Safe in the Father’s hand

22 Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

John 10:22-30

What follows is the text of a sermon I preached on 12th May 2019 at Southwater Community Church, West Sussex. Scroll to the bottom for an audio recording.

Who is Jesus?

I wonder how long it is since you last grappled with that question.

Perhaps it’s something that you considered before you became a Christian, but haven’t explored since then.

Perhaps it’s a question that is never far from your thoughts, because people are always asking you who he is.

Was he really the Son of God? How can we know? Did he ever actually say he was the Son of God?

Today we’ll be pondering just who Jesus is. Having come to a conclusion on this important point, we’ll reflect on being obedient to him, before thinking about the rewards of our obedience.

So do turn to John 10:22-30 in your Bibles as we go through this passage together.

Who is Jesus?

So to our first point, who is Jesus?

In our Gospel passage today, Jesus finds himself accosted by the Jews. He was at the Temple for the Festival of Dedication, with many other Jewish people. When they see Jesus, John records that the Jews ask Jesus, “how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Maybe some of the questioners were sincere – they genuinely wanted to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised one of God, but wanted Jesus just to make it clear that this was indeed the case.

Perhaps some were trying to trick Jesus, putting him into a position where he could be charged with blasphemy and charged by a Jewish court, or charged with insurrection and brought before the Romans.

Maybe others were simply mocking him, laughing at the thought that this man from Nazareth could possibly be the Messiah.

These attitudes to Jesus have actually travelled across the generations. There are still some today who would like to put their faith in Jesus, if only they could see compelling evidence that he was the Son of God. There are people who still regard Jesus as nothing more than a first century troublemaker, a rabble rouser. Others find the notion that Jesus could be the Son of God simply laughable.

I’m sure that you have encountered people like this, perhaps in your workplace, perhaps amongst your friends, maybe even in your own family. People who cannot bring themselves to believe that Jesus is anything more than a man. You might know people who seem entirely genuine in their desire to believe in Jesus Christ but, as yet, have yet to be convinced by his claims. I’m sure you know people who mock the notion that Jesus could possibly be the Son of God, and maybe mock you too for your faith.

It could very well be, of course, that at one time you found yourself in one of these categories, but found yourself somehow convinced that Jesus is the Son of God.

Perhaps you’re here today and you have yet to be convinced of Jesus’ divinity, but you genuinely want to believe that he is who he claimed.

Jesus’ response to the questioning of the Jews is interesting. In verse 25, we see he answers, “I did tell you, but you do not believe.”

Up to this point, Jesus has only revealed his true identity in conversation with individuals. He does so to a Samaritan woman that he encountered at a well, recorded in John 4. The woman says to Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” To which Jesus responds, “I, the one speaking to you – I am he.” He leaves the woman in no doubt at all that he is the Messiah.

Similarly, John records an incident in chapter 9 of his gospel, when Jesus meets a man born blind, to whom he gives sight. Jesus asked the man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The formerly blind man replies, “Who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus replied, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Jesus was in no doubt about his identity, and was happy to share this with people one to one. So why was he so reluctant to share publicly that he was the Messiah?

This is probably due to the fact that the Jews at the time had an unrealistic expectation of their Messiah. They were waiting for a military figure who would lead them in victory against the Romans, liberate their land from their oppressors, and restore their nation’s greatness. They were looking for a Messiah of their own creation, and, as a consequence, had failed to recognise the true Messiah ordained by God.

The true Messiah would indeed liberate them, but Jesus planned to liberate all people from the burden of sin and death, rather than this discrete group of people at this particular time from the occupying forces. Jesus’ plan was earth shattering, and has ramifications throughout the whole of history. If he had been the Messiah that the first century Jews were looking for, he would barely be a footnote in the History books.

Although Jesus may not have publicly affirmed that he is the Messiah, he continues in verse 25 by saying, “The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me.” Jesus is telling the Jews that the miracles he has performed all demonstrate that he is the Messiah. This, after all, is why he performed the miracles. Already in John’s Gospel Jesus has changed water into wine, healed an official’s son, healed a disabled man, fed 5,000 men with five loaves of bread and two fish, walked on water, and healed a man who had been born blind.

