Praying the Psalms: Psalm 23

Is there a more comforting image of God than as a shepherd? God is a tender shepherd who loves his sheep. The sheep trust him and the shepherd loves his flock. He cares for us, leads us, protects us, and loves us. Psalm 23 is one of the best known passages of Scripture. It is quoted and memorized by many, and most people are familiar with it. Yet, because we are so familiar with the psalm, we become numb to its potent reminder of God’s love and affection for his sheep. Psalm 23 is a psalm of trust, whispered by generations in the anxious dark night of the soul. Though calamity surrounds, God’s faithful sheep preach this psalm to their own hearts as a always needed reminder that “The Lord is my shepherd”. Let’s take a look at the beautiful psalm with fresh eyes. Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v 1-3 - David is a sheep. As the psalm writer, he recognizes that the Lord is his personal shepherd. He is foolish, weak, and frail as a man. To call yourself a sheep is almost to call yourself an ignoramus. Sheep are not very smart. They stray away. They are stubborn. They are clueless. Yet, David has enough self awareness about his own heart, that he is prone to wander in to the dangerous thicket of sin. He needs a loving shepherd who can guide him and protect him. The Lord is his shepherd.

The Lord is the good shepherd, because he provides for the sheep. David does not want for anything. The shepherd makes sure his sheep are provided for and taken out to the safe and nutritious green pastures. God leads his sheep to a place of safety and of rest. He does restore our souls.

As we think about the work of Christ, our good shepherd he too restores our soul. He leads us down the narrow path of righteousness that leads to life. He guides us and shows us the way. He leads us the the fountain of everlasting waters. He takes to the comforting green grass into his presence where their is peace and enteral joy. We have a good shepherd who cares for the sheep, and his name is Jesus Christ.

v. 4 - As a sheep, not every day is spent in a beautiful green pasture on a gorgeous cool afternoon with rays of sunshine sparkling over your reflective fleece. Bad days come, even for little lambs. Everyone has moments where we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. These moments of loss, grief, pain, and sadness distress the heart of even the most trusting sheep. Yet, the distress of the valley dissipates when we remind ourselves one the goodness of the shepherd.

David says that even though he walks through those valleys, he does so without fear. No matter what is lurking in the darkness behind the cleft, the Shepherd is with him. The Shepherd carries a rod and a staff to both protect and guide the sheep to safety. No matter what carnivorous wolves salivating in the darkness, the shepherd will protect his sheep from the blood lust of their enemies. He will make sure that his sheep pass through the valley safely and without harm. This is why David says that the shepherd’s rod and staff are a comfort to him. He knows that God is not an impotent God, unaware and caught of guard by the darkness. Rather, he is the courageous shepherd who is ready to defend at any moment.

What comfort for us as the people of God! God is not only all loving and all knowing, but he is all powerful. What voracious enemy threatens you when God is your shepherd? Who will be able to overcome the strength of the Almighty? God is the protector of his sheep. He does not disappoint, therefore the sheep can have utmost trust in their shepherd as one who is more than able to defend them from harm.

v. 5-6 - The image then shifts from one of shepherding to feasting. God is the host who prepares a table for his guests. He does this in the presence of the enemies. Though they swarm, God lavishes his protective love on his children.  To prepare a meal and eat a meal with another was a sign of intimacy, affection, honor, and love. God lavishes all of those on us as he prepares that table. He pours out the anointing oil on our head and he fills our cup till it overflows. The imagery of all this is clear; God lavishes his children with blessing, kindness, and love. It does not matter what enemies there may be, he delights in his sheep and he cares for them.

Because of God’s extravagant care, protection, and love for his sheep as the good shepherd, David knows that goodness and mercy will follow him all of his life. If God is for him, who can be against him? As we are recipients of God’s divine love we leave a trail of evidence of God’s goodness and mercy, no matter how long or dark the valleys may be. He is a God who brings us into his presence and we dwell with him for ever.

What a beautiful image of comfort and what an expression of trust! Yet, how much greater does the beauty of Psalm 23 increase as we dwell on the good shepherd Jesus Christ who lays down his life for the sheep? Jesus leads our soul by giving up his life for our good. God anoints our head with the lavish, priceless blood of his own son. He lavishes us with every spiritual blessing as our cup overflows into an ever growing ocean of divine grace.

Jesus stands in the upper room as his enemies surrounded him. He prepares a table for his disciples and says eat and drink the body and blood of the son. As Jesus set down his goblet of wine, he goes into the garden prepared to have the cup of God’s wrath poured out on him. The overflow of blessings we receive from God is only possible because the overflow of divine judgement was poured on Jesus. Judgement and wrath followed Jesus at the end of his life, so that you could have goodness and mercy follow you into eternal life. It is through the death of the good shepherd that we are brought into the house of God. The good shepherd becomes the lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

By the blood of Christ, we are brought into the permeant rest of vibrant emerald pasture and running crystal waters. We are lead into the great wedding feast of the lamb as we eat at that divinely prepared table of unending nourishment and celebration. We will pass through the valley of darkness through the blood of the protective shepherd; on that day when the valley of death is behind us, our shepherd will lead us to the land of rest and there we shall dwell with our shepherd in ceaseless joy and an ever expanding satisfaction forever more.

