Psalm 23: Some thoughts

Many people have been blessed by this psalm and many have explained what it means to them.

I couldn’t sleep the other night and was thinking on Psalm 23.  Here are some random thoughts from that. (2011)

From my perspective we need to become sheep to read it.

THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD

This is as much a statement of confidence in who is your shepherd, or should be, as in the greatness of the Shepherd, himself.

The LORD is my shepherd means that it is the only true God who is the one guiding and feeding and tending you, and not a false god of nothing, or one who would make merchandise of you, or one who would not look after your best interests.

This is not a small thing.  He is the only God in whom we can have confidence; confidence that he will be looking for your best interests 24/7, which, as we know, could mean a number of things; so long as we understand that there is no greener pasture than God’s perfect will for your life.

I SHALL NOT WANT

This also has two points:

  1. That, if the Lord really IS your shepherd, then you will have no need or want. All will be supplied according to His riches in glory. He feeds the sparrows; He will feed you, if the first statement is true in your life – that “The Lord is My Shepherd.”

  2. The Human Being without God is forever wanting. Enough is never attainable and sufficiency is never achieved. We have a lustful spirit and the sooner we acknowledge it and highlight our relevant lustful areas the better sheep we will become.

The Apostle Paul explained an interesting situation when writing to the church at Rome; he said, “for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”

This has a remarkable implication, and can imply that, without knowledge of God and His guiding principles, lust is a typical part of a person’s life, so much in fact that it can actually be unrecognisable as lust.  It was as much a part of Paul’s former life as anything else.

Unsaved people who go through life unharnessed by scripture have lust as a normal element of their lives. That is why sales advertisements work so well.  The unsaved, and sadly some Christians, may call it ‘temptation’ but on the whole do not see the ‘forever wanting’ as one of the major sins from which we are meant to break free.

On the Testimonies page of a health book I read recently, a person made this incredibly insightful statement, “Since beginning the program my body has lost the desire for junk food.”  I am sure this person did not realise how closely that statement resembled a true Christian’s walk.

This woman, after many years of being trapped in the paddock of food lust and following all the false diet shepherds, who led to further food lust, has found an extraordinary new food shepherd who moved her into a new paddock, and she is now committed to grazing in that paddock only, a paddock and teaching that has changed her life and bodily desires, completely.

She now does not desire junk food anymore because her new body yearns for wholesome food. It sound complicated but, for the Christian, the closer we stick to God’s program and remain in His paddock, the more our minds and bodies will lose the desire for lust and increase the desire for His presence.

We, as saved and shepherded people, are of a different pasture to the unsaved. We receive spiritual food that can eliminate lust.

This is the biggest issue God had with those who came out of the paddock of Egypt.  He led them into a new paddock (the desert), where He would be their Pharaoh, or Shepherd.  He fed them with simple food that would remove the lust from their bodies and minds, but they would not accept it.  They would not allow the lord to do His work on them. They obstructed Him.

Their lustful minds were either back in Egypt or in the promised land of milk and honey, but never in the present desert paddock, being fed by Him for the express purpose of losing the false desires.

Joshua and Caleb understood that it was certainly a different paddock, but one that would cleanse them from all the impurities the previous way of life had infested them with, so they could really be successful in the new and greatly promised land ahead.

The Christian walk is all about this – drying out the lust within us, so when we cross over to the next stage the yearnings and desires for something better are not with us, and we can concentrate on getting God’s work accomplished, unshackled.

HE MAKETH ME TO LIE DOWN IN GREEN PASTURES

Maketh: This implies a bit of force or coercion. Now, people who do not know God well enough may argue that God wouldn’t force or coerce, and yet many of us know that, if he wants you, He will do what pleases Him according to the counsel of His own will, which may or may not result in a forceful push in the right direction or away from the wrong direction.

Many sheep have experienced this.  As Ezekiel the Priest said, “So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me.”  Meaning, the Lord had to drag him screaming!  And you thought it just happened to you!

Lying down.  Lying down may not be something we want to do.  As possessing minds in our own right, we are apt to undertake whatever we please, and often too much, perhaps getting busier than we should on things not of God, leaving very little time for Him.  All too often God can become an addendum or appendix in our lives, a supplemental addition to our main work, and not our main work.

The Apostle Paul, makes an interesting statement in his writing to his son in the faith, Timothy; it has a veiled meaning; He says “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.”

This gives us our true direction in this life.  Following our High Priest to where he wants to lead us is our profession in this life, and the rest of the things, bulked together, are the addendum.

Again, when writing to the Hebrews, Paul encourages us to ensure our real business is very much a part of our lives, when he says “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.”

It is so easy to get the essential things in life confused and consequently transposed with those of a lesser importance or those which have no importance at all, not holding fast our profession but letting it slip from our grasp.  Lying down implies complete rest and may be God’s way of getting us to stop and reevaluate our future.

Green Pastures implies Springtime, a time of plenty, if we can only see it, regardless of our present circumstances.

Green also speaks of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is vital for photosynthesis, which allows plants to obtain energy from light.   Biologically, we are like plants, so maybe God takes us aside, into the green pastures, to look up and absorb the precious light of the glorious gospel of Christ, letting it shine into us, recharging our passion and focus again…so we can be still and know that He is God.

HE LEADETH ME BESIDE THE STILL WATERS (Heb: “Waters of Quietness”)

The Lord loves a quiet spirit – quiet in Him.  It means we are at peace, not involved in inner conflict.  Did He take King David to these still waters to show Him how He wanted his life to be?  King David was a man of war, and yet at the same time, a man after God’s own heart, deeply cherished by Him.

Considering his indiscretions, which are well documented, and his embattled life, did David achieve this peace?  He new well what quiet waters do for a sheep’s anxiety.  In another psalm he even cried out to God to renew a right spirit within him, he was that desperate for peace.

From time to time King David was involved with inner conflict, like all of us can get at times.  It seems to me that the mental picture he had of what God wanted him to be was different to the one crying out, and therefore the anxiety of not living up to the standard, and fearing falling short, was very present in his life.

We can never achieve a quiet spirit with this imbalance in us, and as peace with God is a foundation requirement of our Walk, the earlier we work it out, the better.

A warning is, in our pursuit of having peace with God, we must make sure it is on His terms; we must take care not to be guilty of that ever-present temptation of trying to reduce God’s high standard to a lower level – one that we can achieve without too much work.

This is attempting to make smaller the prize of the High Calling of God in Christ Jesus; you know, a medium calling or small calling, it just doesn’t sound right, does it – “the prize of the small calling of God in Christ Jesus.” 

It can never really be diminished, except in our minds.  The end result is that we go through life pretending we have peace with God because we did it on our terms.  Sadly, this is the case with much post-modern Christianity and preaching.

Let us not be fooled, God will not lessen the value of His prize for us just because we fancy a simpler course; and remember, a rocket that is millimetres off at launch is kilometres off at landing.

King David understood there is only one way; quieting our spirit in God – letting ourselves be led beside those waters of quietness and drawn further into His presence and peace daily, and looking more and more like the stature he has called us too.

The sooner our actions resemble the picture God has of us the sooner we will find that quiet spirit, and enjoy that everyday Sabbath peace with God.

HE RESTORETH MY SOUL

According to Strong’s exhaustive concordance of the Bible, the word Restoreth can mean ‘movement back to the point of departure.’

When you combine this with the word Soul, again according to Strong’s, which may imply ‘all that is within me,’ we get a picture of all that is within us walking away from God’s perfect will for us and God bringing us back to that point of departure.

This meaning also fits with Abraham’s story of how God brought him back to Beth-el to make certain that it wasn’t only God’s principles that were right in his life but also the order in which the fall; Build your Altar; Pitch your Tent; Dig your Well, e.g. God first!

It is not enough to follow what we think are God’s principles; we must be sure of it, and also be sure we are getting the order right in our lives, daily; otherwise, if we understand it, and don’t do it, it may be interpreted as an arrogance or negligence in our nature that we may think we do not have, but really do!

God is gracious as a shepherd.  He brought King David’s soul back to the point of its departure time and time again, and he does the same for us; in fact, more frequently than we recognise.

Being brought back to a point of departure may not sound like much, but we could look at it in another light and see our gracious shepherd saying to us “here, have another go, I just want you to get it right.” 

If it were an Olympian who had messed up in a race, and the Judge said “here, have another go’ it would be astounding; but the reality is it would provide an opportunity for that Olympian to actually win, from a point of being disqualified.  Why is God so gracious to us?

There is a race set before us; a personal race, and we are called to win it, not just run in it.  The difficulty is that winners in anything except lottery tickets have to overcome many issues and setbacks, and still march on.

God knows this.

When we read winners’ biographies we can often see that some of them have endured experiences we would never wish for; almost insurmountable barriers; mental, emotional, and physical barriers that needed to be broken through to achieve what they did.  We are no different. In this race, the only shortcoming we have is our lack of passion and determination.

Also, since we have not run our natural life’s path before, that too is riddled with obstacles.  From the time we are born to the time we die, there are no re-runs; much like a cross-country circuit we have not had the opportunity to navigate before the race.

To some of us it may seem unfair for God to give us this route, expecting us to overcome all of life’s natural obstacles, and, at the same time, navigate to the level of spiritual success He is calling us to.   Do you think this?

A missionary to China was heard recently making this incredible statement.  He said that whilst we ‘Christians’ here in Australia are praying for God to remove the oppression that our Chinese Christian brothers and sisters are under, they are actually praying for us, that oppression would come upon us, so our passion would become deeper and determination more fixed.

Maybe we need to look at ourselves in a new light.  We might find we are more poor, blind, and naked than we think.

God’s callings are not unfair and are without repentance; He said we are not alone. He has given us His Word to guide us through.

Further, He has compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses, people who have walked this road before and some who are walking with us now, to help us lay aside those weights and lusts which so easily beset us, and run that race which is set before us, with patience and achievements, in peace.

To top it off he has left us the Holy Spirit to lead and guide and caution.

It’s funny, often in life we engage professional services to lead and guide and caution us.  This can be quite expensive, with some being several hundreds of dollars per hour, and we do it because they are specialists in their field and we need their help.

Due to the price, when we make an appointment we never forget to keep it.  Yet, when it comes to the personal services of the Holy Spirit of the supreme Godhead – the chief specialist in this world who will engage with us for as long as we will engage with Him, we find ourselves consistently not keeping appointments with him for the most juvenile of reasons.

Though the Holy Spirit is the supreme specialist in building, counseling, personal development, relationship development, spiritual enlightenment, and investment, we skip appointments with excuses like: Sorry Holy Spirit but,  “I slept in”  “ I feel like watching a movie instead”  “I will do it tomorrow”  “I think a short chat in the car with you will do”  “I just can’t be bothered today”  “it’s too cold” “it’s too hot” “the kids need me” “I will read this instead” “I don’t know what to talk to you about” “I have to clean the house,” and the list goes on.  A bit arrogant, isn’t it?

Do we get charged for not keeping these appointments?

You betcha!

Keeping these appointments of love and commitment is like putting money in our superannuation fund.  It’s a future fund, built by faithful works.   The last thing we want is to find that, upon retirement, we don’t have much in the account, but thought we would have.

In the case of the Holy Spirit, when we are consistently not engaging with Him and doing those daily things the Lord commanded, we are borrowing against our future estate.

No, I’m not talking about getting to Heaven by works.

We are given the ‘earnest of the spirit,” which is our deposit, and we are meant to invest it, building ‘faith upon faith’ or ‘faithful works upon faithful works’ which are some of the deposits of gold, silver and precious stones that should be going into our building fund until either our building is complete or we have left it too late and been called home.

Restoring Our Soul is as needful as anything we are given in this life.

HE LEADETH ME IN THE PATHS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE

Leading.  It is always great to see leaders leading from the front. Whether at work, on the footy field or in a war zone, we always like to see our leaders leading from the front.  After all, isn’t that why we call them leaders?

Real leaders are out of the same stock as the people.  They are not of a different class.

Sadly, in this life we see many leaders leading from above us, or from the rear, or not leading at all, or leading us on a path not of God’s purpose.