These works, Jesus tells the Jews, testify about him. These miracles demonstrate his true identity. They show that he is the Messiah.

Who else could perform the feats that he had performed? Jesus’ miracles went beyond healing, which in itself is remarkable. Jesus’ miracles involved the act of creation. He created enough food to feed 5,000 men – probably more like 15,000 plus people if you factor in women and children – from essentially nothing. He created sight where there previously was none in a man who had been born blind. Here’s someone who is not just fixing things, but making things anew. There surely is no-one other than the Messiah, the Son of God who could achieve this.

So why, then, have the Jews questioning Jesus not grasped the answer to their question – yes, of course Jesus is the Messiah. Come to that, why have those people we know not come to recognise that Jesus is the Messiah?

This leads into our next point.

Obedience to Jesus:

Our second point today is obedience to Jesus.

Jesus says in verses 25 to 27, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

This is the reason, then, why the Jews do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah. This is why, despite the clear testimony of his miracles, they are imploring him to tell them plainly if he is the Messiah. They do not believe because they are not Jesus’ sheep. Jesus’ sheep listen to his voice, they listen to what he is saying, and they follow him. They trust him to be their shepherd.

In our Old Testament reading this morning, Psalm 23, David, the Psalmist, gives us an insight into what it means to follow God the shepherd as a sheep. Sheep, David says, trust in their shepherd to provide everything they need to meet their needs. A sheep follows the lead of the shepherd. A sheep accepts guidance. A sheep fears no evil, even when walking through the darkest valley. A sheep knows the comfort of the shepherd during difficult times.

In short, sheep place their complete faith in their shepherd and trust that they will meet every need they might have.

The Jews fail to recognise that Jesus is the Messiah because they do not place their complete faith in Jesus. They hear his voice but they do not listen to what he says. Since they do not listen to Jesus, he does not know them, and they do not follow him.

Jesus’ words, therefore, are his second testimony. Just as his miracles point to the fact that he is the Messiah, so too do his words. Who else could have taught so coherently, so cogently, in such a challenging manner other than the Son of God himself, Jesus Christ?

John famously begins his gospel with a preface about the Word. His opening line is, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He continues, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling amongst us. We have seen the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John sees Jesus as the embodiment of the Word of God, the Word which he believes is God himself. John understands that when Jesus speaks, it is God who those listening to Jesus hear.

If only the Jews listening to Jesus took his words to heart, if they only stopped to think for one minute about the incredible utterances that Christ made, they would know for themselves that Jesus was the Messiah. There would be no need for them to complain about being kept in suspense. It wouldn’t be necessary for them to implore Jesus to tell them plainly if he was the Messiah, they would know and understand for themselves the divine nature of Jesus.

There’s quite a challenge here for all of us today. How much do we really listen to Jesus and his words? When we hear the Bible read to us, or when we read it ourselves in our quiet times, do we simply think, “that’s nice,” before promptly forgetting everything we’ve read and moving on with our lives? Or do we inwardly digest every sentence that Jesus said, reflecting that this is not just some Middle Eastern carpenter speaking, but God himself, the creator of the universe?

Are we challenged by Jesus’ words, or do we simply allow them to wash over us?

Are we obedient to our shepherd?

If we understand all that Jesus is saying, then we would follow him. We would make him the shepherd of our lives and trust in him as sheep trust in their shepherd, confident that he will supply our every need, guide us through life, and comfort us when times get difficult.

The Jews didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah because they were not his sheep. They were not obedient.

When we listen to Jesus and follow him, we become his sheep and accept him as our shepherd. Consequently it becomes clear to us that Jesus is not just an entertaining performer of miracles, or an exceptional teacher of morals. He is the Messiah. He is the one who has come, sent by his father to liberate humanity from the greatest oppressor of all, not the Romans, but sin which ultimately leads to death. That’s quite something.

