This week we continue to delve into that familiar Psalm twenty- three. My prayer is that as we wrestle with what it means that the LORD is our shepherd that we would find contentment and peace.
Call to Worship: Psalm 100:1-5 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his ; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Amen
HYMN 210 Awake my soul and with the sun
O God, by whose power and presence we are continually upheld and sustained, we lift up our hearts to You as the source of all light and love, all knowledge and truth, all goodness and joy. You Lord are both our shepherd and our pastures, our guide and the source of life.
Help us to lay aside all anxious cares and concerns from the busy world, and rest in you, commune with You not only in this moment but each and every day. So that we may be filled with Your presence to go out and serve You with a clearer vision and a greater courage. May we not only be led by You but may we lead others to You.
Merciful Father, we confess with shame how far we have wandered from Your ways. We fall far short of Your will and will and purpose for us; short even from what we ourselves hoped to be. Show us again clearly the vision and purpose you have for Your children and church. Give us the courage and humility to confess all that holds us back and trips us up from being all You desire for us. Empower us and embolden us to walk worthy of our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ. Cleanse us from every stain of past sin; deliver us from its evil power, and grant us Your forgiveness and peace. We pray all this to your glory and praise alone. Amen
I Samuel 30:1-10
Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid on the Negeb and on Ziklag. They had attacked Ziklag, burned it down, 2 and taken captive the women and all[a] who were in it, both small and great; they killed none of them, but carried them off, and went on their way. 3 When David and his men came to the city, they found it burnt down, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept, until they had no more strength to weep. 5 David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 6 David was in great danger; for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in spirit for their sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.
David said to the priest Abiathar son of Ahimelech, ‘Bring me the ephod.’ So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. 8 David inquired of the Lord, ‘Shall I pursue this band? Shall I overtake them?’ He answered him, ‘Pursue; for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.’ 9 So David set out, he and the six hundred men who were with him. They came to the Wadi Besor, where those stayed who were left behind. 10 But David went on with the pursuit, he and four hundred men; two hundred stayed behind, too exhausted to cross the Wadi Besor.
‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
HYMN 355 You, Lord, are both Lamb and Shepherd
Have you ever had to lead a group of people to reach a particular goal or geographical point? I remember vividly leading a delegation of seven, lay leaders and ministers from the Presbytery of Egoli (Johannesburg) to Huntsville, Alabama (USA). After a busy ten days we were heading home and I was feeling relieved and confident because we had achieved our broad objectives and we were all still healthy, safe and more united. Waiting at the boarding gate at the airport in Washington, D.C., the last leg of our homeward journey, I told everyone that we had an hour to spare so they could go and explore but to meet back in forty minutes. In the blink of an eye, they all scattered in every direction. It was only then that my eye caught the digital clock displaying the two different time zones and simultaneously I notice the flight we were due to catch was boarding. I had not changed my watch and so we did not have an hour to spare. I ran around in a flat spin trying to gather all those who had scattered. It is tough leading even a group of lay leaders and ministers.
