The Benefits of a Shepherd
I’m so happy just to have the next few minutes with you as we feast on God’s Word together. But before we do that, a couple of things we need to take care of. If you need a handout, slip up your hand, these gentlemen will get you one. Number two, we want to welcome our North Hills family out in Travelers Rest at our Northwest Campus. So welcome, Northwest. We also want to welcome everyone listening online to us as well.
It’s Labor Day weekend. Can I get an amen? That’s a great thing. We’ve got college football back in our lives. It’s a wonderful thing. I was able to watch the Liberty Flames lose really badly to Syracuse and I was like, “Oh, I’ve missed this,” watching us lose really badly. But there’s something much more important that goes on for Labor Day. You know, we’ve got the cooler weather coming in. It’ll be here sooner than we think. We’ve got football. We’re almost in the playoffs with baseball. Go Braves? One person. Praise God! Thank you. It happens every time I do that.
But something else really cool happens on Labor Day for the world of student pastors. This is actually a really big day for us because it’s actually “National Ask a Youth Pastor to Preach Day.” I actually have a slide for you to see. Youth pastor available for preaching: Memorial Day, Labor Day weekend, and that Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s. That’s a sneaky one. And what’s humorous about that is the last time I preached out at Northwest, our campus in TR, was the one that was between Christmas and New Year’s. Such a big day for me I went, and I bought a new shirt. This is a new shirt. If you know me well, I literally wear the same four shirts just on rotation. It’s really sad. But this is a big day, so I had to go out and buy a new a new shirt.
I’ve got a question for everyone that can hear my voice right now. Have you ever struggled with the “what ifs” of life? Have you ever been paralyzed by those “what ifs?” And I’m not talking about the “what ifs” that are like, “Hey, what if I wake up tomorrow morning and go work out.” Because we all know we’re not going to do that. Not those “what ifs.” I’m talking about the “what ifs” that just get you in the middle of the night and they keep you up. I’m talking about the “what ifs” that when you’re having a really good day sneak into your heart and sneak into your mind and steal your joy.
I have actually a few examples of these “what ifs” that I’m talking about. What if I’m not good enough? In some way, shape, or form, or fashion, everyone in this room has dealt with the “what if” of “what if I’m just not good enough.” What if I fail at what I’m passionate about? What if I don’t even know what to be passionate about? What if I don’t have enough money to pay that bill or to pay the bills? What if the doctor gives me bad news on my health? What if I wake up one morning and everything’s great, I go to the annual checkup, and I leave with news that’s going to change my life forever? Or what if I lose someone I love? I mean the list can go on and on and on. And I’ll be honest, the one that I deal with the most, the one that is the hardest for me, is “what if I’m not good enough.” I mean, let’s be honest. What if you leave here, and you think … and I have the “what if” of “what if he’s just not as smart as Peter Hubbard?” We all know that. That’s actually a reality. That’s truth. That was a joke by the way. He’s brilliant.
But I have so many “what ifs” going on in my mind, even preparing for the sermon. Ryan Ferguson and Peter Hubbard — we’re so spoiled every Sunday to hear from men of God who can teach his Word so well. The “what ifs” were even flooding into my heart and my mind. What if they think you’re a joke? What if they don’t like the sermon? There’s so many, so many “what ifs.” I struggle with the “what ifs” of “what if I’m not a good enough dad to Judah and Levi? What if I could do more? What if I’m not giving it my all? What if I’m not a good enough husband to Rachael?” Ya’ll with me? There are so many “what ifs.” And the list could go on and on.
What do we do with those “what ifs”? We’re going to have them. They’re going to creep into our minds and in our hearts when we least expect it or maybe more than we would like to admit.
What do we do with those “what ifs?” What should our response be to those questions? And that’s why we think Psalm 23 is such a good place for us to land this morning and for us to take just a little break in our Revelation series. And so, we came out of Revelation 7 last Sunday. And I love the way that Revelation 7 ended because chapter 7 ended with verse 17. I’m going to throw this up on the screen for us to be reminded where we stopped in Revelation 7. It said,
“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
I love that we have this picture of the Lion and the Lamb, and then it talks about how the Lamb becomes the Shepherd. Well what significance is that for us? What does that mean for us to say, “I have a Shepherd”? And so, we’re coming out of Revelation chapter 7. It’s using that language. It’s good for us just to press pause and look at Psalm 23 as we discover the benefits of God being our Shepherd.