Prayer Guide

  • What situation has you stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed? Share that with the Lord.
  • Praise God for the ways he cares for you as your good shepherd.
  • Ask the Lord to help you trust in him, knowing that he will never let you down.
  • Thank God for the good shepherd named Jesus who by his life and death brings you into enteral rest.

The 6 Challenges Young Pastors Face

Young pastors face unique obstacles and challenges.  Sure they may be challenges with leading God's people, but most of the problems in my ministry are not external, but internal.  The six challenges are largely a result from my own experience.  Pastoral ministry is gloriously challenging.  If you are a young pastor, may these six challenges be helpful for you as you identify potential obstacles.  If you are a church member with a younger pastor, you can pray especially for him in these areas.  Yet, I'm sure that I will come to find that these six challenges are not unique to young pastors but are challenges all shepherds face.  So here they are, six challenges young pastors face.

1. The Challenge of Experience

When I was being considered as the Senior Pastor at Forest Hills, this is the one great concern that came up time and time again was my experience. As a 25 year old guy at the time, the concerns were not only real but valid. Thankfully my lack of experience was made up by their careful observation of my leadership and ministry the past few years.

Yet young pastors face this very obstacle; we just are not very experienced. Seminary can be a great teacher, but so can the school of hard knocks. Young pastors have to deal with crisis, problems, and obstacles for the first time. This doesn't mean they are unable to faithfully shepherd, it is just that they lack the great practical wisdom that experience can teach.

How can young pastors compensate for their lack of experience? I've discovered two ways. First, read, read, and read some more. Learning from the experience of others can help prepare you. Second, hang out with older, wiser pastors. Spend some time with some men who have been in the trenches of ministry a while and glean from their experiences. I've tried to do both of these things, and it has helped me greatly overcome this challenge.

2. The Challenge of Balance

Young Pastors tend to struggle to balance between church and family. Pastoral ministry is largely unlike any other profession in that your personal and professional life blur into one. It is impossible to separate the two into nice, neat little compartments. As a result it is easy to begin getting out of balance, spending to many hours focused on studying, visits, meetings, and emails at the expense of family. Young Pastors tend to have young families with young children. This makes the balance especially tricky.

This challenge I have yet to truly figure out (I doubt I ever will!), yet all pastors must first prioritize their personal spiritual health and the health of their family. For you young pastors out there, we must guard the church from becoming our second wife. The church is Jesus' bride, not yours.

3. The Challenge of Patience

To be young is to be impatient. Young Pastors want results and want them now. My generation is the fast food, instant gratification generation. We want what we want when we want it. Yet, people are not fast food restaurants. It takes time, patience, and diligent investment to often see spiritual fruit. May young pastors enter into a position in ministry and then give up after a year or two when things do not seem to be progressing or moving at the speed they'd like. Young pastors must be taught patience by the Spirit and seek to be consistent and have the endurance to stay in the same place.

Young Pastors, we must be patient with our people as God has been patient towards us. Sure, our people can be thick headed and hard hearted, but so are we. Be faithful in preaching the Word week in and week out. You might not see immediate fruit and results, but the Spirit is working. Give it time and you will be amazed at God will do.

4. The Challenge of Respect

A challenge young pastors have is to "not be despised for their youth" (1 Tim 4:12). It is a very really challenge, but you are not respected simply because you hold the title "pastor". Titles don't earn respect, but character does.

Young Pastor, don't feel as if you are entitled to respect just because you have the title of pastor. Earn it by watching your life and your teaching. If you are faithful seek to preach the word of Christ and live the life of Christ, you will earn the respect of your people.

5. The Challenge of Humility

Young men tend to be overly self-confident. Humility comes naturally to no human being, but is especially absent in young men. As a young pastor, you can begin to really on your own gifting, education, and ideas more than the Spirit of God.

Young Pastor, you must be teachable and humble. Be open to be corrected. Be quick to repent of your sin. Humble yourself and ask for the forgiveness of others. Pray that the Spirit would humble you and learn to think of yourself as servant to all.

6. The Challenge of Trust

It is easy to begin to doubt and question God's ability. In fact, I find myself sinfully thinking if God will be faithful in my ministry. Yet God is a God who can be trusted. More than that, he is the only one who can do anything with the mess of our ministries. All pastors should be marked by an incredible, daily dependency on God.

