Suggested Preaching Program for
• Sunday Mornings
Continue with the theme “Practical, Probing Questions for Serious Consideration.”
• Sunday Evenings
The Sunday evening messages for this month are based on Psalm 23. These messages should reveal the grace and goodness of God so as to encourage a greater faith, a deeper love, and a more devout life.
• Wednesday Evenings
“The Growing Christian” is an appropriate theme for this series on the need for every disciple’s continuing growth to spiritual maturity.
Wednesday Evening, June 3
Title: Provision for Spiritual Growth
Text: “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:1 – 2).
A false idea held by many is that the child of God is born full grown. They believe that once a person becomes a convert, instantaneously and automatically he becomes a mature Christian. Consequently, mature Christian conduct is expected from those who are in reality mere babes in the family of God. But spiritual birth does not automatically produce spiritual maturity. In the words of our text, Peter speaks to new converts concerning their continuing need to put off and lay aside attitudes and actions that are contradictory to the spirit and teachings of Christ. He affirms that they will be able to put off these harmful attitudes as they grow spiritually.
Many new converts have been greatly distressed by their failure to measure up to what they believe they should be as followers of Jesus Christ. They have mistakenly labored under the impression that once you become a child of God, Christian character and maturity will naturally follow. Some have been terribly distressed to discover that in spite of the fact that they have a new nature within their heart, evil continues to plague them.
As children of God, each of us needs to recognize that spiritual growth is both a responsibility and a continuing opportunity. We also need to face up to our responsibility toward younger Christians, those who are but babes in Christ, and do all that we can to help them in their progress toward spiritual maturity.
All people are creatures of God, but only those who are born again are children of God. If the children of God would become the servants of God, they must grow. Our text speaks of the provisions for our growth. It speaks of our Father, our food, and our future as the children of God.
I. Our Father.
A. We are God’s little ones — babes in Christ. We may be old in sin, but we are young in Christ at the time of our spiritual birth.
B. This text should teach us humility. Ours is the privilege of being the children of the eternal God. John rejoiced in the assurance of sonship: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1 – 2).
C. This text should impart hope to each of us. We are not what we ought to be. Neither are we now what we can be. The heavenly Father has made provisions for our growth. As time passes by, it will be possible for us to resemble both the heavenly Father and our older Brother.
D. This text reveals to us the attitude that we should have toward the heavenly Father.
1. As his children we should love him.
2. As his children we should trust him implicitly.
3. As his children we should obey him.
II. Our food.
A. The Father has made provisions for his children.
1. In the church he has provided for us a family in which to grow toward spiritual maturity and effectiveness.
2. In the Bible he has provided us the milk, the meat, and the bread we need for spiritual energy.
B. The sincere milk of the Word.
1. “Being born again . . . by the word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).
2. Purify your soul by obeying the truth of the Word of God (1 Peter 1:22).
3. The Word of God has the life of God in it (1 Tim. 3:16 – 17; 1 Peter 1:23).
4. The Word of God endures forever (1 Peter 1:25).
C. Desire the sincere milk of the Word. It is a law of nature and also a law in the spiritual realm that shortly after birth the newborn has an appetite for food. The child of God will desire the milk of God’s Word.
1. We must know the truth of God revealed in his Word.
2. We must obey the truth of God learned from a study of his Word. When we study and obey the Word of God, our faith grows, our love deepens, and we gain spiritual strength and vitality.
III. Our future.
Peter reveals the noble destiny that God has planned for his children. It is God’s will that the followers of Christ assume both the privileges and the responsibilities that had been bestowed upon Israel as a nation.
A. You are a chosen generation.
B. You are a royal priesthood.
C. You are a holy nation.
D. You are a people for God’s own possession.
E. You are to show forth the praises of the One who has called you out of darkness into light.
The noble destiny that God has purposed for us reveals the necessity for our growth toward spiritual maturity.
Sunday Morning, June 7
Title: Can I Be Sure That I Am Saved?
Text: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).
Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1 – 12
Hymns: “Praise to God, Immortal Praise,” Barbauld
“I Am Thine, O Lord,” Crosby
“Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine,” Crosby
Offertory Prayer: Heavenly Father, today we thank you for the inward disposition that causes us to want to worship you. We rejoice in the glad consciousness of forgiven sin. We are grateful for the assurance that we are children of your love. Today we bring our tithes and offerings to express our love and gratitude and to proclaim your grace to others. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The hearts of all people hunger for an assurance that both their souls and lives are acceptable to God. As we think of one day meeting our Creator, it is only natural that we desire to have assurance that we will be acceptable to him on that occasion.
Many people sincerely believe that it is impossible to have the assurance in this life that we are acceptable in the sight of God. Such people labor under the impression that the only way to be acceptable to God is to live a life without flaw and full of good works. Scripture, however, tells us that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. It is only by the blood of Jesus Christ that we can be made acceptable in God’s sight.
John stated the reason for writing his first epistle: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (5:13). He addressed his words to disciples of the Lord Jesus, those who were already in possession of the gift of eternal life. Some, however, were not certain that it was faith in the Christ that had brought to them the precious gift of eternal life.
We can conclude from 1 John that it is not presumptuous for the believer to say with humility and gratitude, “I know that I am saved.” God wants his children to know without doubt that they belong to him.
I. Assurance of salvation is essential.
A. The lack of assurance of salvation makes Christian love, joy, and peace impossible (John 14:15; 15:11). The heavenly Father does not want us to serve him out of a fear of the consequences of not serving him. Our Lord encouraged his disciples to respond to his commandments on the basis of love, gratitude, and joy. He who lives in constant fear that he will be shut out of the presence of God in eternity will find it very difficult to love God warmly. The peace that God wants us to have is unknown to him who has no assurance of salvation.
B. The lack of assurance of salvation makes effective work unlikely. To be an effective salesperson, a person needs to be convinced of the worth of his or her product on the basis of personal experience. Secondhand knowledge of the product will undermine the salesperson’s effectiveness as he or she tries to present the product to potential customers. The same thing is true in the realm of the Spirit. People who do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and who do not have the assurance of a living relationship cannot possibly be convincing witnesses for the Lord Jesus.
C. The lack of assurance of salvation dishonors the power of God (John 10:27 – 30; 2 Tim. 1:12). To commit oneself to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and then to doubt either God’s willingness or ability to effect that salvation is to cast reflection on the saving power of the Lord Jesus. The sincere believer in Jesus Christ should never say, “I hope I am saved.”
