Today’s Text and Thought of Encouragement:
“Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High; and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.”
Psalm 50: 14, 15
We Thank Thee
“For flowers that bloom about our feet;
For tender grass, so fresh and sweet;
For song of bird and hum of bee;
For all things fair we hear or see
Father in Heaven, we thank Thee!
For Thy dear, everlasting arms,
That bear us o’er all ills and harms;
For blessed words of long ago,
That help us now Thy will to know –
Father in Heaven, we thank Thee!”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today’s Study Text:
“He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in paths of righteousness.”
Psalm 23: 3
“Psalm 23 Part 10
“My Shepherd Leads Me Right”
“Throughout the ages, sheepherders have been leaders by profession. A shepherd can’t afford to lead his flocks into dead end canyons or into an area with no water or that’s off limits. He can’t take them into barren wastelands or into a fenced area where they’ll be trapped. He can’t backtrack with them, or get lost, or wander in circles. One misstep can end tragically. He has to know where he is going, and he has to know the route. He has to go before the flock, check out the pathway, and lead them in the right routes with confidence and in safety. Without good navigation, the whole flock can perish in just a day or two.”
Robert J. Morgan
Have there been times in my life when the path before me seemed perplexing and I didn’t have any knowledge as to how I would proceed or where I would go?
How do I feel, knowing with assurance, that my Father knows the way before me and has plotted out a path of righteousness for my life?
“I know not the way God leads me, but well do I know my Guide.”
“The chasm between the Shepherd in glory and His poor sheep might seem to be an infinite one; but it is bridged by this one sweet, tender word ‘leadeth.’ As in the East the shepherd always precedes the flock, to discover the greenest patches of grass and the least stony path, so does Jesus ever keep in front of the soul that trusts and loves Him.”
F. B. Meyer
Years ago, my dad would take groups of teens, that were under his care, on weekend jaunts up into the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. Known for rugged terrain, this rocky, desert area can be a daunting challenge to an inexperienced hiker. Fortunately for the young people who followed my dad, they were blessed with someone who was not only well-equipped to lead the group, but also an individual who understood what it meant to plan ahead.
One particular morning, I decided to get up before sunrise and when I looked over at my dad’s sleeping bag in our family tent, I noticed that it was empty. Once outside in the brisk morning air, I started scouting around, trying to see if I could find my father. In a few minutes, I recognized his blue flannel shirt coming down a path toward our campground.
Of course, at this point my curiosity took over and although, at the age of only eight, my dad thought I was too young to go on the all-day hike, he satisfied my inquisitiveness by showing me what he’d been up to. All along the pathway out of our camp, he’d placed markers with plastic flags attached. Come to find out, this wasn’t the first excursion my dad had been on for I found out that while most of the campers were putting up tents and getting meals, my dad was plotting out a trail and marking it well – even to the point that he knew exactly where the rest stops for food and water would be taken.
I found it interesting that all through the years, whenever my dad took a group of young people on a hiking or boating expedition, not once did their parents ever seem concerned about the safety of their children for they knew the guide. What’s more, they trusted the guide. They knew my dad would take their children on the right path.
This is what David so eloquently shares about the Lord, his personal Shepherd. Having watched over a flock of sheep, David understood the nature of the creatures within his care. What’s more, he also understood the way sheep acted when in a group. He knew sheep needed to be lead.
Having scant knowledge regarding what a shepherd actually does for his sheep besides providing them with food and water, I have found it enlightening to uncover some of the historical information collected down through time, which I might add, gives us a clearer perspective about leading sheep in the “right” path.
When an excursion was undertaken to “lead” sheep to green pastures, in ancient times, the journey was most likely a recognized pathway which was a well-traveled route. As Robert J. Morgan points out, “we can only imagine how David felt as he watched his flocks in 1000 B.C. while reading the stories of his ancestors doing the same thing…his very sheep were probably the descendants of those kept by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” As he notes, David’s job was not unlike shepherds down through time for it wasn’t just in David’s lifetime that references were made about sheep, especially in Scripture. In the New Testament times, Jesus repeatedly drew His’ listeners to lessons of a spiritual nature that could be drawn from the sheep scattered on the hills in Israel.
For someone like myself who is not experienced in “leading” sheep, I value the expertise shared by Robert Morgan when he continues with this insightful knowledge: “if a sheep wanders ten yards from its pasture, it may never find its way back home.” Then he proceeds with this pertinent information about Psalm 23: “It becomes clear that the scene is not stationary…the flocks begin in green pastures, continue along well-trodden paths, thread through dark canyons, meander into alpine tablelands, circle back through autumnal days to arrive at the master’s house at the onset of winter.”
