The Cost of Discipleship

What did Jesus mean when he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, . . he cannot be my disciple.

Let’s look at a few examples of what I think Jesus was trying to impress on those of us who consider ourselves disciples.

A group of men met together each day for coffee and fellowship. One day the topic of conversation turned to religion. Each man told which denomination they belonged to, until one man said, “We attend a certain church, but I guess in reality, I’m really just a Christian. When my wife and I were married, we had nothing to do with the church. But then my wife began attending with a friend, and she became converted. Now she’ll often say, ÔThat which we used to do, we can’t do. We used to follow our own will, but now we follow the will of Jesus.’ In other words, Jesus has come to the throne, and we have to pass into the shadows.” The man’s comment left the other men with a clear understanding of what the Christian faith entails. No longer is life about what I want, but rather it is about doing the will of and obeying the teachings of Christ our Lord.

Here is another example. Two professors were visiting, when one said, ” So and so tells me he was one of your students.” The other professor answered, “He may have attended my lectures, but he was never one of my students. A world of difference exists between attending lectures and being a student of mine.” One of the truths of the church is that so many people are simply distant followers of Jesus (attenders of church), but very few are real disciples (students of Christ).

Jesus does not want us to hate our family. That is not what He is saying in this passage. In fact, the Bible tells us to love one another. The home is to be one of the most blessed places in the world. What Jesus is saying is this: We may live our lives in the same manner for a long time, but when we become a Christian and Jesus becomes the Lord of our hearts, our lives are also changed. If we have been doing something that is contrary to the will of God, we must turn away from that action. We surrender our will and turn toward Scripture, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us and our family. We may really enjoy doing something in a particular way, even though it wrong. The cost of being a disciple of Jesus comes at a cost Ð denying what I desire, in deference to what Jesus desires for me. Does that sound strange to you?

There was a man who lived out this principle in a powerful way. His name was Dietrick Bonhoeffer. He was born in Germany. His father was not a Christian, but he respected his wife’s convictions to teach the children the Christian faith. When Dietrick was fourteen, he decided to study theology. Some of his siblings were not very favorable to the idea, for they believed he would be wasting his good mind. However, his mother believed in living one’s faith, and she made it clear to her family that if God wanted Dietrick to teach theology, so be it. Christianity was not just a matter of going to church, keeping a few laws and rattling off a few nice scripture passages. Dietrick’s twin sister, Sabine, wrote, “There was no place for false piety in our home, save in Rome.”

Dietrick traveled to New York in 1931 to study and teach at Union Seminary, but he was highly disappointed. Union Seminary taught a liberal theology. He is quoted as saying, “In New York, they preach about everything. Only one thing is not addressed Ð or if it is addressed so rarely it is that I have not as yet been able to find it Ð and that is the Gospel. I do not hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ from these beautiful cathedrals and churches here in Manhattan. I seldom hear the name of Jesus. I seldom hear the talk about the cross where Jesus suffered and died for the sins of the world and every person must accept this and believe it to be a Christian. I have discovered one notable exception in New York: I hear the Gospel in the black church more than in any other place.” He spent much of his time in Harlem and worshiped each Sunday in the Abyssinian Baptist Church.

Yet, things were bad in Germany and Dietrick felt he had to go home. Leaders at Union pleaded with him to stay, for they saw his keen mind, but he could not be persuaded. Before long, he was back on a ship heading to his native Germany. Ten days after arriving home, Dietrick went to Switzerland to visit with Dr. Karl Barth, a man who became a very close friend. They had many good sessions together, and Barth helped Bonhoeffer oppose the Nazis on moral and theological principles. Hitler was thoroughly convinced that the future of Germany was in his hands, but Bonhoeffer protested, “No, It is in the hands of Almighty God.” When Hitler learned of voices like Dietrick Bonhoeffer, there were only two things to do Ð kill them or put them in prison.

Bonhoeffer was put in prison, and he sat in various prison after another for two years before Hitler had him executed only 23 days before the end of WWII.

On Sunday mornings while in prison, Dietrick would often lead his fellow prisoners in worship and prayer. One day they asked him to write a prayer, which he did. This is what he wrote:

“O God, early in the morning do I cry unto thee.

Help me to pray and to think only of thee:

I cannot pray alone.

In me there is darkness, but with thee there is light;

I am lonely, but thou leavest me not;

I am feeble in heart, but with thee there is help;

I am restless, but with thee there is peace.

In me there is bitterness, but with thee there is patience;

Thy ways are past understanding, but thou knowest the way for me . . .”

Then there was a call at the door: “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, get ready to come with me!”

