranoid and jumpy. If God is all over the place, and you believe God is out to get you, then you will probably keep your head down, like those people we were skip-tracing. But once we come alive to the reality that God pursues us in order to bless us, it can change everything. Who can’t benefit from divine goodness and loyal and merciful loving kindness? Sure thing, God is after you. But you might want to slow down or even stop, because God wants to love on you.

Here’s another window into the same truth – “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him and entrusts themselves to Him shall never perish, but shall have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him could be saved.” (John 3:16-17) Isn’t this passage saying something similar to Psalm 23:6? Maybe Psalm 23 and John 3:16 are the most popular scriptures in the Bible because something in us is hungry to welcome God in Christ as good news, not bad news.

When I officiate memorial services for people, they nearly always request Psalm 23, oftentimes because of this last line – “…and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Of course the grieving family wants Psalm 23 at the memorial service! There is a sudden raw gaping hole in their lives, and they desperately want to hear that the hole is more temporary than permanent, that a reunion is ahead. But let’s not stop there. Yes, it is a promise about heaven. But it’s more. From the Hebrew language, we can legitimately translate Psalm 23:6 like this – “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” This divine pursuit is not ONLY for the afterlife; it applies to the beforelife too! Our God has the there-and-then covered AND our God has the here-and-now covered!

Again John’s gospel sheds light on Psalm 23. In John 10:10 (where Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd Who lays down His life for the sheep), Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that they (human sheep) might have life, and have it more abundantly.” This abundant life in union with Christ is ours here and hereafter.

Where, in your life and in your relationships, do you need the goodness of God to catch up with you and drench you? Where, in your life and in your relationships, do you need the loyal and merciful lovingkindness of God to catch up with you and saturate you? God is trustworthy. God in Christ has more for us than we are currently experiencing.

Surely God’s goodness and mercy to you,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)


Enemy Stuff (Psalm 23:5)

First question – What is your favorite meal? Think big – the main course, the sides, condiments, and even desert. No need to calculate nutritional value or calories or points. This meal is hypothetical. If you gain weight by thinking about these foods, I apologize.

Second question – What is the most disgusting food you can think of?

Now, imagine that you are served your favorite meal. You are eager to dig in, until you notice that the person who prepared this delicious meal for you included the most disgusting food you can think of – and THAT food is touching the mouthwatering foods in the meal!

What is your next move? Do you loudly protest and insist that they start over and get it right this time? Do you kindly point out the error and ask them to start over and get it right? Do you walk out because you’ve lost your appetite? Do you hunker down and meticulously eat around it? Do you rebuke your gag reflex and decide that, against all regurgitory odds, you are going to eat everything on your plate?

This scenario is similar to what we discover in Psalm 23:5. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.”

In verses 1-4, the shepherd and the sheep are out in the wilderness. In verse 5, the imagery changes. The shepherd has traded in the rod and staff for cooking utensils, and is also the host in charge under the tent. On the table is a feast. You look around the tent and see friendly faces. All is well until you see THAT PERSON, or THOSE PEOPLE. For whatever reason, they are enemies. Suddenly the tent shrinks, the air is stifling, you have lost your appetite, your heart pounds, and you cannot see anybody else. Is this a sick joke? Who invited HIM or HER or THEM? It would be awkward for you to leave, but it’s extremely awkward for you to stay. There is an undercurrent of tension, even hostility. But the expression on the host’s face does not change. The host is generously taking care of you while they look on. Or maybe the host is taking care of them while you look on. Or maybe the host is taking care of all of you equally.

These are the head scratching realities we encounter under the Psalm 23 shepherd’s tent.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” In this verse, what word stands out for you? I propose that the most important word is the divine pronoun, repeated twice: YOU. David is describing the nature of God. The enemies are not in charge here. In fact, they only have the power we give them. But we are not in charge either. The God who has extended the invitations and coordinated the exasperating seating arrangement is in charge, taking care of us, feeding us, anointing us, overflowingly blessing us. Perhaps God is the One to whom we need to give our attention.

I do not want to discount the pain this article may have already caused you, because God definitely does not discount it. And God is not like the person at the contentious family reunion who whines, “Can’t we all just get along?” God knows our hurts and knows who has hurt us. God cares deeply about all of that. God is not minimizing it. God is equally a God of mercy and justice. It’s just that God can do things about “enemy stuff” that we cannot do.