Last week we started a series looking at most probably the most well-known passage of scripture, Psalm 23, the LORD is my Shepherd. David who himself took care of sheep and later shepherded Israel uses the analogy of a Shepherd to describe God and his relationship with God. The analogy implies that David is a sheep and if we are to apply the analogy to ourselves, we need to see ourselves as sheep. In a world where independence and self-actualisation is prized it is very difficult to identify ourselves as defenceless, directionless and dare I say it, dumb sheep. If you speak to those from a farming background, however, they will tell you that sheep of all livestock need the most meticulous care and attention. They have no sharp claws or teeth to defend themselves and they are prone to wander and get themselves into dangerous situations. It is really hard to see ourselves as directionless or defenceless but you have seen it in others right, the tendency to go down wrong paths and find themselves in danger or exhausted. Most management or leadership gurus confirm what we all know, the hardest person to lead is the person in the mirror. Just to prove it; who decided last week I am going to take time to memorise Psalm 23 and then you were led in other directions. We truly do need someone to lead us.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:1-3) David emphasises that God initiates in their relationship. God is always at work in our lives in ways we perceive, in ways we receive and in ways we don’t and in ways we often ignore. Often verses two and three are explained by the shepherd providing physical nourishment for the sheep as he leads them to green pastures and still waters. “Green pastures” and “Still waters” do speak of the shepherds special and abundant provision, especially if we take into consideration that most of Judea was arid, desert or semi-desert. Not a pleasant environment especially for directionless sheep. Yes, the shepherd would have to lead to “green pastures” and “still waters” but David speaks about more than physical rest or nourishment. God restores our soul. If we dig a little deeper we realise that sheep do not lie down to eat. Lying down implies that the sheep is at rest. Sheep need to lie down once they are full because they are like cows they regurgitate their food and chew it again. (I can hear my boys in the background saying gross). It is necessary though and the sheep can’t do this on the run, they do it best when at rest. The Hebrew word translated “Still waters” could also mean “waters of tranquillity.”. The focus is on something beyond physical rest and nourishment, but rather a rejuvenation of the soul, one’s inner being. Is there a rest that is needed and can be experienced beyond just physical?
In the story of David at Ziklag, dealing with the horror and ravages of war, as David and some of his men set out on a rescue mission some stay behind because they are exhausted. It is a word that is far too common lately. I am sure you have used it or have heard it recently, “I am tired” or “I am exhausted”. Often when I am sharing with someone who is tired and weary, I will draw a small water tank, the kind you use at home, with a tape at the bottom and inlet at the top. The question then becomes “What feeds you?” In other words what fills your tank as life drains it each day. We all know that when we’re running low, we are less creative and productive and more prone to negative responses and conflict, yet many are running on empty. The real danger happens when we stop doing the things that feed us and spend more time on those things that drain us! You know what that is and we are all different. Studies reveal that a third of all people suffer from insomnia of some form. This increases to forty to sixty percent for those over sixty years of age. Sleep deprivation in turn has a negative impact on our metabolism and many other health issues. Do you need to hear this message? Do you need rest? Have you ever considered that the longest of all ten commandments is about rest. Taking one day a week to worship and fix our eyes on the Good Shepherd, God. One day to slow down and rest.
We know the things that feed us and refresh us physically, both mind and body but what about the soul? Phillip Keller notes that sheep do not lie down easily (sound familiar). He goes on to explain that it is almost impossible for sheep to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met:
1. Free of Fear – they must feel safe
2. Free of Friction – they must feel accepted within the flock
3. Free of Famine – they must have full tummies
4. Free of Flies – they must be free of pestilence
And so besides being directionless and defenceless, sheep are also pretty restless. It takes a lot to get them to “lie down”. What about you and I, what robs us of rest? “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34) The Greek word translated worry can be broken up: MERIZO – “to divide” and NOUS – “the mind”. Often our minds are on so many things. They are preoccupied with things that happened last month, last year sometimes even ten years ago. Our minds can also be on tomorrow, next week, next month or even what will happen in five years’ time. So how do we deal with today’s problems when our strength is elsewhere. Could the rest come by focussing not on the past or the future but on the one who leads us in the present? How does God restore our souls? “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ[a] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” (Colossians 3:15-16) God’s promises and guidance through his Word leads us to peace. As we meditate and memorise the scriptures, they remind us of God’s ways and nature, that he is the good shepherd and is actively at work in our lives when we see it and when we don’t. Our knowledge of God’s faithfulness brings peace to our minds but God can also supernaturally give us peace in our inner beings. God can minister to us and refresh us by the Holy Spirit even in the most difficult and arid of seasons. Although I have experienced this, I am still not sure how it happens but at an inner being level you feel restored: Peace when I should have been in turmoil; energy when I should have been exhausted; wisdom when my mind was beyond weary! As we take our eyes off the fear, friction, famine and flies and follow God’s lead we find rest for our souls. I cannot fully explain it, but God does work in restoring our souls as we trust, as we follow and as we lay down.
