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This week I went on the internet searching for solutions to the problem of fear. I wanted to see what’s out there to help us deal with the fear and anxiety we all face. And I wasn’t disappointed.
I read articles and blogs like “Four Keys to Overcoming Fear in Your Life,” “Five Sure-Fire Ways to Overcome Fear and Anxiety Today,” “Seven Tips from the Last 2,200 Years to Overcome Your Fear,” “Ten Ways to Fight Your Fears” and “33 Powerful Ways of Overcoming Fear … Right Now.” 4. 5. 7. 10. 33 different ways to deal with fear.
I quickly discovered that there’s no end to the suggestions on how to conquer fear in our lives because there’s no end to the things we’re afraid of. And they’re good suggestions like deep breathing to lower our heart rate and calm us down, the 7/11 method, inhaling for 7 seconds and exhaling for 11 seconds.
There was the suggestion of not hiding our fears in the dark, but bringing them out into the light to weaken their power in our lives. Talk about them. Write them out. Journal. Sharing our fears with a loved one or a trusted friend or a counselor can greatly reduce the power that fear has in our lives.
There were suggestions about positive imaging, visualizing a good outcome in a threatening situation like giving a presentation at work or taking a test at school. It’s important to see ourselves succeeding and not failing in situations like that.
There were lots of great suggestions. Many found in Scripture. But they all left a big one out. So this morning I want to give you another way to overcome fear using a powerful image that has helped millions of people for thousands of years “fear no evil.”
If you have a Bible, please turn in your Bible or on your Bible to Psalm 23. It’s on page 382 in the Bibles we give out. I don’t know of any other passage in the entire Bible that has calmed people’s fears for centuries more than Psalm 23. In my mind you can’t do a series called Fear Not without looking at Psalm 23.
It’s recited in worship gatherings, in hospitals, on battlefields, in fox holes, on sinking ships and at funerals every single day. Wherever there’s pain and suffering, sorrow, grief and fear we find Psalm 23. People who’ve never read the Bible know, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Psalm 23 almost has a mysterious power that reaches deep into our souls and touches us with its simplicity and sensitivity. It’s a portrait of God as a shepherd, carrying his rod and his staff, snuggling a little lamb in his strong arms and leading his sheep into green pastures and beside still waters.
What is it about these six short verses that make Psalm 23 so special? I almost hesitate to teach on it for fear that I might violate something so sacred. Yet I want us to discover some of the treasures locked up in this psalm that can help free us from fear which is what this series is all about.
The Psalm was written by David, the shepherd boy who was catapulted by God to the top of a nation. He became a world class leader, a military genius, a highly skilled administrator, an accomplished musician, and a brilliant writer. Yet through it all he maintained a soft and sensitive spirit. He never believed his press clippings or caved into his popularity.
The psalm is mostly about God, but it does say something about David. David refers to God as his shepherd, which makes David a sheep. A lamb! Yet David was anything but a helpless little lamb.
David was a warrior. David was a giant killer. So why didn’t he say, God is my Commander in Chief I shall not want? David was the powerful head of a nation so why didn’t he say, God is my King I shall not want? David was a renowned poet and accomplished musician, so why didn’t he say, God is my inspiration I shall not want? No. He describes himself as a weak, helpless, dependent sheep. Not good for his image! I’m not sure Donald Trump would describe himself that way.
But David wasn’t interested in his image. He wasn’t interested in trumpeting his importance, announcing his achievements, boasting of his accomplishments. Instead he wants to share a picture of the way he viewed his basic relationship with God. And the best image he could draw on was from his experience as a boy shepherding scared sheep. So he writes,
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. Or as some translations read, The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
It was a humbling thing for David to compare himself to a sheep because sheep can’t survive on their own. Any other domestic animal can survive in the wild, but sheep can’t. Pigs, cattle, horses, rabbits, dogs, cats can all survive on their own, but not sheep. Sheep are totally dependent on the shepherd for their survival, protection, water, food, and shelter.
