Psalm 23:5 “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.”
As I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death carrying a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, and my dear husband is walking it with me we are well aware that there is a battle going on around us. A battle where the enemy would whisper accusations both against us and against the nature of our loving God, where the enemy seeks to throw disappointment and sometimes a threat of despair our way. One of the important lessons we are learning is how to deal with those whispering undermining voices.
We talk about the valley of shadows and it has been interesting to stop and ask ourselves “Is there an enemy we need to fear here – or are they just shadows?” Some fears come from a perceived threat, which isn’t real danger at all, whereas some enemies are a clear and present danger. We live in a culture of fear, despair and hopelessness – felt quite strongly sitting in the hospital waiting room with others awaiting results. We can so easily come under the atmosphere of the world around us. When the enemy of our souls whisper lies at us – it is helpful to ask “Is this true?” No! It is just a fog, a shadow. The Lord is with me. Whom then shall I fear?
From my husband’s military experience, I know that to sit at a table and have a picnic is not the normal behaviour in the face of your enemies. Our biology lessons from school tell us that in fear we respond with either fight or flight. When we spot the enemies’ tactics there is a time to fight and to resist the devil. And there is a time to flee, run into the strong tower that is Jesus and His victory on the Cross, and not engage in debate with the enemy. But I love this alternative presented in Psalm 23 to sit at a banqueting table prepared by Jesus!
In our military life we moved house 19 times in 20 years. I love people, community and belonging so one of the most difficult things for me was entering into a room full of strangers, taking a deep breath and having the courage to engage in making new friends once again. And how wonderful it was to enter a room where people looked pleased to see me, greeted me and said “Come over here Jan, we have saved a place for you.” This is the sense I get when I read this verse, that Jesus has prepared and saved a place for me with Him at His table. He loves me and is so pleased that I am with Him. It is a place of intimacy. And it is in the face of my enemies! As those enemies look at me they cannot touch me as they also see Jesus, and they have taken Him on before and they lost! It is the safest place for me to be.
At the table the Lord provides for me the anointing of oil, which was a tradition of Oriental feasts. But it also reminds me that in the valley and in front of my enemies my anointing and calling in the Holy Spirit has not been lost; in fact it is often a place where our calling is reinforced. I have read that shepherds used to run oil onto the heads of sheep to prevent ticks getting into their ears and noses. These could be very destructive to them. At his table Jesus gives us the means to deal with the little irritations, offences and lies that can wrangle their way in, especially in our valley times.
It is also a place where my cup overflows. There will always be lavish provision of comfort and goodness for my soul, and it is not just for me but it will be overflowing so there will be plenty to share, to touch and influence those around me. Life in all its fullness is still reality even in the valleys and even in the face of our enemies.
Sitting at the table Jesus has prepared is the most wonderful response we can make whatever situation we are in. The invitation is given, we choose Him and His goodness and mercy is extended to us every day of our life! What peace that brings!
Rob and Jan at home.