He did go, but as he left he gave them some closing words as he quoted Isaiah 53:5 Ð “With his stripes we are healed,” and I Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” And as he left the room, he said to his friends. “This is the end Ð for me the beginning of life.” He was then hanged.

A historian writes, “Bonhoeffer’s death was almost certainly by the decree of Adolf Hitler. Why would he want to hurt his man? He could not win any more battles, but there was that evilness within him that said, that if he had to die, they too would die.” And so Dietrick Bonhoeffer learned the price of discipleship.

We will probably not have any experience like this. However, we will have many opportunities to learn the cost of being a disciple of Jesus. While it doesn’t cost much to be a follower, following him as a disciple can mean a great deal.

The cost of discipleship may Ôcome due’ in the family, at work, in school, or in our social life. Whether it is a great cost like the price Dietrick Bonhoeffer had to pay or a simple change in our lifestyle, that is what Jesus Christ requires of us if we are to be His true disciples.

Even in the Valleys

Many people are looking for satisfaction in their lives. They try to find it in a variety of ways on their own, but always seem to come up woefully short. So where does one find satisfaction?

We have been studying a testimony written by an Old Testament king named David. In Psalm 23, David testifies that he found satisfaction in his relationship with the Lord and in being a sheep in God’s flock.

David begins with the main point: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” meaning, I shall not be in want, shall not be deficient since the Lord is in my life. He is the source of true satisfaction. As we’ve worked our way through this Psalm, we’ve learned that the Lord gives rest and refreshment. The Good Shepherd gives guidance and restoration to those who are His.

Today we’re going to look at one of the most quoted verses from the Psalm: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

The image here is of a shepherd leading his sheep. Summer is coming and it’s time to go to greener pastures. So the shepherd leads his flock through some valleys as they head up into the mountains. However, the valley our songwriter has in mind is not a river valley like the ones in Montana where I grew up. Rather, they are deep chasms with steep, jagged sides and a narrow floor. It is dark with hardly any sunlight. In fact, the term “valley of the shadow of death” is better translated, the darkest valley. It’s a dreadful and dangerous place for skittish sheep, causing great fear for them. Threats might be awaiting them: serpents coiled up and ready to strike out or wolves waiting to pounce down on the sheep.

David points out that, just as sheep face valleys, so, too, we as human beings face various valleys. Perhaps he was thinking of facing Goliath in the valley of Elah. Or maybe he was thinking about the years he spent in the wilderness as a fugitive from King Saul who was trying to kill him. Or maybe he was remembering when he ran through valley from his son Absalom, who was trying to overthrow him. David had faced some dark valleys.

Personal experience can teach us that dark valleys are inevitable. They are a fact of life. Jesus Christ himself told us, “In this world, you will have trouble.” Life has its dark valleys Ð dangers, sickness and grief, financial crisis and unemployment. And, of course, we all face the darkest valley of all Ð death.

We also learn that valleys are unpredictable. We don’t get plan them or schedule them. They typically come at the worst of times and we are caught unprepared. A good day can quickly become a bad day with just one phone call.

We also know that valleys are impartial. Jesus said, “God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.” We’re not exempt from walking through valleys just because we follow Jesus Christ.

This passage also reminds us that valleys are temporary, and we walk through them. We won’t stay there forever. David tells us that, even though life is filled with dark valleys that have to be walked, he has learned that he does not have to live in or be paralyzed by fear. He can be of good courage, because God is with him. At the beginning of this Psalm, David is describing the Shepherd, but now he is personally addressing God. During those times when we are facing valleys, the Shepherd comes alongside of us, and we’re able to talk to Him face-to-face. David says he will not fear “because, God, you are with me.”

“With me” is a key theme throughout Scripture. It is our consolation and our Good News as God’s people. Remember Moses as he was called by God to lead the people out of Egypt. He protested saying he wasn’t capable. What was God’s response? “Moses, I will be with you.” God showed up as Moses led the people out.

Or we think of Joshua as he’s getting ready to lead the people, who had been wandering in the wilderness for so many years, into the promised land. They were facing some big obstacles. The Lord God said to him in Joshua 1, “Don’t be afraid, Joshua, for I am with you.” We know God was with them and gave them the victory.

When God directed Gideon to organize an army against the Midianites, a world power who were threatening to take over the Israelites’ land, he responded, “Are you kidding? I’m the smallest person in my small family from the smallest tribe from what some people in the world think of as the smallest, weakest country. I can’t do that!” But God said to him, “I’ll be with you,” (Judges 6:11-16). It is a wonderful story of victory as God went with Gideon. Again and again, as God called His prophets, He promised to be with them.

