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'Thou preparest a table before me ...'


Curtis Shelburne

link Curtis Shelburne

Guest columnist

What we say and what people hear us say are rarely the same things. Nobody knows that better than your preacher.

A ministry colleague told me of sitting in a restaurant after worship one Sunday. Just waiting for his food, he did not intend to eavesdrop, but he overheard one of his members in a nearby booth delivering to a friend a brief synopsis of her pastor’s sermon. Hearing what she had heard him say almost cost him his appetite.

Communication in general is hard. Communicating via preaching is particularly hard.

Maybe that’s why most preachers I know find themselves at times replaying their sermon in their own heads, wondering if they communicated, and wishing they could tweak the message just a tad.

After preaching recently, I found myself doing just that. Most of the time, it’s just mental, but some of my post-sermon analysis this week I did out loud. My wise wife (most pastors’ wives are wiser than most pastors) finally just smiled, “Okay, that’s enough. Give it a rest.”

I will. I promise.

But may I just say that my text was the venerable Psalm 23. Mostly, as you’d expect, we focused on its message of beauty and comfort and hope.

Then I took just a little side-trip, mentioning that I’d read Psalm 23 for years before I adequately noted two things.

First, in the midst of all the beauty, the psalmist lets us know that he has an “enemy.”

Second, the beautiful feast (“Thou preparest a table before me”) is wonderful, but what we often miss is that the food on God’s table tastes even better to the psalmist because his enemies are having to watch hungry while he eats (“in the presence of mine enemies”).

I still have no doubt that’s part of the picture. What I didn’t say out loud, but what is obvious from our Lord’s teaching, is that we should ask God to help us forgive our enemies (at least, for help to want to try) and not spend a lot of time enjoying their “comeuppance” when it comes up. I should have said that.

Still, don’t read what I just said here and think I blame the psalmist too much. I’m not that nice. I like his honesty, and I like it a lot. (If this psalmist is indeed King David, it’s a lot less than rotten old King Saul deserves if he has to stand hungry and watch while David enjoys a good meal.)

I like very much the fact that the writers of the psalms tell us how they feel instead of how they ought to feel. We can learn from that.

Rather than agonizing over how we ought to feel, we’re better off just being honest with our Father about how we do feel. Then we can ask him to help us act toward our enemies, and others, in the way he wants us to, whether we feel like it or not.

Better that our cups “runneth over” with a little genuine honesty than our buckets be full of pious sanctimony.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at

[email protected]


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