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A Life Worth Living: Sermons on the 23rd Psalm
Title: Living with Faith
Text: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalms 23:1)
Introduction: Dr. Charles Allen, beloved Methodist minister, tells the story of a friend who came to see him one day. His friend was nervous, tense, and he had literally worried himself sick. The man's physician had suggested that he see his minister. They talked for awhile, and then Allen took a pad of paper from his desk drawer.
"If you went to see a doctor, he would give you a prescription, and that's what I want to do," Allen said. "Take the prescription exactly as I write it. Five times a day for seven days I want you to read prayerfully and carefully the twenty-third psalm. When you awaken, before each meal and at bedtime, read the psalm." Charles Allen says that in a week his friend returned literally a different person.
The power of the Shepherd's psalm is a prescription for the problems and pressures of our day. One of the things that we certainly need if we are going to have a life worth living is a faith in something that is big enough for life. The psalmist begins where we always need to begin...with a God worth serving.
I. A great affirmation--"The Lord is my Shepherd." Every promise in the psalm hangs on the power of this promise. The psalmist says, I believe in God; I believe that God cares, and I believe that God cares about me." The Lord is my Shepherd.
Sheep are not intelligent animals. They are defenseless and dependent, and they live by faith in the Shepherd. David, who wrote or whose life inspired the psalm, is saying that in our anxious, nervous world we, too, live in dependence on our Shepherd.
Several years ago, my family and I were on vacation in Washington, D.C. Late one afternoon we decided to drive to Georgetown, a Washington suburb. I thought I knew the way. Well, I became completely lost. "Daddy, don't you think we should stop and ask somebody how to get there?" my children asked. "Listen, daddy knows the way. Trust me." An hour later, greatly humbled, I finally stopped and asked directions.
Pride sometimes keeps us from admitting our need for direction. David knew the pain of trying to chart his own course. The prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin, and in that moment of brokenness, the shepherd-king saw his need for divine direction.
Now, with a new sense of trust in God, David affirms, "The Lord is my Shepherd."
II. The great affirmation lends to a great assertion, "I shall not want." The psalmist is really saying, "Because God is my shepherd, I have everything I really need."
At the end of his Philippian letter, Paul wrote, "My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." But the tragedy is that many of us live our lives at the corner of complaint and regret. "If only I had this...or if only this had not happened to me."
The promise of the Psalms 23 is that we will have everything we really need for a life worth living:
I grow tired... He restores my soul.
The valley is long and lonesome... Thou art with me.
I'm anxious ... Thy rod and thy staff will comfort me.
I fear death... I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
And on and on...
Grandfather was eighty-six when he took his first plane ride. The plane circled for a few minutes and then landed. "Well, Grandpa," he was asked, "how did you like your first ride?" Rather shakily he answered, "Fine, but I never really put all my weight on the thing."
Conclusion. How sad to believe in God but never really trust Him. Faith is more than belief. It is the trusting of ourselves to God, depending on Him to lead us to a life worth living.
The minister scolded them. "That's foolish. I don't need to come down to your level; you need to come up to my world view." It so happened for a few months later this same minister and one of his laymen were visiting a strange city. The minister was completely lost. "Don't worry," the layman said, "I will help you find your way." He then disappeared only to return a few minutes later with a globe of the world.
A part of the power of the Shepherd Psalm is that it is a roadmap and not a globe. It touches us where we live and hurt and struggle. We soon discover that if we are to have a life worth living we need a power from beyond ourselves.
I. God is our strength. The Psalmist says, "He restoreth my soul." The Today's English Version translates the first part of Psalms 23:3, "He (God) gives me new strength."
David knew the need for the renewing power of God. From a shepherd boy, he had risen to be King. He had it all, but sometimes when we think we have it all we forget our need for God. Great was the fall of David when Nathan confronted him with his sin.
"God restores my soul," David said. God picks me up when I've fallen; He lifts me when the load is heavy; in my weakness God comes with the renewing of His omnipotence.
The church needs the message of God's renewal. John Wesley wrote to a minister friend who was struggling with his call, "You look inward too much and upward too little." You and I as the church must look in, out and around us to see the need of ourselves and others. But most of all we must look up to the renewing power of God.
II. God is our Sufficiency. "He guideth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake."
God's nature is to guide. He's not a reluctant leader. We are often reluctant followers. His leadership is sufficient. Our "followship" is often uncertain, hesitant and tenative. Like sheep we wander from the fold, but the nature of the shepherd is to seek the one lost sheep. The remarkable arithmetic of Jesus' parable is that the Good Shepherd will leave the ninety-nine to share His love with even the one.
Conclusion: All of us need a renewing power for life. Like David that is sometimes difficult to confess. But when we admit our weakness, God supplies His supernatural strength. The little girl wasn't wrong when she said, "The Lord is my shepherd. That's all I want."
