Jesus As Our Shepherd

The 23rd Psalm has been a favorite among many believers for centuries.  Many of us the learned this passage when we were a child.  I remember quoting this verse as a young boy in public school as our daily prayer before class began. 

There is just something calming about this passage of Scripture that speaks to the longing of our soul to be connected with our Creator.  It’s not just a coincidence that David, a shepherd boy soon to become the greatest king Israel has even known, would pin this unique passage of Scripture.  His firsthand account of how a shepherd loves, cares and disciplines his sheep is a perfect picture of how the Good Shepherd (Jesus) loves and cares for us.

When you observe the 23rd Psalm from a shepherd’s point of view there is depth to the passage that ascends normal human understanding. It becomes a picture of our Savior’s unique but complete care of His children.  Each phrase tells of a different level of care and love that Jesus has for His children.

In this passage Jesus is the Shepherd and the sheep are His children. Because each phrase in this Psalm is packed with a unique truth I want touch on just a couple of phrases that are especially meaningful to me. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

 The Lord is my Shepherd”This speaks of the believers submission to God’s ownership, guidance and care.  Many want to claim Jesus as their Shepherd but they are far from full submission. They want to live their life without accountability to His will.   It’s like a sheep who keeps wandering off from the flock and starts grazing among poisonous weeds.  Or the sheep who wanders from the flock and becomes easy prey for the wolves and coyotes. A sheep on his own puts himself in danger that he doesn’t have the wisdom to foresee or discern.

The same is true in our life.  Anything but full submission to the Lord Jesus puts us in danger of  going down a road we never intended. Submission is not following certain rules or regulations but living in a state of daily dependence  upon the Savior for every aspect of our lives.  It’s having such confidence in the Good Shepherd’s care that whatever comes in our life we know  our Sovereign God is fully aware and in control, even though we may feel out of control. 

I shall not want”   This phrase is connected to the first phrase.  Because the Lord is my Shepherd then I live in a condition of wanting nothing.  It’s a phrase of contentment.  When we are utterly dependent upon Him for our provision, care and love then our life is complete.

  • He is our provision – ” And my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19)
  • He is our care – “Casting all your anxiety on Him for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
  • We are the beneficiary of His unconditional love –  “For I am convinced that…nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God’s plan of complete dependence upon Him allows us to find our contentment in Him, not in things, status, or acceptance by the culture.  We are to be so dependent upon Him that when loss occurs we know our Shepherd is in control and has our back.  We don’t crave or desire anything more.  It frees us from the trap that satan sets to ensnare us into believing that we need more to be truly happy and content.  As a follower of Jesus, contentment is truly the key to our happiness.

Bottom Line

Is the Lord Jesus truly the Shepherd of your life, or are you trying to live life in two worlds?  Can you say that you are content by resting in His love and care?

A partial surrender is not surrender at all.  A shepherd cannot care and protect a sheep who thinks the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  Without true contentment we will live a life of always needing more. 

 Our life has a destiny and it can only be found as we give our life in full surrender to His control and leadership.  As the Scripture declares, “He knows the plans He has for us.” (Jeremiah. 28:11)

Philip Keller in his classic book “A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23”  writes the following words: 

As I have moved among men and women from all strata of society as both a lay pastor and a scientist I have become increasingly aware of one thing.  It is the boss/master in peoples lives who makes the difference in their destiny.”

Who is the boss/master of your life?       

Our Personal Winters

In the book, Christian Maturity by Madam Guyon, she compares the Christian life to the life of a tree. She says, “ In the winter when a tree loses its leaves it is no longer beautiful in its surface appearance…It’s just that the leaves are no longer there to hide what is real. The same is true of believers. We can each look so beautiful until the obvious signs of life disappears.”

What a great analogy.  When the winters of our life happen, it may seem as if our life has all but disappeared. Like the tree, when our personal winters occur God is allowing our leaves to fall to reveal all the ugliness and inconsistencies that we have been hiding.  It becomes a moment of personal reflection to show us who we really are.  No, we don’t lose our identity in Christ but in those moments we are like a tree in the winter time without its leaves it is totally exposed. Without the outward adorning of its leaves, it looks lifeless and is totally exposed to the elements.  

Regarding the tree, even though it seems like the tree has lost its life, there is something going on deep inside.  Something that will allow it to be fully leafed come spring. There is something happening that we can’t see deep inside the tree and in its roots that will allow it to extend to new heights and more fully express its grandeur in the spring and summer.

