Psalm 23: Talking Sheep

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-3)

Ever catch yourself singing a song that’s so familiar the words have almost lost their meaning? You might as well be singing “baaa, baaaa, baa, ba.” Psalm 23 is like that for a lot of people. They can say it perfectly, but they completely forget they’re quoting a sheep.

sheep_350David, a former shepherd, writes the poem as if he were a sheep bragging about his shepherd to the other sheep. It’s a funny idea to imagine, but that sheep makes some great points about how reliable our God is.

First, when He’s your shepherd, you will be provided for in every way. That’s a big deal to a sheep. They’re not so good at taking care of themselves. And this shepherd won’t just make sure you get fed. He’ll make sure you get enough sleep and rest and water; he takes care of your soul and your body.

Think: Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be a sheep? How does your Shepherd provide for your need for food, rest, water, and soul restoration? Do you count on Him for those things?

Pray: Thank God for being your shepherd and taking care of you in every way.

Do: Unless you know some sheep, find a picture of one in a book or online to keep in your head for the next few days as you think about Psalm 23.

Changed: Father Rescuer

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

Do you notice any difference here between the way Paul describes our relationship with God — and the bleary-eyed, bored way we often trudge through our “Christianity” on a Sunday morning?

changed_350You and I were stranded in the kingdom of darkness, lost and alone. It’s where we belonged (because of our sin), but the place is a nightmare come to life and a land of endless death.

The Father would not leave us there. He planned and executed a brilliant rescue by sending His Son over the border to live our worst dreams and die our final death. Then He brought us back — redeemed, forgiven, brand new citizens of the kingdom of light.

Think: How does it change your understanding of God to think of Him as your rescuer? How does it change your understanding of you to think of yourself as rescued?

Pray: Thank your Father for rescuing you from the kingdom of darkness and bringing you back to Jesus’ kingdom of light.

Do: Memorize this verse, then go sit in a totally dark room and roll it around in your head for a few minutes. Notice how bright the light is when you come out.

Changed: Don’t Be Polite

“. . . giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1:12)

Here’s the last bullet point from Paul’s short list of “what God wants from a growing Christian.” He wants us to say thanks. Strike that. He wants us to “give thanks.”

changed_350No, the God of all creation is NOT a glorified Miss Manners. He doesn’t care which fork you use for the salad. This isn’t about being polite. I think a lot of us skip giving thanks because we think of it as nothing more than saying “excuse me” after a good belch. It’s not really “doing” anything, is it?

Apparently, judging by how often it comes up in the Bible, giving thanks is doing something truly significant in God’s eyes. To Him, thanks is a gift bestowed on the one who does something truly great for us like, say, qualifying us “to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.”

Think: How often do you give thanks to God? What do you thank Him for most often? Do you think you sometimes skip it because it doesn’t seem like it should matter to Him?

Pray: Take this verse and turn it into a prayer of thanksgiving to the Father.

Do: Make a quick list of 1,000 things you could thank God for today. Okay, just start with 10.

Changed: Fruitier, Smarter, Stronger

“. . . bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience . . .” (Colossians 1:10-11)

Today, we continue Paul’s quick list of ways that we — as puny, single human beings in a world of 7 billion people — can bring pleasure to God. It’s the list of ways Paul prayed that these Christians would continue growing.

changed_350Bearing fruit in every good work: Growing Christians do good works that make a difference in the lives of others.

Growing in the knowledge of God: Growing Christians keep finding our more and more about God.

Being strengthened by God’s power: Growing Christians get stronger, which makes them more patient and able to trust God with less effort.

Think: Have you seen evidence of these three areas of growth in your own life? If so (or not), why do you think that is?

Pray: Ask God to help you to bear fruit for Him in every good work; to grow in your knowledge of Him; and to get stronger with His power so it’s easier for you to trust Him longer.

Do: Make a list of the names of three Christians, one each that you’ve noticed growing in these ways during the last year or two.

Changed: What Does God Want from Me?

“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:10)

What does God want from you, anyway? Paul gives us a quick laundry list of things God wants from us in these next few verses.

changed_350He wants us to live a life worthy of the Lord. It matters to God how we live. True, we’ve been forgiven for our sins through Jesus, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that means God doesn’t care what you do next.

He also wants you to make choices that please Him. Some people resent the idea that God would want us to perform for His pleasure. Others are thrilled with the notion that a single human being could do anything to bring positive emotion to the God of the universe.

Think: Do you really believe that your personal moral choices matter to God emotionally? How do your choices reflect your belief?

Pray: Ask God to help you care about making Him happy — and to help you to live a life worthy of Him.

Do: Write down any evidence you can think of from your life recently that shows that you’re “bearing fruit” in good works. Next, bullet-point any evidence that you’ve been “growing in the knowledge of God.”

Changed: Pray for Yourself

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” (Colossians 1:9)

How should you pray for yourself? Yes, you could pray a million different things. But how should you pray for yourself about your spiritual life? Do you ever pray for your own spiritual growth — or maybe the spiritual growth of a friend who is getting serious about following Jesus?

changed_350It’s a great idea to pray for yourself and others this way. How? Notice how Paul said he prayed for the Colossians when he heard about their Jesus-following faith and love taking off. The first thing he said he asked God was to help these growing believers know God’s will.

Why? Getting to the point in your Christian life where you’re willing to do God’s will for you is one step. The next one is to figure out what His will for you is. Paul asked God to provide “spiritual wisdom” and “understanding” so these Christians could figure out God’s will. Are you looking for God’s wisdom? Are you asking Him for it?

Think: On a scale from 1 to 10, how willing are you right now to do God’s will for you? On that same scale, how confident are you that you know God’s will for you today?

Pray: Ask God to “fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

Do: Read Romans 12:1-2 and notice how those two verses teach us to find God’s “good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Changed: Mac Evangelist?

“All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.” (Colossians 1:6-7)

Evangelists are not just people who tell other people about Jesus. We can be evangelists for anything. Years ago, when computer and business guru Guy Kawasaki worked for Apple, his job title was Mac Evangelist. He went around the country telling everyone how great Mac computers are.

changed_350We evangelize our friends about bands, movies, TV shows, and fashion trends. We even use apologetics to defend our positions on sports teams, actors, and Mexican restaurants. We all know how to evangelize; it’s just a little scarier to evangelize about Jesus.

Paul credits Epaphras as a double evangelist. He evangelized (“brought the message to”) the Corinthians about God’s grace through Jesus, then he went back with the gospel (“good news”) of the Corinthians Spirit-powered Christian love.

Think: Do you ever “convert” your friends or family to your way of thinking about music, movies, sports, or other things? Are you less likely to be as open and persuasive about your belief in Jesus? Why do you think that is?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be willing to tell the good news about Jesus to unbelievers and to tell the good news about growing Christians you know to other Christians.

Do: Make a quick list of 5-6 good things you’ve told others about, recently — or good things others have evangelized you about.