D. The lack of assurance of salvation clouds the pathway ahead. To live daily in the fear that something might happen to prevent us from meeting God as one of his dear children is too frightful to contemplate. Earthly parents who love their children are eager for their children to have a sense of security in the family relationship. The heavenly Father is even more eager for us to be able to face the struggles and troubles of life with the inward strength that a sure relationship with him can bring.
II. Factors that contribute to a lack of assurance.
Many factors can contribute to a lack of assurance of salvation in the hearts of sincere believers. Some of these need to be recognized and evaluated.
A. A misunderstanding of the way of salvation causes many sincere believers to be unsure of their salvation. Instead of recognizing that eternal life is the gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8 – 9), many believe that salvation comes as a result of the grace of God plus human works. Those who believe in this manner can never have a happy assurance of salvation.
B. Some people lack the assurance of salvation because of the absence of a tremendous conversion experience. Many who received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior at an early age cannot bear testimony to a revolutionary conversion experience such as that of one who was converted as an adult. Some have falsely assumed that because of their inability to describe in detail a soul-shaking conversion experience, they have never been converted. These should recognize that it would be illogical to expect a child to have a conversion experience that was as unique as that of the apostle Paul as described in Acts 9:1 – 18. The primary concern should be whether we have a sincere trust in Jesus Christ at the present.
C. The neglect of Christian duty and personal spiritual growth will always make it impossible for a child of God to have the joy of salvation. In the conversion experience itself, the Holy Spirit comes into the heart of the believer to work the work of God and to reproduce the character of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6; 2:13). When the believer neglects to cooperate with this inward work of God, the chastisement of the heavenly Father falls upon that person (Heb. 12:6 – 11). In almost all instances, this chastisement begins with a removal of the joy and assurance of salvation. This is the heavenly Father’s way of encouraging his children to confess and forsake sin and to encourage them to live in harmony with the new nature that came to them in the spiritual birth.
If you once had the assurance of salvation and no longer enjoy that blessing, then you should examine your own heart and life. You need to reaffirm your faith and rededicate yourself to the spiritual discipline that will help you to achieve God’s plan for your life.
III. The basis for a believer’s assurance of salvation.
A. There can be no assurance of salvation apart from an absolute confidence in the Word of God (1 John 5:13 – 14). The mistake that many believers make is in basing their assurance of salvation on their feelings or emotions. Because our feelings ebb and flow and never remain stable, we should recognize that this would be a shaky basis upon which to place our confidence.
Feelings are deceptive. Many feel that they are saved when in reality the Scriptures would teach that they are unsaved. At the same time there are many who feel that they are unsaved when in reality they have in their life many evidences that would indicate that they possess eternal life through their faith in Jesus Christ.
B. God has promised to save the believer (John 3:16, 18, 36). With all of our hearts, we need to believe that God is able, eager, and willing to do that which he has promised for those who trust Jesus Christ as Savior. If you are among those who are trusting him, then have faith to rejoice in the assurance that condemnation for sin has been removed (John 3:18) and that eternal life is already a present possession (John 3:36).
C. There are other indications on which we can base our assurance of salvation. John sets forth in his first epistle a list of identifiable marks or distinctive characteristics of those who are the children of God. These characteristics are inward and spiritual but express themselves in an outward manner. I list five for prayerful consideration.
1. An inward desire to be obedient that expresses itself in obedience (1 John 2:3, 5). We can know that our faith is a saving faith if it gives us an inward desire to be obedient to the known will of God. If we don’t have this desire, we can know that we are still in need of a spiritual birth that will make us members of the family of God.
2. An inward love for the brethren (1 John 3:14). Those who do not love their brothers and sisters have not known and do not know the God of love. Having within our hearts a love for others, particularly for the people of God, is a sign that we are God’s children.
3. A life that is lived by the principle of love (1 John 3:18 – 19). Because we have experienced the love of God within our own hearts and lives, we will relate to others out of self-giving love. This type of love is possible because of the work of the Holy Spirit within the hearts of believers (Rom. 5:5). To love in word only is not a distinctive mark by which we could be encouraged to believe that we are the children of God.
4. The testimony of the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:13; Rom. 8:14 – 17). As the parents of a new baby speak words of endearment that provide the infant with a feeling of security, even so the Spirit of God who comes into the heart of new converts bears a spiritual testimony to their souls that convinces them of their divine adoption.
5. The testimony of divine Scripture (1 John 5:11 – 12). To have assurance of salvation, we must believe in the truthfulness of the Scriptures. The divine record is that God gives us eternal life and that this life comes to us through faith in his Son.
You must have a conversion experience before you can have the assurance of salvation. Many have wanted the assurance prior to the experience. Faith in Christ as Savior and Lord produces the experience, and information concerning what God has done and is doing for the believer makes blessed assurance of salvation possible. This assurance then makes peace of heart, overflowing joy, genuine love, and effective Service possible.
Sunday Evening, June 7
Title: “The Lord Is My Shepherd”
Text: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1).
Psalm 23 is one of the simplest yet loveliest poems ever written. Its lines are as simple as childhood rhymes, yet its meaning is as deep as an archangel’s anthem. We could well afford to deprive ourselves of some of earth’s most magnificent libraries rather than deprive ourselves of this precious little poem. Psalm 23 is the reflective thinking of an aged man who had been forgiven and who had discovered some wonderful truths about God. It is a confession of faith, a profession of faith, and a proclamation of faith. It is an anthem of grace. It is a shout of joy — an exclamation from the heart of a man who is overflowing with love and gratitude for his God.
Dr. J. P. MacBeth points out three distinct themes in Psalm 23. In verses 1 – 4 our God is the Shepherd. The scene is a pasture, and we are his sheep. In verse 5 the scene is a banquet, and God is the Host and his people are the guests. In verse 6 the scene is our eternal home, and God is the Father and we are his children. The Shepherd becomes the Host, and the Host becomes the Father. The pasture becomes the table, or the banquet room, and the banquet room becomes the eternal home of the heavenly Father. The sheep become the guests, and the guests become the children. It is wonderful for our Savior to be pictured as a Shepherd. It is better to think of our God as a Host. It is even more wonderful to think of him as being our eternal, loving, heavenly Father. The pasture scene is beautiful, the banquet room is even more beautiful, but the eternal home of the redeemed is beyond compare. It is very fruitful and productive to think of ourselves in terms of the sheep, and it is a greater privilege to be a guest, but it is even more wonderful to be a child in the home of the heavenly Father.
In the New Testament we read about the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, and the Chief Shepherd. As the Good Shepherd in Psalm 22, Jesus gives his life for the sheep. As the Great Shepherd in Psalm 23, he lives to guide, nourish, protect, and help the sheep. In Psalm 24, as the Chief Shepherd, he comes to receive unto himself those who have trusted him, those who love him and have followed him.
