Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Right Paths Are Not Always Easy Paths

Part 5 of Summer in the Psalms

Text: Psalm 23




Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (v. 4).


The Lord Is My Shepherd

Psalm 23 is the best-known psalm in the book of Psalms. The psalm begins, “The LORD is my shepherd” (v. 1). God is our shepherd, and we are his sheep. One of the jobs of a shepherd is to lead his sheep.

This summer my sister went with my family and I to New Hampshire. She claimed to know how to get to certain places, but she often ended up being wrong. Finally, I said, “Danielle is a great GPS. Just ask her which way to go and then go the opposite way.”

God always leads his sheep in the right direction. But sometimes the path he leads us on is difficult.


Never In Need

God’s sheep “shall not want” (v. 1). Our shepherd “makes [us] lie down in green pastures. He leads [us] beside still waters” (v. 2). In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul writes, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).

So we are never in need, right? Not exactly. Earlier Paul wrote, “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil. 4:12). Paul says that there were times when he was in need. Does this contradict Philippians 4:19 and Psalm 23:1? No, sometimes we need to be in need. But, as Paul says, “[We] can do all things [i.e., face any circumstance] through him who strengthens [us]” (Phil. 4:13). We won’t get everything we want, but we will never lack what God knows is good for us. 


Right Paths

Sometimes we stray from our shepherd, and we find ourselves on a wrong path. The path is difficult because of our own sinfulness or foolishness. God “leads [us] in paths of righteousness” (v. 3). “Paths of righteousness” are right paths. God leads us to both “green pastures” (v. 2) and “the valley of the shadow of death” (v. 4). Both the green pastures and the dark valley are right paths. The right paths are not always easy paths, but on every path our shepherd is with us. 

Notice in verse 4 that the pronouns change. In verses 1-3, David refers to God as “he.” But in verse 4, he says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Perhaps there is a switch from “he” to “you” because it’s in the moments of great fear and uncertainty that we most sense God’s presence with us. In a sermon on Psalm 23, John Piper says, “The crises of life draw us closer to God. We are more prone to talk about God when we are in the green pasture and more prone to cry out to God when we enter some fearful ravine.”


The Path to the Cross

We might question God’s love for us when we we’re on a difficult path, but we must remember that Jesus walked a difficult path that lead him to the cross. He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

Jesus was not like the hired hand who “sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees” (John 10:12). Jesus was willing to give his life to save his sheep. The hired hand “flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:13). But Jesus, the good shepherd, loves his sheep. We can trust a shepherd whom we know loves us—even on the difficult paths.


A Restored Soul

David writes, “He restores my soul” (v. 2). “Restores my soul” probably refers to the refreshment or comfort of the soul. Lamentations 1:16 says, “My eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my spirit.” Comfort is also mentioned in verse 4: “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Proverbs 18:14 says, “A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Even in good times people can have a crushed spirit. How can we possibly have a comforted soul as we’re walking through “the valley of the shadow of death”? The presence of God comforts our souls. “Surely goodness and mercy [steadfast love] shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (v. 6). Jesus, the good shepherd, says, “I came that [my sheep] may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).