The Reward for Obedience to Christ:

It’s this idea of Jesus, the Messiah, the liberator of humanity that I would like to pick up in my final point. In this passage in John chapter 10 Jesus outlines what the reward is for those who become his sheep.

First of all, as we’ve already seen, those who follow Jesus benefit from being known to him. Jesus knows us intimately, and, despite this, loves us, cares for us, provides for us and guides us. It’s so much more than this, though. If we look at verse 29, we see that Jesus has been given his sheep by the Father.

If we are one of Jesus’ sheep, then, not only are we known by Jesus, but we are known by God the Father. This all-powerful, all-loving creator of the universe knows us all by name. He loves us so much that he gave us to his son.

Secondly, if we follow Jesus, he gives us eternal life. When we know Jesus we understand that there is more to our existence than just the here and now. We begin to understand that there is a reality beyond this earth. This changes our perspective on everything. Life for a Christian isn’t just about living for the moment, for seizing everything we can, for gathering all that we are able to. Life becomes about bigger issues, like placing our love for God before everything else, like loving our neighbour, whoever he or she may be, whether we like them or not. We strive to do all that God has required of us, namely to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God, as Micah wrote. Ultimately, we understand that we are citizens of God’s kingdom, and will want to work hard to build this kingdom right here and right now, here in Southwater, in Sussex, in the UK and in the world.

Thirdly, we realise that Jesus promises us that we will never perish. If we make ourselves into Jesus’ sheep and trust entirely in him, following his lead in everything, then we can be confident that we will live with him and his eternal father in heaven after our bodily deaths.

For many, the prospect of an eternal existence with God in his perfect creation seems too good to be true. But we can be completely confident in this.

We can be confident of an eternal existence precisely because God sent Jesus to die for us, and, since Jesus loved his father perfectly, he was willing to go to the cross on our behalf. This was God’s plan right from the start. And God the Father and God the Son were in complete agreement over this. In verse 30, Jesus states, “I and the Father are one.” He and his Father are in one mind – humanity had messed up, God knew he could send his perfect son to take the punishment that should be ours, and Jesus was willing to accept this task out of love not just for us, but for his father too. We’ve seen how in verse 29, Jesus says that his Father his given his sheep to him. The Father gave Jesus his sheep, and Jesus accepted them, knowing that he would have to die in order to give his sheep life.

We can be confident of an eternal existence with God since Jesus was raised from the dead. What’s more, he was able to do this himself, since he had been given the authority from his Father. Just before our passage, in John 10:17-18, Jesus says, “The reason my father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No-one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

If Jesus was not raised, then there would be no point in any of this. Yes, Jesus may have performed some incredible miracles, yes, he may have been an inspirational teacher, but if the story of Jesus ended on the cross, then there would be no hope for any of us. Yet precisely because Jesus was raised from the dead, we can be confident of being raised with Christ ourselves. We can be confident that if Jesus knows us as a shepherd knows his sheep, then, since he has received authority to raise from the dead by the father, we shall never perish.

There’s one final piece of reassurance lurking within his passage, and that is to be found in verses 28 and 29. Jesus says of his sheep, “no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”

Really, there’s a double reassurance here. If we follow Christ, then no one will snatch us from his hand, no one will stop us from being his sheep. But since we have been given by God the Father to Jesus to be his sheep, no one can snatch us out of the Father’s hand either. And God the Father is greater than all. We can be confident of our salvation. We can be confident of remaining a Christian until the very end.

Sometimes I wonder how my faith will stand up against the new generation of super atheists, the likes of Richard Dawkins and Philip Pullman. Will they one day make a proclamation that resonates so much with me that I will renounce my faith? What if one day a scientific discovery rocks my understanding of God so greatly than I can’t continue to believe in the divine nature of Christ? What if a colleague or friend succeeds in convincing me that actually, there really is no God, and therefore Jesus cannot be his son? What if the Devil succeeds in convincing me that my faith is all meaningless?

