April 26 – Devotion Sharing (Psalm 23)

Submitted by Mike F. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

God is …
God is my shepherd, which means He is one who is vigilant, caring, and always goes looking for me when I am lost. As I think about my own testimony, He is indeed the one who sought me out, even when I was mired in sin, in ignorance of Him and His ownership over me. He shepherded me by placing people in my life who demonstrated and taught the Gospel to me. God convicted me with His word as He showed through Scripture how He knew me through and through, how I needed salvation in light of my needy condition. He led me to make that key Lordship decision in my senior year as I strayed far from him after my initial salvation decision. Time and time again, God has proved to be the one watching over my state, and able to provide those Words of Truth that bind me to Him again.

As a shepherd, He is the one who is my provider as well. Just as a sheep is utterly dependent on his master to guide him to quiet waters, to green pastures, to safe paths away from predators, so God is and has been my provider. He has above all met my greatest need, which I was poignantly reminded of this past Good Friday and Easter. As I saw myself in Judas, as one who has such a sense of entitlement that I deserve personal space, a manageable life, attention and esteem in exchange for trying to follow Him, so I saw again with painful clarity that I need His daily provision of grace and forgiveness. As each day I see the sins I commit–the greed for more time for myself, the uncaring words that end up hurting others, the complaining attitudes when things do not go my way–so I thank God that He gives me that opportunity each time to repent and receive His forgiveness. I am actually forgiven, and I do not have to carry my own burden of guilt anymore. God is my shepherd in that He has provided for my practical needs as well. I recall those uncertain, anxious times in my past of unemployment, of running out of student loans, and how He provided me with timely anonymous envelopes of money from others, with jobs that more than covered my expenses, and how through that I learned not to be anxious or worried about money. He has given me these lessons so I can trust Him today and live a life free from the crippling anxiety and worry that can cause a heart to shrivel, and start grasping for its own.

God is that Rod and my Staff. As a sheep is always vulnerable, whether to those that long to prey on them, sudden changes in weather, or lack of food to graze on, so it is dependent on the rod which can prevent it from wandering off. It is dependent on the staff that keeps it in the master’s care and fends away potential predators. God has been that rod and staff for me primarily through His word, and those that have ministered to me using His word. When I undergo those wearying pulls of temptations, His verses on pursuing holiness right my mind and heart again. He surrounds me with others whose presence also keeps me away from temptations, and encourages me to instead fill my mind and heart with loving and serving others. As I think about how I arrived here at my current point–living a life spent ministering to people–it was mainly through key points of repentance due to His word and those that has the courage and love to bring me His word. Without that, I would have wandered off into the distant lands of either my own godless existence, or that diluted, powerless Christian life that makes no demands on me.

God is the Anointer. Just as He anoints the Psalmist here, elevating his identity and through this process consecrating him, so God has given me that new identity as His son. I do not have to live then as an orphan, trying to strive for myself, prove myself to my own eyes and in the eyes of others. No longer do I have to fend for my own ego, welfare, while selfishly seeing others as threats or competition. Because God has given me this anointing, I am consecrated to Him. Instead of living for the Self as I once did, He instead has shepherded me over these past 10 years into a life that is utterly divergent from the path I wanted to take. I am caught up instead in the noble mission to compel others to the Gospel, and having the best called out of me in order to bear others’ burdens and shape younger ones into mature Christians. I can affirm then today that God has done this in my life, and again be filled with gratitude.

Lessons for me …
Because God is my shepherd, my provider, this speaks today to my own consciousness of my shortcomings. I can grow hesitant and uncertain when trying to lead others, thinking I lack the wisdom or even just the right words to say. I get trapped in the mindset that I somehow have to conjure up the resources, the room in my heart and mind to properly lead others, and this results in insecurity, the paralysis of cynicism and self-doubt. I need to affirm today that just as God has led me and shaped me through His Word, so He will provide me with the wisdom and spiritual resources necessary to minster to others. As His word has been that timely guide for me over and over again in my own life, and as I have experienced too His word spurring me on to think of and pray for others, so I know today that His word is that great provision for me. I can take assurance that just as He has shepherded me to this current point, so He will always be with me, providing for me through the collective wisdom of His words and the leaders He has placed in my life. In this, He will provide the resources needed to meet His calling on me.

