Sunday, 20 September 2009

New Covenant Living

Jeremiah 31 is one of the most significant texts in the OT. It prophetically announces the New Covenant. And it does so in a way that shows off its distinctiveness in comparison to the Old. This was incredibly brave of Jeremiah given Israel’s commitment to the Law of Moses. It also shows the depth of revelation he moved in given that he, along with Ezekiel, was one of the few prophets to foretell this momentous change that was coming. It would literally rock the religious, political and social worlds of the time. And it is meant to do the same today!

It is the significance of this change from Old to New that I want to focus on. For I see many believers today living with an Old Covenant mentality in their approach to God and life. It’s not a bad approach, for Paul tells us that the law is good, Rom 7.12. It’s just that the New Covenant is better. This is the key word that appears over and over again in the book of Hebrews, twelve times to be exact. Hebrews covers the historical transition Jews had to make in their worship of God where temple, sacrifices and priesthood were all changed, radically. More of that later.

Let’s begin by establishing the four major differences between the two covenants highlighted by Jeremiah. Each has a profound impact on the way we relate to God and do life. Here is the text in question, which is repeated in full in Heb 8.8-13:

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day [that] I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this [is] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." Jer 31.31-34

Here is what I observe:

1. Outward to Inward
We move from outward approach to an inward approach in knowing truth. The Sinai covenant was written on tablets of stone and learned. But the new covenant offers a different way of knowing and understanding. Truth is now written on the heart. Paul challenged the Jews of his generation with this reality in the book of Romans.

“For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, [even] with [your] written [code] and circumcision, [are] a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who [is one] outwardly, nor [is] circumcision that which [is] outward in the flesh; but [he is] a Jew who [is one] inwardly; and circumcision [is that] of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise [is] not from men but from God”.

Notice the force of Paul’s argument here. The real Jew (a play on the word Judah meaning praise – the true worshipper of God), is the one whose heart has been circumcised by the Spirit of God – an inward reality that allows him to fulfil the written law, for now it is written on his heart. The Jew who is one ethnically is incomplete without the New Covenant. It is like having all the sheet music to Handel’s Messiah but no ability to play. You know what it should sound like but all your attempts lead to too many wrong notes; frustrating for you and all those listening to you.

But the New Covenant deals with the human heart – the place where all the problems begin, Matt 15.18. The Old could not do this. And so verses like Prov 4.23 “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it [spring] the issues of life”, take on new force. The New Covenant shifts the focus – not to the point of commission when we sin but to the point of origin – the heart, where it is conceived, James 1.15. Take Jesus words about adultery in Matt 5. It’s not just about avoiding the act of sex; it’s about not looking and lusting so that you’ve already had sex in your mind and heart.

The Spirit of God is able to convict the heart. David was a prototype of this sensitivity. He felt guilty just for cutting off a piece of Saul’s garment. It was very much an inward experience. Further, this sensitivity goes way beyond what the law prescribes, speaking to issues of attitude and motivation. Paul prayed that the church at Ephesus would be “Strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man....” Eph 3.16. It is the inward man that is ‘renewed day by day’ even while ‘our outward man is perishing’, 2Cor 4.16.

And so as New Covenant believers we have to give primacy to the inward life of the heart. If we focus on rules and regulations we privilege the outward over the inward and are in danger of living in something less than the best. Further, we open our lives to the possibility of becoming legalistic like the Pharisee of Jesus day; clean on the outside but full of dead men’s bones. This of course tends towards hypocrisy and judgementalism where we put on masks to hide our real thoughts and hidden agendas and look down on others who sins are more obvious than our own.

I’ve noticed over the years that in the church we have a hard time dealing with those who go through divorce, often barring them from meaningful ministry, even after years of restoration. Yet we tolerate gossips and divisive people. We fear that by confronting them in an upfront way we will be perceived as ‘unloving’. But God looks on the heart. He sees the motivation. When Jesus calls us to judge righteous judgement this is what He was challenging us to do. And it is a challenge, for it requires discernment, which touches on my second point.