The answer to this that Jesus himself gives is that this simply cannot happen. Provided I am genuinely one of his sheep, provided I listen to his voice and trust him as my shepherd, there is no-one, there is nothing, that can snatch me out of Jesus’ hand.

If I place myself in his hands, I am safe there.

If I accept him as my shepherd, then I can be at peace knowing that he is leading me into eternal life, and ultimately I will never perish.

Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from his hand.
Till he returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I stand.

How incredibly reassuring.

Jesus may not have made many public acclamations of his divinity. He may not have stood up in the synagogue and proclaimed himself to me the Messiah. He may not have stood in a Galilean market place and proclaimed himself to be the Son of God. But there is no doubting that this is who he was. He told individuals that he was the Messiah. His miracles demonstrate that he is the Son of God. His teaching could only be that of God himself. The Jews may not have recognised this, but this is because they refused to listen to him because they are not his sheep.

Do we trust in Jesus’ identity? Do we have confidence that he is the Son of God, one with the Father? If we do then we should be obedient to him. We should make ourselves as sheep before our Good Shepherd. What a reward we will receive if we trust in him. We will not only have a loving shepherd who we can trust to lead us through our lives, through highs and lows, meeting our needs at every turn. We will also be given eternal life, a new perspective that puts our current existence into a eternal perspective. And we can also be confident that we will never perish. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, we will too.

And there’s nothing that can snatch us out of Jesus’ hand, because if we are in his hand, we are also in his Father’s hand.

And he is greater than all.

Amen.

The Lord is My Shepherd

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

What follows is the text of a sermon I preached on 16th July 2017 at All Saints’ Church, Lindfield, West Sussex.

What is the link between Clint Eastwood, George W Bush and Eminem? They’ve all referenced Psalm 23 in their work – in a film, in a speech and in a song respectively. These aren’t the only well-known figures who have quoted from Psalm 23. Coolio, Tupac and Kanye West have all included words from this Psalm in their songs, as have Fall Out Boy, Jay-Z, Hollywood Undead, Megadeth, Marilyn Manson, U2, Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues and Duke Ellington amongst many others. It’s been set to music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Leonard Bernstein, Franz Schubert, Ralph Vaughn Williams to name just a few. The Psalm was read in the film Titanic and at Whitney Houston’s memorial service.

Clearly there’s something about this Psalm that resonates through the ages and with people of all faiths or of no faith. It’s certainly one of the best-known texts in the Bible.

But how well do we really know this Psalm? There’s a danger with well-known texts that, precisely because we know them so well we cease to reflect on the words and the meaning behind them.

This evening I would like to share three points relating to the Psalm. I’ve picked out three reasons why, like David, we might like to declare that the Lord God is our shepherd. These reasons are:

  • Firstly, when we make God the shepherd of our lives, he provides for us;
  • Secondly, God restores us;
  • Thirdly, God guides and protects us.

On to our first point, then, God provides for us.

I’m no fan of shopping. I tried to avoid it as much as I can. Sometimes I feel inspired, however, and brave the shops. Within minutes of arriving however, I feel like I lose the will to live, and end up retreating into Costa for a caramel latte. I think that’s one of the reasons why I love online shopping. Even here I’ve been let down a couple of times recently. I ordered some goggles recently from Wiggle with next day delivery, and it took them an age to turn up. Similarly, I ordered some T-shirts from Fat Face, also with next day delivery, and they eventually arrived several days later. First world problems, I know, but I did find the experience infuriating.

Luckily, David knew that he had a much more reliable source than Wiggle or Fat Face to provide him with all his needs. In Psalm 23 he makes it clear that he trusts God completely to provide him with all his needs.

He declares right at the outset that the Lord is his shepherd. He has made a personal decision to allow God take on the role of a shepherd in his life, whilst he adopted the role of a sheep, making himself entirely dependent on God. He had complete trust that God would provide him with all that he needs, declaring, “I shall not want.”

