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thy staff and rod

I’ve conducted my fair share of funerals and have been to many more. One particular passage is very popular at funerals. It’s Psalm 23 … The Lord is My Shepherd:

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (King James Version).

Here’s what I’ve learned: What kills faith a person’s faith is not so much that they go through the valley of the shadow of death. I’ve seen many people emerge on the other side of the shadows stronger and better equipped to face life. I’ve also seen people who go through a shadow, be it a divorce or death in the family, and emerge with their faith weakened, if not on life-support.

What makes the difference? For those whose faith was weakened, it is that during and after their suffering they never felt God’s rod and staff comforting them.

God is the great Shepherd, and we are his rod and his staff. We are the ones he will use (if we allow ourselves to be used) to comfort those who are in the valley of the shadow of death.

If you were asked to choose ten words to describe yourself, would one of them be compassionate?

Compassion for others does not come naturally for us. It might have when we were children, before we became hardened by life. But as adults, compassion for others is not always our first reflex.

While compassion may not come naturally to us, it is a habit that can be cultivated by remaining sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. When we study the life of Jesus, we see he had the habit of showing compassion. For those of us who claim to follow him, we must recognize this habit is not optional.

“Dear Father, help us to see other people the way you see them, to feel about them the way you feel about them. Help us to be as compassionate towards them as Jesus is towards us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”