Gratitude, thankful, shepherd, God’s Word, scripture, Psalm 23, provision, presence, perception, Oh Lord Help Us, Christian, women, mentor, ministry, nonprofit

Psalm 23: Trading Our Perception with the Truth of Our Good Shepherd

We respond to Scripture based on how we perceive our current circumstances of life. That is one of the beauties of God’s Word; it becomes new each day just as our circumstances and moods do. It’s a lifelong process to take God at His word and not allow perception to filter out the truth. Psalm 23 is an easy passage to help us trade our perception with God’s truth.



Psalm 23

A dear sister recently told me she is not a fan of Psalm 23. I got the impression she felt bad about admitting it since it’s part of the Bible, but her reasoning made perfect sense.

After a little inquiry, I learned it was the chapter she was forced to read and recite when she got in trouble as a child. So it’s not hard to see how one of the most well-known passages in Scripture became tarnished in her mind. Let’s dig into Psalm 23 together and see what it says and how it may challenge our perception.

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.

Psalm 23:1

We respond to Scripture based on the perception of our circumstances in life. Psalm 23 is an easy passage to help us trade our perception, with God's truth. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional | Christian Nonprofit #devotional #scripture #gratitude #thankful #provision #GodsWord #scripture #perception #Psalm23

Our Perception

Two specific thoughts come to my mind after reading verse one:

  1. Do I view God as my personal Shepherd, or is He too busy with more important tasks?
  2. What do I perceive I am lacking?

In this passage, God presents Himself as a caretaker. He is seen as a provider, a leader, and One who is responsible for care. Because of that fact, David’s response is: there is nothing I lack. The first part of verse one speaks to God’s character. I wonder what causes us to feel He is holding out on us? Lately, a bit of careful reflection will quickly illuminate I have everything I need.

For example, a few weeks ago our kitchen was wrecked after a weekend of grilling out with neighbors and running around town. No one wanted to clean up the mess. My man is an excellent helper around the house, but he was working late and I needed to clean up before I had room to cook. Has anyone else encountered this yucky phenomenon?

Anyway, as I dove into the mountain I asked God to help me see the positive instead of feeling sorry for myself that no one was helping me. The Father quickly reminded me of the sweet time we had spent with our neighbors and the laundry list of blessings which made it possible. And He showed me what a joy it is to have a family and a home to share. Before I knew it, I was actually smiling while washing dishes. But don’t spread that around.

God’s Provision

He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He renews my life; He leads me along the right paths.

Psalm 23:2-3

Three more reflections appear to me here:

  1. Green pastures mean God knows where the food is.
  2. Quiet waters represent that God knows we are like sheep.
  3. Comfort is always going to be greater on God’s path.

Sometimes, our perception tells us something looks really tantalizing, or maybe even righteous. Yet the Father, in His omniscience, knows what will nourish us completely. If sheep are steered to rushing waters they will stick their head in and be swept downstream. God understands what His children need and how best to provide for them.

That means, if we truly accept that He knows best and does provide for us, then we must dare to challenge beliefs that set themselves against God’s goodness to us. Sheep may lack water and be willing to go toward a stream to quench their thirst, but they may be pulled under rushing waters. The Good Shepherd will always lead us to quiet waters, even if it means we have to walk away from a seemingly sure thing.

His purposes are better than ours, and therefore His paths are better than ours.

Jeremy Pierre, Author & Dean of Students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Sometimes, our perception tells us something looks really tantalizing, or maybe even righteous. Yet the Father, in His omniscience, knows what will nourish us completely. Click To Tweet

God’s Presence

Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

Two big things stand out:

  1. There’s no question of if we will go through dark times; it’s merely a question of when.
  2. Yet God is present in the darkness.

In verse 4, David is allowing his understanding of God’s nearness and comfort to guide his perception of a truly agonizing situation. There are times in life when we feel such thick darkness we can practically taste it. Normally that causes fear. But God is with you. He is with me. Darkness and death cannot separate us from the love of God, so in reality, it can do no infinite harm. It may trifle with our body, but it cannot touch the souls of the children of God. We are secure through Christ Jesus.

God’s Attention

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in house of the Lord as long as I live.

Psalm 23:5-6

Two observations:

  1. God hosted David on the battlefield in the face of his biggest threat.
  2. David has the assurance of complete rest in God’s steadfast love.

In this last stanza, David shifts the descriptive symbols used for God. He went from describing God as Shepherd in verses 1-4 to a Host in verses 5-6. God lavishes us with His individual attention and exclusive exaltation. He can do that because He’s God! And because the things that concern us concern the Father.

A Few Questions

  • How would it change your life to believe God “leaves the 99” to find you (Luke 15:4)?
  • What is the thing you feel you’re lacking or desiring that you don’t have?
  • Do you believe you can continually leave your desires at the feet of Jesus because He cares for you (Philippians 4:6-7) and will fulfill His purpose for you (Psalm 138:8)?

I hope this encourages your heart and has sparked some rich thoughts about our Good Shepherd and Host. My journal is filled to the brim as I read the beautiful Word of God. It is all at once penetrating and comforting my soul.