There are actually three benefits that I want us to look at more specifically, and it’s these three incredible things that we see. We see direction, we see protection, and we see provision. Direction, protection, provision. If you’re a note-taker, write that down. Direction, protection, provision. Let’s look at these three, and let’s talk about what that means for us as sons and daughters of the King.
Direction. Let’s read verses 1-3 and see what David has to say in the 23 Psalm. He says this:
“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.”
Okay, everyone say the word “leads.” Yeah, good job! We see that two times in the first three verses. He leads us to still waters. He leads us in paths of righteousness. What does that mean that we have a Shepherd, that David is talking about, that is directing us, guiding us, and leading us? We see it two times.
Here are some of the “what ifs” that can creep into our minds even now as we talk about being directed, as we talk about the Shepherd guiding us. Here’s a “what if.” What if the path I’m on is painful? You might be hearing those first three verses and say “that’s great, but I don’t think He’s leading me to a pasture. It doesn’t seem like still waters right now in my life.” Here’s another “what if.” What if I don’t feel led? What if I feel forgotten? Or, “Tim, what if I’ve been led so poorly in my life that the thought of being led correctly is a foreign thought to me?”
Even reading the first three verses of God being our Shepherd — He’s saying that he leads us to still waters, he leads us in paths of righteousness. But what if you’re sitting in your chair right now, and you’re saying, “That’s interesting, Tim because I don’t feel that right now. My path is painful. I never in a million years would have imagined that this is the path I would have been led down, or this is where I would be in my life, or these are the cards that I’ve been dealt.”
I think it’s really good for us to look at that word “righteousness.” David is saying he leads us in paths of righteousness. Another translation for that could literally be “he leads me in right paths.” I think it’s good for us just to stop and say, it is impossible for the Shepherd to lead you wrongfully or incorrectly. That’s got to be good news for us this morning, knowing that God is righteous. He can’t mess up. There’s no “oops.” There is no mistake on the path that you have been and are going to continue to be led down. And he does it righteously.
He also does it “for his name’s sake.” For his name’s sake. And so, these two things are going to change our mindset. When it talks about the benefit of having a really good Shepherd, it’s that he directs us, he guides us, he lovingly does so, and he does it correctly. He does it righteously. He can’t mess it up. But ultimately, he does it for his glory and for his name’s sake. I have to anchor myself in that truth when I think, “This is wrong. What good can come from this? This is a waste. I need to fix this. This is the wrong path.” And we see David is saying, “No, the Lord is our shepherd. We shall not want. He leads us to still waters. He leads us in paths of righteousness, and he does it for his name’s sake.” I think when we wake up in the morning and our mindset is: God, your glory, not mine. God, your path for me, not my path for me. I think that’s an interesting thing for us to look at. A benefit of being in the flock and having the Shepherd is that he brings incredible direction to our life.
Number 2, let’s look at that word “protection.” So, we’ve got direction. We’ve got protection. We see this in verses 4-5. It says,
“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 staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
One way that we can look at this today is saying: fear says, “what if,” faith says “even if.” Fear says, “what if,” faith says “even if.” Go back to the “what ifs.” We all have them. We all struggle with them every day. It seems that David is using language to the Shepherd that says, “Even though, even though. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” It’s almost like, there have been moments in my life that I’ve said, “Look, I know it looks this way and I know it feels this way, but even though it looks like that, here’s the truth.” Are you all with me? Have you ever had to explain something like that to someone or kind of give a different perspective? It’s so beautiful sometimes even to talk to someone who is not a follower of the Lord and say, “Look, I know it looks helpless, and I know it looks hurtful, but even though…” I will not fear evil because I know who my Shepherd is, and I know the goodness of God. I know his nature. I know he can’t do anything wrong. He can only do right. I know He’ll protect me.