We see this in the New Testament. On the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”

And then we have this prize from one of Paul’s letters. “For He Himself is our peace, Who has made the two groups into one, destroying the barrier, that dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14)

For context, please read Ephesians 2:11-22. There you will find that the two groups are Jews and Gentiles, mortal enemies with a heated and nasty history of conflict. Through His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus knocked down those walls, which means He can knock down any walls. Christ can knock down the personal walls in our lives. Christ can knock down the ugly thick walls dividing us in this country.   

God’s table has room for us AND for the people we do not want at the table, the people we are certain should not be there, the people who make us shudder, the people who disgust us. God prepares a table for us in the presence of them, which also means God prepares a table for them in the presence of us. God’s goal at the table is that all of the “us / them” categories lose their place and fade away. Us / them becomes US.

THAT is quite a miracle.

I am asking you to do only one thing, and it’s also what I am asking me to do. Let’s stay under the tent. Let’s give God our undivided attention and see what happens next. God is love, after all. God is moving toward us with that anointing oil, and keeps refilling our cup until it spills over. In God’s presence, what do we have to lose? We might lose some bitterness, some hatred, some discrimination, or some shame.

Sticking around under that tent and around that table is worth the squirming angst, because God is so good.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)


Fudgsicles and Big Comforting Sticks (Psalm 23:4)

I was a small boy when I wrote my first song. It was summer. My dad was at work; my mom was home. The ice cream truck drove down our street during the hottest time of the day, the cheerful bell triggering salivating desperation for ice cream. Mom would give me the exact change so that I could purchase a little chunk of heaven frozen around a tongue depressor, otherwise known as a fudgsicle.

One afternoon, a neighborhood kid who had no money ran to the truck. I bought my fudgsicle and then spontaneously wrote my first song. Dancing in front of the empty-handed kid and waving my fudgsicle, I sang, “I have ice cream but you don’t.”

It was a short tune. I was a short monster.

Suddenly a large shadow eclipsed me and an adult hand jerked the fudgsicle out of my hand. I looked up at the beatific and smiling face of my mother. That’s when I discovered that she was also a songwriter. She borrowed my melody, but wrote her own lyrics.

“Now you don’t have ice cream either.”

I was embarrassed and furious and overmatched. I ran to the house, tears streaming down my face.

That was one of the best experiences of my childhood, even though I did not see its value at the time. My mother was not being mean; she was loving me.   

We continue our study of Psalm 23 with verse 4. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Palestinian wildernesses are dangerous places, even more so at night. In ancient times, shepherds applied harsh comfort using big sticks. But what is so comforting about a rod and a staff?

Shepherds wielded the rod to fight off enemies of the sheep, predators that craved mutton after sunset. But the sheep made the shepherd’s job challenging. Sheep wander. Sheep effortlessly expose themselves to dangers from which they cannot extricate themselves. The staff was a long extension of the shepherd’s arms, enabling the shepherds to impose their will over the sheep because the shepherds knew better than the sheep what they needed, where they had to go, and what would kill them.

The rod and staff never felt comforting in the moment. If the shepherd employed the rod, it meant the sheep were in immediate and deadly danger. If the shepherd employed the staff, it meant the sheep had wandered off, were stuck on stupid, and had to be forcibly guided back. The crook of that shepherd’s staff around the neck of a sheep was unpleasant, but it beat the alternatives.

A shepherd who cared nothing for the sheep would not use those two big sticks.

What does the shepherding metaphor teach us about God’s nature? Good shepherds loved the sheep, but they were not always nice. They were often blunt and direct. So was Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus was unbelievably loving, but He was not always nice. We limit and even cheapen God’s image when we decide God has to be nice. God is much better than nice.

Like sheep, we will follow our noses or our eyes or our ears or our mouths or our impulses or our urges or our hormones or our obsessions or our addictions. We will follow other people when they are compelling or seductive. We will follow our irrational fears. We will walk into trouble or danger.

A nice God is the last thing we need.

God loves us deeply enough to be direct, to be blunt, to protect us from ourselves, even when it is painful. The recovery movement calls this tough love. On that hot summer afternoon, my mother was not being mean; she was tough-loving me.

