Last weekend, my dear friend Meg and I facilitated a directed silent retreat. One of the passages of Scripture on which we focused was possibly the most familiar of them all – Psalm 23. Familiarity does not equal true understanding. I am convinced you could spend a lifetime meditating on a few familiar Bible passages and have barely scratched the surface of what is there. These are eternal, transforming, living words, given us by the Living Word.
I was sitting alone in our meeting room when one of the women at the retreat came in from a nighttime walk and asked me, “What do you think it means when David says, ‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies’?”
I asked her some questions about why that verse struck her so, we chatted and prayed for a moment, and then she returned to her silence. As she walked out of the room, I had a flashback to a moment years earlier in my life when a church leader quoted Proverbs 18:16 (“A gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great.”) and told me in so many words that I would have to basically use my gifts like a battering ram in order to insinuate myself into a place at the table at this church. The congregation had a very competitive culture, and this individual’s terrible, wrong-hearted application of this passage was yanked out of context in order to justify deep corporate immaturity.
The proverb, you’ll notice, isn’t directive, but descriptive. However, in the hands of this insecure leader, it became a goad. The “table” in this abusive paradigm wasn’t a place of nourishment, though it was presented as such. It was a place where you arrived hungry, and left depleted.
Psalm 23:5 is quite a counterpoint to that goad. It tells me I don’t have to perform. Amateur judges, bouncers and mockers can’t keep me away from the table. Those who want to see me fail or hurt fade into the shadows as I am led to my place by the One who has prepared a feast just for me.
Just for me.
This is the exact opposite of my experience in the world, and as a result, my head understands the words of the verse, but my soul struggles mightily to live in this unreal reality.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. Many see a blockade of enemies in our lives. We experience conditional love, grading on the curve, and the whispered voice of the accuser telling us that there is no place at the table for losers like us.
God is escorting each one of us past those enemies. He is holding the back of the chair, and is graciously inviting you and I to sit down and dine with him.