Psalm 23 is in some respects a theological treatise, for it talks about God. It gives us a man’s experience of God. This psalm is not about man. It is not man-centered; it is God-centered. You can discover much about the greatness, the goodness, the character, the nature, and the purpose of God in the psalm.
In this beautiful psalm we find that there is progression or advance from one scene to the other. The psalmist is trying to get across to us the same thought that our Savior labored to plant in the hearts of his disciples when he taught them to think of God in terms of a loving, devoted, merciful heavenly Father. Only in one recorded instance did Jesus ever address God in a different manner. That was when he was on the cross with the sin of a needy world bearing down on his soul. When he was dying under the penalty of our guilt, he cried, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
In every other instance, Jesus addressed the Creator, the Eternal One, as Father. He is a Father who is infinitely wise, bountifully good, and perfectly kind. He sees the end from the beginning, and his purposes toward us are always purposes of love. The psalmist was trying to get across in prophetic symbolism that which Jesus was to teach explicitly during his earthly ministry.
Evidently Jesus was using Psalm 23 as a text for his comments recorded in John 10.
I. The Good Shepherd and his sheep.
A. The Good Shepherd leads his sheep. He is not a driver. He is a leader. He is always out in front.
B. The Good Shepherd feeds his sheep.
C. The Good Shepherd protects his sheep. One day when David was a shepherd boy, a bear came out of the wilderness to attack the sheep. With his club, David stood between the sheep and the bear and finally was able to slay the bear. On another occasion, a lion came out of the thicket to attack the sheep. Instantly, David, with his club, was between the sheep and the lion and was able to slay the lion.
Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, took his club, the cross, and stood between his sheep and sin, Satan, death, and the grave. He literally died for the salvation of his sheep. The Good Shepherd gave his life completely for his sheep. Oh, how he loves us! How he wants to protect us! How grateful we should be that though he had the power to lay down his life for us, he also had the power to take it up again.
The Good Shepherd understands his sheep. He died for his sheep and rose again to lead his sheep.
II. The sheep of the Good Shepherd.
In the Good Shepherd chapter, John 10, Jesus makes seven remarks about sheep.
A. The sheep know their Shepherd.
B. They know his voice.
C. They hear his voice.
D. The good sheep follow the Shepherd.
E. They love the Shepherd.
F. They trust the Shepherd.
G. They obey the Shepherd.
Each of us who names the name of Christ should pray that we might be good sheep, even as he is a Good Shepherd.
III. Do you know the Good Shepherd?
There is a tremendous difference in the way people read Psalm 23. Some read it and say, “The Lord is a shepherd.” Others read it and say, “The Lord is the Shepherd.” Some can read it and say, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” There is a great deal of difference in saying, “There is a car,” “There is the car,” and “This is my car.” And it makes all the difference in time and all the difference in eternity if you can read this psalm and from the heart say, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
A. I shall not want for forgiveness.
B. I shall not want for spiritual vitality. I shall not want for spiritual restoration. I shall not want for guidance.
C. I shall not want for courage.
D. I shall not want for sustenance.
E. I shall not want for a home at the end of the way, for the Lord is my Shepherd.
Jesus Christ has a shepherd’s heart, and he loves you. He has a shepherd’s eye; he sees your needs. He has a shepherd’s strength; he is able to deliver you. He has a shepherd’s faithfulness; he will never leave you nor forsake you. He has a shepherd’s tenderness; he will give you personal attention if you will trust him in your heart. If you have not yet trusted him, give your heart to Christ today. Jesus said, “Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.” So come to him today.
Wednesday Evening, June 10
Title: The Necessity of Spiritual Growth
Text: “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever” (2 Peter 3:18).
It is a tragedy both on the physical level and the spiritual level for one to fail to grow or neglect to grow.
When we were children, most of us had the fear that we would never grow up to adulthood. We could hardly wait until maturity was a reality. We were sympathetic toward those who for one reason or another did not fully develop physically or mentally.
It is absolutely necessary that we follow a program that will make spiritual maturity possible. This is true for many reasons.
I. A baby Christian cannot do the work of a mature Christian.
Even as a growing boy would be terribly frustrated if he thought that he would never be able to do the work of a man, the baby Christian would be upset if he did not have hope of someday being able to do the work of a full-grown Christian. Growth is absolutely essential if we would do the work God would have us to do and which in our heart we want to do.
II. A baby Christian cannot understand the deep things of God.
Often parents will say to a child, “You are not old enough to understand.” In many instances this is true. The same is true on the spiritual level. The writer of the book of Hebrews grieved over the spiritual immaturity of those to whom he was writing. He declared that their lack of growth made it impossible for them to understand the things he was trying to communicate to them. He rebuked them because, at a time when they should have had the capacity to be teachers, they needed to be taught themselves. Instead of being able to eat the strong meat of the Word of God, they were infants on a milk diet. He wrote, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (5:11 – 14 NIV).
III. A baby Christian who does not grow cannot escape discontentment and unhappiness.
Did you ever know a boy who was rejoicing that he was not growing toward manhood? How many girls have you known who wept when it was time to quit playing with dolls and to start looking at boys? Many of the conflicts that plague the fellowship of the church are the direct results of the wretched unhappiness of those who are still in the spiritual nursery when they ought to be mature enough to vote in the spiritual realm. Paul declared that one of the problems that disrupted the fellowship of the church at Corinth was the immaturity of many of the members: “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Cor. 3:1 – 3).
IV. A baby Christian will receive only a baby’s reward.
There are laws that forbid the employment of children until they reach an age where work will not be detrimental to their growth and education. When young people reach the age where they can become employees, they usually start out at the bottom of the wage ladder, for they have little or no experience and therefore probably do not merit a high wage.
Did it ever occur to you that if you never grow and develop so as to become an effective servant of the Lord, you will not receive greater responsibility and greater rewards? As training and preparation prepare one for a better income, so growth, training, and experience make possible a greater responsibility here and a greater reward in heaven for the children of God.
Are you a babe in Christ? You do not have to remain a babe. Are you an adolescent who is in a process of growing toward spiritual maturity? Are you rejoicing in the privilege of being spiritually mature and effective in the Service of the Lord? If so, do not rest upon your laurels, for you can continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Sunday Morning, June 14
Title: What Do We Owe Our Children?
Text: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deut. 6:6 – 7).