David wrote psalm twenty-three and he experienced some really traumatic events in his life. David also however experienced “rest for his soul” in the midst of it all. In 1 Samuel 30 we have just one of these moments. The enemy has come in and burned the city of Ziklag, which David was using as a refuge. The Amalekites have come in and taken the women and children, including David’s wives. David’s own men turn on him, they blame him for their lose. There is fear, friction and I am sure famine; this is a tough place to be. I am sure most of us can relate yet cannot fully imagine David’s situation. “Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept, until they had no more strength to weep.” (1 Samuel 30:4) Then in the midst of all this chaos and turmoil we have this phrase, “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” (1 Samuel 30:6b) What did he do? Another translation says “But David found strength in the Lord.” He looked to God for his strength and guidance. David not only got guidance but strength to go on a mission of rescue. I am not sure what you may be going through, but have you taken time to be in the presence of God. Have you allowed the good shepherd to lead you to waters of tranquillity? Have you allowed him to lead and guide you in his ways of righteousness?
“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3) Leading implies following, and following implies hearing the voice of the shepherd as distinct from the other voices. Sheep may be directionless, defenceless and often restless but they can be taught to follow and to distinguish the voice of the shepherd. As they follow, they find themselves on secure paths that lead to satisfaction. “When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:4) The leading of the sheep is an active process that takes place in the present and in the presence of the shepherd. The sheep do not follow a set of rules or rituals which the shepherd has taught, they follow the voice of one they have learned to trust. The comfort comes from who is leading and not from where they are or what they are doing. Unfortunately, many of us in our spirituality slip into a law- based faith or theology. It is like a sheep pen theology where we feel secure because we are living within the parameters of the fence. The fence representing the rules or ritual requirements we feel are necessary as we have interpreted them from Jesus’s teachings or the ten commandments. We convince ourselves that as long as we live within these we are secure and will find provision and purpose. It negates the need for leading though and it profoundly impacts our relationship to the good shepherd because we do not learn to trust his voice. We do not learn to discern the voice and grow in our confidence in the relationship.
Do you need to take more time to rest, to fill your tank? Has God perhaps made you lie down because he desires for you to seek your strength in Him? “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:1-3)
HYMN 557 O Love that wilt not let me go
Generous God and Giver of all things, we rest in your loving and tender care; and we are revived, restored and renewed by your strength and encouragement. You go before us in life, leading us in pathways that are secure without the confusion of becoming lost, aware only that we always need to follow you; and so, we trust in your guidance and wisdom. At this restless time in the world, as war rages on in Ukraine and political tensions are rising among many nations, we pray that you may guide all the leaders of the world with your wisdom.
As human beings, we know there will be times of stress, when our body or mind lets us down; we know there will dark times too, when life seems to be nothing but struggle; and it is in those times especially, that we rely on your Presence deep within us to guide and bless us. Grace-Giving God, you provide us with the tools we need for the seasons we face, and for this we give you our trust and our thanks. We pray that in those times of despair we would turn towards you and not away. Give us the faith and discipline we need to spend time in your presence so that we may find tranquillity as we rest in your presence and feed on your Word.
Life-Giving God, you put out the ‘Welcome’ mat for us as we gather to worship you. You nourish our souls and bodies through your goodness and tender mercies; you heal our life’s wounds; and your generous love fills us to overflowing. You give us an honoured place at your table, and invite us to stay with you as your guest forever. You have promised that your unfailing love will stay with us always, and for this, we give you our thanks. We pray that we too may welcome others with tender care and mercy so that they may come to know your grace and guiding love.
We pray together the words You taught Your friends, saying:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.
HYMN 468 Son of God, eternal Saviour
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Heb. 13:20-21)
Bible Quotations taken from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
English translations of The Lord’s Prayer, © 1998, English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC),