I've had a busy last two weeks. In addition to preaching Christmas Eve and Christmas and New Year's Days, both of which were Sundays, I've made several hospital and nursing home visits and preached three funerals. At the most recent of those funerals it occurred to me that I used either Psalm 23 or Psalm 46 at one or the other of every one of those visits and funerals. I read Psalm 46 twice and Psalm 23 the four other times.
It is my practice before any worship service to go over the service out loud sometime that morning. That way I'm not caught by surprise later in speaking words that somehow seem different from when I was reading them silently to myself. It is a good practice, which I think I stumbled on rather than it being something I was taught. There are still occasional surprises, but of a different nature. Such as last Monday morning.
Last Monday I preached a funeral, from Matthew 5:4. As part of the service Psalm 23 was included, and so I read it aloud, for perhaps at least the sixth time in two weeks. In the second part of verse three, David writes:
"He leads me in paths of
for his names sake."
I've inserted the verse above in the layout as used in my Bible. When I read it in worship it comes out like this:
"He leads me in paths of righteousness, for his name's sake."
Psalm 23 gives a powerful image of God as a shepherd, a shepherd who cares for His sheep in all circumstances. This includes providing for the day-to-day needs of the sheep, as well as protecting them in times of danger. For those reasons alone this Psalm is good to read and pray over when people are going through hard times in their lives.
But the part that grabbed my attention Monday morning had to do with being lead in paths of righteousness. I might ordinarily think of something along the lines of, "Yeah God, show me the way to go and I'll come right along behind you." No problem with that. It's good to follow God, and doing so will work out well for me. Right?
Maybe so, but maybe not. Paths of righteousness may not be the way I really want to go. There might be some other way I'd rather go that really isn’t godly at all, but which I seek to enjoy even though I know it’s the wrong path. Or maybe His path is just too hard. Too many rocks and thorns. Sure, I'll follow God but I wish I could do it without stumbling and getting scraped up. Or maybe I follow but I continually tell Him that there is a more direct, easier route. In those cases my following God may be a bit reluctant, to say the least.
Following God's path is good, but only if it leads to my good. Right?
No. Not right. Not at all.
Verse three reminds us that following God isn't about us at all. It's about Him. He leads me, or you, in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Following His paths is about giving honor and glory to Him.
And that is as it should be. He is God and we are not. He leads us in ways that are always for the best, which while being good for us, whether we realize it at the time or not, always shows the world how magnificent He is.
May this new year of 2017 be one in which, day-by-day, you follow God's path, for God's glory. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.