The Comfort We Need!

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me
." (Psalm 23:1-4 KJV)

"Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
much we need thy tender care;
in thy pleasant pastures feed us,
for our use thy folds prepare.
We are thine, thou dost befriend us,
be the guardian of our way;
keep thy flock, from sin defend us,
seek us when we go astray."

Psalm 23 is all about a shepherd and his sheep.
Psalm 23 promises us that our Lord is always with us.
The Psalm is also a promise that the Lord will provide all of our needs.
The Lord has been teaching us that wherever God guides us; He will provide for us.

He will care for us.
He loves us, and He will bring us through the valley of the shadow of death.
Our life is described as walking "through the valley of the shadow of death."
With Him leading us, we learn that we can walk through that valley without fear
because His rod and His staff provide us with comfort.

When shepherds were ready to make their annual trip up and back down the mountain,
they couldn't afford to carry a lot of equipment with them.
There were shepherd shacks along the route with basic necessities,
so the shepherd only needed what he could carry for long distances.
That often meant a rod and a staff.

The rod was his main source of defense.
From an early age, shepherds would practice using this weapon until it became
a natural extension of them.
They could hurl a rod hundreds of feet with great accuracy, striking a coyote who was about
to swipe a sheep or a sheep who was about to walk into danger.
The rod was a weapon of power and authority.

The rod was also used to keep the sheep, healthy.
The shepherd would use the rod to pull back the sheep's wool and inspect its skin for diseases.
In the same way, God searches us, looking for the places where we might need His healing.
And the rod could also be used to discipline a sheep if they went astray.
It was the shepherd's way of telling the sheep "No".

The rod was also used for numbering the sheep.
The sheep would pass under the shepherd's rod as he counts them.
This is a such a blessing for the sheep can say, "The Lord counts me one of His sheep
I am in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but I am one of the great Shepherd's flock

The Good Shepherd keeps all His sheep, and preserves them as they go through
the valley of the shadow of death.
"The Lord knows them that are His."
And the Lord will never let them go.

As Christians, we belong to our Great Shepherd who will never let us go.
In John 10:27-29, Jesus said: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish,
neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out
of my Father's hand."

Also the the rod is used to rule.
The shepherd is not only the keeper, but he is also the lord of the sheep.
Our Savior is our Sovereign Lord, and we call Him Master and Lord.

We are to serve Him.
We are not what we ought to be, nor are we what we want to be, but we should always want to obey Him.
We accept His will to be our will, and we should always desire to be one of His most loyal sheep.
And as we submit to His supreme will, we are comforted by His loving care and power.

The rod and staff were used for guidance.
It is with His rod that the shepherd leads his flock.
It is so comforting to know that the Lord is guiding us.
"You shall guide me with Your counsel, and afterwards receive me to Glory." (Psalm73:24)

If we could see more clearly, we would see our Shepherd leading us in the right way.
When we wait upon Him, He leads us in a way that we might not have chosen,
but it is the safe way, and it is the right way.

It is such a blessing that our Shepard guides us because He knows the way,
and He also knows what we will face tomorrow.

"I don't know about tomorrow
I just live from day to day
I don't borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to gray
I don't worry o'er the future
For I know what Jesus said
And today I'll walk beside Him
For He knows what is ahead

I don't know about tomorrow
It may bring me poverty
But the one who feeds the sparrow
Is the one who stands by me
And the path that be my portion
May be through the flame or flood
But His presence goes before me
And I'm covered with His blood

"Many things about tomorrow
I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand

We do not know which path to take.
So, we could make foolish decisions and take dangerous paths, but if we follow our Shepherd,
we will hear Him say, "This is the way, walk in it."

What a wonderful blessing to know that the Lord has brought us through
the valley of the shadow of death, and He will never mislead us.

The next thing that we learn about the the rod and staff is that they are always urging us onward.
As sheep, we are sometimes lazy, and don't want to move.
It is then that our shepherd will nudge us a bit, with his rod and staff.

Have you ever felt the Shepherd nudging you?
Perhaps, you heard a sermon that touched you, and challenged you to a deeper commitment
to your Lord.
Many times, a shepherd has laid the rod upon certain, lazy sheep who are lagging behind.
There are times that their wool is so thick (thick skin) that they don't even feel it.

Our Shepherd knows how to touch us.
He can give us a push, when we are lagging behind, and then, we will be ready
to leap forward, and get on the path where our Shepherd will lead .

Then, there are times when we am disturbed, and He nudges us to get our attention.
This nudge reminds us to pray.
So, His rod and staff comfort us by pointing us in the direction we should be going.

It is sinful to be comfortable in doing nothing.
It is horrible to drift into indifference, and not even care whether we get out of it or not.
It should comfort us to remember that the rod is working for our good.

The rod and staff will also keep us in line.
So, when we go astray, our good Shepherd pulls us back by our leg with the crook of His staff,
so that we know we must not be wandering off the path.

How grateful we should be that our Shepherd does not leave us to our own devices.
We should be grateful that our great Shepherd never lets us alone.
His rod and staff surely does comfort us!

The rod and the staff are used by the shepherd to protect his flock.
With His rod and staff, He protects His sheep against the beasts of the field
so that His lambs will not suffer from their attacks.
The valley is an unfamiliar place.
The valley is not home.
Predators roam in the valley; coyotes, bears, wolves, or cougars.
Following our Shepherd with His rod and staff will bring us great comfort.

The rod speaks of the shepherd's protection for his sheep.
It is a club, about two feet long with a hard knot at the end of it
This rod could be thrown like a bullet at any enemy.
The rod is the weapon of power and defense for the shepherd.
The shepherd could throw it with amazing speed and great accuracy.
He also used the rod to beat off snakes, or to drive off coyotes, wolves, or stray dogs.
Our Shepherd is our defender and protector.

