Broadcast

Experiencing God in Times of Crisis

From the series Finding God When You Need Him Most

Crises are a part of life. Some are global - tsunamis, earthquakes, or terrorism. Others are local - cancer, divorce, bankruptcy, or the death of a loved one. But here’s the question: “Is it possible to experience God in the midst of that kind of catastrophe?” In this message, Chip explores how you can experience God through your darkest times.

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Message Transcript

The question in life is not, “Will we go through difficult times?” The question in life is, “How will we go through difficult times?” You are going to have them; I’m going to have them. Some of you have been through them, you’ll have more. Some haven’t had any real bad times, fasten your seatbelt, they’ll come.

It’s a fallen world. See, the question is, will we go through them alone? Will we go with a stiff upper lip, you know, act like it’s okay? Will we be crushed under their weight? Will we give up in despair? Will we go into denial like so many people do when it gets tough? Will we become bitter and resentful toward God, other people? Or will we just pretend to protect others? Or, here’s the last option, will we experience the peace and the power of God in ways beyond our wildest dreams?

See, that’s God’s desire. In a crisis, He knows it’s a fallen world, good things happen to good people, bad things happen to good people.

We’re going to turn to, probably, the most classic portion, most well-known portion of Scripture in all the world.

But before we look at it, please do me one favor, okay? Don’t get into that, “Oh, isn’t it beautiful? What nice poetry. Doesn’t it have a cute message?” It’s one of those things that is so familiar, if you’re not careful, you’ll just kind of nod your head and say, “Oh, yes, the Lord is my shepherd.” He’s your shepherd but what’s it mean? And what’s it really mean for Him to show up when you go through the most difficult time, when you need Him the most?
With that in mind, turn the page with me and let’s look at the twenty-third Psalm. And as we do, I want to just read it through and ask you to listen with new ears. In fact, here’s the way to listen with new ears.

I want you, in the whiteboard of your mind, to pull out a grease pen and say, “If I had to jot on the whiteboard the biggest thing that could come up as a crisis in my life right now, what would it be?”

And you’re thinking, Well, I really don’t have one. Good for you. Don’t make one up. Maybe it’s someone you know that has a crisis. Put that up there and think through this way.

Or maybe there’s a relationship that’s crisis, or maybe there’s something in the future that you see brewing, or maybe it’s something with one of your kids, or maybe it’s financial. Or maybe the biggest crisis you have is your job. I don’t know what it is, but I want you to listen to what I’m about to read with that crisis in view, rather than as this flowing piece of poetry you’ve heard, probably for years.

It says, “The Lord,” Yahweh, or Jehovah, it’s His great covenant name, “is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me by quiet waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You,” God, “prepare a table before me in the presence of Your enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Now, this is written in a metaphor. A sheep and a shepherd. And that is really great but let me, show of hands, how many people have ever shepherded sheep? We got a major problem here. Two hundred times in the Bible, we are referred to, as believers, as sheep.

What I want you to know, when a Hebrew person heard this for the first time, three thousand years ago, it meant things to them, they had pictures come to their mind, there was an understanding about who God was that we can’t grasp unless we get a picture of what a sheep is and who a shepherd is.

So, let me just do a little background work before we jump in. Sheep have some interesting characteristics. Don’t take this personally but they’re very slow, they’re defenseless, they are stupid, among the dumbest animals. Like I said, don’t take it personally.

They are easily frightened. I mean, they don’t even growl. When they are in danger, they don’t growl. They don’t have any defense. Danger, sheep, they die. That’s what happens.

They are not very clean, you know, unlike cats, some of you don’t like cats but at least they’re clean. They’re licking themselves all the time. Sheep are just dirty and smelly, and they pick up parasites easily.

They can’t find – are you ready? What kind of animal is this? It’s like God has this, they cannot find food or water on their own. I mean, deer know where food is, rabbits can find water. Sheep, left to themselves, they’ll stay in one place, eat it until they eat all the roots and ruin the land, and unless someone guides or leads them, they’ll die.

They are so easily frightened that if there is a stream with water that has any sound to it, they will not go over to a stream and stick their head in to get life-giving water because they’re afraid of the sound. That’s why a good shepherd will often dam up a stream and create a hole or a quiet place where he can lead and guide the sheep where they can get to drink.

Now, there are some parallels here. Now, before you get a little defensive and thinking, “I’m a little offended that the Bible refers to me like that,” in light of, let me give you other contrast here.

The shepherd was the lowliest job on the Hebrew totem pole. When you were in a Hebrew family, the lowest job was you’ve got to watch the sheep. You had to protect them, you had to lead them, you had a rod. It was an instrument that you would stick in your belt and it was to kill wild animals. And they got where they could, literally, swing and throw that thing where, bam, I mean, they were good. They could knock a sheep out. Or, I mean, the attackers, the predators of the sheep. They could probably knock a few sheep out too.

And then they had that staff. You know? The big crook thing? They would carry the staff and the sheep, being dumb and they’d get in thorn bushes and they always, they wander away and they use those to lift them up with the crook and pull them out of ravines and now and then give them a little rap on the rear end to say, “Hey, we’re not doing that.”

In fact, if a sheep was a real wanderer, the shepherd would, literally, go and break its leg on purpose knowing that the sheep was going to end up in danger and die. Then take that little sheep, put it over his neck, and build a relationship with it.

