The Lord is My Shepherd

             I.      Introduction – Why do We Pray?

First of all, I want to apologize for my absence recently.  It’s been a difficult month for me.  My stepfather was a warm, loving father who taught me much about the meaning of family and forgiveness, and he was also the first close family member to me that passed.Slide2

I learned much about prayer this month.  At the funeral, they handed out this card, and more than one Christian brother remarked to me that the verse on the card and the verse assigned to me to study this week are the same.  There are a total of 31,102 verses in the bible, yet God singled out 6 of them for me.

One of the questions I asked myself is, “Why do we pray?”  We’ve given admonishment before that God is not some sort of magic genie and we are granted 3 wishes, yet in the midst of our trials, we go to God and start asking for our 3 wishes.

Let’s look for a moment at Matthew 6.  In the verses leading up to the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gives us much instruction on prayer, but this verse in particular, verse 8, Jesus says this about prayer –

For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

And in Romans 8:26,

In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.

In my case, sometimes I imagine the groaning of the Holy Spirit comes with an eyeroll of the Holy Spirit.  Groan, Michael never gets this prayer right, I’ll have to fix it for him.  Again.

So God, being perfect, knows what we need before we ask, and if we get it wrong, intercedes for us and prays for the correct thing.

So why do we pray?  When we pray for God to do something for us, knows in advance and corrects our prayers, so why do we pray?  Do we think our prayers are somehow going to change God, when it is God who is perfect and we are fallible?

When we pray and ask God to change, then we miss the most powerful aspect of prayer.  Pray doesn’t change God.  It changes us.  It brings us in line with God’s will, His plan, His desire.  Our goal in prayer should not be to put together some sort of compelling argument so that God will answer our prayer.  Our goal should be for God to bring us in line with His will so that our prayer and God’s will align.  When we are in line with God’s will and covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, we are seen as righteous before God.  And James 5:16 says the prayers of a righteous person is very powerful.  Not because we are powerful or even righteous, but because He is powerful.

          II.      Prayer through difficult times

When we are seeking the very face of God through our prayers, God is pleased with us.  In the Old Testament, the incense burned on the altar represented the prayers of the people, God tells us the prayers are a pleasing aroma.  David wrote a Psalm, essentially a prayer about prayers, where he wrote in Psalm 141:2 –

Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Slide4It’s important that we pray; if we look at the rest of James 5:13-18, James gives a lot of insight into the purpose of our prayers.

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises.  Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord.  The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land.  Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.

We’re not telling God anything that He doesn’t know.  But God wants us to acknowledge Him in all our ways, through good times and bad, through times of plenty and times of famine.

When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer was given as a “model” prayer.  It was never intended to be mere words, quoted over and over; the same chapter two verses earlier, Jesus cautioned us not to let prayer become “meaningless repetition.”  Instead, God wants is to open our heart, go into our closet and have a private conversation.  Just God and me.  What do we ask for if God already knows?  The New Testament has many verses that tell us what God wants us to pray for.

  • Pray at all times —Ephesians 6:18
  • Pray for opportunities to witness —Ephesians 6:19
  • Pray for spiritual wisdom and understanding —Colossians 1:9
  • Pray without ceasing —1 Thessalonians 5:17
  • Pray for knowledge —Philemon 6
  • Pray for good conduct —Hebrews 13:18
  • Pray for wisdom —James 1:15
  • Pray for those who are sick/suffering —James 5:13-14
  • Pray for one another —James 5:16; 1 John 5:16
  • Pray for those who persecute you —Romans 12:14
  • Pray for good health —3 John 2
  • Pray without doubting —James 1:6
  • Pray with the right motives —James 4:3
  • Pray knowing God is listening —1 John 5:15-16

So we should be honest.  We should pray what is on our hearts.  And above all, we pray that it is not our will, but Thy will be done.

       III.      Pray in Life

Because if we’re honest, we don’t always like it when we don’t get our way.  This list above are all good reasons for us to pray, and answers to those prayers seem to be within God’s will, but then sometimes God is silent.  Or God says no.

Sometimes God says no when we pray about our finances.  Sometimes God says no when we pray about our health.  And some of the toughest prayers are when we pray about life itself.

In Genesis 5, the descendants of Adam are listed.  At the age of 130, Adam had a son Seth, and Adam then lived till the age of 930.  Seth had a son Enosh when he was 105, and then lived to 912.   Enosh lived to 905, his son Kenan was just a young child at the age of 70 when he fathered Mahalel.  And so on until Noah; Noah was 500 years old when he fathered Shem, Ham, and Hapheth.