Scripture Reading: Colossians 3:16 – 21
Hymns: “This Is My Father’s World,” Babcock
“Fairest Lord Jesus,” Author Unknown
“Happy the Home When God Is There,” Ware
Offertory Prayer: Holy Father, in the beauty of summer we thank you for the sunlight of your love, which shines into our hearts through Jesus Christ. We offer to you the love of our hearts and the praise of our lips. We bring to you the strength of our hands. Accept these tithes and offerings as a portion of our very life, and bless them to the spreading of the gospel, to the healing of the sick, to the relief of the poor, and to the glory of your holy name. Amen.
The title “What Do We Owe Our Children?” may provoke a negative reaction from parents and at the same time arouse the curiosity of the young. It is normal for children to feel that their parents and, for that matter, the whole world, owe them something. The immature are always self-centered. They think in terms of what others can and should do for them. Wise parents will guide their children away from selfishness yet will realize that they really do owe a number of things to their children. There are certain obligations, responsibilities, or debts that are involved in the parent-child relationship.
I. Children deserve to be desired.
It is a tragedy for a child to be born into a home where she is not wanted and where she is not fully accepted. A child will be much better able to withstand the shocks and deprivations of life if she has the inward assurance that she was desired and that she is fully accepted by her parents. It is tragic for a child to feel unwanted because she has overheard parents say that they wanted a child of the opposite sex.
II. Children need the devotion of their parents.
“As sunshine is to the plant, so love is to children.” Affection and devotion are as necessary for the emotional well-being of children as food is essential for physical growth.
III. Parents should disciple their children.
In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded his disciples to so conduct themselves that in their traveling about they would make disciples. In no place do we have a greater obligation to be obedient than within the home. By both profession and practice, parents should conduct themselves and instruct their children so that at the earliest possible time their children can make a personal response to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This is a responsibility that must not be repudiated or shifted to someone else.
IV. Children must have moral discipline.
The word discipline is related to the word disciple, which means a learner. Discipline refers to control, educating. With reference to the family, it means the control and directing of the members of that group, especially children.
A. The big problem is parental discipline.
B. The disciplining of children must be a partnership.
C. Discipline should be consistent.
D. Discipline in the home must be firm, but it need not be harsh.
V. Parents should dedicate their children.
A. Hannah dedicated Samuel unto the Lord (1 Sam. 1:28).
B. Parents brought their little children to Jesus for his blessings (Matt. 19:13 – 15).
C. While parents cannot make spiritual decisions for their children, they can release their parental claims upon those children by recognizing that God’s claims come first.
VI. Parents should develop their children.
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
VII. Parents should defend their children.
A. The world, the flesh, and the Devil will devour and destroy our children unless there are some built-in defenses that will make this impossible. Parents can build in these defenses against destruction.
B. First, we need to be somebody for God. By virtue of our parenthood, we are appointed as the stewards and custodians of the spiritual welfare and destiny of our children. If we respond to God’s love and grace and power, we can be proper parents and meet our obligations to our children.
C. We must do something for God. Life is made up of being and doing. We must be somebody if we want to do something significant.
The best defense that we can provide for our children is inward rather than external.
We can meet our obligations and opportunities as parents through faith and faithfulness. We should put our faith in our Lord, and then we should follow him faithfully.
Sunday Evening, June 14
Title: The Pause That Refreshes
Text: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters” (Ps. 23:2).
In Psalm 23:2, our text for this evening, the sweet singer of Israel spiritualizes the relationship of sheep to their shepherd in such a manner as to sing an anthem of praise to the Lord.
It is almost impossible to get a hungry sheep to lie down in the midst of green grass. A hungry sheep will continue to eat. Even if it is forced to lie down, it will continue to nibble the grass that is nearby. In verse 2 we have the picture of a sheep that has been completely satisfied and perfectly filled. The psalmist is describing the spiritual nourishment that is provided for the child of God who is willing to wait upon God through the study of his Word and through prayer and communion and fellowship with God. We cannot find strength sufficient to walk through the valley of the shadow of death unless we are willing to take time to lie down in the green pastures of the divine Word and by the still waters of prayer.
I. The Good Shepherd causes his sheep to lie down.
A. The Good Shepherd teaches his sheep to lie down. We find it difficult to take the pause that refreshes. All of us find it exceedingly difficult to lie down in the midst of the green pastures and beside the still waters that we might have our spiritual batteries recharged and the vital energies of life restored.
The complaint most frequently heard when visiting the sick concerns having to lie in bed: “I am so tired of doing nothing. I just cannot wait until I am up and around again.” Quietness is a rare commodity in modern life. We awaken to the beeping of an alarm clock. We drive to work to the tune of honking horns. We spend the day listening to the whirr of machinery or the electronic sounds of computers and cell phones. We return home to relax in the presence of a blaring television. This goes on day after endless day. The Lord says that people need to be quiet: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). One of the reasons why so many of us know so little about God is that we cannot hear God speak above the noise. God does not shout; he speaks in a still small voice.
The mother of a young child reveals her affection and devotion not by shouting at the infant but by speaking loving words while clasping the child to her bosom. When the psalmist says, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters,” he is speaking about an experience of communion and fellowship in which the Good Shepherd reveals his love to the waiting sheep.
It is difficult to get sheep to lie down and be still. It is much easier to get them to do something. Members of the average church will work, fight, sing, teach, preach — do almost anything but lie down in green pastures beside the still waters and seek seasons of quiet and periods of retirement for secret communion with God.
B. Most of our hymns emphasize activity. They are militant, working, active hymns: “Work, for the Night Is Coming,” “The Fight Is On,” “Onward Christian Soldiers,” “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus,” “Fight the Good Fight,” “Keep the Faith.” Many times we march into battle for the Lord without the inward strength we need to win the conflict.
Perhaps all of us could wisely pray:
Slow me down, Lord. Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time. Give me, amid the confusion of the day, the calmness of the everlasting hills. Break the tensions of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of the singing streams that live in my memory. Help me to know that magical, restoring power of sleep. Teach me the art of taking minute vacations — of slowing down to look at a flower, to chat with a friend, to pat a dog, to read a few lines from a good book.
Remind me each day of the fable of the hare and the tortoise that I may know that the race is not always for the swift and that there is more to life than increasing speed. Let me look upward into the branches of the towering oak and know that it grew because it grew slowly and well. Slow me down, Lord, and inspire me to send my roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring values, that I may grow toward the form of my greater destiny. Amen.
— Wilferd A. Peterson
I have known husbands and wives who came to the place where they were ready to throw in the towel and quit. Tracing back to the root of their problems, we discovered that they had neglected this privilege that the psalmist has talked about in our text. I have known individuals who worked under pressure to the extent that they came to the breaking point. They failed to recognize that it is a part of God’s plan for us to lie down in the green pastures and rest beside the still waters.
