Kolar: Finding comfort in God's rod and staff

Rev. Janel Kolar reflects on how David's experience as a shepherd can teach us to trust in God's protection and guidance, even in our darkest valleys, as expressed in Psalm 23:4.

Rev. Janel F. Kolar is the pastor at First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Dickinson, North Dakota.
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Psalm 23:4: 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.

As the youngest child in Jesse’s family, David’s role was to become the shepherd of the family’s sheep. It was not a job for the faint-hearted. Sheep are vulnerable creatures for several reasons. First of all, they tend to wander after greener grass and get separated from the herd. When they do so, the shepherd uses his staff to guide them back or, if necessary, to pull them out of any hole or tight spot they might find themselves in. Every good shepherd carried a staff. They also carried a rod, or heavy wooden club because sheep are also vulnerable as easy prey. David once told Saul that he had killed off a bear and a lion while protecting his sheep. He likely did so using his rod, which seems unbelievable. Can you imagine trying to fight off a lion or a bear with just a rod and staff?

David understood sheep very well. He had been a shepherd. He know how helpless and foolish sheep could be. He knew how much direction they needed, how much they relied on one another for safety, how much they relied on the shepherd in order to survive and thrive. It’s interesting, then, that he was willing to compare himself to such a helpless animal. Except, of course, when he also compared God to a good shepherd.

David’s psalm to the shepherd (we call it the 23rd Psalm) tells us that he understood the ways that God is our shepherd, and even said he took comfort in God’s rod and staff. It takes a strong soul to admit to being helpless and, perhaps, a little clueless. It also takes a faithful and trusting soul to be comforted by the tools God uses to guide us, rescue us, reroute our pathways and keep the predators away. I wonder how many of us today are comforted by God’s rod and staff? Are we grateful for the protection and guidance God offers, or more likely to try to get by under our own power? Do we trust God in our darkest valleys?

The Lord is our shepherd, we don’t have to want for anything – even guidance and protection when we are at our most vulnerable and helpless.

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