I would like to speak with you this morning about the Shepherd in the valley. You know we go through valleys in our life, and the valleys of life sometimes are not the most pleasant. We would rather that we were not in that valley sometimes, but we are. And we all go through them. And the 23rd Psalm has a lot of strength to give to a person that's in the valley.
Years ago there was a lady by the name of Miss Murphy. She was a teacher in the lower grade schools of North Hampton, Massachusetts, and she was teaching the students to memorize and recite the 23rd Psalm, which you could do in those days in the public school system. One of the little boys was not saying it correctly and she would get, she finally got up close to him and listened very carefully and instead of saying “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me,” he was saying “surely good Miss Murphy will follow me all the days of my life.” And he obviously loved his teacher very much, but what that means is, Jesus’ goodness and Jesus’ mercy will follow us all the days of our life.
There are at least 17 blessings in the 23rd Psalm. You may want to write them down. You keep track of them. I bet you have experienced many of these blessings in your life and let’s go through them, so stay tuned here. These are promises that are embedded in the 23rd Psalm.
The first one is in verse 1. It has to do with relationship. It says, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” He is. The Lord. The Lord Jesus. God. You know, the Promise Keepers note the following in their Point Man training, that 10% of all people will change when they hear the truth. That's all it’ll take. And 10% will never change, and 80%, the only reason that they would ever change is because they have a relationship with somebody else. And no wonder David, throughout his life grew, because he had a relationship with God and God was his personal Shepherd. We are like sheep. We need a Shepherd and I will tell you that sheep go astray. Isaiah 53, verse 6, “We all like sheep have gone astray. Each of us have turned to our own way.”
The second point I would like to bring out is, “I shall not want.” Do you ever want for anything? Well, that doesn't mean you won't have any desires. What that means is, you won't really lack anything. This is talking about supply, and so that's the key word I would like to bring out here. The first one is relationship, the second one, supply. God will keep you supplied with what you need. He really will. Did David ever want? Did David ever lack? Well yes, he did. Often there were times that he wanted things and those were the times when he had taken over the controls of his life. He was sitting at the steering wheel of his life. He was directing his life and not allowing Jesus to direct his life, and you need to be careful if you do that. God has great quantities of green, organic pastures just waiting for you to bite into, but you don't want to get ahead of God, and I think that one of God's greenest pastures is His church. You notice that this is the place where you come to get fed. This is a green pasture. Our carpet is green. No wonder we chose green. This is the place where you come and you get help. You get food. Psalm 68, verse 19, “He daily loadeth me up with benefits.” That's what God does.
So the next one. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” This speaks to me of rest. You know, I've been in Palestine, and I have been quite a few miles through the hills in the areas of Palestine, and I don't ever recall seeing one green pasture that I would consider was a natural green pasture. They’re all man-made. The shepherd has to go out there or somebody go out there with their equipment, and they have to clear that field of the rocks and the stumps and the rubble and the brush, and they have to smooth and cultivate the soil. Then they have to plant and they have to tend to it, and irrigate it, and then once it's going good, the shepherd has to go through and pluck all the poisonous weeds from that area so the sheep won't die by eating in their green pasture. Pastures that are green are intentional and when God leads you to a green pasture, it's because He provided that green pasture. It's intentional.
And what you do in that green pasture? “He maketh me to lie down in the green pasture.” We need rest. We as Christians need rest. Jesus needed rest. One pastor announced, “I’m going to suspend my vacation because the devil never takes a vacation so I'm not going on mine either.” Well, a church member from the Princeton seminary in those days, went home and found that Jesus actually, in His short three and half years of ministry, there are 10 mentioned times of retirement that Jesus took and this is in addition to the times when He slept at night and the Sabbath rest that He had. So Jesus rested, and so when you don't, whose example are you following? Jesus’ example or the devil's example? Enjoy the pastures of life and rest in them.
The next one. “He leadeth me beside the” what waters? “The still waters.” This is refreshment. God has refreshments for His people. When you spend time with your heavenly Father, you always come away refreshed, you always come away uplifted.
I had a friend that had a dog named Sandy and we used to go for a walk over here on Grindstone mountain and by the time the dog got up to the top of the mountain the dog was so thirsty and we would take Sandy over to the water. There’s a creek, you know, flowing down from that mountain and the dog would not drink from that creek, because the water was moving. And sheep like a quiet water. The still waters. That's what sheep enjoy, and this tells me that God is gentle. I like what I see of God in the Bible. His waters are quiet. And I like that.
You know, sheep drink from quiet water. A sheep doesn't have to drink every day. In fact, sheep can go for weeks without drinking. Did you know that? They can go for months without drinking and how the Shepherd accomplishes that, if you're in a real dry area, what the good shepherd does, he knows that he must lead them out to the pasture extremely early in the morning so that they can eat their fill of grass that is covered and drenched with dew, and that will last the sheep until the next morning, and oftentimes you may say, “Well, how can a Shepherd manage in such a dry climate with these sheep?” That's how they do it. The dew, and so the shepherd has to get up early to do that. A lazy shepherd and the sheep will die of thirst.
