God Before Us

God Before Us

Psalm 23:1-3

James C. Denison

It has been a strange week in the news. In a village in eastern India, a young girl was married to a stray dog to ward off an evil spirit. The girl is free to get married later in life to a man, without seeking a divorce from her canine spouse. We have no word as to whether the dog is free to seek other companionship as well.

Newcastle University in England has proven that cows which are given names increase their milk yields by up to 500 pints a year. For all of you who are dairy farmers in Dallas, this is a tip worth remembering.

And we learned this week the exciting news that the United Kingdom has reclaimed the world underwater ironing title from Australia. Dozens of divers coordinated their efforts to win this coveted prize. How does underwater ironing work?

The weather has been unusually strange in Dallas this week, from an ice storm on Tuesday to something called “frozen fog” on Thursday morning to 69 degrees on Saturday. It could be worse—more than a million people lost power in Kentucky, and some won’t get it back until the middle of the month.

We live in a fallen, unpredictable world. And now the Arizona Cardinals are in the Super Bowl. What’s next, a World Series for the Rangers?

The one constant, unchanging fact of human existence is the God-shaped emptiness in each of us, the fact that our hearts are restless until they rest in him. In good times and bad, sunshine and ice storms, the created needs the Creator.

We have been working through the promises made by God to Solomon for awakening in the land. Now we turn to the faith experience of Solomon’s father.

David was the greatest king the Jewish nation has ever known, the only person ever described as a “man after God’s own heart,” a man who arguably knew more about personal awakening than anyone. His most famous autobiographical testimony of faith is recorded in Scripture as our Psalm 23.

I began my preaching ministry at Park Cities by exploring this remarkable confession of faith with you. We will return to it for these three weeks, seeking the kind of personal revival and awakening which was David’s experience with God.

How can you know God more intimately today? How can you experience personal awakening this week?

Know your need of God

The most famous poem in the world begins, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (v. 1). If he is our shepherd, we are his sheep. And not just in this passage. Forty-four times in the Bible, God calls us sheep. In fact, “sheep” is the most common metaphor for human beings in all of Scripture.

You need to know that this is not a compliment. Sheep are beautiful animals from a distance, but among the dumbest and most defenseless beings God ever made. Does anyone keep pet sheep? Have you ever seen a sheep in a circus? Sheep are defenseless against every predator. They must be guarded and led every day. The shepherd must live with them and watch them constantly, or they’ll wander into trouble. God is not attempting to increase our self-esteem by calling us sheep.

But surely this description doesn’t apply to all of us. Some of us are smarter and more self-sufficient than sheep. But Isaiah 53:6 says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” God says that every one of us is a sheep.

We don’t like to admit that we need God. But we can’t have a shepherd until we admit that we need one, that we are sheep. Jesus’ first Beatitude says, “Blessed are those who know their need of God” (Matthew 5:3). Do you believe that you need more of God than you are now experiencing?

Seek his direction

First I admit that I am a sheep in need of a shepherd. Then I seek his direction, trusting that his will is always best for me. That’s easier said than done. Don’t you sometimes worry that if you sold out to God he would make your life different than you want it to be? Less successful or wealthy or happy? Send you as a missionary to Afghanistan?

And yet this Shepherd promises that “I shall not be in want” (v. 1). Why not?

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures” (v. 2a). In the pastures of the Middle East grow poisonous plants which are fatal to the sheep, and other plants whose sharp thorns will stab their soft noses. The shepherd must lead them to pastures where good grass grows.

“He leads me beside quiet waters” (v. 2b). The sheep is a very poor swimmer because of its heavy wool coat. Its body weight multiplies five times when wet, like a man trying to swim while wearing five heavy wool overcoats. Instinctively, the sheep know they cannot swim in swift currents, so they will not drink from a moving stream. They must be led to quiet waters or they will die of thirst.

And he leads me “in paths of righteousness” (v. 3b). There are paths in Palestine which lead off cliffs, and the sheep will walk down them to their deaths. The good paths are called “the paths of righteousness,” and the good shepherd leads his sheep down them.

In every way the shepherd wants the best for his sheep—food, drink, and safety.

Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Do you want to know and do God’s will as much as he wants you to know and do it? The Psalmist prayed, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God” (Psalm 143:10). When last did you ask God to do that? Paul admonishes, “Do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:17).