II. The Good Shepherd maketh me to lie down.
The casual reader of this psalm would get the impression that the good shepherd casually leads his sheep to the pastures and from the pastures to the place of rest. The actual picture presented in the original language is difficult to convey in English.
The word “maketh” is what Hebrew grammarians call the “hiphil frequentative imperfect.” It refers to a repeated action. And it is a tense that involves forcible, compelling action. It declares that the shepherd makes the sheep to lie down. The shepherd knows that sheep cannot endure the heat of the day and the strain of the march across parts of the desert unless they have had a proper time to rest.
Our Good Shepherd knows that in the midst of the strain, the activity, and the restlessness of our lives, it is absolutely necessary for us to take periods of quiet and rest. Without such, it will be impossible for us to walk in the paths of righteousness continuously. The overworked watch spring snaps, and the overworked motor burns out.
A. From the very beginning, it has been in the plan of God that people should rest as well as work.
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Exod. 20:8 – 11)
B. The New Testament does not lay down any rigid legal descriptions about the observance of the Lord’s Day. The Sabbath was one of God’s mercies to people that they might be relieved from the pressures of life. The person who works seven days a week continuously is committing suicide. We must have a day of rest and worship.
C. Sometimes we are forced to rest. A visitor to the Middle East tells of visiting a Syrian shepherd. He noticed that in the morning the shepherd would take food out to a sick sheep in the sheepfold. Finally, he went out and noticed that this sheep had a broken leg. He inquired as to how it happened. The shepherd said, “I broke it.” The visitor said, “What, you broke the leg of your sheep?” The shepherd replied, “Yes, I had to do it. This was a stubborn, disobedient, wayward sheep. Where we walk and graze, it is dangerous. I had to do this to the sheep to preserve his life, for sooner or later he would have plunged over a precipice, or he would have been devoured by a beast. He also had a tendency to lead other sheep astray, and so I had to break his leg to teach him that I love him and that I am going to take care of him and that he ought to listen to my voice.”
How often do you lie down in the green pastures and by the still waters? How often do you read God’s Holy Word meditatively and prayerfully? How often do you go into the closet of prayer, both to present your requests and to listen for God’s message for your heart? Have you cultivated and maintained regular public worship habits? These are the ways by which we can choose to lie down and receive the rest and relaxation that will enable us to do God’s good will.
Wednesday Evening, June 17
Title: The Foes of Spiritual Growth
Text: “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings. As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:1 – 2).
The words of our text imply that the laying aside of harmful attitudes and evil actions should be simultaneous with the process of spiritual growth. Spiritual growth, like growth in the plant and animal kingdoms, is always a struggle. Plants and animals do not find growth easy, for they must overcome enemies, adverse conditions, and diseases. If we are to grow toward spiritual maturity as the children of God, we must recognize the foes to that growth.
I. We have an evil nature within that makes spiritual growth a real struggle.
Paul discusses the struggle between our new nature and our old nature (Rom. 7:18 – 25). He declares that it is only through Jesus Christ that the new nature can experience victory over the old fleshly nature (Rom. 7:24 – 25).
In writing to the Galatian Christians, Paul speaks of the antagonism that exists between the Holy Spirit and the lower nature of humans (Gal. 5:17). He declares that the only way we can grow spiritually and achieve victory in the Christian life is by walking in a conscious awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit who has come to dwell within our hearts (v. 16). He describes the fruit of the indwelling Spirit as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance” (vv. 22 – 23).
II. The evil world about us is a foe to spiritual growth.
The world system, society as it exists contrary to the will of God, makes spiritual growth exceedingly difficult. There is nothing in the natural world or in organized society that is conducive to spiritual growth. We must not expect the world about us to encourage our efforts or to applaud our struggle toward spiritual maturity.
III. The Devil is a foe of spiritual growth.
Speaking from personal experience, Peter warns us against the attack of the Devil. We can rest assured that the Satan will do everything he possibly can to hinder us from spending time with the Word of God that we might nourish our souls. He will keep us busy in order to keep us away from the worship and fellowship of the church. He will promise us both profit and pleasure if we will do his bidding. He is determined to try to keep us in spiritual infancy.
IV. Our natural tendency to neglect, postpone, and avoid struggle can be a foe to our spiritual growth.
If children are to be healthy and to enjoy proper growth, they must have a proper diet and regular exercise. If students are to make steady progress toward academic excellence, they must do their homework day by day. If we are to make continual progress, we must not neglect that which is absolutely essential for health and success in the family of God.
V. The poor example of others can be a foe to our growth.
If a person has never had the opportunity to measure himself by a mature Christian, he may become content with the spiritual stature of a midget. Let us beware lest we make the fatal mistake of measuring ourselves by those who do not measure the full thirty-six inches to the yard. We need to allow Jesus Christ to be our ideal and to let the Sermon on the Mount be our scale for measuring spiritual maturity.
While there are many foes to growth, we can be assured that we can overcome these and make progress toward spiritual maturity if we will sincerely desire the milk of the Word and determine to walk in the light provided by him who is the Light of the World.
Sunday Morning, June 21
Title: Are You a Godly Father?
Text: “Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding” (Prov. 4:1 NIV).
Scripture Reading: Proverbs 4:1 – 14
Hymns: “God, Our Father, We Adore Thee,” Frazer
“A Child of the King,” Buell
“Make Me a Channel of Blessing,” Smyth
Offertory Prayer: Our gracious and loving Father, help us to recognize all of the evidences of your continuing concern for us. Help us to see how graciously and bountifully you have blessed us with all spiritual blessings. Today we thank you for our daily bread and for all of the material blessings of life. We dedicate our tithes and offerings to your glory and to the advancement of your kingdom. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Billy Graham said, “A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, and unnoticed, yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.” God intended for fathers to do more than “bring home the bacon.” From a biblical standpoint, the father is to be a provider, a protector, a priest, a guide, a teacher, and a disciplinarian.
Potentially, the father is the best possible teacher about God that a child can have, for the father is the human counterpart of God. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he said, “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father, which art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). He taught his disciples that they were to think of the eternal God in terms of a wise, devoted, generous, forgiving father. The child who never has the privilege of knowing a loving father has a serious handicap when it comes to understanding the nature and character of God.