David is saying, “Don’t be fooled by my impressive credentials. I don’t view myself as a powerful king, a great general, or a giant killer. I’m a helpless little lamb totally dependent on God’s care.”
Notice he says the Lord is “my” shepherd. Not “the” shepherd, or “a” shepherd, but “my” shepherd. He has a relationship with the Lord. There’s a connection there, an intimacy with God. This shepherding care is not enjoyed by everybody. It’s only enjoyed by those who have a relationship with God, who fear God like we talked about in our first teaching. Have you trusted Christ as your Savior? Are you in God’s sheepfold? He wants you to be.
David is boasting to us that the Lord is his shepherd and he shall not want. That doesn’t mean he has everything he desires in life. It simply means he doesn’t want another shepherd. He doesn’t want anyone or anything else shepherding his life. He’s completely content to trust God’s care for him. Are you? He is. Why? The rest of the psalm tells us why.
Look at verse 2, He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake.
Most of us have never met a shepherd. But if you go to Israel today you’ll see shepherds still tending their flocks on the same Judean hills as David did 3,000 years ago. Not much has changed. Shepherds are simple people, often illiterate. But when it comes to caring for sheep they are highly trained professionals. They know two things better than anyone else. They know the hills and all the dangers they hold. And they know the sheep.
They know that sheep are fearful, skittish creatures. They won’t lie down easily. Before they do, everything has to be just right. They’re kind of obsessive that way! They have to be at peace with each other, free from hunger, free from thirst, free from insects and pests, and most of all free from fear.
It’s fear that keeps timid sheep from lying down. It’s fear that keeps them from eating. It’s fear that keeps them from drinking at noisy, rushing streams. They need quiet waters. And so the good shepherd, who is sensitive to the fears of the sheep, leads them into green pastures and beside still waters so that they can be nourished.
The shepherd guides the sheep up narrow, rocky paths that crisscross the Judean hills like lace work. He takes them up and down, up and down, up and down those treacherous slopes so that they can find the food and water that they need.
David is saying that God cares for me like a good shepherd, better than anyone else could ever care for me. Better than I could ever care for myself. Without him I would die of thirst, fall into a ravine, be lost forever. He gives me life abundantly. He nurtures me from the inside out. I drink deeply from his love and am satisfied. And why does the shepherd do that?
He does it for his name’s sake, David says. Not because I’m such a great guy. Not because I’m a great soldier, a military hero, the king of the nation. No! Not because of who I am, but because of who he is. He makes me his sheep and he loves me, because he is love. Not because I’m so lovable. Any significance that my life has begins first with God’s love and acceptance of me for his name’s sake.
Do you need to be reminded of that love this morning? No matter what has happened in your life, what is happening in your life, or what will happen in your life, the good shepherd will keep on loving you for his name’s sake because that’s who he is. He cannot not love you and me.
If you’re like me by now you might be thinking, “Wow! That sounds so wonderful, David. Green pastures. Still waters. Mountain slopes. So serene. So idyllic. Like sheep playing a round of golf! But David I don’t live on a golf course. That’s not the real world. That’s not the way life is, at least not my life. David what happens when life falls apart? What happens when tragedy strikes or you find yourself in the middle of a pack of wolves? Can God be trusted then?”
David says, “I’m glad you asked, because I’ve been there with the shepherd too.” Look at verses 4-5, 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 your staff, they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
In verses 4-5, David takes us into Death Valley. In the imagery of the Psalm it’s the picture of a summer time drive. In Israel the rains end in March and don’t begin again until October. And so during the long dry season the shepherd takes his sheep through the valley and up into the mountains, to higher ground called table land.
