God Is With Me on the Path of Renewal
The Lord is my Pace-setter, I shall not rush;
He makes me to stop and rest for quiet intervals.
He provides me with images of stillness, which restores my serenity.
He leads me in ways of efficiency, through calmness of mind.
And His guidance is my peace.
Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day
I will not fret, for His presence is here.
His timelessness, His all-importance will keep me in balance.
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity
By anointing my mind with His oils of tranquillity.
My cup of joyous energy overflows.
Surely harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruits of my hours,
For I shall walk in the pace of the Lord and dwell in His house forever.1
Before we even get into the Christmas season, we seem to be a weary bunch. We work up the energy to prepare for Thanksgiving, then we go shopping on Black Friday weekend. By the time we go back to work, we are tired. Tired from the hassle of the holidays. It is almost like we need a break in between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
So I thought it would be good share from the Psalms. Specifically, I reflected on Psalm 23 and how it applies to us during the holiday season. We will spend the next four weeks in Psalm 23. It may not be your typical Christmas text. However, the psalm can speak powerfully to us as we walk through the holiday season. We speak of the shepherds who came to honor Jesus at His birth. Before these shepherds, there was another shepherd who came to honor and follow Jesus. His name was David.
David himself was the shepherd of Israel. In Psalm 23 David is also a sheep—the Lord is his Shepherd. A greater Shepherd cares for him. This is fundamentally a psalm about Christ. David was not only a king, he was also a prophet. His life and his words point forward to Christ. The emphasis is the provision of God when He leads me. There are times when I need the renewal that comes from God. God is in the business of comforting and renewing me.
FOUR ELEMENTS OF SPIRITUAL RENEWAL
God renews me by giving me rest.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I have what I need.” (Psalm 23:1, CSB)
The mother of a young boy who was dying of cancer taught him the Twenty-third Psalm, having him repeat “the Lord is my shepherd” by counting these five words with his fingers starting with his thumb. His ring finger was the word “my.” When he got to that word, his mother taught him to hold that finger in his fist, symbolizing the personal relationship which Jesus had for him. When the boy died, he was found holding his ring finger. He died in the shepherd’s arms. All of us must come to the place where we can say that the Lord is “my shepherd.”2
God renews me by refreshing me.
“He lets me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters.” (Psalm 23:2, CSB)
While verse 1 affirms that under the care of God we shall be free from want, verse 2 declares that a richer, deeper experience is to be had under God’s care. Reclining in green fields in proximity to calm streams suggests an abundant life.3
Philip Keller worked as a shepherd for eight years and recorded his insights in his book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. When sheep lie down, Keller says, it is because they are safe and satisfied.
It is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met. Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear. Because of their social behavior within a flock, sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind. If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax. Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger.4
So lying down implies that sheep are free from fear, friction, flies, and hunger. Their shepherd cares for them physically, medically, socially, and emotionally.5
In our frantic life God desires our rest. The Sabbath was instituted, in part, to guarantee this. If we do not follow His pattern, He may even enforce rest upon us. The place of rest is “green pastures.” The Hebrew word used here means “fresh shoots.” God does not intend to rest His sheep in hospital beds but gives them lush meadows where they can graze and enjoy soft grass. Today we are so goal-oriented and compulsive that we feel guilty when we rest. We need the delight of a personal quiet time of being in God’s presence. When God rests us, there is no guilt—only the divine hand.6
God as the Great Shepherd leads me to waters where I can be refreshed. God’s Spirit refreshes me as I read His word.
God renews me by restoring His relationship with me.
“He renews my life….” (Psalm 23:3, CSB)
The care of the soul, its restoration is God’s concern. To restore the soul means to revive it and to enliven it, but care for the soul is not without an ethical and moral purpose. The restoration of the soul allows for divine guidance in the paths of righteousness. We live not simply to live, but to pursue the appropriate relationship with God. Life with God is a journey with God framed by the holy name. God is one who restores.7
I don’t restore my relationship with God. God is the active participant in restoring the relationship with Him. I don’t renew my life. God renews my life with Him. This is why I state that God renews His relationship with me. I am not the driver of this relationship. God is.
Yet a relationship only works when both are actively involved. This is why Jesus said that I should “abide” with Him as He “abides” with me. We are both actively involved in the relationship. However, it is amazing how simple it is for me to leave the relationship.
God has to take steps to restore my relationship with Him.
Have you ever been in a large crowd and a parent is calling for the child. That child knows the parent’s voice – even in a crowded room. You’d be surprised how in tune our ears are when we are in danger or confusion. We are able to know that there is someone we can understand and trust. We know that if we follow Mom or Dad’s voice, it will bring us to safety. We follow for Mom and Dad’s sake because they know the right path, the way home.
