“He leads me in paths of righteousness.” (Psalm 23:3)
Christ gives us rest so that we may have strength to follow Him on righteous paths.
Notice the order. You might think that we rest after the exertions of walking on the right paths. But David tells us first, that God makes us lie down, and then that God leads us in paths of righteousness.
The order is important. Some people have the idea that we must walk the paths of righteousness so that we may rest in Christ. But we never make enough progress on the path of righteousness to reach a place of rest. Rest is God’s gift to us, and we rest in Christ so that we will be able to walk in paths of righteousness.
The Apostle Peter reflects the same order when he writes, “He [Christ] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). The purpose for which Jesus laid down His life is that we will begin to pursue righteous paths. And we do that as forgiven sinners, who know that we have peace with God because Christ bore our sins.
The Apostle Paul reflects the same order in Romans 8 where he tells us that that God has done what the law could not do by sending His Son. “He condemned sin in the flesh” (v3), that is, He dealt with our sins through the crucified flesh of Jesus when he gave His life as the sacrifice for our sins. God made peace through Jesus, and He did this so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (v4). Again, notice the order. Peace with God comes first. Pursuing the right path follows.
What does the right path look like?
Right paths will not be easy
Pastures are not always green, and waters are not always still for God’s flock. David knows that the right path – the path on which the Good Shepherd leads him – will take him through the presence of enemies (v5), and even through the valley of the shadow of death (v4). But even there, he knows that his Shepherd will lead him.
The gospels record more than one occasion when Jesus told His disciples to get into the boat. The disciples obeyed Him, and their obedience led them into a storm (Mark 4:35, Mark 6:45). But it was in the storm that they saw the glory of Jesus and discovered what He can do.
In Psalm 77 we read, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (Psalm 77:19-20).
David is describing what happened when God’s people came to the Red Sea. It seemed that there was no way forward, but God’s way was through the sea.
There will be times when God leads you on a path that seems impossible. You may find yourself asking, how in the world do I move forward from here? God’s way for you may not be beside the waters but through them. And when His path for you is through the great waters, He gives you this promise: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you” (Isaiah 43:2).
God was with His people when they crossed the Red Sea. He was leading them on this path, but His footprints were unseen. There will be times when you find it hard to detect the presence of God. You may find yourself asking ‘Where is God in this? I can’t see Him, I can’t feel His presence. I can’t figure out what He is doing. God’s ways often seem mysterious, but you can be sure of this: When the Lord is your Shepherd, He will lead you. Even when His footprints are unseen.
How will this happen?
Asaph, says to God, You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron (Psalm 77:20). God was not seen at the Red Sea, but Moses and Aaron were, and God led His people by their hand. Wise counsel is a gift from God when we are seeking to discern the right path. The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice (Proverbs 12:15). Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22). Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (Proverbs 19:20).
God gives under-shepherds to you. He puts other believers around you. Seek their wisdom and value their counsel when you are trying to discern the right path. Open your mind to the possibility that God may lead you through them as He led His people through Moses and Aaron. There will be times when the Lord leads you to the right path through people He puts beside you.
The Good Shepherd will move you on
If God has put you in a place where you are enjoying green pastures, it is not likely that you will ever want to leave. But there will come a time when the Good Shepherd moves you on.
When the sheep are put into a field of lush grass, they enjoy a feast. The problem is that they don’t know when to stop. And if sheep are left in a field for too long, they will eat not only the grass, but the roots as well, leaving the field completely barren. So a good shepherd must have a land management plan and, before a field gets over-grazed, he will move the sheep so that he can nourish them somewhere else.
Here is something that all of us will face. God puts you in a place where the grass is green. You are happy in the field, and when the Shepherd moves you on, you won’t want to go. ‘Why can’t I stay here longer? I don’t want this change! I don’t want to leave this field.’
Remember that when the Shepherd moves you on, He is saying to you, ‘This is no longer the place where you will be nourished. I have another place where I will provide for you. There I will feed you. There I will make you lie down. Do not be afraid. This is the right path.’
You may not want to move to the field where the Shepherd leads you. But He will feed you there in a way that your soul would not have been fed if you had stayed where you were before.
So, trust the Shepherd when He moves you on.
There’s an old hymn that says, “In heavenly love abiding, no change my heart shall fear.” When the Lord is your Shepherd, you don’t need to fear change. Where the Shepherd leads is always the right path.
This article is an excerpt of the sermon “He Leads Me” from the series on Psalm 23 titled The Lord Is My Shepherd.