Today’s Text and Thought of Encouragement:
“How precious and weighty also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them.”
“I opened the old, old Bible,
And looked at a page of Psalms,
Till the wintry sea of my troubles
Was soothed as by summer calms;
For the words that have helped so many,
And that ages have made more dear,
Seemed new in their power to comfort,
As they brought me their word of cheer.”
Today’s Study Text:
“I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
Psalm 23: Part 30
“Forever! It’s A Long, Long Time!”
“Those who are shepherded by God are not left alone, nor are they even led to a sheepfold…they dwell with God inside the divine abode. And that household arrangement is not temporary, but will rather last for a long, long time (le’ orek yamin).
What is the concept I have of the word “forever”?
“Blessed are the homesick, for they shall reach home!”
F. B. Meyer
“People who dwell in God dwell in the Eternal now.”
In my teen years, I remember hearing a song called “Forever is a long, long time.” I’d have to agree with this thought. But I’ll go a step further and ask this question, “”How can we even begin to understand what ‘forever’ means?”
Our everyday lives are squeezed into what I call a “world of disposable.” There are very few things in our world that last. Just think of the “things” you possess. A few days ago, I was having a problem with data retrieval on my computer. So I decided to enlist the help of an “expert” who was quick to inform me that my problems were the result of “old” software. Get this – the software I had wasn’t twenty years old. I’d just purchased it a year ago. When informed that what I had paid for was no longer adequate for my needs, I asked the “expert” if this also meant my hardware, the machine I had, was out-dated too. I don’t even have to bother to tell you what he told me. You already have the answer.
Not long ago, my mother’s refrigerator finally, “gave up,” as she put it. When the delivery man came to install her new machine, he stood back and looked at the older model which had served our family for close to forty years. And then he made this statement, “They don’t make them like they used to!” Not in our disposable world where we grab the fastest food we can on our way to work, only to pick up something easy and quick on our way home. And speaking of work, I happened upon as article last night which reported the findings of a survey about how workers feel about their jobs. At any given time, the report concluded that over 51% of those individuals who are fortunate enough to have jobs, are actively searching for something different.
Maybe it’s what we call hunting for greener pastures. Sadly, the dissatisfaction we face when we realize that our temporary “things” don’t satisfy us spills over into our relationships as well. It used to be quite routine for couples to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. But now, people think that 10 years together is a real big deal. And 25 years is a milestone which requires a huge celebration. When I told someone recently that Jim and I had been married for 37 years, their eyes nearly popped out of their head. “You don’t look that old,” was the response, and I laughingly replied, “we were only little children when we got hitched.” After all these years together, I’m not one to offer fool-proof marriage advice, that’s for sure. But let me say this, Jim and I took our vows, “till death do us part,” seriously. Those were not just some meaningless words we mumbled at a fancy wedding ceremony. The fact is that the budget for our entire wedding, as well as the reception, was less than $500.00. My dress, which I still have, was on sale for $49.95. And it has lasted, too.
What’s so sad is that marital relationships aren’t the only things we throw on the scrap heap of the temporary in our lives. Friendships get tossed away, too. Over a year ago, a very dear friend of mine, Betteanne, moved from our local community back to Phoenix. She’s over two hours away. And yes, we email and phone, but it’s not the same as living five minutes away from each other. When she moved, she made this very insightful comment, “We are going to have to make time and work on our relationship even more in the future because of the distance between us.” She was absolutely correct. Now, when I go to Phoenix, I make a space in my schedule which is dedicated to “friendship” time and she does the same in return. Whether it’s a delightful lunch or just some slow window-shopping, we treasure the time spent, keeping our friendship from becoming “disposable” like so much else in our lives.
And this brings me directly to Psalm 23: 6 which ends in the King James Version of the Bible with the word “forever.” Interestingly, this word and others like it, such as “forevermore” or “everlasting,” are frequently found from Genesis to Revelation. And it got me to wondering, “Why would God repeat this word throughout Scripture so many times?”
I’d like to offer the idea that God has a much better handle on “time” than you or I do. If we look at the prayer of Moses, recorded in Psalm 90, we find that this man of God, when speaking to his heavenly Father, made this statement: “Lord…a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90: 4, K.J.V.). For God, one day is as if a thousand years just sailed by. Honestly, I don’t understand that kind of speedy time. The fact is there have been some days in my life that I feel have dragged on forever – whatever forever means!
Time, for me, becomes a critical point in Psalm 23. David begins the Psalm talking about his Lord and his shepherd who is taking him on a journey. And quite a journey it is. There are times when the trip takes him into the most restful areas he could imagine. There are rolling hills with flower-filled meadows and lush green grass, bordered by refreshing streams of water which become restorative regions that lift his spirits and calm his nerves.
But this isn’t all David says he encountered on his expedition. There were deep canyons and precipitous valleys where he could have become fearful – and yet – David’s travelogue reports that because his Shepherd was with him, “he did not fear.” His Guide was also prepared, not only with protective implements for the trek, but with food. David’s Shepherd served as a host who spread out a table before him, which silenced his enemies, those who mocked him for following his heavenly Shepherd every step of the way – even in the most treacherous paths.
