Reaching “Pleasant Places”

I love Psalm 23. Perhaps it’s because I especially love the verses about being in calm, beautiful, and peaceful situations: “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”1

I was meditating on this psalm and realized that it’s somewhat of a snapshot of life. In that short chapter, just six verses, you get a brief picture of the cycles of life—the highs and lows, the good times and bad, the peaceful and chaotic. Yet through it all, one thing remains: God’s presence. The enduring and unchanging truth: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”2

I’m a creature of comfort and routine. I like the times in my life when I’m resting in the green pastures and drinking from the beautiful still waters—those periods when everything is going well, when I’m seeing and feeling the blessings, when everything is chugging along pretty seamlessly.

I naturally feel God’s presence more during times of peace and plenty. There’s not as much need, and I feel more confident that He’s there and with me. We don’t usually need to be reminded of God being with us during such times, because we already feel it—we’re in the green pastures and beside the still waters.

Sometimes, though, when things go haywire or not according to plan—the “dark valley” parts of life—I start to feel less like He’s with me. King David was no stranger to times of difficulty, perhaps that’s why he reminds himself of God’s presence in verse four: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”3

God is with us, He is comforting us, even if we can’t sense His presence as strongly. He’s there, even if the dark valley portion of our journey is a little bit longer (or maybe even a lot longer) than we had hoped.

I’m going through a dark valley time right now. And unfortunately, I’m impatient. I want the challenge over and done with. I want God to supply what I need right away. I want to move from the “dark valley” part to the “green pasture” part as quickly as possible—and when I get there, I know I will want that portion of my life to last as long as possible before I’m interrupted by another dark valley.

I read a quote this morning that clearly expressed my natural inclination and yet reminded me that God’s perspective and plan is so much bigger and better than mine. So often I want Him to be “done already,” whereas it’s going to take that little bit longer for Him to set everything in place as He has planned. Here’s the quote:

“God relishes surprise. We want lives of simple, predictable ease—smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see—but God likes to go off-road. He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and comprehension—and yet don’t. By His love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.”4

I’d like the stomach churning to end, but I also like the thought that God is loving this ride. I know that He’s somehow going to work things out for my good. And in the meantime, I hope that I will gain all that He has for me to experience before this off-road journey ends and I reach the green pastures again. I just need to be patient and wait for His timing.

Another personal favorite promise is, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”5 I know that verse is talking about what God has prepared for us in heaven, but I like to also claim it for the things that I’m sure He has prepared for me here on earth as well. Since I love Him and He loves me, I know that He has good things lined up ahead.

  1. Psalm 23:2–3
  2. Psalm 23:1
  3. Psalm 23:4
  4. Tony Snow, “Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings,” Christianity Today, July 20, 2007
  5. 1 Corinthians 2:9