Morning Exposition – Psalm 23:4

This is my preaching script for a morning exposition that I gave on Tuesday, 22 September for the Cornhill Training Course.

“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. “

Psalm 23:4 (ESV)

But let’s look at the text here. The verse is divided into a couple of phrases and it starts with a fairly bold statement.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,

Whether it is a national lockdown or the preaching of the gospel being considered hate speech, life in this fallen world will necessarily take you through valleys. Even while David was telling us about how good life is if the Lord is your shepherd, it remains true that hardship is coming. What’s interesting is the way that this follows David’s description of being lead down paths of righteousness. Would we feel the same way about the first two verses if we knew those paths were going to lead through great struggle and difficulty?

But it wasn’t just that David was lead through the valley. David faced evil as well! Whether it was Saul or Absalom or the sin in his own heart, he faced it. A king on the run like a fugitive or prey to Saul’s psychosis.

Why could he face these? Where is his confidence? We see it again in our passage.

For you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me

God is with him. David’s confidence isn’t in his ability to handle things but in knowing that even in this trial, through this valley, he is not alone. And it goes further than that, as David comes to the rod and the staff.

There’s a bit of controversy these days about the use of a rod, but here, it’s purpose in the hands of a shepherd is clear. The shepherd would use the rod to count his sheep, it was a way for him to know that they were all there. He knew if one of them was missing or had fallen in need of the rescuing power of the staff. And this was David’s comfort in the midst of his valleys. The people of Israel would have understood this from their national story as well. They would have known how God had guided them through the wilderness, cared for them and saved them.

Our lives may not be marked by time in the actual wilderness, unless you like camping, but we do still experience dark times. We lose our loved ones or our jobs. My wife and I have experienced the pain of miscarriage and estrangement from family. We had to live outside of the UK for a year after my visa was refused last August. A friend of mine remarked at seeing my family hold it together as we worked through being apart for two months only to have to have our reunion in a place that felt truly foreign. But my wife and I have often talked about how it didn’t feel like we were doing the holding, we were being held together. We only made it through because God carried us through.

In the midst of these things, it is possible to be comforted and confident. Why? Because our shepherd is with us. His rod and staff comfort us. Our God knows our state because he lived it through Christ. Jesus walked through the valley of the shadow of death. He feared no evil. He lived his life in complete dependence on his Father. Hebrews 2:10 tells us that he suffered. When God relates to us, it isn’t as a far off power who just watches. He, like a shepherd, lives and dwells with his sheep.

The fact that we experience trials in our lives should not cause us to doubt God’s care for his children but instead to hold to his unchanging hand. The same God who leads us beside still waters is the God who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death.

What about us, here today? What trials may come as we work to grow as Bible teachers and as Christians? Preaching the gospel could become illegal. Or unearthing and contending with the sin that lives inside of us so that we can become more Christ-like. As we do all of this, take heart. Don’t fear. Be confident and comforted because we are not alone in these valleys. Our God is faithful. He is with us. He knows us.

Pray for reopening churches

Scotland has entered phase three of easing lockdown restrictions which means the start of churches gathering again. At the moment, they are still limited to 50 people per gathering and congregational singing is still not permitted. As I’ve shared before, some of these restrictions are very important for the church in Scotland due to congregations tending to be elderly, and so more vulnerable.

Today, join with us in prayer for churches that are beginning to gather again. Though worship will still not feel like it used to, it is good to gather together for prayer and to hear the Word preached. Pray that there would not be a spike in the number of cases. Pray that churches are able to effectively implement all of the practices needed to keep members and congregants safe. Pray that unbelievers who have been tuning into church livestreams would be curious about visiting a church in person.

Pray for schools

Similar to everywhere else in the world right now, Scotland is having to make the decision about whether students will be returning to schools. At the moment, schools in Strathaven and South Lanarkshire are planning on opening again on the 13th of August. This all depends on the decision made by the Scottish Government tomorrow.

Families with kids are going to be our primary mission over the next two years and so we have a vested interest in their health and safety and how we can care for them. Join with us today in prayer for both the Government’s decision about schools opening and for the parents who have to decide whether to send their kids to school or keep them home. It’s a decision that has detractors and extremists on both sides of the argument. Pray that parents in different situations would act with wisdom. Pray for the teachers who are getting ready for schools to open as well. Pray that they would be kept healthy and secure going into the coming months.

Pray for the culture we are entering

It’s an unusual thing to be experiencing but here I am in what is basically complete agreement with Humanism UK.

‘Any new legislation on hate speech concerning religion or belief must be restricted to protecting people as followers of a religion or holders of beliefs, and decidedly not act to protect the religion or belief itself. It is from this starting principle that the Scottish Government should consider its reforms.’

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson

When we moved to Liverpool two years ago, we knew that we were entering into a post-Christian world. But Scotland is a different thing altogether. Though it is a part of the UK, Scotland has its own parliament that is able to make its own laws. And that parliament is far more progressive than the one that governs the whole of the UK.

A law that’s being put forward right now is essentially removing free speech as something possible. And there are ways in which the law could mean that the simple act of preaching of preaching the Bible is considered a hate crime.

Join with us as we pray about the political climate that we are going to be entering in a few weeks. We know from Scripture that we are not guaranteed an easy path and that we are not to seek to be loved by the world. But still, pray that our abilities to go and preach would not be hindered.

