Prayers for Today from Psalms
3. Praying to the Lord Who Leads
Almost everyone has heard of Psalm 23. It has been called the sweetest psalm ever written. Since this psalm is so familiar, we’re in danger of missing the depth of its meaning. Because it’s setting is in the world of sheep and shepherds, many of us city slickers can slide right past its richness. Did you know that the Bible refers to us as sheep nearly 200 times? 2 main characters in this psalm – The Shepherd and His Sheep. 3 main ideas:
1. The Shepherd Provides v. 1 - 3
God provides for us personally because of who He is. Look at the first phrase of v. 1: “The Lord.” This is the name “Yahweh” and was the name first revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14: “I am who I am.” Ordinary Israelites considered this name too holy to be spoken by human lips. In fact, it was so revered that it was only pronounced once a year on the Day of Atonement, and then only by the high priest in the most holy place of the Temple.
David says the great “I AM” is “my” shepherd. This is very similar in thought to Psalm 8 where we read, “O Lord [“Yahweh”], our Lord.” He is other than us and yet He is ours. He is powerful and He is personal. He is majestic and He is mine. Because the Lord is my shepherd, He provides for me in 4 ways -
“I shall not want.” Since the Lord is my shepherd I will not lack anything that is really necessary and good for me. A Sunday School teacher asked, “How many of you can quote Psalm 23?” Several raised their hands - little girl - only 4 years old. She asked her to recite it - stood up -“The Lord is my shepherd. I got all I want.” She had the words mixed up but understood the message perfectly.
Listen. If Jesus is your shepherd, everything else is secondary. We could say: “If the Lord is my shepherd, then I shall not want. If I am in want, then I’m not allowing the Lord to be my shepherd.” Psalm 34: 9 “Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing!” Since the Lord is our shepherd, all of our needs are taken care of. One of the best definitions of contentment I’ve ever heard is this: Contentment is not having everything you’ve always wanted. Contentment is wanting everything you already have.
Max Lucado - our discontment - the “prison of want.” Its prisoners want something bigger. Nicer. Faster. Thinner. If your happiness comes from something you deposit, drive, drink or digest, then you’re in the prison of want. Are you hoping that a change in circumstance will bring a change in your attitude? If so, you’re locked up. You’re in a cell of discontentment. Allow the powerful simplicity to sink into your soul: What you have in your shepherd is greater than what you don’t have in life. Do you believe that?
“He makes me lie down in green pastures…” Notice that the shepherd “makes” me lie down. Sometimes the shepherd would institute forced rest periods for his sheep. Some of you have been made to lie down as a result of a broken bone, some other health problem, heartbreak or even the loss of your job. The shepherd has slowed you down for a reason. Philip Keller points out the best way to get the flock to chill out - make sure a couple conditions are met-
i. Freedom from fear. By nature, sheep are nervous and fearful. Like dogs when the firworks go off -they are frightened. When sheep know the shepherd is with them, they can relax. Isaiah 43: 5 “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
ii. Freedom from famine. A hungry sheep is forever on its feet, foraging for food. The shepherd makes sure that they are in “green pastures,” where they can feed among the rich, sweet grass and then chew their cud while lying down on the pasture.
Some of us never slow down enough to chew on the green of God’s Word. We’re filled with fear or we’re in friction with others in the flock. Some of us allow the small frustrations of life to knock us off centre and we end up not ruminating on the richness and sweetness of Scripture like we should.
After being fully fed, “He leads me beside quiet waters.” Sheep by nature are afraid of running water and will refuse to drink unless everything is still and quiet. Shepherds would often divert a flowing river to make a placid pool.
The shepherd has to lead the sheep to the good water because otherwise they will stop and drink from polluted puddles where they can pick up parasites. We’re a lot like that, aren’t we? God has provided so much for us and yet we often drink from places that will only harm us.
“He restores my soul.” Because sheep are careless, curious and cantankerous creatures, they often need to be restored. The word, “restore” means to “bring back to a former or normal state, to make new.” Sheep can get lost faster than any other animal. This can be serious for many reasons. They may fall and get hurt. A predator may pounce on them. Or they may simply tip over, and become “cast down.” This is a term for a sheep that is lying flat on its back, with its feet flailing in the air. Often sheep will lie down in a little depression in the ground and then, when their centre of gravity changes, they’ll actually tip over and be unable to get back up without help.
When a sheep is missing, the first thought to flash through the shepherd’s mind is that one of his sheep may be cast. Vultures and jackals know that a cast sheep is easy pickings and death is not far off. When the shepherd finds the sheep, he rolls it over and lifts it to its feet. He then straddles the sheep, holding it erect, rubbing the limbs to restore circulation, while talking to it gently.
What a picture of what God does for straying saints! He looks for us when we have wandered and picks us up when we are flat on our backs. Aren’t you glad that Christianity is a series of new beginnings? If you’re cast down today, or have strayed from the flock, allow the shepherd to restore your soul. He’ll bring you back and He’ll put you back together.