In your ministry you will get discouraged. You will want to quit and throw in the towel. You may doubt God's goodness and power. Yet, always trust Him. He is faithful and even though we my suffer for His sake, "rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven" (Matthew 5:12).

You Will Face Challenges

Young pastors do face unique challenges and obstacles. Yet God doesn't call the qualified he qualifies the called. Be dependent on God in all things in your ministry. By his grace you will grow in these areas and may we run the race of pastoral ministry well and be faithful by the chief shepherd Jesus Christ.

What challenges have you experienced as a young pastor? Any you would add to this list?

4 Reasons Why You Should Take a Spiritual Retreat

A few weeks ago I had a spiritual retreat at the Cove in Asheville. It was a time to get away by myself to pray and seek the Lord concerning my own spiritual life and also the future of Forest Hills Baptist Church. The whole experience was profitable as I was able to completely detach and saturate my soul in the presence of God.  I plan to make this spiritual retreat an annual thing in my pastoral ministry. Spiritual retreats are profitable for any Christian, but especially for pastors. For you pastors out there, let me give you some reasons why you should prioritize an annual spiritual retreat.

1. You Need Spiritual Rest

Pastoral ministry is unlike any profession. You simply cannot fake spiritual health for long. As a pastor you are constantly and continually pouring into peoples life through the preaching ministry, counseling, and pastoral care. The pastor is a man who must always give from deep within his own soul and he must also be a man who keeps his own soul filled. A pastor must first shepherd his own soul before he can shepherd others. He cannot give what he does not have. To take a few days to for spiritual rest, restoration, and refilling can be incredibly helpful and provides needed rest.

You might be afraid of leaving your church for a few days and getting out of town on a spiritual retreat. You may not think you can afford the time! “There is much ministry to be done”, you say. Yet you cannot afford not too. Before man can be poured out as a drink offering for his people he must be filled with the great joyous love of Christ. To take time away to refill the cup again is not only the best thing you can do for your own soul, but also for the souls of your flock. A tired shepherd is quick to fall asleep while watching his sheep. Get your rest so that you may be alert and awake as you watch not only your own soul but the souls of those entrusted to you by the chief shepherd.

2. You Need Time to Plan

A key part of my spiritual retreat was to plan out the next year in ministry. Not only did I set out to create goals and plans for Forest Hills Baptist Church, I also set out to plan the preaching calendar for the next year. This sort of concentrated planning takes a great deal of time and uninterrupted focus. So often pastors find themselves moving from one crisis to the next and unable to focus on what is most important–the ministry of the Word and prayer. Many spend all their efforts working for the church they spend little time working on the church. Leaders need concentrated time to focus on the big picture.

Taking the time to prayerfully seek God’s guidance in the future of your church is good not only for you but for the church. Taking the time away is a labor of love as you plot the path you will lead God’s flock. Take the time to travel up the mountain of the Lord so that you may hear his voice so that you may return to your people with the word of God to which to lead them.

3. You Need to Be Filled

Pastors need to be filled.  Often this happens through diligent study and reading.  Although I was by myself on my spiritual retreat I had a myriad of different teachers pouring into me. From sermons from Martyn-Lloyd Jones on the four hour drive, to Bunyan’s classic allegory Pilgrim’s progress, to the quaint honest soul searching of C.S. Lewis, I was in good company. Most importantly though I had the Holy Spirit as my teacher using the Scriptures to convict me of sin, grow me, and lead me. Learning, studying, and growing are life long endeavors for every Christian, even pastors.

4. You Need to Enjoy God

Pastor, be a lover of God. Long for his presence as a deer painting for streams of water. Do not be so focused on your daily ministry that you cease to delight in the one in whose name you are ministering. The labor of pastoral ministry can be fierce, demanding, draining, and exhausting. It is often in that busyness that we forget to enjoy His presence. Spending a few days by yourself will bring you to your knees. It provides focus and clarity on the lover of your soul. For who else do you have to talk to but God? Solitude ushers in a continual conversation with God as you walk with him and talk with him. Pause and enjoy the wondrous truth that the through the blood of Christ you have a relationship with the God of the universe. What a privilege it is to know him! Take the time away and be with Him.

Strength Restored

As a pastor you are limited. Even young men fall exhausted, but it is those who wait on the Lord who will find themselves with the strength of the Eagle (Is 40). As pastor you must be a man daily dependent in every season on God, yet it is appropriate to spend some extra time away reminding yourself that it is in Him that you breath, and move, and find your being.

If you have yet to take a spiritual retreat, let me encourage you to do so. The Cove is a wonderful place to go and I highly recommend it. Yet a spiritual retreat can be at any location where you can disconnect and spend extended time in solitude and worship.

Have you ever taken a spiritual retreat? Would you recommend it to others? Why or Why not? Share with us in the comments below!