A personal walk through the 23rd Psalm offers reflection into a Christian's need to take time to be alone with God.
Psalm 23, one of the most beloved passages of Scripture, begins with the simple truth and assurance, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (New Revised Standard Version throughout) What could be more comforting than to know that our spiritual provision and safety depend not on who we are, but on who God is?
God is my shepherd not because I chose him. He is my shepherd because he chose me. Simply put, that means I don't have to rely on my abilities as a sheep to secure his shepherding love. Rather, I simply need to rest in his perfect love as the perfect Shepherd.
Secure in Jesus' love, I am at rest in him whether I'm embroiled in the rush of daily responsibilities or seeking relaxation at the end of the day. Yet, the business of living has a way of crowding God out of my life, of creating the dangerous illusion that I am my own master, the lord of my own destiny. It is at such times that I most need to be alone in the presence of the Chief Shepherd—to take quiet time for reflection on my true condition.
Sometimes I need to take time out to go to a private place, where distractions are absent, and ask God for his peace, for his help to see true reality—his loving and guiding hand amid life's confusion and distress. Only in solitude with the Lord of my life am I able to see clearly through the illusion and allow God's fresh wind to blow away the fog of self-reliance and restore the true confidence and security of life in his fold.
For his name's sake
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.
So often I pursue for myself the green pastures and the still waters. I strive for a calm and quiet spirit. I set my will to walk in the right path. But in all my seeking, I have forgotten that it is God who makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me to the still waters. It is God who restores my soul and leads me in right paths.
These good things are not discovered by my striving and will, at least not in the way I really need, or in a way that really lasts and really satisfies. They are found only when I let God lead me there.
These are his gifts; they cannot be my accomplishments, for the moment I find them for myself they vanish. Only God knows the path, and he can take me there only if I follow him, if I remember that I am lost without him, if I trust him to give me what I need most.
In solitude with him, God reminds me that I am helpless to live the true life on my own. He reminds me that only by giving myself to him can I satisfy the yearning for his rest, the yearning he has placed within me. He reminds me that he leads me to peace for his name's sake, for his glory and not for my own. When I cast all my care upon him, when I shed my will, my goals, for his, the light begins to shine through the darkness.
Through the darkness
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
From the strength God gives me in times of peace and light, I am empowered to walk through the times of turmoil and darkness. Rather than bewailing the days of trouble, I have been conditioned by God's grace to see in them his mercy and goodness—his love in granting me a share in the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I can walk through the dark times with the strength gained from the light times. But that strength is not mine, it is his. The dark times drive me to him for restoration, for a cool drink from his still waters, for rest in his green pastures.
In such times, the value of holy habits becomes evident. If I have no habit of going to God for small, perhaps even trivial matters, how can I expect to go to him for the big things? If I have no habit of restraining myself or denying myself in smaller matters of personal desire, how can I hope to withstand the force of powerful temptation? If I make a priority of getting my way in most everything, how can I expect to submit myself to God and to his will for my life?
In dark times I need solitude, not for my own rest, but to enter his. In these times God touches me, he renews my courage and restores my vision of the bright future in him. He sees me through. He shows himself to me in ways I never expected.
He reminds me that his rod and his staff are ever at work for his sheep. He calms my anxiety and gives me peace and strength to face the worst. He brings me to say, "Not my will, but yours." Having once tasted the good things of God, I can rest in his knowledge that, in the words of the finale from the musical Les Miserables, "even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise."
Rest in God
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
In times of solitude with the divine Provider, he fills me with riches, with joy, with peace, that transcend the fears, doubts and frustrations of my physical life. He realigns my priorities. He sets aright my perspective. He opens my spiritual senses, to the tiny extent I can receive it, to the astounding reality of the life of the age to come, to eternal life, to true life in Christ.
This does not remove me from the circumstances I must face in the here and now, but it prevents me from being defeated by them. I am reminded of what God does, not what I can do. I can take the action I need to take, and I can do it in the way it ought to be done, only because Jesus Christ is at work in me, because I rest in him.
When I try to do it all myself, even the right things, without Jesus, my efforts produce only wooden fruit. In God, I am sustained. I am empowered. I am blessed. Even my reputation rests not upon me, but upon God's power at work in me. Any credit for my accomplishments, for my successes, for my victories, goes to him.
When I fail, it is because I have shut him out, turned my back on him and the riches of his grace. I have forgotten my need for him. I have forgotten that I live and move and have my being in him. I have, in effect, tried to go into business for myself, as though such a thing were really possible. And most of all, I have forgotten the depths of his love for me.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Entering into solitude with God brings me into a quality of contact with him that I could not otherwise experience. It is like coming home. It is a taste of the true reality, of the true life he gives me in Jesus. It is like a sample of the great banquet to which he is bringing me, a chance to rehearse what lies ahead, to again preview the "coming attraction." It is like the fragrance of the Thanksgiving meal, a delicious anticipation of the full reality that keeps alive the joy and thrill of the coming event.
My life is nothing without God, and it is everything with him. The mercy and goodness that follow me are God's, and they follow me because God loves me, not because I have something to offer him.
I can rest in God because he wants me to, and because he makes me able to. He confronts me with the truth that my goals have meaning and value only as they are in conformity with his purpose for me, and he reassures me that his purposes for me will be realized even though there are times when I cannot see past my immediate trouble or pain.
In times of solitude, I can shed myself and give myself to God for his purpose. My goal, that is, the goal the Holy Spirit has for me, is that I be conformed to the image of Christ, and the Spirit gives me the faith to rest in his power to bring that about.
In solitude with God, I can enter into that work—I can make myself available to him, I can submit to his will and rely on his grace and power. In communion with God, he assures me that I am his, and that I will surely dwell in his house forever.
Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity