is God my shepherd?

A psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
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 overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Psalm 23

“Lord” in “the Lord is my shepherd” is an English translation capitalized in most English versions when it translates “Yahweh,” the personal Hebrew name for God. Of course in the New Testament Jesus is revealed as the human who not only enacts this, but does so because he in fact is the God-human. So what is meant in Psalm 23 is God, and later that is fulfilled in Jesus, certainly true of the Triune God.

We are called sheep in Scripture, and for good reason. We go astray, are easily lost, and are quite dependent. To understand sheep better would be a good study in itself, but we need to be careful not to press those analogies from Scripture too far. We need to consider them in their contexts in Scripture. No question that sheep in Scripture are said to go astray, to be vulnerable against attackers such as wolves, helpless and harassed in need of a shepherd. And interestingly, sheep know the voice of their shepherd, each of them having their own name so that they’re known individually by their shepherd.

I am glad that this psalm is attributed to David. David was a shepherd early on which prepared him to be king over God’s people. Kings in the best sense of what they were to fulfill were to be shepherds. David was certainly no perfect shepherd, especially evident from his horrific sin involving Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. He had other faults as well. Yet he was a man after God’s own heart, having a heart for the people.

As I recently picked up from Dallas Willard, Psalm 23 is a prime passage to memorize so that one can meditate, reflect and pray through it. I think one can do well to say it again and again, and talk to God about it. Asking God if God really is our shepherd.

Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd” in the classic passage in John 10. He calls his sheep by name and leads them out to find good pasture, even life to the full. And he lays down his life for the sheep.

The psalm is quite personal. God is “my” shepherd. Oftentimes to push against the individualistic emphasis in our culture in which little else matters except for “me and mine,” we neglect the reality that our faith is personal and that God really does care about and for us individually. Each sheep he knows by name. Yes, each of us are dear to the Lord. He knows us through and through, and really does love and care for us.

I don’t like a lot of things about myself, and have struggled to like myself at all. I often just put up with myself. But that’s not what God wants. The Lord wants us to accept the truth that he made each one of us, and that redemption and reconciliation is for each one of us in and through Jesus. In Jesus the shepherd analogy of Scripture fits to a tee. Do we see Jesus and God in Jesus that way?

We must not let go of this. Everything in Psalm 23 is meant for us, yes each one of us, individually. And we need to see it for others as individuals, as well. Each and every line. Here it is again, to be read and pondered and prayed over until it becomes more and more our own in and through Jesus.

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
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 overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

 

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a benefit of slowing down

Better one handful with tranquillity
than two handfuls with toil
and chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 4:6

Life is busy, sometimes quite demanding. We have automation nowadays, but that only increases expectations of more efficiency at less cost. And with that comes pressure to make it work. But I think a lot of that pressure we impose on ourselves. And that’s related to all our other expectations to succeed and even excel, to be better than someone else, to uphold our own imagined high view of ourselves or our ability, or the reputation we’ve gained.

When you read the book of Ecclesiastes, that’s all poppycock. Just a waste of time, effort, literally a passing breath. The text above tells us it’s better to have less with tranquility, rest, or quiet (compare NIV with NASB and NRSV from link above). It depends on how one translates it, but the idea is essentially the same. Putting one’s whole heart and life into something doesn’t mean what we’ve thought and maybe been taught: to run ourselves ragged.

This is not at all downplaying the importance of hard work and diligence. But it’s saying that we need to do so out of heart of tranquility, rest and quiet. And I think for most all of us, certainly for me, that means we have to slow down. Part of slowing down is not only physical, but inward. We pause, become more thoughtful. We pull out the stops here and there when need be, but we’re willing to shut the operation down rather than try to do what is barely manageable, if at all.

When we refuse to slow down, expectation builds to maybe do better, or keep up what often amounts to a brutal pace. Or we have other expectations, like being better than someone else at this or that, or persuading others that we’re right and they’re wrong, whatever. The list could probably go on and on.

Instead we will do much better if we learn to slow down, be satisfied with something less than before, which actually will become something more. Our tranquility can help others. Our expectation is always from God, not from ourselves. And it’s God’s work, whatever God considers important. Oftentimes that will be a change of heart in ourselves which comes only in stillness and rest as we look to God.

