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Psalm 23

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2010-03-31 (pm) Prayer Day Service Psalm 23

            Has anyone ever asked you, “Why have a prayer service?”  The reason we have prayer services is because the Lord is our Shepherd.  He leads us through the wilderness, he calls living water forth from the rock, he provides us with a feast, he keeps us safe.  This evening, we’re going to look at who God is and what he does, God’s provision throughout life, and God’s promise of a glorious future.

Who God is and what he does:

          When King David wrote the first line, the sense of it is this: because God is our shepherd, we shall not be in want.  God is a good shepherd.  Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.”  God provides for his people.  God is the perfect provider.  He gives us exactly what we need.

          We have gathered tonight to confess this reality.  Because God is a good shepherd he provides.  We come tonight to acknowledge that God is our source for every good thing.  We live in a very self-sufficient part of the world.  We have great technology for planting and fertilising our crops.  We have GPS guided tractors.  We have excellent equipment and gifted mechanics to keep that equipment running.

          But when you stop and think about it, apart from putting the seed in the ground and spreading the fertiliser on it, how much do we actually do?  We stick it in the ground and then a few months later, we harvest it.  Between planting and harvesting, it is all God’s work.

          Especially here, where so few farmers irrigate.  God sends the rain.  God sends the sun.    God determines whether or not there will be hail or other severe weather. God determines whether or not there will be grasshoppers or other pests.

          So, in farming, there’s quite a bit of trust isn’t there?  And, consider Jesus’ parable of the seed.  “‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.’”

          This is a bit humiliating, isn’t it?  Whether asleep or awake, the seed does what the seed is supposed to do, with no input by the farmer.  Furthermore, the farmer has no idea how it happens, it just does, I mean, how does the seed know which way is up?  All by itself, the grain grows, stalk, head, kernel.  When it’s ready, the farmer finishes it off.

          Now, this is true not just of farming.  If other occupations seem to have more control, it is just an illusion.  If you stop and consider all the different factors that go into all our jobs, there are simply too many variables to believe that we actually have any control whatsoever.

          What all this reveals is that God is fully in control.  He leads us to the place of good things.  Sometimes that leading leads through difficult times.  Sometimes we aren’t showered with blessings, in the physical sense.  Sometimes, as farmers will attest, the there are poor harvests, there are pests, there is hail, storms, drought, too much rain, not enough heat.

          And yet, when we seek our satisfaction in the shepherd, we find that he has already given us everything we need—himself.  Being with God, having fellowship with him is like resting in the most lush, soft grass, like what you find around a putting green at a very expensive and well maintained golf course.  In Christ, we find the living water, which nourishes and restores our soul.

          Looking to the Shepherd, we discover that following results in an abundant life.  A life full of joy and enjoyment, satisfaction despite the toughest of times.  With our eyes on Christ, we discover that his way is the best way.  That, he is leading us down the paths of righteousness.  It isn’t so much that we need to do this and avoid that, but rather, steeped in the living Word, imbibing from it daily, we become filled with Christ’s righteousness.  We seek then, not ourselves, but Christ.  We live for his Glory.  Indeed, he is at work in us, not only out of love, but so that his name would be praised, he ordains praise from everyone, even sinners!

God’s provision throughout life

          Verse 4 is blunt, isn’t it?  There’s no health and wealth gospel here.  There’s no sense of, “Become a Christian and your life will be smooth sailing!  What, you have problems?  You just need to have more faith!  Follow my patented 12 step program to becoming a person of deeper faith!  Just pray this short prayer and the blessings will come in.  Call now and you’ll receive my special holy holistic spring water.  One sip, and you won’t recognise yourself!  It’s yours absolutely free, please just “donate” 29.95 to cover shipping.”

          David was no huckster.  He was the Lord’s anointed.  He was Israel’s king.  But he would not take the throne unless God killed Saul.  He would not lay his hand against the Lord’s anointed.  David walked through and lived in the valley of the shadow of death.  His life was no picnic.  Twice Saul threw his spear at him.  Several times he sent his armed guard to capture David and kill him.

