The 23rd Psalm starts by introducing us to God as the Good Shepherd who cares for us, guides us, and protects us. We are then reassured that he is always with us, always caring for us, always protecting us, even when our path is dark and seems fraught with the possibility of evil and danger, even to the point of death. The psalm continues with a shift away from the shepherding imagery and into a picture of how our lives can be when we are under the care of our Good Shepherd, beginning with a description of how he wants to bless us:
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Psalms 23:5-6, ESV
The Lord wants to feast us, even in the presence of our enemies. You are his honored guest. He anoints your head with perfumed oil. He makes sure your cup is never empty.
If we are thinking only of fully bellies we are missing something here. This is not just about being fed, or even being fed well. Table fellowship was indicative of an intimate relationship. Who you ate with was important enough that Jesus was roundly criticized by the religious establishment for sharing meals with the “wrong sort” of people (e.g., Mark 2:16).
Imagine sitting down to a banquet with Jesus; sharing a sumptuous and leisurely feast with him as your dinner partner. You share intimate conversation. You talk about your hopes and your fears. You laugh together; you cry together. The Lord wants to share his life with us and wants us to share ours with him.
While we are being feasted as the Lord’s honored guests our enemies are powerless to intrude on or obstruct this divine friendship. There is a deep and important truth there, echoed by Paul in Romans 8:38-39 (ESV):
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
No matter what the enemy of our souls throws at us, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, it will not separate is from the God’s love. Even if we are walking through a valley of deep, dark shadows, we are invited to Jesus’ table to dine with him and fellowship with him.
We can, however, allow ourselves to be too busy to enjoy the presence and fellowship of the Lord. This feasting and anointing and overflowing cup assumes that we are slowing down enough to see what the Lord is doing; to spend time at the table with him – getting to know him as good friends know each other.
The corresponding section of the 23rd Psalm for the Hurried Life is:
The Lord prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies.
I may grab a quick bite on my way past.
I anoint myself with accomplishments,
draining my cup dry.
The table is laid out for us; God stands waiting for us, inviting us to his feast. Yet often we are so busy that we don’t even notice. God’s invitation is lost in our overstuffed inbox.
Instead of sharing a meal and fellowship with him we grab what we can, squeezing our brief devotion time into our overbooked agenda for the day. We try in vain to replace the anointing of the Lord with what can sometimes seems more important to us: the accomplishments valued by the world; what we can give to ourselves: money, possessions, status, career achievement, power, etc. We can hurry past the feast prepared for us, rushing right back into our enemy’s playground.
Instead of an overflowing cup of God’s grace, which allows us to life our lives from the overabundance of God’s mercy and love, we find ourselves quickly running on empty and trying to live our lives out of our own strength – trying to draw up water from a dry well. We empty ourselves trying in vain to bless ourselves. That is not what God wants for you.
Why not take some time today? Slow down. Quite yourself. Set aside your plans for what you will achieve today. Settle inand take the time to be in God’s presence. Enjoy the feast he has prepared you. Take the time to notice how he anoints you. Let him refill your cup, not with barely enough to see you through, but to overflowing so that you can live out of his his abundance. Enjoy being God’s honored guest in his presence.