In the King James version Psalm 23 is a piece of poetry which we can feel very comfortable with,
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want
He maketh me lie down in green pastures
He leadeth me beside the still waters
He restorest my soul,
He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake
Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil, for thou art with me
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou prepararest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of The Lord for ever
This Psalm written by David some 3,000 years ago is still a favourite maybe because it’s imagery gives us comfort, an assurance of God’s love for us accepting we are cared for no matter what happens. From this we know we can have a personnel relationship with Jesus, our Shepherd and will be living with him in his house forever.
Considering the varied ups and down in the life of David we can speculate at what point in his life he wrote it, as a shepherd in his youth or as King Saul’s favoured companion, or later as his most bitter enemy, maybe after he became King, or in old age looking back on his life. We don’t know, but I like to think it was when he first escaped from Saul returning to the solitude he knew on the hills of Israel, giving him time to reflect unsure of the future he thought over his relationship with God & composed this Psalm now numbered as 23
In his fear he still trusted God, likening him to a shepherd, a task he knew well, he knew God wanted him to be King and care and protect Israel, his flock. He knew God’s voice; he wanted to follow His Lord because he trusted his leader. In the words of this Psalm we can feel David’s faith as he faced an unsure future, the song shows his confidence that God cares for him and he trusts in him, he acknowledges God’s position in his life, how he’s been touched and shaped allowing him to live with an inner peace and comfort in whatever happens to him
Saul was suppose to act as God’s Shepherd but put himself before what God wanted. Saul wanted what was best for Saul rather than what was best for God. When David was anointed as King of Israel by Samuel he was given God’s Spirit, bringing him a certainty of knowing God’s ways, and learning to trust God he knew that somehow he would survive walking through the valley of death.
For otherwise why would God have promised he would be king of Israel and like him when we know God, know his ways, do God’s work there is no need to fear evil, for evil will always be defeated eventually. Jesus walked the valley of death and Israel thought he had died, but he lives on teaching us that by making him our shepherd, then we too will live on with him.
The defeat of evil is a real battle and it takes place in our daily lives. It can only be achieved when we know what good is and reject what it is not and God’s ways are good and Satan’s ways are evil, we choose which to do. There is no middle ground we are either for God or we are not and as we are for God we have to realize we are in a battle against Satan
God holds a rod and staff and uses them like a shepherd caring for those he loves. The Rod being the weapon, used to fight off enemies that attack his flock. Fighting is not pleasant but there are times when we are tested and need to fight yet if we fail in the fight then the Staff will be used to bring us back into the flock. At times we can all drift away from God it’s why we ask to be delivered from evil
We need to live to make Jesus’ kingdom, our kingdom, his will our will in doing so we can know his protection and love are close at hand then when enemies want to hurt us, an inner strength can come as a witness to feed our will power and this is The Holy Spirit of God acting within us. A gift offered to all those who make Jesus their Shepherd
David’s last comment in the psalm once again shows his trust and confidence in God, writing goodness and love will follow him always and we can have that same trust. Have the courage to reflect the commitment that loving God entails for when we do accept Jesus as The Messiah and make him our Lord and Shepherd, live to his ways, then we can claim a place in Our Father’s house forever.
Take a look at John 10, with Jesus likening himself to the role of a Shepherd. God’s word in Israel was sparse, rather like the poor grazing the sheep had Jesus like shepherds, travelled around Israel caring for all he met, his followers were his flock, the taught them how to lead flocks of their own. These were very ordinary people willingly following the tasks their leader asked to carry out, providing our leaders do follow Jesus, we can trust them and do what they ask. Remember we have a duty to think for ourselves, decide if if hear God’s word or not and if we do then to act upon it and if not then like Jesus to question it and put our leadership right.
A good shepherd knows the names, the character of those under their care, they in turn need to trust the direction they are being led in, all having the same aim in witnessing God’s loves to one another and to the world. Using God’s rod of justice to fight off those who would be threaten by harm and God’s staff to look and care for those who drift away.
Jesus was followed about by a band of people, at Pentecost there were about 120, all were committed to the work that Jesus was doing, the teaching he gave. In amongst his followers were different characters, some good some bad, yet he cared for them all, including Judas, who John accuses as a thief. Something Jesus must have known about, yet he didn’t discard Judas nor the other disciples who fought amongst themselves he led all his followers, sorting out disputes, which to us is an example of good leadership.