Then, after a lifetime of staking his claim under the banner of his Lord and his Shepherd, David states, without wavering, that he knows where he will dwell – forever. You see, it isn’t just the Shepherd who knows where the journey ends. The closer David got to the end of his expedition called life, because of the time he had spent everyday under the guidance of his Shepherd, the more trustworthy he found Him to be. And the more knowledgeable David became that indeed what he was promised was true, the more faithful David became in his trust of his Shepherd. And so, as David sings, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord.” But he just can’t help himself for he adds an exclamation – “I will dwell FOREVER!”
As I have come to terms with the fact that in a “disposable world” it is difficult for me to get my head around the concept of “forever,” there are two thoughts which have become central to my longing to “sit-in-the presence” or to “dwell” with my Father, forever!
Thought #1: My first thought is that it is vital that I get to know my Lord and my Shepherd. I’ve asked myself this question on more than one occasion, “Would I want to spend eternity – FOREVER- with someone I did not know or possibly thought was a fierce, tyrant that ordered his subjects around my his own capricious whims? Unfortunately, there are some individuals who happen to think that the Shepherd in the Bible leaves us to suffer on our own. I thank my Shepherd that because of His goodness and mercy, which He promises will be following me “all the days of my life,” dwelling in eternity, forever and forever, will be the most exciting adventure you or I could ever dream of. And as author and Biblical scholar C. S. Lewis so astutely asked, “Where, except in the present, can the Eternal be met?” And then he continued with this perceptive point, “Once (you) are united to God, how could (you) not live for ever?”
Thought #2: My second thought is one which was “sparked” by the author and scholar William Barclay from his book, The Gospel of John, Volume 1. He thoughtfully brings to our consideration the idea of what kind of life does one participate in “forever.” He chooses to focus on “forever” as “eternal life.” And then he notes that, “the main idea behind eternal life is not simply that of duration.” A short or long life for some individuals on this earth may well be a life that wasn’t worth living if cruelty, murder, and hate permeated every moment. This is why William Barclay goes on to ask about the “kind of life” one has. And he focuses on the fact that “eternal life is the kind of life that God lives; it is God’s life. To enter into eternal life is to enter into possession of that kind of life which is the life of God. It is to be lifted up above merely human, temporary, passing, transient things, into that joy and peace which belong only to God. And clearly, a person can only enter into this close communion and fellowship with God when they render to God that love, that reverence, that devotion, that obedience which truly brings them into fellowship with God.”
Now let me ask you this question. If you knew that the “Shepherd” whose care you had chosen, was “One” who was filled with goodness, mercy, and loving-kindness; if you knew your Shepherd would always walk ahead, clearing the path of right for you so you would know you wouldn’t be led astray – what would keep you from fellowship with such a Shepherd? And furthermore, if this Shepherd promised that this very day, you could start to dwell within His house and that you would not be considered a temporary resident, but that by choosing to walk within His care, you would have a life together – for ever and ever – for all eternity – is there anything that would hold you back from saying, “You are my Lord, You are my Shepherd?” The answer to these questions are personal. They are something for each of us to consider. But as we have followed our Shepherd through Psalm 23, I like the way Professor J. David Dark chooses to highlight the central theme which winds its way from the beginning to the end of this “poetic psalm” as he calls it. Here’s his summary: “While the absolute fulfillment and realization of God’s unalterable saving and redeeming will awaits…in the glorious meantime we have signposts like the Twenty-third Psalm. It’s imagery of flourishing, stewarding, and attentiveness feeds our contemplation of the vindication of God’s love we affirm when we proclaim the risen Christ.”
It is the divine love of my Shepherd, who is leading me in right paths each day; protecting me with His rod and staff; feeding me from His banquet table and in the end bringing me home to dwell with Him, that I want to follow from this day forward, even forevermore.
Over the triple doorways of the Milan Cathedral are three inscriptions spanning the magnificent arches.
Above one is carved a wreath of roses, with the words, “All that pleases is but for a moment.”
Over the second is a cross, with the words, “All that troubles is but for a moment.”
Underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is inscribed: “That only is important which is eternal.”
The Lord is my Shepherd…and I shall dwell in the house of my Lord – FOREVER!
“Those who put themselves in the care and keeping of God shall not lack for guidance, protection, provision, as they journey through life. And when life draws to its close, God’s love does not fail. With God the best is always still to be. He keeps the good wine always to the last. For after seeing us safely through the valley He brings us to the house of the Lord, where faith shall become sight and dream shall become deed, and hope shall become fruition, and where every desire of the soul shall be satisfied. And in that house of the Lord we shall dwell for ever.”
J. D. Jones
The King of Love; Meditations on the Twenty-third Psalm
“The Lord sits as King forever! The Lord will give unyielding and impenetrable strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace.’
A Psalm of David
Prayer For All My Life
“God of our life, through all the circling years,
We trust in Thee;
In all the past, through all our hopes and fears,
Thy hand we see.
With each new day, when morning lifts the veil,
We own Thy mercies, Lord which never fail.
God of the past, our times are in Thy hand;
With us abide.
Lead us by faith towards hope’s promised land;
Be Thou our Guide.
With Thee to bless, the darkness shines as light,
And faith’s fair vision changes into sight.
God of the coming years, through paths unknown
We follow Thee;
When we are strong, Lord, leave us not alone;
Our refuge be.
Be Thou for us in life our daily bread,
Our heart’s true home when all our years have sped.”
Hugh Thompson Kerr
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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