Knowing The Shepherd (Parts 1 & 2)
The following is edited from a message given to women at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2006 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina U.S.A.
One of the most familiar and beloved passages in all of Godís Word is Psalm 23. It is a Psalm of David. We donít know exactly what was going on in Davidís life when he wrote this Psalm, but some commentators believe that it may have been written at the time in Davidís life when his son Absalom rebelled and David had to flee from the throne (2 Sam. chapters 15-18).
Maybe you are looking for a place of escape, a place of refuge, a place of relief from problems and pain and stress. This may have been where David was when he wrote Psalm 23, probably in his latter years. As he reflects back on all that God has been to him and all that God has done for him and the journey God has taken him on, he thinks back to the relationship that he had when he was a young boy, as a shepherd with his sheep. He thinks that is a picture of what God has been to him over all of these years.
"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters [or as some of your translations say, ĎHe leads me beside waters of restí]. He restores my soul: He leads me in paths of righteousness for His nameís sake" (Psa. 23:1-3).
Those three verses are important because if you havenít been living there, and havenít been experiencing that kind of intimate fellowship and communion with the Shepherd Ė being led by Him, letting Him lead you to places of rest, to green pastures, getting to know Him, getting to know His heart Ė then when you get to the situation described in verse 4, you are going to be in trouble: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death [or as some translations say, Ďthe valley of deep darkness,í] I will fear no evil, for You are with meÖ."
If you have not been experiencing His presence in an intimate relationship with Him before you get to the "valley of deep darkness," it is going to be hard to trust Him when you canít see to take the next step. But if you have been walking with Him, and have been experiencing that intimacy with Him, then when the lights go out, then when the storm comes, then when you find yourself in that valley of deep darkness, you will know your Shepherdís voice. You will know His heart; you will trust that He is there even when you canít see Him.
I have come to believe that if we can grasp and believe what is in the six verses of Psalm 23, it would radically alter our lives. If we could get it internalized and personalized and live in the hope and the confidence of what we have read here, we would have peace and joy and confidence and faith and courage in the midst of stress. Even when our eyes are filled with tears, they would be lifted up and we could sing a song of the Shepherd.
"The Lord Is My Shepherd"
Let us look closely at verse 1: "The Lord is my Shepherd." Yahweh. The Jews were in awe of this name. They didnít even dare to say it out loud. God who is the creator, the origin, the cause of all things, the God who inhabits eternity, the God who rules over heaven and earth, and the God who holds all of the universe in the palm of His hand Ė this awesome, infinite, all-powerful God is my Shepherd. He has a personal, intimate interest in me.
This is a Psalm about Christ, the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:14-15). He is the Chief Shepherd over His Church (1 Pet. 5:4). He is the One who has walked before us in the valley of the shadow of death, and because He went through it and came out on the other side, we too have hope. We donít walk through it alone. He faced every enemy that we read about in this Psalm. He faced Satan in the wilderness. He crushed the head of the tempter; He conquered evil by becoming our sin at the cross. Thatís who our Shepherd is, the Lord Jesus.
Our natural tendency is to look to other people and other things to be our shepherd. We look to others to protect us, to provide for us, to meet our needs Ė a job, a husband, a counselor or therapist, a pastor or spiritual leader, friends, and even ourselves. Arenít we stubborn Ė "I can handle this," like you are a two-year-old saying, "I can do this by myself"? We are prone to be independent, prone to leave the God we love. There is nothing wrong with friends and husbands and pastors and counselors and other people, but they are in need of the Shepherd too. They can mislead us; they can fail us; they can neglect us; they can leave us. If ultimately my trust is in them, I am setting myself up for disillusionment or disappointment. Nothing or no one else less than the Lord will do as my shepherd.
"The Lord is my Shepherd." The Lord is at this moment my Shepherd. He always has been since I became one of His sheep and He always will be, but I take great comfort in remembering that He is right now my Shepherd in this moment, in every moment. Whatever situation you may be in at this moment, He is (present tense) your Shepherd. When you are going through peaceful times of rest, when you are making decisions, choosing your path, which way you should go Ė He is your Shepherd. When you are lying down, when you are walking, He is your Shepherd. When you are in the valley of deep darkness, He is at that moment your Shepherd.
When surrounded by enemies, every day of my life, for all of eternity, He is my Shepherd. We are promised His presence, His provision, His protection, His companionship today, tomorrow, the next day and the next day, and every day through all of eternity. The Lord is the ever-present Shepherd always, in the present tense.