Have you ever been in a situation that seemed confusing? Where you looked at the situation and wondered: “How am I going to get through this? I don’t see a clear path.” God empowers you by bringing you along the right path. He leads you for His purposes, because He knows what is good for you.
The reason there is confusion is because there is so much noise drowning out God’s voice in our lives. We have the smart phone texting and beeping, we have the music going, we have the social media flashing quotes, funny cat videos and pictures at us, television, and so many other things that can distract us. So we have a hard time distinguishing what God wants because there is so much noise in our world. There is more noise now than there has ever been. So many voices competing for our attention. They tell us the direction they want to take us, even though they may not have our best interests at heart. Not so with God. “His Name’s sake” because that He knows what is good for you.8
God renews me by leading me in the right direction.
“He…leads me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3, CSB)Another element is that God leads me in the right direction.
Left to themselves, sheep will always walk on the same path. They cover the same ground until the grass is eaten and trampled. There can be a green pasture nearby, but they are too dumb to recognize it. So it’s up to the shepherd to lead them to new pastures. We’re that way. We get in ruts and feel comfortable in our routines. So what does our Shepherd do? He goes before us for His name’s sake and opens up the right paths.9
Calvin tells his own story in the preface to his Commentary on the Psalms and informs us of how God led him to Geneva against his will. At age twenty-six he had already published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, one of the greatest theological works of the Christian church, and he was on his way to Germany, where he intended to isolate himself in study and writing. En route, however, he stopped to spend the night in Geneva. When William Farel, a leader of the fledgling Reformation church in Geneva, heard that Calvin was in town, he went to see him and asked that he remain in Geneva to help the fledgling Reformation church. Calvin resisted, and he tells the story like this:
And after having learned that my heart was set upon devoting myself to private studies for which I wished to keep myself free from other pursuits, and finding that he [Farel] gained nothing by entreaties, he proceeded to utter an imprecation that God would curse my retirement and the tranquillity of the studies which I sought if I should withdraw and refuse to give assistance when the necessity was so urgent.10
Thankfully Calvin did stay in Geneva, pursued by God’s “goodness and love,” and changed the history of the church and the history of Western civilization.11
The shepherd leads His sheep. I would hear other sheep as they follow the shepherd. Have I lost sight of the shepherd? Have I stopped listening to His voice? Jesus renews my life by speaking to me. All I have to do is listen to His voice. I know how it sounds. I can hear the shepherd speak and I know how comforting and secure that voice sounds.
Psalm 23 is for Christians. How do you know if Jesus is your Shepherd? There are two tests. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.”
“My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27, CSB)
Do you listen to his Word? Jesus also said, “they follow me.” Do you do what he says?
Many people have taken false comfort from Psalm 23. They want to believe that God is their Shepherd, but they do not listen to Christ or follow him. None of God’s blessings come to us except though Jesus Christ. Christ is the great Shepherd for God’s people. If you do not belong to Jesus, God is not your Shepherd. If you know Jesus and love him, Psalm 23 is for you.
Listen to the shepherd. He knows what you need. He knows when you need to rest. He knows how to restore your soul. He knows where to lead you.
You are my shepherd. I have what I need. You let me rest. You lead me to the quiet places. You renew my life. You lead me along the right paths because You know what is best for me.
1 Toki Miyashiro, “23rd Psalm for Busy People,” Japanese version published in Guidepost Magazine, https://anitamathias.com/2011/08/25/psalm-23-for-busy-people-by-toyi-miyashiro-and-psalm-23-the-12-step-version/, author’s name also known as Toki Miyashina, accessed on 29 November 2019.
2 Donald Williams and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Psalms 1–72, vol. 13, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1986), 192.
3 James H. Evans Jr, “Theological Perspective on Psalm 23,” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 2 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 106.
4 Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 35; quoted in James Montgomery Boice, Psalms: 1–41 (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker, 1994), 1:209.
5 James A. Johnston, Preaching the Word: The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord Is King—Psalms 1 to 41, ed. R. Kent Hughes, vol. 1, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 246.
6 Donald Williams and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Psalms 1–72, vol. 13, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1986), 193.
7 James H. Evans Jr, “Theological Perspective on Psalm 23,” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 2 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 106.
8 Jim Erwin, “Psalm 23:1-6 How God Empowers Me,” sermon, 11 June 2015, Internet, Patheos, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2015/06/11/psalm-231-6-how-god-empowers-me/, accessed on 27 February 2019.
9 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume Two: Psalms-Malachi (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 29.
10 John Calvin, Steward of God’s Covenant: Selected Writings of John Calvin, ed. by J. F. Thornton and S. B. Varenne (New York: Vintage, 2006), 170.
11 C. Hassell Bullock, Psalms 1–72, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, vol. 1, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015), 172–173.