And when the leg healed, then he would put a little bell around it, and it was called the bell sheep. And then that sheep would stay next to the shepherd and as the other sheep would hear that, they would follow along with that.

Now, in light of that, notice the very first line before we get any farther. It says, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” There’s a lot of names for God. This is Yahweh or Jehovah. This is the name He gave Abraham. Literally, it is I Am That I Am. It’s the Transcendent One. It’s the biggest picture of God we can get our arms around.

“I am before all else, I am self-existent, I am self-sufficient, I am holy, I am above, I have unlimited resources, I am outside of time, I am eternal. Yahweh.” But notice then the contrast. That Lord is not the shepherd. “Is my Shepherd.” It may be, for the Hebrew mind, the most intimate, personal term ever given to God in the Old Testament because they understood the kind of relationship. They understood that a shepherd provides and protects and cares for and understands and nourishes and loves. And it’s a lowly job. It’s a serving job.

And so here you have, in the first line, God’s transcendence, His bigness, His greatness, His power, and His imminence, His tenderness, His personalness.

And so, what you see is, yeah, sheep are very vulnerable but they’re also very valuable. A Hebrew home was sustained by, what did you eat? Sheep meat. Lamb chops. What did you, how did you, how did you make money? You shear the sheep.

So, what you have is an animal that’s very, very vulnerable and an animal that’s very, very valuable. And compared to the almighty transcendence of God, we are like sheep. In light of eternity, in light of making good decisions and living rightly, we’re as dumb as a sheep. We’re as vulnerable as a sheep but to God, we’re valuable. Highly esteemed.

And notice here also the pronoun “my.” If you get bored go home and pull out a pen and circle all the first-person personal pronouns: My, my, my, I, I, I, me, me, me. This isn’t a God who is way out there. This is a God who intricately, intimately cares about you and about me. And so, for the Hebrew mind, that’s what it meant to be the Shepherd.

By way of structure, the last thing before we jump in, notice that there are three statements here, three statements that are in the future tense and everything else is in the present tense.

There’s, “I shall not be in want,” there is, “I will fear no evil,” and there is, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord.” They’re statements of confidence. David has been through it, he understands who God is, he’s been in danger, he’s been in a crisis, and somewhere along the line the Spirit of God has revealed to David the secret of having unshakable confidence, even in the midst of the most devastating crisis.

When you have cancer you can say, “I will fear no evil.” When there is financial problems on the horizon you can say, “I shall not be in want.” When you feel insecure and afraid you can say, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Now, what I want to do in the next few minutes together is let’s look at this Psalm and figure out David’s secrets. Why could he say that? What did he know about God? And it’s all right there in Psalm 23.

So, the first statement of absolute confidence, he says, “I shall not be in want,” why? “because the shepherd provides all my needs.” That’s the key word. David said, “I’m not going to be uptight. I know I’m not going to be in want because the Shepherd, my Shepherd, the all-knowing, the all-powerful Shepherd, He will provide. He is going to take care of all my needs.”
And if you have a pen, pull it out, I want to give you three key words and I’ll develop it from the text. Under it, write a number one and write the word “physical.” Under that write a number two; write the word “psychological/emotional.” Under that write the word “spiritual.”

And what you’re going to see in the first three verses is that God, the almighty, powerful God is committed to meeting your physical needs, your psychological or emotional needs, and He’s committed to your spiritual needs.

In fact, look at it. He says, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. You see, sheep don’t go to the best grass on their own. And notice the little word, “He makes me.”

He will take you to places where you get physically nourished. And notice it goes on to say, “He leads me by quiet waters.” Now, if you know anything about sheep is they will not lie down in grass, they will not graze freely, and they will not go where there is calmness unless there is no friction between the sheep, unless there is no sense of danger on the outside, and there is no friction or problem with parasites within.

And these things blend together, these metaphors: Green, lush pastures; quiet waters; restores our soul; leads us in paths of righteousness. It’s not just one is the physical, other is psychological, the other is spiritual. They blend together but you can see, as he gives us this picture, he says to us, “God will meet your needs.” Now, He doesn’t meet your wants and He doesn’t necessarily meet your agendas.

“He restores my soul.” The word “restore” there, literally, can mean “repent” or even “to be converted.” The word for “soul” in Greek it’s “psyche,” we get our word “psychology” and in Hebrew often it means the whole person or the self.

Literally, the idea is God restores us. He takes our deepest needs, our deepest hurts and He restores. He puts it back together. He gives grace. He holds you up almost with, like, an invisible hand. And then he goes on to say, the spiritual issues. “He guides me, He gives direction.” Where? “In paths of righteousness,” or, literally, the right path.

What’s right? What’s wrong? What’s true? What decision should you make? Who should you marry? What job? Should you get involved in this, or not?

David is saying, “Look, there is a Shepherd. He’s all-knowing, He’s all-powerful, and He loves you, and He wants you to know He will meet every need. Not on your terms, not by your agenda, but He promises to meet your physical, psychological, and spiritual needs all the days of your life.”

Now, He can do that if you let Him be your Shepherd. The other option is you can say, “You know something? I’m a pretty big sheep. I think I’ll go graze where I think I’ll be fulfilled. I think I’ll go hang out with other sheep or other animals where I think it’ll be fun. I think I’ll go to water and places and make decisions on my terms.”