In the New Testament, it seemed like the world was lost in its darkness. God sent the Promised One into the world, who was born in Bethlehem. The Lord God reminded Joseph in Matthew 1, “He is Immanuel Ð God with us.” God hadn’t deserted the world.

Then, when Jesus was preparing His disciples for His ascension after His resurrection, He told them, “Lo, I am with you always till the end of the age. I will not leave you orphaned.”

In the book of Acts, the Lord God spoke to the Apostle Paul during a difficult time in his life. God said, “I am with you.” We find power and comfort in that witness.

When I was a child, my dad built me a bedroom in our basement for me. However, I was afraid to stay down there. It was so dark and noisy down there. So my father would come and lay down in the bed with me until I fell asleep. It was a great comfort to know my father was with me in the darkness, and so I could rest.

David says in this Psalm, “Your rod and your staff, Lord, they comfort me.” They are symbols of the power of God. The rod was used by the shepherd to protect the sheep from predators. It was shaped with a sharp end on it so it could be thrown at wolves or whatever was trying to harm the sheep. The shepherd also used it to discipline the sheep and keep the sheep in line. If one was wandering away, he would throw the rod in that direction and scare the sheep back into the flock, back to safety.

The shepherd would also use the rod at the end of the day as he prodded through the sheep’s wool to find and address any wounds or find any parasites needing to be removed.

We followers of the Lord have the Word of God as our rod and our protection, just as the Word protected Jesus as He faced His enemy, Satan, in the wilderness. It disciplines us. It is sharper than any two-edged sword. It examines us inside and out, keeps us in line, and heals us. It helps us to find things that need to be removed from our lives so we can walk in healthier ways as we follow the Lord.

Likewise, the staff was another tool. “Your staff comforts me.” Each shepherd used a staff to touch and guide the sheep. If a sheep were in trouble, perhaps stuck in a hole or in bushes along side of a cliff, he would use that staff to pull him out and bring him to himself.

As followers of Jesus, our staff is the Spirit of God, who draws us back close to the Shepherd again and again. This Spirit guides us and nudges us along. He reminds us that we have a Shepherd we can trust and who knows the way, in the same way the sheep trust their shepherd.

David tells us we have comfort in that. “They comfort me” meaning they strengthen me. His presence and His power give strength to the person who follows Him. He offers us more than a handkerchief with His rod and staff. He offers us His hand, His powerful right hand.

So how is it that David was comforted and not afraid? He knew where to look. When those dark valleys hit, he looked not to the other sheep, but to the Shepherd. Instead of staring at the problem, he stared at the rod and the staff. That is where our real strength and encouragement is found.

Years ago, I read a book by Eugene Peterson called, “Under the Unpredictable Plant.” In it he reminds pastors that the human need is always more apparent in God’s presence for the same reason that the earth always looks flat. Human need is very visible Ð sickness, loneliness, boredom, busyness Ð while all the signs and symbols of God’s Word and His presence are several miles away in the church sanctuary. That is the reason so many pastors perform more like psychological therapists with people than Christian pastors when we are out of the pulpit. Our awareness of human need crowds out and takes precedence over our attentiveness to God’s presence. We need to be reminded of where to find courage. It is found in focusing on the Good Shepherd and His power and presence. That Shepherd is available to you and me this day. He walks alongside of us and cares for us in our dark valleys.

Mike, a friend of mine, recently wrote a book about his experience in the valley of cancer. In his book, he writes of the day he learned of the cancer. He and his wife left the hospital in shock, not knowing what to say or do. After a few quiet moments he suggested they go to a local coffee shop. Since it was August, they drank their coffee outside on the patio. He started to cry, and his wife held him in her arms, kissed his forehead, and then suggested that they pray. It was an awesome suggestion that would affect them for the rest of their lives. They held hands and prayed for peace of mind, for themselves and for their family. They prayed for their Lord and Savior to grant them peace, mercy, and grace. They prayed for wisdom to make the correct decisions and strength for him to tolerate the treatments. They prayed for God to guide them to the best medical professionals and for God to guide the medical team as they treated his physical needs.

When they finished praying, they simultaneously felt a warm piece engulf them. Instantly they knew that, whether he survived or died, the Lord would provide for them and their family. They needed their faith to comfort them and hold them strong. At that moment, Mike relinquished absolute control of his life to Jesus Christ.

The rest of the book is about Mike’s journey through cancer and how the Lord continued to hold him up. At the end of the book, he points to the Great Physician as he says, “That’s how I made it through the valley.” It’s a wonderful testimony.