Often the shepherd will go ahead of the sheep in the spring, before the summer drive, to prepare the tableland. To clear out rocks, to pull up weeds, to uncover springs, to dig water holes for the sheep. But in order to reach table land, he has to take the sheep through some deep valleys where they’re exposed to attack by wolves and lions. Sometimes the sheep must pass through crevices one at a time, frightening places where they are totally dependent on the touch of the shepherd’s staff and the protection of his rod. It’s a journey full of risks.
David knows that life is not lived on a golf course. Life is often a steep climb full of risks. He knows how tough life is and he wants us to see that we can still trust the shepherd in the midst of two of our worst fears -- the fear of death and the fear of enemies.
David had seen plenty of death. He had lost children. He had lost friends. He lost a baby born to Bathsheba. One his sons named Amnon raped one of his daughters named Tamar prompting another son named Absalom to kill Amnon out of revenge. David lost his best friend Jonathan in battle along with a bunch of other buddies. David had seen lots and lots of death in his lifetime.
And yet he can say, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Why? Because he’s so brave and courageous? No. Because, you are with me, he says. That’s the key. God is with us. The good shepherd will never leave our side. And if death is going to come at us, which eventually it will, it must first contend with the rod and the staff of my shepherd. And it will only touch me when he permits and even then he won’t leave me. The shepherd can be trusted even in death.
You see, church, we “fear no evil,” not because evil doesn’t happen to us. It does happen. Evil happened to David. Evil happened to Jesus. Evil will happen to us. We fear no evil not because we won’t experience evil, but because God is with us in the midst of it. We are never without our shepherd. That’s the image we need to cling too when we’re afraid. We have a good shepherd who loves us and cares for us in the midst of the evil.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
The fear of death and the fear of enemies. The second scene is a picture of sheep grazing on that table land surrounded by enemies, wolves ready to devour them. During his life time David encountered many wolves that threatened to destroy him. Enemies from without like Goliath the Philistine giant, King Saul who turned on David and hunted him for 8 years like a fugitive, all through his twenties, his own son Absalom who led a rebellion against David and forced him to be homeless.
There were enemies from without, but there were also enemies from within. Wolves like lust and hate and greed and pride and bitterness that threatened to consume David from within. And he made his share of mistakes. He was far from perfect.
Life is full of enemies that the evil one would love to use to devour us. Addictions to sex and to drugs and to poisons that can kill our bodies. Unbridled ambition, power, greed, workaholism that can destroy our families. Anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, jealousy, pornography that can destroy our souls.
What do we do when the wolves move in? Muster up some kind of superhuman effort? Rely on our own resources? No. We turn to the shepherd and allow him to protect us. To provide for us. To fill our cup. To restore our soul. The only way the enemy can win is when we stray from the shepherd and refuse his help and choose to go it alone. That’s the path of destruction.
No, Psalm 23 is not a portrait of life under ideal circumstances. It is a picture of the way the shepherd cares for us in the real world. In a world that’s filled with fear and danger and enemies and grief and pain. And just like the sheep can boast about the shepherd’s care all year long, during the rainy season and the long dry season so David boasts in verse 6,
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
“Nothing can take me away from the shepherd. Nothing. Not even death itself. Because when that happens I’ll finally be home. I’ll leave all my enemies behind and enter into the majesty of my eternal home with the shepherd forever. That’s what the future holds for me,” David says.
And that’s what the future holds for all of us who believe because the same good shepherd who took care of David is the same good shepherd that wants to take care of you and me. He wants to be WITH YOU. Don’t push him away. Don’t go it alone. Let him shepherd you. Have you trusted him? Are you trusting him?
Jesus identified himself as the good shepherd when he said in John 10, 11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 14I know my sheep and my sheep know me. 27My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can snatch them out of my hand.
You can find lots of great suggestions for dealing with fear on the internet. But never forget the image of Jesus as your good shepherd and you his little lamb. And always remember that whatever evil you’re dealing with right now, he is with you and will never leave you. Trust him to see you through. As believers in Jesus we fear no evil, even when evil happens, because we know that the good shepherd is always with us. The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.