And what do we know if a physical sheep does that? They got big problems. See, the biggest problems in our lives are not because God is mean, God is bad, and He doesn’t really care about us. The biggest problems in our lives are down deep in my heart I’m a very proud, arrogant person and I want to be both the sheep and I want to be my own shepherd.

See, grace always flows toward humility and humility is something hard for human sheep to swallow, to admit our need. And that’s what David does here. He recognizes, “Hey, we’re all sheep,” and he recognizes every sheep needs a shepherd.

But that’s not all, in fact, let me give you a New Testament promise to jot down. And you say, “Well that’s good for them.” Philippians 4:19, jot that in the corner. The apostle Paul writes to regular people like you and me.

“But my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” What is true then, I just want you to know, it’s true now. So, I don’t know what’s on the whiteboard of your mind, what your crisis is. I don’t know what the need is.

But I want to tell you this, here’s a promise from God: You bring your life underneath the leadership of the Shepherd and He’ll meet your needs. Maybe not your way, maybe not in your time, He may do a lot in you before He does something through you, but He promises He’ll meet you.

The second thing is he’s not afraid of evil. It’s a statement of confidence. He says, “I shall not be in want,” he knows, when David looks at the future he says, “I’m not uptight about the future. I’m not going to be in want.” But then he makes this radical statement. He says, “I will fear no evil.”

“I’m not going to fear the evil of a fallen world, I’m not going to fear the evil of the enemy, I’m not going to fear the evil of my own flesh. I will fear no evil.” Why? Well, look at the text. “Because the Shepherd protects me from all evil.”

He says when you understand God as a shepherd, He not only is a provider, He is the protector. Notice, he goes on to say, verse 4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” why? “for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

The little phrase here, “The valley of the shadow of death,” is a picture in the physical life of the sheep. During the summer, they take the sheep out from the mountains and they have them graze. And then when the weather changes, then the spring comes, and all the lush grass is up in the mountains.

And they have to take them through these ravines and valleys. And so, they’re going to take them up and every time where there are two mountains here, then there is darkness as they go through it. And that’s the picture.

Literally, the shadow of death is, literally, the darkest times, the darkness of the valley. One commentator wrote, he said, “It is the dark of darkness; the fear of the unknown.” This isn’t just, “God will take me through the shadow of my fear of death,” but it is any crisis where we find ourselves where when we look out, we are afraid, and we can’t see what’s out there. That’s a crisis.

But David writes, inspired by the Holy Spirit, “You don’t have to be afraid because He is with you.” And when the shepherd would take the sheep, he would keep them very close.

And a great book, you might jot this down, it’s an old book but it’s a great book by a fellow named Phillip Keller called A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm. He spends a whole chapter on this picture.

And he was an actual sheepherder for, I think, eight to ten years in Australia. And he said in those eight to ten years, as he shepherded large flocks, he said, “Never once did I see a cougar or a mountain lion. I never saw a one.” He said, “But I lost scores of sheep during that time.”

He said, “When you go through the darkness, you don’t know where the predators are; they’d come out and get those sheep and they’d be gone, eaten, and dead before I’d know anything.”

He says, “It’s a fearful thing and those sheep, when they go through those valleys in the mountains, when we’re going up to the greener pasture,” he said, “it’s a fearful thing.”

Let me give you three words to write down here and I’ll develop them. First, His presence; second, His power; third, His pruning. Those are the three things that happen. The reason we don’t have to be afraid is, number one, in the midst of your crisis, whatever you’re afraid of, maybe it’s anxiety attacks. Maybe it’s you’re afraid your marriage will never get better. Maybe it’s a fear about what’s happening with one of your kids. Maybe you have cancer.

I don’t know what it is but wherever your crisis is, wherever the darkness of your valley is, here’s the promise: His presence. “I will be with you.” Hebrews 13, “I will always be with you and never, ever leave you or forsake you.” Five negatives. Can’t say it any stronger.

I don’t understand how it works. All I know is that in the worst and most difficult times, when we come to the end of ourselves, God’s presence, this invisible hand, this buoying up.

I think it’s what the apostle Paul experienced in 2 Corinthians 12. Remember, he was in the dark time and his body wasn’t working, there’s some physical affliction, and this guy’s got a vibrant prayer life and he says, “God! I got a major problem here!” He says, “Please take away this affliction.” God says, “No.” He says, well, perseverance, “God, please take this away.” God says, “No.” He said, “God, maybe you don’t get this. Please take this away. I mean, I’m an apostle. I’m going to write thirteen books of the New Testament!” God says, “No.”

And His answer is, “You need this adversity in your life because of My plan and My program and here’s what I’m going to give you. My grace will be sufficient for you.” And Paul got it. To the point that he’ll go on to write, “Therefore,” he says, “I will most gladly rejoice in my weakness, in distress, in difficulties, in painful situations, because power is perfected in weakness.”

God promises if you’ll come, wherever you’re at, He’ll give you just enough grace for this moment. Not enough for tonight. Not enough for tomorrow. Not enough for next week. He will hold you up right now and give you all that you need. That’s His presence.

But notice the little line, he said, goes on to say, “Your rod.” Remember what I told you the rod was for? It was to kill predators. Your Shepherd; you have an enemy. And when you’re in the dark times of your life, I don’t know about you, but the enemy swoops in and he starts to throw lies at you. And he gives you ideas about shortcuts, “Hey, if this isn’t a very good marriage, turn that one in and try another one! You’re tired of so-and-so? Blow them off. Got financial needs? Steal! I mean, do it sophisticated and in a Christian way, but steal! Take life into your own hands. Take a shortcut, figure out…”
And he says when the enemy comes in and tempts you, or condemns you, He has a rod and he’ll crush him. Jot down Ephesians chapter 6:10 to 18. God says you have armor, you have weaponry, you have the sword of the Spirit, you have prayer. He will protect you with His power. “Be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might.”

