Fresh – The Prayer For Living Not Dying

Our new series at Gateway Church in Austin focuses on prayer as we kick off the year with our Pray First Initiative.

Step into a brand-new year with our upcoming series, “Fresh”. Just as many of us aim for healthier choices in January, we’re exploring various prayers from the Bible as revitalizing “recipes” for a transformed life.

Each prayer serves as a distinct ingredient in our spiritual journey, offering the reality of forgiveness, renewal, strength, and guidance. Embracing the desire for a fresh start, we’ll unpack these prayers, each one a potent tool for igniting change within.

Join us in January for an exploration of these spiritual “meals” that go beyond mere words, shaping and infusing our lives with purpose and vitality. Together, let’s discover the transformative power of prayer and embark on a journey towards an enriched life.

Prayer is understanding God cares deeply about you and your needs.

Discussion Questions:

Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

DIGGING DEEPER

Message Video:

Message Notes by Kenny Green:

Big Idea: Prayer is understanding God cares deeply about you and your needs.

One of the greatest obstacles of trusting God is our misperception of who He is.

I didn’t grow up reading the Bible… Like many of you, my perception of God was mostly formed by other influences. (Some positive… and others, not so much). I grew up going to church with my family so I was certainly hearing about God… at home, Sunday School, VBS, middle and high school youth groups… you name it.

If the doors were open at church, we were there… and I can look back on those times and see how certain people were intentionally shaping my view of God.

What I didn’t realize was just how much my relationship with my dad… and how I saw him, shaped my view of God when I was younger… which is so interesting to me! 

It’s interesting because, of all the great memories I have of my dad, none of them are really all-that spiritual… and yet, again… as a young man, my view of God and how I related to my Heavenly Father was greatly formed by how I saw my dad.

For example

  • My dad loved my mom and my brothers like crazy and worked super hard to provide for us… I’ve always seen God the same.
  • When we were on vacation, my dad had an incredible sense of humor… I’ve always assumed God does too.
  • My dad was strong and brave, we never had a doubt that he would throw himself in harm’s-way for his family… Not coincidentally, I’ve always seen God as powerful and as a protector, as someone who would even lay down his own life for those he loves.

At the same time… 

  • My dad was very anxious and stressed-out… I figured God was too.
  • My dad had a short temper and was always working… I always believed God loved me and would be there in the “big stuff”, but I always assumed God was more angry than loving and had bigger problems to handle than my feelings or the details of life.

See, without even realizing it was happening I was viewing my Heavenly Father through the lens of my earthly father. 

Now, over the last couple decades I’ve learned so much about how common this is for most people. In John Bishop’s book, God Distorted, the author says…

The ways your father behaved toward you—what he said to you, how he treated you, everything he did and didn’t do—had an impact on you in some way. Depending on how you were treated, mistreated, or just plain ignored, you have come up with your own ideas of what a father is like. Because of this, I am quite certain that how you see and perceive your heavenly Father, God, has also been impacted—distorted even—by your relationship with your earthly dad.

John Bishop in God Distorted

Now… I have some great news… We’re NOT going to spend the next 30 minutes talking about our dads… that’s not what this message is really about… 

so let’s all take a big deep breath together.   

My heart for today is that we would all be better equipped to know God intimately and trust Him completely. 

That’s gonna begin with an understanding that there are a number of things that can and probably have distorted our view of God, over the course of our lives.

So, today we’re going to engage with prayer and with Scripture to get a really clear view of God because…  

One of the greatest obstacles to knowing God intimately and trusting Him completely is our misperception of who He is.  

We’re going to take a FRESH look at what are arguably the most recognizable words in all of scripture. Psalm 23 

  • Some of you may have memorized these words as a kid.
  • If you’ve attended many funerals… or seen portrayals of funerals on TV or in movies… you’ve probably heard a pastor or priest read from Psalm 23.
  • It’s popularity over time is no surprise because the words are beautiful.

The only problem with the 23rd Psalm… it’s probably too familiar to many of us.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,he leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
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.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
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 NIV

So how does praying David’s words in Psalm 23 help us know & trust God more?

1. Contentment is found in the Shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. – Psalm 23:1 NIV

What an incredible opening line! David rightly declares the reign and LORDship of God before making it very personal… THE LORD is MY shepherd. Interestingly, this is the 1st time the word shepherd is used in the Psalms.

It makes sense that David would be the one to introduce “shepherd” into the Psalms. David was a shepherd and he smelled like sheep. In the 23rd Psalm, David is using the most intimate metaphor for Yahweh, up to this point. The LORD is usually referred to as a more distant king, deliverer, shield… etc. Whereas the shepherd lives with his flock and is everything to them as a guide, physician, protector, etc..

We can come to the Shepherd in times of…

  • refreshment & a need for rest 
  • confusion & fear
  • attack

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing… or, I love The Passion Translation

Yahweh is my best friend and my shepherd. I always have more than enough

This is not prayer complacency… but instead it declares contentment. It’s not saying, “I’m never going to want anything” …but that I know that my needs and the longings of my soul are met in communion with God. He’s not some distant rock or shield… he’s living with me as my guide, physician & protector… He’s intimately connected to my well-being… why?

He’s my Shepherd

It’s so important for us to understand that we can come to our Shepherd in times when we need rest & refreshment because… 

2. The Shepherd’s leadership brings peace.

The Lord is my shepherd… He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. – Psalm 23:1-2 NIV

This prayer reminds us that sometimes God will institute rest for us… that He’ll draw us into rest that we wouldn’t necessarily choose on our own.