If you are walking in a valley, know this Ð you are not alone. You might be walking through a valley of financial crisis, a valley of unemployment, a valley of sickness, a valley of cancer, or a valley of grief. You are not alone. This same God who gave His only Son to die for you on a cross so you could have a personal relationship with Him, is here for you. You are not alone.

Let’s end this message today with a prayer, a prayer of thanks.

Thank you, Lord, for being my Shepherd. I am blessed to be your sheep, for with you nothing is missing in my life. I depend on you to provide everything I need. Thank you for making me to lie down in green pastures where I could rest and enjoy peace. Thank you for leading me beside waters that do not threaten me but allow me to be refreshed. Thank you for restoring me to my very self so I am all you’ve created me to be. Thank you for guiding me in the paths you choose that lead to life with you. Thank you, also, Lord for walking with me in the hardest and darkest of times when I’m confused and depressed and feeling under attack.

I’m not afraid of anything, Lord, for there is no place so deep that you are not deeper still. Your rod protects me from every enemy, and your staff keeps me from straying. Thank you for creating a feast, for feeding me when I’m in the place of deepest doubt. Thank you for washing me with the oil of gladness again and again. And thank you Lord for following me and leading me all the days of my life. I know that I will dwell with you in your house forever. Amen.

May you know you are not alone. Go in peace now.

He Restores My Soul

These past few weeks we’ve been looking at a Psalm written by King David from the Old Testament, one of God’s satisfied sheep. We learn in this psalm that while others look all over the place to find satisfaction for their lives, David said he found satisfaction in the Lord. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” And he testified that when this Shepherd is your Shepherd, you will never want for rest or refreshment or guidance to right paths.

Today we’re going to look a little bit further along in the psalm as the songwriter tells us, “He restores my soul.” Before we study this together, I invite you to bow your heads with me as we ask God to help us understand His Word. Let’s pray.

Father, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, for you are our rock and salvation. In Christ’ name. Amen.

You’ve heard the children’s nursery rhyme, “Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and doesn’t know where to find them . . .” The advice she receives: “Leave them alone and they’ll come home, dragging their tails behind them.” We learn a couple of things from this children’s rhyme.

Little Bo Peep is a lousy shepherd, for she keeps losing her sheep. However, sheep don’t come home dragging their tails behind them. Typically, when sheep wander off, they don’t wander back.

Sheep get easily lost. Philip Keller in his book, A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23, describes sheep as one of the most high maintenance class of livestock on the planet. They are defenseless, dependent, helpless, and not very smart. They have a tendency to nibble themselves lost as they go after one green tuft of grass to another without paying much attention to where they need to be.

Sometimes sheep get stuck on their backs after they have lain down, and they cannot get back up. This position makes them easy pray for predators. Also, they can literally drown inside if they on their backs too long. It’s a deadly thing for a sheep to get stuck in this position. They need to be restored. Part of the shepherd’s job is to find that sheep and restore him back to the flock.

Jesus describes something like that in Luke 15 where He tells the story of a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. At the end of the day, as he brings the sheep back to the pen and counts them, he notices one is missing. So he leaves the ninety-nine behind and goes searching for this lost sheep. (Perhaps he even finds him stuck on his back.) The shepherd puts the sheep on his shoulders (in all likelihood because the blood had made his legs go numb so he couldn’t use them). He carried him home and rejoiced in restoring that sheep back to the flock.

Again and again you read accounts of shepherds who see it as a regular part of their daily routine to search out sheep that are lost and then bring them back to the flock. They have an amazing amount of patience. They don’t write off even one of their sheep, but go after them and restore them back to the flock, back to a healthy life, a promising life with the Shepherd.

Having been a shepherd himself, David testifies, “Like this shepherd who restores the sheep, the Lord is my Restorer. He restores my soul.” When you and I think of the word restore, we may think of being restored back to health. I also think of restoring things, such as antique cars or a neglected house. I have friends who are very good at restoring furniture. The furniture pieces may have been painted and scratched up, but my friends bring them home to get the paint off and sand them down. They restore the luster and bring life back into each piece. David tells us that’s how God works with my soul.

Some people wonder if humans even have souls. Jesus talked about the soul a lot. For instance, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?” That point is a serious one. Yes, we do have a soul Ð every one of us. It’s our inner person. There’s an external, visible part of us and an internal part of us. The soul is what makes me a whole person. It unites us and makes us who we are, so to speak.

David says, “He restores my soul.” The Bible tells us the soul can oftentimes find itself in a very unhealthy state and needing to be restored. In the Old Testament, especially the Psalms, we find the soul can get stuck and cast down. It can get sick, troubled, lost, bitter, thirsty, weary, sorrowful, pained, full of longing. David experienced all these things in his own life. Many of the Psalms that speak of these emotions are credited to him. However, he had a God who specialized in restoring his soul, and David is reveling in that fact in Psalm 23. He restores my soul.