God says he will give us pastors according to his own heart, who will feed us with knowledge and understanding: he also says that there are some, already set up in his church, that are brutish and are out to destroy his vineyard and make gain of the people.

Maybe you have followed them at some time.

They will not be interested in righteousness and may even go to lengths to preach that there is no need for it in the modern church.

Huxley said, “A victim of manipulation does not know he’s a victim” and so, Christians may not know they are being drawn away.  Without sound teaching we can easily be drawn from a righteous path.

More frightening is George Orwell’s statement, “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

This supports what the Apostle James was saying about being double-minded – that we could believe that righteousness and unrighteousness can reside comfortably together in the same church, mind and spirit.

The leaders we must follow are those who will lead us to righteousness, bible righteousness, not away from it.

The Bible speaks often of leaders.  Those leaders can be kings, priests, judges, pastors or shepherds.

In fact, when you look at it, the Bible is full of leadership matters.  It gives us quite clear instruction as to who were God’s leaders and who weren’t, and how to tell the difference – by their fruits ye shall know them.

The Apostle Paul speaks of having plenty of instructors but not enough fathers.

Instructors are more like hired servants, who are good for short cameo appearances, but not interested in the long journey of leading a soul to where it is supposed to be in Christ.

Spiritual fathers, on the other hand, support the great shepherd of your soul, removing the pebbles and making the crooked paths straight; and helping bring us to full stature.

As best they can, they emulate Jesus Christ, who undeniably led from the front. He led even to the most horrific of deaths in His effort to teach us that we also need to be leading those who will follow us, down the paths of righteousness to the Kingdom.

Without it, we will not be entering.

Paths of righteousness?  Why paths and not path?  Consider this; every decision we have to make in life has more than one path we can take.

No, I am not talking about those tough decisions like what you should have on your toast for breakfast, or whether you should wear the green shirt or blue shirt to work.

I am talking about those decisions that impact on how you play out the rest of your life; decisions that may eventually affect your crown.  Some decisions involve a path of righteousness and a path of unrighteousness.

For instance, if you are a Christian and have a job as a used car salesman; and are asked a question from a prospective buyer about a certain aspect of a vehicle you know has faults in that area; do you shadow or gloss over the issue?

Do you tell her a half truth, ensuring she believes something that is not quite true but that you did not technically state?  Do you minimise the issue and say you will get it looked at but having no intention to do so? or do you tell her the truth and see what you can work out from there?

The challenge in life is that righteousness demands the truth and nothing but the truth; and there are two paths confronting Christians in every scenario but only one they can take.  There are many people whom these challenges do not affect, but for the true follower of Jesus Christ, there should be this challenge at every turn, until judging righteously is as routine as breathing.

Of course, Righteousness is far more than truth or lies; it is a complete system of judgments that God has developed for our use.

Furthermore, they are His judgments and not ours; we are only the message deliverers of the judgment.

Much like delivering a note from our manager to a worker; it is not our message, we are merely the conduits used to get a job done.

In that role, it is our responsibility to deliver the right message – his message, and not tamper with it or redesign it according to how we might think or fear at the time.  Jesus said, “don’t judge according to what you see or hear, but judge righteous judgment.”

These decisions we have to make in life are actually judgments, which lead us either up to the next level or down to the next level, depending on whether we have administered God’s judgment or tampered with it.

Tampering with Gods judgment is a form of unbelief, which will keep us from obtaining the crown set before us. Let us not forget that judgment begins at the house of God, which house we are.

This clearly indicates that, by judgment, we get the beam out of our own eye first before we try and pull the splinter from the eye of another of God’s sheep or lambs: the work begin with us.

Everyone of us can see the problems of others but often cannot or will not see our own. We can often dismiss our own issues as minor, compared to what we see in others.  It’s a very distorted view, and yet it’s in every person, church and family.

The term God means Judge, and these scenarios are our training ground for true godly judgment and a life free of deceptiveness.

King David states in Ps 119:105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”  The whole word of God lights the path of righteousness for us in matters of judgment, if we have a desire to open the book and have a look and let that light illuminate the truth.