Dr. R. G. Lee tells the story of a father whose young son was stricken with diphtheria and placed in isolation in the hospital. It was necessary for the parents to wear a mask while visiting their son. The little boy inquired, “Why are you dressed that way?” The father replied, “I want to protect others, for you are very sick.” After some hesitation, the little fellow replied, “Daddy, am I going to die?” The dad, who had taught his boy never to tell a lie, said, “That is what the doctor says.” After a great deal of inward agony, the father put a question to his boy: “Son, you are not afraid, are you?” From the sick bed the little boy replied, “Daddy, if God is like you are, I won’t be afraid.”
The home is the most basic institution in our society. The responsibility for the spiritual stability and success of families is too much for mothers to bear alone. If we are to provide our children with godly fathers, we must consider certain essentials.
I. Make certain that you give your heart and soul to Jesus Christ.
A. This is essential if you are to be the best possible husband.
B. This is essential if you are to be the best possible father. There is no way by which you can practice the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount unless you have the Christ in your heart as Savior, Lord, and Teacher.
C. Much time is required for the task of being a good husband and a good father. It is not commendable for a man to hold down an extra job merely to provide more luxuries for his family. They need him, not the material assets he can provide.
II. Be an example in all things.
A Chinese proverb says, “One picture is worth a thousand words.” Today it is recognized by all that visual education is one of the most effective methods of teaching. One good example may make a greater impact than a hundred lectures.
A father should seek to provide an atmosphere that is conducive to good character development in the lives of his children.
A. Be an example in reverence and worship.
B. Be an example of truthfulness in speech.
C. Be an example of honesty in all legal and financial obligations.
D. Be an example in both attitudes and ambitions.
III. Provide proper discipline.
A. Ephesians 6:4.
B. Proverbs 13:24.
C. Proverbs 23:13.
D. Proverbs 29:17.
In our quest to provide material benefits for our children, let us not be neglectful to provide that which is the greatest benefit of all — a godly father who loves Jesus Christ sincerely and steadfastly and who seeks to demonstrate this faith in every area of life.
Today make the decisions that are necessary for your children to have the invaluable benefit of a godly father.
Sunday Evening, June 21
Title: “He Leadeth Me”
Text: “He leadeth me beside the still waters. . . . He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Ps. 23:2 – 3).
There are three thrilling truths in our text concerning the Good Shepherd’s infallible leadership. First, the Good Shepherd is identified as heaven’s infallible leader. Second, the Good Shepherd is declared to be a capable leader. Third, the Good Shepherd is of necessity a dependable leader.
I. The Good Shepherd is our leader.
“I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
A. Meditate for a moment on these words: “He leadeth me.”
1. He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
2. He is the one who upholds all things by his power.
3. He is the unerring, unchangeable, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful one, and “He leadeth me.”
B. The Good Shepherd leads rather than drives. “He goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice” (John 10:4). The Good Shepherd will not ask his sheep to go anywhere that he himself does not go.
C. How does the Good Shepherd lead?
1. He leads by example.
2. He leads by the direction in the Gospels.
3. He leads by the counsel of a Christian friend.
4. He leads by the message of a lesson or sermon.
5. He leads by the inward impulses of the Holy Spirit.
II. The Good Shepherd is a capable leader.
Our text tells us that the Good Shepherd is a trustworthy, capable, competent leader. David said, “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.” The Good Shepherd helps us to get on the path of straightness that leads to the right destination.
A little book loved by children tells the story of a playful locomotive. The locomotive got along wonderfully as long as it stayed on the tracks, but one day it noticed the butterflies out in the fields smelling the flowers and decided that it too wanted to go out into the pasture to smell the flowers. When the little locomotive got out into the pasture, it mired down and was unable to roll like it did when it was on those two steel tracks.
The psalmist says that the Good Shepherd helps us to stay on the track so that we can get to the desired destination in life. The Good Shepherd will never lead us astray.
III. The Good Shepherd is of necessity a trustworthy and dependable leader.
For many years I thought that the Good Shepherd led his people in the paths of righteousness “for his name’s sake” — that is, for the advancement of his kingdom. While this is true, this is not what the psalmist had in mind here. The thought that the Good Shepherd leads us for his own glory does not even begin to exhaust the meaning of the text.
A. The good name of God is involved in the leadership that the Good Shepherd offers to his sheep. The integrity of God is at stake. The very character of God is involved in where he leads those who trust him and obey him.
B. The angels could not give worship and praise and respond with deep adoration to a God who would mislead his people. By the quality of the leadership and by the destiny to which he has led, the Good Shepherd has maintained the respect and the appreciation of his followers throughout the ages.
C. The Good Shepherd will never do anything that is inconsistent with divine integrity. He will never lead his people down a dead-end street; he will never lead them to waste their energies or to make bad investments. Someone has casually said, “God maintains an excellent credit rating.” He values the integrity of his name, for his name stands for his person and character.
D. The Good Shepherd will lead you right in the here and now and lead you to the heavenly home in the hereafter if you are willing to trust him and follow him.
Who is your leader? Do you follow the crowd? Do you follow the whim of the moment? You would be wise to follow him who said, “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Wednesday Evening, June 24
Title: The Joys of Spiritual Growth
Text: “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever” (2 Peter 3:18).
There are many joys for the Christian. We can praise God for the joy of having our sins forgiven. We can rejoice in the blessed assurance of divine sonship. We can face the future with optimism because of our assurance that death has been conquered and that the grave will have no final victory over us. Our hearts can overflow with joy as we contemplate the fact that the Christ is preparing for us a home at the end of our earthly journey. Along with these joys we can be grateful for the joy that we experience as we recognize the signs of our daily growth toward spiritual maturity.
I. Our spiritual growth brings joy to the heavenly Father.
Earthly parents know an indescribable joy when they bring their firstborn home from the hospital. With feelings of delight, they look into the face of the baby whom they recognize as belonging to them. As the weeks go by, they observe the increase in the baby’s weight and the improvement in coordination. It is indeed a happy day when the child recognizes a parent and responds with a smile. Indescribable would be the agony in the hearts of those parents if something were to happen to prevent the continuance of this growth. It is natural for parents to take delight in every stage of the progress of their children from childhood to adulthood.
The heavenly Father also is delighted to see his children grow. As children rejoice in the approval of their parents, even so the child of God can rejoice in the joy of the heavenly Father.
II. Our spiritual growth makes possible the joy of effective service.
No one likes to be a loser. No one rejoices in being a failure. One of the greatest joys the human heart can know is that of significant achievement in any chosen field of endeavor. This is also true in the realm of the spirit. Paul challenged Timothy: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Not only did Paul want Timothy to be an effective servant of the Lord, but he wanted him to experience the joy of being an effective interpreter of the Word of God to the hearts and lives of others.
