the good shepherd guides us along the right paths

He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:3b

Do we think the good shepherd, the Lord guides us, or do we think we’re more or less on our own, in need of the shepherd only when we’re in trouble? Of course we would answer the former, yes, we believe the shepherd guides us always, or that we need his guidance always. And yet do we really act like it? It seems to me that by and large we operate more in the latter, we cry out for help when we’ve messed up or are lost. We pay lip service to the idea that we need the Lord’s guidance always, but we really rely on ourselves, maybe asking for some wisdom from God along the way, which is good and a start, but not enough.

Instead we need to seek to be guided by the Lord throughout the entire day, even every moment. I don’t think the Lord deletes our inclinations, but rather changes them over time. It’s hard to break away from inclinations which may not be all that helpful. For example we might spend too much time on social media, or checking out the news, sports, entertainment, politics, whatever. It’s easy to get lost in any number of things.

The paths of righteousness is the traditional rendering, but along the right paths for our good and for God’s reputation is probably more the thought here (see NET Bible footnote). Certainly learning to do righteousness is part of it. But along the right paths includes much else, such as keeping us away from what would be harmful to us, and close to the shepherd, hopefully along with other sheep.

So each day we need to ask the Lord to keep us on the right path. We are moving, life changes along the way, new challenges, new opportunities. So it’s not like we know, having been there, done that. Age with wisdom can help one know what and what not to do more and more as one gets older. But a huge part of that is to remain dependent on and close to the good shepherd. To depend on God in Jesus to guide us in ways to help us know God’s goodness in all of life.

 

lack nothing?

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,
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

In the topsy-turvy existence in which we live, we hardly ever see ourselves not in need of something. Or what the world tells us we need through advertising, or even what the state requires by law. On top of that, we have our own expectations for ourselves, our wishes, even dreams.

Then there’s this psalm telling us that with the Lord as our shepherd, we indeed lack nothing. Of course to know what the psalm means, we have to read on. Lacking nothing is described in terms of God’s provision and protection. So it’s beyond just feeling alright. There are actual reasons given as to why the psalmist, said to be David in the inscription, lacks nothing. It is in terms of having all we need, but still there’s a sense of abundance. Not “the good life” the world projects, but more like the abundant or full life the Lord promises (John 10). Again, we have to read the entire psalm to understand just what the psalmist means when they say that with the Lord being their shepherd, they lack nothing.

So we have to find and learn to dwell in the abundant, overflowing life for us in Christ (John 10). Spelled out for us here in Psalm 23 in real, down-to-earth terms for life in the topsy-turvy existence in which we live. In and through Jesus.

 

the Lord is my shepherd

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Psalm 23:1

Yesterday for a time I was simply quoting to myself, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Sometimes it’s good to just stay on one thought so that hopefully it can sink in. It needs to be put in context for sure, but it needs to be held, as well.

“I lack nothing” along with the rest of this great, well known psalm is helpful. But we might want to jump to that without sufficiently appreciating the simple thought that God is our shepherd. The rest of the psalm does flesh out what that means, but still it’s good just to rest on one thought for a time. Again, to let it sink in, and with fresh applications for one’s life in a way which actually helps one know in experience the Lord’s shepherding.

I believe in the church, and I know being in this together in Jesus is at the heart of what our faith is all about. But we are also individuals on our separate, unique journeys. This psalm is for each of us as individuals. And to get back to the main point, the thought that the Lord is our shepherd, we need to just sit back with that for awhile. Let its truth and light expose our error and penetrate our darkness. In and through Jesus.

leaving (instead of living) the lie

Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers
who rule this people in Jerusalem.
You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death,
with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement.
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
it cannot touch us,
for we have made a lie our refuge
and falsehood our hiding place.”

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.
I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the plumb line;
hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie,
and water will overflow your hiding place.
Your covenant with death will be annulled;
your agreement with the realm of the dead will not stand.
When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
you will be beaten down by it.
As often as it comes it will carry you away;
morning after morning, by day and by night,
it will sweep through.”

Isaiah 28:14-19

I think it’s far more common than we imagine, just how we live in lies. And I’m thinking of Christians, too. Specifically I’m thinking of myself, included. Part of what got me thinking this way were two posts quoting Dallas Willard who says it quite eloquently in the details spelled out in Scripture (here and here).

We live lies in a multitude of ways. Essentially living in the truth is “truth in Jesus” and an important aspect of that is living in the Father’s care, so that we’re free to seek his kingdom and righteousness, not encumbered with any of the cares common to humanity, or part of our culture. That is so much more easier said than done.

When one is weighed down, maybe nearly stricken with panic, that’s a sure sign one is not living in the Father’s provision, or as it’s been called, his providential care. We’re failing to trust in God, at least not to the extent needed. We need to take our hands off so to speak, and through prayer, find our way into that peace that frees us up to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

Patterns in our lives will have to be broken, and that can be hard. It will require effort by us, but an effort essentially to let go, and let God take over. We need to find his peace. Part of this is not just to be freed up to put first things first, but with the prior commitment to that.

