A passage that the Lord has been speaking to me through a lot lately is Psalm 23, so I thought I would share some thoughts about it.
To be honest, life isn’t always easy, is it? Belonging to Jesus as Saviour and Lord is incredible. But it isn’t always easy. And, in my experience, serving in full-time ministry doesn’t exactly make it easier! Especially when it’s full-time ministry for unreached people groups. And, whether you’re in ministry or not, to be honest, the promise for God’s children who belong to Jesus in this crazy world is, well, suffering. So this has been my question: What help is there for those of who believe in Jesus and follow Him, not just for eternity but for the journey until we get to Glory?
God showed me Psalm 23. And it’s so, so encouraging!
‘The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.’ Ps 23
It’s a psalm about provision; about bounty; about God helping His children through Jesus as their Shepherd through every single season of life; about His tender care over us; His constant presence; His watchful provision. It’s not just a promise about the final destination; it’s provision for the journey of life.
The Lord is my Shepherd. He takes care of me as His sheep. Sheep are vulnerable; fragile; often silly. They don’t often make the best decisions! But they are watched over so wisely; so tenderly; so carefully by their faithful, constant shepherd.
‘I shall not want.’ (Ps 23:1b) Now that’s a promise! I will always, always have what I need. Ok, so not always what I would like. But I’ll always have enough. And I see it, looking back. Not just enough, actually, but an abundance. Not just of food, clothing etc, but of the things I didn’t even know I needed: wise counsel when I was confused… friends to help me out… the perfect book or sermon for the issue I was struggling with… the right place to live in… people to speak things into my life that I’d never have seen myself… and so, so much more. An abundance.
And He provides for the journey. Seasons. Green pastures. Still waters. Restoration of my soul. Rest. The Christian life is a journey, and it involves seasons. Rebuilding times. Refreshment. Happy times as well as hard ones. Strengthening times when we are exhausted. I look back and see that, too. And I see a pattern: times when God stretched me; when He was doing deep, painful things. And times when He gave me rest, to rebuild me. Or times when I was being stretched on one level and resting on another. And blessing. Happy holidays with friends. Times when He ministered deeply to my hurting heart. Restoration and rest. And in ways that only He would have even known I needed. Like once when I was pretty low, and exhausted, and a friend suddenly gave me a ticket to Spain for a week! Abundant provision from an abundant God. Provision for the journey.
‘He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.’ (Ps 23:3b) Leading. Guidance. A promise that, if we will look to Him, He will lead us in the best way; in His plan; in the way He would have us go; in the way of ultimate blessing and victory and eternal fruit.
And He is with me in the valley. Close. Tender. Present. Comforting. There is no fear when He is that close. I have known it. Maybe you have, too. It’s such compensation for the pain when you feel Him that close. It’s worth everything. It makes the hard times somehow sweeter than the easier ones… because of Him.
A table in the presence of my enemies. Abundant provision. And, yes, I have enemies. Not so much human ones as spiritual ones. They warned me when I joined Gospel for Asia: you’ll have a target on your back for spiritual attack. And, over seven years later, I have felt again and again that I do! All of our team do. All believers face spiritual attack, actually. But this is true, too: in the presence of my enemies, there is a table of abundant provision. I have seen it again and again. And it’s not just a half-hearted table. It’s abundant. Incredible, amazing things He loves to do for us. Wonderful times with friends. Soaking times in His presence when He comes so close. Healing up of our hearts. Teaching that is so alive it seems to be directly from His heart to us. Provision of things we’d never dream of ourselves (and, yes, I really have been given, among other things, a piano, a car and more than one phone in answer to prayer!).
‘You anoint my head with oil’. (Ps 23:5b) He pours out oil over my head. That makes me think of the oil of His Spirit; His presence. And there is nothing better; nothing more wonderful than knowing Him; than encountering the Spirit of the Lord. And it’s not just His presence; His Spirit gives us power for the journey; strength for the journey; anointing for the journey, to be powerfully used by Him.
‘My cup runs over.’ It’s a powerful picture; an overflowing cup. Not just enough, but abundance. Abundance for our thirst. When the missionary Hudson Taylor lost his wife, he came to realise that the Lord will always satisfy our thirsty hearts if we drink from Him. He said it like this:
‘Then it was I understood why the Lord had made that passage so real to me, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” Twenty times a day, perhaps, as I felt the heart-thirst coming back, I cried to Him,
“Lord, you promised! You promised me that I should never thirst.”
And whether I called by day or night, how quickly He came and satisfied my sorrowing heart!’
Howard Taylor, Dr and Mrs. (1989, 20009 edition). Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. ed. Chicago: Moody Classics, Chicago. p. 179-180.
We never need to be thirsty. If we keep drinking from Jesus, our cup will be running over; our thirst will be satisfied from the Fountain of living waters.
‘Surely and goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life’. (Ps 23:6a) That’s hope. Hope when I look into the future, knowing that there will be trials, uncertain of what life will bring. What will follow me down the road? Goodness and mercy. The goodness and mercy of the Lord. I don’t know what will happen, but I can be sure of that.
And at the end? ‘I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’ (Ps 23:6b) Now that’s Hope. With the Lord forever, in His house of abundance and peace and joy… and love.
‘He brought me to the banqueting house,
And his banner over me was love.’ Song of Songs 2:4
Yes, the Christian life is hard. Maybe it will get harder as times get crazier in our crazy world. But that doesn’t change this: there is abundant provision for the journey from our abundant Shepherd.
And that’s an abundant reason for hope… and even to relax in His faithful promises!
If you’re in a tough time right now, look for His provision. If you can’t see it, ask Him. It will be there… and will continue to be there as you follow Him, all the way to His (and our, if we belong to Him) eternal Home.
(To know this hope and abundant provision for yourself, come to Jesus. Receive His free and loving forgiveness for all you have done wrong. Turn from your sin. Surrender to Him as your Lord. Follow Him on the pathway and you will know the most tender, abundant, wonderful Shepherd as yours, too… forever).
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.