I will dwell in the house of the Lord

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Psalm 23:6(b)

Today is a Bank Holiday in the UK, so many of us will have the day off work. If you’re lucky enough to have a day off, what will you be doing with your day? Perhaps you’ll be catching up on sleep or doing some work around the house or garden. Maybe you’ll be hitting the shops to take advantage of the Bank Holiday deals. Or perhaps you’re fortunate enough to be escaping to a favourite spot, perhaps even for a long weekend? We all have favourite areas that we like to visit, perhaps a place we went to as children, a spot with sentimental significance for us, or maybe somewhere that is particularly beautiful. Bank Holidays give us an opportunity to visit those special places.

Today, in the final verse of Psalm 23, the Psalmist reflects on being able to spend forever in the house of the Lord. We all one day hope to be able to spend eternity with God; as Christians we realise that our life here and now is only temporary, and look forward to the period after we die or when Jesus returns, when we will be taken to be with our God. No matter how fantastic our favourite place on earth is, no matter how beautiful, awe-inspiring or incredible it is, it simply cannot compare to the magnificence of God’s home.

The only reason we are able to dwell in the house of the Lord is because of the sacrificial act of Christ. In the Old Testament, people were not able to go near the holiest place in the temple, where it was thought God resided, because they were too sinful. If we accept Jesus as our saviour, however, he has paid the price on our behalf, and we are able spend eternity in God’s house.

Wherever you are today, no matter what you’re doing, give thanks to Jesus for what he has done for us, and thank God for inviting us into his home. Enjoy your Bank Holiday, but look forward to what is still to come!

Goodness and love will follow me

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.

Psalm 23:6(a)

At a bit of a loose end the other day, I decided to investigate some of the “get rich quick” schemes that are so common on the internet. The principle scam going around seems to be based on Google adverts. The idea seems to be to set up a website and buy adverts on Google to drive up traffic, and then sell adverts on the site. The more people visiting, the more money you make. The key is to balance the amount of money you spend on advertising with the amount of revenue you get from the adverts of your site. It all seems a bit ridiculous, creating an advertising loop, and I cannot see how it is possible to make the kind of money that the sites brag about. The truth is that it is very hard to become an internet millionaire. At this site’s peak, we received millions of visitors every year, but we never made a penny. In fact, hosting the site cost us money!

If you’re looking for true happiness in your life, you’re not going to find it in get rich quick scams. The Psalmist in today’s verse, though, believes that he has found the answer. True happiness, he believes, comes from the Lord. He is convinced that only by accepting the Lord as his shepherd will he achieve the happiness that he seeks. Once he makes that step, however, he proclaims that goodness and love will follow him forever. As we have seen over the past few days, he recognises that there will still be low points in his life (they surely don’t get lower than “the valley of the shadow of death!”), but if he puts his trust in God and accepts his lead, then God will guide him, support him and love him. God will provide all he requires in abundance, and anoint his head with oil. This, the Psalmist proclaims, is the way to a good life, a happy life, and true fulfilment.

There’s much to be thankful for in today’s reading. Reflect on how goodness and love has followed you thus far, and tell God that you will continue to accept his lead so that it will continue to follow you all of your days.

A generous host

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Psalm 23:5(b)

A good dinner party is one which provides ample food and drink. If, as you drive home from an evening at a friend’s house, you find yourself looking for a drive through McDonald’s to grab a burger, or a service station to pick up a drink, you know the evening did not go particularly well. If you leave feeling well fed, and having had enough to drink, you know that it was a great evening; your host has looked after you well. This reflects very well on the relationship between you and your host. If you left hungry and thirsty, the chances are that your host does not really care about you that much!

There’s no chance that you will be left wanting at God’s house, however! He thinks the world of you, and cares for you greatly, and will ensure that he looks after you. At the dinner party described in Psalm 23, the diner’s cup overflows; there is more drink laid on than can possibly be drunk. God provides for all his people, and provides in abundance. This is not a stingy God who holds back blessings from his people, but a generous God who lavishes them upon those who love him.