As the text above tells us, life simply doesn’t work well when we make a lie our refuge. And God won’t let it work well for those who name his name, who profess faith in him.

This is something we need to strive to enter and remain, come what may. God has us, as we seek first of all to live in his care and love and will. Part and parcel of being followers of Jesus in and through him.

 

“do not be afraid, little flock”

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 12:22-34

Our kitten Cloe is a live wire, constantly on the move in full play, and I might add, some mischief in her curiosity, as well as with her claws. The other day I was getting after her about something. As I remember it, she ran, and when I saw her next, maybe in another room she looked pensive and concerned, maybe a bit fearful in her eyes. Just a different expression. When I saw that, my heart was full of love for her, and I spoke gently to her. Then she returned to her normal wide eyed self, scampering around in play.

I can just imagine that’s the way our heavenly Father is when he sees us fearful for one reason or another. Jesus’s words here are moving. He calls his disciples, “little flock” and tells them not to be afraid. And that their Father has been pleased to give them the kingdom which he had just told them they were to seek. That they should sell their possessions and give to the poor, their lives turned in an entirely new direction.

And this is tied to trusting the heavenly Father for everything one needs in life, I mean the basics of life: food and shelter. That God will help us in every way needed.

The kind of radical life Jesus calls his disciples to demands complete trust. We have to be aware of that. We can never do this on our own. We wouldn’t know what to do in the first place, and we must trust God to help us through it all, to be a witness to and exemplar of the kingdom. In and through Jesus.

handling trouble in a godly way

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish[b] woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Job 2:9-10

Job lost everything except his wife: his livelihood, his seven children, and then his health. And the rest of the book is well worth reading, rereading, and pondering. But Job did not abandon his faith in God. He was up against it, at his wit’s end. The story ends well. But part of what can be instructive for us upfront and right away is Job’s initial response to all that happened.

It’s interesting how some seem to go along in life without little care. And that includes those who are responsible. While others of us seem to be chomping at the bit to descend into fear and the fretting that ordinarily accompanies that.

How much better to trust the heavenly Father, just as Jesus taught us (Matthew 6:19-34). To leave everything into God’s good, more than capable hands. To trust that the Father will see us through. And to learn to live in that prospect with the peace that accompanies it. So it’s a matter of trust versus fear.

Paul gives us what perhaps is the most direct, specific direction in dealing with trouble and troubling thoughts when they come:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Seems like an impossible command, I say loving directive, not to be anxious or worry when trouble comes. But instead, in every situation we’re to pray, and tell God our concern. And thank God for the good in our lives. With the promise that God will give us peace, a peace that goes beyond our limited understanding. That our hearts and minds will be guarded in Christ Jesus. I have thought that worse than nearly any problem is my own reaction to it. We do our best, but in the end, God is the one from whom all blessing flows. This world is not trouble free, even as Jesus told us. We simply need to submit ourselves to the Father’s care.

I wonder if this is a part of the spiritual warfare we’re up against as Christians. I’m sure the spiritual enemy does try to exploit whatever weakness we have. We do well to go back to Ephesians 6:10-20 and ponder that in prayer.

What is crucial for us is how we react when trouble comes. Job initially does well, and then we see the rest of the book, how he responds further. Of course he didn’t have all the revelation we have now, or the person writing the wisdom story, one of the oldest if not the oldest writings of the Bible. It’s not like there’s going to be no wrestling or anxious moments. But whatever we’re experiencing within or without, we need to commit ourselves to growth in doing so in a godly matter, depending on what God’s word tells us. In and through Jesus.

at home in and through Jesus

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Psalm 91:1

Psalm 91 is one of those striking psalms, picturesque, and easy to remember (especially in the old King James). What hits me about the promise here is how we’re simply to live (other versions) or dwell in the shelter of God. And in so doing find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Yesterday I was in the yard sawing and cutting off some branches and limbs of the two trees we planted in our front yard. It was a hot day, high noon. And while enjoying the sun, which is not a given where we live (we have many cloudy days), I certainly appreciated the shade. Certainly for relief, as well as protection from its damaging rays.

Here we have God’s promise of his presence to protect us as a shadow. In other words, God being near. Our responsibility is simply to dwell in that shelter, and so find rest.

One of my favorite memories of the past was visiting and spending a weekend at Saint Augustine’s House, a monastery. It is symbolic of God’s house where God is especially resident through the symbols in place, which depict realities. And actually God is present wherever his people are. Wherever two or more are gathered in his name. We are God’s temple, both individually, and together.

But the key for us is to live out what we are. And that begins by simply living or dwelling consciously, or deliberately in that existence. In faith, simply trusting in God. At home in and through Jesus.