From the latter half of the first verse, “I shall not be in want,” I can see today why because the Lord is my Shepherd I do not have to be in that state of grasping, wanting more for myself. Being in want seems to be the primary posture of people my age today. We want more status, more autonomy in which we can define and chase our own pictures of happiness, contentment, and even spirituality. We become defined by what we want in terms of material objects and possessions, and indulging in the self seems to be the norm. As my income stabilizes, and I am not in such a tenuous place financially, I can learn to not raise my lifestyle above what it was before. The temptation of having more money is that you’ll want to find greater avenues to spend it, and these avenues inevitably lead back to the self. Therefore, I can trust that God is my provider, and strive for simplicity in how I spend. Another way to trust God as my shepherd and not be in want in this area is to be generous and extravagant towards others in need.

As I think too about my season of life, being in my late 20’s, much of what men want in this time is more respect and esteem. We are on that constant track of trying to establish ourselves, and prove that we have something to show for our lives. We want that attention and status due to what we can offer, what we have accomplished with our own hands. Translate this into the context of ministry, and there is that strong temptation to gain significance through having results, doing things so that others can notice and attribute more credit to you. As I think about my own struggles in this area, and often this want of greater status, I need to learn to trust that God is my provider in this area of significance. I need to look to the Cross and how it shows that I have the greatest significance in God, and not my own achievements, my supposed strengths, and the respect I gain or do not gain. Being anointed with oil means that through Christ, God has identified me already as His son, His precious child. That is my new identity, and the identity I can embrace today. Instead of being in want of carving out my own significance, I can finally rest secure then in what God has already done for me. I do not have to be in want of these self-centered goals, but rather desire the higher, Heaven-bound goals that God has placed in my life.

Prayer
Heavenly Father,
My shepherd, my provider, the one who has faithfully watched over me, bestowed upon me that identity of beloved child, I pour out a prayer of gratitude for the ways in which these words have been true in my own life. You have saved me from that life of walking down the perilous roads of sin, and instead have led me to those green pastures, quiet waters of a life of following you. As I think about the dangers you have saved me from, I commit to trusting you more as my Shepherd. I do not have to be in want of more material possessions, attaining that portrait of the settled life. I do not have to be in want of more personal significance through achievement, proving myself so that I have some sort of flimsy justification for my existence. Instead, I can live in the freedom that you have been with me, guiding me away from peril and into this narrow road of following you. Your goodness and love have indeed followed me all the days of my life. Therefore, may I live that life unfettered by the anxieties which can befall so many of us. May I live not in constant worry about whether I will have enough energy, time and space to pursue my own interests. May I not be tied down by those practical worries of money, of career and what I will achieve in my lifetime. May I not engage in those petty battles for my own ego, for seeming more than I am to others. I know that your rod and staff have provided that comfort for me over the years, turning me away from that shriveled life lived for the self and into the comfort of knowing that following You was the most worthy purpose. Continue to guide me then in paths of righteousness. Take this once broken life and lead it to flourishing as you have always envisioned it–a life given up to the needs, burdens of others, a life that can compel others to the Gospel. This salvation life of dying to myself for the sake of living for others is indeed the way to restoring my soul. I commit to this life again, and leaving that path of anxiety and selfishness. Thank you Lord for restoring me, for redeeming me, and showering my life with so much blessing, purpose, and daily giving me that provision of Jesus so I can testify today, with joy and zeal, that indeed goodness and love have followed me, and will continue to follow me all the days of my life.

Submitted by Jeremiah L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
Psalm 23
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
O Lord, You are the Good Shepherd. You lay down Your life for Your sheep. Thank you for being that Good Shepherd for me. You gave up Your rights and Your very life to save me, to take the place for my sin, so that I could be made righteous before God the Father and restored to right relationship with You. Forgive me for the ways in which I view you as aloof or distant. This passage shows me that You are caring and watchful over me, and that You know my many weaknesses and frailties.