2. Instruction to Revelation
Jeremiah said that we won’t need anyone to tell us, ‘know the Lord’. All can know Him! So not only does the New Covenant move from outward to inward it moves from ‘being told’, instruction, to ‘just knowing’ through revelation. This ability of the human spirit to receive revelation is called intuition. Through intuition we are able to know things without being told. It is the place where we commune with God; where He speaks to our hearts and we can hear. But we must cultivate this hearing in the heart.

One of the few benefits of our postmodern age is the value it places on personal experience. The focus of the ‘Modern’ era was objectivity built on science, with the huge assumption that all things could be known and explained. Reason had replaced God. Man could now fulfil his dream of building his own utopia. But two World Wars later and in the midst of global ecological crises as well as financial crises, nobody believes this lie any longer. It just doesn’t hold water. People still feel empty and unfulfilled. Technology, with all the benefits it brings, is not enough. And so people are searching and opening their lives to spiritual journeys. Intuition is back in. How I feel about something now have value. What a perfect opportunity to use the gifts of the Spirit to speak to people’s inner needs – the needs of the heart.

For too long we have tried to disciple people by simply telling them what to do, operating primarily at the cognitive and rational level. It’s Old Covenant. Jesus was different. He pointed out when the disciples were operating out of a wrong spirit and challenged them. He discerned their motivation by operating at an intuitive level. When He encountered people, He seldom said the same thing twice. The way He spoke to Nicodemus in John 3.1-10 was different to the way He challenged the rich young ruler in Luke 18.18-23 and different again to the woman at the well in John 4. He could discern a genuine question, like that of the disciples of John in Matt 11.1-6, from the Pharisees who were out to trap Him in His words, Luke 20.20-26; Matt 11.27-33.

Jesus doesn’t speak to people in a formulaic way. All are at different places in their journey toward (or away from) God. This is because discipleship is not like a factory with set processes. It has to be nuanced for each person. It requires involvement and relationship; discernment and courage to speak what you see. These are the things that truly change people. And in the end they become disciples of Jesus – not us.

I have experienced people asking me to pray for them in a particular area and then immediately I sense the Holy Spirit pointing out another area of need to pray for. This ability to hear is part of the New Covenant. It is receiving revelation and it transforms ministry. It means we don’t just address the presentation problem but we tune in, through the Spirit, to the deeper needs of the heart. During such times people really feel like they have encountered God. But it often requires courage on our part to pray into an area not named.

Paul speaks of this in 1Cor 2.10-12. But God has revealed [them] to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.

God searches. God knows. And God the Holy Spirit reveals things to those who are spiritual, so that we can help others to see and experience the things He has freely given to them. This is an intuitive process. It is more caught than taught.

3. Selective to Inclusive
Unlike the Old Covenant, which was limited to a select group of priests, all male between the age of twenty and fifty and all fit and healthy without any kind of defects; the New is universal; “They shall all know Me... (emphasis mine)”; men and women, old and young, sick and healthy, rich and poor, Jew and non-Jew – all. Everyone can come into relationship with God through His son Jesus. None are excluded; no one is second class; no one is second best. Ethnic, religious, social or cultural distinctions are no longer important criteria in deciding who has value. All have sinned. All need saving. All need grace. And the New Covenant makes it available to all.

Paul was passionate about this. Given his background he had much to boast in at the human level. He was born a free Roman and was Jewish. He belonged to the tribe where the first King of Israel was chosen from, that remained loyal to David when the Kingdom divided. He was educated at the feet of the greatest Rabbi of his time, Gamaliel and he was a Pharisee – considered the most devout and elite of all the religious groups of his day. His zeal for the law meant he would brook no time with ‘followers of the Way’ and so he persecuted them at every opportunity.