"The Lord is my Shepherd." I am glad He is your Shepherd, but I am glad He is my Shepherd, and that is something I want to take personally. It speaks of a personal relationship that He has with me, a personal care that He takes with my life, of His personal attention to the details of my life. The Lord is your Shepherd. He knows your situation, your needs, the challenges you face, your family, your finances, your health, things about your health that you donít know, your weaknesses, what tomorrow holds and the day after that. And He is attentive to your needs. He has promised to care for you, to provide what you need, to keep you from predators, to protect and discipline you when you need it, to take you to the pastures you need just when you need them Ė if you will let Him. I am convinced that we sometimes donít experience that kind of care and presence and provision because we are saying, "I want to handle this on my own." If I will let Him, He will be my Shepherd in every situation and season in life.
The fact that I follow Him is evidence that I belong to Him, that I hear Him as His sheep. We have to be careful about trying to shepherd ourselves or settling for lesser shepherds other than the Great Shepherd, and we have to be careful about resisting His leading. Many times I have gone to the place where He wanted to lead me, but I was dragging my heels all the way. Then I look back and I see He was so right. He knew where He was leading. It didnít make any sense to me, but He knows what is best for me. He knows what is best for you. Trust Him.
"The Lord is my Shepherd." The implication of that is that we are sheep. Sheep are pretty helpless. They have no sense of direction. They are defenseless and dependent. They are not smart. Sheep need a shepherd. They canít shepherd themselves, and "All we like sheep have gone our own way" (Isa. 53:6). We are foolish. We need a shepherd.
And we have a Shepherd! He is a good Shepherd. He is not just a hired hand. He cares for His sheep. He will not neglect them. He is good in terms of His heart; His motives and intent and moral character are pure toward us. He is also a good Shepherd in terms of His abilities. Heís good at what He does. He has the capability to shepherd our hearts and our lives well. "The Lord is my Shepherd" means that we belong to Him. Therefore, we listen to His voice and follow Him. I am His sheep if He is my Shepherd, and that means that I am His responsibility. He is watching out for me, and it is His job to care for me.
If we could really believe that and let it capture our hearts, how free we would be! How much pressure that would take off of feeling that we need to solve and fix things ourselves and that we have to figure everything out! It is not that God intends for us to just lie down and not use our brains, but if we have the starting place of "The Lord is my Shepherd," He will direct me in the paths that I need.
"I Shall Not Want"
Everything that we see about God in the Scripture has a corresponding response that we ought to make. We need to learn to live our lives in light of who God is, and adjust our lives accordingly. What are the implications of "The Lord is my Shepherd"? What is the appropriate response? Let me suggest two implications and they are found in the next phrase: "I shall not want." I see two angles on that which have been encouraging to my heart.
First of all, because the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want. That means I will always have everything that I need, maybe not everything that I want, maybe not everything that I think I need, but I will always have everything that God knows that I need. A shepherd assumes full responsibility for the care of his sheep. He is committed to meet their needs. It is his job. It is my Shepherdís job to meet my needs and He has promised that He will. Jehovah is my Shepherd. He is the possessor of heaven and earth. Do you think that the possessor of all things has enough resources to meet my needs? Does He have enough to meet yours? Of course He does, with abundance left over. If you have Him, you lack nothing. Every area, every detail of your life is under His control and direction.
I like the certainty that I sense in this Psalm. "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want," and there is no doubt about it. I shall not want now, and I shall not want ever. Everything that I ever need He has promised to meet. Maybe you fear about the future. We all do at times. What is going to happen down the road, around the bend, around the corner, in a few years, later in life? You have fears about old age, how you will be cared for. What if my husband fails or leaves me? What if my retirement funds run out? I will have everything that I need because the Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.
I think about Elijah and how the ravens fed him and when that situation changed, God sent him to a widow, a poverty-stricken widow, to feed him. What an unlikely source of provision, but God can do that. If God needs to send ravens to feed you when your retirement funds run out, God can do that! We have all seen this happen in our own lives and with others. We need to remind ourselves, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not [be in] want." I will have everything that I need.
Contentment with What He Provides
Then there is a second implication that I see. Because "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want," not only will I have everything I need because He has promised to provide, but because He is my Shepherd, I will choose to be content with what He provides. If you have everything that you need, according to Godís definition, then there is no room for anxiety, for fear, for worry, for complaining, for discontent. How can I respond with worry and fear and anxiety or anger or depression if I really believe in my heart that I have everything that I need because He is my Shepherd? The Psalmist is saying, "I will choose to be content with what I have, knowing that He is my Shepherd, and He will provide all that I need as long as I am following Him."