“He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” This refers to a “well-defined and well-worn trail.” God longs to lead us in paths of righteousness. Most of us know the right road we should take but our selfishness and sinfulness can lead us astray. We need the shepherd to guide us in the right way because like sheep, we often have no sense of direction. If we don’t go His way, we will go astray.
2. The Shepherd Protects v. 4, 5
In the first 3 verses, the sheep are in the sunshine. In v.4, they’re in the shadows. God not only provides for us through delightful times, He protects us through dark seasons of life. Notice also that the pronouns change. In the first half, David is extolling the virtues of the Shepherd, using “He” and “His” to refer to Yahweh. When we come to the second half, he speaks to the Shepherd directly: “You are with me, your rod and your staff…you prepare…you anoint.” When times are tough, God becomes more real to David. Have you experienced that? The promise-keeping God protects us when we face problems. Because of that there is…
A. No need to fear death
v. 4 : “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…” The picture here is of the shepherd leading his sheep through rocky ravines and narrow gorges when long shadows would dance across the trail, frightening the flock. The shepherd knows from experience that bears and wolves like to wait in ambush for some fresh lamb chops.
Notice that we walk “through” the valley. We don’t have to stay there. Through the blackness there is brightness. Through the gloom there is glory. In one sense the shadow of something is more ominous than what it represents. The shadow of death cannot harm us if we stay close to the shepherd. When there is a shadow there must be light somewhere. Our Redeemer has removed the sting of death; only the shadow of it remains. John 8: 51 “Whoever keeps my word will not see death.” John 11: 26 “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
B. No need to fear separation
David can deal with death because he can say, “you are with me.” Hebrews 13: 5, 6 “I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”
David continues, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The rod was used to protect the sheep. Shepherds were very adept in their aim and would throw this club at attacking animals. The staff was a slender pole, with a little crook on the end. It could be hooked around the leg of a sheep to pull him from harm. It was also utilized to lift sheep out of crevices they had fallen into.
C. No need to fear enemies
v. 5 “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Some suggest that David is switching metaphors to that of a banquet. There might be something to that but I think he’s using a common expression to describe what a shepherd does to “prepare a pasture.” Ideally, the best place for the sheep to graze is on a flat area. Before letting the lambs romp around, the shepherd would inspect it for poisonous plants and make sure there were not any predators prowling around. The sheep can eat even though there are enemies nearby because the shepherd is doing His job.
A young boy was messing around at the dinner table. After being warned several times, his parents finally told him he had to eat by himself. When he sat down his dad reminded him to pray before he ate. He closed his eyes and prayed, “Bless this food that I eat in the presence of my enemies.”
In the midst of the cultural confusion in our country, it’s important to remember that we don’t have to live in fear of those who believe and live differently. I’m praying that God will bring revival to our lives, our church, our country and the world. God has placed each of us strategically in our community to live on mission for Him by going with the gospel.
D. No need to fear problems
“You anoint my head with oil.” In our culture, it would be like giving your guests a can of deodorant when they came to your house. In that day, oil was also a sign of rejoicing so to be anointed with it was to be splashed with joy. But David is still submerged in the sheep and shepherd relationship. In ancient Israel shepherds used oil to repel insects and to heal wounds.
What a beautiful picture of what the shepherd does for us. He deals with our problems by protecting us from those things that can wipe us out. He comforts us and heals us when we’re beaten up. We’re wounded sheep in need of a healing shepherd.
3. The Shepherd Preserves
A. God gives us more than we need
“…My cup overflows.” The word refers to an overabundance. God loves to lavish His blessings on us - Ephesians 3: 20 “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think…”
“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life…” One paraphrase puts it like this: “Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.” What a picture! Aren’t you glad God chases you with His “goodness”? “God is good all the time…and all the time God is good!”
We’re also recipients of his “mercy,” by not receiving what we do deserve. If God gave us justice, we’d be consumed by His righteous wrath. God’s goodness and mercy led Jesus to the Cross, where the shepherd gave his life for his sheep. He’s pursuing you right now in order to give you more that you need and certainly more than you deserve.
B. God prepares us for everything we’ll need
Today is covered…and so is tomorrow -“…And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” The sheep have been following the shepherd to green pastures and through shadowy gorges. They are so satisfied with the flock to which they belong and with the ownership of the Shepherd that they want everything to just go on forever. For those who are saved, Jesus the Good Shepherd, promises - John 10: 28 “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
1. Join the shepherd’s flock. The Lord is looking for lost sheep right now. If you have never asked Jesus save you from your sins and shepherd your life, you are not yet in His flock.
2. Stay close to the shepherd. Many sheep will come to the shepherd daily and rub against his legs and wait for a pat on the head. Sheep that stay close to the shepherd reach the water first. Those next to the shepherd get to the sweetest grass first. But most of all they get to enjoy it all with the shepherd by their side. When we stay close to the shepherd, He will make sure all of our needs are met.
Perhaps the Lord is disciplining you right now. Remember, its not to punish you but to bring you back to His side.
3. Follow wherever He leads. The shepherd has a plan for you and wants to lead you in paths of righteousness. Are you willing to follow Him, regardless of the direction He takes you? Maybe that’s baptism or church membership. The Good Shepherd provides, protects and preserves.