Years before David wrote this Psalm, he had an affair with a married woman. She became pregnant, and in an effort to try to cover it up, he had the husband killed in the front line of battle. David thought all was fine after that, but the scandal was heard throughout heaven, and God came after David, His lost sheep. God confronted David through the Prophet Nathan and said, “I know what you did.” David was a broken man. He confessed his wrongdoing, which was the beginning of restoration. In Psalm 51 he wrote, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and restore to me the joy of your salvation.” He wanted restoration.

In Psalm 32, as he looks back on this incident, David said, “When I tried to hide my sin and cover it up, my soul became dried up and weak. I was absolutely weary. And then I confessed my sin and received God’s forgiveness” (vs. 3, 5 paraphrased). He became restored.

Or perhaps David was thinking about the many early years of his life that he spent in the wilderness running from King Saul, who wanted to kill him. Saul saw David as an enemy who was tryng to take his throne away. David had many close calls, and again and again he would become weary and discouraged, wondering if he was going to get out of the situation. But then God would minister to him. His soul would be restored and he would find the strength he needed to keep going.

David also went through a period of anguish and grief over his son Absalom, who had been killed in battle. When he received word that his boy had been killed, he cried aloud, “Absalom, Absalom. I lost you.” He was a broken man. But God restored his sorrowing soul, his inner person, and got him going again so he could go back to ruling his kingdom.

The same Shepherd who restored David’s soul, and continued to restore it throughout his days, is available to restore souls like yours and mine today. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he looks back on his life and reflects, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (4:16). He is talking about his soul being restored by God. How does that happen in a person’s life today?

It first begins when an individual steps into a relationship with God’s Son Jesus Christ. God sent his Son, Jesus, into this world to die upon a cross for your sins and mine, for those things that make our soul sick and separate us from God. He did that so our souls might be restored, the relationship mended, and we could become new creations Ð restored souls. That’s where it begins, when we commit ourselves to Jesus Christ and into His care.

Then we continue with an ongoing relationship with our Good Shepherd, such as in confession when we hear the absolution for our sins and are pointed to the cross and reminded that sin has been forgiven through Christ.

In our church, we give people a weekly opportunity to confess their sins at the beginning of the worship service. We do that because we need it. All of us are sinners and need to come to that throne of grace and hear the healing words of forgiveness. We need to admit to God that we need His help, we are sinners, and the old Adam within us is still alive and needs to be drowned again and again in confession and forgiveness. Confession is a time of restoration.

In my life, I’ve learned the power of confession on a daily basis. Martin Luther talked about repentance as our daily baptism Ð drowning the old sinful person within and allowing the new, forgiven person to arise and be restored as we follow Jesus Christ. I recommend a daily confession in your prayer time.

I have also discovered the restoring power of solitude, sitting quietly with God, not doing anything but being with Him. Like Scripture says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” When was the last time you just were still and had some extended solitude alone with the Father who loves you?

God also comes to us in His holy Word. As we go to church on Sunday to hear His word preached, or tune into a radio program such as this one. When we open Scripture itself, we are revived by it. The Holy Spirit works through that Word and amazingly restores us with the promises of God and His direction for our lives.

I recently talked with a member of my congregation who has been battling some severe depression. While she was thankful for the therapies, what has really brought about healing has been her daily devotions. She said, “I have my devotional book with me. I’m using it, and it’s making a difference.”

God uses a variety of ways to restore souls. Our church is big on small group Bible studies. I recently heard a testimony from one of our members who said, “I once hated life, but I got into this group. And as we talked about our fears and God’s promises, it was a turnaround for me. He restored me and I find myself now saying ÔI love my life,’ which I’ve never been able to say before.” That’s the restoring touch of the Good Shepherd.

Only you and God can know what shape your soul is in these days. But if you’re feeling lost or cast down and stuck, if you are sorrowing within or weary, this God who was David’s Shepherd is available to you. I invite you to come to Him Ð entrust your soul to His care, for He specializes in restoring souls. Invite Him in.

Satisfied? Follow Him

These past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about finding satisfaction in our lives. So many people hunger and thirst to find it. David is our teacher as we look at Psalm 23, which is his testimony. He had found satisfaction in his relationship with the Lord. In today’s message, he points out to us, “He leads me beside still waters,” and “he leads me down paths of righteousness for his namesake.”

Satisfaction can be a leadership issue. Someone once wrote, “The ultimate issue in the universe is leadership. Who you follow and who directs your life is the single most important thing about you.”