Title: Living With Hope
Text: 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 they staff they comfort me. (Psalms 23:4)
Introduction: Mary Sartan has written a poem with this striking line: "Spiders are patient weavers. They never give up. Who knows what keeps them at it? Hunger, no doubt. And hope."
Hope. What is it? What is this thing that sometimes keeps us at business of life even when we are tempted to give up? Hope is better described than defined. I saw it in the excitement of my children as they made their way to the tree on Christmas morning. "I wonder what's there?" they said. They could hardly wait.
I saw the absence of hope in the eyes of a man wandering a downtown street. He didn't appear to be that old, but he looked worn and weary. Stringy hair and beard, oversized coat, a bottle in his hand, but mostly I noticed the vacant eyes that stared but didn't really see. We need hope for a life worth living.
I. Hope comes through the certainty of God's presence. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."
Palestine is a land of great mountains and deep valleys. As the sheep moved through the valleys darkened by the shadows of the mountains, they were assured of one thing--the Shepherd's presence. This is our certain hope! Life moves on, and sometimes we go through the shadowy stretches. Even there God is with us.
Sometimes, it is in the valley that we realize
Title: Living With Peace
Text: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. (Psalms 23:2)
Introduction: Peace is one of the great themes of the Bible. In the fourteenth chapter of John, Jesus leaves His disciples a lasting legacy: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you... Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
What is peace? The absence of problems and pressures? No. These are a part of the "givens" of our lives. Is peace the absence of all conflict? No, there are times when even Jesus calls us into conflict with the destructive forces of life.
Peace is really built on the promise of His presence. "My peace," Jesus said, He leaves with us. Peace is the presence of His Spirit in our lives.
The peace of the twenty-third psalm is built on that great promise, "The Lord is my Shepherd." That is the one critical constant in changes of our lives. The psalmist sees God in control of his life.
I. God knows our limits. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures." Sheep do not know their limits. They will stay in the fields all day never resting. The Shepherd makes them lie down. The principle of this passage is that God will never put on us more than we can bear.
Lou Holtz, now football coach at the University of Minnesota, said after a bitter loss, "God may not give us more than we can bear, but sometimes I think that He overestimates my ability."
In the fall of 1972, I was chaplain of a high school football team. I prayed for the team before the game, and that year the team went 0-10. No wonder nobody asks me to pray for his team! It was tough. By the end of the season, I was praying, "O Lord preserve our going out and our coming in."
Football is a game, and we get over it. But what about it when our life seems to be 0-10? David knew the struggle of the soul to understand the suffering of life. "Why God?" "Where are you God?" The psalmist found his answer where we always find it, not in an explanation of suffering but in the presence of God who sustains us.
Two years ago, when our ten-year-old son David was diagnosed with a brain tumor, our family was thrust into the valley. We did not ask for it; we, too, wondered why. But I remember the words of an old hymn that took on fresh meaning, "Simply trusting every day, trusting through the stormy way; even when my faith is small, trusting Jesus that is all."
Too simple for our sophisticated society? I don't believe so. Simply trusting in the presence of a God who knows my limits, that is all.
II. He leads me beside the still waters. What a great statement of faith. The sheep will not drink from the rushing currents. They trust the shepherd to lead them to the still waters.
Prayer is going to the still waters. It's getting our bearings in a world where we are beckoned in a thousand directions. Prayer is realizing again that God is in control, and that brings peace to our lives.
Conclusion: Who controls you today? Who leads you & what are you following that brings you a sense of peace in our troubled and tense times? We can have peace. But it must be His peace. "My peace I give to you." The question, "Will we receive His gift?"
Title: Living With Power
Text: He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. (Psalms 23:3)
Introduction: A certain minister was known as a very polished and profound preacher. But he always preached above the heads of his hearers. Finally, a delegation of his members came to see him. "We know that you are very sophisticated and scholarly," they said. "But could you please preach where we could understand?"
our need for the Shepherd. Suffering does not always turn us to God, but often it can. Optimism is believing that everything will work out. Hope is the conviction that even if things don't work out, God is still at work in us.
The songwriter said it well, "When darkness seems to hide his face, I rest on His unchanging grace; in every high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand."
II. Hope also comes from the comfort of God's power. "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
The ancient shepherd travelled light. In his belt he carried a rod to defend the sheep from attack and a staff to support and help guide the sheep. The psalmist says that his hope is in a God who will guard and guide his life.
As a pastor, I often go into situations where people are hurting or grieving. I realize that my abilities and words are limited. But what gives me strength is to know that I come in the name of One who is a good, guarding, guiding Shepherd.