In a similar manner during our spiritual winters, God is doing something deep inside of us that could only be accomplished during our winter time.   By revealing who we really are we come to the point of brokenness, then abandonment and surrender.  We are given the opportunity to come clean with the Lord and move toward a new level of trust.

If it wasn’t for those spiritual winters we would never know the joy of fully trusting God through the storms of life.  We would be ignorant of His ability to carry us through when things seem out of control.

Bottom Line

It is good to remember that during every season of our life, including our spiritual winters, God is doing something deep within us that will allow us to be fully adorned with His glory.  He wants to expose our fleshly ways, and all those things we do just to to get acceptance from others.  Sometimes we may experience rejection and deep hurt from those whom we have loved and helped the most.  Maybe we have been getting our acceptance from what we do rather than who we are in Christ.  God allows these winter moments to redirect us toward the indwelling Christ for our peace and acceptance.

God is never asleep at the wheel during times of crisis.  But He is fully aware of our circumstances and plight. He is merely waiting for us to acknowledge that we are fully dependent upon Him. He wants free rein in our life so that we can be useful and fruitful vessels.

During your times of personal winter, will you allow God to have free rein in your life? Will you trust Him to prepare you for your season of full blooming?

Prayer:  Lord I give you permission to strip everything from my life that causes me to trust other things or people more than we trust you. During the winter seasons of my life I submit to the deeper work you will do in my heart to prepare me for the next season.

I have decided to follow Jesus

I heard an inspiring story during one of my trips to India. But before I share the story, a little background. Northeast India for many decades had been known as the missionaries’ graveyard. Primarily because nearly every missionary who had moved there and attempted to establish a mission station was faced with unbelievable rejection and failure. The region has been a demonic stronghold for centuries. It was rare that any missionary team would last over one year. It is reported that many got sick and some even died. But most left defeated by an unbelievable hardness of the people’s heart toward the gospel.

Even though the region was considered closed to the gospel, somehow there was one family who became a follower of Jesus. The story is told of a man who lived in a small village in this region of India. We are not sure how he heard the gospel but he was a passionate follower of Jesus. His conversion and commitment to Christ plus his zeal for the gospel had so irritated the villagers that a mob formed. They rushed this man’s house and shoved him and his family to the public square.  The village chief questioned him about his faith and gave him and his family a chance to recant. The man didn’t know what to do. So he began to sing a song that some believe he had composed.

” I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”

With that his children were horrifically killed as he and his wife watched in horror. He was given another chance to recant and save his wife. Again, not knowing what to do, he sang another verse.

“Though none go with me still I will follow, though none go with me still I will follow, though none go with me still I will follow, no turning back, no turning back.”

He watched as they brutally murdered his wife. Then he was given one more chance to recant. He continued to sing.

“The cross before me the world behind me, the cross before me the world behind me, the cross before me the cross behind me, no turning back, no turning back.”

Even though that man and his family were killed that day, something remarkable happened. A seed was planted in the heart of the chief. It was a seed that began to grow over time. Then one day he gathered the villagers in that very same square and renounced his previous faith and he declared his allegiance to Jesus Christ. A celebration began to break out and the gospel spread not only through out that village but through the whole region. It spread because they had seen true faith and had seen the real character of God.

I believe this is one of the events that God used to open up this region of India. In the last couple of decades hundreds of thousands Indians have come to Christ. I have personally witnessed this incredible move of God.

Bottom Line

There are several lessons we can learn from this inspiring story.

1. When you make a decision to follow Jesus you will be called on to “draw a line in the sand”. We may not be called on to give our life in martyrdom like this family but we will be faced with a decision(s) that will set us apart from the world. Will I chose to follow Jesus absolutely or will I compromise just to keep my personal dream alive?

The world is not for us. The scripture tells us that we are ‘strangers and pilgrims’ in this world. In other words, we are not familiar with the territory (way of life), and we are pilgrims, just passing through on the way home (heaven).

2. God can take any tragedy, disappointment and turn it into an incredible victory. The principle of Romans 8:28 (“all things work together for our good”) is that God takes all of the successes, failures, unfairness, sacrifices and tragedies and is able to blend them all together to accomplish His will for your life.

For every tragedy and failure God has already gone ahead of his children to begin a process of turning our greatest hurt and disappointment into an incredible work of God.

3. Make sure you have absolutes in your life. We live in a “relative world” where the culture dictates what is right and wrong. As a committed follower of Jesus our life is dictated by absolutes. The old saying is true, “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.” Absolutes encourages us to be firmly planted on the absolute faithfulness of God.

God’s Wrestling Match

“This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. (Genesis 32:24 NLT)

Jacob had been abundantly blessed by God.  He was materially prosperous and blessed with a large family.  His life was complete except for one thing.  He was estranged from his twin brother Esau.  