"I shall not want" is a statement of faith. Itís a statement of faith when you canít see the Shepherd. That requires faith. The times that we can see the Shepherd we donít need faith. But in times that we canít see, the Psalmist still says, "The Lord is my Shepherd, [by faith I know] I shall not want." When we canít see His hand, we trust the Shepherdís heart.
I want to challenge you, whatever season of life you may be in today or next week or next month or next year, or anytime between here and eternity Ė counsel your heart with this truth. Say it to yourself; say it out loud: "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." We need to remind each other, and we need to counsel our own hearts according to this truth. I am safe; I am secure; all my needs are met in Him; all my needs will be met by Him; He will direct me; He will protect me; He has promised to provide; He is able to provide. He has never failed to provide for me or for anyone else. I often remind myself that God has been faithful all of these years.
You may be thinking, "But Nancy, my needs arenít met. We canít pay our bills. And what about Christians in non-Western or war-torn countries? Can they say, "I shall not want"? What about the Apostle Paul in prison, under the worst of circumstances, could he say, "I shall not want"? In Philippians chapter 4, Paul is writing from a jail cell Ė not a comfortable, convenient one, but a God-filled one, sitting there with his Shepherd, with His presence there, and he says, "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (vv. 11-13), and in verses 18 and 19 he says, "I have received full payment, and more. I am well suppliedÖand my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
Is there any limit to those riches? Is there any limit to that glory? No. And out of that abundance, Paul said something like this: "God has met my needs. I have all that I need and more, and my God shall supply all of your needs." Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that if we have Christ we are rich. We may need to learn, as Paul did, contentment with less, contentment with what we have.
At times we may need to ask, "Am I in this position because I didnít follow my Shepherd? Did I go off on my own?" If we are not following Him, we canít expect His provision, His protection, and His presence. Remember in those times when it seems that He has not provided, He can see what is ahead that you canít see, and He knows what He is going to do to deliver you in your time of need.
We read in 1 Kings 17 that there was a famine in the land and the prophet Elijah was sent by God to the brook to get water when there was very little water in the land, and there is where God sent ravens to feed him. Verse 7 says, "And after a while the brook dried upÖ." Has your brook dried up? You say, "There is nothing in the bank, there is nothing to draw from; I have no strength left; I have no resources left." Elijahís brook dried up, and God is the one who let it dry up. So what does Elijah do? Panic? We donít know. But we do know that God knew what He intended to do next. The very next verse says: "Then the word of the Lord came to [Elijah]: Go at once to ZarephathÖI have commanded a widow there to feed you."
God didnít show him the next thing until the brook dried up. You say, "I am waiting for the word of the Lord to show me the next thing!" Maybe your brook is not all the way dried up yet. God knows when it is dry enough, when your trust is really in Him, and then the word of the Lord will come and show you what to do next. God knows. "No good thing will He withhold from those whose walk is upright" (Psa. 84:11).
Green Pastures and Still Waters
"He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters" [or some of your translations say, "He leads me beside waters of rest"] (v. 2). I think of David who said, "O that I had wings like a bird! Then would I fly away and be at rest. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest" (Psa. 55:6-8).
We find ourselves caught up in tornadoes of activity, frantic busyness, desperately needing these green pastures. We need to quiet our hearts at these waters of rest, still waters. When our heart is rested and refreshed, then the rest of our being will be rested and refreshed. The problem is that sometimes we focus on getting our body rested and refreshed, but our heart isnít rested and refreshed, and weíre still in turmoil. God talks about sanctifying us body, soul and spirit (1 Thes. 5:23), all parts of us. This is rest and refreshment.
Before sheep can be productive and can provide wool and meat, they have to be healthy and mature and well developed. In our Christian lives we tend to put productivity first and to just ignore our spiritual health. But an unhealthy, immature soul cannot be truly productive, and God measures productivity. We hear, "The Lord is my Shepherd, and He gives me lots to doÖ." That is not the mindset we see in Psalm 23. First, "The Lord is my ShepherdÖ. He makes me lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside the still waters." Why? So we can get food and drink Ė refreshment Ė before we go out and try to be productive.