Third, He has a staff. And when you’re in this dark valley time, believe it or not, God has a game plan that’s even bigger than you getting through it, me getting through it.

I’d like to say to you, I’d like to say – you know what? The times in my life when I lean back in my chair one day and say, “Do you know something? Man, God is so good. My marriage is better than it’s ever been, all my kids are living exemplary lives, and I’ve got more money in the bank than I know what to do with, my body feels good, everything is awesome and wonderful.” Those are the times when I say, “Oh, God, in gratitude to You, I just want to be more committed to You than I’ve ever been.”

You know what we do when things are like that? Left to ourselves? We forget God. My confession to you, and yours probably would be to me, it’s when I was in between jobs, when my marriage wasn’t going very well, when we’ve had major problems with one of our kids, when I’ve been in the ICU with a close friend or one of my children, when I’ve been so down on myself that I thought, “God, if You don’t show up in power and grace, you know, is there a train somewhere I could get on and just go hide?”

And it’s been in those dark times that God has shown up in powerful, powerful ways and you know what He’s done? He has usually pruned me. I have learned more. He has been about changing me, helping me see things that I would have never seen except for, “I’m in the valley of the shadow of death.”

You see, you don’t have to fear evil because you know His presence will be with you, His power will take care of the enemy, and your own flesh, He is going to use those difficult times as James chapter 1 reminds us, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and mature, complete, lacking in nothing.” He’s going to change you.

The first thing you need to remember, and I mean remember, is this: You do not have to be in want because the great Shepherd will provide all your needs. So, whatever your needs are, run to Him.

The second thing is, you don’t have to fear. You can be afraid, you can struggle, that’s human. But you don’t have to be paralyzed by fear. Why? Because the great Shepherd will protect you.

Now the psalmist does something very interesting. He has given us this image and then he takes that metaphor and he gently lays it on the shelf, and then he comes over and he reaches another metaphor out of his culture. Because where he’s going to end with the psalm is not down in the doldrums, it’s not going to be out of fear.

He is going to celebrate, understanding who God is, and now the metaphor changes to a banquet. And banquets and feasts and celebrations were filled with food and music and joy and relationships and hugs and kisses and people being together.

Notice now he says, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord.” That’s his third confident affirmation but here’s why: Because the Shepherd promises an abundant life now and forever.

And, by the way, abundant life, doesn’t that ring a bell? Remember Jesus in John 10:10? “I have come that you might have life, and you can have it abundantly.” The word literally means, “spilling over; overflowing.” It doesn’t mean that you’re going to drive fancy cars, have great houses, and never have a problem.

It means you’re going to overflow from the inside out of the overflow of your resources with Christ, that regardless of what you go through, it can be rich, it can be deep, it can be powerful, it can be wonderful, and it can be that if you have this income or this income. Whether you’re healthy as a horse or whether you have cancer. That’s what it means to have an abundant life.

It means to be deeply connected to God in such a way that circumstances don’t have the power to dominate your life. You are defined by your relationship with God.

Well, notice the three pictures he’s going to give us here. He says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” This is a great picture.

In the ancient Near Eastern culture, to eat a meal was more than, like, going to McDonalds. It was a fellowship, it was a, and especially a banquet, he says, “Prepare a table.”

The idea is it is a big celebration. And when they would have a great military victory, the general who had the victory would come in, literally, on a white horse. Psalm 68 you might check out and Ephesians chapter 4.

And he would come in with his troops and then the plunder and then all the captains and then they would have this great celebration, giving credit to God for the great victory, and they would have a feast, I mean, a buffet! Awesome! Like, eat all you want!

But then they would have situated around them the captives where their enemies would be watching them eat and enjoy the victory and the splendor as a humiliation to let them know, “Our God is greater than your god.”

The battles in the Old Testament were conflicts of nations and at the heart of most of the battles had to do with a conflict with deities. Is Jehovah God really the God or is it Molech? Or is it Baal?

And he says here, “A banquet in the midst of his enemies.” Deliverance. See, what God promises is a banquet where what He wants to do in your life is He wants to give you victory over your number one enemy, which is, not taxes; not cancer; not a relationship that’s not quite as fulfilling; not a wayward child.

Your number one enemy is sin. We are a slave, according to Scripture, to whatever we obey. And left to yourself, you are a slave to sin. You are a slave to want to do this but find yourself doing that. You’re a slave to knowing what it looks like to be a good dad, a good mom, a good person, a pure person and finding yourself constantly doing the opposite.

And this says what He wants to do first is give you peace. The abundant life is characterized by peace. You know how you get peace? Salvation. Deliverance from your enemy! Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore having been justified by faith we have,” have, present tense, “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are here today and you’ve never experienced the saving grace of forgiveness, of all your sins washed away, and the power of sin broken in your life where you have a new master, Christ, and the power to say, “No” to sin and, “Yes” to righteousness, and you want the peace that comes then come to the Shepherd. That’s the first thing He wants to give you.

