Faithlife Sermons

Psalms 23 Part 3

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THE SHEPHERD
A study of the 23rd Psalm
Part 3
He Restores Me
Psalms 23
1 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 names 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.
This time were looking at verse 3 which begins with the encouraging words:
23:3a He restores my soul...
Again, its helpful to remember that Psalm 23 is written from the sheeps perspective. And David considered himself a sheep in Gods pasture! We might ask, Why would David need his soul restored? Why would he write that God is restoring his soul?
This is because David was well acquainted with being cast down in his soul. It was David who wrote, Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted with me?(Ps. 42:11) David knew what it was to fail God, to be cast down by his own weaknesses.
A cast down soul is an exact parallel to the reality of caring for sheep. Only those intimately acquainted with sheep and their habits understand the significance of a castsheep or a cast downsheep. This is an old English shepherds term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself.
A castsheep is a very sad and pathetic sight. It is a sheep that has wandered from the flock and has laid down comfortably is some little hollow or depression in the ground. In the process, it rolls on its side to stretch out or relax.
Suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns on its back far enough that the feet no longer touch the ground. Panic sets in as it starts to paw frantically, unable to right itself back up.
As it lies there struggling, gases begin to build up in its stomach. Soon the blood circulation is cut off from the extremities of the body, especially the legs. If the weather is very hot and sunny a cast sheep can die in a few hours. If it is cool out it may survive for a few days. Either way, a cast sheep is doomed if not rescued.
This is why Jesus stressed the necessity of leaving the ninety and nine to find the one lost sheep. It was with the concern of the lost one becoming cast.
When a shepherd finds a cast sheep, he immediately rolls it over onto its side. This relieves the pressure of gases on the stomach. If she has been there a long time he will lift her onto her feet, rubbing the limbs to restore the circulation to her legs.
Eventually the shepherd would let the sheep walk on its own where it would often stumble and collapse in a heap, unable yet to go it on its own.
But finally she would regain her equilibrium and dash off to join the flock, set free from her fears and frustrations, given another chance to live a little longer.
In light of this, the words he restores my soulbecome much more meaningful. As a pastor, I have watched countless times as one of Gods sheep has wandered away from church, gotten away from fellowship, and wound up in some kind of sin to become cast.
The cast condition for a Christian is very similar to a sheep in that they lie down in some kind of compromising lifestyle where they eventually discover they cant deliver themselves. Soon their condition becomes more serious as they flail away, unable to extract themselves from whatever theyve become involved in. If the shepherd doesnt find them, they will for all intents and purposes die.
Most of us, though we belong to Christ and desire to be under His control and be led by Him, do on occasion find ourselves cast down. We discover that often when were most sure of ourselves we stumble and fall into frustration and futility.
This is why Paul wrote, Wherefore let him that thinks he stands be careful lest he fall(1 Cor. 10:12).
So lets learn some things from the lesson of cast sheep. First, like the sheep, we must be careful about looking for a soft spot, a place of ease in which to lie down.
There is a danger in always looking for the easy place,the place of least hardship, the comfort zone. The Christian life is one where discipline and hardship are required. To always look for the soft spot to lie down in can detour us away from Gods plan.
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Also, there is the fact of the sheep sometimes just having too much wool. Mud, burrs, and other debris can cause the sheeps wool to become matted, weighing him down and making it that much harder to extract himself from a cast condition.
Wool in Scripture depicts the old self-life in the Christian. It is significant that no high priest was ever allowed to wear wool when he entered the Holy of Holies! Wool represents the clinging accumulation of things, of possessions, of worldly ideas and attachments that begin to weigh us down making it harder to follow Christ.
A good shepherd would always shear his sheep once their wool had become too long and thick. In the same way, our Good Shepherd applies the keen cutting edge of His word to shear off of us the unnecessary wool that grows in our lives. He prunes us that we may bear more fruit!
