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Surely goodness and love shall follow me all the days of my life: Ps. 23:6

Surely goodness and love shall follow me all the days of my life: Ps. 23:6

By Ted Schroder
June 26, 2016

When we say "surely" we are affirming what we fervently believe because it has been questioned. Life has a way of questioning whether in fact God's goodness and love does follow us all the days of our lives. We go through rough patches in our lives: our marriage disintegrates, our career dissolves, our health deteriorates, our children disappoint us, terrorism strikes, our finances are strained, and the list could go on. We become anxious and fearful of the future, and the worth of our lives. It is hard for us to see that the goodness and love of the Lord is following us.

At such times we need the reassurance that indeed this affirmation is true. In fact we need to affirm it in the face of the temptation of pessimism, and despair. In order to survive and make sense of life we need to be reassured that God is good and his loving purpose can triumph in and through our lives. How can we find this reassurance in the face of the difficulties of life? The key is in the verb, "follow". It literally means "pursue". I want you to think of the way the shepherd gets the sheep from one point to another. He uses sheep dogs to pursue the sheep by following after them. I well remember one occasion when watching a shepherd bringing down a large flock from the hills for shearing. He got on his Kawasaki motor bike, and his sheep dog jumped up on the passenger pillion behind him. They roared off up the mountain until they reached a place from which the shepherd could direct his dog. That dog raced around the flock, flushing out the sheep and getting them to head down the mountain toward the shearing shed. Then I saw one sheep hiding behind a patch of bush. The shepherd, by a series of whistles and calls, directed the dog to round it up and pursue it down to join the rest.

We may think that we have been overlooked by the goodness and love of God. He is not going to follow us around. He is going to pursue us. Francis Thompson (1859-1907) studied for the priesthood and then for medicine. He never completed his courses because he became an opium addict, and started living on the streets of London. He was rescued by a friend and became a famous poet. His most celebrated poem was The Hound of Heaven which speaks about the tender acceptance of the pursuing God. He expresses the fearful hiding from God, like the sheep I saw on the hillside, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, ashamed of their sin, and unsure of God's goodness and love.

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat - and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet -
"All Things betray thee, who betrayest me."

(For, though I knew His love Who followed,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat -
"Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter me."

The final lines speak of his search for reassurance.

Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
"Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me."

The God who pursues us with His goodness and love, may help us to see that our gloom, our darkness, can be seen as the shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly. The Good Shepherd goes out after the lost sheep until He finds it. He does not leave the sheep to be lost and alone on the hillside, but goes after it. There is rejoicing in heaven when He finds it and restores it to its proper home. God pursues us even in the midst of the worst that this life can do to us. Paul reassures us, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him." It is hard for us to accept this or believe it at times.

William Langland (1332-1400), author of Piers Plowman wrote, "But all the wickedness in the world which men might do and think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea." God's goodness and loving purpose is greater than anything we might fear. We have to reassure ourselves that whatever happens, God's goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives.

Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), contains a beautiful illustration of this truth. Published in 1852, it sold more than 300,000 copies within a year. It was tremendously influential in the antislavery movement. The story chronicles the inhumane treatment of Uncle Tom by the vicious slave-dealer Simon Legree. He is flogged almost to death and left to die. His former master's son George Shelby comes to rescue him. Uncle Tom moved his head gently, smiled, and said,

"Jesus can make a dying-bed
Feel soft as downy pillows are."

[George doesn't want Tom to die. But Tom says,]

"'O, Mas'r George, ye're too late. The Lord's bought me, and is going to take me home, - and I long to go. Heaven is better than Kentuck.'

"At this moment, the sudden flush of strength which the joy of meeting his young master had infused into the dying man gave way. A sudden sinking fell upon him; he closed his eyes; and that mysterious and sublime change passed over his face, that told the approach of other worlds.

He began to draw his breath with long, deep inspirations; and his broad chest rose and fell, heavily. The expression of his face was that of a conqueror.

'Who, - who- who shall separate us from the love of Christ?' he said, in a voice that contended with mortal weakness; and, with a smile, he fell asleep."

"George sat fixed with solemn awe. It seemed to him that the place was holy; and as he closed the lifeless eyes, and rose up from the dead, only one thought possessed him, - that expressed by his simple old friend, 'What a thing it is to be a Christian!'"

How can we be assured that nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord? The Good Shepherd pursues his sheep, even when they are lost. He brings them home to the fold. God is good, and his loving purpose will triumph in and through us as we trust in Christ. Surely goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives. We must affirm this in the face of doubt and despair.

The Rev. Ted Schroder is pastor of Amelia Chapel on Amelia Island Plantation, Florida

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