Then he met Jesus. Years later he would reflect on all the above and make this comment, “But what things were gain to me these I have counted loss for Christ....and count them as rubbish”, Phil 3.7-8. The Greek is much stronger but so as not to offend let’s stay with rubbish. Compared to Christ, compared to knowing Him, compared to what He gives us, what we offer and have achieved, either through birth or personal effort, is rubbish.

The Cross is the great leveller. All must come. All must confess. All must receive. And all can have equal value and status before God. It is what we do with the least in the Kingdom that shows where we really stand on this issue. Do we try to position ourselves to be alongside those we consider can advance us or do we minister to those around us who can do nothing to add to our status? Do we see that we have value because of who we are in Christ or we still insecure, trying to impress others with our performance? Are we jealous of the ministry of others or can we genuinely rejoice in their ministry because in Christ we too have a ministry no less needed in the Body of Christ?

By birth I may be illegitimate. In the New Covenant I am chosen – a son of God, Gal 4.6-7. By birth I may be poor. In the New Covenant I am rich in faith and can see my world transformed, James 2.5. By birth I may be despised for my race or colour or gender. In the New Covenant I am of equal value to any King because I too am in Christ and an heir of God, Gal 3.28.

4. Partial to Total
Finally we move from partial forgiveness to total forgiveness. “Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more”. Under the Old sin was dealt with, but partially and temporarily. Every year they had to repeat the process of Passover and the Day of Atonement. Every sin required a new sacrifice – more blood. But this was a shadow of something better; a sacrifice that would be so complete, so perfect, so satisfying to the heart of God that no longer would any more of His creatures need to die. Man’s sin and rebellion had exacted a heavy toll. But the blood of Jesus has achieved what no other sacrifice was able to do.

The writer to the Hebrews declared that the blood of Jesus speaks better things than the blood of Able, Heb 12.24. Able’s blood cried out from the ground to God, Gen 4.10. It cried out for justice. He had been cut down in the prime of life, robbed of his future. But the blood of Jesus calls out for mercy. From the Cross He forgives. We receive what we cannot earn, grace and get what we do not deserve, mercy. Total and complete. Under the New Covenant there is no sin that is bigger than the cross. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin”, (emphasis mine), 1John 1.7.

We must learn to live in this amazing truth. For too often I meet believers who still live with guilt from past failure. My old pastor once defined maturity in this way; “Maturity is measured by the time it takes for you to respond to conviction with repentance and receive forgiveness, after you fail”. Think about that. The gap between failure and repentance is a reflection of our maturity. The shorter the gap, the more mature we are. I like that. To live with guilt when you can bring failure to the cross is to live like an Old Testament (which actually is a different way of saying Old Covenant) saint. All that is required in the New is confession. That is what qualifies us to be forgiven. How utterly devoid of human works grace is. It’s scandalous. And that is the glory of the New Covenant. God chooses not to remember your sin – ever.

But there is an equal challenge here. Not only must we be prepared to ask for forgiveness we must be prepared to give it too; in the same unconditional manner God does. All He requires is confession. Peter struggled with this idea. There must be limits. “Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Even that seems too much to many. But notice Jesus’ response: “Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven”. And just to drive the point home Jesus told the story of the unforgiving servant.

Forgiveness is one of those things that is best given once it is received. But to receive and then not forgive is counter to what makes the New Covenant distinctive. We don’t need to judge and condemn, as they did under the Old covenant. We leave judgement to God and choose to forgive. And this is what guarantees our own spiritual health and freedom. Without forgiveness towards others we remain locked up and bound. It can rob us of joy, purpose and ultimately our health. So counter to the Spirit of the New Covenant is unforgiveness that God refuses to forgive us if we don’t forgive others, Matt 6.14-15; 18.32-35.