When our hearts pray, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me,” we are entering a healthy place with God. We can have confident trust in the Good Shepherd, who doubles up roles as the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world (John 1:29, 10:11). When our hearts pray, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me,” we are willing to be led, redirected, and pulled back. We are okay with God being aggressive, even hurting us, when that is the only way God can lovingly help us.

Maybe this is what the fear of the Lord is all about. We are in worshipful awe of God. We own our identity as sheep, and we embrace God’s identity as Shepherd. We have such holy reverence for God and such ardent trust in God that we fear no evil when life goes dark on us for a while.

Where in your life do you need the Good Shepherd to come on strong with a loving imposition of divine will? Have any habits or lifestyles put you in danger? Does your heart insist on wandering? I offer you this prayer.

“God in Christ, I WANT Your rod and Your staff to comfort me. I WANT You to protect me, even when the predator is also me. I accept that You can see in the dark even when I cannot see anything. I accept that You know and do what is best, even when I protest or resist. Please stay aggressive with me. And please remind me of this prayer when it is in my best interest for You to snatch the fudgsicle out of my hand.”

Maybe you don’t need to pray that last line, but you get the idea. And I hope that neighborhood kid has eaten plenty of ice cream over the years.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)


“Direction and Directions” (Psalm 23:1-3)

Last summer our three-piece band, Tasmanian Grace, had the honor of playing music for Boy Scouts and their families at the Kansas Speedway. I drove to the area late that afternoon. I’ve been to the Legends often, so I know how to get there, and the Speedway is impossible to miss. But there was a very specific way for band members to enter the Speedway. Even though I had directions, I couldn’t figure it out. Confession time – when it comes to logistics and directions, I wake up in a brand new world about every 13-15 seconds. I get turned around easily. One time I got lost trying to exit the North Kansas City Hospital enclosed parking garage. On another occasion I got lost driving around in the downtown Chicago highway loop.

After trying for approximately 30 minutes to enter the Kansas Speedway, I was thoroughly disoriented within plain sight of my objective. I called the bass player, Joe, because I knew Joe and Jim (the drummer) had already arrived. Joe handed the phone to Bill. Bill said, “Drive to the Nebraska Furniture Mart parking lot and wait for me. I will lead you in.” I protested; I did not want to divert Bill from his other responsibilities. Bill chuckled and said, “Don’t worry about it at all. I counted on this happening.”

So I found the Nebraska Furniture Mart parking lot and waited. Bill arrived soon after, issued me a parking pass, and led me in. He could have spent the rest of the evening explaining it to me over the phone; I never would have made it.

Friday night, Bill reinforced to me some important truths about who God is as our Shepherd and what God does as our Shepherd.

Psalm 23 begins with these familiar words. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” The shepherd stays ahead of the action, anticipating what the sheep need before they are aware that they need it. In our lives, God stays ahead of the action, counting on us needing guidance. The Hebrew word translated “want” is rooted in the word “lack,” which is why so many translations say, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have all that I need” or “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.” It reminds me of Peter’s aggressive declaration that Christ’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our relational knowledge of Christ Who has called us by His own glory and goodness (2nd Peter 1:3).

Psalm 23 continues in verse 2-3 – “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” The shepherd is an expert at calming and leading skittishly disoriented sheep. Giving a sheep directions would be an exercise in futility. The shepherd must become the direction, like Bill did for me. I relaxed when I saw Bill’s pickup truck pulling into the parking lot at Nebraska Furniture Mart. I knew I had what it took to follow him in.

God’s presence is uniquely reassuring.

I cannot think about Psalm 23 without pairing it with John 10, where Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd Who gives His life for the sheep. In the person of Jesus, God takes us by the heart and leads us. Jesus does not give us directions; He becomes the direction through relationship.

Are you directionless? Are you turned around? Are you disoriented? We don’t have what it takes to lead ourselves, but we do have what it takes to follow Jesus. We start where we are by saying, “Help!” We continue by cooperating with the help, and the help turns out to be a relationship with God Who loves us like crazy and leads us from a position of ultimate strength and wisdom.  

I hope Psalm 23 and John 10 benefit you in seeking the Good Shepherd, the One Who says it is okay, the One Who counted on us needing Him. May you and I allow Jesus the Good Shepherd to come and get us, to be our direction in life.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)