III. Our spiritual growth makes personal happiness possible.
Can you remember how, when you were a child, you measured yourself by your parent and were pleased to discover how you had grown? Can you remember a time as a student making a good grade on an exam and feeling pleased with your progress?
Spiritual growth could produce harmful pride and an attitude of self-righteousness if it were not for the fact that spiritual growth is made possible only by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit knows not only how to challenge us in the upward struggle but also how to keep us humble in the midst of God’s goodness toward us. It is altogether proper that as we experience the joy of progress in other areas of life we also know the joy of experiencing progress in our spiritual growth.
IV. Christian growth makes the joy of an abundant harvest possible.
Paul encouraged the Galatian Christians toward spiritual growth and significant achievement with the promise of a sure reward if they did not faint and fall away before the harvest season: “And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9).
Success along the way from day to day is in many respects its own reward. As students rejoice over success in their studies, children of God can rejoice day by day in the assurance that they are making spiritual progress. For students, graduation day will come, and they will receive the commendation of their professors and the trustees of the institution where they have studied. For children of God, the day of rewarding will come when it is possible for them to hear words of commendation from the heavenly Father. We should so grow and serve and live and labor that on that last great day each of us can hear the Father say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21).
We must not be content with mere membership in the family of God. We must not be satisfied with remaining in the nursery. By God’s grace each of us can grow toward spiritual manhood and womanhood for the glory of God, for the good of others, and for the personal satisfaction the heavenly Father would like us to have.
Sunday Morning, June 28
Title: Are You a Good Citizen?
Text: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1).
Scripture Reading: Romans 13:1 – 7
Hymns: “God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand,” Roberts
“America the Beautiful,” Bates
“My Country! ’Tis of Thee,” Smith
Offertory Prayer: Holy Father, we thank you for your bountiful blessings toward our native land. Help us to see the bounty of your provisions for our earthly welfare in its natural resources. We thank you for those who have lived and labored and even suffered that we might enjoy the liberties and the freedoms that are ours. Today as we bring our tithes and offerings, we use this tangible way to express to you our gratitude. It is our desire that all people everywhere hear the good news concerning Jesus who alone can deliver us from the tyranny of sin and grant us the freedom and liberty of becoming your sons. Amen.
As Christians we have dual citizenship. We are citizens of our native land, but we are also citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Paul challenged the disciples in Philippi to respond to the obligations of their heavenly citizenship while living as citizens of the Roman Empire. To be a poor citizen of one’s native land is also to be a poor citizen of the kingdom of God. While the two are not to be equated, it should be recognized that as Christians we have a greater responsibility for being good citizens than we would have as non-Christians.
I. The Christian and the state (Rom. 13:1 – 7).
A. This passage does not deal with the whole problem of a Christian’s relationship to the state.
B. Nothing is said concerning the form of government. What is insisted is that state government is of God and that all who are under it should respect it.
C. Nothing is said about political parties or the matter of voting for governmental leaders. We are left to infer that Christians should use their influence to secure good rulers and to exclude bad ones.
D. Our first allegiance is to God, and only if the state requires of us something that would violate our loyalty to God are we to resist (Acts 4:19 – 20; 5:29).
II. The duties of Christian citizenship.
A. We should be subject to the state because it is a divine institution (Rom. 13:1).
B. Resistance to constituted authority is resistance to God, and it will be punished (Rom. 13:2).
C. Rulers, viewed ideally, are God’s ministers appointed to encourage that which is good and to punish that which is evil (Rom. 13:3 – 4).
D. Only evildoers have anything to fear from properly constituted authority (Rom. 13:4).
E. We should be subject to the state, not only from fear of the consequences of disobedience, but because it is right to obey (Rom. 13:5).
F. Taxation is an illustration of the state’s power to impose duties upon us and of our duty to submit (Rom. 13:6).
G. We should fulfill our many obligations to the state (Rom. 13:7).
III. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven (Phil. 3:20).
A. Heavenly citizenship cannot be purchased or merited. It is ours by spiritual birth into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
B. We should set our affections upon things above (Col. 3:1).
C. We should seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness first (Matt. 6:33).
D. We should walk on earth worthily of our heavenly citizenship.
Because of our gratitude for God’s blessings that have come to us in the past and because of our obligations to the future, let us rededicate ourselves to the task of being good citizens of our native land.
Sunday Evening, June 28
Title: “He Restoreth My Soul”
Text: “He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3).
The words “He restoreth my soul” are among the most precious in Psalm 23. They speak to us of one of the most gracious works of all the works of the Good Shepherd. In this statement the psalmist is saying that the Shepherd brings the soul back again to a state of balance. Spiritual vim, vigor, and vitality are restored, and one is able to walk in the way of righteousness.
The psalmist speaks from experience when he says, “He restoreth my soul.” David could remember the time when he had drifted far away from the guidance and leadership of the Good Shepherd. He could remember the days of grief and the days of sorrow and shame. Because of sin, he had been deprived of God’s fellowship and of the joy of prayer. There had been no answers to David’s prayers, and he felt utterly forsaken by God. This loneliness, this feeling of shame, led to confession and repentance and to restoration. David could say with the joy bells of heaven ringing in his heart, “He restoreth my soul.”
I. The tendency of human nature is to err and stray like sheep.
The Good Shepherd’s ministry of restoration is absolutely necessary. All of us have an innate tendency to go astray. We find it much easier to do those things that are wrong than things that are right. Were it not for the ministry of restoration in which the Lord comes again and again to restore us to the paths of straightness, all of us would utterly go astray.
A. The Good Shepherd’s ministry of restoration is continuous. Over and over he comes to guide us, direct us, and help us.
B. The Good Shepherd’s ministry of restoration is gracious. He does it because of his love and grace and not because of something within us that merits his mercy of restoration.
C. The Good Shepherd’s ministry of restoration is purposeful. He does it that we might walk in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
1. When the soul grows sorrowful, the Good Shepherd revives and restores that soul by coming and bringing comfort, consolation, and help.
2. When the soul is sinful, the Good Shepherd comes and awakens within that soul an awareness of shame that there might be confession and cleansing so that the soul might be restored to the Services of God.
3. When the soul is discouraged, the Good Shepherd comes to impart cheer and confidence and courage and help by giving to that individual an awareness of God’s abiding presence.
4. When the soul is weak, the Good Shepherd comes to impart strength and power. Paul had moments of despondency and discouragement. There were times when he felt defeated, and yet in those moments there came to him an awareness of the presence of his Savior, and he was able to say, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). Paul was convinced of his own spiritual and emotional weakness, but, at the same time, he was convinced of his adequacy and sufficiency with the help of the Lord.