My prayer for you is that you will live in the full benefits of what Jesus has secured for us through the New Covenant. Let’s go from the living in the good to living in the better.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Commitment - God's Way

Sometimes the most significant thing about the Bible is what it doesn’t say! For instance the word love is not found in the book of Acts. Yet the whole book is about love in action. The absence of the word does not mean the absence of the reality that lies behind the word. The book of Esther does not mention the word God – the only book in fact where God is not mentioned. Yet it is impossible to read the story of Esther and not see God’s providential hand at work. The gospel of John doesn’t mention the word faith, only the verb form is used, believe (which has the same Greek root as faith: pistis). This is because John wants us to see faith as an ongoing disposition of heart and not just an initial response to Jesus.

But there is one word that is not found in the entire Bible. I’ve checked. It’s neither in the KJV nor the NKJV. It’s not in the NIV or the NASB. It’s not in Darby’s translation or Young’s. It's not in the RSV or the ASV. The NLB, a paraphrase, has it in a couple of places, Is 9.7 and 1Chron 16.15 repeated in Psalm 105.8 The word is commitment. Imagine that! It’s not in the Bible. But what conclusion should we draw from such a blatant omission?

It is difficult to read the pages of scripture and not be impressed by all the commitment that we see displayed over and over again; Abraham’s commitment to obedience when he offered up Isaac on the altar. God’s commitment to Abraham when a son was born to him in his old age; Jonathan’s commitment to David despite his father’s jealous persecution of him; David’s commitment to walk in integrity and not to force God’s hand by killing Saul when he had the opportunity, on no less than two occasions. The list is endless. So if the concept is there why is there no mention of this word in the Bible?

The problem I find with much preaching on commitment is that it is rooted in ideas of duty or obligation; words that evoke an ‘I have to’ mentality rather than an ‘I want to’ attitude. These are often fear based or guilt based ways of behaving. When God wants to demonstrate commitment to us He uses a different word. It is the word covenant. Covenant is how He expresses commitment! And all His commitments are rooted in Covenant. The NLT translation of Pslam 105.8 says, "He always stands by his covenant-- the commitment he made to a thousand generations". And here the translator has got it right.

There are a number of things about covenant we need to understand.

Firstly this word is highly relational; for God’s covenant is always between Him and someone else, another person. Covenant is relational because God is relational in Himself – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We easily commit to ideas, political ideologies, even vision. And we change our ideas more often than we are prepared to admit. All these things are rooted in abstract concepts. We want to evaluate another believer’s orthodoxy according to a ‘statement of faith’. In doing so we are trying to objectify things so that we can know what to commit to. But God works differently. He calls us into relationship and commits Himself to us as people first. A faith response to Jesus is sufficient for God to totally commit Himself to us, before we get our lives or our theology straight. How outrageous!

This is a totally different way of understanding commitment. It is meant to be rooted in relationship. Vision is not fulfilled by people committing to vision alone. They have to commit – in relationship, to those who are committed to the vision. It is the sense of togetherness that we must seek to get first. Everything else flows out from that. The first call of the apostles was to be with Jesus, That’s it. Period. Their commitment to Him came out of relationship. Remove the relationship and all you are left with is duty and obligation. And these are guaranteed to kill any joy in serving. This is why Jesus had one question to Peter, John 21.15 “Do you love Me?” That question is all about relationship – nothing more, nothing less. Peter’s commission came out of that loving relationship. And it fired his ministry in a way that took him way beyond his own ability. He tried personal commitment to Jesus in his own strength and it led to a threefold denial. Now he found something better – covenant. God’s commitment to us despite ourselves; rooted in His grace and ability to transform us into His own image.

Secondly covenant is not only relational it is also freely given and freely recieved. In other words God didn’t have to make this commitment – He chose to; freely; out of His great love. The best kind of commitments are those we enter into freely, that are rooted in love. Jesus put it like this; “If you love Me, keep my commandments”, John 14.15 This is covenant language. It is the language of ‘I want to’ not ‘I have to’. It is the language of internal motivation not external pressure through guilt or fear.

