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The Pathway to DiscipleshipA YEARLY DEVOTION AND PRAYER JOURNAL
By Johnny Hunt
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Thomas Nelson, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWeek 1—Day 1
God Will Protect You in the Storm
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Psalm 23:1
Psalm 23 has been referred to as "everybody's psalm." It is possible that people from all walks of life have been encouraged or challenged by this passage of Scripture more than any other. It may very well be the most mentioned and memorized passage in the entire Bible. Almost every funeral service I have attended has included this psalm. Some consider it to be the Lord's Prayer of the Old Testament. It is filled with lasting truths God's people can cling to and personalize.
In the very first line, we see "the Lord" in small caps, which signifies that the Hebrew word YHWH, what we understand as the word Yahweh, was used in the original text. The exact meaning of the word is unknown, but many scholars agree that it is derived from the verb "to be." The very fact that our Lord is "He who is" reminds us of His presence in the past, present, and future: He was; He is; He will be. The name signifies the eternality of God.
David said he had the Lord as his Shepherd. I have the Lord as my Shepherd, and He has helped me and guided me through the storms of life. On January 7, 2010, I had prostate cancer surgery. As that day approached, I was amazed at how much encouragement I received from others who had had similar experiences. They shared testimonies of success, healing, and God's faithfulness. In the midst of that dark time, God's presence was so reassuring and sweet.
David said, "I shall not want," which means there will be no lacking of what is needed. The Lord literally provided everything I needed for the uncertain path I had to travel. He caused me "to lie down in green pastures" (Psalm 23:2). These pastures were rich with deeper grass than usual—His Word. As I lay there and prayed, He was faithful to speak to my needy soul. He quieted my soul and kept me from being frightened by the unknown. He was faithful to His name, His character, and His promises. And now I can comfort others going through that same dark valley and assure them of our Good Shepherd's faithfulness. Whatever you are facing today, know that He cares and, most of all, that He is with you.
Lord, encourage me today to take You at Your word and to believe Your promises. In Jesus' powerful name, Amen.
Week 1—Day 2
Let the Shepherd Lead You
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Psalm 23:3
As a shepherd, David knew that if a flock was to flourish and if its owner's name or reputation was to be held in high esteem as a good leader, the sheep had to be continually under the shepherd's meticulous control and guidance. For a shepherd to lead his sheep in the right paths, he needs to be very familiar with the pastures. A good shepherd knows where his flock will thrive and grow, and where the land is barren. As a pastor, I desire to help the Lord's flock feed in the pasture of truth, His Word. I share with the apostle Paul the passionate desire to see the flock mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28, 29).
David said, "He leads me." The Good Shepherd does not drive His sheep; instead, He speaks gently so they will hear Him and follow Him. Jesus said in John 10:3, 4, "The sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." As we follow our Shepherd, His chosen paths bring us most directly to our destination. Simply put: our Shepherd guides us along the correct pathway in our daily walk. The only barrier to enjoying the blessing of being led by the Shepherd is a lack of trust in the Shepherd.
Here is a great truth to ponder: it is not what you choose for Him to bless, but what He blesses as His choice for you. Never forget, He does all He does "for His name's sake." The Good Shepherd cares for the sheep because He loves them unconditionally and wants to maintain His own good name, or reputation, as a faithful shepherd. It is out of loyalty to His own character that He upholds His own name. His reputation is at stake! He proves Himself to be what He declared Himself to be. He is loving and powerful, and He keeps His promises. He desires for us to know Him fully so we may trust Him fully and delight ourselves in Him.
My heavenly Shepherd, it is my prayer that I will trust You in a way that results in straightforward obedience. Thank You for Your leadership and for Your character. In Christ's name, Amen.
Week 1—Day 3
God Is Always Faithful
He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. Psalm 23:2, 3
As you read and reflect on Psalm 23, always remember that the writer considers himself to be a sheep in the Good Shepherd's care. It is as though he has been given the unique opportunity to brag about the benefits of being in His flock. His Shepherd takes great care of him!
