“Even 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.” (Psalm 23:4)
The rod is about training and correction, but a shepherd’s staff is more about comfort. It is used to draw a newborn lamb near its mother (who will reject it if it smells like human hands). It is used to gently draw sheep near to check for illness or injuries, but a staff is mainly used is to guide and encourage the sheep with gentle pressure, letting the sheep know the shepherd’s touch.
My sister is going through a tough time. Her home was flooded last year and that recovery is incomplete. Her husband is in the hospital in need of a miracle so he can walk again and return home. To visit him, she drives one hour or more depending on traffic. She is overloaded with work at home (their only livelihood) and her workspace is being renovated because of water damage. Her house is upside-down and her to-do list a nightmare.
But she called last night to tell us about the team of people who showed up at her house this weekend and did all her yard work and clean-up. She said it would have taken her months to do and they did it in a few hours. This is the touch of the shepherd.
Sometimes our stresses are external like hers. Sometimes they are internal involving fear. To that, God also says, “I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth . . .?” (Isaiah 51:12–13) He adds, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted . . .” (Isaiah 66:13)
Of all the things humans can seek, comfort is near the top of the list. We have our ideas of what will make that happen, but God’s comfort often comes as a surprise. In the New Testament, it is often described as coming from other Christians . . .
I (Paul) am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. (2 Corinthians 7:4–7)
Paul’s afflictions didn’t cease, which would fit my idea of comfort. He had no rest and his fears did not go away either. But, God comforted him with the visit of Titus and the news that he brought from the church at Corinth. He was blessed by the comfort those Christians gave to his coworker and friend, and also glad that they cared for him too. For Paul, this was a touch from the Shepherd.
I understand. My home and circumstances do not change much, but I can get stressed over other issues and be comforted by a visit or a hug. Knowing people care is felt in their touch. Knowing Jesus cares is also in His touch.
Yesterday, our pastor talking about choosing to bless others. If I always want comfort for myself, I can earn the label of “high maintenance.” However, if I can touch and bless others, then I become a shepherd’s staff in the hands of Jesus instead of a silly sheep who always needs it for myself.