Now let's be clear here, we don't bring an equal share to this covenant. All we bring is faith. God makes up all the rest. When God made a covenant with Abraham in Gen 15 Abraham waited all day for God to show up. The idea in the OT was that both parties would walk between the animals that had been divided and laid out. By crossing over they both became committed to fulfilling the terms of the covenant. But in Gen 15 God waited for Abraham to fall asleep. The He showed up amd walked through alone - meaning He was totally committed Himself to fulfilling the terms of the covenant. This forshadows the New Covenant where Jesus has done all that is necessary to secure our salvation. We bring nothing, other than a faith response.

Thirdly biblical covenant is always rooted in sacrifice. Something has to die. Blood must be spilled. This is what makes the covenant so powerful. It’s not just words. The blood of a poured out life testifies to the agreement made and binds both parties together. And so obligation is a part of covenant but notice it comes after freely choosing. For love removes the sense of obligation and replaces it with joy. From the outside I appear obligated, from the inside I am not even conscious that it is an effort – I love.

This is why in the judgement of the Nations in Matt 25.34-38 we find the true disciples shocked when Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me...” Their response is telling, “When did we.....?” They were not even conscious of their actions; for they came from a deep place of knowing. They made sacrifices and they weren’t even aware of it. Such is the nature of commitment rooted in Biblical covenant. Jesus made sacrifices but He did so willingly.

Currently we have taken on a big project as a church – renovating a Youth Centre that has been closed for nearly 10 years; a place that has been vandalised and neglected, needing a huge amount of time, energy and money to put it right. But the goal is not just to have a new centre – it is the need to have a base for existing and new ministries to grow, flourish and expand so that we can touch and change the community where God has placed us. So how do we get people to commit to such a vision? How do we get them involved?

The key must be in understanding that we are in this together, as a church, as the people of God – in covenant. God is in covenant relationship with us and so He commits all He is to us. We are in covenant relationship with Him and to each other and so we commit all we are to serving Him and each other. Because of love, we want to be involved. Because of love we want to make sacrifices that for others may seem excessive but to us seem reasonable.

In Eph 4.11-16 Paul speaks of the church growing and maturing – coming to the full stature of Christ. Notice that the growth is in love by speaking the truth in love, vs15. This is how we grow. It’s how we change. It’ how we mature. Someone has to dare to say something that challenges us to go higher. We can be offended and withdraw, or we can listen – truly hear, embrace what is said, and change.

But notice too that in this text every part must do its share; “From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love”. This is what causes growth of the body – in love. Everyone is meant to be involved. Everyone is meant to do their share.

The danger of course is that we don’t think we can make any real difference and so step back and do nothing. Imagine if the small lad who had five loaves and two fish had not stepped forward and given them to Jesus. Imagine if the young girl who was handmaid to Naaman’s wife had not mentioned the prophet in Israel who could heal. Imagine the tragic consequences for David if Abigail had not ventured out and spoken to him on his way to slaughter Nabal’s men. All these actions seem inconsequential in themselves but they were key in releasing and preserving the purpose of God.

So what is God asking you to do that perhaps you have not given value to? What simple act of obedience is He waiting for that may in some way connect to the obedience of others and that in turn will release the purpose of God? Elisha added salt to water and all could drink it. David took lunch to his brothers in battle and by the end of the day had slain a giant. Don’t despise what you can do. One thing can lead to another. Rather, recognise that you have been placed by God where you are – in relationship with imperfect people. And together your sacrifices are an expression of covenant love – freely given. Let this be how you live a committed life.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Psalm 23 as Worship

Psalm 23 is probably one of the best known Psalms in the Bible. I want to explore the significance of this Psalm when we look at it through the eyes of a worshipper; for that is what David was and that is what this Psalm was used for – worship.

