By Steve Lammers
This past week, the youth group went on a retreat to study Psalm 23 as a description of how we can trust in our Shepherd during the valleys of life, and it reminded me of a story I was told by one of my seminary professors years ago.
A week after my professor was diagnosed with brain cancer, he described how a certain man grew up in a small town in the Midwest and went on to become a Hollywood actor. After a number of years, the actor came back and attended the church where he grew up. The pastor immediately recognized him and asked him to give some impromptu remarks during a sharing time. The actor agreed, but he had drifted away from the Lord in those years, and the only thing he could think to do was recite Psalm 23 that he’d memorized in childhood. In doing so, he used all of his oratorical training to wow the congregation, so they applauded loudly when he finished.
After the applause, an elderly gentleman also made his way to the stage. This man was known for loving Jesus from childhood. And though he had a cane in hand and suffered from Alzheimer’s, he was determined to limp to the stage. And like the actor, the only thing this man could remember at the time was Psalm 23. So he recited it — in a throaty voice — without any oratorical skill. Afterward, the congregation didn’t applaud. They wept. So during an awkward silence, the pastor stood up and asked “why such different reactions to the same Psalm?” Then, the actor stood up again and said “Here’s the difference: I know the psalm, but this man knows the Shepherd.”
My professor said he didn’t even know if the story is true, but that the thought of knowing and trusting his Shepherd (even as his own brain declined) helped him get through the valley of his diagnosis. So he too recited the Psalm to us, emphasizing the words “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” He died about 6 months later. But the thing that still sticks with me is what he said after reading the Psalm that day: “In a few months, I may not even know the Psalm anymore. But I know Jesus, my Shepherd. And that is enough.”
May we remember, whatever valleys we’re in, that Jesus said “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:11, 27).” If we know this Shepherd, that is enough to get us through the valley.