5. When the soul wanders away, the Good Shepherd comes seeking to restore the wayward sheep to the paths of righteousness.
Every person present today is present because of the ministry of restoration of our Savior. We certainly would have gone astray and we would not be here today if the Good Shepherd had not come to us again and again, restoring us to the place of Service, the place of safety, satisfaction, and happiness. With David, we should all praise him, glorify him, and give him the credit for every spiritual achievement and every degree of success we have attained.
Jonah the prophet was disobedient and had an unchristian spirit toward the unregenerate world. But after he had been restored to the place of Service, he said, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). There is absolutely no place for boastfulness in the lives of Christians concerning their own achievements and their own attainments in the Christian life.
After Peter had denied the Lord three times, the Bible says, “Jesus turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61). There was no scorn or attitude of “I told you so.” There was something in that look that literally broke the heart of Peter, and he went out and wept bitterly. There was love, affection, and devotion in the look of the Savior that day at a wayward, disobedient, Christ-denying disciple. Later on, the resurrected Christ sent a special message through the angel and the women to Peter (Mark 16:7).
On the first Easter, Jesus appeared to Peter privately and secretly in order that Peter might confess his sins (Luke 24:34). Later, in the presence of the apostles, Jesus gave Peter a threefold opportunity to say, “I love you” (John 21:15 – 17). In this manner he was given an opportunity to forever erase his threefold denial of the Master.
If you have drifted, the Good Shepherd is seeking you today. If you have lost the joy of your salvation, he is seeking you today. If there is a shadow cast across your fellowship with God or if you have been living a life of disobedience, a life of inactivity, a life of unhappiness, or a life of failure, the Good Shepherd is seeking you today.
II. The sources of spiritual decline.
The sources of spiritual decline are not mentioned in the text. I have heard people say, “I just do not know why I drifted.” It is our nature to drift. We have a sinful nature that will lead us astray. We need to recognize this truth about ourselves. Only through the grace of the Good Shepherd, who continually restores us, are we here today.
A. Sheep have no sense of direction. If a dog, a cat, or a horse gets lost, it can usually find its way back home, for those animals seemingly have a built-in compass. Such is not the case with sheep. It is our nature to drift into sin and to go deeper and deeper into sin unless the Good Shepherd comes and by one means or another draws us back to the place of safety and Service.
B. Sheep have very poor eyes. Sheep cannot see farther than about fifteen yards. They do not select a direction by sight. Instead, they follow the sound of a familiar voice. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Concerning the sheep and their shepherd, Jesus said, “He goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers” (John 10:4 – 5). Sheep have to stay close to the shepherd to hear his voice. They follow the sound of his voice rather than the vision of their eyes.
Spend some time meditating on the fact that it is much safer, wiser, and practical to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd as he speaks to our hearts than it is to try to plan and to foresee the path that we should follow in the distant future. When the child of God falls into deep sin, it is because he has neglected or refused to heed the loving voice of the Good Shepherd.
C. A number of things can cause us to drift away from the Shepherd.
1. The neglect of spiritual nourishment through a daily devotional study of the Word of God inevitably leads to a famished soul. Many suffer from spiritual malnutrition due to an inadequate spiritual diet. Neglect of the Word of God has caused a loss of spiritual vim, vigor, and vitality. Many of us are spiritually anemic due to the absence of the iron of God’s truth in our daily diet.
2. Unconfessed and unforsaken sin will cause the sheep to drift farther and farther away from God. Our first natural impulse is to hide, conceal, deny, or explain away our sins. It is always easy to find an excuse, to blame someone else. The Bible says, “The ways of a man are clean in his own eyes” (Prov. 16:2). You can always find a reason why you did what you did if you want to. The wise thing to do is to be honest with yourself and say, “I have sinned. May God forgive me and give me grace to forsake it.” If we neglect to confess and forsake sin, it will cast a shadow across our fellowship with God.
3. Companionship with the pleasure-loving crowd of the world will lead ultimately to the compromise of moral principles and moral ideals. This will lead people to do things they know they ought not to do.
4. The neglect of known duties will cause people to decline spiritually, to drift away and be in need of spiritual restoration. The tragedy is that many people have drifted away and are in desperate need of spiritual restoration, yet they do not recognize this need.
III. The symptoms of spiritual decline.
For every illness there are always certain symptoms in evidence. When people are spiritually ill and have drifted away from the Lord, there are a number of symptoms by which we can detect their spiritual condition.
A. A critical, complaining attitude is an indication that there is something wrong in a person’s heart and life. When you are unhappy with yourself, you are usually unhappy with everyone else. When you get to the place where you can see only that which is wrong in others, this indicates that there is something seriously wrong with you. You stand in need of being restored through repentance and confession and rededication to the will of God. A person who is close to God is going to see the best in others rather than the worst.
B. An indifferent spirit that leads to inactivity is a symptom of spiritual illness.
C. A lack of awareness of the lostness of lost people indicates that a person is seriously ill spiritually. How long has it been since you have shown interest in an unsaved friend? How long has it been since you have tried to persuade someone to forsake the life of no faith and to trust Christ as his or her own Savior?
IV. The methods of restoration.
The Good Shepherd uses many different factors in his ministry of restoration. Moffatt translates our text in this manner. “He revives life in me.” Have you ever neglected a flower or plant at home? It became limp and wilted, but probably in a matter of hours after you supplied water, it was growing beautifully again. That is what God does to the soul.
A. The Good Shepherd sent a prophet named Nathan to David not to criticize but to restore.
B. The Good Shepherd sent an angel with a special word to Peter not to criticize but to restore.
C. Sometimes the Good Shepherd uses chastisement. He may send a storm into your life as he did with Jonah.
D. The Good Shepherd may use the word of a friend, the chorus of a long-forgotten hymn, a sentence or paragraph from a book, the memory of devout parents, the visit of a Sunday school teacher, or a word of encouragement from one of the deacons in the church.
E. The Good Shepherd can use the hunger for a lost joy or the call of the divine Spirit. He can use anything or everything to draw you back to the place of safety, Service, and spiritual satisfaction.
Jesus told the parable of the lost son, which can also be seen as the parable of the loving father. The father remained at home and loved his wayward son more than he loved his own life. He waited eagerly and prayerfully for the return of his wayward son. When his son did return, he rejoiced greatly and hosted a lavish banquet for him.
If you have drifted far away from the Father in heaven, I challenge you to let the Lord restore you. I challenge you to rededicate your heart and life and begin again where you left off. Do what the Lord wants you to do. He will bless you and help you. He will use you to be a blessing to others.