Today’s Text and Thought of Encouragement:
“The earnest, heartfelt, continued prayer of a righteous man and woman makes tremendous power available, dynamic in its working.”
James 5: 16
“The Lord’s answers to prayer are infinitely perfect, and they will show that often when we were asking for a stone that looked like bread, He was giving us bread that to our shortsightedness looked like stone.”
Today’s Study Text:
“I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me. Your rod (to protect) and Your staff (to guide,) they comfort me.”
Psalm 23: 4
Psalm 23 – Part 17
“The Supportive Staff”
“I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.”
Where have I found support during times of trouble?
Is God the first person I go to when I feel I can’t hold myself up?
“All God’s giants have been great, who did great things for God because they believed that God would be with them.”
“Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life in fear; rather look to them with full hope that, as they arise, God, whose you are, will deliver you out of them. He is your keeper. He has kept you hitherto. Do you but hold fast to His dear hand, and He will lead you safely through all things; and, when you cannot stand, He will bear you in His arms.”
Francis of Sales
Several years ago, for my birthday, my sister got me a truly nifty gadget called and “All Terrain Hurry Cane.” Now I’m not suggesting that the best way to get around with a cane is to be in a big hurry. Far from it. But interestingly this particular apparatus is designed to not only make it possible for someone like myself to navigate uneven ground with greater ease, but also to move more rapidly.
As I’ve taken time to learn what is meant by the words: “rod and staff,” I have come to the conclusion that of all the implements in the possession of a shepherd, as Phillip Keller points out, “In a sense the staff, more than any other item of his personal equipment, identifies the shepherd as a shepherd.” I would add one other element that I have found critical since I have had to use a cane or staff to get around more easily. A staff must be designed to fit the specific height of the individual using the implement.
In my mind’s eye, when I began to think of how a “staff” brings comfort to a shepherd, I thought back to Moses who we are told, “kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law…and he led the flock to the back or west side of the wilderness” (Exodus 3: 1, Amplified Bible). Then we read that God came to Moses and told him that through his leadership, the time had come when the children of Israel should leave Egypt.
Just as you or I might do, Moses came up with a myriad of excuses why he felt he was inadequate for the task at hand. So God asked Moses, “What is that in your hand?” And (Moses) said, ‘A rod.’ Or as the Hebrew translates, a “walking staff” which Moses said, “supports me.” It was at this point that God instructed Moses to cast the stick onto the ground and when he did, it became a serpent.
I share this passage for it sets the stage for God’s repeated intervention throughout the ministry of Moses and frequently, it was Moses’ use of his staff that became the way God demonstrated the power of Almighty Jehovah. A common stick used to steady and aid one when walking was the instrument by which God showed His powerful and consistent involvement in an immensely personal way in the lives of His chosen people.
The use of the staff lead me to uncover three specific “realms of use” regarding the care and nurturing of sheep that apply to a “staff.” I appreciate the depth which Phillip Keller lends to this discussion for his personal experience as a shepherd provides insights not found in any other way:
Realm #1: A “staff” can be used to draw sheep to each other individually. Using a staff can create intimacy between two particular sheep. “The shepherd will use his staff to gently lift a newborn lamb and bring it to its mother if they become separated. He does this because he does not wish to have the ewe reject her offspring if it bears the odor of his hands upon it. I have watched skilled shepherds amongst thousands of ewes that were lambing simultaneously. With deft but gentle strokes the newborn lambs are lifted with the staff and placed side by side with their dams.” As I read this descriptive portrayal, my thoughts turned to the words penned by the prophet Isaiah who likened our heavenly Father to an earthly shepherd who would “gently lead those (sheep) that have their young” (Isaiah 40: 11, Amplified Bible).
