God gifts us rest, and when we rest, he takes care of the rest.

The overview of the series plays on the word rest – it views rest in two ways:
1. The rest that God gives – relaxation, fun, a Sabbath etc. 
2. The rest of life that continues on when we take time out to rest – responsibilities, expectations, priorities, protection etc.

Rest is something that God gifts us with and that in embracing this gift of rest, we can trust God to continue to provide for us and give us what we need to face the responsibilities that continue in our day to day lives.

When we follow Jesus, he takes care of us like a shepherd cares for his sheep. He is the good shepherd and so we can rely on him completely.

Rest has been a part of the world since its beginning and continues to be explored in the bible time and time again: 
  • God rested on the seventh day
  • God gifts the Hebrews a Sabbath
  • God commands that the Sabbath be remembered
  • Jesus rested, napped, relaxed


We see this concept of God leading us in all seasons and that we can trust him with rest particularly through Psalm 23 – which has been the focal point of the January series.

Psalm 23
A psalm of David.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
    forever.

Psalm 23 reflects the profound and practical relationship between God and His creation. It is a boast – a bold declaration of who it is that leads, guides, protects and cherishes us. It is also a reflection on us as his followers, and a reminder of the posture in which we are to approach our Lord and Saviour.

This Psalm takes a reader through a journey of seasons and recounts a full year of a shepherd’s work and in turn, a sheep’s life. It begins with the home life of the shepherd and sheep – The Lord is my Shepherd – setting the scene of an owner and that under his care. The Shepherd then takes the sheep to a place where every need is provided for; out into green pastures, beside still waters, through the valleys of the mountains and finally, in Summer, to the highlands (the table).

It is the presence of the Shepherd that allows the sheep to remain safe and at peace – it allows them to rest – as they know that when the Shepherd is near, all of their needs are taken care of whether they are in the home, the valley, the mountaintop, they can trust that their welfare is in the best hands, and this gives them rest.

DISCUSSION #1
Key idea: I can trust the Good Shepherd in all areas of my life
Key Verses:
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Themes:
  • I can boast in Jesus as my leader, saviour and present help
  • Jesus in his rightful place as our Shepherd whom we can trust
  • Sometimes we need to review our lives and allow Jesus to lead us to rest
  • Jesus helps us rest when we face challenges in our lives
  • Jesus cares about my wellbeing


Ideas:
  • When the Psalmist writes “The Lord is my shepherd” he is boasting about the greatness of his creator and carer – it is a bold statement declaring his dependence on God.
  • The creator Lord is not simply some distant being, but a shepherd – a close, cherished and diligent protector of his sheep. 
  • The quality of life of the sheep depends on the quality of the shepherd. As God’s creation we are; owned by him, bought at a price, and He continually lays Himself out for us. 
  • Because Jesus is our Shepherd, we have everything we need and can trust that he will provide but, more deeply, it means not to desire any more than what one already has.
  • Sheep need 4 things for them to able to lie down, and so too do we need some things in our lives to help us rest. Jesus provides these for us. They need to be 1) Free of Fear 2) Free of Flies (or pests, things that annoy us), 3) Free of Friction with other 4) Free of the need to Find Food (provision)
  • The very presence of the Shepherd is peace giving to the sheep in His care
  • The good Shepherd knows where the best water is – the best thing that will refresh us, we can trust in him
  • When a sheep falls over, it needs to be restored and refreshed by the shepherd, otherwise it can become stuck on its back and die – that’s why Jesus leaves the 99 to find the 1. There are three reasons a sheep can get stuck this way; 1) they are too fat, 2) they are too comfortable, 3) they are carrying too much wool.  This is similar to our own lives, where we can become too obsessed with consumerism, become too comfortable, and carry too many burdens. At times like these, the Good Shepherd seeks to restore us back to better spiritual health.


Significant Questions:
  • Is God your shepherd? And if so how closely are you following him? Because we can all be a part of the flock but some are closer to the shepherd than others. And if he is, do we boast that he is? We cannot have it both ways, either he is our shepherd or we are of another flock. 
  • Can we be a people that are completely satisfied with the management of our lives by the good shepherd? 
  • Are you living life as though you are satisfied with his management as the shepherd or are you trying to escape his care?
  • Are we allowing him to lead us to these “still waters” or are we trying to find our own cisterns to drink from? 
  • Have we found ourselves too comfortable? 
  • Are we consuming more than we are giving of ourselves? 
  • Are we carrying too many burdens?


