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?       

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.

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. 

Depth of Our Love

“I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels. (Luke 12:8 NLT)

The above verse is not just about publicly declaring our faith, but its about the depth of our love and commitment. Our love for God must transcend the expression of a vocal witness because it goes beyond mere words.

The depth of our love is measured by the inward response to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. It’s not enough to just have our “elevator speech” ready when someone is inquiring about our faith. We must be willing and ready to speak from the depth of our personal fellowship with the Lord.

It’s is not about knowing Bible facts and memorized witnessing plans. It is about being able to reach into the well of our transformed heart and pour out living water to those we encounter. It’s being transparent to the point that what we share comes from the depths of our spiritual well. Our heart is full and running over because we have been drinking from God’s well and passionately seeking after Him.

Drinking from God’s well helps us deal with the deception about ourselves. That’s the reason searching the scriptures is so important. The Word becomes a two edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), it wounds us, it reveals our weakness and exposes our self-centeredness.

The Lord desires to move us beyond the need to openly declare that we are “just an ole sinner saved by grace”. This declaration sounds spiritual but it can be a barrier that hinders us from allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal the deception about ourselves.

“Confessing me before men” is more than a verbal acknowledgment, it’s evidence that we are letting go of our life in order that Christ’s life may be prevalent. This is God’s intention for His children, that we manifest Christ’s life to the world. This is the element that causes the world to recognize that there is something different about us, something that attracts them to our quality of life.

Bottom Line

How do we make sure that our life is manifesting Christ’s life? Here are three things that may help us toward that goal.

Meditate regularly on the Scripture, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal our sin and our attitude. – I know, its not PC to talk about sin. But that’s the unique aspect of Scripture, it’s ability to expose our sin. Often it’s not the big sins that make us stumble, but those little sins that cause us to grow cold toward the Holy Spirit’s prompting and leadership. The Scripture, properly applied, penetrates our sensitivities and enables us to destroy the barriers that keep us from intimacy with the Father.

Intentional and targeted prayer – This is moving beyond the typical believer’s prayer of “bless me and my family and watch over and protect us today”. It’s prayer that is focused on asking the Lord to reveal our self-centeredness, selfishness, pride, anger, and most of all, our level of unbelief.

Trust God – Trusting God is a faith issue. Do we really believe that God is greater than our situation or dilemma? Do we believe that He can deliver us when we have no way out or no options left?

When we are depressed, can we believe that we can cast our care and depression on Him and He will change our thinking and deliver us from our depression? The answer is a resounding YES!

“Trust in the Lord with your whole heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

If we let God’s Word shape our spiritual character, and we develop a prayer life that seeks to act like a search light on our soul, then we will develop a depth of trust that will carry us through every situation.

 

Seeing God in All Things

Over twenty years ago I had the privilege of spending a couple of weeks in China. While there I was taken by one of the Chinese church leaders to visit several underground house churches. When I began to teach these dear brothers and sisters I felt an overwhelming sense of unworthiness. Just the act of meeting together for a Bible study was risky. For me the risk was minimal. I would merely be taken to the airport and deported if caught by the officials. For them it meant years of jail time and multiple beatings and torture.

While I was visiting various house churches, another group had the privilege of visiting the famous Chinese Pastor Samuel Lamb. Pastor Lamb had been imprisoned for over 20 years and suffered physical and mental abuse. When someone in the group mentioned to him that they were praying for the persecution of the church to stop in China, Pastor Lamb quickly rebuked them and gave his famous quote, “ More persecution more growth of the church.” In other words, the seed of the church is the blood of the saints.

This event, coupled with many other visits to persecuted church countries, has deeply impacted my view of the normal Christian life. Could it be that the Western Church has had it wrong all along? Our view of safety, comfort, persecution free life has produced a powerless church that has little impact on our culture. Over the past 200 years the church has served as the moral conscience of our great country. Now because of lack of spiritual power and influence in the church, the moral decline in our country is moving at warp speed.

A closer look at Scripture

My experience with the persecuted church and observation of the the early church in Scripture has led me to have a very different view of the the Christian life. A trouble free life is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessings. We can all agree that God has blessed us in many ways and one of those elements is our generally trouble free life. However being trouble free could also be because we are not doing much to disturb the kingdom of darkness.