As the shepherd of his father’s flock, David knew that the most crucial role of a shepherd is to provide for his sheep. Without their shepherd, David’s sheep would have died.
David understood that God fulfils the same role for his people. David trusted God to take care of all of his needs.

Living in a materialistic society it is not easy for us to echo David’s words and proclaim “I shall not want.” We are surrounded by so much stuff, and see other people with so many things, that there is always something that we want.

There is, however, a crucial difference between what we need and what we want. We might want a better car, a bigger house and a more exotic holiday, but do we really need these things? Of course we don’t. But God provides for us according to our needs, not according to our greed.

David returns to this theme in the second half of verse five, when he says, “you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.”

David understands that God is not a miserly provider, but the most generous benefactor.

It was common at this time for a host to anoint a distinguished guest’s head with oil on arrival at their home. David knew that, despite his lowly position, each day of his life he is treated by God as an honoured guest, his head anointed personally by his Lord.

David follows this up by saying that the cup his Lord gives him is overflowing. Here’s an image of the abundant generosity of God. God holds nothing back from his people but graciously provides us with all that we need – and more. His goodness literally overflows.

David is clear that God’s generous provision is something that never leaves him. In verse 6 of Psalm 23 he says, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

David understands that God bestows good things on him all day, every day. Not a day goes by when God does not provide for David in abundance. Similarly, David understands that he is never separated from God’s mercy.

If we understand that God’s goodness and mercy follows us all day, every day, then we have every reason to be thankful. Why not take the opportunity for a few minutes each day to think about all the good things that God has given you? If we consciously adopt a more thankful attitude then the world will seem a much more pleasant place. Our gratitude will be apparent to all whom we encounter too, serving as an amazing witness.

David trusted that God would provide all that he needed, and said with confidence, “the Lord is my shepherd.” I wonder if we can trust God to provide for us in abundance? Can we join David and declare, “the Lord is OUR shepherd?”

On to our second point, God restores us.

I’ve just had a lovely week. The school where I teach has the builders in and so we were forced to finish early for the summer holidays. Consequently I’ve spent the last week on the beach with my wife, Claire, and children, Daniel and Lily. We’ve had a lovely time, and I feel well rested. A good rest was exactly what I needed after an incredibly busy and stressful term at school.

I have no doubt that I’m not the only one here who often finds life just too fast paced. Many of us have lifestyles that are often very busy. Whether we spend our day preparing for exams, looking after our families, or working every hour under the sun, it sometimes feels like we simply do not have the time to rest.

In Psalm 23, David presents us with a vision of peace. David says in verse three that God makes him lie down in green pastures, and leads him beside quiet waters. David knew when shepherding his father’s flock that he needed to ensure that he gave his sheep time to rest. Without sufficient rest, David knew his sheep would become stressed and distressed, which could have a serious impact on their health, and the health of the wider flock.

David understood that his shepherd, the Lord, looked out for him in a similar way, ensuring that he found sufficient time to rest and recover from the busyness of his own life.

If like David we make God the shepherd of our lives, if we dedicate our lives to following him as our shepherd, we can have the same confidence that God will show us peace.

The rest that David knew he received from God was not limited to just physical and mental rest. David trusted that God would provide him with spiritual rest that “restores his soul,” as he wrote in verse 3. This is the kind of peace that can only be found through knowing God. Augustine famously wrote, “you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are rest-less till they find their rest in you.” He, like David, knew that true rest can only be found through a relationship with God.

If we want to find true peace, then that can be found only in one place – through a relationship with God. True peace only comes from loving and knowing Jesus as a friend and as our saviour.

Jesus promised this kind of rest to his followers when he said “come to me, all 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.” This is recorded in chapter 11 of Matthew’s Gospel.
It’s interesting the wording that David uses in verse 2. He doesn’t say that God occasionally suggests that he might like to take a break, or even that God tells him to take a break. No, he says that God makes him lie down in green pastures. David implies that God is active in making him take a break. Perhaps there are times when God intervenes in our lives in order to make us stop.