We all follow all kinds of leaders. One of our most favorite leaders is ourselves. We think we know exactly what we need to make our lives work. However, again and again we discover that’s not the case. David says to us today, “He leads me so I follow Him,” and “I have found the Lord to be a leader you can trust.”

David uses the shepherding image in this Psalm. He talks about the shepherd leading his sheep beside still waters (first voice), because sheep need water in order to survive. And David says that a good shepherd leads his sheep beside still waters. He provides drink and refreshment for the sheep. Water determines the vitality, the strength and the vigor of the sheep. It’s essential for their well-being. When sheep get thirsty, they get restless. The shepherd, knowing where the best drinking places are, leads them to the places they need to be.

In this particular passage Ð “He leads me beside still waters,” the words “still waters” can be interpreted as stilled water. It seems that sheep have a fear of rushing water. So the shepherd creates stilled water in a river by moving boulders, digging a hole, and channeling water off the river into this stilled water so they can drink without fear.

David tells us that as a shepherd leads his sheep to still waters, so the Lord God leads me beside still waters, spiritually speaking. Just as the body needs water to survive, the human soul needs the water of God’s Spirit. When we don’t have it, our souls get restless. St. Augustine, in the early church days, wrote, “Oh, God, thou has made us for yourself, and our souls are restless, searching till they find rest in thee.” We are all created with a thirst for God. We have a God-shaped vacuum within us. Jesus tells us, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ÔOut of his heart will flow rivers of living water'” (John 7:37-38). Refreshment Ð still water, deep, pure, clean water Ð is found in following Him.

Nancy Spiegelberg wrote her testimony as a kind of poem, and I love this piece. This is what she said, “Lord, I crawled across the barrenness to You with my empty cup, uncertain and asking for any small drop of refreshment. If only I had known you better, I’d have come running with a bucket.”

Isn’t that great! God has buckets of living water from which we can drink and find satisfaction.

The sportscaster Pat Summerall anchored CBS and Fox’s NFL telecasts for 45 years as well as a number of Super Bowls. He had a very successful career. However, I read in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes magazine about another side to his story. He was an only child. His parents divorced before he was born leaving him feeling empty and alone. Later in life, he lived from one drink to the next, and his body broke down.

During the 1994 Masters Tournament, while doing some voiceover work, Pat faced up to his problem. “I’d been getting sick a lot and throwing up blood. I got sick again at 4:00 in the morning. When I looked in the mirror, I saw what a terrible sight I was and told myself, ÔThis isn’t how I want to live my life.'” So he spent 33 days in the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs helping him to alleviate his alcohol problems. However, he did not address his spiritual vacuum.

One day Pat bumped into Tom Landry, an old friend of his. Landry talked to Pat about his spiritual need and connected him with the Dallas Cowboys’ chaplain, John Weber. Eventually Pat’s life was transformed by God, and he was baptized at age 69. He said about his baptism, “I went down in the water, and when I came up, it was like a 40 pound weight had been lifted from me. I’ve had a happier life, a healthier life, and a more positive feeling about life than ever before.” John Weber summed up Pat’s journey in life, “Pat was once the life of every party with a drink in his hand. Now he gets his power from another source. He’s drinking from the buckets of living water that God offers to each and every individual who will follow him.”

David goes on to say, “(Not only does) he lead beside still waters, (but also) he leads me in paths of righteousness for his namesake.” God leads me in right paths. A Good Shepherd leads his sheep into the pasture and keeps them moving so they don’t destroy their food source. Sheep are creatures of habit. If left on their own, they’ll follow the same old habitual trails, create all sorts of ruts, and eat on the same hills, day after day, until they have nothing left to eat. They don’t know any better. They need the shepherd to move them along to new pastures and make sure they get where they need to be in order to survive. The Good Shepherd moves his sheep along.

David says, Likewise, from personal experience I can tell you, this God of mine has led me down right paths instead of the dead ends. He has broken me away from the ways I would go and brought me to life-giving places.

Our human wanderings can be so deadly. The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 14:12). The Prophet Isaiah, in chapter 53, actually describes the cross event, which will happen 400 years later with Jesus. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way, and he’s laid on him the iniquities of us all” (vs. 6). We all need a leader to show us the right paths. David tells us that God does that for you and me.

It is interesting to know that when God guides and leads, it’s not primarily to right places, but to the right kind of life. God’s guidance has more to do with what we are than where we are. His intention is to lead us down the right paths toward a mature, godly, and satisfied character.

Philip Keller, in his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, says that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has laid out the right paths for us to follow, and if we would but follow Him, we would find the satisfaction we are looking for in our lives.