The second thing there is, in this abundant life is more than peace, it’s joy. Notice the next line. It says, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” And if you were the host, and you’ve got this huge banquet and it’s a victory banquet, it’s like the big victory party, as every guest would come in they would take olive oil, mix it with some perfume and spices, and they would pour it on them as they were honored. They’d wash their feet and they would want them to know, “This is a celebration; you are special.”

And the idea of the cup overflowing, it’s just a little picture of, “Hey, we’re not giving out goodness in eyedroppers here.” It’s not, “Watch how much you eat.” It is, “There’s the table. It is filled, it is for you, it is lavish.” It’s a picture of God’s goodness. He wants to do good things for us, spiritually and in every other way.

He says, “Enter in, let Me give you victory over your enemies, peace, and then let Me give you joy.” And joy comes from fellowship with Him. “Sit down and eat with Me,” Revelation 3:20, you remember that one? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man, any person, any woman, any child, any student hears My voice and opens the door of their heart,” He says, “I will come into them,” and what’s it say then? “and will eat with them and they with Me.”

See, eating in the Bible is always a picture of fellowship, unity, communion, relationship – byproduct – joy.

You see, the banquet that God invites you to is not just one where there is deliverance and not just joy but look at the last part. Verse 6, “Surely goodness and love will follow me,” the word “follow” means “pursue.”

I wonder what’s going to happen, what’s going to happen to the Asian market, wonder how my kids are going to turn out?

You know what? I’ve heard two testimonies about cancer, should I go get a checkup? I wonder if I’m going to get cancer. Oh, I wonder if someone I love is going to get cancer.”

You know what that is? Anxiety and fear. You know what that belief system is? A commitment that, according to CNN, Fox Network, ABC, CBS, the world is a bad, bad, bad place, it happens to everyone all the time. Instead of, “The world is a fallen place, sovereignly run by a good God that wants to give you goodness,” interesting word, “lavish love, and hessed.” Mercy. Steadfast, loyal, covenant, commitment to you in whatever you…

And it doesn’t follow behind you, it’s pursuing you. It’s pursuing you. How long? All the days of your life. The Shepherd says, “Come. Come. I’ll give you peace, forgiveness for your sins. I’ll give you joy, fellowship with Me. And I’ll give you hope.”

You can get up every day knowing God’s plan for today is good. His goodness and His love are like guardrails on your life and everything that comes in, even in a fallen world, even from the enemy, even from your own flesh, He is going to orchestrate in a way to bring about the highest, best good in you. Man, is this an offer you can’t refuse, or what?

Turn to the final page. Let’s talk now about an action step. How then can you experience God’s peace and power in your situation today? I mean, I hope some of you are sitting here and thinking, You know, man, fantastic! I just, I didn’t realize… Jesus, what did He say? “I’m the Good Shepherd; the sheep know My voice. I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” And I hope lots of you are here saying, “Man, am I glad that Jesus is my Shepherd.”

But what if you’re here, you asked Him to be your Savior but maybe it’s been months ago, or years ago, or many years ago, and you find yourself here and you feel distant from God and you think, “Gosh, can I really get in on this?” Yes. That’s why God brought you today, so you can get in on this. He wants you to come back into the fold so He can love you, provide for you, protect you, and give you His promise.

And there may be others here, you say, “You know something, I’m not in the family. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I can’t imagine people standing up and saying, ‘This is how God was with me.’ I can’t imagine people saying, ‘I don’t know whether I’m going to live or die and I don’t know what the treatments are but I can tell you I’m not afraid and I have peace.’”

And if there’s anything in your heart, in your world that says, “You know what? I’d like to know that God,” you need to act on that. You need to receive Jesus as your Savior. You need to receive Him as your Shepherd to forgive you, cleanse you, come into your life, and give you eternal life. Dwell with Him forever.

Here’s what you need to understand, it’s very simple. You need to understand, one, that we’re all sheep. He’s not picking on us. Jot down, if you would, Isaiah 53:6, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray. We have turned, everyone, to our own way; but the Lord has laid upon Him, Messiah Jesus, the iniquities of us all.” We are all sheep but Jesus has paid the price.

Second, every sheep needs a shepherd. Sheep that don’t have a shepherd get in trouble and die. Every sheep needs a shepherd.

Third, Jesus wants to be your Shepherd today. If you’re not as close as you need to be, He’d like to take that staff and kind of pull you in close.

And if you’re not on the team, in His family, He wants you to pray and say, “Will You be my Shepherd? I turn from my sin, I believe that what You did on the cross was payment, that You rose from the dead.” In fact, listen to this appeal from Jesus, His own lips, “Come to Me.” Listen. “Come to Me,” who? “all you who are weary and burdened,” anybody qualify? “and I will give you rest” spiritually, physically, psychologically. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.” In other words, “Get in the harness with Me,” do life My way. And you don’t have to be afraid, “for I am gentle and humble of heart.” I’m not pushy. “And you will find rest for your souls, for My yoke is easy,” I’ll carry it, “and My burden is light.”

If you’re a Christian that needs to return to Christ, I encourage you to do that today and if you’re a person that has never received Jesus as your Savior, I’d like to give you the invitation to do that right now. You’ll notice that there’s a prayer of faith on the bottom. I want to read it and then I’m going to pray it. And if you would like to respond, I encourage you to do that right now.

