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What makes Psalm 23 so intensely personal?
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
How could this poem be made any more personal than that? David is obviously expressing his own rich experience with God.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. [Red Sea Rule #2: Be more concerned for God’s glory than for your relief.] 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 23:1-4
That says it all, doesn’t it? for You are with me. That’s why I can face anything. When I know God is with me, that’s when I know that I can hang in there and I can make it.
To have that assurance of God’s presence in your life—that’s what keeps you going. I think this is what makes Psalm 23 so intensely personal for me--for You are with me.
Red Sea Rule 7: Envision God’s enveloping presence.
I think of a friend who years ago went through some severe trials. Afterwards, she made this comment: I understand God less, but I love Him more. The trials she endured still baffled her, but through them she had grown to know God’s love even more.
That experience of God’s presence is what we want to think about this week. We’re continuing in our study of the biblical principles that are summarized so concisely for us in The Red Sea Rules. We’ve covered the first six rules or principles about how to live by faith. This week we'll campout on Rule #7: Envision God’s enveloping presence. Our memory verse to go along with this week's lesson is James 4:8a. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” As we seek God’s presence, He does make Himself known to us. So envision God’s enveloping presence.
“He is first and He is last, and we are gathered up between, as in great arms of eternal lovingkindness.” —Amy Carmichael
If I had written The Red Sea Rules, I think that I would have phrased this rule a little differently. To me the word envision connotes the idea of imagining that something is true. If we are believers in Christ, we don’t have to pretend that God is with us in difficulties. He really is present! So I think that I would have put it some other way. Cultivate God’s presence. Or practice God’s presence. Or I think that maybe I would have put it this way: Learn to rest in God’s embrace. It doesn’t really make any difference how we phrase it. How would you put it into your own words so that it is meaningful to you? However you choose to express the idea, the challenge comes in learning how to put it into practice. Envision—cultivate—practice God’s enveloping presence. Learn to rest in God’s embrace.
How do we do that? How can we learn to rest and enjoy his presence? The author of The Red Sea Rules makes four suggestions in the book. Today, we are going to look at four instructions.
“The Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night.” Exodus 14:19–20
Make sure that you are with God
"…the Lord Himself ushered the Israelites through the Red Sea.” —Robert Morgan, The Red Sea Rules
Remind yourself that God is with you
Let’s assume that you have trusted in Jesus as your Lord, what do you do next in order to envision God’s presence and make His presence something that changes the way you face life? Here’s our second instruction: Remind yourself that God is with you. That sounds simple, right? However, it’s crucial that we understand and take this step. Remind yourself that God is with you.
There will be times when you do not feel God’s presence. Don’t be surprised at that. Don’t think that something is wrong with you when that happens. If you read through the Old Testament book of Psalms, you will find that there are many times when the writers wonder whether God is with them or not (Psalms 6:3; 10:1; 13:1-2; 22:1-2; 42:1-2; 44:1-26; 74:1; 88:1-18; 89:1- 52). So don’t be caught off guard when you feel that way too. When that happens (and it will sooner or later), that’s when you need to take this crucial second step and remind yourself that God truly is with you whether you feel it or not.
It’s good to have some Bible verses memorized so that you can repeat them to yourself when you are in doubt about God’s presence. Psalm 23 contains a lot of good verses to memorize. “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). When I’m spiritually down and wondering if God has abandoned me, I like to repeat that verse. Hey, Patsy, listen up. You may not feel anything, but God says that even if you were facing death itself you wouldn’t need to be afraid because He promises to be with you. That is true, Patsy, whether you feel it or not. I find that I often need to preach sermons like that to myself. I need to remind myself of what God says is true.
I also find it helpful to think about certain pictures or images that we find in God’s Word. The Bible frequently refers to God as a rock. Psalm 18:2 says, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in Whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” I like to think of God as a rock. “My God, my rock, in Whom I take refuge” (Psalm 18:46). He’s always there. He doesn’t change. I need to be reminded of that Rock!
That’s the second step. First, make sure that you are with God. Second, remind yourself that God is with you.
“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” Psalm 139:5–6
Thank God that He is with you
Then as soon as you have done that second step, put into practice a third: Thank God that He is with you. The best way to make one of God’s truths a part of your daily thinking is to talk to God about it.
“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, So the LORD surrounds His people From this time forth and forever.” Psalm 125:2
Pray to the God Who is with you
Then there’s a fourth instruction that follows logically from that third one: Pray to the God Who is with you. God is with you, so talk to Him. Make it a regular habit of talking to Him. Pray short prayers to Him. When something good happens, just say, Thank you, Lord. When something not so good happens, pray another short prayer. Lord, please help me here. Get into the habit of praying like that—always in an attitude of prayer. "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17 ).
“At the Red Sea, God put His people in a position where His presence had never been so real to them. Using difficulty, He cultivated within them a greater appreciation for Himself. “God’s presence in the trial is much better than exemption from the trial.” —Robert Morgan, The Red Sea Rules
The Story of the Spaffords
I want to tell you a story that starts in Chicago and ends in Jerusalem. One of the major scenes in the story takes place in the Atlantic Ocean.
Horatio Spafford was living what we would call the good life. He was a lawyer, and he had many real estate investments in the City of Chicago. He was doing well. He was living his best life now some might say. But then, in 1871, there was the Great Chicago Fire. Spafford lost his law office, his valuable library, and most of his real estate investments.
But Horatio and his wife Anna were still thankful. At least they and their daughters had survived. They had come under the preaching of Dwight L. Moody, and were thankful for the salvation they had found in Christ. In 1873, the Spaffords planned to sail to Europe knowing that Moody was going to be preaching there that fall. At the last minute a business deal required Horatio to stay in Chicago, so he sent his wife and four daughters ahead. But during the voyage the ship that Anna and the girls were on was hit by another ship. Two hundred and twenty-six people lost their lives in that shipwreck. All four daughters of the Spaffords were drowned. Only Anna survived. When Horatio learned about the tragedy, he quickly got on another ship and sailed for Europe to be with his wife and to accompany her back to Chicago.
Horatio and Anna had three more children—two daughters and one son. But in 1879 their son died from scarlet fever. People in their church started to wonder what the Spaffords had done that God would bring such tragedies into their lives.
The Spaffords decided to start a new life. They had come to believe that Jesus was going to return soon to Jerusalem, and they wanted to be there when He arrived. So in 1881 they moved to Jerusalem to start a Christian commune there. Horatio only lived in Jerusalem for seven years. In 1888 he died from malaria.
The story of the Spafford family is a story of suffering and hardship and disappointment. In many ways it is a tragic story. Yet the Spafford legacy lives on. Over the past 128 years that commune in Jerusalem has gone through lots of changes. Today, its legacy is found in the Spafford Children’s Center just inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Horatio Spafford has also left another legacy. He is remembered for a hymn that he wrote. The story is told that while he was sailing to England to join his wife, the captain of the ship pointed out where his daughters had drowned. He then wrote the song we know as “It is Well with My Soul.”
Even in the midst of tragedy, Horatio Spafford knew that God was with him. He certainly didn’t understand why God would allow his daughters to be drowned at sea. Yet he knew that God still loved him and was with him.
"Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul."
“Envision His enveloping presence, and learn to say, “I will fear no evil, for You are with me”—even in dark valleys and by hostile seas.” —Robert Morgan, The Red Sea Rules
This week's discussion questions:
Can I challenge you to memorize James 4:8a with me this week?
“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8a
portions of this post are quoted from www.efcbemidji.org
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