And in that protection, he says,
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
Do you see the irony there? You get to feast and not fight. But I love that our cup can overflow. Catch this: in knowing the direction, in knowing our protection, (because we’re in the flock, we have an incredible Shepherd), our cup can overflow in green pastures, and it can overflow in the shadows. Our cup can overflow in green pastures. Our cup can overflow in the shadow. And let me just pause really quick and give you guys an observation that I’ve just noticed as being a follower of Jesus for a really long time and doing vocational ministry for over a decade now. I have seen more cups overflow in the shadow than I do in green pastures. There’s something about, when things are going well, when things are good, we don’t want to rock the boat. Things are good, everyone keep your mouth shut. Don’t jinx us! It’s like we almost check our spiritual brain at the door. And it’s almost like, “I deserve this. I just came out of a shadow. I just came out of hard times. Finally, some green pastures.” Ya’ll with me? And I’ve just noticed that our cup can overflow incredibly in the green pastures, it can do it even in the shadows. Now I’ve also noticed this is where the shepherd has to direct Tim a lot. I’ve noticed that this is where I grow the most. I’ve noticed that God has had to put me in shadows just to teach me things he knows that I could not have been taught in a green pasture.
Let me give you an example. It might be kind of silly, but I think everyone will connect with me here. I’m going to talk to you pre-kids and I’m going to talk to you post-kids. Okay, I’ve got two little boys. If you’ve ever met Judah and Levi, they are the life of the party. They were in here for first service. It’s like children’s worship. They were getting all Pentecostal in the back — speaking in tongues, one of them. And I didn’t know what he was saying, no translators. It was getting sketchy. But they are awesome. They’re full of life. They are my joy.
But before we had kids, from like 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. when I came into the office and it was crazy and there was a lot going, on I can handle it. Bring it. I’m good. 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., I’m good. Life can be hectic. It can be chaotic. There can be curve balls. It is what it is. But at 5:00 p.m., I’m done. I’m getting in the car; I’m going to listen to a podcast on the way home. I’m going to go into the driveway, open the door, be greeted by my wife. “Oh, there’s dinner, awesome!” Hot meal. Eat a meal. I’ll watch the Braves. Again, no? No amen? Go Braves! I’ve got a meal in front of me, I’m watching the Braves, I’m resting, I’m relaxing, it’s comfortable. It’s good. It kept me sane from the 9 to 5 — the craziness of life, hectic, busy schedules. You guys feel me.
Then we had the greatest gift ever. We had my firstborn. It was wonderful. I mean really, it was incredible. Becoming a dad was the greatest thing ever. But then I noticed I would come home from the 9 to 5, I would open that door, and I was greeted with screaming. Someone handing this off to me. What am I doing? It was just chaos in the house. I was also greeted with my mother-in-law, which I love, but we had a lot of guests in our house. My mother-in-law was there. Now if you know me, I rest in solitude, but I’m energized by people. So, if I’m always around people I’m just energized. And I love people, but I just don’t know how to rest around people. My freshman year of college I was exhausted. I was surrounded in a dorm 24/7 and I had four roommates. It was like, “I don’t know how to rest, I don’t.” And then I would look at my wife in the craziness and the screaming and laundry is piling up, and we can’t even find the vacuum. What’s going on? I go, “Hey, what’s for dinner?” It’s not a good question to ask. I’ve learned that. And she’d be like, “You’re making dinner.” I’m like, “Well that’s a problem. I only know how to boil hot dogs.” We’re all going to starve. There’s no meal. And then I’d look at the television and there’s no more Braves. There’s Daniel Tiger. And all the parents in the room said, Amen! People ask me my thoughts on politics all the time, I don’t know why. And I’m like, “I’m on season 3 of Daniel Tiger. I don’t know what’s going on in the world.” I haven’t had a normal conversation outside of potty training and “please don’t do that, don’t eat that, don’t hit your brother.” That’s my life right now.
But that’s kind of a silly little story I share with you from my life to let you know, once my comfort was gone, the wheels fell off the bus really quick. And I know you’re thinking that’s so silly. No, it really wasn’t. I remember going into Peter’s office and going, “I’m broken inside, and I need help.” I’m serious. And so, it was one of those moments that I just kind of had to look at myself and say, “Hey, where does your comfort come from? What is holding you stable? What keeps you sane throughout the day?” And David is literally saying his rod and staff, they comfort us.