When their father Issac was near death Jacob deceived his blind father by posing as Esau and stole his brothers birthright. When Esau found out about his brother’s deception Jacob fled for his life.  Years had passed and now Jacob was attempting to reconnect with his brother.

As Jacob was preparing to meet with Esau he sent part of his family ahead and he stayed in camp all alone.  All of sudden, out of nowhere, a man appeared and began to physically wrestle with Jacob.  Jacob and this man wrestled all night long.  Just as dawn was beginning to appear the man realized he could not win and he touched Jacob in the hip socket and Jacob ceased his struggle. The Scripture records:

“When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket.” (Verse 25 NLT)

This story is a supernatural event which has application for us today.  There are at least three elements of the story that are key to understanding this passage.

1. First the man doing the wrestling with Jacob is none other than the Lord Jesus.  This is known as a Christophany.  A Christophany is an Old Testament appearance of the Lord Jesus. This is one of several recorded instances of Jesus appearing in the Old Testament. Notice what Jacob said about the man.

“Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” (Verse 30 NLT)

2. The wrestling match was about breaking Jacob’s self-will. Even though it was a physical wrestling match the real battle was about surrender of the will.  The passage says “When the man saw that he would not win the match he touched Jacob’s hip.“  If it was a typical match of strength all Jesus had to do was speak a word and Jacob would have been immobilized.   It was about Jacob being unwilling to let go of his stronghold of living as a liar and deceiver. 

3. When Jesus put his hip out of socket Jacob gave up the fight.  This was Jacob’s brokenness moment which led to his repentance.  His repentance from his deceptive ways changed his life.  He was never the same again.  To reflect this change in Jacob’s life God changed his name from Jacob ( liar, deceiver ) to Israel ( God fights).

“ Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”  But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  What is your name? the man asked. He replied, “Jacob”, the man told him, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, from now on you will be called Israel because you have fought with God and man and have won.”(Genesis 32:27-28 NLT)

Bottom Line

This story holds valuable instruction for us today.  God wants to deliver us from those things that keep us from being totally committed and fully obedient. There are at least three lessons we can learn from Jacobs wrestling match. 

Lesson 1: Strongholds are those things that keep us from living out our God given destiny.  Jacob’s birthright and destiny was to fulfill the promise given to Abraham of making a great nation. Jacob’s deception and lies kept him from fulfilling this destiny. His sin created a stronghold that caused him to miss God’s best for his life.  

We also have a destiny and our strongholds keep us from realizing God’s purpose for our life. What is it in your life that keeps you from a life of freedom? What has God been wrestling with you about?

God might strive and wrestle with us for a while but in the end it is our choice to stop struggling, surrender and trust God.

Lesson 2:  Notice that God had to injure Jacob in order to get his attention. If necessary, God would rather see us crushed rather than living  an un-surrendered life. Are we sure that our dreams and plans are congruent with God’s plan?

God loves us unconditionally, but sometimes He is not content with us as we are. If we keep wrestling with Him and holding on to something He wants us to surrender, then  He may have to bring us to the end of ourselves. He may bring us to a point that we have no place to run and no one to turn but to Him. 

He wants to change us into His image. Brokenness is often God’s method of getting us to the end of ourselves.  Jacob was running from his problems.  He knew he had to make it right with his brother or he would never enjoy God’s full favor or blessing.

Jacob was full of fear until he was tired of wrestling with God. He finally gave up, repented and put His trust, and his life, in God’s hand. That’s all that God ask of us, to surrender every aspect of our life to Him and then learn to trust him fully.  

Lesson 3: Sometimes the scars of our past is a good reminder that full surrender and abandonment is the best place to be.  I don’t know how long Jacob limped after that event, maybe till his death.  But I can imagine every time he had a hip pain it reminded him of the price he paid of doing life in his own strength.

Struggling With Strongholds

If you are like most believers there are areas of your life that are a constant struggle. The struggle may be a recurring sin we can’t seem to shake. The Scripture calls this a stronghold.  Every follower of Jesus, at one time or another, has a sin stronghold that seems to raise its ugly head just when we think we have it conquered. 

We say to ourselves; “Why do I keep doing that, I know it’s sin and it grieves/quenches the Holy Spirit every time I give in.  What’s wrong with me?”  We may have victory for a few days or even a few weeks but eventually we give in during a moment of emotional weakness and the cycle continues.

We have tried self-discipline, praying more often, memorizing appropriate Scripture and maybe even fasting.  If all else fails we just blame the devil.