It says, “Today I ask You, Jesus, to be my Shepherd.” Think about if you want to do that. “I ask You to provide for my needs and protect me from evil. Today, I take You up on Your promise of abundant life.” And then if you’ve never asked Him to forgive you, if you’ve never asked Him to be your Savior then pray, “I ask You to forgive my sins and let me dwell in Your house forever.” And then for all of us, “Today, I surrender my life to Your wise and good leadership. Make me the person You want me to be.” And then are you ready for this? Notice where it says on the bottom, “Signed,” I’d like you to sign your name.

You know, we live in the day where people don’t make commitments. I think God wants commitments. You come.
The second thing is he’s not afraid of evil. He knows, when David looks at the future he says, “I’m not uptight about the future. I’m not going to be in want.” But then he makes this radical statement. He says, “I will fear no evil.”

“I’m not going to fear the evil of a fallen world, I’m not going to fear the evil of the enemy, I’m not going to fear the evil of my own flesh. I will fear no evil.” Why? Well, look at the text. “Because the Shepherd protects me from all evil.”

He says when you understand God as a shepherd, He not only is a provider, He is the protector. Notice, he goes on to say, verse 4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” why? “for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

The little phrase here, “The valley of the shadow of death,” is a picture in the physical life of the sheep. During the summer, they take the sheep out from the mountains and they have them graze. And then when the weather changes, then the spring comes, and all the lush grass is up in the mountains.

And they have to take them through these ravines and valleys. And so, they’re going to take them up and every time where there are two mountains here, then there is darkness as they go through it. And that’s the picture.

Literally, the shadow of death is, literally, the darkest times, the darkness of the valley. One commentator wrote, he said, “It is the dark of darkness; the fear of the unknown.” This isn’t just, “God will take me through the shadow of my fear of death,” but it is any crisis where we find ourselves where when we look out, we are afraid, and we can’t see what’s out there. That’s a crisis.

But David writes, inspired by the Holy Spirit, “You don’t have to be afraid because He is with you.” And when the shepherd would take the sheep, he would keep them very close.

And a great book, you might jot this down, it’s an old book but it’s a great book by a fellow named Phillip Keller called A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm. He spends a whole chapter on this picture.

And he was an actual sheepherder for, I think, eight to ten years in Australia. And he said in those eight to ten years, as he shepherded large flocks, he said, “Never once did I see a cougar or a mountain lion. I never saw a one.” He said, “But I lost scores of sheep during that time.”

He said, “When you go through the darkness, you don’t know where the predators are; they’d come out and get those sheep and they’d be gone, eaten, and dead before I’d know anything.”

He says, “It’s a fearful thing and those sheep, when they go through those valleys in the mountains, when we’re going up to the greener pasture,” he said, “it’s a fearful thing.”

Let me give you three words to write down here and I’ll develop them. First, His presence; second, His power; third, His pruning. Those are the three things that happen. The reason we don’t have to be afraid is, number one, in the midst of your crisis, whatever you’re afraid of, maybe it’s anxiety attacks. Maybe it’s you’re afraid your marriage will never get better. Maybe it’s a fear about what’s happening with one of your kids. Maybe you have cancer.

I don’t know what it is but wherever your crisis is, wherever the darkness of your valley is, here’s the promise: His presence. “I will be with you.” Hebrews 13, “I will always be with you and never, ever leave you or forsake you.” Five negatives. Can’t say it any stronger.

I don’t understand how it works. All I know is that in the worst and most difficult times, when we come to the end of ourselves, God’s presence, this invisible hand, this buoying up.

I think it’s what the apostle Paul experienced in 2 Corinthians 12. Remember, he was in the dark time and his body wasn’t working, there’s some physical affliction, and this guy’s got a vibrant prayer life and he says, “God! I got a major problem here!” He says, “Please take away this affliction.” God says, “No.” He says, well, perseverance, “God, please take this away.” God says, “No.” He said, “God, maybe you don’t get this. Please take this away. I mean, I’m an apostle. I’m going to write thirteen books of the New Testament!” God says, “No.”

And His answer is, “You need this adversity in your life because of My plan and My program and here’s what I’m going to give you. My grace will be sufficient for you.” And Paul got it. To the point that he’ll go on to write, “Therefore,” he says, “I will most gladly rejoice in my weakness, in distress, in difficulties, in painful situations, because power is perfected in weakness.”

God promises if you’ll come, wherever you’re at, He’ll give you just enough grace for this moment. Not enough for tonight. Not enough for tomorrow. Not enough for next week. He will hold you up right now and give you all that you need. That’s His presence.

But notice the little line, he said, goes on to say, “Your rod.” Remember what I told you the rod was for? It was to kill predators. Your Shepherd; you have an enemy. And when you’re in the dark times of your life, I don’t know about you, but the enemy swoops in and he starts to throw lies at you. And he gives you ideas about shortcuts, “Hey, if this isn’t a very good marriage, turn that one in and try another one! You’re tired of so-and-so? Blow them off. Got financial needs? Steal! I mean, do it sophisticated and in a Christian way, but steal! Take life into your own hands. Take a shortcut, figure out…”
And he says when the enemy comes in and tempts you, or condemns you, He has a rod and he’ll crush him. Jot down Ephesians chapter 6:10 to 18. God says you have armor, you have weaponry, you have the sword of the Spirit, you have prayer. He will protect you with His power. “Be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might.”

Third, He has a staff. And when you’re in this dark valley time, believe it or not, God has a game plan that’s even bigger than you getting through it, me getting through it.