Following Him begins, first of all, with a right relationship with Jesus Christ. Do you have that? Not one of us is righteous; righteousness is found only in Jesus Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Walking with Jesus as our Shepherd begins there.

Phillip Keller then talks about seven right paths down which our shepherd leads us.

1. Instead of loving myself most, I love God and others above myself. The world doesn’t revolve around me.

2. I am willing to be singled out for him, to not be one of the crowd. I am willing to take a hit for him because I know He is the one who matters most. I play for an audience of one.

3. Instead of insisting on my rights, I’m willing to forgo them in favor of others. It’s a willingness to play second fiddle.

4. Instead of being boss over own life or over others, I’m willing to be at the bottom. I remember Jesus’ words, “Whoever is great among you, will be the least.”

5. Instead of finding fault with life and asking why, I accept life with an attitude of gratitude. I will be thankful for my trials as well as blessings.

6. Instead of asserting and exercising my will, I will cooperate with His wishes. “Not my will, but Thy will be done” is our prayer.

7. Instead of my way, I choose to follow His way and do what He asked me. I live a life of obedience as I follow the Shepherd down the paths that lead to a satisfying life, the abundant life to Jesus came to give.

Keller writes later on in his book, “Most of us possess a lot of factual information on what the Master expects of us, but precious few of us have either the will, the intention, or determination to act on it and comply with the instructions. But the person who decides to do what God asks of us has moved on to fresh ground, which will do both him and others a world of good. And not only him and others, but also God.”

Remember, “He leads me down right paths for his namesake (for His reputation).” I will live my life so people can see Him at work and then ask, “I see what God has done in your life. How can I get in on something like that?”

Satisfied living, then, means following the Shepherd, moving on with Him at the forefront, and living for Him as I follow His right paths.

Someone might wonder if those seven paths are a bit drastic. He seems to be asking a lot. I know myself all too well; it is impossible to follow them all.

My response is that you are right! If you had to depend on yourself, you would not be able to do all God asks of us. However, the good news is, you don’t to! The Lord has made it possible by His own gracious Holy Spirit, who was given to those who trust in God’s Son. The Holy Spirit not only shows us the right paths, but He also gives us the power to walk those paths. He works in us to will and to do His good pleasure. Isn’t God good! Wow! He not only provides the right way but also the power to walk the right paths so that we can find satisfaction in our lives!

There is an old song that expresses the sentiment of our text today:

♬Where he leads me I will follow,

where he leads me I will follow.

Where he leads me I will follow,

I’ll go with him, with him all the way. ♬

Satisfaction? Follow Him.

He Gives Satisfying Rest

A photographer was snapping the pictures of first graders in an elementary school. In an effort to put one little girl at ease, he asked her, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” Her reply was: “Tired.”

She had perhaps made a correct observation. Many of us are tired for a variety of reasons, and it is not a very satisfying way to live. One reason for our tiredness is that more than 70 million of us suffer from insomnia. Have you ever laid in bed at night unable to sleep and thought about how nice it would be to be asleep? Instead, your mind ponders what needs to be done the next day or you worry about other things that bother you. All of a sudden it’s 3:00 in the morning and you’re still wide awake! Welcome to the club! You’ve experienced insomnia, and the next day you feel like you can’t do much of anything.

Some of our tiredness can also be due to our busyness and the pace we keep. We tend to run ourselves ragged. I once read an article in The New York Times that said, “If you live in America in the 21st century, you probably have been listening to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. And when you ask someone how they are doing, the default response has become, ÔBusy! So busy! Crazy busy.'” It’s become the most distinguished of complaints, and the stock response is, ÔWell, congratulations! That’s a good problem to have!” or, “Better than the opposite!”

Busyness serves as a kind of hedge against emptiness. We run ourselves ragged being busy. The perception is a life completely booked and in demand every hour of the day couldn’t possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless. Because of our ambition, drive, or anxiety, we are addicted to busyness and dread what life would be like in its absence.

There are also times when we lie awake at night pondering the big questions of life. How does God feels about me? What’s my purpose? What am I supposed to be doing with my life? What’s going to become of me when I take my last breath?

The world is filled with sick and tired people who are tired of being sick and tired. Tiredness leads to poor production on the job, poor relationships, and all kinds of accidents. Nothing good comes from it. The truth is, we need rest for our body, mind, and soul. So where does one find this rest?

King David tells us in Psalm 23:2. He has found great satisfaction in being connected with the Lord. He tells us that we need his Shepherd. If the Lord is really our shepherd, we will not lack for rest.