How do we get out of this cycle and overcome the stronghold?  By giving up the struggle.  That’s right, give up trying to overcome the stronghold.   The Lord never intended for us to get in a fight with the devil  when it comes to overcoming and defeating sinful strongholds. Why get in the ring to fight an enemy that has already been defeated? Why write a check for a bill that has been marked “paid in full”.

When we try with self-discipline and good intention to overcome sin we are acting in the flesh.  We are saying with our actions, “God, your provision for our sin was not enough, you need my help.”  When we employ self-effort alone to defeat sin we are saying Christ is not enough.

Our dominion over sin is not based on self effort but on Christ’s finished work on the cross.  At the cross Jesus paid our sin debt. On the cross He not only died for us but as us, defeating the dominion of sin. Because of the resurrection he became our victor over sin.

How does this victory works in us.  At salvation, when we became a committed follower of Christ, His life was placed in us.  Not a life like His, but His very life. Notice the following Scripture.

“…the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations: but has now been manifested to the saints…which is Christ in you the hope of glory…(Colossians 1: 26-27 NAS))

“For in Him (Christ) all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10 NAS)

God knew we would struggle with sin. He knew the devil would constantly remind us that we are old sinners and that we can never measure up to God’s standard.  So to remedy the problem at salvation He gave us the key to victory…that’s Christ within us. Christ is the ruler and authority over every element of life that we will encounter.

Therefore, the battle is not ours, it’s His.  He has already defeated our stronghold, all we have to do is admit that in and of ourselves we are powerless to overcome a  sinful stronghold.  But in Christ, we have the power of the risen Savior fighting the battle for us.

“But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57 NAS)

Bottom Line

The key to every victory in the Christian life is Jesus.  We have been given the power of the living, risen Christ within us.  He is there to fight every battle, even our strongholds.  Give up your personal fight and let Jesus do it all for you. Our only self-effort is to willfully turn from the sin and then turn to Christ who is our victory.  “Inherent in who I am is my ability to perform it” (Jack Taylor). In other words, because I have the living Christ within me, “we are more than conquerors…” (Romans 8:37)

Years ago I heard Dr. Bill Gilliam give this little acrostic that helps emphasize how Christ is our victor in our daily sin battle.  Maybe it will help you also. Read each line and notice the underlined word. 

I will do it all for you. 

I will do it all for you. 

I will do it all for you.

I will do it all for you. 

I will do it all for you. 

I will do it all for you.

I will do it all for you. 

That’s how much Jesus loves you, He says:  I will do it all for you.”

Resting

So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God….so let us do our best to enter that rest.” (Hebrews 4:9-10 – NLT)

From a Biblical perspective the word “resting” is one of the most important words for a follower of Jesus to understand. Because of His death, burial and resurrection, we can now enter into a rest that wasn’t possible before the cross.

Matter of fact, resting  is more than a word, it is a principle.  Grace allows us to enter a rest that enables us to say “it is ok” when things seem to be falling apart all around us.  It is an inner rest that God gives us when we are in the midst of circumstances that we can’t change or fix.

Resting is an act of trust and absolute dependence upon the Lord.  It is trusting that He will lead and guide you during and through a crisis.  It is the act of placing you “in mid-air.”  You have nothing to stand on or hold onto but HIM. 

I have heard many well meaning believers say to someone who was going through the fire, “ God won’t put on you more than you are able to bear.”  That’s not true, God will sometimes allow things to come our way that is more than we can bear.  It may even throw us into a state of despair. We may even feel that God has forsaken us and thrown us under the bus. But we must remember that all of God’s brush strokes on the canvas of our life are necessary to complete us,  His masterpiece.

In 1 Corinthians Paul addresses how to deal with various temptations, specifically the temptation not to trust God. The implication is that when troubles/temptations come our way,  instead of letting them defeat us and send us into despair,  we are to look for the way of escape.  Notice what Paul says in the passage.

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” ( 1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT)

This scripture is not saying that you will be delivered from the problem, but it teaches us that in the problem “he will show you a way out so you can endure.”  The emphasis is not necessarily deliverance from the problem all together, but a way to endure while in the midst of the problem. 

Bottom Line

Resting is about trusting God in the midst of your turmoil.  Do I ever pray for out-right deliverance?  Yes, absolutely.  But I realize that sometimes God’s greater purpose is not a miraculous deliverance but a test to see if I will practice “resting” and trust Him.

Resting is about three things:

1. Can I trust God to see me through this crisis if my circumstances don’t change? Am I willing to take my hands off the situation and wait on God to give me His solution? (The Lord really does have the best solution.) 