If we wish to join David in declaring that the Lord is our shepherd, perhaps we should reflect on this element of the Psalm. Perhaps we should consciously find opportunities to take rest in order that we might better understand the peace of God. Ultimately we have to trust in God’s goodness as our shepherd, not in our own strength.

David trusted that God would restore him and said with confidence, “the Lord is my shepherd.” I wonder if we can trust in God to lead us to peace and restore our souls, and say, “the Lord is OUR shepherd?”
Let’s move on to our third point, which is, that God guides and protects us.

I’m a big fan of Sat-Navs. I’m just about old enough to remember big, old fashioned road atlases. When I first learnt to drive, if I was going on a long journey I used to consult the road atlas in advance, and then write out road numbers and junction numbers on Post-It notes to fix to the dashboard of my car. Sat-Navs have certainly made life much easier. They can sometimes go wrong, though. When I was on a driving holiday in Arizona with my friend Clive we had two Sat-Navs running just to ensure we didn’t get lost. But somehow we still ended up completely stranded in the middle of a desert. We drove past those rather creepy swinging signs you sometimes see used to illustrate impending disaster in films. We passed road signs that had been shot to pieces. Then we eventually got our big four by four stuck firmly into deep sand. It turned out that both of our Sat-Navs were pretty useless!

David certainly knew a great deal about deserts, and I’m sure he must have got lost once or twice. He knew that in God he had a reliable guide, however. He states in verse 3, “he leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

This final part of the verse, “for his name’s sake,” is very important. David understood that the right paths through the journey of his life were those that bring glory to God.

We can learn a great deal from David here. Sometimes, all we want in life is direction. It can be a real struggle at times to know which way we should head in life, particularly when we reflect on potentially life changing decisions. Where should we live? Who should we marry? Which job should we take?

If we put our trust in God as our shepherd, we should strive to put him at the heart of everything that we do in life. Our key priorities should be to love God, to love ourselves, and to love our neighbours, since these are what Jesus described as the greatest commandments. If we factor these into the decisions that we make, as well as dwelling on God’s word, and spending time in prayer, then God will provide us with the direction that we so desperately seek.

In John 14, Jesus proclaimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

David says that God guides him along the right paths, and Jesus says that he IS the way. Jesus is the good shepherd who leads his followers along the right paths. He turns our meaningless meanderings into straight paths that lead directly to a place with God in heaven.

Of course, sometimes these paths will take us into places where we would rather not be. David knows that the path that he follows through life will take him into dark places. He says in verse 4, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

For David, it is an inevitability that at some point his life journey will take dark turns. He does not say, “if” I walk through the darkest valley, but “even though” I walk through the darkest valley. He knows for certain that, even if he is following God, life will sometimes take a dark turn.

In our busy, stressful world, it is almost inevitable that at some point in our lives we will all feel as if we have been thrust into our own dark valley. The particular valley we find ourselves in might be caused by something entirely different, but the result is often similar – we feel as if life is dark, depressing, and uncomfortable.

David experienced this darkness himself on many occasions. You only need to flick through the book of psalms to see that David often experienced severe low points in his life.

Even Jesus experienced darkness in his life. He spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil. He experienced loss, when Lazarus, a close friend, died. And of course, he experienced real darkness in the Garden of Gethsemane, when confronted by the enormity of his circumstances, and particularly on the cross when he died a humiliating and painful death.
David knew, though, that even at the low points of his life, God would be with him still. He trusted in God, as we see in verse four of psalm 23, when he says, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

If we trust God as our shepherd, we need never fear anything that life might throw at us, because he will never abandon us. He remains with us at all times, whether we find ourselves in a period of great joy, a period of great sadness, or a low period of depression. Just as a shepherd would never abandon or turn his back on his sheep, our faithful God will never leave us.

Of course, it is precisely when we hit those dark periods of life that we might feel utterly abandoned; by our friends, by our families, even by God. Yet David is absolutely clear that God is always with him. Scripture is clear that God will never abandon us. We might need the support of our brothers and sisters in Christ, to help us to see this, but God will never abandon us, he doesn’t ever abandon us, he is always with us. God has promised never to leave us or forsake us.