Along with the rod was the shepherd's staff.
The staff was a slender pole with a little crook on the end.
It was used on the sheep, but always with a tender touch.
It was usually wrapped around the legs of a sheep in order to pull them from threatening holes
and other harmful terrain.

The staff was also used to guide the sheep.
The shepherd would gently use the straight end to guide the sheep by resting it against their side
and nudging them in the right direction.
The staff was also used as a way for the shepherd to let the sheep know he was there with them.
Many times shepherds would walk beside the sheep and rest the end of the staff against their side.
It was a way of keeping in touch with the sheep, and knowing their shepherd was close at hand
would bring them comfort.

We need to remember the restraining use of our Shepherd's rod and staff.
There is a strong tendency in us to go ahead of our Lord, rather than follow His leading us.
We try to anticipate His will, we try to guess what His way would be concerning us.
This is what we do instead of waiting in quietness and faith to see the movement of His guiding rod.

The staff could also be used to tap the sheep to get their attention - and re-route their direction.
These two instruments protected the sheep from the enemy on the outside and the distractions
on the inside.

The staff corresponds to the shepherd tending His sheep.
With his staff, the shepherd would frequently pulled the sheep from danger with the crooked end.
The sheep might be wandering toward a precipice or a thicket of thorny bushes
and the shepherd would reach over the crowd of sheep and pull him back.

Without a staff to guide us as we in cross muddy, swollen streams, and we may cut our feet
on the rugged rocks, or slip on the rounded stones, or sink in the deceptive hollows.
His staff enables us to find sure footing and safety so we can reach the opposite bank.
So it is with us in the raging river of death.
Without His staff, we might have been engulfed by the raging waters.
But this staff of our Shepherd ensured our safety so that we could go step by step toward the solid rock.

And, in the same way, the good Shepherd reaches out and saves the Christian.
Many times our Shepherd has reached out with his spiritual staff,
and spared us from what might have been disastrous for us if it had come to pass.

There have been many times in our lives when a little prodding from His staff changed
our direction radically, and prevented a terrible tragedy from occurring.

I can think of many instances when this happened to me.
And many of you may be able to look back and see where this also happened with you.
I am so grateful that my Shepherd reached out with His long staff, and pulled me back
just as I was about to fall into a spiritual ravine.

"Down in the valley with my Savior I would go,
Where the storms are sweeping and the dark waters flow;
With His hand to lead me I will never, never fear,
Danger cannot fright me if my Lord is near."

Follow! follow! I would follow Jesus!
Anywhere, everywhere, I would follow on!
Follow! follow! I would follow Jesus!
Everywhere He leads me I would follow on

The staff of our Shepherd brings us comfort -- just knowing ...that He is always with us.
He will keep us walking in the right path.
We should be profoundly thankful for the many times that He has kept us from straying from the fold!

How many times can you look back and see that the Lord was stopping you when you were about
to get in trouble with other sheep or lag behind the rest of the flock.
Or you might be able to look back and see how predators could have hurt you or destroyed you,
but the Shepherd gave you a swat with his staff that hurt you at the time, but is now so appreciated.

Or, you may remember when you were a willful sheep who wanted to take other paths
that would eventually lead you to be hurt, and separated from the main flock, and in the way of danger.
This is what is called "chastening" in the N.T.
It is not punitive or a matter of retribution, it is "chastening."
The New Testament Greek word for it is the word for the "training of children".
This is what our Shepherd does.

When we act Impetuous and distrustful, we are dictating to God the way in which He should lead us,
and how He should deliver us.
But Jesus knows what is best for us, and we should be grateful when He restrains
our rebellious will and wrong attitudes.

Do you remember when Moses went to the Pharaoh of Egypt equipped with only a shepherd's staff
to challenge Pharaoh's mighty army and leadership?
You know who won!
David went to fight Goliath with another tool of a shepherd - a slingshot and five smooth stones.
We know who won that battle.
This is what gives us victory in the valley.
This is what allows us to be confident against all the undeserved vicious attacks upon us

We will experience many "valleys of the shadow of death" in our lifetime.
When sickness attacks us, and death threatens us, we can declare:
"Thy rod and staff comfort me, and they will comfort me until I go to my heavenly home."
When David spoke these words he was going through the valley of the shadow of death,
and he was moving forward toward his Father's house.

Unless we go to heaven soon, we can expect walking through many "valleys of the shadow of death."
That is what we can expect because it is the kind of world in which we live.

It is so assuring and comforting to know that the Lord is my Shepherd,
and to know that He is sovereign and all powerful.
And that I can say "The Lord is my shepherd; he maketh me to lie down in green pastures,
he leadeth me bedside the still waters
And then I can go on to say, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.
They rod and thy staff, they comfort me

Jesus, our caring Shepherd will use His rod and His staff in a thousand ways to keep us from falling.
We shall never fully know until we arrive in heaven how many ways we were kept by our Lord
from many dangers, and from many broken bones, and even from what would have been
a fatal mistake, but our Lord went before us and spared us.

Maybe, we rebelled at the interference of the rod.
And we didn't appreciate the prodding of the staff.

This verse must mean more to us than just words on a printed page.
This verse must be a living power and presence in our lives.
The wonderful words of Psalm 23 will bring purpose and power to us who are walking
through valley of the shadow of death.

"I'm following Jesus,
One step at a time;
I live for the moment,
In His Love divine.
Why think of tomorrow,
Just live for today;
I'm following Jesus,
Each step of the way.

The pathway is narrow,
But He leads me on;
I walk in His shadow,
My fears are all gone.
My spirit grows stronger,
Each moment, each day,
For Jesus is leading
Each step of the way."

-- Redd Barry

Sermon adapted from many sources by Dr. Harold L. White