Other verses to consider/support:
  • We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

  • "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)


  • Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)


  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6) 


  • On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38)


  • So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Philippians 4:11-12)


  • My people have committed two sins:

They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

  • Why, my soul, are you downcast?

    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:11)

  • For you have delivered me from death

    and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life. (Psalm 56:13)

  • So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12)


DISCUSSION #2
Key idea: No matter what I face, the Good Shepherd is with me now and in the future

Key Verses:
4 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
    forever.

Themes:
  • The significance of Valleys in our lives
  • The authority, discipline, examination and protection of Jesus, symbolism of the rod and staff
  • Jesus goes before us in the valley to prepare a higher place for us (table = higher place)
  • The significance of anointing with oil
  • The confidence we can have in Jesus for our future
  • The legacy we leave when we follow Jesus
  • The importance of sharing the goodness of God with those that do not know him


Ideas:
  • The best way to get to higher ground (also known as a “table”) is to walk through valleys. While valleys can seem dark and dangerous, Jesus walks with us in these seasons. He also goes before us to prepare the table, making sure there is enough food and water, no wolves waiting to attack etc.
  • Mountains are risky places both in ancient Near East and in OT symbolism.  They are places of both encounter with God and also danger. For people in the Ancient Near East mountains are also regarded as the abode of the Gods.  Similarly, in Biblical literature, Mount Sinai, Mount Tabor etc are places where God speaks.  So not necessarily “good places” but definitely places of potential God encounters.
  • The valley of shadows in Psalm 23 is more like the ravine or gully on the slope up and down from the mountain tablelands. It is a wilderness of extreme risk. But there are also restful valleys (often different Hebrew words meaning plain, a lowland wadi or vale).  And these valleys are the places where the sheep discover green grass, cool streams and a place of rest and refreshing in the mild winter.  This type of valley is not explicitly mentioned in Psalm 23 (although it is in Song of Songs eg: lily of the valley) but it is clearly implied.  
  • Much like the Word of God, the “rod” has four uses 1) demonstrates the authority of the shepherd, 2) used to discipline the sheep, 3) used to examine the sheep, 4) used to protect the sheep 
  • The staff is like the Spirit of God, it is symbol of concern and compassion. It is used by Shepherds to 1) draw a certain sheep closer, 2) Guide, 3) show special attention or comfort to a sheep
  • The “table” is another word for mountain top – a symbol of the better seasons of our lives. A shepherd will prepare a mountaintop by 1) surveying the land, 2) clearing the land of harmful foods, 3) keep an eye out for predators, 4) clear the watering holes to ensure there is fresh water.
  • Oil is used to protect Sheep in three ways : 1) Oil stops flies and pests from interfering with sheep’s head, 2) Oil can heal infection, 3) Oil is used to prevent sheep from fighting with another. 
  • The final verses of the Psalm summarise the whole of Psalm 23 and the benefits enjoyed from following the Good Shepherd; we can boldly boast in who God is.
  • The Shepherd has a responsibility to leave the land ready for the sheep that will come after the ones he is currently caring for, so too do we need to think about the legacy we are leaving. 
  • If we are following the good shepherd, goodness and mercy should be the fruit that is seen in our lives – the evidence that follows us as we follow him. 
  • The Christian life is a two-way proposition; we are blessed to bless others. 
  • The term “house” is the family to which the sheep belong to. They are so content that they never want to leave. There is a deep satisfaction with God and following His ways. 


Significant Questions:
  • Do we trust and rely upon God in all seasons of our lives, in both the low seasons (valleys) and the high seasons (the table)?
  • Do we allow God to speak to us about the areas of our lives where he needs to discipline, examine, and protect us?
  • Are we drawing close to the spirit of God and creating room for Him in our lives? Do we need a fresh anointing? 
  • Do we actually feel this way about Christ? Are we happy to boast of His goodness?
  • Do we truly believe that no matter what happens in our lives, goodness and mercy will follow us?
  • Is there evidence of goodness and mercy in your life? Is there an area where you need to extend more mercy either to others or even yourself? 
  • Do I leave blessing where I go? 
  • Do we ever feel restless and dissatisfied with God? Do we need to resubmit to his care and his ways?


Other verses to consider/support:
  • Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)


  • I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)


  • I will take note of you as you pass under my rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. (Ezekiel 20:37)


  • The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)


  • If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:13)


  • Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)


  • Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)


  • Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. (John 10:1-5)


  • This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)


  • How beautiful on the mountains

    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)

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