John 10, verse 11, “I am the good shepherd. The good Shepherd giveth His life for His sheep.”
Look at Psalm 23, verse 3. “He restoreth my” what? “My soul.” This has to do with healing, I think. About four weeks ago we were at the Pacific Union College Church. A big looking church from the outside and you go inside and they have what is, I think, supposed to be the resemblance of a tree on the inside for their organ. It's a huge wall up there, and we were there for the risk management meetings and they had a famous Seventh-day Adventist sculptor there and he had, right beside the pulpit, a model of Jesus. A life-sized head and bust of Jesus and the clay was still malleable and so he talked about Jesus and he talked about what our sins did to Jesus. And then while he was talking he was distressing Jesus’ face. Making little lines and bringing the scowl down and taking the smile and making it disappear and disheveling the hair. And finally in 20 minutes after he got done, he put a crown of thorns on there and Jesus looked-- I just felt so bad because I realized that my sins had done that to Jesus. He looked bad. And then the artist went to sit down and I thought, “Boy, this is bad.”
Then the artist went back up and started to redo Him and to renew Him, and took the smile and put it back and took the wrinkles away and I thought, “That's going to happen to me, someday. I won't have any wrinkles. It’s going to be so exciting.” He did that to Jesus. When he got through Jesus had that same smile on His face that He had originally. The sparkle never left His eye and I thought, “That is so great.” “He restoreth my soul.” And Jesus will do that for you. He’ll bring restoration and healing to you.
“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.” This is guidance. He will give you guidance. He promises that. He did that for David. David said, “He leads me in the path.” By the way, did David ever stray from the path of righteousness? He did, didn't he? He loved a certain lady so much that he sent her husband out at the front of the battle, so that he could eventually have what he wanted. He strayed badly on several incidences. But God did not leave him there. God kept leading David and eventually David followed more closely, and more closely. The difference between King Saul and King David. They both made mistakes. But King Saul kept falling backwards and getting further and further from God and David kept getting closer and closer to God, and God forgave him. David kept on that path. Acts 13, verse 22 says, “David was a man after” what? “After God's own heart.” A good path is a blessing.
This week, and you can get this on Google if you wish, one of our church members was lost in the mountains. Did you hear that? Any of you hear that? One or two? One of our church members, Elizabeth, was lost in the mountains of British Columbia, and she went with a group from Fountain View Academy, and they were going to go out on this hike and they got clear up to the top of a 9 thousand foot mountain. And they were up there doing their thing, and it got to be toward later in the day, late afternoon, toward evening, they decided time to go back down to the school. Well, they divided into four groups, and they were going to take four different ways and bivouac their way down to the school and a fog came in and the group, 3 of them made it back to the Academy just fine, but the fourth group, that our church member was in, didn't. They could not find the way down, the right way. They came down the backside of the mountain and they were clear off in no man's land. They did not know where they were. It got dark, and interestingly enough, several of the girls had been praying that that experience would be a faith building experience.
Well they had to spend the night on the mountain and it started to snow, and it snowed 2 feet deep, during the night, and in the process of getting where they were trying to go they got in a rocky area where there was lots of shale going down steeply, down the mountain, they got on that and they slid down and they ended up on a narrow ledge with bushes and so forth. You can see this on the web, some of it. And they had 1 tent between them and there were like, I think, 10 or so people there, and they had to spend the night there on that ledge. Six girls in a small two-man tent and the others outdoors, cause there was no room to pitch any other tent. They were just on a small ledge. They had a small fire that they tried to keep warm with.
And the next morning the helicopters were out. Three helicopters with infrared sensing equipment, heat detection, and one of the girls, Elizabeth, prayed, “Lord, help it to stop snowing. We’re in this blizzard up here. 2 feet of snow. Why can’t You make it stop snowing? What is wrong? I need for You to answer my prayer.” And it didn't stop snowing until morning and she couldn't understand why God had not answered her prayer.
Then the helicopters came and they were able to find them, because where they had camped in the snow the helicopters could see where people had been and that's how they found them. So the snow was an instrument in their retrieval and salvation. You know, I think the safest thing that we can do is not to pray too specifically, but just to pray, “Lord, may Your will be done in my life. Here’s my objective, but however You want to accomplish it, I just want to trust You.” Isn't that the best way to pray, cause sometimes the very thing that we think is the wrong thing, “Lord, You're doing it wrong,” is the very thing that will save us. Stick on the path of life. Don't get off and bivouac on your own unless you really know what you're doing. Stay on the path. God will lead you on that path. Follow His guidance.
Well, let's go on. “For His name’s sake.” He leads you on the path of righteousness for His name’s sake. That's purpose. God has a purpose for your life. He guides you not namby-pamby. He guides you for a specific reason. He has a plan for you and you need to fit in with that plan. And if you do, you will achieve God's goal for your life. It's tough to find meaning in life, but God will provide that meaning if we will trust in Him.