I am not suggesting that we become someone who intentionally stirs up trouble by in-your-face confrontation, but I am merely suggesting that we evaluate our view of trouble and suffering, and how we deal with difficult circumstances.

God has taught me some valuable lessons that I want to pass on to you. Maybe it will change how you view trouble in your life.

God is fully aware of every element of our life. If it’s true that the living Christ indwells every believer, then God is fully aware of every element of our life. He is even aware of those times when our dumb decisions bring us unwelcome consequences. This knowledge of the indwelling Christ reminds me of the truths of Romans 8:28 – “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and called according to his purpose for them.” (NLT)

There are two key elements to this passage of Scripture. One, “God causes all things to work together”. Rather than changing our present circumstances, more often than not, God uses the things that are presently happening in our life to accomplish His plan. Secondly, these things will work together for those “who love God”. Notice that is active tense. Those who are presently, actively loving/serving God and pursuing His purpose will experience things all working out.

See God in everything. Since God is ever present in our life then we should examine every event, disappointment and present challenge as a God moment. We must keep in mind that God is fully aware of our predicament. Instead of trying to escape our circumstances, stop and ask God “what He is up to and what is He saying to us?” Ask, “What do you want me to learn through this situation?” That’s because God is more concerned about your response to the situation than He is about how He’s going to deliver or rescue you from the situation.

Change the way you pray in difficult situations. “ And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Sprit prays for us with groaning that cannot be expressed in words. The Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers.” (Romans 8:26-27 NLT)

Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to pray. That’s the reason the Holy Sprit was given to us to guide and teach us all things. Instead of first praying “Lord deliver me”, pray “Lord show me the greater purpose, help me not to seek deliverance if the greater lesson and glory is for me to endure the course.”

Bottom Line

We must keep in mind that God’s glory and His best for you is the end game, not necessarily deliverance. Remember that suffering and endurance is a spiritual virtue. It may be that God wants to demonstrate His power in deliverance. But it also may be that He wants to show you what He can do in the midst of the storm.

The Joy of the Lord

“The Joy of the Lord is my Strength” (Nehemiah 8:10)

As a committed follower of Christ we enjoy a unique position. The moment we placed our faith in Jesus we became someone we have never been before. Our spiritual heritage changed from a helpless sinner doomed to separation from God, to a child of God with a home in heaven that anxiously awaits our arrival. But that’s not all.

Through Christ, we were given a relationship with the God of the universe that allows us to wade through and survive every challenge the world can throw at us. We were given a strength that is not of this world. This strength is not based on knowledge, wisdom, or even a spiritual formula. It’s not earned by religious ritual or good performance. It is a gift from God that is a by-product of our salvation… it is call “Joy”.

Nehemiah had the right idea. The strength to weather any storm or crisis is based on drawing on the “Joy of the Lord.” In this context, Joy is best described as “Inner peace”. God makes available to every believer an inner peace. But we can only draw on it when we choose to surrender our control to Him. The real question is do we believe that God is in control when things are not going well with us? Do we believe that He can and will work out all our circumstances for His glory and our good?

When we are allowed to encounter impossible situations, it leads us to a frustration with our own self effort to fix it. We then have no place to turn but to God. He wants our first reaction to any difficult situation to be to run to Him. Our heavenly Father wants us to need Him.

That’s what the “joy of the Lord” is about. It is not acting super spiritual on the outside and not letting anyone see you sweat. The “joy of the Lord” is a position and a belief system that says, “no matter what is going on around me, I am trusting God. His foreknowledge and wisdom teaches me that He is in control and it will all work out for my good if I will let go and trust Him.”

The Scripture tells us that we are made complete by the person of Christ within us. “In Him you have been made complete.” (Colossians 2:10) Therefore, all we are, and all we need is found in God within us. Our response to this incredible gift is to rest and trust Him.

Christian recording artist Larnelle Harris has a great song that speaks to subject of trusting God entitled “Strength of the Lord”. Here are the lyrics to the chorus:

It’s not in trying but in trusting
It’s not in running but in resting
Not in wondering but in praying
That we find the strength of the Lord

“But what joy for all who take refuge in him!” Psalm 2:12