This picture of You as shepherd, and I as a sheep, is so apt. I am so foolish and dumb and blind. I am like a sheep, harassed and helpless. My own sins lead me astray. The very good that I want to do, I don’t seem to be able to do, and I keep making the same mistakes again and again. I keep being drawn again and again to the worldly and immature lies of thinking that ultimately harm me and draw me far away from home. I keep thinking that I will be filled by all the counterfeit things of this world, like feeding my pride or desire to be someone in this life. I am constantly wandering away from you in my heart and in my affections. Lord, have mercy on me, a foolish sheep in desperate need of a faithful shepherd. Though I am so often faithless, You are faithful. Though I wander time and time again and often seek security in the things of this world, You always seek me out through Your word. In You and through You, I lack no good thing and I am abundantly provided for. When I look at my life, I know that I am richly blessed and cared for, and that there are so many things in my life that simply did not have to be. You know what I need to follow You and to truly live. I pray that I would not forget these truths — that I would not forget or lose sight of the truth of how desperately I need You, the Good Shepherd, to lead me.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
Lord, You’ve led me to green pastures, and in You, I am filled. I can lie in peace, though at times everything seems to be raging within me and around me, and often my heart is so consumed with fears, You are the faithful shepherd who is able to make me lie in peace, because You are with me. Even in the many trials in this life that will come my way, by Your leading, I experience the refreshing that comes from knowing who You are.

Father, You alone know how best to lead me. I don’t know how to lead myself. I confess that, often, I have my own ideas of how You ought to lead me. Many of the things that I have wanted would have completely destroyed me. These things did not lead to the peace that I thought they would. Yet still, I often have my own plans, my own desires, and my sense that this or that should happen. I get bitter and upset when things don’t go the way that I want. All along, though, You’ve known how to lead me. You’ve known how to lead me to the place where I can drink of the waters that truly satisfy, the waters that lead to eternal life, rather than the dirty waters of this world that do not satisfy. Father, help me to submit to your leading. My desires tell me to seek fulfillment and refreshing waters in anything but You.

3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousnessfor his name’s sake.
Father, my soul is often broken or in despair, weighed down by my sins, regrets, fears and worries. You alone have the ability to restore my soul to right relationship with You. Your mighty name, and Your name alone, is worthy to be praised. You’ve taken a deeply lost, confused, hopeless, wicked and broken sinner like me, headed for the death and destruction that was my due, and You set me on the path of righteousness. This is not anything that I myself could have done; it is solely by Your ability and leading. Father, help me to submit to Your leading. Though right now it’s hard in many ways, and the wisdom of the world seems to fly in the face of these truths, and my emotions tell me to go my own way, help me to submit to Your guidance.

4 Even 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.
Lord, there are some difficult situations that I face right now. My emotions rage against me and darkness seems to surround. But Lord, You are with me through these valleys, and in You, I have no reason to fear the evil that seems right around every corner. Lord, it so easy to be consumed by all the fears that are here in this valley of the shadow of death–there really can be no end to the amount of fears that I let dictate my life. Lord, in You, though, I need not fear, because You have not left me alone. You have not abandoned me to fend for myself, lost and alone in this life. Even in the valleys, in the depths, in the seeming darkness, You are still faithfully leading and working out all things for the good of those who love You. In the midst of the what I currently face, conflicts on the outside and all the fears I have within, I pray that I would be able to affirm these truths, to hang onto what I’ve known to be true about You, even when it’s hard to do so.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Lord, You have richly provided for me. When I look at my life, I have not been left alone. Though in many seasons it have been difficult, You were never distant or disinterested. I have been led all the way, and I have experienced Your careful leading in my life, preparing the way so that I could know You and be set free from the empty ways of this world, and so that I could experience true love, community, and peace. In You, I have tasted the abundant life which You came to give. Lord, I pray that I would grow in confidence in this truth: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life…” Even when things are difficult, which ought to be expected, and when things are raging on inside and around me, help me to have a much greater conviction in the truth of these words.

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