You and I were made to be followers. It is in our DNA.
This is why whether we realize it or not, we are “following” all the time.
We follow people and what they do. We follow patterns of thought and behavior. We follow trends. Even those of us who claim to be “islands,” “free thinkers,” “lone rangers,” we too are followers. We can't help it. It is how we were created.
The question of course is who or what are we following?
At no time in our lives is who or what we are following truly put to the test than when suffering comes. It is in our seasons of real pain, real tears, real hardship that the stability and rootedness, the truthfulness, timelessness, and trustworthiness of who and what we follow is exposed and revealed. For good or bad.
Often, it is in these difficult times that we realize we need to follow someone or something else.
Someone or something better. Bigger. Stronger. More reliable. More trustworthy.
According to Scripture, this someone or something is God Himself. He is the One we were made to follow.
The One who knows everything and is more powerful than anything.
Who else is worthy to be followed? To follow anyone or anything else simply reveals our foolishness. More than that, our sinfulness. It exposes the rebellious heart that each and everyone of us have apart from the mercy and grace of God.
The Lord alone is our trustworthy leader. And He longs to lead us through the darkest valleys of our lives. What a kind and gracious Lord He is!
This is what King David wants us to see in verse 3 of Psalm 23. Look at verses 1-3 with me…
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
In the second part of verse 3 we read, “He leads me…”
In other words, the Lord does not drive me or force me. He does not manipulate or trick me. No, He leads me. And because of the Lord’s character and His deep love for us as His sheep, we can trust His leadership.
According to verse 3, we can trust Him as He leads us along paths of righteousness. Look, we all spend our lives walking on different types of paths. Even in our pain, this is true. There are different types of paths we will choose to walk down. In fact, there are three primary types of paths the Bible says we can take:
Path #1: We can choose wrong paths. These are paths that lead to heartache and more pain. These are paths that lead to separation from God and the abundant life Jesus died to give you. These are paths where sin and selfishness reign. These are paths that lead you away from God and therefore away from hope, away from peace, and away from joy.
Path #2: We can choose paths that appear to be right, but are actually wrong. These are paths that appear right, at least on the surface. But when you actually take the time to pray and discern and get Godly counsel from the Word and from other, more mature believers, you see that these paths are actually paths that lead not to life but to death. As Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
Path #3: We can choose right paths. These are paths that lead to life! Life in God. Life with purpose and joy even in the midst of trials. These are the paths God wants us to be on. These are “paths of righteousness” spoken of in verse 3 of Psalm 23. You see, a path of righteousness is a right path followed in the right way with the right attitude and the right motivation. This is the type of path we were made to walk on. This is the type of path the Lord desires to lead us on.
So, how do we find and stay on the “the paths of righteousness” especially when we are fearful and confused? When we are hurting deeply? When we feel blinded by our pain? There are three places….
#1: We find and stay on the “the paths of righteousness” in God’s Word. As Psalm 119:105 tells us, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
#2: We find and stay on the “the paths of righteousness” through Godly counsel. Proverbs 12:15 reads, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” You must humbly seek the counsel of wise, Godly people you respect and trust.
#3: We find and stay on “the paths of righteousness” by the Spirit of God. In John 16:13, Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” Some people want the Spirit to guide them but not the Word or the counsel of others. This can be dangerously subjective, based more on a feeling, emotion, or a hunch than revealed truth from the Lord. I’ve heard it said that apart from Scripture and the counsel of others, the Spirit doesn’t have much to work with. This is so true.
These three things working together is powerful as we seek paths of righteousness. Pursuing the Word of God, Godly counsel, and the Spirit of God are all essential ingredients to knowing the paths and helping us walk down the paths of righteousness.
Of course, before anything else, walking on the paths of righteousness begins by surrendering our lives to the Lord and giving Him full control. It begins by humbly confessing to the Lord that we are blind to the paths of righteousness apart from Him opening our eyes and making us new creations in Him.
John Piper writes: In order to walk in paths of righteousness we must become new. Otherwise we may try to follow righteousness but will only become hollow formalists—people who try to go through the external motions of righteousness but lack the joy and love and peace that energize and guide the saints. The Word and the Spirit team up to transform the mind, and in that way God leads us in paths of righteousness. He gradually shapes our thinking and molds our emotions, so that when there is no explicit command in the Bible to guide us, we weigh all the considerations with the wisdom and the love of God and are drawn to the path of righteousness.
At this point, we must ask the “why” question. “Why does God desire for us to walk on paths of righteousness? Why does God lead us along paths of righteousness in His Word, through Godly counsel, and by the power of His Spirit?”
David tells us in the last part of verse 3 when he writes, "He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.”
“For His name’s sake.”
In other words, the Lord meets my needs, renews my life, leads me in paths of righteousness, even in the face of pain and suffering, for the sake of His name! For His glory! You see, God wants the world to see who He is and what He is like. In His sovereignty and power, the Lord is working in all things to display His greatness and His glory, for the sake of the lost, and for the joy and blessing of His people, His sheep.
John Piper again nails it here: “God is the beginning and God is the end of all my righteousness. The path of righteousness has His grace as its starting point (for He leads me into it) and it has His glory as its destination (because His leading is for His name’s sake).”
Now, this might be a new concept for you, that God does all things for His glory and that this is right and good! We see this theme all over the Bible.
Let me just share with you a handful of verses where we see this same theme of God doing all things “for His name’s sake” or for “His glory.”
Psalm 106:8 says of God’s deliverance of Israel, “He saved them for His name’s sake, that He might make His mighty power known.”
"Yet he saved them for his name's sake, that he might make known his mighty power" (Ps. 106:8).
"who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name" (Isa. 63:12).
"But I [God] acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself knownto them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt" (Ezek. 20:9).
In Psalm 31:2, David prays, "For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name's sakeyou lead me and guide me."
And in Psalm 79:9 he cries out, "Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name's sake!"
The prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 14:7 says, "Though our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name's sake; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against you."
We could go on and on, but undoubtedly when you study the Bible you will see that this theme of God desiring to be glorified, to be worshipped, to be honored, that His name would be made famous in all of the nations is everywhere. And this is a good and beautiful thing. There is no question, according to Scripture, that this entire world, including you and me, including our joys and our sorrows, our laughter and our tears, our mountain tops and valleys, are meant not just for our good, but ultimately for the glory of God.
This is the heart of David here in Psalm 23. It is in humbly submitting ourselves to the Lord through pursuing the “paths of righteousness” that not only do we find true life and joy and peace, but God receives the glory that He is rightly due!
So, practically, how might understanding this effect the way I approach living day to day? What I think about? What I desire and run after? How I approach my suffering and the suffering of others? Our prayers will change. They will begin to sound more and more like this:
Lord, use me for Your name’s sake.
Lord, make me a humble servant of others for Your name’s sake.
Lord, make me holy for Your name’s sake.
Lord, keep me from evil for Your name’s sake.
Lord, make me a radical lover of people for Your name’s sake.
Lord, make me like You for Your name’s sake.
Because, Lord, I know that my greatest joy and satisfaction is not in doing things and living life for my name’s sake, but for Your name’s sake!
O Lord, by Your grace, make me radically God-centered and God glorifying in all I do.
Even in my suffering.
My life is Yours.