God is also fully equipped to protect and guide us. The shepherd in the Psalm has a rod which he uses to deal with any threats that the sheep might encounter. He also has a staff which he uses to gently prod and guide his flock in the right direction.

If we make Jesus the shepherd of our lives, then we too can draw great comfort from his presence as our protector and guide.

As a shepherd, David knew that there might be times when leading his sheep when he would be forced to put his life on the line to protect his flock. Whilst looking after his father’s sheep, David had to fight off lions and bears.

Jesus declared that he was the good shepherd. Just as a shepherd has to be willing to lay down his life for his sheep, Jesus was willing to lay down his life for those who follow him. He said, as recorded in John 10, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Jesus did exactly that. He loved his flock so much that he paid the ultimate price, and gave himself up for us. To save us from death, he gave his life. The gospel writer put this much better than I could when he said, in John 3:16, “for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

David knew that God would guide and protect him, and said with confidence, “the Lord is my shepherd.” I wonder if we trust that Jesus will guide and protect us and declare, “the Lord is OUR shepherd?”

Psalm 23 may just be six short verses, but I have found it to be an incredibly rich source of inspiration, instruction and guidance. I have hardly been able to scratch the surface of its depth this evening. I hope, however, that David’s words have inspired you to consider the extent to which you know that leadership of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, in your own lives. I hope that having seen how the Shepherd God provides for us, restores us, and protects and guides us, you have been challenged to become more sheep-like in your relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Darkest Valley

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.

Psalm 23:4

Canyon in Death Valley

Canyon in Death Valley National Park. Image by Simon Lucas.

A few years ago I found myself in a job that I hated. The bleakness of my situation drove me into despair and depression. At the time it felt almost as if I was in a tunnel, unable to see the light at either end. I felt like there were enemies all around me, plotting my downfall. I had no idea how to escape from that truly horrible situation. Of course, the reality of human life is that at some point most, if not all of us, will experience times like this. It might be that we find ourselves, like I did, stuck in a job that we don’t like, or in a bad relationship, or battling addictions or facing an uncertain economic future. Whatever the nature of our circumstances, the result is often similar – we feel as if life is dark, depressing, and uncomfortable.

It is times like this that the Psalmist points us to in this famous verse from the Psalm. David describes these times as a ‘valley’. When we’re in that valley the temptation might be to cower away in the corner, hoping that the end will come to us. Hiding can seem like the best solution.

That logic is flawed, however. What point is there in hiding in a dark valley? What we need to do instead is march on with confidence, battling through the troubles and difficulties, realising that sooner or later we will reach the light once more.

The Psalmist once again inspires us with hope and confidence. Even when we are in that deep, dark valley, God is still with us. He is walking alongside us, and what’s more, he is equipped to tackle any threats that come our way. No matter what circumstances jump out at us, no matter what enemies, God is equipped with a rod and a staff, and is well prepared to defend us. Indeed, there is absolutely nothing that can threaten us when we walk with God; he is, after all, the supreme power of the universe! We can draw comfort from God’s presence, and the understanding that he will protect us against any evil that might come our way.

David said in Psalm 23 that he fears no evil for God is with him. Jesus is not only with us, but he paid the ultimate price and died to protect us from evil, and to ensure that we have a bright future ahead of us in heaven when we die.

David trusted that God would protect him at the darkest times of his life, and said with confidence, “the Lord is my shepherd.” I wonder if we can trust in God lead us through our dark times and say, “the Lord is OUR shepherd?”

For more material on Psalm 23 and full details of my book, ‘The Shepherd God,’ check out the Shepherd God pages on this site.

As featured on Premier Christian Radio’s ‘Inspirational Breakfast’ on Friday 17th April 2015.

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He guides me in paths of righteousness

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:3(b)

Image source: broraz.com.

Image source: broraz.com.