What has made this study of Psalm 23 so much more meaningful to me is the fact that in the past, I fear I’ve read this passage as if I was going to visit a “petting zoo.” I imagined the sheep, penned within a protective enclosure, fenced off by strong, closely-looped wire, which made it nearly impossible for a sheep to escape. And as far as grazing in green pastures, I guess, in my ignorance, I mistakenly thought the contented little, wooly creatures would stay put – filled with food and resting as happy as could be.
Interestingly, the reality David gives us is that the unaware sheep may easily have wandered, going with the grass wherever it took them. As I recognized the truth in this psalm, I began to understand why David chose to be so personal when he wrote the words, for I find myself just like a wandering sheep, too. Often, it is the “lush and plush” things of life which catch my attention drawing me off into paths that in no way can be defined as “right.” This is why David focused on what sheep need when he said, “He leads me in paths of righteousness, or as the Hebrew helps us understand, “He guides me forth into what is morally clean and altogether just.” So we understand more about what our Shepherd does, in the Hebrew, the word, “nâhag,” meaning leadeth, also denotes an “activity induced by effort.” And I asked, “Whose effort?” The answer quite simply is, “My Shepherd’s effort!” He is the one who guides, protects and leads. It is My Shepherd’s time and toil that goes into staking out my path; keeping His eye on me at all times; and leading me where I will find my journey safe and secure. As Vance Havner wrote, “Where God guides He provides. He is responsible for our upkeep if we follow His directions.” What an encouragement this should be to your heart and mine today. He leads me – He leads you – in the right path.
But not only does your Shepherd and mine put all His effort into our feeding, shelter and care – but then He goes even further – He makes certain you and I are on the “right” path that will lead us home – not just in terms of an earthly home but to our eternal home.
As I was studying for today’s devotional, I came upon a quote by J. Oswald Sanders which I found to strike a cord in my own heart. Here’s what he wrote, “If disappointment, trouble, frustration or failure have influenced your decision, we should be doubly careful before acting on it.” Now you might be wondering why I wanted to share these words with you when we are looking at the way our Guide - our Shepherd – leads us in paths that are right. But the reality of life is that even when we are on the path of “righteousness,” the wicked one will come and attack us in any way he possibly can, as he tries to lure us off our Shepherd’s well-laid out track. Just to expand on this observation, I turned to Acts 16. Here for you and me, is a record of how God’s guiding hand was at work in the lives of Paul and Silas:
“And Paul and Silas passed through the territory of Phrygia and Galatia; having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16: 6).
As we find out, the guiding Shepherd’s hand led Paul and Silas in a different direction. Furthermore, as Acts 16: 7 informs us, when they tried to go to Bithynia, “the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them.” So off to Troas they went. And while in this city, a vision appeared to Paul in the night. “A man from Macedonia stood pleading with him and saying; ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us!’” Immediately, Paul and Silas followed their Shepherd’s guidance to Philippi, which was the “chief city of the district of Macedonia” where they “stayed on some days” (Acts 16: 9-12).
But here’s the amazing part of this story. After following their Shepherd, what happened to Paul and Silas and where did they end-up? “And when they had struck (Paul and Silas) with many blows, they threw them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely. He (the jailer) having received so strict a charge, put them into the inner prison, the dungeon, and fastened their feet in the stocks” (Acts 16: 23, 24, Amplified Bible).
Does this sound like their journey and the guidance of their Shepherd was on track? Were they were provided with all they needed on the path of righteousness? Did they have an abundant life? Well, let me continue for we find this astounding information in Acts 16: 25, “But about midnight, as Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them, suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the very foundations of the prison were shaken; and at once all the doors opened and everyone’s shackles were unfastened.” The end result of following the guiding hand of their Shepherd was this: “They declared the Word of the Lord to the jailer and all who were in his house” (Acts 16: 32).
Now let’s go back again to the words penned by J. Oswald Sanders:
“Had Paul and Silas allowed their reception in Philippi to sway them in their guidance, Europe might still have been without the gospel.”
As one author noted, it may well have been the words of David written several thousand years before, that Paul and Silas were lifting to heaven when with their ankles bound in chains they sang, “The Lord is my Shepherd…He leads me in paths of righteousness.” PRAISE GOD! No matter where your path or mine takes us, when it is our Shepherd’s path – and we are following His leading – it is the right path.
“God leads His people out of sin by faith; through the world by hope; into heaven by love.”
“Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness…make Your way level – straight and right – before my face.”
Psalm 5: 8
He Leadeth Me
“He leadeth me! O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whatever I do, wherever I be,
Still ‘tis God’s hand that leadeth me.
Sometimes ‘mid scenes of deepest gloom,
Sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom,
By waters still, o’er troubled sea-
Still ‘tis His hand that leadeth me!
Lord, I would clasp my hand in Thine,
Nor ever murmur nor repine;
Content, whatever lot I see,
Since, ‘tis my God that leadeth me.”
J. H. Gilmore
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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