It’s a learning process, not something we can step into easily overnight, but something indeed that we need to do. The same problems exist, but we can now engage them more prayerfully and thoughtfully in faith. And find the rest meant for us in and through Jesus.

relaxing in dependence on God

The Sabbath is an institution in Scripture rooted in creation and in covenant. It finds its fulfillment in Christ; we find our Sabbath rest in him. But that doesn’t nullify our need to rest well physically from our labors. In fact I think that’s a part of learning to rest in God. As I think Martin Luther once said, he had learned to sleep well in the confidence that God is running the world, not himself.

For me this is important given the pressures and responsibilities I face, not to mention the ongoing concerns. True of us all. We need to learn to relax in all of life, dependent on God. Certainly easier said than done.

Do we believe that God is at work in our lives all the time for our good and the good of others? If it all depends on us, we will fall short for sure, or never be able to reach the goal. But if while we seek to be faithful, God is in the process toward completing his perfect work, then we can rest assured in him, that he will take care of it all.

God is present to help us in all our weakness. What we need to do is simply trust him, continue in faith so that we’re faithful. And not think for a second that the outcome depends on us. We do need to be present in faith to share in the blessing, but it’s God’s work. In and through Jesus.

the rest we need

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

There is no question that the world is either restless or in a rest that isn’t necessarily good or not good at all. The Bible speaks of this time and again, Ecclesiastes being one book starkly depicting it. We seem hardwired against entering into the one rest that brings the true flourishing which we may have once had an inkling of and longing for. We can take care of it ourselves, whatever we’re running after and restless for until we collapse before we go for it some more.

But Jesus invites us into a rest with him, away from the clamor and emptiness of the world’s headlong rush. Yet while apart from that very world, present in it. While there are regular times alone with God, and periodic get aways, this rest is largely lived in the midst and mess of every day normal life. That is what Jesus modeled for us as we see in the gospel accounts, and what the church is called to as we’re told in the rest of the New Testament.

The difference is that we are in and about the Lord’s work, in the way of the Lord no less. But one can well say prior to that in fellowship, indeed close communion with him. I have experienced that at times, though often my experience has been hard, dark and difficult. Which makes me long all the more to learn to enter, remain and live in this yoke of rest with our gentle, humble, living and loving Lord.

 

 

some further thoughts on Jesus’s invitation to rest

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

It is refreshing when living in a culture so individualistic to have Jesus’s personal invitation into rest and full participation with him with the further rest and strength that participation brings. I appreciate our church, and in general all the churches we’ve been a part of. And we’re part of a small group which meets twice a month and once during the summer. And on top of that I work at a ministry and thus am in daily Christian fellowship. But still by and large what the New Testament teaches in regard to what the church is to be is not practiced enough. Our church service has good coffee, good worship in song, great teaching from Scripture on the screen to our campus, so in many ways it’s my cup of tea. As long as I have my ear plugs (and I barely need them, but trying to protect the hearing I have at an older age) I’m good to go. And it helps if in my comfort zone, or just being more or less chronically tired, I don’t doze off.

Jesus’s invitation is no less personal than it was when he made it I assume not only among his disciples, but when teaching the multitudes. It is an invitation open to all, certainly one to enter into a relationship of discipleship we might say. It refers to a double yoke which oxen we’re hitched to. The Lord himself is alongside of us, in the time he taught it in person, but especially fulfilled, even for the people of his day after he would ascend and pour out the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit, he would come to them, and thus this invitation would be fully open to all. (Not to be confused with his actual return, when he comes bodily, bringing heaven to earth.)

This invitation is no less radical than when it was made. It is not only for all of life, but an actual relationship with Christ by the Spirit. In a sense it stands on its own, but in another sense, not. That is, it is a powerful dynamic in and of itself, the Lord being present with us, and directly teaching or at least impacting us in this communion by the Spirit. And it seems that it is indeed a working relationship. It’s about rest, but it’s also about taking up a yoke and moving with the Lord. So it stands on its own that way. But it’s not apart from what Scripture teaches so that we’re to be active in the word day after day.

