Each day of Lent this year, our focus will be on one of the signature texts from the Psalms - the prayer book that Jesus knew.
The 23rd Psalm is hands-down the most beloved of the 150 poems that make up the Bible's Psalter.
That's due in no small part to the fact that it is recited at more dangerous moments and at more funerals than any other text of Scripture.
David begins by likening himself to a sheep: "The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need." Then he imagines the experience of walking down a very dark path:
"Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." (Psalm 23:4)
The Judean wilderness is rugged. It is not uncommon for shepherds to have to steer their flocks down dry riverbeds between sheer cliffs, places where the sun's light doesn't penetrate.
People and sheep have something in common: it can be very uncomfortable walking from sunshine into shadow. It's foreboding. It's unnerving. What could be waiting for us there?
As a general rule, whenever we dig into Scripture we want to major on nouns and verbs. Those reflect the heart of the biblical story. But every now and then other parts of speech shift into the spotlight.
Prepositions, for instance, are humble things. They're like the connective tissue that holds a sentence together.
In Psalm 23:4, it just so happens that two prepositions make all the difference in the world.
The first is the word through. "Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death." God does not lead us into Death Valley in order to leave us there. It may be necessary to walk into the shadows for a time, but our true destination is the green pastures and still waters that David describes at the beginning of the psalm.
As Winston Churchill said, "If you find yourself going through hell, keep going."
The second key preposition is with. "I will fear no evil, for you are with me." No one wants to descend into a death-shadowy season of life. But we will quickly discover that we can go anywhere with ultimate security - as long as we are accompanied by the One who has defeated evil by means of Jesus' cross and defeated Death by means of Jesus' empty tomb.
All too many people, however, fail to appreciate the essential promises of Psalm 23. That's because they have embraced an age-old spiritual myth:
God's job is to keep me out of trouble.
Actually, God's job is to teach us to become like him. And one of the most effective ways to accomplish that is by teaching us to trust him during all the times we do in fact get into trouble. The Valley of the Shadow of Death is a kind of grad school for the soul.
Are you walking down a very dark path today?
Keep walking. Go through whatever you are facing.
The Good Shepherd, after all, is with you every step of the way.