Partner with us in prayer

Last week when I said that Owen was doing great, I didn’t really express what “great” looks like. When he and Tracy got home from the hospital, he ran to the bathroom to wash his hands and then proceeded to run around and jump off of everything that he is able to climb onto. Since then, he keeps talking about the man who brought him his lunch at the hospital and last night (Sunday, 26th), he asked if we could go have dinner at the hospital. (Sidenote: Polish hospital food is not like American hospital food.)

We’re so incredibly grateful for everyone’s prayers last week and since we began living the missionary life.

Today, we are asking people to commit to praying for us regularly. Preparing for a new ministry always brings with it the need for financial support but that makes it easy to forget that we desperately need people to be praying for us regularly. Times like last week remind us that we are not fighting a physical battle but a spiritual one. All six of us have had days where we have felt heavily burdened and weighed down as we live this life that God has called us to. Knowing that people are praying for us regularly is a huge encouragement during those times.

The best way to keep in touch and received regular updates and prayer requests is through our newsletter. During the summer it is happening weekly, but the rest of the year it goes out on the first Friday of the month. We would love to share ministry updates and prayer requests to you each month.

If you would like to partner with us in prayer over the work of preaching the gospel in Scotland, sign up using the form below!

Success! You're on the list.

Prayers of gratitude

Thank you to everyone who prayed for Owen and us this week. The operation went well and he’s doing great! Regular prayer updates will be resuming next week. In the mean time, join with us as we thank God for his protection and provision.

Pray for a peace that surpasses all understanding

We are right in the middle of chaos. Chaos because we are moving, chaos because Owen needs to go in for an operation, chaos because we are still living and operating in a country where only one of us can barely speak the language. But in the midst of it, we know that one thing is steady.

Our God is good.

Over the course of the last year, that has been something we have fought hard to hold onto. When we were separated by bureaucracy, when we worked to get set up in Warsaw, and now as we get ready for Owen to go in for his operation tomorrow, we have to fight against fear to remember that we serve a good God.

Today, pray with us as we fight the good fight of the faith. Pray with us as we fight against our own unbelief. Pray as we practice what we preach in front of our children. Pray that we would remember that it is only by God’s grace that we are here and able to press on when everything feels impossible.

An update on Owen and prayer for support

As an update to yesterday, we did find out that Owen’s operation will be happening on Friday morning. Not knowing what was going to be happening with the operation was weighing very heavily on us, but we have received some relief. Because Owen will have to be given general anaesthetic, we were worried about how long Tracy would be allowed to be with him because of the health crisis. The doctor has confirmed that Tracy will be with him when he goes under and will also be with him when he wakes up. After the operation, he will have three hours in recovery and then he’ll be able to come home.

Thank you for praying for us with this. To have this on top of everything else that is currently happening felt a bit like being kicked in the ribs, but God has been gracious and relieved some of our worries.

For today, be praying with us over our finances. Raising support is a hard thing to do at the best of times. Even so, we have seen and continue to see God providing in remarkable ways. Surprise gifts from partner churches and families have been a huge blessing over the last couple of years.

Raising support during a health crisis while already living overseas is proving to be an even harder task. There is a sense in which the stakes feel even higher now. And yet, the very same God who provided for us and brought us overseas in the first place is the God we serve now. Ultimately, we are asking him for provision. So join with us in prayer for this, that the Lord would provide. If you sense that God is calling you to partner with us, let us know! There is no gift too small and we can only do this as God provides through his people.

To begin giving today, just click the button below and you’ll be taken to our missionary page at Converge.

Pray for Owen

Yesterday, I shared that Owen will be having an operation this week. For privacy’s sake, we’re not sharing the details of what the operation is but we do ask you specifically to pray for protection for Owen today.

This evening (CET), Tracy will be taking him for a pre-op consultation. We’re not 100% what will be involved in this but we do know that there will be some Covid-19 preparations. Pray that Owen and Tracy would both be protected and safe from possible infection.

Although the operation is an outpatient procedure, Owen will have to be placed under general anaesthetic. Pray for protection for him through this whole ordeal. He is growing fast, but he is still so small. Pray for our hearts, for us to trust in the Lord and not lean on our own understanding. Pray for swift healing for Owen. Pray for us to not lose heart; this week and next are incredibly overwhelming as we are also moving out of our home.

Pray for us this week

Moving is always stressful. Moving internationally is an order of magnitude above that. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been personally blessed by John Piper’s Solid Joys devotional. It has guided my times of prayer for our family, churches and ministry partners. Recently, the readings have been taken from Piper’s book Future Grace.

Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant.

Psalm 86:16

For this coming week, today’s devotional has been especially helpful. On top of the work of preparing to move, there are people coming to view the apartment we’ve been staying in and we are also doing the work of raising support. Over the weekend, we also learned that Owen will need to have an operation this week. It’s a routine operation for a relatively common issue, but he is still so small and we are battling worry. Over the last year, we have seen too much of the hospital (in June of last year, Owen had pneumonia and was in hospital for that).

This isn’t the prayer update that I had expected to be writing today, but there it is. Today and this week, be praying for Owen’s health and for our stress levels. Pray that we would not lose sight of our God. Pray that we would remember that the God who is capable of turning our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, who is capable of moving world powers in order for his only begotten Son to be born in Bethlehem, who created and sustains the universe is the very same God who we are crying out to when our prayers are weary.