I’d like to say to you, I’d like to say – you know what? The times in my life when I lean back in my chair one day and say, “Do you know something? Man, God is so good. My marriage is better than it’s ever been, all my kids are living exemplary lives, and I’ve got more money in the bank than I know what to do with, my body feels good, everything is awesome and wonderful.” Those are the times when I say, “Oh, God, in gratitude to You, I just want to be more committed to You than I’ve ever been.”

You know what we do when things are like that? Left to ourselves? We forget God. My confession to you, and yours probably would be to me, it’s when I was in between jobs, when my marriage wasn’t going very well, when we’ve had major problems with one of our kids, when I’ve been in the ICU with a close friend or one of my children, when I’ve been so down on myself that I thought, “God, if You don’t show up in power and grace, you know, is there a train somewhere I could get on and just go hide?”

And it’s been in those dark times that God has shown up in powerful, powerful ways and you know what He’s done? He has usually pruned me. I have learned more. He has been about changing me, helping me see things that I would have never seen except for, “I’m in the valley of the shadow of death.”

You see, you don’t have to fear evil because you know His presence will be with you, His power will take care of the enemy, and your own flesh, He is going to use those difficult times as James chapter 1 reminds us, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and mature, complete, lacking in nothing.” He’s going to change you.

The first thing you need to remember, and I mean remember, is this: You do not have to be in want because the great Shepherd will provide all your needs. So, whatever your needs are, run to Him.

The second thing is, you don’t have to fear. You can be afraid, you can struggle, that’s human. But you don’t have to be paralyzed by fear. Why? Because the great Shepherd will protect you.

Now the psalmist does something very interesting. He has given us this image and then he takes that metaphor and he gently lays it on the shelf, and then he comes over and he reaches another metaphor out of his culture. Because where he’s going to end with the psalm is not down in the doldrums, it’s not going to be out of fear.

He is going to celebrate, understanding who God is, and now the metaphor changes to a banquet. And banquets and feasts and celebrations were filled with food and music and joy and relationships and hugs and kisses and people being together.

Notice now he says, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord.” That’s his third confident affirmation but here’s why: Because the Shepherd promises an abundant life now and forever.

And, by the way, abundant life, doesn’t that ring a bell? Remember Jesus in John 10:10? “I have come that you might have life, and you can have it abundantly.” The word literally means, “spilling over; overflowing.” It doesn’t mean that you’re going to drive fancy cars, have great houses, and never have a problem.

It means you’re going to overflow from the inside out of the overflow of your resources with Christ, that regardless of what you go through, it can be rich, it can be deep, it can be powerful, it can be wonderful, and it can be that if you have this income or this income. Whether you’re healthy as a horse or whether you have cancer. That’s what it means to have an abundant life.

It means to be deeply connected to God in such a way that circumstances don’t have the power to dominate your life. You are defined by your relationship with God.

Well, notice the three pictures he’s going to give us here. He says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” This is a great picture.

In the ancient Near Eastern culture, to eat a meal was more than, like, going to McDonalds. It was a fellowship, it was a, and especially a banquet, he says, “Prepare a table.”

The idea is it is a big celebration. And when they would have a great military victory, the general who had the victory would come in, literally, on a white horse. Psalm 68 you might check out and Ephesians chapter 4.

And he would come in with his troops and then the plunder and then all the captains and then they would have this great celebration, giving credit to God for the great victory, and they would have a feast, I mean, a buffet! Awesome! Like, eat all you want!

But then they would have situated around them the captives where their enemies would be watching them eat and enjoy the victory and the splendor as a humiliation to let them know, “Our God is greater than your god.”

The battles in the Old Testament were conflicts of nations and at the heart of most of the battles had to do with a conflict with deities. Is Jehovah God really the God or is it Molech? Or is it Baal?

And he says here, “A banquet in the midst of his enemies.” Deliverance. See, what God promises is a banquet where what He wants to do in your life is He wants to give you victory over your number one enemy, which is, not taxes; not cancer; not a relationship that’s not quite as fulfilling; not a wayward child.

Your number one enemy is sin. We are a slave, according to Scripture, to whatever we obey. And left to yourself, you are a slave to sin. You are a slave to want to do this but find yourself doing that. You’re a slave to knowing what it looks like to be a good dad, a good mom, a good person, a pure person and finding yourself constantly doing the opposite.

And this says what He wants to do first is give you peace. The abundant life is characterized by peace. You know how you get peace? Salvation. Deliverance from your enemy! Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore having been justified by faith we have,” have, present tense, “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are here today and you’ve never experienced the saving grace of forgiveness, of all your sins washed away, and the power of sin broken in your life where you have a new master, Christ, and the power to say, “No” to sin and, “Yes” to righteousness, and you want the peace that comes then come to the Shepherd. That’s the first thing He wants to give you.

The second thing there is, in this abundant life is more than peace, it’s joy. Notice the next line. It says, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” And if you were the host, and you’ve got this huge banquet and it’s a victory banquet, it’s like the big victory party, as every guest would come in they would take olive oil, mix it with some perfume and spices, and they would pour it on them as they were honored. They’d wash their feet and they would want them to know, “This is a celebration; you are special.”

And the idea of the cup overflowing, it’s just a little picture of, “Hey, we’re not giving out goodness in eyedroppers here.” It’s not, “Watch how much you eat.” It is, “There’s the table. It is filled, it is for you, it is lavish.” It’s a picture of God’s goodness. He wants to do good things for us, spiritually and in every other way.