Some of you have been nursing moms at one time or another. A nursing mother has to be well nourished herself before she can provide quality nourishment for her thirsty baby. She is going to give out what is put into her. Many of us, in trying to minister to and disciple others, are feeding them that frantic, frazzled, frustrated stuff we are living on, and trying to nourish others when our own hearts are not nourished. Some of us are spiritually malnourished. We try to meet everyone elseís needs, try to provide nourishment to others, try to be productive, but weíre falling apart ourselves. We have nothing to offer. The people today, even within the Church sad to say, seem to be impressed with busyness Ė how many activities youíre involved in; how much you get done. In our 21st century world it sounds somewhat lazy and unproductive to talk about lying down in green pastures.
Hurry is the enemy of spiritual intimacy. As you read the Gospels, you see the pattern of Jesusí life. One of the things that strikes me is that Jesus never seemed to be in a hurry. It is not that He wasnít busy, but Jesus doesnít seem stressed by it. We do not read of Him running. Iím not saying He didnít, but God didnít think it important enough if He did, to put it into Scripture. You do read about Him walking; you read about Him sitting at the well in the middle of the day. You read about Jesus reclining at meals.
You read about Him sleeping in the boat when a storm is going on and everybody is in a dither. It is not the way we naturally function. Could we have been in that storm sleeping? Even if we werenít afraid of the storm, we would be thinking, "What are we going to do? Weíre in charge! We have to be in control. We have to find a way to fix it. We have to find a way to settle the storm! We have to settle the people who are afraid of the storm!" But you donít find that out-of-control, frantic Jesus.
Hurry is not conducive to godliness or to relationships or to spiritual growth. It is not conducive to mothering, or to being a good wife. It is not conducive to being fruitful in our church or to discipleship. With your children, you canít just schedule discipleship time. If weíre living a hurried life, weíll miss some of the most important, valuable, precious opportunities to pour into the lives of children and others. Often weíre running late Ė no margin, no time. We miss the woman with the issue of blood who comes pressing through the crowd, wanting life and health because we are on our way to Jairusís house. But Jesus was able to stop and to be attentive to minister to people. He was not on the run (Luke 8:41-48). Godliness and intimacy are not cultivated on the run. They require time and meditation and focused attention. There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. There is an old hymn that we donít sing much anymore, because we donít understand its lifestyle: "Take time to be holy, the world rushes on; spend much time in secret with Jesus aloneÖ."
Sheep donít know that they need to rest nor when they need to rest, and often thatís the way we are. Thatís why they need a shepherd, and thatís why we need a shepherd. We have a Shepherd who makes us lie down in green pastures. Iím learning that if I wonít let Him lead me there, sometimes He will make me lie down in green pastures. He has ways of stopping us and of getting our attention. He says and does things in our heart that come out of His having to make us lie down in green pastures.
Jesusí disciples had to learn this. Jesus first selected the twelve. Mark 3:13-14 tells us He chose them first, that they might be with Him, and then that He might send them out to minister to others. Thatís not the way we do it in most of our churches. We get people saved, baptized, and teaching a Sunday school class right away, many times before theyíve been grounded, before they have been with Jesus. Every time we go out to minister, we need to be spending time first with Jesus, filling up on Him before heading into the day to minister Ė whether to our children, or at our workplace, or at our ministry environment. First, be with Him, just with Him. It doesnít sound very productive as we measure productivity. Nobody else might be impressed with what weíre doing with that time.
Minister from a Full Heart
God is showing me that if I do not have fullness of heart before I give out to others, I do not have a ministry. I may have an organization, but I donít have a ministry. Others may be impressed for a while, but if I donít get replenished and get with Him, then Iím just filling their notebooks but not their hearts. Itís Christ who gives life. Itís Christ who is the Living Water and the Bread of Heaven. I have to be with Him, be filled with Him so that I have something to give to others. After weíve poured into othersí lives, we come back to Him to become replenished.
Mark 6:30-31 tells us that the disciples returned to Jesus after an active ministry trip and reported to Jesus all they had done and taught and He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat." They had poured into other lives, and now they needed to get refilled and replenished. It is in those quiet times and quiet places with the Lord that we get replenished so we are able to go back out and face the needy crowds again. And we need it again and again.
