“Dear Jesus, please help Pop-Pop to get out the wheelchair.” Each of my three grandchildren who reside with me, begin their dinnertime prayer with these words. They (both the children and the words) are a delight and encouragement to me. Although it is quite possible for God to raise me up from my paralysis, I doubt that it is probable. There is, however, coming a day when I will be out of this wheelchair. This will occur either at death or when Jesus returns.
So, I do not understand these words as a childish or futile prayer. They are prophetic to me. As a believer in Jesus, I can anticipate with great assurance that one day I will be out of this wheelchair. These prayers are helpful reminders that I have a lot to look forward to! But in the meantime, life goes on. There will be good days and bad days. Situations often look gloomy, but a wonderful future awaits me. Sometimes it’s difficult to look ahead; I need encouragement now.
In the same way, King David reminds himself and others (like us!) of the continued care and goodness of our great Shepherd. Psalm 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
One commentator in describing the imagery of this verse, suggests that while this Shepherd goes ahead and leads, his Shepherd dogs follow behind and form a “rearguard.” Although I’m not sure of the practice of the Eastern shepherds of antiquity, I do know that this is an apt description of the imagery of this text. Indeed, the Lord is leading his people and goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life.
Let’s think about this for a minute. The concept of God’s goodness conveys ideas of that which is beneficial, useful, helpful, generous, joyful, valuable and pleasing. This reminds me of what Paul wrote: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, ESV) what a great encouragement. It is to know that God has purposed good for me, no matter what things might look like. So, no matter what, God is working that which is to my benefit through my present circumstances.
The next idea often translated mercy is one of my favorite biblical words. Various suggestions have been made for translating it: loyalty, goodness, loyal love, kindness, covenant faithfulness and steadfast love. British OT scholar Alec Motyer expresses the idea by the words “committed love.” This love is not emotion or feeling. This love is committed, gracious and determined action for the purpose of benefiting its recipient.
By God’s grace, I see this committed love displayed for me every day. Surely God continues to demonstrate his favor towards me. But God has also given me another display of this “committed love.” Not only every day but throughout the day, every day, my wife displays this sort of love toward me. In addition to supervising my care. She is often called on to provide it. Many of the things which she does are repulsive; while some are just difficult and inconvenient. I’ll spare you the gory details but use your imagination. I am paralyzed from the shoulders down.
So, day after day, evening, hour after hour, she continues to display favor and goodness to me as she attends to my wants and needs. I can count on her love expressed by dependable care. This serves as a vivid reminder of the love of my good Shepherd toward me.
There is a major difference, of course. My dear wife is human and therefore experiences fatigue and frustration. She requires rest and time off in order to be refreshed. My good shepherd, not only promises but is able to care for me all the days of my life. Psalm 121 expresses the idea: He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The one who has promised goodness and committed love to us is not only willing but also able to keep his word. Indeed, Jesus has promised. I will never leave you or forsake you.
Now, imagine that you are sitting next to David in the fresh green grass. As you think about your future, you have no precise idea what to expect. You do know that you live in a fallen world and are subject to frustration and the effects of sin. There will be good days and (sad to say) bad days. Your experience tells you that there will probably be more bad days than good days.
Try on this comforting concept: goodness and committed love are following you all the days of your life! No what matter what your circumstances might suggest or how you feel or what you think, Jesus is watching out in caring for you. He will not desert you. He will not abandon you. He is continually working good out of what seems to be bad. Trust him. Rely on him.
Pop-Pop will get out of this wheelchair one day. But until then, he knows that goodness and committed love are following him all the days of his life.