Realm #2: A “staff” can be used to draw sheep close together as a total group. All of us have unique personality traits. Sometimes our individualistic qualities – our differences – can bring separation rather than unity. In John 17, the prayer of Jesus to His Father in heaven is recorded. What makes this passage so touching is that Jesus’ words were spoken on behalf of His disciples as well as all of us who choose to follow our divine Shepherd. Jesus asked His Father to fill each of us with the spirit of unity, “that they all may be one, just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe and be convinced that You have sent Me” (John 17: 21). When writing to the Christians in Galatia, the Apostle Paul wrote specifically regarding the unity in Spirit found in those who follow our Shepherd when he explained that, “for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 27, 28, Amplified Bible).
Realm #3: A “staff” can be used to guide the sheep. Here again, I want to share Phillip Keller’s words for his personal experience as a shepherd gives us an expanded view of how a shepherd’s staff is used so effectively in different ways. “Again and again I have seen a shepherd use his staff to guide his sheep gently into a new path or through some gate or along dangerous, difficult routes. He does not use it actually to beat the beast. Rather, the tip of the long slender stick is laid gently against the animal’s side and the pressure applied guides the sheep in the way the owner wants to go.”
A few years ago, as sometimes happens in our spiritual journey, I felt as if I was having a difficult time knowing exactly what God wanted me to do. I didn’t have any direct comprehension as to where He wanted me to go. Maybe you have also been overwhelmed by a sense of confusion at one time or another in your own life. While I was studying God’s word and praying each day, I still could not see my way clear and I found the situation, to put it mildly, quite frustrating. On one particular day, feeling completely overpowered by a sense of discouragement, a single thought entered my mind and it was this: “Ask God to open your eyes to just one time each day when He has entered your world.” It seemed a little ridiculous to be honest, but since that day, I have asked my Father in heaven to please keep me aware, at least once a day, of His heavenly presence and intervention on my behalf. Much to my joyful surprise, I can report to you that not a day has passed that in some way – sometimes very small and sometimes very large – my heavenly Shepherd has touched me with His staff in order to draw me closer to His never ending presence in my daily life.
In Deuteronomy 14, the story is told of Moses last journey on earth. For 120 years God has been by Moses’ side, protecting, leading and guiding. And now, on this last, lonely walk, we are told that “Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah.” Artists have tried to capture the scene and in one painting I saw, Moses was standing atop the mountain with his staff in one hand as he overlooked the Promised Land. The last verse in Deuteronomy 34: 12 talks about the power and great deeds which Moses wrought in his lifetime, but I think Moses summed up best the comfort found in the “rod and staff” when this shepherd of sheep and men encouraged those he had led for forty years with these words: “There is none like God, O Israel, Who rides through the heavens to your help and in His majestic glory through the skies. The eternal God is your refuge and dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He drove the enemy before you and thrust them out…Happy are you, O Israel, and blessing is yours. Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, the Shield of your help, the Sword that exalts you!” (Deuteronomy 33: 26-29, Amplified Bible). Is it any wonder that David wrote that his Shepherd’s rod and staff brought comfort to his own life. Knowing that our heavenly Shepherd is prepared to assist us in every place we walk with Him should give us great encouragement, confidence, and yes, above all it should comfort us.
“In God alone there is faithfulness and faith in the trust that we may hold to Him, to His promise and to His guidance. To hold to God is to rely on the fact that God is there for me, and to live in this certainly.”
“I will say of the Lord, He is my Refuge and my Fortress, my God, on Him I lean and rely, and in Him I confidently trust.”
Psalm 91: 2
On The Twenty-Third Psalm
“In ‘pastures green’? Not always;
sometimes He, Who knoweth best,
in kindness leadeth me in weary ways,
where heavy shadows be.
And by ‘still waters’? No, not always so;
Oft times the heavy tempests round me blow,
and o’er my soul the waves and billows go.
But when the storm beats loudest, and I cry
aloud for help, the Master standeth by,
and whispers to my soul, ‘Lo, it is I.’
So, where He leads me, I can safely go,
and in the blest hereafter I shall know,
Why, in His wisdom, He hath led me so.”
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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