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. (Psalms 23:1–3)
Do you remember Psalm 23? God’s care for his people is first and foremost his presence with his people. That presence refreshes and restores the deepest part of us — our soul. We are better able to experience his presence lying down in green pastures, or beside still waters. Work and relationships drain us; we need time with God. We need rest.
“Most of us are more tired than we know at the soul level. We are teetering on the brink of dangerous exhaustion, and we cannot do anything else until we have gotten some rest.” ― Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation
It’s not just work that drains us, and it’s not just the pace of our lives. Relationships can drain us, too. You are almost certainly related to or involved with some “high maintenance” people. Solitude and silence are the green pastures and still waters that restore us.
You’re tired. Your Shepherd is waiting to lead you to a quiet spot.
Lord, I’m ready for rest but feel too busy. Lead me where I need to go. Amen.
It is not hard to imagine how the disciples felt the morning after Jesus’ death: afraid, stunned, confused, immeasurably sad. Maybe angry, too.
Afraid because Jesus had been crucified by Rome, and Rome always dealt harshly with rebellions. Would the disciples and their families be sought out next? Stunned because the overwhelming acclaim Jesus received at the beginning of the week did him no apparent good by the end of the week. Confused because Jesus had no backup plan in case the Jewish leaders came to arrest him. Immeasurably sad because the best person anyone had ever known died a humiliating death before their eyes. Angry? Political intrigue and power-mongering among the Jewish leaders led to the death of an innocent man. Besides, being angry is easier than being sad.
That is how I imagine they felt, but what did they do?
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. (Luke 23:55–56)
What they did was observe the Sabbath from Friday sunset until Saturday sunset. They observed it by praying together, eating a Sabbath meal (if they could eat at all), and refraining from work.
Their habits of faith shaped their lives even in their worst moments. We need a faith like theirs based not only on emotion, not only on good or right ideas, but based on habits that reinforce our intention to honor God. Habits that can keep us on the right track (or nearly so) even when chaos and sorrow overwhelm us.
What habits would you like to have in place to sustain you? Study, prayer, fellowship, worship, making music, walking while talking with God are some examples.
What’s your next step toward one of those habits?
And hang on until tomorrow. He said he would rise on the third day….
The Gospels do not record exactly what Jesus was doing on Wednesday of that last week of his life — the life before his death before his resurrection. Luke 19, however, reports that every day he was teaching in the temple. Another excerpt, then:
Keeping a close watch on him, [the teachers of the law and the chief priests] sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent. (Luke 20:20–26)
They fell silent because they tried to fool Jesus but could not. He sensed their duplicity and called them on it, and neatly avoided their intended dilemma. There was nothing left to say. They should have kept silent to begin with!
Earlier in Jesus ministry he had compassion and healed many in a large crowd. Matthew recorded this in his chapter 12, and cited Isaiah:
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory. (Matthew 12:20)
Jesus had compassion, but he was not soft. As we see in the episode of Caesar’s coin above, Jesus had no compassion on those who sought to be deceitful, and so here are our lessons:
Do not be afraid to come to Jesus when you are in need, whether that need is to be healed, or to be freed from your own sin, or from the effect of someone else’s sin. A bruised reed he will not break.
Do be afraid of trying to deceive Jesus. Do not whitewash, manipulate, or lie to him. He will see through it, and leave you behind. You will find yourself on the wrong end of justice. Jesus is the truth.
Lord, silence my lying tongue, quiet my foolish mind, and let me feel the depth of my need for you. Be merciful to me, a sinner. Then by the mercy of your life and death and life again set me free to follow you. Amen.
Many of us know that the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” But do you know that this is not the only time the Bible records Jesus weeping?
Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing that he would die within a few days, and he wept over the city and its inhabitants.
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes." (Luke 19:41–42)
The inhabitants of Jerusalem had had many opportunities to respond to what God was doing in Jesus during the course of his ministry. He clearly demonstrated that God was at work through him in a way no one had ever seen. His reputation spread throughout the countryside and within the city itself. Most chose to marvel, but few followed.
When Jesus’ arrived in the city, he was heralded as Messiah from the kingly family of David. The crowds hoped he would begin to put things right politically and economically. Jesus knew that his arrival was not the beginning of a new era of political peace, but the inauguration of a new way to be reconciled to God. He came to win the hearts of Israel back to his Father. He wept because most wanted something far less than God was offering.
Jesus wept over the inhabitants of Jerusalem because they missed what God was doing among them.
What is God doing among us? What would it take for us to see what he’s up to?
Lord, help us to see what the Israelites did not. Remove our blindness, whatever it might be. Amen.
As we look at the final verse of Psalm 23 it becomes clear that as we follow Jesus anxiety and complaining are to give way to confidence and gratitude.
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. (Psalms 23:6)
David’s confidence in God’s care dissipates the anxiety that arises from the real troubles in his life.
Similarly, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus commands his followers not to worry.