One of those blessings, which would have had more resonance in the Old Testament, is God’s anointing of his guests. Throughout the Bible, anointing by oil is undertaken to symbolise the purification and healing of those in need of God’s love. It is also used to anoint people for God’s service. The guest at the Lord’s table is, therefore, cleansed and healed, but also marked out for the service of God. This is a mark of the confidence that God puts in us all. Just as the kings of the Old Testament were anointed to confirm their role as servants of the Lord, so we too are annointed as his agents in the world today. He loves us, trusts us, and has given us a special place in his plans for the world.

Today, then, give thanks to God for his generous provision to us all, and ask him to guide you as you seek to honour him for his annointing.

The Lord, our host

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

Psalm 23:5(a)

I love dinner parties. I really enjoy being able to relax with friends over a nice meal, and just chill and chat until late. I also enjoy being invited to dinner parties, particularly by people that I have only recently met. It feels like they are extending the hand of friendship to me, and that I have been accepted as a member of their circle. Being asked into the home of a person, and being invited to join them in a dinner party is a real privilege.

In this section of Psalm 23, the picture changes from God as a shepherd looking after his sheep to that of God as a dinner party host. He invites all those who who love him to come and feast from his table. By inviting us to his table, God is extending the hand of friendship out to him, and demonstrating that we have been accepted by him. If it’s an honour to be accepted into the home of a mere mortal, how much of a privilege is it to be invited to the table of God, the almighty creator! Particularly considering all that we have done. If you encountered someone who rejected you, ignored what you said, didn’t want to spend time with you, and had even killed the person that you held most dear, there is no way that you would ask them to dinner. But that is the position that we find ourselves in. Despite the fact that we routinely turn our back on the Lord God, he invites us to his table. Even though mankind killed his son, Jesus Christ, he still prepares us a meal.

On our own merit, there is no way that we could be acceptable to God. Yet because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been given that invitation. It is up to us whether we accept his offer to join him, or whether we simply want to ignore it.

If we accept the offer, perhaps we should think carefully about our behaviour. Do we respect God and treat him as one who is generous and who has invited us into his home? Or do we continue to dishonour him, and hope that he won’t notice?

I will fear no evil

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.

Psalm 23:4

I bet you’ve been in that valley, haven’t you? I think we all have at one time or other. I said a few days ago how I felt like I was in a tunnel, unable to see the light at either end, and I would imagine that the valley mentioned in today’s verse is much like that. The dark valley can be a scary place to be, and it can feel like threats are encroaching from either side. Sometimes you know what those threats are – perhaps difficulties at work or a troubled relationship – but at other times those threats might be unknown. Those are perhaps the most scary – we know that they’re there, but we can’t see them and don’t know what they are. We just have that instinctive feeling that at any moment something is going to jump out at us from the dark and knock us off track. The temptation is to cower in the valley, and hope that one day the end will come to us.

It seems at the time that hiding is the best solution to our difficulty; after all, if nothing can see us, surely we have nothing to fear? Yet that logic is flawed; how can you hide in an already dark valley? What we need to do instead is march on with confidence, battling through the troubles and difficulties, realising that sooner or later we will reach the light once more.

The Psalmist once again inspires us with hope and confidence. Even when we are in that deep, dark valley, God is still with us. He is walking alongside us, and what’s more, he is equiped to tackle any threats that come our way. No matter what circumstances jump out at us, no matter what baddies, God is equipped with a rod and a staff, and is well prepared to defend us. Indeed, there is absolutely nothing that can threaten us when we walk with God; he is, after all, the supreme power of the universe! We can draw comfort from God’s presence, and the understanding that he will protect us against any evil that might come our way.

I know that this verse has, in particular, been massively important to me over the last few months. I pray that you will gain comfort from it too.

Paths of Righteousness

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:3(b)

There are times in our lives where we feel as if we simply do not know which direction we should take. Sometimes that’s in a literal sense, when we are out walking or driving. At other times, it can be more of a metaphorical direction; where should we be heading with our lives? I’m in just such a spot at the moment, having resigned from my job, but not having another job to go to. The need to earn money to support myself is a pressing issue – I have to get a job to make money to survive – but this is even more true now since I am getting married this summer, and will have a wife to look after too. The temptation is to start panicking; I don’t know where I’m going! What should I do?!?

