Leaning on the Shepherd

Psalms 23

March 22, 2020 by Pastor Jim Bagley

Introduction

It sounds like a clich?, but there is no doubt that everything around us has changed ? at least for the next while. We are experiencing the kind of uncertainty that we will never forget ? much like all but the youngest of us did on September 11, 2001, or like those a few years older did on November 22, 1963.

I have found that the personal impact doesn?t necessarily hit us all at once ? rather this new reality is gradually settling in as restrictions become more noticeable, and the news around much of the world becomes more grim. We send our prayers in particular for those suffering in Italy right now ? a country experiencing a disproportionate number of infections and deaths. Their experience has provided the final motivation to action for the rest of the world.

Romans 8:28 reminds us:

?And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.?

This verse isn?t telling us that this virus is God?s plan for our good ? but it is saying that God can use it for our good ? that God can achieve His purposes through it.  But His good is only achieved if we choose to turn to Him in the midst of it.

Prayer of Approach and Confession

Use this poem by Ted Loder as a prayer to God as you prepare your heart for worship:

Empty Me

by Ted Loder (from Guerrillas of Grace)

Gracious and Holy One,
            Creator of all things
                        and of emptiness,
I come to you
            full of much that clutters and distracts,
                        stifles and burdens me,
                                    and makes me a burden to others.
Empty me now
            of gnawing dissatisfactions,
                        of anxious imaginings,
                                    of fretful preoccupations,
            of nagging prejudices,
                        of old scores to settle,
                                    and of the arrogance of being right.
Empty me
            of the ways I unthinkingly think of myself as powerless,
                        as a victim,
                                    as determined by sex, age, race,
                                                as being less than I am,
                                                            or as other than Yours.
Empty me
            of the disguises and lies
                        in which I hide myself from other people
                                    and from my responsibility
                                                for my neighbours and for the world.
Hollow out in me a space
            in which I will find myself,
                        find peace and a whole heart,
                                    a forgiving spirit and holiness,
                                                the spring of laughter,
                        and the will to reach boldly
                                    for abundant life for myself
                                                and the whole human family.

Psalm 23

At times such as these ? when we are struggling to make sense of the world ? it is important for followers of Jesus Christ to turn to God?s Word ? to rest in the God who our Bible reveals to us in those familiar pages.

The 23rd Psalm is a powerful poem of hope and praise that was written by King David almost 3,000 years ago. It is a piece of ancient literature that has comforted Jews and Christians ever since ? a song of worship that reminds us to lean into the One True God of the Universe at all times ? especially times like the ones we are experiencing today.

I am sorry to admit this, but I know that the last 10 days haven?t always found me resting in my faith. Instead I have far too often been living in the anxiety of news reports of new infections; putting my hope in the absence of confirmed cases in our area; placing my faith in my ability to isolate and cleanse. None of those things are evil, nor should they even be avoided ? but they are not God!

The 23rd Psalm has reminded God?s people throughout the centuries to put their hope in Him ? even in the midst of very difficult times. It is our turn to receive the blessing of this beautiful poem to the presence and hope of God!

Read Psalm 23

At this point I would like to ask you to read Psalm 23 ? out loud if possible. Read it slowly and thoughtfully, paying attention to the words of comfort and hope that King David has written.

After a moment of silence (1 to 5 minutes ? whatever you are comfortable with), read it again before you continue on.

Psalm 23

New King James Version (NKJV)

A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name?s sake.
4 Yea, 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.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

Praying over the Pieces of Psalm 23

  1.  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

This Psalm begins with an affirmation of our trust of God?s sufficiency. Sheep trust their shepherds for their whole well-being. A shepherd keeps them safe and fed, and when the time is right, guides them home. We know that God has called us to that same kind of trust in Him, but we never really know the strength of our faith until it is tested.

Take a moment and ask God, ?Have I put my trust in you? Or have the last few days revealed to me that I have hardly given you a second thought because of all the uncertainty swirling around me??

  • He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His names sake.?

How loud is the noise inside your head? Can you even hear God?s voice calling to you? During times of turmoil we fill our minds with so much information and conversation (ranting?) that the noise from all around us drowns out everything else. Have you been able to rest in God lately? Can you block out all the ambient noise that makes it so difficult to hear Him, or to even sense His presence?

For the next few minutes, try to put out of your mind all that is going on in the world and focus instead on God?s love for you and His desire for you to be blessed and restored.

  •  Yea, 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.

It is only when we know that we are grounded in God?s love for us, that we can face the hardships that are all around us. We are not escaping the difficulties, but lean into them knowing that we have an Advocate who is greater than any trouble we will ever face! God?s promise here is not to remove the difficulties, but to remind us He is with us in the midst of them. God is present with us to help us to persevere as we trust Him; but even if the circumstances do their worse, we still don?t need to fear! We belong to Him and nothing can defeat us ? not even death. It reminds me of the story found in Daniel 3 when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were cast into the fiery furnace for refusing to bow to the King of Babylon. They were convinced God could save them, but their last words were: ?? even if He does not (save them), we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.? 

Are you experiencing fear today? Is the anxiety of the day clouding the hope that you have in Jesus Christ? Spend a few minutes resting in that hope. Let this truth sink into your soul: no matter what may happen, you are already safe in God?s arms.

  • You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.

Not only are we safe in God?s presence ? we are blessed! Does that sound strange today? Have you even given thought to how blessed you are over the last 2 weeks? We live in a country where we can have reasonable confidence that we are not facing financial devastation if we do get sick; we have friends and neighbours who are watching out for us; whether it is through our own resources, the government or the kindness of others ? we will make it through the uncertain days ahead; there are few cases of infection in our own community; we have the opportunity to show the love of Christ to those around us. Even in the presence of ?the enemy? that is this virus, we can have eyes to see the blessings of God all around us! It is easy for us to become problem focussed and be blinded to the fact that our cup is still overflowing!

Take a few moments, and consider all the things in your life that you are thankful for right now! Thank God for them, and ask Him to show you how you can be a blessing to others.

  • Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

This is where we can realize just what we have put our hope in. If your hope is in financial certainty, or good health, or the ability to control our lives, then you will find it difficult to be hopeful today. But those things are not the promise of God. God?s promise is that His presence and love is never changing ? NEVER. Salvation is being reconciled to God, putting our trust in Him, and being assured that we are forever a part of His family! It?s not that we will one day dwell in ?the house of the Lord,? but we are already dwelling there!

For the final time of reflection on Psalm 23, spend some time imagining what it would be like to be living in God?s house ? not God?s house as the church building, but God?s house as the one described in John 14:2-3 (look it up) as a large family dwelling with a place especially prepared for you! Don?t worry if you have a hard time imaging this house, there is no way we could ever do more than catch a glimpse of the beauty and intimacy of it!

Reflecting on ?The Lord?s My Shepherd?

by Stewart Townend

Let?s finish our time together by listening to the song ?The Lord?s My Shepherd.? I have included the link to the YouTube video of this song below. Feel free to sing along!

Benediction

As we go now into this uncertain world, may we be reassured that we belong to the One True God ? reflecting His love and hope to those around us.