We respond to Scripture based on the perception of our circumstances in life. Psalm 23 is an easy passage to help us trade our perception, with God's truth. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional | Christian Nonprofit #devotional #scripture #gratitude #thankful #provision #GodsWord #scripture #perception #Psalm23

All scripture is referenced from the HCSB version of the Bible.
unsplash-logoAnnie Spratt
Creation, fruit, God’s Kingdom, presence, quiet, treasures, Oh Lord Help Us, Christian, women, mentor, ministry

Blackberries: Seven Lessons from the Blackberry Patch

There are many kingdom lessons woven throughout creation. Here are some things I gleaned in the sacred art of picking blackberries.



I am in awe of the many beauties of creation. These glorious colors and beings God spoke into existence, take my breath away. Recently, I discovered yet another little blessing tucked away on the hillside behind our house, amidst weeds, thorns, and wildflowers. In my botanical chaos, there lies a wild blackberry patch. 

You can imagine my excitement as I saw our first berries. Visions of blackberry pie and rows of blackberry jam clouded my thoughts. I just knew that the minute they were ripe, I would have a bountiful harvest. While I have harvested some berries, I still don’t even have enough for one pie (I’m close though*). 

However, my hours spent in the blackberry patch have not been in vain. God is there. And, He is speaking through my simple task of berry picking. Here’s what I have learned…

There are many kingdom lessons woven throughout our otherwise menial tasks. Here are some things I gleaned in the sacred art of picking blackberries. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional #devotional #scripture #creation #fruit #GodsKingdom #presence #quiet

Wear Proper Clothing

I was a little over-ambitious once I learned that my blackberry stalks were fruit-bearing plants. As soon as I thought berries were ready, I threw on a pair of boots with some old, thin jeans and jumped right into a mess of overgrown weeds and thorns. I was NOT prepared to pick blackberries. Needless to say, after that, I made sure to wear long sleeves and thick pants.

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells the story of a king who is having a wedding feast for his son. Many guests arrive, but the king is offended by one who is not wearing wedding garments. 

‘Now, when the king entered the banquet hall, he looked with glee over all his guests. But then he noticed a guest who was not wearing the wedding robe provided for him. So he said, ‘My friend, how is it that you’re here and you’re not wearing your wedding garment?’ But the man was speechless. Then the king turned to his servants and said, ‘Tie him up and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be great sorrow, with weeping and grinding of teeth.’ For everyone is invited to enter in, but few respond in excellence.’

Matthew 22:11-14, The Passion Translation

For the longest time, this parable has made no sense to me. I’ve thought, “Well, Jesus said it, so it must be good”. Yet, in the blackberry patch, my clothing really seemed to matter.

It also matters in the Kingdom of God, and I’m not talking about your “Sunday best.” The garments God gives us to wear are spiritual – garments of grace and righteousness to cover our shame. 

Reach Past the Thorns

Blackberries grow on tall stalks that are covered in thorns. You have to reach past the thorns to get to the fruit. Every time, I have collected berries from the patch, I have been stuck multiple times by tiny (and painful) little spikes. But, that is where the fruit grows, right smack in the middle of a bunch of thorns!

 And everything I’ve taught you is so that the peace which is in me will be in you and will give you great confidence as you rest in me. For in this unbelieving world you will experience trouble and sorrows, but you must be courageous, for I have conquered the world! 

John 16:33, TPT

Beauty and blessing can grow together with pain. If you are afraid of the thorns, you will not get many blackberries.

Wait until they are ripe!

This is what the Lord says: ‘At just the right time, I will respond to you. On the day of salvation I will help you. I will protect you and give you to the people as my covenant with them. Through you I will reestablish the land of Israel and assign it to its own people again.’

Isaiah 49:8, NLT

Just before blackberries ripen, they are a beautiful bright red! They almost look just like raspberries. They seem so sweet and tasty, but they are sour. So sour.

Blessings from God are no different. We beg God to move on our timetable, and He is simply saying to us, “My Dear, wait until the fruit is ripe. You will not like it now. Trust me. Just be patient a little longer.”

His timing is always perfect. HE always comes at just the right time.

Search for the Blackberries

Blackberries are not always obvious. Sometimes you have to really search for them.

And I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, Who calls you by your name.

Isaiah 45:3, AMPC
»«

Then you will seek Me, inquire for, and require Me [as a vital necessity] and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:13, AMPC

Size of  the Blackberries

The size of the plant doesn’t determine the size of the fruit. Oh, I love this one so much! Sometimes, I find the biggest blackberries on the smallest plants; even new baby plants produce beautiful lush fruit.

To me, this is such a reminder of the kingdom of God. Jesus said that we will know a tree by its fruit. It’s not by its thick trunk (or giant stalk in the case of blackberries), not by the perfectly shaped leaves, or even its soaring height. No, a plant is known by its fruit. Every plant, even the new, little ones have the ability to produce fruit.

‘You must determine if a tree is good or rotten. You can recognize good trees by their delicious fruit. But if you find rotten fruit, you can be certain that the tree is rotten. The fruit defines the tree.’

