The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake . . . . Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:1-3, 6)
Before and after photos intrigue me. They might depict anything from old/new hairdos to old/new landscaping, kitchen renovations, repairs to a car or a face lift.
My ‘before’ picture is this: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way . . .”
The line / between it and the ‘after’ picture is cross-shaped with these words: “ . . . but the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6)
The ‘after’ picture is this: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27–28).
In brief, this is it: “sinner |Jesus | saved sinner.” In the wonder of all that Jesus has done for me, I still often feel as if my ‘after’ picture looks too much like the ‘before’ picture. My heart longs for greater renewal, more and more to be like Jesus, yet I stumble and fall and see that I am not there yet.
However, God assures me that He is my Shepherd and I belong to Him. He is taking care of me. This morning I read three passages and noticed the beginning and ending of both. The first was the 23rd Psalm as written above. It begins with the Shepherd’s care and ends with living forever in His eternal home. I thought about those cows that I wrote about a few weeks ago. Their caregiver is not providing green pastures. They are dirty and unkempt. Jesus would never do that to His sheep. His goodness and mercy are our daily portion. We may not be without sin here, but all will be gone when we enter the perfection we long for and are in glory with Him.
The next beginning/ending is from Psalm 84 . . .
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. (Psalm 84:1–2)
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! (Psalm 84:10–12)
The longing in my heart is often so strong that it becomes painful. Unless I can be all that God wants me to be, I feel as if I will perish, but God’s goodness and mercy is never withheld. He bestows good things on those who trust Him. Life has its ups and downs, but the Lord blesses His sheep and takes us through it all, giving us His light and His protection. How lovely.
The third beginning/end came from Hebrews . . .
. . . Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:4–6)
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21)
How can I be content with what I have, money or otherwise? By remembering that God is with me, that He is my Shepherd and that He will equip me with everything good so I can do His will. It isn’t my work for Him that pleases God, but His work in me. This is the / between the ‘before’ and the ‘after.’
In the ‘before’ life, I lived my way and for me. In the ‘after,’ my life is lived for Christ, and is not for my glory but for His.
This is a long post, partly because what God says to me is rich and has more significance than I can give words to or fit into this space. The other reason is this is the last in a devotional series on the 23rd Psalm and I have been so blessed in this study. Tomorrow, I begin another two-month booklet on a different topic, but I want to linger here and think about all that the Lord, my Good Shepherd has done and is doing in my life.