I’ve been trying not to panic, however, and this verse is just one of the verses that has encouraged me recently. We might feel uncertain of the direction our lives should be heading in, but God our Father does. He has a way marked out for us, a path that will be pleasing, and that will best serve his and our needs. When we feel lost, we just need to trust that God knows what he is doing, trust that he will lead us, and pray that he will guide us.

If we let God guide us, that worry that inhabits us about whether we are doing the right thing will diminish, because we can rely on God’s encouragement. We can also draw comfort from the fact that the paths that he leads us down are “paths of righteousness,” paths that will help us to shape our lives to be more like Jesus. By following the paths that God has marked out for us, we will be blessed. And, when the time comes, that path will lead us to God’s eternal kingdom.

If you’re feeling lost, pray today that God will guide you along those paths of righteousness. If you think you know the way, pray anyway that God will reassure you, and continue to lead you along his paths. And pray that, one day, when the time comes, those paths will lead us to heaven.

He leads me beside quiet waters

He leads me beside quiet waters.

Psalm 23:2(b)

There’s something almost magical about water. I used to teach on Saturday mornings which, at the end of a long and very busy week, was very tiring indeed. Sometimes I’d then catch a lunchtime flight to visit Claire, my fianceé, in Northern Ireland, who would then whisk me off to the shores of Belfast Lough for a relaxing walk from Crawfordsburn to Bangor. No matter how tired and stressed I felt, that coastal walk always managed to revive my soul. Claire knew the restorative properties of that walk, and would often drive me down to the lough.

If Claire knows me well, God knows me even better. He knows all of us better than we know ourselves. He loves and cares for us more than we will ever know. Since he created us, he also knows exactly what we need. Like a shepherd who cares for his flock, God leads us, and if we accept that lead, we will find that our lives are far better than they would otherwise be.

I am sure that in a flock of sheep there are some who try to run away from the shepherd, and we are just like that. We think that we know best, and try to escape God’s leading influence in our lives. This upsets God, because he realises that without his leadership, we will ultimately struggle and die, but he gives us the choice of whether to follow him or not.

If we follow his lead, he will help us to deal with the stresses and strains of everyday life. He will take us by the hand and lead us on that relaxing and restorative walk beside quiet waters.

Do you think that you know best, or are you happy to accept God’s leadership in your life? Will you let him take you by the hand and lead you to the quiet waters? Remember that he knows best, not you!

He makes me lie down in green pastures

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

Psalm 23:2(a)

View from Saddle Knob, by Ian Capper

When I’m tired and stressed, I like to head up to the North Downs near where I live and sit in the sun on the amusingly named Saddle Knob. It’s a large expanse of grass at the top of Reigate Hill, and the views across the Weald to the South Downs are awesome. It makes me feel just a little less stressed and a little more normal just to sit there and relax.

When I’m really busy at work and feeling very stressed, however, it seems there’s no time to do anything but work. I’m sure you’ve been in a similar position and know for yourself that when you get in this position home life suffers and you find yourself being irritable with those who love you, and not making time for your friends. You even find yourself cutting yourself off from God, and not making time for Bible study and prayer.

God knows what is best for us, though, and if we let him, he will take care of us. He doesn’t just suggest politely that we stop work, he makes us. Sometimes this can be in rather alarming ways, and we feel as if a carpet is being pulled out from underneath us. There are times, though, when we think we know best, and God has to show us that actually, he does. We have to trust in him, and realise that, as our creator, he knows better than anyone what we need.

Shepherds in the middle east didn’t just lead their sheep to green pastures, they were instrumental in creating them. Green pastures are not all that common in the desert, and a great deal of irrigation is needed to create them. Since shepherds love their flocks, though, and recognise that with them they would die, they worked hard to ensure that these pastures were created.