Matthew 12:33, TPT

Surprises

For me, little gifts came in the form of butterflies and dew drops. A giant butterfly, at least four inches across lands right in front of me one day. On another occasion, I see fresh dew drops covering the leaves in the middle of the day. These simple treasures remind me that God is good and magnificent. 

There are unexpected surprises when you are looking for the blessing. When our eyes and hearts are fixed on heaven, we will be blessed in ways we never expected. Sometimes those blessings come as a perspective shift or a heart change. Sometimes, it comes in the nearness of His presence.

It’s not about the berries.

It’s not about the berries at all, but about berry picking. Let’s be honest here. If I really wanted blackberries for a pie, I could get in my car, drive to the grocery store and buy a carton of fresh berries to bring home and put in a pie. I could even be extra earthy and buy them from a farmers market or local farm.

But, there is just something special about walking up and down the berry patch, picking berries with my own two hands and suffering all the sticks because of it. My backyard berry patch isn’t just an overgrown mess of weeds and berries. It is a still, sacred place where I can be alone with my Creator, letting Him lead me through the briers, listening to His still small voice and adoring Him in the quiet beauty of creation.

Walking with Jesus is never about the fruit that we produce, but always about simply walking with Him.

Walking with Jesus is never about the fruit that we produce, but always about simply walking with Him. Click To Tweet
blackberry pie
*I finally gathered enough to bake that pie.

There are many kingdom lessons woven throughout our otherwise menial tasks. Here are some things I gleaned in the sacred art of picking blackberries. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional #devotional #scripture #creation #fruit #GodsKingdom #presence #quiet

unsplash-logoAurel Serban
draw near, presence, God's word, fed, Oh Lord Help Us, Christian, women, mentor, ministry

Draw Near: Experiencing God’s Presence for Ourselves

It can be easy to believe that hearing God’s word at church is enough. But God allows us to draw near to Him. We can experience His presence for ourselves.



Food

Food. Glorious food. It is something we cannot live without. When my babies were young, they depended on me to feed them. First through nursing and then with spoons and sippy cups. It was hard work. I relished the day that they were on full-time solids and could use a spoon to feed themselves or even eat with their own chubby fingers. It felt like I too had attained a small amount of freedom.

What food is to the physical body, God’s word is to the spiritual. We are made to be sustained by His presence and His word. When my husband and I were in seminary, I attended courses to prepare me for a life of serving alongside my husband in ministry. One class stayed with me long after those days were gone. It was a class on studying the Bible. I will never forget Virginia Walker’s words as she instructed us to remain self-feeders. I did not know that then, but I would come back to these words again and again.

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

Hebrews 7:25, NIV

It can be easy to believe that hearing God’s word at church is enough. But God allows us to draw near to Him. We can experience His presence for ourselves. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional

Filled

What does it mean to be a self-feeder? It means that there will be times over and over when we must be responsible for drawing ourselves near to God. This has proven to be true for me in a variety of seasons. When we were at our first church serving, I was pouring into other women and feeling worn out. I had to be in the word not just to study, but to recharge.

When my children were little, I spent most of my days tending to their schooling needs, their physical needs, and the cleaning of my home. I could not depend on the once-weekly sermon to fill my empty well. I had to go and drink from living water, daily. Drink in its truths over and over.

We cannot depend on the once-weekly sermon to fill our empty wells. We have to drink from living water, daily. Drink in God's truth over and over. Click To Tweet

His Perspective

Now, I am in a different season. I am unable to attend church and hear my elders preach. I have thought about those bedridden through age and illness. There is never a time when we are not in need of His hope, His kindness, or His Spirit. His word is rich with all of these. As I study His word for myself, I am encouraged. I can see life from His perspective. A perspective that is vastly different from my own.

I have found a few things helpful as I consider being a self-feeder

1. I need both… My time in the word is a complement to my time in the church.

2. Community… It can be helpful to study with another believer especially someone of a different age or season. But, I cannot let that be an excuse to not be in the word.

3. Memorizing… Memorizing chunks of scripture can be life changing and is always time well spent. His word never returns void.

4. Trusting… Just like everything else, I cannot trust my feelings as an indicator that my study matters. If I went for days without food, my body would be affected. So is my spirit. Studying God’s word is a discipline that may feel dry at times. Trust that time in His word will…

…teach, reprove, and train in righteousness, that the man of God may be  equipped for every good work,

2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV

Draw Near

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

James 4:8a, NIV

Some days, I am fed deeply by my pastors and other believers. They encourage me, but nothing can take the place of deep time in His word and in His presence. He calls us to Himself.

Let me encourage you to look at your own time in the word. Not as a source of condemnation or another rule to keep. But as an opportunity to relish in His presence and draw near to Him. God’s presence is no longer just for the priest or the pastor. He is for us. He is here for you. Draw near.

It can be easy to believe that hearing God’s word at church is enough. But God allows us to draw near to Him. We can experience His presence for ourselves. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional

Jeremy Bishop