 2. Is Christ enough?  At salvation we have been given the life of Christ. We also have  been given the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16 ).  So learn to wait on God, trusting that He can give us “His mind” about the matter and it will be the perfect solution. Maybe the greater miracle is not solving the sitution, but the work He does in your heart.

3. Can I lay down my dreams, desires and plans at Jesus’ feet and learn to rest?  This is the real issue here.  Will I trust Him enough to surrender every aspect of my life to His control and guidance?

God’s intended purpose in teaching us to rest is getting us to the point of surrender and abandonment.  Are we willing to allow the Lord to do anything with us, to us, for us and through us?

I am reminded of an old gospel song written by a singer, song writer Lanny Wolfe over 40 years ago entitled “Whatever It Takes”.  I have included a YouTube link below to the Lanny Wolfe Trio singing the song. I know it’s an old style of music, not the comtemporay style of today,  but listen closely to the words of the song. If you are passionate about your walk with the Lord, I believe this song will bless you.  I like to think that the words of this song is the prayer for my life.  

https://youtu.be/4Ev6r61_GA4

 

The Essence of Our Faith

When we become a committed follower of Jesus we enter into a realm of faith that is unique to every other religion.  Its uniqueness is expressed in its essence.  Essence is defined by Websters as “the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something”.

I love the Bible and believe it to be a living book that is the inspired, infallible and inerrant Word of God.  By reading and heeding its instruction it gives me guidance, comfort, gems of wisdom and a worldview to live by.  But as important as the Scriptures are to my daily life it is not the essence of my faith. 

Prayer is something I practice daily.  Sometimes I set aside a block of time to pray and sometimes I pray a lot of little prayers during my daily routine. Prayer keeps me connected to my Heavenly Father. I pray to understand the will of God for my life.  I sometimes pray for healing, for wisdom, discernment and even for a miracle.  Prayer is a vital element in my daily communication with Heaven.  As important as prayer is to my life, it is not the essence of my faith.

I love to fellowship with my Christian brothers and sisters.  In a way, it’s like having a foretaste of  Heaven.  We are on the same page, we enjoy the same Lord and we base and plan our lives on Kingdom principles.  As much as we enjoy going to church and good Christian fellowship, it’s not the essence of my faith.

The Risen Savior is the essence of our faith

The unique aspect of our faith is the risen Christ.  Jesus’ virgin birth, his sinless life and his sacrificial death on the cross mean little without his bodily resurrection.  Rising from the dead was the divine trump card. In that one act, Jesus became victor over death, hell, and the grave. The resurrection gives “indispensable quality” to our faith.  No other religion can claim their teacher and leader rose from the dead.

The resurrection gives authority and validity to the Bible.  The Scriptures predicted that a Savior would be born and he would be rejected by those He came to save. The Scriptures record that He would be falsely accused and murdered. Then he would rise from the dead three days later.  All this happened just at the Scriptures recorded centuries earlier. 

Because Jesus taught us the value of prayer and how to pray, we can now “come boldly to the throne room of heaven”.( Hebrews 4:16 )  Prayer takes on a new power and meaning.  The resurrection enabled the Holy Spirit to indwell every believer.  We now have divine guidance who teaches us how to pray, illumines the Scripture and then convicts us of our sin so that we can maintain continual fellowship with our Heavenly Father.

The resurrection gives us a new identity and a new power.  Jeremiah wrote about this “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. (Jeremiah 31 NLT)  Because of the resurrection, we can now be indwelt by the risen savior. Jesus prayed just before he was taken up to heaven.  

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.”(John 17:20-21)

Because of the risen Savior we now have oneness with Christ.  The moment we are born again we are placed into Christ and Christ is placed into us.  That means wherever we go Christ goes with us. But it also means wherever Christ is (at the right hand of the Father) we are also.

“Even  when we were dead in our transgressions,  (God) made us alive together with Christ ( By grace you have been saved),  we are raised up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”  (Ephesians 2:5-6 NAS)

Bottom Line

The essence of our faith is the resurrection. The resurrection gives the Scripture further credibility, it gives prayer its power, and it creates oneness with other believers.  Our faith is more than just a religious creed and a social gathering. Our faith is a relationship that was made possible because of the risen Jesus. He became victor over death, sin, hell and the grave. His resurrection gave us an identity that has a connection to an eternal, heavenly home.  

The resurrection is not just an Easter Holiday, it is the very essence of our faith.  Take time today to rejoice in your salvation made possible by the Cross and sealed by the resurrection. Because He lives we can now live.