Our God is the same. He creates green pastures for us, leads us to them, and makes us lie down. If we listen to him, this is a painless experience, but if we ignore us, he can be more forcible in making us stop.

Listen carefully to God today. Do you need to stop? Are you neglecting him, your family or your friends through working too hard? Stop and lie down in those green pastures now, otherwise you might find yourself being stopped, since God loves you and knows best!

The Lord, My Shepherd

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

Psalm 23:1

We all go through periods in our lives when we feel like we’re struggling. Things get on top of us, and we wonder just how we’re going to make it to the end of the day. It feels like we’re walking through a long, dark tunnel, and are all on our own. We suspect that there is a light at the end of it, but we’re firmly in the middle of it, and cannot see even a pin prick of light from either end. Sometimes, although we know in our heart that God would never desert us, it feels in our head as if he has. I have been in just such a place recently, hence the absence of Daily Readings, but thankfully, with God’s help and the love of my friends and family, I can now see the light flooding into the tunnel, even though I haven’t reached the end yet.

Psalm 23 is one of the most famous bits of the Bible. Most of us know it so well that we become almost immune to what the words mean. I think I’ve been in this position myself, but time and time again over the last few months, I’ve been unable to get the verses out of my head. That’s the reason why over the next couple of weeks we’ll be exploring the Psalm in our Daily Readings.

The opening verse is one of such immense promise. The Lord is our shepherd, we read. Shepherds were interesting characters in the Old Testament. They were isolated from society, and focused entirely on the sheep in their flocks. They would live with them day and night. They would feed them and water them. They would lead them to the best fields. They would take interest in each and every one of their sheep. They would even lay down their lives to protect them. In the same way, the Lord, our God, will look after us and protect us. He loves us, he cares for us, and, through Jesus, he has laid down his life for us.

Since the Lord is our shepherd, we shall not be in want. Just as shepherds provide all that their sheep need, God will look after us and ensure that we want for nothing. He has given us everything we need to live, and will continue to do so.

Maybe you feel like you’re isolated and alone at the moment. You’re not. God loves you, is interested in you as a person, and will provide all that you need to escape this present darkness. Maybe you feel happy and joyous. Remember that it is through God’s provision for you that you are in that enviable position, and that God continues to bless and guide you.

He restores my soul

He restores my soul.

Psalm 23:3(a)

Have you ever felt so tired that you feel that you could sleep for a week? As a teacher, I often feel like that as the end of term approaches, particularly the long Christmas term. After weeks of working flat out, the end is tantalising close, but then, on top of all the usual preparation, teaching and marking, I suddenly find myself having to write several hundred reports, arranging Christmas parties, and sometimes even preparing for end-of-term trips.

It’s tiredness like that that is sometimes described as “soul-sapping.” Not only are you tired, but it actually feels like your very life force is ebbing away from you. It’s at times like this that basic things become neglected; perhaps you feel your home life suffering, and you find yourself isolating yourself from our friends. Maybe you even feel that spending time with the Lord in prayer and Bible study drops down your priorities list.

Today’s verse is a warning against this neglect. God can help us through these difficult and busy times. If we spend just a few minutes of our busy day in quiet reflection, reading our Bible and praying, then the promise in this verse is that God will restore our soul. Not only will he physically help us by sustaining us through our busy-ness, but spending time with him also puts what we are doing into context. Work suddenly is not the be all and end all in our lives, since as Christians we have an eternal perspective. We should not focus solely on work, because we also need to spend time with God, and we need to ensure that we are doing his work, living a life worthy of Christ’s salvation. We also understand the importance of maintaining a focus on Christ in all that we do, whether it is at work, at home, or with our friends. We can support our colleagues through their busyness too by maintaining our calm, and working as if for our Father in heaven. By doing so, we can be witnesses for God, even though we are busy.

The realisation that God can restore our souls can help us to put our daily life into perspective. Spending just a little time every day with him can really change our lives, and change our perspective on the world.

The next time you are tempted to neglect your daily time with God, just remember the promise of this verse, that God can restore your soul. Talk to him, and listen to him, even if just for a few minutes a day.