But before we explore this text let’s see how Paul clues us in on some of the distinctive characteristics of those who are filled with the Spirit. In Eph 5.18-21 they display four things: speaking, singing, thanking and submitting. This is one of those many ‘one another’ verses; so the context is when we are together with other believers. There is a strong heart/mouth connection here. This should not surprise us as the relationship of heart and mouth is foundational to salvation – “...if you confess with your mouth....and believe in your heart.... you will be saved”, Rom 10.9

So what are we to speak? It’s simple; Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Our communication is to be worshipful. The distinction between these three is often debated but at the simplest level we repeat the Psalms of scripture – Israel’s ancient hymn book. But we add to those our own hymns – songs given to the church through the ages. Classics like ‘Amazing Grace’ that never seem to go out of fashion. Finally there are spiritual songs – spontaneous songs given by the Spirit, prophetically inspired like the song of Hannah in 1Sam 2.1-10; or that of Zechariah at the birth of his son John in Luke 1.67-79; songs of the moment.

Our speaking to one another is a reflection of the song in our heart. Paul says this is where we make melody to the Lord. A true worshipper does not begin to sing when the songs begin in a meeting. They carry a song in their heart. It leaks out through humming, whistling and even singing when no-one is around. The Holy Spirit helps our hearts to overflow in worship - through songs. What song do you carry in your heart?

Why is music and song so popular? Why has TV and other forms of media not diminished the power of music stations? It’s because we were made to express our love and appreciation to God through song. So integral is this to our makeup that even Jesus joins in the singing! Read Hebrew 2.12. Right in the midst of our gatherings Jesus sings praise to God. Imagine that. This is written straight after the statement that He is not ashamed to call us brethren – and He’s not ashamed to sing along with us.

Yet the singing also turns into outbursts of thanksgiving; continuous and constant thanksgiving to God regardless of our circumstances; for God is bigger. Through our praise in song and thanksgiving we place Him centre stage – not our circumstances; not our feelings; not the enemy whom we battle; not others who let us down, but God, the creator and sustainer of all things. No wonder David begins his Psalm with a powerful declaration and then a statement of faith; “The Lord is my shepherd” (the declaration); “I shall lack nothing” (the statement of faith). What David declared as fact, inspired his faith. We need to learn to do the same thing. He concluded that if God was his shepherd then he would be cared for. That’s how David looked after sheep and he was just a man.

Before going further with this Psalm let’s just finish the final trait of those filled with the Sprit. Not only do they speak and sing the songs of scripture with thankful hearts but this leads them to mutual submission – in the fear of the Lord. For when I submit to another believer I open my life to receive from Jesus – through them. Trusting God is one thing, trusting God in you is another. Yet I believe that worshipful people are also discerning people. They learn who to trust, who to open their heart to. They watch out for those who speak and sing and continually give thanks. What marked Israel in the wilderness was a complaining spirit. There was no song, no melody, no music, only discord. They had forgotten the song of Moses at the Red Sea. The melody did not linger in their heart. They did not play it over and so a different spirit filled them. And it robbed them of the joy of moving into God’s future for them.

I have met people who have been hurt; hurt by churches, hurt by pastors, hurt by parents, hurt by children, hurt by spouses, hurt by friends. The list is endless. Yet some move on. They learn the power of forgiveness and the song returns, only now it has more depth, more substance. It sounds less like a nursery rhyme and more like Handel’s Messiah. Sadly others withdraw and loose the melody altogether. Submission for them is the road to abuse and so they build walls; high walls; thick walls. And in the safety of their isolation they slowly die; for this is not how we have been designed.

Jesus knew how to submit. A woman came and washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair – He submitted, much to the consternation of His host. It was an act of worship. The melody was clear if anyone had ears to hear. John the Baptist did not want to Baptise Jesus. It all seemed back to front – and so it was. But Jesus submitted to this act of identification at the hands of John.