A sheep's body is typically composed of about 70 percent water. Water is necessary for the vitality, strength, and vigor of the sheep; without it, the sheep becomes weak. When sheep are thirsty, they become restless and set out in search of water. To see that their needs are met, a shepherd will lead the sheep to the place of "still waters." Sheep are afraid of rushing water; if necessary, a shepherd will dam up a portion of it to create a quiet stream so they can drink in a peaceful place.
Sheep are often raised in very dry climates, and it can be difficult to find fresh water supplies. The sheep usually begin to stir early in the morning in order to find heavy dew on the grass. In my own personal devotional life, there are not many days I drink from a deep well or a running spring; on most days, my Shepherd uses the dew from a few verses of Scripture or a paragraph in my devotional book to quench my soul's thirst. When I am really thirsty for the Word, I will rise well before daylight in order to graze in His rich pastureland—to read His Word. There, the Good Shepherd refreshes my soul.
Undoubtedly, the psalmist could remember times when he wandered away from the flock and found unhealthy sources of water. In his wandering, he could testify to the Good Shepherd's faithfulness to come and find him, and then restore his distressed soul. When you wander, always remember that the Good Shepherd will come looking for you until He finds you. He rescues, refreshes, and restores.
Heavenly Father, I praise You for Your faithfulness. You are so true to Your name, and I am Your benefactor. I am grateful for the refreshment and restoration You provide. Thank You for not giving up on me. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Week 1—Day 4
God Is Our Protector
Yea, 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
David came to learn through years of being led by the Good Shepherd that his security did not lie in his environment, whether "green pastures" or "still waters" (Psalm 23:2), but in his Shepherd. His words in today's verse are, "You are with me."
Many read Psalm 23:4 and immediately think of the grave; however, the word translated as death can also refer to "deep darkness." It seems that if we live long enough we will become acquainted with times of darkness and depression. Sometimes the Lord leads us along these dark paths, where only a ray of light is seen, where the light casts a shadow of His presence within our view.
Sheep have poor vision—they can only see about 20 or 30 feet in front of them—so dark places can be especially difficult to navigate. At times, a shepherd will lead his sheep through narrow, frightening mountain passages. When our Shepherd does this with us, there is a comforting truth we ought to remember: while the path is new and daunting to us, He never leads His sheep to places He has not already traveled. He is very much aware of the dangers. As a result, He is no longer out front leading the flock; He is now beside them, assuring them of His protection and care. Remember, nothing concerns you that does not concern Him.
A shepherd carries a rod and a staff with him. The rod is used for protection from anything and anyone who might seek to harm one of his sheep. The staff is often used to snatch one of his sheep from harm's way. As a result of having the Lord as his Shepherd, the psalmist found comfort in His rod and staff, and said, "I will fear no evil."
Praise Him today that He Himself is our Protector who walks through our valley with us.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your presence. Thank You that when answers aren't enough, there is Jesus. When I don't understand the "dark times," I am grateful that You are here with me. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Week 1—Day 5
Reflection and Prayer
When in your life have you sensed the Lord walking beside you instead of ahead of you? How can you thank Him?
Reflect back on the Shepherd's leading you to green pastures and still waters. Has He ever had to make you lie down?
Week 2—Day 1
Joy in God's Presence
God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight. Ecclesiastes 2:26
Achieve the American dream. Get what's mine. He who has the most toys in the end wins. These are all phrases that describe what many think of as the be-all and end-all of life these days. They represent the idea that the way to true happiness is the accumulation of things, titles, and resources. Sure, we can spend our entire lives working toward these goals and looking for happiness in things that have no eternal value. In the end, however, they will ultimately disappoint.
God presents a different perspective on this topic. His Word says that to those who are good in His sight—those who please Him and have the right perspective—He will give true wisdom, knowledge, and joy. True joy is different than happiness, because happiness is based on circumstances. Happiness is when we say, "Things went my way, so I'm happy." Joy, however, is a choice. It's a state that results from knowing and serving Christ. It's not based on circumstances. Through Christ we can choose joy, even when the circumstances in our life aren't going our way.