          And yet, David did not fear because he knew that the Lord was with him.  He did not fear evil, because he himself sought righteousness.  If he had been wallowing in sin, he might have had reason to fear.  But David was fighting against sin.  He was seeking to honour God.  And so he did not fear God.  Nor did he fear the evil which attacked him.  For he knew God’s plan for his life, and he trusted in God.

          Though we may not have spears flying about us, though we might not have armies coming after us, we do know that Satan prowls around like a roaring lion.  He seeks those whom he can devour.  He tries to chip away at our faith, our trust, our confidence in God.  He makes us doubt God’s care and concern for our lives.  He tries to turn our attitudes to dislike of God’s leading.

          For God does lead us.  He uses his shepherd’s rod and staff to correct us.  So let us ignore Satan’s work, and trust in God, as David did.  Let us be comforted, even in the midst of difficulties in life, trusting in God’s great provision.  Trusting that even when we cannot see the purpose of that which we’re experiencing, God knows.  God makes it good.  He took on the suffering of the world, the wrath of God toward sin, so that we might have life in this life, even, and live it to the full.

God’s promise of a glorious future

          God does that by preparing a table before us.  He has prepared a feast for us.  The supper of remembrance of our Lord Jesus’ death.  Though just a bit of bread, and a bit of wine, spiritually, it is a feast!  Satan prowls around, the world mocks and disdains, but Christ nourishes us, and gives us great strength.

          I love the imagery here.  I can just picture David surrounded on all sides by Saul’s army.  But he and his men are hidden.  But they’re not down and out.  They’re hidden and their happy.  They’re filled with God’s joy.  They are feasting on the Lord.  They are well satisfied.

          God pours out his goodness on us, his people.  We are overflowing with goodness.  All we have to do is open our eyes to see it!  David wasn’t sitting in the palace when he thought about these things!  David was probably camped in En Gedi, on the western shore of the Dead Sea.  He was surrounded by Saul’s army.  But David understood that his happiness, his contentment didn’t come from the circumstances he was in, they came from God’s mighty hand.

          Let us recognise the eternal gift we’ve been given in Christ.  We have everlasting life already.  We have a glorious future, that has already begun for us.  We have every satisfying need met in Christ.  Let us not get overwhelmed by the stress of life, though it can get overwhelming!  Take time, rest, focus on Christ, contemplate his suffering, his death, his resurrection.  Know that you are with him already, even now, seated with him in heaven.  Who can touch you?  Who can rob you of that?  No one!  The circumstances we see right now are not the ultimate reality.  There is a spiritual reality that says, goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life.

          When we least expect it, when life has put up roadblocks, when we feel farthest away from God.  God breaks in.  God pours out his goodness, God lavishes his loving kindness.  He does this through friends and family, through a card, through a kind word, through a promise kept.

          And yet, for so many people on this earth, for so many Christians, this life tries to make them bitter and frustrated.  They starve, they suffer, they mourn.  And still there is God’s grace within them, promising them of something better.

          Joni Eareckson Tada talked about her suffering at a Desiring God conference a few years back.  She says being a quadripelegic is so hard.  It is hard to depend on others.  It is hard to suffer, to cry and not be able to wipe the tear away, so it lingers there, making your face itchy, blotchy and there’s nothing you can do.

          But she longs for the day when Christ will come.  And, she says, ironically, on the day when my body is restored and I’ll actually have the ability to brush my tears away, I won’t have to, because Jesus will wipe them for me.

          Congregation, beloved in Christ Jesus, as we go to prayer, as we go to Good Friday, as we go through life, think about the good shepherd.  Think about the seasons of life, planting, growing, harvesting.  Think about who God is and what he does, God’s provision throughout life, and God’s promise of a glorious future.  Be encouraged in the faith.  Amen.

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