This is the breath of fresh air we need for ourselves and for our help to and participation with others. In and through Jesus.

prone to wander and blunder

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:8-11

Yesterday I wrote what for me I hope to be a life changing kind of post. Of course God’s word brings about change, or it’s meant to. I want to mention here that there’s a book I’m interested in reading which put me on this trek, so more on this in God’s will I plan to do later. The author, Bill Gaultiere (mentored by Dallas Willard) said or wrote that the hardest part is to enter and remain in Christ’s easy yoke, in that rest and walk, indeed dynamic with Christ. It’s not easy to enter, and easy to slip out, something I’ve found to be oh so true during my short time endeavoring to be intentional in following through on this. It is wonderful when you’re in it, and you just tend to forget at least the experience before, but the way we humans are wired once you’re back out, being in it as far as the experience is concerned is like a faint dream gone by.

This passage in Hebrews is important to consider in itself (Hebrews 4:1-13). It is about the Sabbath rest God has for his people. And I take it that it’s more than simply believing one’s eternal salvation is settled, that there’s nothing one needs to do to attain that. It’s surely referring to one’s experience, the rest one enjoys right in the midst of life. Ironically the passage refers to disobedience as well as the need to make every effort to enter into that rest. One might well think that to enter rest one needs to simply rest. That’s true except that it takes effort for us to do that since we’re so used to taking the bull by the horn ourselves and getting whatever job we need to do done. So this entire idea can seem so foreign to us.

As we can see from the rest of the book of Hebrews, we are to rest by faith in Christ’s once for all finished work of salvation through his death. I go back now to the passage I referred to in yesterday’s post, part of it, Jesus’s words:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus’s invitation is wonderfully to all. It correlates, I think to the Hebrews passage at least in terms of the faith that’s called for. I have found the endeavor to accept this invitation to be helpful in itself. I then know I’m not there, but I’m making every effort to do so. I do this by quoting this passage again and again, hopefully prayerfully, trying to think and meditate on just what this means for me, what I’m to do, how I’m to enter into it by faith. In that I’m attempting to make the full effort.

By the way, it’s a mistake to think that somehow we have to be perfect on our side. We’re not going to be, plain and simple. God looks at the sincerity of our heart, and our dependence on him in the midst of all our weakness.

This is something I want to be committed to. There’s probably a lot more that needs to be said to counter mistaken ideas about this. But I leave it there for now. All of this as always, in and through Jesus.

a newer venture: finding rest and strength in Jesus through his invitation

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:25-30

I was intrigued recently to see a connection in the gospel according to John between our following Jesus, and Jesus following the Father. Seems that what Jesus practiced (I would even say, learned) from the Father was kind of a way of discipleship, that the Father led him in the same way that Jesus leads us. So that our discipleship in following Jesus is rooted in Jesus’s discipleship in following the Father (John 15:9-10; 17:18-19). Jesus was entirely devoted to God, and worshiped God as a human. Yet never ceased being God himself, so that Jesus’s devotion to the Father was nothing new within the eternal Triunity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. As we see from John’s gospel account that devotion was indeed reciprocated. But that in no way lessens the significance of Jesus’s complete learning from the Father as a human here on earth in this present life. Jesus’s invitation needs to be seen in that backdrop.

But again, for me this is a recent revolutionary development after decades of being a Christian. Not to say I haven’t entered into this many times along with all other believers. But with the possibility that we might be enabled by God’s grace and the Spirit to actually learn to live in this from day to day. Jesus’s invitation seems similar to that which he gave his disciples. It wasn’t meant to be just a one time event, but day after day after day. Of course they were with him nearly three years daily, but what he was promising them here was something even closer and more intimate, we might say, his presence with them and more by the Spirit after his ascension.

Who of us does not become weary and burdened by what often seems to be the relentless and crushing responsibilities of life? There’s so much we can’t control, not the least of which what other people might do. With that the mistakes we make along the way, and it goes on and on. But our Lord’s invitation remains: We’re simply to come to him as those weary and burdened with the promise that he will give us rest. We’re to take his yoke on us and learn from him as those beside him. He is gentle and humble in heart, and we will find rest for our souls. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. We will gain strength to do what we’re called to do in and through him, even through his direct tutelage and walk in his presence with us by the Spirit.

There’s more I would like to share connected with my own story and endeavor to live in this reality. But I end it here, at least for now. Something offered to everyone in and through Jesus.