  • In the midst of self-imposed busyness and anxious striving… 

When I pause to pray and submit myself to the Spirit of God, He reminds me that I am not in control.  He makes me lie down.

  • In the dryness that often comes from my lack of spiritual discipline or in the chaos and the noise that I so often choose for myself…

Pausing to pray engages me with the Prince of Peace. 

He leads me beside quiet waters.

He’s my shepherd… He’s my best friend… and He knows what I need and what actually fills my soul & refreshes my spirit. So I can trust Him.

He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:3 NIV

If we ask… God will give us moment-by-moment direction in our lives because we are intimately connected to His Name & His Character. It’s amazing… God doesn’t owe us anything and yet He loves to prove His Integrity & Faithfulness in our lives.

He opens before me the right path and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness so that I can bring honor to his name. – Psalm 23:3 TPT

That doesn’t mean that we won’t walk through dark or trying times… but His promise is to be with us and to guide us.

If you’re in need of rest… or guidance… or soul refreshment… put Psalm 23 into your mouth and pray with confidence because He can be trusted!

It’s also important for us to come to our Shepherd in times of confusion & fear because…  

3. Prayer is where God’s omnipotence meets my incompetence.

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.

Some translations refer to the darkness as the shadow of death because the darkness feels all-consuming. Crazy thing about darkness… is just how disorienting it can be.

When you turn-off the lights in your room, you find yourself groping around and having to move differently. All-of-a-sudden, something that seemed familiar, feels totally foreign.

  • Darkness distorts our vision and how we see things… but prayer is a place where we can vent our souls to a God who sees everything.
  • After a while darkness can bring discouragement & even despair… but in prayer I engage with MY Shepherd… and in His Presence my heart is filled with courage because I’m reminded that when I trust my Shepherd with LORDship over my life, nothing else can rule over me!

Even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have!Psalm 23:4 TPT 

Perhaps my favorite reminder from Psalm 23 is that we can come to our Shepherd in times of attack… and our Shepherd is also The King.  

4. In His Presence I’m reminded of who I really am.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. – Psalm 23:5 NIV

The Table

It seems to me that David is shifting from one familiar metaphor (a shepherd) to another personification that would also be familiar… a king. David says, the King prepares a banqueting table for us to eat and fellowship together… but He does so in the presence of my enemies. Anointing was a distinction for guests of honor in a feast… yet He anoints my head with oil right in front of my enemies.

I love the imagery God shows me every time I read this verse in Psalm 23. I picture a banqueting table set in the King’s dining room… a feast where it’s just me and my King eating and drinking together. The dining room walls have many window openings that remind me that we are not alone. The place is actually surrounded by my enemies, lurking out in the darkness and peering through the windows… why? Because they’re still looking for a fight.

Question: At what point in the battle does the King typically prepare a feast around His banqueting table?

Answer: In victory… of course.

Even in the times of deepest darkness, surrounded by my enemies who wish to destroy me. God sets a table fellowship for himself and for me … to celebrate the victory He has already had in my life… and that banqueting table does 2 very important things…

  1. It draws my attention away from always focusing too much on my enemies… and brings me back into the contentment, the rest, the peace and the security I find only in fellowship with Jesus, my King. 
  2. It’s not that it makes darkness disappear or eliminates opposition or battles from my life. It’s that it draws the attention of evil and enemies to my fellowship with Jesus. It reminds them of what they already know… 

I am His, and He is mine.

As followers of Jesus, we have the benefit of knowing the full story.

We can flash-forward from David writing Psalm 23 to Jesus meeting with His disciples on the night He was betrayed… knowing that even someone who was going to betray him is sitting in that room. 

What an incredible thing that Jesus is modeling for us… that communion (The LORD’s Supper) is something we can take in the presence of our enemies.

In fact, it has the power to turn enemies into neighbors and even friends.

This is all because the sacrificial love of Jesus did that for us.

Romans 5 tells us, When we were enemies Christ died for us. He reconciled us to God and made us family!

We began by saying that this is the first time God is called Shepherd in the Psalms.

I just want to remind you who this Shepherd is.

This Shepherd is Yahweh… He’s our Heavenly Father… but He comes to us in the person of Jesus.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Nothing that I need will be withheld from me… even when I die… all because of the life, death, and resurrection of the Good Shepherd.

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10:9-10, 14-15 NIV

You can know in any and every circumstance… that this Shepherd has become our friend.

Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends

Jesus has embodied that fully! 

Think about it… Christ, on the cross, laying His life down for the sheep has taken judgment on Himself for us so. He has moved our judgment day, from something that was going to happen, to something that has been settled.

The Good Shepherd has come and made us FREE, so that we may have LIFE & have it to the full! 

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 23:6 NIV

I really want you to hold-on to those 2 promises in v6… because they’re not at all vulnerable to election years… to social change… to cultural chaos or anything else.

So often we pass through the worst times in our lives… then we look back and we see powerful examples of how God’s goodness, mercy and love were there with us, every step of the way… because nothing can separate us from the love of God found in Christ Jesus our LORD!

Jesus said to His disciples, In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Jesus has already victoriously overcome the world… and has victoriously defeated sin & death. 

And Jesus Is LORD!

So, if the LORD is MY shepherd and has first place in my life… I have everything I will ever need.

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