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures,” David says. It is a picture of contentment and rest; a serene, calm setting in green pastures. The sheep have eaten their fill of the lush grass and now are lying down to rest in the late morning before they move on to another location.

This shepherd knows what is best for me. He knows about my body and my soul maintenance. When God made me, He wired me to take a rest. He wants me to have rest for my body, my mind, and my soul. He says, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (for your soul).

David says, “He makes me lie down . . .” I’ve always wondered how a shepherd makes a sheep lie down. I even asked a couple of people who are shepherds, and they said, “You don’t.” Then I read Phillip Keller’s book, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23,” and he relates that because of their very makeup, it’s almost impossible for sheep to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met.

1. Due to their timidity, they must be free from all fear.

2. Because of their sociability, they must be free from friction with others of their kind. (I guess there is a lot of competition in flocks.)

3. They must be free from flies or parasites if they are to relax.

4. They must be free from hunger.

Only the shepherd can provide release from those anxieties. As he does his job, the sheep soon learn their job is simply to focus on the shepherd. They can then lie down in green pastures and rest as they experience again and again the diligent shepherd taking care of them by providing for their needs.

Likewise, as God, the Good Shepherd, works in our lives with His faithful providence and presence, our fears are soon calmed. The little things bugging us, tensions, or hunger (whether spiritual or physical) are put to rest. As we focus on Him, we soon discover that God provides. He is faithful and is always there for us, just like the shepherd is with the sheep. We can relax and rest in Him.

I have always loved Isaiah 26:3. It reads, “Thou dost keep him in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on thee.” What a great promise to hang onto! He keeps us in perfect peace as our minds are stayed on Him.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.” When I was a child, my parents made me go to bed at 8 o’clock. I never cared for it, but I did what they said. Likewise, our Father, the Good Shepherd, speaks to us. He owns us. We have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus. I obey His orders to remember the Sabbath day. I keep it holy.

God speaks more on this command than any of the other Ten Commandments. He describes how important it is to keep the Sabbath. Everything under your roof Ð your family, your livestock Ð is to take a Sabbath rest, because the Lord took a Sabbath after six days and rested on the seventh. Jesus told His disciples, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. ” On more than one occasion, He said to them, “Come away and rest now.” For instance, on a retreat to Caesarea Phillipi, as they sat separated from the crowds, Jesus taught that rest is an important part of God’s rhythm for our lives as His children.

Living obediently to the Lord’s direction, then, means to keep a Sabbath rest, and there you find rest for your body, your mind, your soul. As you stop and focus on God in a Sabbath worship, you are reminded how faithful He truly is and that He is One who can be counted upon. He is One to whom we should listen to as we go through the living of our days.

“He makes me lie down . . .” Jesus wants us to keep the Sabbath.

Someone once said, “If you are burning the candle at both ends, you are not as bright as you think you are.” Does this describe you? Maybe it’s time to change not only your focus, but also your schedule. Build a day of rest into your week. God is ready to give each of us rest, to make us lie down in green pastures.

It’s interesting to note that the Holy Land does not have a lot of green pastures. I am sure there weren’t many in David’s day either. The shepherd has to cultivate a lush place for his sheep to rest. He clears away the stumps and the stones in the underbrush, and cultivates and waters the land to make a nice spot for the sheep to eat their fill and lie down to rest. Likewise with His nail-pierced hands, our Good Shepherd, Jesus, created a pasture for your soul and mine. He tore out the underbrush of condemnation, pried loose boulders of sin, and cultivated it with the water of the Spirit. He planted seeds of grace and mercy. What a lush, green, satisfying pasture it is!

He then invites us to come and enjoy this pasture Ð His way of life and His kingdom, which has been prepared for us in this life and in the life to come. Jesus said, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest for your souls. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am humble in heart,” (Matthew 11:29). You will find rest for your souls. This is what God offers us: green pastures/rest. He invites us to come, not because we deserve it. It is His gift to us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). His gift is faith in Jesus Christ. Even in our failures and are our falling down, He invites us to His green pasture.

Dallas Willard, a great Christian thinker who recently graduated to be with the Lord, once wrote “Unfortunately, ÔThe Lord is my Shepherd’ is written on more tombstones than lives.”

Let me ask you: Is this Psalm written on your life? Does He own you? Does He have your attention? Does He have your obedience? Why not trust Him starting today? Humble yourself before Him and say, “I am yours, Lord. I will follow you.” Then follow His maintenance plan by doing what He says. Keep a Sabbath. Keep your eyes on Him.

Instead of counting sheep at night, count on your Shepherd. Call out to Him in prayer. Feast upon His holy Word on a daily basis and have an encounter with Him. You will find rest for your body, your mind, and your soul.