"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them." (Matthew 6:31–32)
Eating, drinking, and staying clothed are pretty basic needs, yet Jesus says not to worry even about these.
Scholar and pastor N. T. Wright comments:
"When Jesus told his followers not to worry about tomorrow, we must assume he led them by example. He seems to have had the skill of living totally in the present, giving attention totally to the present task, celebrating the goodness of God here and now. If that’s not a recipe for happiness, I don’t know what is.” — N. T. Wright, For Everyone: Bible Study Guides: Matthew
Celebrating the goodness of God — that is Psalm 23 through and through. It is as if Jesus internalized Psalm 23, and drew strength from it in his life and ministry.
Jesus’ strength can become our strength. Spend some time in Psalm 23 again today!
Lord Jesus, help me to accept your shepherding again today, that I may more and more have confidence in you. Amen.
Yesterday in worship we spent time again in Psalm 23.
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 23:6)
David is certain the LORD’s love and care will accompany him, and even pursue him. How long? All the days of his life. Now and forever. He will enjoy the benefits of the LORD’s presence daily, without end.
Does David have this assurance because David is special? No, but because God is special: merciful, gracious, loving, faithful to his people.
David’s knowledge, however, is not just intellectual. David has experienced God’s care, and remembers it. He takes the time to remember it, even rehearse it to himself. That’s what Psalm 23 is: a remembering of God’s goodness. David's confidence in God is in proportion to his experience and memory of God’s care. He remembers and rejoices!
What will you remember from today? What do you want to remember from today? How will you remind yourself that God is good? Tomorrow will be better if you remember God’s goodness today.
One reason it is so easy to fall into complaining is the obvious fact that sometimes arrogant and self-absorbed people thrive. Self-centered people often find themselves rewarded for their actions and attitude.
How can this be? It isn’t right!
King David counsels:
Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. (Psalms 37:1–3)
David and his pastures! Doesn’t he see that evildoers thrive and God’s people suffer?
Doesn’t God see?!
Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
The counsel we get from David is not a direct answer to our question. He does not directly address our pain or frustration. His answer is intentionally indirect. Indirect and psychologically astute.
Trust and enjoy God.
Trust is a decision to be confident in God, followed by a thousand little decisions to cooperate with God despite our circumstances. It is a refocusing from our negative circumstances to the positive that God brings about. We intentionally remember the good that God does and is.
It is a way of paying attention to what we can control (our focus, our thoughts), and letting go of what we cannot control (evildoers, and the consequences of their actions).
We trust God because he is good. We trust God because that is something we can do — we can change our focus. It is a kind of spiritual discipline to notice and change what we think about.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Yesterday we looked at what it could mean to look to the Shepherd frequently during our day. Every time we have a pause in our day we can turn to God and ask “What’s next?” Have you tried it yet?
The Apostle Paul writes:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
Paul is saying that world turns our mind away from God. We become familiar with what we concentrate on. We can learn what we study. We come to know those whom we spend time with. It makes sense then that turning our thoughts to God — allowing him to shape our thinking — makes God’s purposes for our lives ring true.
Those seeking God find God. Those fleeing God know him less and less.
“If we allow everything access to our mind, we are simply asking to be kept in a state of mental turmoil or bondage. For nothing enters the mind without having an effect for good or evil.” — Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p.111
Turning our minds to our Lord frequently helps us to see the goodness of God and his path for our days.
What’s your focus for today?
If our health and peace depend on following Jesus as a sheep follows a shepherd — and they do — how often should we look up to see where he is?
Once a week? (You mean every week?!)
Once a day? (Some days are pretty long!)
More often than that?
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1–2)
Do you suppose Paul intended us to set our hearts and minds on Christ once in our life — as if that would be enough? My heart needs to be re-set pretty frequently. More than daily.
Sheep look to the shepherd whenever the shepherd moves, and so should we. Wouldn’t it be good to raise our heads from the green pasture or quiet waters every now and then just to see if we’ve gotten too comfortable and missed his call to move us along? And to make sure we are staying close to him when the valley shadows darken?
Frank Laubach was a missionary in the Philippines who had a love for God and for people. His joy was to turn his heart and mind to God as often as he could think of it. Laubach advised:
All during the day, in the chinks of time between the things we find ourselves obliged to do, there are the moments when our minds ask: “What next?” In these chinks of time, ask Him: “Lord, think Thy thoughts in my mind. What is on Thy mind for me to do now?” When we ask Christ, “What next?” we tune in and give Him a chance to pour His ideas through our enkindled imagination. If we persist, it becomes a habit. https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/it-happened-today/2/26/
Try it! The Wednesday night group that is studying the Soul Keeping book by John Ortberg is trying it this week. I think you’ll find it easier to understand what God intends to do through you as you practice this. And you may experience his presence in the process, which is a gift in itself.
What next, Lord?
Pastor Mark loves his wife and grown children, the Word of God, and words. And coffee, chocolate chip cookies, Apple products, small video projects, and the New England Patriots.