Sat-navs are fantastic gadgets. Just pop in the post code of the location you wish to get to, and it’ll take you there. That’s the theory, anyway. A couple of years ago I found myself driving through Arizona. I was on a fairly busy interstate when my sat-nav told me to turn off, which I duly did. Very quickly I found myself lost in the midst of a vast desert, whereupon my sat-nav decided it no longer knew where I was or where I wanted to be. I was well and truly lost, and it took me some time to find my way back onto a major road.

There are times in our lives when we feel lost. We feel like we have pulled into a desert with no clear exit and simply don’t know where to go. Maybe we’re stuck in a job that we don’t like, but can’t see a way out, or we’re in an unhealthy relationship, or we simply want some guidance about where to go next. Where do we turn?

Well we might feel uncertain of the direction our lives should be heading in, but God our Father has a clear vision. He has a way marked out for all us, a path that will be pleasing, and that will best serve his and our needs. When we feel lost, we just need to trust that God knows what he is doing, trust that he will lead us, and pray that he will guide us.

If we let God guide us, that worry that inhabits us about whether we are doing the right thing will diminish, because we can rely on God’s encouragement. We can also draw comfort from the fact that the paths that he leads us down are “paths of righteousness,” paths that will help us to shape our lives to be more like Jesus. By following the paths that God has marked out for us, we will be blessed. And, when the time comes, that path will lead us to God’s eternal kingdom.

If you’re feeling lost, pray today that God will guide you along those paths of righteousness. If you think you know the way, pray anyway that God will reassure you, and continue to lead you along his paths. And pray that, one day, when the time comes, those paths will lead us to heaven.

David trusted that God would guide him through his life, and said with confidence, “the Lord is my shepherd.” I wonder if we can trust in God to lead us along the right paths of life and say, “the Lord is OUR shepherd?”

For more material on Psalm 23 and full details of my book, ‘The Shepherd God,’ check out the Shepherd God pages on this site.

As featured on Premier Christian Radio’s ‘Inspirational Breakfast’ on Thursday 16th April 2015.

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He makes me lie down in green pastures

He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters.

Psalm 23:2

When I’m tired and stressed, I like to head up to Reigate Hill on the North Downs near where I live. The views across the Weald to the South Downs are awesome. It makes me feel just a little less stressed and a little more normal just to sit there and relax.

When I’m really busy at work and feeling very stressed, however, it seems there’s no time to do anything but work. I’m sure you’ve been in a similar position and know for yourself that when you get in this position home life suffers and you find yourself being irritable with those who love you, and not making time for your friends. You even find yourself cutting yourself off from God, and not making time for Bible study and prayer.

God knows what is best for us, though, and if we let him, he will take care of us. He wants to lead us, shepherd-like, beside quiet waters. He wants us to lie down in green pastures. If we accept him as our shepherd and follow him like sheep, this will be a painless experience. There are times, though, when we refuse his leadership, when we think that we know better than he does, and we wander away from him. When we do this we can expect a slightly more abrupt leadership, however. He can make us lie down in green pastures of peace. This can feel as if a carpet is being pulled out from underneath us. There are times, though, when God has to show us that actually, he does know best. We have to trust in him, and realise that, as our creator, he knows better than anyone what we need.

If we allow God to lead us, he will help us to deal with the stresses and strains of everyday life. He will take us by the hand and lead us on that relaxing and restorative walk beside quiet waters to the green pastures that he has prepared for us.

Listen carefully to God today. Do you need to stop? Are you neglecting him, your family or your friends through working too hard? Stop and lie down in those green pastures now, otherwise you might find yourself being stopped, since God loves you and knows best!

David trusted that God would bring him peace in his life, and said with confidence, “the Lord is my shepherd.” I wonder if we can trust in God to lead us to peace and say, “the Lord is OUR shepherd?”

For more material on Psalm 23 and full details of my book, ‘The Shepherd God,’ check out the Shepherd God pages on this site.

As featured on Premier Christian Radio’s ‘Inspirational Breakfast’ on Tuesday 14th April 2015.

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