The Lord is my Shepherd

The Bible is a source of comfort and strength to people all over the world. In the Bible God speaks to us. He reveals his own heart and character and speaks to our hearts. Psalm 23 was written by David and is one of the best known passages in the Bible. It has been a help to people in many of the experiences of life. As a young boy, before he became king, David was a shepherd. He looked after his father’s sheep and knew times of great personal danger. At those times he experienced God’s care and protection even from lions and bears.

In the psalm David affirms his personal relationship with the Lord – “the Lord is my shepherd.” He rejoices in God’s love for him and responds with all his heart in love for God. Every day of his life he walked in conscious trust in the Lord, his God. He knew that the Lord would supply all his needs – “I shall not want.” The Lord guided him and provided food and water and peace and tranquillity – “he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.” David’s deepest needs and longings were fully met – “he restores my soul.” The Lord led David in righteous and godly ways, keeping him from sin and wickedness – “he guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

Even in the darkest experiences of life, including the approach of death, David knew that the Lord would be with him. David was a courageous soldier. His life was often in danger as he fought battles against his enemies, yet he knew that God was with him in life and in death. There was nothing to fear because the Lord was always with him – “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

The Lord gave David great victories, brought him through every trial, and abundantly blessed him – “you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” The Lord blessed David every day of his life and also guaranteed his eternal future – “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” What a wonderful thing it is that we, like David, can say “the Lord is my shepherd.”

The God of Hope

We live in troubled times. Natural disasters devastate both poor and affluent nations. Many people are dying in wars and conflicts. Long term economic problems continue. Unemployment, especially amongst the young, and tensions between different ethnic groups are creating serious social instability. There is not much talk of hope for the future in our secular society, in which many have turned their backs on God.

The New Testament, however, provides both realistic insights into the course of world history and solid grounds for hope. Jesus spoke about the signs of the end of the age. He told his disciples, “You will hear of wars and rumours of wars. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” He also told them they would suffer personally, “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”

The apostle Paul wrote, “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power.” Such things have been seen many times in history, but are also very evident today.

So if things are so bad, where is real hope to be found? Real hope is found only in God. Paul wrote a letter to Christians living in Rome. They were already being persecuted and things would soon get much worse. Some were crucified, some were set on fire, and others, including women and children, faced wild animals in the Roman arenas. Paul, who was himself soon to be martyred, wrote, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The living God is “the God of hope.” He created the world and is also the Lord of history. Jesus is “the First and the Last.” Whatever may happen in the world, or in our personal lives, we can put our trust in him. When we do, he fills us with “all joy and peace” and makes us “overflow with hope.” Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love in Jesus.

Super Typhoon Haiyan devastates the Philippines

Super Typhoon Haiyan has brought devastation to parts of the Philippines. Haiyan is one of the most powerful storms on record with gusts of wind reaching 170mph, 15 inches of rain and 45 feet waves. It is estimated that 10,000 people have died in the city of Tacloban alone. More than 600,000 people are homeless and without food and water. The international relief agencies face huge challenges in getting desperately needed supplies to the people.

The pictures and reports have been heart-breaking. A 21 year old woman lying exhausted on the debris where she had just given birth to her baby, after seeing her mother being swept away by the storm surge. Brief interviews with survivors have been deeply moving. One mother, who was holding her young baby, said, “My husband and I know how to swim, so I told him to just save our baby and forget me. I will trust God.” A young woman said, “I don’t know how to swim and I’m so blessed to still be alive.”

The response of these people to the terrible disaster which has befallen them is striking. When faced with possible death, the mother was more concerned for her baby’s safety than she was for her own. She was ready to trust God. The young woman had come though a terrifying experience yet felt she was “blessed” to be alive. In a time of great crisis they have found strength in the living God whom they know and trust. They know that he is with them.

Life in this world is precarious. Faced with the powerful forces of nature we are so vulnerable and feel so helpless. People in the past have known the same vulnerability and have found strength in God. In Psalm 46 the psalmist writes, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear, even if earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! The Lord Almighty is here among us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honoured by every nation. I will be honoured throughout the world.” Let us pray that help will soon come to the people of the Philippines and that, even in the midst of the devastation and sadness, they will know the presence and strength of the living God.

What happens when we forget God

During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln approved a Senate resolution to proclaim a day for National humiliation, fasting and prayer on 30 April 1863. The President and the Senate “devoutly recognised the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and of nations.” They affirmed, “It is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon.”

They acknowledged, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!”

This all seems far removed from Britain in the 21st century. We give the impression that we have outgrown the Christian faith and rejoice that we are a “progressive” secular society. But the reality is that we have “forgotten God” and are proud of our “superior wisdom.” This may explain why we are facing so many serious problems in every part of our national life. Some politicians have been dishonest in claiming their expenses; some banks have acted without integrity, threatening the financial stability of our country; sexual immorality is commonplace and accepted as the norm; the appalling abuse of children by media celebrities, and some church leaders, has come to light; the neglect and abuse of vulnerable people and the elderly in care homes has shocked many.

The Bible teaches us wisdom, which is practical instruction for life. This wisdom applies to us both as individuals and as nations. The book of Proverbs says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” It would be good for us to humbly acknowledge, both as individuals and as a nation, our sin and disgrace. Like Abraham Lincoln and his people we, too, need the blessing of the living God.