Slide7So why don’t we live until the ripe old age of 900 years?  Why do we die?

The length of our lives have been impacted by our sin nature.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve at the fruit from the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And knowledge of Evil taints us; what we have seen cannot be unseen.  Part of the fall of man included this judgement from God in Genesis 3:22 –

The Lord God said, “Since man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.”

And Noah, at 500 years old, lived in such an evil, wicked world, that God brought forth a flood to kill all the evil.  After Noah, the Lord said in Genesis 6:3,

And the Lord said, “My Spirit will not remain with mankind forever, because they are corrupt. Their days will be 120 years.”

It seems to me that God has a purpose for death.  We have a deadline sometime in our life to accept the sacrifice of His son.  We don’t know when that deadline is, but it is surely less than 120 years.  And this limit is because of our own sin nature.  We are limited in days because of God’s mercy and protection from this fallen world.

So when my stepfather was moved to hospice last month, there were many days God interceded in prayer.  Maybe I overthinked it.  Overthunked it?  Do I pray for my stepfather to continue living so we can enjoy his company for a while longer?  Do I pray for his release from pain?  We loved him so much none of us wanted to see him suffer, yet we loved him so much we didn’t want to see him go.  And it was at this point, this fork in the road between two conflicting prayers of life and death I found myself, marked with tears of grief either way.  And I know that God answers some prayers the way we hope about health and life and death, but eventually death comes to us all, and we are marked for eternity by the choices we make.

I’m thankful the Holy Spirit intercedes with groans.  And eyerolls.  I know that God provides peace that surpasses all understanding, but I couldn’t figure out how to get from grief to peace.  I needed God’s guidance, I needed God’s comfort, and I realized the fork in the road wasn’t between life and death.  When I prayed for God’s will to be done, I realized the third option was not life, not death, but life everlasting.  There is peace knowing that Jesus Christ rescues us from death and gives us eternal life, and that I know I will see my stepfather again in heaven, where there is no pain and there are no tears to wipe away.

          IV.      Psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd

This life offers many challenges, and when we are younger, I think we believe we can win them all.  But age and experience teaches us that we cannot win over all our enemies, we cannot live without the impact of illness, we do not always feel blessed by abundance and opportunity, and grief and sadness will come to all of us.

Kind David had a full life.  We’re familiar with his childhood, full of braggadocio and power.  His faith was so pure that God enable David to bring down the giant Goliath with just a stone.

Slide10But his life had challenges, especially as he got older.  Despite David’s loyalty to King Saul, Saul kept trying to kill him.  David lived in caves for a while because David wouldn’t harm Saul, yet Saul would try to kill him.  Later, once David was king, his whole family had serious issues that dwarf what you or I face.  David’s oldest son Ammon raped his half-sister Tamar.  Tamar’s brother Absalom was David’s favorite, but Absalom was outraged that King David did nothing, so Absalom ordered the king’s servants to murder Amnon.  Absalom lived in exile and eventually organized a rebellion against his own father, King David.  In 2 Samuel 18:33, David cried out in heartbreak and grief, “O my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”

We’re not sure when David wrote Psalm 23, but no doubt David had already experienced grief and heartache few can bear.  It’s only 6 verses, but they’re powerful verses.

Psalm 23,

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
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 name’s sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Slide11.JPGSuch a beautiful prayer.  It speaks not just of our life now but our confidence in a life everlasting with our Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s interesting to me that this Psalm is part of a Messianic trilogy.

Psalm Verse Time / Image Theme
Psalm 22 / The Good Shepherd My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The Saviours Cross Past His past death for His people
Psalm 23 / Great Shepherd Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; Hebrews 13:20-21 May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him… The Shepherds Crook Present His present care and provision for His people
Psalm 24 / Chief Shepherd Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. 1 Peter 5:4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. The Kings crown Future His future return for His people as the King of Glory!

Past, present and future.

Let’s look at Psalm 23 in a little more depth.

The Lord is my Shepherd.

The Lord.  Every word in the bible is important.  Jesus is Lord.  We sing songs about Jesus being our friend and our savior, and those are true, but he is also Lord.  The Lord’s name is Yahweh, sovereign, almighty, delivering Lord God.  When we seek comfort, begin by acknowledging that He alone is Lord of all.