YEA, THOUGH I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY OF DEATH, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL

The Valley of Death has been a reality for many Christians.  Some are taken all the way to death and others taken through the valley of its shadow; often both being significant trials of faith.

Fear no evil.  It is not the valley of the shadow of death that is the big issue here; it is the fear of the evil that may come whilst you are going through it.

Fear in general is a big concern of God’s, specifically our fear of things that may or may not come upon us, whether we are in a valley at the time or not.  God does not want us to fear anything but him.

King David walked through this valley when it seemed the entire world was hunting him and his troop down.  I sense he may have also walked through this valley a few more times, such as when God gave him his three options after he had taken the census and the anger of the Lord was upon him.

In that case, like a good son, David chose the option of the Lord’s judgment, saying “let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man.”

For David’s disobedience in taking the census, 70,000 of his people died at the hands of God; a modern day tsunami and just as quick.  All his fault!  I think this would have been a very deep valley for him, both at the time and later upon remembrance.

He may have felt easier at heart if God had taken him instead. Did he fear anything at this time?  Although he had the conviction that God’s judgment would be the most merciful, I believe he would nonetheless have been fearful of the outcome.

For me, the Fear represented in Psalm 23 is not an ordinary fear.  It is the fear as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

This type of fear is the thing that dogs can smell when we fear them, a fear that is palpable and causes heart attacks though not a hand is laid upon us.

It is that great fear of what may happen.  That is what fear is, a fear of what may come, a fear of the future; and is most ungodly and one of the things we find difficult to overcome throughout all our lives, though God would want us to overcome it first.

He is God of our present and future!

Fear stops many people from succeeding.  For us, it mis-shapes our judgments and impedes our exercising of trust – it doesn’t let the God’s current flow through!

Conversely, Trust is also about the future; and in reality, we can only come to one conclusion about a future issue, we can only decide one way – fear or trust.

There is an estimate that says 80% of all our fears never come to pass.

This should be a comforting thought to us.  We know the future is unknown to us, so what is the fear about?  Once we have made our resolution and overcome the fear of what man can say or do to us – or to someone we love, yes, even family members, the faster God can move us, and the faster our grain of mustard grows.

Fear is the evil thing on our left shoulder that keeps telling us that God cannot deliver.  The decision of Fear is one of the biggest decisions we will have to make, and comes down to – can God deliver or can’t he? is he our deliverer in all things or isn’t he?  Does he only deliver sometimes or all the time?

The song below by Steven Curtis Chapman explains the valley well.  Maybe you can see yourself in it somewhere?

Jesus will meet you there (Song – Steven Curtis Chapman)When you think you’ve hit the bottom and the bottom gives way and you fall into a darkness no words can explain and you don’t know how you make it out alive Jesus will meet you there.

When the doctor says, “I’m sorry, we don’t know what else to do.” and you’re looking at your family wondering how they’ll make it through… Whatever road this life takes you down, Jesus will meet you there.

When the jury says, “Guilty,” and the prison doors close When the one you love says nothing, just packs up and goesWhen the sunlight comes and your world’s still dark, Jesus will meet you there

When you’ve failed again and all your second chances have been used And the heavy weight of guilt and shame is crushing down on you… And all you have is one last cry for help Jesus will meet you there.

When you realize the dreams you’ve had for your child won’t come true when the phone rings in the middle of the night with tragic news… Whatever valley you must walk through, Jesus will meet you there.

He will meet you there.

The Valley IS all about fear.  It is the fear of what is over the next hill.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had to make the decision on the fear factor, but they made it long before they were thrown into the fire.

Mordecai made it long before Haman hounded him and was going to hang him.

We also must make our decision on fear early in life, and let it become our default position in all situations.

When I was given a prison sentence years ago I had prepared my heart to accept whatever God handed out.  Having said that, I did not believe he was going to hand me a prison sentence.  I prayed for the outcome I would have liked the Lord to give me.  It did not come; in fact it was the opposite.  My role then was to stand up like a man, with no complaints, but joy, and complete God’s sentence upon me.  Shame is the promotion of fools, and I got promoted – down; but it didn’t mean he wanted me to stay down.

That’s all…

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