He says, “Enter in, let Me give you victory over your enemies, peace, and then let Me give you joy.” And joy comes from fellowship with Him. “Sit down and eat with Me,” Revelation 3:20, you remember that one? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man, any person, any woman, any child, any student hears My voice and opens the door of their heart,” He says, “I will come into them,” and what’s it say then? “and will eat with them and they with Me.”

See, eating in the Bible is always a picture of fellowship, unity, communion, relationship – byproduct – joy.

You see, the banquet that God invites you to is not just one where there is deliverance and not just joy but look at the last part. Verse 6, “Surely goodness and love will follow me,” the word “follow” means “pursue.”

I wonder what’s going to happen, what’s going to happen to the Asian market, wonder how my kids are going to turn out?

You know what? I’ve heard two testimonies about cancer, should I go get a checkup? I wonder if I’m going to get cancer. Oh, I wonder if someone I love is going to get cancer.”

You know what that is? Anxiety and fear. You know what that belief system is? A commitment that, according to CNN, Fox Network, ABC, CBS, the world is a bad, bad, bad place, it happens to everyone all the time. Instead of, “The world is a fallen place, sovereignly run by a good God that wants to give you goodness,” interesting word, “lavish love, and hessed.” Mercy. Steadfast, loyal, covenant, commitment to you in whatever you…

And it doesn’t follow behind you, it’s pursuing you. It’s pursuing you. How long? All the days of your life. The Shepherd says, “Come. Come. I’ll give you peace, forgiveness for your sins. I’ll give you joy, fellowship with Me. And I’ll give you hope.”

You can get up every day knowing God’s plan for today is good. His goodness and His love are like guardrails on your life and everything that comes in, even in a fallen world, even from the enemy, even from your own flesh, He is going to orchestrate in a way to bring about the highest, best good in you. Man, is this an offer you can’t refuse, or what?

Turn to the final page. Let’s talk now about an action step. How then can you experience God’s peace and power in your situation today? I mean, I hope some of you are sitting here and thinking, You know, man, fantastic! I just, I didn’t realize… Jesus, what did He say? “I’m the Good Shepherd; the sheep know My voice. I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” And I hope lots of you are here saying, “Man, am I glad that Jesus is my Shepherd.”

But what if you’re here, you asked Him to be your Savior but maybe it’s been months ago, or years ago, or many years ago, and you find yourself here and you feel distant from God and you think, “Gosh, can I really get in on this?” Yes. That’s why God brought you today, so you can get in on this. He wants you to come back into the fold so He can love you, provide for you, protect you, and give you His promise.

And there may be others here, you say, “You know something, I’m not in the family. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I can’t imagine people standing up and saying, ‘This is how God was with me.’ I can’t imagine people saying, ‘I don’t know whether I’m going to live or die and I don’t know what the treatments are but I can tell you I’m not afraid and I have peace.’”

And if there’s anything in your heart, in your world that says, “You know what? I’d like to know that God,” you need to act on that. You need to receive Jesus as your Savior. You need to receive Him as your Shepherd to forgive you, cleanse you, come into your life, and give you eternal life. Dwell with Him forever.

Here’s what you need to understand, it’s very simple. You need to understand, one, that we’re all sheep. He’s not picking on us. Jot down, if you would, Isaiah 53:6, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray. We have turned, everyone, to our own way; but the Lord has laid upon Him, Messiah Jesus, the iniquities of us all.” We are all sheep but Jesus has paid the price.

Second, every sheep needs a shepherd. Sheep that don’t have a shepherd get in trouble and die. Every sheep needs a shepherd.

Third, Jesus wants to be your Shepherd today. If you’re not as close as you need to be, He’d like to take that staff and kind of pull you in close.

And if you’re not on the team, in His family, He wants you to pray and say, “Will You be my Shepherd? I turn from my sin, I believe that what You did on the cross was payment, that You rose from the dead.” In fact, listen to this appeal from Jesus, His own lips, “Come to Me.” Listen. “Come to Me,” who? “all you who are weary and burdened,” anybody qualify? “and I will give you rest” spiritually, physically, psychologically. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.” In other words, “Get in the harness with Me,” do life My way. And you don’t have to be afraid, “for I am gentle and humble of heart.” I’m not pushy. “And you will find rest for your souls, for My yoke is easy,” I’ll carry it, “and My burden is light.”

If you’re a Christian that needs to return to Christ, I encourage you to do that today and if you’re a person that has never received Jesus as your Savior, I’d like to give you the invitation to do that right now. You’ll notice that there’s a prayer of faith on the bottom. I want to read it and then I’m going to pray it. And if you would like to respond, I encourage you to do that right now.

It says, “Today I ask You, Jesus, to be my Shepherd.” Think about if you want to do that. “I ask You to provide for my needs and protect me from evil. Today, I take You up on Your promise of abundant life.” And then if you’ve never asked Him to forgive you, if you’ve never asked Him to be your Savior then pray, “I ask You to forgive my sins and let me dwell in Your house forever.” And then for all of us, “Today, I surrender my life to Your wise and good leadership. Make me the person You want me to be.” And then are you ready for this? Notice where it says on the bottom, “Signed,” I’d like you to sign your name.

You know, we live in the day where people don’t make commitments. I think God wants commitments. You come.