Jesus’ rod were his words, whatever the priest’s threats, he found answers, so those who follow him were protected, when they were attacked he found them. Just before telling this parable Jesus found that man he healed of blindness. The man had been thrown out the temple and needed both comfort and guidance, he assured him the healing and the word he was speaking were done by the Son of Man. Those actions and his words are an encouragement and comfort to us all for we need never fear what people will try to do to us for The Son of God cares for us.
Yet if we lose sight of Jesus, then we too may forget to trust him, run away when an aggressor comes, as a sheep might when they see a wolf and then in their self imposed isolation make themselves prey to their own fears. Of course by accepting Jesus we know he is in us, as we are in him also we have God’s own Spirit to give us total assurance and guidance. In our society unlike many others we have no real reason to deny Jesus and yet by our actions and our words many of us do, mostly by silence and inaction
Paul was given the task of being the shepherd to bring Jesus’ message to the Gentiles. Yet against Jesus’ teaching, splits and disagreements started, the wolves prowled. Churches grew and wanting their own ways, leaders created their own flocks each going their own way with growing disagreement between believers they tried patching these up with the rod of synods creating creeds and firm doctrines
In this present day we have different flocks; URC, Baptist, Methodist, CoE, RC, Eastern & Russian Orthodoxy along with independent churches across the world. It’s a pity Christians who were instructed to love one another are often stuck in their own enclosure and not as one accumulative flock more concerned with themselves rather than loving the whole of Jesus’ family. Unable in showing God’s Love in a way that outsiders will notice and want to know about being in Jesus’ footsteps, collectively working towards God’s Kingdom as one body in Jesus?
When the first Christians met together they shared what they had, they prayed, worked and reached out together, being a community that constantly joined together as a flock. Leaders helping members of their groups to grow closer to Our Heavenly Father encouraging member to use the skills each person has, to witness their commitment
Those words in John have the most difficult teaching our church has to deal with and Jesus emphasises how important this is by saying twice ‘I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep, whoever enters through me will be saved I have come that they have life and have it to the full’. Jesus is saying; when someone accepts him as their saviour then they are saved.
He declares this in other ways to, saying he is the Way, the Truth and the Life He says he is the judge of all people for no-one comes to The Father but by him. consider that again He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and is the judge of all people for no-one comes to The Father but by him. This means only those following Jesus are automatically accepted into Heaven, all other people are judged by Jesus and risk being rejected; Agnostics, Atheists, Moslems, Hindus, Mormons, Jews all will be judged by Jesus yet those who follow Jesus as their Lord are already in The Kingdom their names have been entered into The Book of Life
Yet the expectation is that those who are in the Kingdom will be living by its laws. Which means not living in a field with hedges all round, chewing the grass and growing fat, and doing nothing. No rather going out into the world and doing the things Jesus taught us to do. John writes in his first letter (5:3) ‘Love for God is to obey his commands and his commands are not burdensome for those born of God overcome the world. It is by trying to love God with all our heart, our soul and our mind and our strength that we prove our love, yet in our failures knowing we are forgiven by our shepherd.
Compare Jesus’ prayer with David’s psalm in speaking with God.
Give us our daily bread so, We shall not want
Heavenly father help us realize when we have enough and share our excesses with those who need our help. Encourage us all to use the gifts you have given us so we may witness to your ways. We thank you for choosing us and bringing us into your family, may we be as one in fellowship with you, your Son Jesus and with the Holy Spirit
Lead us not into temptation, But guide us in paths of righteousness.
May we carry out your commands, witnesses to your ways, to everyone we meet, caring for your creation in how we live our lives. Wanting what we need, rather than what the world wants us to desire. Thank you Jesus for bringing us The Word and teaching us The Way we know that by your love we are reconciled to The Father and with each other
Deliver us from evil so, We will fear no evil.
We pray for deliverance from the ever present temptations in this secular society the thinking that happiness comes from material processions or pleasure seeking. Lord, may we not be slothful nor turn from your ways encourage us to do Our Heavenly Father’s work at all times and help us to acknowledge The Holy Spirit within us so he may guide us
For thine is the Kingdom so, Surely goodness and love will follow us
We pray for the world, for peace and good government in all nations, for those suffering because of conflict arising from abuse of power or of greed. We pray for the starving, the homeless, the unemployed, may we witness your ways challenging those who do not know you. We pray for any we may have harmed, knowingly or unknowingly in any way. We ask for the desire and grace to make good any harm we have done and now in a moment of quiet we ask for your healing embrace for those we know as we remember those who are suffering in body, mind or spirit, Pause
We will dwell in the house of The Lord forever
Lord we praise you as we seek to be ever closer to you we ask all this and your help to live out your commands In the name of Jesus Amen