The rod represents authority. The staff represents saving power. Think of a shepherd. If I were up here in a stereotypical shepherd outfit, I’ve got something on my head, a robe. I’d have this staff right here, long stem. It would have a huge whoop on top of it. Ya’ll with me? Think of Halloween. I was a private school kid. That was the only thing you were allowed to dress as was a shepherd. Anything else, you were sinning. You were a shepherd. The long staff, that was David’s way of showing authority to his flock. If anyone wanted to come and cause harm to the sheep, he’d get all Jackie Chan with them and spin that thing and knock someone. If a sheep were to fall into something, he’s got the big whoop, he can pull the sheep to safety.
This is David’s language as a shepherd talking to his Shepherd saying, “It’s your rod and it’s your staff that comfort me.” Meaning, God, you have all the authority. Only you can save, and that keeps me stable. Even in the shadows, even in the green pastures, God I lean in the fact that you have all the authority. And only you can save, only you can rectify. And it’s not our job to hold the staff. So many times, I want to be the one holding it. I like having authority. It’s good, it’s wonderful. People listen, people do what you say. It’s very rare in my life, but when I do get it, it’s wonderful. We like to have authority. We like to be the one in charge. We want to be the one calling the shots. We like to have the saving power, especially men in the room. You tell us a problem, “Alright well, I’ll fix it. I can fix it. I don’t want to listen, I’ll fix it.” All the women are like, “Yeah, it’s kind of true.” We love to have authority. We love to be the ones that come in and be the hero. But David’s saying, “No, my comfort, my satisfaction, what makes me sleep really well at night is knowing God, you have all the authority. You have all the saving power.” And so, it’s good for us to say, “God, thank you that you hold the staff. Thank you so much that you hold the staff.”
And then provision. We’ll look at this last benefit of the Shepherd, of being in the flock — provision. This is in verse 6. It says,
“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Everyone say, “goodness and mercy.” Yeah. That’s why I’ve got those words in orange for us, because I want to talk a little bit about goodness and mercy. Goodness and mercy doesn’t always look like we want it to look, and it’s not always what we think it should be. Y’all with me? Goodness and mercy, when I hear that I think, “That’s awesome. David, thank you so much for being filled with the Spirit. The inerrant Word of God says goodness and mercy will follow Tim everywhere. Good things will happen — goodness, goodness, goodness. Mercy, I love mercy. No consequences, sign me up!” Mercy, that’s a wonderful thing.
He’s saying goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life. Let’s put goodness and mercy into this context. Think of Jesus. He that knew no sin became sin so that we could become the righteousness of God. He left his throne in Heaven, came to earth, lived perfect, blameless, sinless. No one else could do it except Jesus. And He lived in such a way that he got crucified, that he was put to death on a cross — pretty horrific death. That was a pretty awful day in history. If we think about it, God’s Son was put to death for you and for me. I don’t think anyone in that moment walked up and looked at the cross and went, “It was a great thing. High five!” No. No one’s posture was that in the moment. But now in 2019 we know April 2020 is coming, and there is going to be a Friday that we’re going to celebrate called what? Good Friday. I just heard Black Friday. No, Good Friday! There is going to be a moment coming in April. And I love Good Friday, but isn’t it so great that we can look to something that was so horrific and so sad and so awful — the Son of God was put to death — but now our perspective is, “That was the greatest day in history.” Without that, this is a waste of time. Without Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, we’re wasting our time. And he gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
My family actually just celebrated our 27th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew. So, a lot of you guys know my story, maybe some of you don’t. I was born in Miami, and when I was 6 years old a category 5 hurricane, a lot like Dorian that’s kind of coming towards our coast right now, nailed South Miami Florida. I remember being in our house for several hours and just listening to it get destroyed. I remember walking out of the bathroom and sunlight hit me right in the face. I was like, “That’s weird, there used to be a roof there.” No longer a roof there. I remember going in my room and everything was wet. Things were missing. And as a 6-year-old I remember looking at my dad and I said, “This is great, and this is merciful.” No, I didn’t say that. I was so confused. And this was a horrific thing that happened to our family, but just this last week we celebrated the 27th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew. And my eyes were just full of tears listening to my brother look at his wife and kids and say, “Man, if it wasn’t for Hurricane Andrew, Steph, you wouldn’t be my wife. Gabe and Mia and Eva, you wouldn’t be my kids.” And I thought, “that’s crazy!” If it wasn’t for something so horrific and so awful in such a bad time in our family’s history, I would’ve never been moved to Simpsonville, South Carolina in 1991 when Woodruff Road was one lane. Should have turned it into 19 instead of the 2 that it is now. But I remember thinking “I would have never taken us to Simpsonville. I would have never gone to Southside Christian School, which would’ve gotten me to Liberty University. I met my wife. We had our kids. I’ve been the student pastor here for almost eight years now. Isn’t it great that we can get together and celebrate something that was horrible, but give all praise, all glory, all honor to God?