And so we come back to Psalm 23. It’s a Psalm that begins with being led and ends with being followed. God leads us and goodness and mercy follow us. He goes before us and behind us. The first part of the Psalm is about what the Lord does for us; “He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the still waters, He restores my Soul, He leads me in the paths of Righteousness for His Names sake”, vs2-3. It is difficult to walk in paths of Righteousness until we have first allowed the Lord to do the first three things. Notice the emphasis on being refreshed, rested and restored. Walking in paths of righteousness comes from a place of wholeness. We walk right because we are right; right with Him!

A W Tozer once wrote that the problem in many churches is that when we have a new believer we try and make a worker out of them before we make a worshipper out of them. Serving must come from a worshipping heart – there must be an “I want to” not an “I have to” mentality. For those of us who are driven, God has ways of making us rest. Notice that David says “He makes me lie down....” We don’t get a choice! Being on the go all the time is not a sign of spirituality. It’s a sign of a restless spirit, a lack of contentment. God’s rest was His opportunity to enjoy all He had made. Rest and celebration is part of true worship.

Now the Psalm changes. We go from hearing about the Lord to David speaking directly to the Lord and more faith declarations are pronounced. “I will fear no evil”. In the midst of the valley David boldly proclaims, I won’t fear! Why? He highlights four more things for us to consider. “You are with me”. God’s abiding presence gives David confidence and strength; just as sheep feel secure when the shepherd is present. Any predator must get past the shepherd in order to get to the sheep. This is because the shepherd has two things; a rod and a staff.
The rod is like a short club used for fighting predatory animals. They are tailor made to each shepherd so they fit perfectly. And skilful shepherds know how to throw their rod’s in order to stun and kill and enemy. The Staff is the shepherd crook often seen in classical paintings. It is used to guide and draw sheep closer to the shepherd. These two items give David great comfort. His shepherd cares for him (with the staff) and fights his battles (with the rod).

David has also learned something about the ways of God. He prepares a table. There is provision; but it is in the presence of our enemies. Some see this as a threat. I see this as a taunt. Who in their right mind would sit down to a meal in front of an enemy? Who could relax? But imagine an enemy who looks over your shoulder and sees the shepherd, armed, ready to go into action on your behalf. David’s meal is a taunt to his enemies.

And then David remembers the day Samuel anointed him with oil to become the future King of Israel. Samuel was there in God’s place. So David knew his calling went beyond the servant God used to identify his destiny. It was rooted in God. Do you know that you too are anointed? In 2 Cor 1.21 Paul says; Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God”. “You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows”. The overflow of the cup comes out of the anointing. For to live in the anointing is to live within the calling and destiny God has for you. That is where God’s blessing is. That is where we experience grace.

Step outside of your anointing and there is no grace. It’s hard work. I have a friend of mine who is a gifted counsellor. She can counsel people 8 hours day, five days a week. I’m not wired that way. After a day of counselling I’m exhausted. But put me in a Bible College and have me teach every day and I can do that. I did do it for eight years. It’s my calling. I’m anointed for that purpose and so my cup overflows. Stay within your calling and you will be energised. Step outside it and your cup will run dry. Not a good place to be.

In Psalm 23 we have moved from declaration to adoration. Now, with David, we move to expectation. Every day he expects goodness and mercy to follow him. They are God’s clean up team. They restore broken people; they heal wounds and help us live with a clear conscience. And here is his final expectation; to continually return, (an alternate reading to dwell which I prefer), to the house of the Lord for the length of his days. In other words David knew in his heart that throughout his life he would always be coming back to God, back to worship, back to refreshment, rest and restoration.

Use this Psalm as part of your worship time. David had such a clear sense of what a shepherd was because it was part of his calling in life. This is how God prepared him to lead people. How is God preparing you? David knew how to make the connections. Think through all the challenges you face at present and instead of seeing them as obstacles to ministry begin to see them as helps in preparing for ministry. Then as you declare who God is to you dare to make some faith statements. For David it was: “I shall lack nothing”, “I will not fear...” What can you dare to say that comes from a place of worship and conviction? I pray the Holy Spirit will put a melody of grace in your heart that helps others to resonate to the salvation found in Jesus.