Palestine is an arid, barren, desert land. David would have been familiar with it as a shepherd himself, and he knew sheep and their needs. It was not easy to find green pastures and still waters, but a good shepherd knew how to find them. The shepherd knew where to take his sheep at different times of the year, at different times of the day, to find what they would need. Arenít you glad that we have a Shepherd who knows how to find those places for us? You may have five children, homeschooling, hectic schedule, busy season of life; your husband may be involved in a ministry start-up, or in a workplace that demands work and ministry combined, and it is hard to find waters of rest in this season of life. That is why we have to follow the Shepherd. Weíve always got to stay close to Him. He is the One who will lead us to those places. He makes me lie down beside still waters. Some of us donít have a clue what that means.
Moms, lie down. You need to be still in your heart. You can get a quiet heart even while youíre doing some other things. As a mom, it may be when youíre nursing that baby in the night hours. It may be while you are doing some household responsibilities. Maybe your hands are active but your heart is still, getting quiet before the Lord. The pace of the average person today is doing everything on the run. You canít get the needed rest or refreshing on the run or from an occasional few minutes snatched here and there.
"Be still and know that I am God" (Psa. 46:10). It takes time to get replenished and refreshed and restored, time to get fed and refueled. Some of us wait until we have had a breakdown. Donít wait until youíve gone into this hyper stressed mode. "He makes me lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside waters of rest." This should be a way of living. Itís not all there is to this life, but it is a crucial part of life.
God has made us to have a day of rest. For you it may not be Sunday, but find a day when you can shut down from normal routine. Come to the Lord and His Word with a quiet heart so you can hear the Lord. We live in a world of constant distraction, constant interruptions. You need time in your life when you turn off all your electronics Ė your radio, TV, CD player, etc. We can be addicted to such things. Take short breaks within the course of the day to get quiet and to be replenished. We canít be cramming every waking moment with activity and conversation. We need time for reflection, time to think, time to be with the Lord and listen to Him. We have to examine our schedules and our lifestyles.
You wives and moms need to do this for your family. Some families who love and serve the Lord are running around with ball games and practices and plays and piano lessons, etc. These are good things, but what are you teaching your children? Do they really need all of that? Are you getting them hooked on a rushed, hurried lifestyle, that first, doesnít allow them to be children, and second, that teaches them to be adults who never learn how to be still? You say, "I canít get a quiet time because I have children." When your children are young, they can be taught to be still, to read or play quietly in their room when mom spends time with the Lord. It may mean making some tough choices. If we donít, we end up a frazzled and frantic and frustrated Martha.
You have to be intentional about getting to those green pastures and those places of quiet rest. Iím not talking about being lazy or about shirking responsibility. Iím not talking about making it an easy, comfortable and convenient life for yourself. Weíre called to be diligent, to be soldiers, and warriors. But I am talking about ordering your life around the Lord, putting first things first. Get your soul nourished and fit so you can be ready for the battle. The Lord brings me over and over again to Matthew 11:28-30: "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest unto your souls, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Thatís what we experience when weíre following the Shepherd.
"He Restores My Soul"
We need this over and over again. A paraphrase of this verse is, "He revives my drooping head." The word "restores" used in the Old Testament Hebrew many times means to turn around, to turn back, to return, to refresh, to revive. The basic meaning of this word is a movement back to the place of departure. He brings me back to where I left that intimacy I had with the Shepherd. "He restoresÖ" means that we need to humble ourselves enough to say, "Lord, I need for my soul to be restored."
The shepherd knew that when his sheep were hungry or tired, he would need as a shepherd to find refreshing for them Ė food and water and a place to rest. He knew that sometimes they needed to be restored in a different sense. When they had strayed off from the flock, they needed to be brought back to the place of departure. We need to be restored in those two different senses: first, when we are weak and fainting, and second, when we are wayward and failing.
Think about when we are weak and fainting. There are two things that cause us to be weak and fainting. First, when we have been pouring ourselves out on behalf of others we get depleted, and we need to get our reserves replenished. God uses His Word to restore our souls. "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul" (Psa. 19:7). Secondly, when we have suffered, and been through difficult times we need to be restored. In 1 Peter 5:10 we read, "After you have suffered a little whileÖ" Ė it may seem like a long while, but in the light of eternity it is just a little while Ė "the God of all grace who has called us unto His eternal glory in Christ will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you."
Think also about when we are wayward and failing when we have sinned or strayed or stumbled, as sheep have a tendency to wander away from the flock and get lost. When a sheep would get lost and darkness would fall on the land, that little lamb would be an easy prey for the wild animals or he might fall off a cliff. When the shepherd would discover that one of the lambs was missing, he would go out and look for that sheep. When he found it, he would put it on his shoulders and carry it back to the flock. "He restores my soul."