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A third cause of cast sheep is they simply become too fat. Once they lie down in the soft spot, their weight makes it all the more difficult for them to right themselves and get out of their predicament. So the shepherd will put them on a more rigorous ration. He wants the sheep strong, sturdy, and energetic, not fat, flabby and weak.
The application for us Christians is that we can become spiritually fat and flabby. We can have a sense of well-being and self-assurance that is dangerous. Jesus warned the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:17 that considered itself rich and in need of nothingthat they were actually in great danger. Remember, material success is no indicator of spiritual health!
This is why our Good Shepherd will often place us on a spiritual diet of discipline and hardship to knock some of the excess weight off of our souls and firm us up! As the writer of Hebrews said,
My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives(12:5-6).
The toughness of life with all its trials and reversals can only be faced successfully by someone experienced in discipline and hardship. So our Good Shepherd will see to it that his own sheep are fortified in their faith!
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Then the second half of verse 3 reads:
23:3b He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His names sake.
Sheep are notorious creatures of habit. If left to their own ways they will follow the same trails until they become ruts; graze the same hills until they turn to wastelands; pollute their own ground until it is corrupt with disease and parasites.
Hence, no other class of livestock needs more careful handling than sheep. They must be moved along, guided, and prodded to keep going to fresh, new places. There must be a pre-determined plan of action, a deliberate, planned rotation from one grazing ground to another on the part of the shepherd.
The application for the Christian is that we are inclined to do the very same thing as sheep. We are by nature a stubborn bunch. As Isaiah said, All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way(53:6).
There is something very unnerving about the way a human being will push headlong into stubborn self-destruction. Just as sheep will blindly, habitually, and stupidly follow one another along the same little trails until they become ruts that trap them and cause them to stumble, we human beings cling to the same habits that we have seen ruin other lives. Even when we know that the path were pursuing is not good for us, we will press on nevertheless.
The stubborn, self-willed, proud, self-sufficient sheep that persists in pursuing its old paths and grazing on its old polluted ground will end up a bag of bones on ruined land. Look around you at our sick society, insisting on going its own way and forsaking the Good Shepherd. It is self-destructing before our very eyes!
But the good news is that for the Christian, our Good Shepherd keeps us on the move. He leads us in the paths of righteousness.This is why Jesus said, If any man will follow me, let him deny himself daily and take up his cross and follow me(Mark 8:34).
But isnt it true that most of us dont want to do this? And relatively few do? We dont like the Cross. We dont want to die to our own desires. We dont like giving up going our own way. We very much love doing our own thing, having things the way we want them.
But heres the deal. If we dont daily pick up our cross and follow Jesus in a life of discipleship, we will stagnate in our spiritual life and our whole existence will become a frustrating rut.
So as the sheep must follow the prodding of its shepherd in order to enjoy fresh pastures and solid growth, we must do the following things:
I must love Christ more than myself. I must place Him first in my life above my own wants and desires.
I must be willing to walk alone when necessary. Sheep love to be part of the flock. But Jesus pointed out that only a few would find His way acceptable. And to walk with him brings criticism and sarcasm from the worlds crowd. But the true disciple of Jesus will pay this price in order to follow the Good Shepherd.
I must be willing to place others above myself. This is not easy. Both sheep and people are naturally self-assertive. But Paul said, Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves(Romans 12:10). The person who is willing to do this will be freed from the shackles of personal pride, and has gone a long way onto new ground with God.
Instead of choosing my own way I am willing to choose to follow in Christs waysimply to do what He asks me to do. When he says go, I go. When he says, Dont go there,I dont go. When he says, This is best,I accept it. I learn to trust that his way is always best and will always be superior to my own way.
God wants all of us to move on with Him. He wants us to walk with Him. He wants us to be well fed, victorious, and healthy. This is why he restores our soul and leads us in the paths of righteousness for his names sake!
Next week: The valley of the shadow
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