That’s what David is saying. Surely goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life because your perspective is different from the world’s. The way we view, the lenses that we have, we can say things are good even though it doesn’t look good. Are you all with me? This is good. I hope you’re hearing this, and it’s giving you hope that you have a Shepherd that is directing you, and he’s directing you in a righteous manner. That he’s protecting you, he’s anointed your head with oil, and that he is providing for you, he is providing goodness and mercy. And that goodness and mercy can only be done by the sovereign hand of God for your good and for his glory. And when you wake up every morning with that mindset, the “what ifs” of life start to diminish. Those “what ifs” that paralyzed you, that crippled you, that took you from a good mood to a bad mood. What we can do now is, being in the flock, we can run to the Shepherd, praise Him for who he is, and be reminded that this can only come from a sovereign God.
And then we have the icing on the cake. Verse 6 ends with,
“and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. What that is doing for us is, when we have the bad days, or when we’re in the green pastures, when we’re hanging out in the shadows, we know this is temporary, that we are not citizens of earth but we’re citizens of what? Heaven. It changes our mindset. And the icing on the cake, David is saying, “look at all these benefits (this is wonderful), and one day the shadow will be no more.” That is such good news for us this morning, to step back and say, “Wow.” One day, the valley of the shadow of death will be more no more, when God will come and make all things right. He will make all things new. He will come and do something supernatural that can only be done by the Shepherd. He directs, protects, and he provides.
Here’s how I want to end our time together. I want to talk to two different types of people in the crowd right now. Number 1, I want to talk to those that didn’t know these were benefits of a Shepherd. You didn’t know that these were things that God offered. You didn’t know this was God’s nature and his character and just who He is. Maybe you’re here and you’re saying, “Tim, I have no direction in my life. I’m living life wandering.” And there’s something in you that you’re saying, “I need that direction.” If that’s you, keep with me. The Holy Spirit’s coming after you. Don’t get distracted. Lean into the Shepherd talking to you right now.
Maybe you’re here and you have no direction. Maybe you’re here and you’re saying, “I have no protection. I literally live life everyday insecure or feeling vulnerable.” When you’re in the flock, when you know who the Shepherd is, when you know who holds the rod and the staff and has all the authority and all the saving power, that’s our confidence. It’s not in your talent. It’s not in how much money’s in the bank. It’s not in your personality. It’s in none of that. Our comfort, our protection, our [deep exhale] is knowing who the Shepherd is.
Maybe you’re here and you have no protection and you’re saying, “I want that protection.” And maybe you’re here and you’re saying, “Tim, I have no provision.” Maybe you’re living life needy and wanting. My encouragement to you, the invitation I’m giving to you, is call upon the Shepherd’s name, and you shall not want. Go right back up to verse 1. David is saying,
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
If you want to be satisfied, if you want all of the longings, all of the needs and the wants, you will not find it here on earth. I promise you; I’ve tried to look — empty, empty, empty. David is saying, “If you don’t want to want, if you want to be satisfied, come to the Shepherd. And he’ll be faithful to do that.” And we would love to talk to you. This is a place where, if these are the questions you have, if these are things that you are wanting, come and talk to some of us that hang out up here or maybe grab a friend that you trust or maybe grab someone who you know is a follower and say, “I want that Shepherd. I want to be in that flock.”
But maybe you’re also here and you’re saying, “No, Tim, I believed these things for a long time. I heard this in Vacation Bible School back in the day.” But you know that these are things that you’ve been fighting. These are things that you knew were stuff that you needed and things that you know sheep need, and you know who your Shepherd is, but just somewhere along the way you’ve given up on this or you haven’t had the faith to say “even though.” Remember, fear says, “what if.” Faith says, “even if.” Some of you need to come back to the “even if.” David is saying, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” If you’re here, whatever category you fall into, repent, cry out to God, and ask him to be your Shepherd. Ask him for the direction. Ask him for the protection. Ask him for that provision. And the Shepherd will be faithful to do so.