David understood this. He had that experience with Bathsheba, when he had been wayward and shamefully sinful and he prayed in Psalm 51:12: "O Lord, restore to me the joy of Your salvation." If we had to live with the guilt and the shame of our failures, we would always be drooping and fainting. But He restores and forgives when we come in brokenness and repentance before Him. He restores our soul to usefulness and fruitfulness. He restores to us the joy of our salvation. You may have sinned willfully or overtly, or you may have left your first love, wandered off, drawn by other things. You need to be restored. Arenít you glad that God pursues, that He goes looking for us when we need to be restored? There is no hopeless situation; it is not too late.
We know that He uses chastening to restore us to a place of obedience. He uses His Word and His Spirit; He also uses disappointment. I am thankful He can and does fully restore the years that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25). We all need that, not just once or periodically, but regularly. "Times of refreshingÖcome from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19). We need refreshing. Get to Him! "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden..." (Matt. 11:28). That is not necessarily vacations, music, entertainment, medication, therapy, etc. You can do all those things and still have soul weariness. It is not just the external that needs to be restored, but the innermost part of our heart. Only the presence of Christ can restore. Restoration is found in a Person, the Shepherd of our souls. And then He helps us to go on.
"He Leads Me in Paths of Righteousness"
"He leads me in paths of righteousness [right paths] for His nameís sake" (v. 3). Left to ourselves, we will end up on wrong paths. We will get lost. We need His guidance. He leads us by His Word. It is "a lamp unto [our] feet, and a light unto [our] path" (Psa. 119:105). We have the Spirit of God living within us to lead us, to guide us in the ways of God.
Verse 3 says He will lead us "in right paths," that is, paths He knows are right. They arenít always the paths that seem right to us or paths that we would choose. Who would choose cancer or bankruptcy or to get fired from your church position, or to have a wayward son or daughter? It is not that God delights in making life difficult for us, but He knows what it is going to take to make us to come forth as gold, to make us like Jesus. The paths of righteousness are right paths.
They can be hard paths, paths that may lead us into the furnace, like they did those three Hebrew young men (Daniel chapter 3). His paths may lead us into the desert as God led the Old Testament Jews into the wilderness when they came out of Egypt, and as He led His own Son into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil for forty days. Who led Jesus there? The Spirit of God (Luke 4:1). But it was a right path. He may lead us into the valley of deep darkness Ė "the valley of the shadow of death" (Psa. 23:4). But if He leads us there, it will be for us a right path. When it is hard, and when we canít see our hand in front of our face because of the darkness, know that if He has led us there, He will walk us through it. If He leads us there, it is a right path, fulfilling His eternal purposes.
And what is the purpose? He leads me in right paths "for His nameís sake," for the glory of His name. We have to come to the point that we care more about His sake and His name than our own. "Lord, if it pleases You, it pleases me. If this is for Your glory and for Your nameís sake, then it is what I choose."
We exist for God; He doesnít exist to serve us. Our reason for living is to bring glory to His name, not to get Him to meet our needs or to get Him to do what we want Him to do. Scripture says all things are of Him and from Him and for Him and to Him (Rom. 11:36; Col. 1:16). All things, even your problems Ė are for His nameís sake. What if God would be more glorified by my life having hard places but in the midst of those hard places, people see that I trust my Lord? This glorifies God and other people are drawn to the Shepherd. If that brings God glory, can I say, "Yes, Lord, I will walk in that path; I will let You lead me to that hard place"? Everything in heaven and on earth revolves around Him. He is the sun of our universe, and thatís the perspective we need as we walk in these paths.
The way we live Ė the way we respond to pressure, to heartache, to the fiery furnace, or to the desert, the way we respond to the valley of deep darkness Ė is always proclaiming what we believe about God. John Wesley said, "Our job is to give the world a right opinion of God."
We know in our heart that He is an incredible Lord and lover and leader and God, so in the hard times, how can we proclaim Him to be the great Shepherd that He is? His reputation is at stake. The way we respond reflects on Him. Let Him choose the right path for us. And be careful about comparing the path He chooses for someone else. Some of you are going through paths that most of the rest of us will never experience. Let Him choose the path for you. In heaven we will look back and we will say, "Lord, You did all things well."
Excerpted from Nancy Leigh DeMossí four-part message. Used by permission of Revive Our Hearts, P.O. Box 2000, Niles, MI 49120. This four-part series is also available on DVD at www.ReviveOurHearts.com. Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.