Considering today's verse, true wisdom and knowledge appear to be gained through pleasing God. Perhaps one aspect of true wisdom and knowledge is the ability to understand the difference between joy and happiness. Ultimately, the pursuit of happiness based on the accumulation of things or good circumstances will just leave us lacking. May we come to realize that a relationship with Christ and the awesomeness of His presence are what will bring us true joy and fulfillment.
Father, today, I choose joy. I commit to having my focus on You and having passion for You. May everything else short of Your goodness fall away. Lord, today, I serve You. I pray that You will be pleased with my life— may it be a life of worship! I thank You in advance for the wisdom, knowledge, and joy that come from my time with You. Thank You, Lord. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Week 2—Day 2
God as Our Lover
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Song of Solomon 2:4
The world watched a real-life fairy tale when Prince William took a commoner for a wife. Even though she fell short of royal standards, the future king of England chose her. Enough said. He showed her off to the world, brought her into his kingdom, and invited her to share in all his splendor. His act made her official royalty—Kate Middleton became Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge. We can only imagine that her response was naturally one of intense love, thankfulness, and devotion to the man that made her his very own.
The same is true in our relationship with God. His love for us, His pleasure in us, and His willingness to identify with us should naturally intensify our passion for Him and loyalty to Him. He is the One who has called us to Himself. He has chosen us and loves us. He claims us as His own and He wants the world to know. Just the thought of this kind of love should draw us to Him and cause us to feel a complete dedication to Him and desire for Him. We should simply find ourselves helpless to do anything less than truly falling in love with Him. This ought to be our response to His love and it should increasingly intensify because of what He has done for us.
Charles Wesley wrote the words for a great hymn entitled, "Lover of My Soul." The thought of God as our lover might sound a bit strange to some. Yet when you think about it carefully and see it from a fresh perspective, an overwhelming passion for Christ seems to be a reasonable result from the fact that we are His! It is the reality of being so overwhelmed by this kind of grace that we want nothing more than to live for Him, please Him, and adore Him. Verse 3 of Wesley's hymn says, "Thou, O Christ, art all I want, more than all in Thee I find; raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick, and lead the blind. Just and holy is Thy name, I am all unrighteousness; false and full of sin I am; Thou art full of truth and grace."
Father, today I rest in You and Your love for me. I bring nothing into this relationship but sin, yet You still love me. You still choose me and identify me as Your own. My prayer today is that I would be overwhelmed with You and that my response would be a deep love for You, my Savior and heavenly Father. Amen.
Week 2—Day 3
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
His mouth is most sweet, yes, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem! Song of Solomon 5:16
You know those couples you see at a restaurant who are leaning in toward each other? One speaks while the other intently listens. Generally that type of focus is a result of some intense admiration. When you're quite taken with someone, you just can't seem to get enough of what they have to say. You find yourself hanging on their every word.
It is the beloved's words that are sweetest to the female speaker. His words are what she longs for and enjoys. The more she hears those words, the more she comes to say, "This is my love. This is my friend."
It's a similar situation in our relationship with Christ. To keep our love and devotion for our Lord healthy and strong, the lines of communication have to be kept open. The WWII soldier is a great example of this. Before cell phones and e-mail, the man overseas had to write letters to his sweetheart. His words were what assured her of his love and calmed her anxieties. He knew that sending his thoughts home on paper, full of his words of affection for her, would keep her going while he was away. His sentiments made her miss him. And in missing him, she wanted to be with him more and more. The words are what brought them close, even though they were miles apart.
Jesus' words to us are found in the Bible. We call it the Word of God. By spending time with His words, we get to know Him. The more we come to know Him, the more we find that we love Him. In time, we begin to realize that not only has Christ become the greatest love of our lives, He has become, and is, our Friend.
Heavenly Father, I pray today that Your Word will come alive to me. Reveal more of Yourself to me, and in turn, may I grow to love You more and more. Jesus, thank You that You are not only my Savior but also my Friend. Amen.
Excerpted from The Pathway to Discipleship by Johnny Hunt Copyright © 2011 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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