Verse four. “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” This is testing. That's what that one is. Testing. We do go through the valley's of life, and nobody seems to enjoy the valleys of life. We all want mountaintop experiences, don't we? That's what we desire, but the valleys are there, and Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse lost his wife to cancer when she was in her 30s, and they had three children, young children as you might imagine, and it was a tragedy for that family, and Dr. Barnhouse thought, “You know, I should conduct this funeral because I'm a pastor.” And so on the way to the funeral, as they were driving to get to the funeral home or the church, he thought, “What should I say?” And as they pulled up to a stoplight, it was a bright, sunshiny day, beside them pulled a large 18 wheeler, right beside their car, and they were suddenly in the shade, and he looked up at that big truck and his three girls were sitting in the back seat quietly thinking. And he said to his girls, “Tell me something. Would you rather be run over by that truck or by its shadow?” And the oldest girl said, “Well by the shadow, I guess. The shadow can't hurt you dad,” and the wise minister quietly said to his three children, “Your mother has not been overrun by the truck of death, but by the shadow of death, and because of Jesus, death can't hurt her very long.” Shadows don't hurt. We don't fear the shadow. Jesus makes death into a shadow.
Most Christians I know aim for mountaintop experiences. We want to avoid the valleys, but the valleys are nice. You can always find a blessing in a valley. Usually that's where the creeks are. That's where the vegetation is, is in the valleys. So enjoy the valleys. The valleys lead to higher ground, you know.
Psalm 23 continues. It says, “I will fear no evil.” Have you been afraid this week? I want to be serious. With the Wall Street stuff and all that’s been going on, have you been a little bit fearful? “What’s going to happen to my money and what if the mortgage and all my savings is an AIG?” And this and that and the other thing. Have you been a little bit fearful this week? Millions are losing their nest egg. Their nest egg is cracking. I've thought a lot about a quotation this week., and I brought a book here to read a quotation. This is on page 1 hundred and 93 of a little book called Maranatha. I’ve read this book through several times and page 193. It says, “The law of God will to all intents and purposes be made void in our land and national apostasy will be followed by national ruin.” Have we apostatized as a nation? We’ve kicked prayer out of the public schools. We can't post the 10 Commandments. We’re becoming a non-Christian nation, officially, sort of, it seems like. National apostasy will be followed by national ruin. That's pretty serious and maybe what we’re almost seeing in Wall Street, and I don't know whether it'll happen or not, I don't know whether we'll go into a major depression or a recession or what. I don't know the future like that. But there's little question in my mind that God will take care of us if we will follow Him. As a nation we have officially turned our backs on God and fear of a major worldwide depression is growing in the hearts of millions and billions of people.
Should Christians fear? Should Christians fear? I don't think so. Not if we trust in God and we have followed His counsel. Do you agree with that? If you trust in Him and you’ve followed what He's told you to do you'll be fine.
“I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” This is the next one. Thou art with me. Faithfulness. God is faithful. God is present. He's there with you. You don't go through these times alone. You don't go through them alone.
There was a shepherd once who came to the city of Edinburg from the country and he had a shepherd dog with him. And while there the man died and was buried, and the little dog lay upon his master's grave every day. Not for one day. Not for a week or a month, but for 12 years. Everyday that little dog, until the day of the dog's death, came and spent the day on his master's grave. At one o'clock a bell would ring in that town. The dog would get up and run to the bakery. The baker would give him plenty of food to eat and then the dog would come back to the grave. For 12 years until he died. You talk about faithfulness. ”Thou art with me.”
“Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” This is the next one. That's discipline. God disciplines with His rod sometime. The rod was an extension of the right arm of the shepherd. And the staff. The staff had a crook on it which the shepherd could pull the sheep and rescue the wayward animal from the briars.
Verse five. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” We don't usually eat supper while the enemies are right there do we, but what this means is, this means hope. That's the key word. There’s hope. The tableland is a high mesa of rich, upland grass. This is high country, open country, and like the battle at Kruger, the animals there would tend to spread out, and the predators get the ones that are on the fringes and so the shepherd had to pay special attention there and so that's why the rod and staff were needed.
“Thou anointest my head with oil.” This is care. You know, in hot weather, the sheep need anointing especially because of the flies.
“My cup runneth over.” That means abundance. Abundance. Our life will be blessed richly, abundantly. I lived an abundant life as a boy even though we didn't have much. John 10, verse 10, “Jesus said, ‘I have come to give them life that they have it more abundantly.’”
And verse 6 of Psalm 23, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” That's His blessing. His blessing is going to follow you. His blessing is going to track where you are and be with you. He promises that. Your life will be filled with goodness and mercy and it won't be good Miss Murphy that follows you. It’ll be God's blessings that will follow you, and I think if we’ll slow down God's mercy will catch up with us.
And then the last one. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” That's our eternal reward. Our eternal reward. God wants to give you an eternity of blessing.
There are so many rich things here in this psalm, and I appreciate them so much and we're going to close now. We're going to sing our closing hymn and I want you to sing about our Shepherd and our Shepherd is Jesus.
Hymn of Praise: #27 Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart Scripture: Psalm 23 Hymn of Response: #545 Savior Like A Shepherd
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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 10/24/08