Conclusion: Dr. Clarence Cranford used to tell the story about the family who had a little boy. It was his job to put the empty milk bottles on the front steps at night. But one night he absolutely refused. When his father asked why, the boy replied, "Because it's too dark to go outside without a Father." That's the promise of the Shepherd Psalm. We don't go out into life alone. The Father goes with us.
Title: Living With Gratitude
Text: Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. (Psalms 23:5)
Introduction: The psalmist says, "My cup runneth over." Why not complain? After all he did go through the valley. David had failed, and he had failed miserably. Why not blame God for making Bathsheba so beautiful and him so vulnerable? But at the end of the road, the psalmist gathers up all of the pieces of his life and sings the doxology.
How can you and I live with a sense of gratitude for life? How can we sing the doxology and say with Paul, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose?" (Romans 8:28)
I. The psalmist pictures God's work of preparation. "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."
Does the psalmist mix his metaphors? Some say that the image of God shifts from a shepherd to a host in verse five. Perhaps. But Phillip Keller in his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalms 23, says that the high summer range where the sheep grazed was referred to as "tablelands." The Shepherd would go ahead of the sheep to remove the noxious weeds and other things that might harm his sheep on the "tablelands."
Regardless of which image we use to depict God, the portrait is still the same. The psalmist expresses his thanksgiving that God prepares the way in his pilgrimage of life.
That raises for us the question of how we see God. Most of us think of God as up or in us. But the Hebrews thought of God primarily as the one out ahead. God calls us to the adventure of the not yet, anticipating a future not seen by us but prepared by God.
II. The psalmist pictures God's work of preservation. "Thou anointest my head with oil."
No matter how carefully the shepherd prepares the way, the sheep are still bruised and wounded by the thorns and thistles. At the end of each day, the shepherd gently rubs the healing oil onto the wounds of the sheep.
The psalmist squarely faces the reality of evil and suffering in this world. Even those who follow the shepherd endure the pain of living in a world such as ours. Sometimes we are wounded by the effects of our own sin, but often we are hurt by being a part of a world where suffering is a reality and where it rains on the just and the unjust.
Notice the shepherd does not scold the sheep for their wounds. He tends to the wounds. This is a portrait of a forgiving, gracious God who really does care for His children.
Conclusion: No wonder the psalmist lives with a sense of a life overflowing with blessing. His gratitude is not dependent on what happens to Him but rather on the God Who "happens" to him through all of the experiences of his life.
Title: Living With Confidence
Text: 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. (Psalms 23:6)
Introduction: Dr. William Jones, pastor of the Bethany Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, tells about the elderly black woman that he met in church. He asked her how she was doing, and she replied, "Well, Preacher, I'm somewhere between 'Thank you, Jesus' and 'Lord, have mercy.'"
Most of us live on the same street. We aren't what we used to be, but we aren't what we are going to be. We live with both gratitude and regret. We are people on a journey growing in our relationship with the God who makes Himself supremely known through Christ Jesus.
The psalmist was still growing, but one thing of which he was certain, and that was his relationship to God. He began with faith, "The Lord is my Shepherd," and he closes with faith, "Surely..." Living with confidence!
But what a confidence? It is self-assurance? No! To the psalmist, confidence is "God-assurance." In fact, the Latin root of the word confidences is "fides," which means "faith." "Con" is a prefix which intensifies the meaning of the root word. So confidence is intense faith, and in the twenty-third psalm, it is intense faith in God.
I. For now--God can be trusted in the life that we live. "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life..."
The Hebrew verb really means "to pursue." God is actively pursuing me with His grace and His lovingkindness. What a God! He's not in hiding. He is always seeking out His children.
What does your God look like? Some of us believe in God, but He's distant, reluctant, uninvolved. J.B. Phillips has reminded us in his provocative little book that often Your God Is Too Small. The problem for many of us is not atheism. It's that our "theism" is too limited.
To have a life worth living we need a God worth serving. When Paul wrote his second letter to young Timothy, he shared a God that was big enough for the storms and stresses of life: "For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day" (2 Timothy 1:12).
II. Forever. The promise of God's presence is for now and forever. "And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
The concept of eternal life in the Old Testament is not as developed as in the New Testament. But the psalmist senses that the power of God he serves does not end at the grave. Down the long corridor of life the Psalmist looks and shouts the good news that death is not a deadend but a door.
Nothing brought more joy to the Israelites than to worship in God's House. But imagine the joy of those of us with faith in Jesus Christ. The end is only the beginning! "We shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
Conclusion: A child was telling the story of Enoch's walk with God. "The man walked and walked and walked and when it became dark God said, 'Enoch you are nearer my home than yours so you should come in with me.'" And Enoch did. The end is only the beginning. We trade our earthly home for a house not made with human hands. No wonder the great Apostle exclaimed, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21)
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