Is.  Jesus is my shepherd right now.  Yes, he was there in the past, and yes, He will be there in the future, but Jesus is the great I AM.  He is here now within our midst.

My.  Jesus is personal.  He’s not a figurine hung on a cross in the front of a church.  He is not an abstract idea of goodness, He is not simply a long dead teacher or morals.  He is Mine, and I am His.

Shepherd.  Jesus is our shepherd, and we are His sheep.  What’s interesting about sheep is they are 4D.

  • Dumb
  • Dirty
  • Defenseless
  • Dependent

They are dumb; if there was a school for farm animals, sheep would be dropouts.  If there is a wire fence, they will get their necks caught in it, not just today, but tomorrow, too.  Their wool smells like you’d imagine a wool coat would smell if you left it in the rain, they have no ability to defend themselves, they have terrible eyesight, they are fearful skittish creatures that are prone to wander and get lost.  No wonder we need a shepherd who will provide for us, protect us, guide us, and wash us clean as snow.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Don’t get confused; David isn’t saying, “I don’t want a shepherd.”  The word “want” here means “needs.”  If the Lord is my Shepherd, then there is nothing else I need.  The Lord Jesus is all sufficient, and I place my trust in Him.  There may be trials of all sorts ahead for us, but the Lord uses everything for good, and I will trust in the Lord to provide everything I need for the day he has given me.  Everything will be ok.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;

When our bodies are tired, we put them to bed.  A nice comfy bed and a soft fluffy pillow, and we rest.  The Lord does this for our soul, if we only let him.  If we follow the Lord, our soul can be still and know that He is God.  When we rest in Him and leave our troubles with Him, He restores our soul.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

God’s word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.  He teaches me to be righteous so that I may bring Him glory.  I cannot do this on my own, but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  If I am following my Lord’s direction and letting Him guide my path, then the Lord receives the glory due to Him.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

This world is not the valley of life.  This world is the valley of the shadow of death.  Death comes to us all, no more than 120 years and for most of us a lot less.  My hope alone is in Him so that one day I may walk in new life.

I will fear no evil;
For You are with me.

David has changed pronouns; in the first three verses, David talks to God in the third person and refers to him as “he.”

But when you are surrounded by evil, God is not a distant third party.  We can talk to Him directly.  David talks directly to God, saying, I have nothing to fear for my hope is in you.  You surround me, you comfort me, you love me.  And if you are for me, then who can be against me?

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

The Hebrew word here translated “rod” can also be translated as rod, scepter, and weapon.  It is not a “walking stick.”  A shepherd’s rod is about two and a half feet long with heavy pieces of iron embedded on the end, like a mace.  The rod is the shepherd’s primary offensive weapon for protecting the flock from enemies, whether the threats are wild animals or human thieves.  When used as a weapon, it is intimidating and deadly.

Slide14The rod and staff mentioned in Psalm 23:4 represents God’s defense and His divine guidance.  His rod is used to drive off our enemy, Satan and his minions.  God’s staff is used as guidance to us, to lift us back on the pathway after we fall.  The Lord protects me from my enemies, and rescues me from my own mistakes.

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

God provides everything I need, despite the efforts of Satan to undo me.  In fact, God provides an abundance for me so that my cup runneth over and I can provide blessings to others.  Even though he is my Lord and my Savior, God treats me as an adopted son and an honored guest.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;

If you trust in the Lord, then no matter how far you stray, the Lord follows you with goodness and mercy.  The Hebrew word used for “follow” is the same word used when Pharaoh “followed” Israel across the Red Sea.  It doesn’t mean goodness and mercy follows from a distance.  God is actively pursuing us daily.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

            V.      Conclusion

God knows our lives.  He knows us before we are born, He knows us through our final destination.  He actively pursued us and rescues us.  And while goodness and mercy may actively follow me, one day I am going to slow down enough so that he catches me, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Forever is a very long time.  It’s far longer than the 120 years allotted to us.  Our prayers bring us in line with the spirit of the Living God who comforts us and provides for all our needs; he is our shepherd, and there is nothing we shall want.  I know that my stepfather dwells in the house of the Lord, and one day, I too, will dwell there, for Jesus promises there are many rooms in His mansion, and one day he will come back for me.  No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.

I’ll leave you with these two verses from our hope and future in the book of Revelation.

Revelation 7:17,

for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 21:4,

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

The Lord is my Shepherd.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

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