The Gentle Shove of the Shepherd: Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3

The beginning of this pastoral Psalm conjures up a picturesque setting. Lush meadows await with beds of grass. Streams rush with refreshment and sustenance. There is a Narnia like beauty that tickles the imagination while we take in the first few verses . . .

Until we move beyond the scenery to the sheep who are apparently running a muck. The are doing their own thing and unable to find their own way. Why else would the Psalmist say that the Shepherd makes us lie down? Who needs to be forced to rest? I’ll rest when I’m tired, is our mantra. And yet, we don’t.

The Shepherd is all action. He is restoring. He is making. He is leading, and from what I gather, leading sheep is no easy task. A sheep dog expends great energy running circles around the sheep to get them herded in the right direction. A Shepherd needs tools, not only for fighting off enemies, but for getting the sheep to do what is in their best interest–because left to their own desires, they aren’t choosing their best.

sheep in green pastures

So the questions for us–the sheep–are:
  • Are we heeding the nudge of the Shepherd on the path where He’s leading?
  • Are we resting when He says rest?
  • Are we moving when He says move?
  • Are we resisting His invitation to lie down in the green pastures, to be restored?

Let us not rush past these verses because they are common. There is a message here that is convicting, if we pause to let the Spirit convict. In a world of run-a-muck sheep, a Shepherd waits with an unbelievable offer: restoration for our souls.

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Death in the Pot: Thoughts on 2 Kings 4:38-41

Elisha returned to Gilgal and there was a famine in that region. While the company of the prophets was meeting with him, he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot and cook some stew for these men.” One of them went out into the fields to gather herbs and found a wild vine. He gathered some of its gourds and filled the fold of his cloak. When he returned, he cut them up into the pot of stew, though no one knew what they were. The stew was poured out for the men, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it. Elisha said, “Get some flour.” He put it into the pot and said, “Serve it to the people to eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot.

Famine has wracked the region of Gilgal. People are hungry, desperate. The company of prophets comes together, I suppose to discuss what Yahweh is doing in the land and what should be done about the famine. They are gathered to hear from the Lord.

Elisha instructs his servant to prepare stew for the prophets. Then the text says that “one of them” went out to the field to gather herbs. It’s not clear if “one of them” is a servant or a prophet. It doesn’t matter. What matters is what happens next. The man spies a wild vine full of fruit—a beautiful and unusual sight during this famine. He fills his cloak with gourds from the vine, returns, chops them up, and puts them into the stew “though no one knew what they were.”

When the men begin to eat, they cry out “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” Elisha puts flour into the stew, healing the killer properties of the vine, and the prophets eat and are filled.

At first we might feel bad for the servant who prepared the stew. He did his best, but he made a mistake.

No. In a desperate time, a man made a desperate choice, and the prophets of God almost died. Instead of seeking the Lord’s provision, the man went out, saw a vine flourishing in an otherwise barren landscape, and assumed that vine was the answer. It was right there. It was the easy choice.

But he lacked discernment. No one knew what the fruits were. And instead of pausing to ask the Lord, they tossed it in and hoped for the best. A decision made out of desperation in the man’s own strength.

Man’s ways are never better than God’s ways. Desperate times do not call for desperate measures. They call for prayerful measures. Panic and rushing into action without thought never helps.

You may be in a place of desperation—a metaphorical famine of sorts—where you’re tempted to reach for whatever looks good and right in the moment.

Don’t do it. Stop and pray. Seek the wisdom of God. Ask him for his provision. Maybe that fruitful vine is his provision, but let’s not make the mistake of assuming what looks right in the moment is what God wants for us.

Abraham did what he thought was wise when he slept with Hagar. That was the custom of the day. A man needed an heir. But it wasn’t God’s ways, and that desperate decision cost more than Abraham could have imagined.

So stop. Take a deep breath. And ask the Lord to reveal himself to you in whatever famine you’re facing. He promises to be found when we call on his name. He is not a God whose ways are hidden. He’s given us his Word, his Spirit, and his people to help us walk through life with wisdom and discernment.

The Sought-After: Ezekiel 36 and the New Covenant

“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. “Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. Ezekiel 36:24-28   

Do you catch the initiative of God? Those words “I will” slam into us the reality that He seeks us, He works in us, He regenerates us. We offer nothing to the miracle of the New Covenant.

We are the Sought-After.

While Israel turned and worshiped other gods, Yahweh was seeking. While Israel campaigned to take over the Promised Land in their own strength, Yahweh was seeking. While Israel got busy with daily life and forgot their deliverance from Egypt, Yahweh was seeking.

And what about you? Temptations from work pull at you to advance your career at the expense of others. Images from social media deceive you into thinking that you must appear perfect like that next woman. Busyness distracts you from being present to your family and friends. To Jesus, whom you call Savior.

All the while, Yahweh seeks you.  

The Sought After

The beauty of the New Covenant is that God places within us a desire and an ability to know him, follow him, be committed to him. Under the Old Covenant, we struggled to abide by God’s Law. We failed. We had no staying power. But the power of the New Covenant is that Jesus completes that work of righteousness in us so that we are capable of communing with God.

Simply put, He makes our hearts soft. Flesh-like. Able to respond to grace.

Belonging to him, as his people, gives us the assurance that when we seek, we will find. When our lives become wrapped up in all He is—his goodness, love, faithfulness, holiness—then his Spirit is continually seeking and finding us, and we return that communion by seeking and finding him.

It’s a circle of oneness. That’s the New Covenant. Is that your reality today? It can be. Be sprinkled. Be cleansed. Be the Sought-After.

Ezekiel 36, 25

Praying Psalm 119

A wildfire near our house has caused the valley to fill up with smoke the past few mornings. The air doesn’t look extremely smokey, but the smell is strong. Isn’t it amazing how only a little smoke can infiltrate our senses?

What’s bombarding your senses today? How about beauty from God’s Word? We can breathe in the smoke of this world, or we can breathe the fresh mercies of God every morning.

Today I’m focused on one of my favorites, Psalm 119.

Consider all the ways the Psalmist speaks about God’s promises, Word, laws, and ways. The Psalmist . . .

  • Hopes in God’s Word
  • Pleads to understand God’s Statues
  • Grieves when the Law is broken
  • Loves God’s commands
  • Stands in awe of His Laws
  • Praises the nature of God’s decrees
  • Faints with longing for God’s ways
  • Commits to meditating on God’s precepts
  • Delights in God’s Law and its freedom
  • Praises God’s faithfulness
  • Seeks strength from God’s Word

psalm 119 8182

Would you join me today in breathing in and out the truths of these words?

Delights of Psalm 119

  • My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times. (20)
  • You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. (68)
  • Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (89)
  • Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you. (91)
  • The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy. (138)

Prayers of Psalm 119

  • My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. (28)
  • Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. (37)
  • May your unfailing love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise. (41)
  • Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands. (66)
  • Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end. (111-112)
  • Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. (133)
  • I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands. (176)
SONY DSC
SONY DSC

Commitments of Psalm 119

  • I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free. (32)
  • I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame. (46)
  • Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge. In the night I remember your name, O LORD, and I will keep your law. (54-55)

 

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