Dust swirls on the steppe, brushing barren paths barer still, twisting away like hope from my heart. Danger lurks everywhere. I’m not alone, but that is why fear tempts me; these are not all friends. Some carry knives. Some have it in for me. Some don’t care. Others think I’m playing children’s games. And then you say, “Come eat!” You spread clean cloth on the rock, makeshift table in the wilderness. It’s set with china, fired by the hot sun’s noonday glares and hell’s darting flares. Unparalleled. I sip ambrosia squeezed from suffering, exquisite flavors pressed from courage and despair. The bread you slice is made from grains that died, a thousand crushed to powder, mixed with oil of joy. Those faithful ones have given their heart’s blood to make this solid meal, a feast for Followers. I eat my fill and find, like them, that you alone can satisfy. Your love removes all fear. Some people see me, hand to mouth, and think it’s pretense, wishful thinking making up this scene. They only see the austere rock face, bare, a woman scooping empty handfuls of hot air. They will not taste and see, and so with eyes averted they walk by, for fear it might be true.
Were you startled at the portrayal of this “feast for followers” as being food made out of a legacy of suffering, death, despair? Me, too. But as I’ve walked through hard times, I’ve realized that our Shepherd has unexpected ways of nourishing us. Sometimes it is through the company of encouraging friends. But how about when you feel alone, or surrounded by issues you cannot share with others? When I’m in that dark valley, how does he prepare a table for me (Ps 23:5)?
We had been evacuated from civil war in our beloved country about a year before I wrote this poem. The uprising had begun while we were away from home, attending a training seminar in a major city. Eight days of being hunkered down in hiding, waiting for freedom to leave the battle zone, taught us all a lot about depending on the Lord for actual food and protection. Then we drove out, and finally flew away without being able to say goodbye to those back “home.” And what came next was not easy either.
We had to learn to trust the Lord in a phase of new unknowns and ongoing conflicts of other kinds. And how did he provide what we needed? We remembered how he has been faithful to those going through tough times, their histories preserved for us in the Scriptures. Hebrews 11 underlines so many of them. Then there are the last verses, about those who did not see rescue on this earth, but would be “made perfect” with us, in the future – through the complete restoration that finally came through Jesus’ self-sacrifice (Heb 11:40; 12:1-3). The best part of all: we become united with him, walking with him now and forever.
Sometimes attacks come from “enemies” who are people, sometimes they are the tragedies that come from living in a broken world. But our Shepherd provides the strength we need by assuring us of his goodness, his love and his eternal plan, and reminding us of the many ways he has shown himself to be Protector and Provider throughout history. It’s true that some may think this is all a figment of our imagination. But as we experience it, we find it to be true. The feast that he serves us on a table in the presence of our “enemies” is not the usual one. It is what Jesus said when he was hungry and being tested by his Enemy to make real bread out of stones, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matt. 4:4 NLT)
There we find our “bread from heaven.” So let’s feast!