“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
When I think of the promises in scripture, there’s so many of them we probably couldn’t count them all up. But one of the greatest promises I think you could argue is the promise found in Hebrews 13:5. “…..I will never leave you nor forsake you.” It goes on to say that because of that promise, “So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” So it is a great fear conquering promise. Then the apostle Paul, you can argue, picks up that concept. He doesn’t put it in those terms but in Romans 8 he talks about the love of Jesus, that nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ. Nothing in this life and nothing in the life to come. Not even death; not trials of life; nothing can separate us from Christ’s love. The Lord promises his protecting, caring, loving presence. The apostle Paul found that to be true, didn’t he? In the midst of one of his big trials in life while sitting in a Roman dungeon, listen to what he said in 2 Timothy 4:16. “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me….” So you see that promise coming to its wonderful expression in the life of the apostle Paul. Then you see that in scripture again and again, you find this language, the Lord was with him. That language was also found in the life of Joseph. For example, it was found twice in Genesis 39 (first on the front end of the chapter and then at the very back end). On the front end of that story of Joseph he had just been bought out of slavery by the Egyptian Potiphar who put Joseph in charge of his household and here’s what we read in verse 2. “The Lord was with Joseph and he became a successful man…..” Then we go to the back end of that chapter and Joseph is in prison now. Things have changed radically. Things had started off great. He was successful and now he’s in a prison falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife. So here’s the question. Is God still with him? Of course he is. That’s what the scripture says. We read in verse 23 “The Lord was with him”. So his circumstances radically changed but this does not change, the great constant in the life of all the saints of God, us included, is that God is with us 24/7.
Dr. Alistair Begg, talking about that very passage in Genesis 39 with regard to Joseph said, “Joseph wasn’t protected from his circumstances, he was protected in his circumstances. He was protected by the presence of God.” David picks up that concept in Psalm 23:4. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of the death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.” I believe that is one of the greatest fear conquering promises. The Lord is with us and will protect us. It’s interesting that the very last promise Jesus gives to his disciples is Matthew 28:20 “…..And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
There is a missionary by the name of Allen Gardner. This goes back all the way to 1851. He died at the age of 57. He died of a disease and starvation while serving on an island at the southern tip of South America seeking to evangelize and died there. When they found his body they also found his diary which was close by and it told the story of his hunger, his thirst, his wounds, and his loneliness. But in the very last entry of his journal (and it’s obvious the way that he was writing his hands were struggling to even write legibly) he wrote these words, “I’m overwhelmed with the sense of the goodness of God.” What does that tell us? The Lord was with him. The Lord is with us in the deepest darkest valleys—the valley of the shadow of death.
I think we can say this, brethren that the Lord is with us in special times and special ways. He’s with us always but he can come in special ways and special times and I think Psalm 23 points to the fact that in the midst of suffering that’s often when God draws near to us. That’s when he comes and comforts us, brings things that we have studied maybe learned for years but he brings them to our minds and hearts in a very fresh crystalized fashion. And he often does this as well, he not only draws near to us and manifest his presence when we are in the midst of suffering, but also in times of prayer. That’s the other area where we can say God draws especially near in times of prayer. How do we know that? Well Jesus gave a promise, “For where two or three are gathered in my name,” and I know that doesn’t apply specifically to prayer, but when God’s people gather. Then in James 4:8, this is what he says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” The NIV translates it this way, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” How do we draw near to God? By faith, right? We by faith come near to God. We can have intimacy with God by prayer but by faith. We can reach the ear of God, we can touch the heart of God, and we can move the hand of God when we pray. So God welcomes us into his presence when we pray.