”The Lord is my Shepherd…”
Odds are, regardless of your religious background, or lack thereof, you can finish that quote. The Twenty-Third chapter of Psalms is possibly the most well known passage in all of scripture. Its only rival would be John 3:16. While I think both of these passages are as famous as they are for very important spiritual reasons, both of these text fall prey to the unfortunate circumstance of being so “well known” that we often over look revisiting or actually digging into the passages we see every day on coffee mugs, bumper stickers, and crotchet in pillows at our grandparents houses.
In his song/psalm (greatest hit if you will), David is trying to teach us a timeless truth, if we will take the time to heed what the lyricist is saying.
“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…”
(Psalms 23:1-3a, ESV)
The fact that God has to “make me lie down in green pastures,” implies that we do not naturally desire rest, relaxation, being at peace, or simply sitting in silence. Now, I know what you are thinking, we all like to rest, right? My wife and I have two young daughters, when their bedtime comes, my anxiety level reaches its peak. It’s as if I’m saying, “I’ve had all of today that I can handle.” Yet, once we get them into bed, I find various forms of “entertainment” that engage my brain in various functions that I have convinced myself is more relaxing, but in reality, it’s just more chaos. Even our vacations we plan for that well needed “R & R” is typically booked from end to end with events, reservations, and excursions, and how dare we toy with the idea of being without our phones, internet, or social networks.
Most of us do not connect the idea of peace and rest with being completely disconnected and simply being with God. When David says “He leads me beside the still waters,” he is implying that the rest that we all seek inside our souls can only be found when we let God lead us away from everything else and find solace in the “waters of rest” that He alone can take us to. And it is further implied that it’s only by lying in the grass with God, and in that place of rest that God can restore our souls.
Verse 3 continues by saying:
“…He leads me on paths of righteousness…” (ESV)
or elsewhere it is called “the right paths…”
It seems again that David is implying that only when we have submitted to being forced down into rest, led to a place of peace, and allowed our souls to be restored, then and only then can God lead us on the right paths.
There is causation here, yet, it is most common for us to want things in the reverse order. We wake up each morning wanting God to point out all the right paths for us to take. We want God to show us the paths of least resistance, the most successful decisions to make, and which door the best prize lies behind. And while we don’t come out and say it, most of the time we imply to God that if He will do this favor for us, then we will attempt to spend proper time with Him, seeking rest, seeking His kingdom and presence. Sadly when we only seek His assistance, we end up missing out on the assistance and the relationship. This mistake is like second nature to us since the fall, like Adam and Eve we just want to jump to the end results first.
The most interesting part of all of this is how verse 3 is concluded:
“… for His name’s sake.” (ESV)
Take time to process those four words, because the implication here is HUGE!
God, like the good Shepherd in Jesus’ story in Luke 15:3-7, comes looking for us. We don’t have to go and seek Him. He is longing to show us the right paths, even more than we want to know them. He is pleading with us to come lay down with Him in the tall grass of peace, like a father wanting to spend time with his children, He desires to lead us to waters of rest in the midst of our busy lives. And the best part is He desires all of this not because we have desired it, or even deserve it, but he does it because of who He is. God does not love, God is love. God does not do “great,” He is great, and because He is great, He desires to give us what we need. That is why David says “I shall not want.”
Now, this is all well and good, while things are going our way in life. When money is in abundance we find it easier to relax. When no one in our family is sick or going through problems, we can rest. When life is not beating us like a drum it is often easy to feel restored. But what about the other 99% of the time when we are dealing with lack, civil unrest, and death. As we’ve discuss before, we’ve bought into the idea that if we come to Christ, everything will be a walk in the park, or a nap in a green pasture beside a still water, however this is not a reality we can live in, and it is not the promise we are given by God.
What we are promised is something equally as beautiful, if we can catch a glimpse from an eternal prospective. Though we may not be spared from being beat up by life, this great loving God David has told us about, has chosen to walk through those moments with us if we will let Him.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (deep darkness)
I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.”
Not only is God with us, but it is IN those very moments He seeks to use His rod to make us lie down in green pastures. It is IN those times He wants to lead us to restful waters. He knows these are the moments we will need comfort the most. We envision God giving us what we need once things die down. We think He is waiting for us at the end of the race to provide us with a bottle of water and a cool towel, when all along He’s running beside us dousing us with cold water as we go along.
David even says:
“You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.” (Psalms 23:5)
Notice David doesn’t say that God reaches down and kills all of David’s foes, nor does God swoop in and rush David back to safety. What God does is take a moment bent on destruction and turns it on its head. Imagine being faced with a deadly conflict and God showing up to fix us a meal to sit down and to enjoy with Him (and perhaps God would want us to ask our enemies to join us at the table, and through that the conflict would change.) That is what God is longing to do.
I recently picked my oldest daughter up from school on a particularly stormy afternoon. The school had canceled all after school activities due to tornado and hail warnings in our area. While I sat reading in car line, one lightning bolt flashed after the next, and the car rumbled with the resulting thunder claps. When my daughter got to the car, I could see she was in deep panic mode. As we pulled out of the school I began to calm her down about the storm. She nearly burst into tears as she told me that the storm was pretty bad, but that what she was scared off of was that a friend at school had told her about a local man who had killed several women the day before and was being searched for by police in several counties including ours.
I believe my daughters actually words were “Dad I’m scared cause my friend said there was a murderer loose and might come to my school.” Granted, this was a situation that the local authorities and school system were monitoring closely, it probably would have helped my daughter if my wife or I had mentioned it to her in a calm way. Instead, we had not brought it up and this gave one of her first grade school friends the opportunity to give her accurate information about the situation. On the ride home I tried to convince her that everything was going to be ok (little did I know they had found the man in another state while I sat in car line.) But it opened the door for us to talk about the fact that bad things surround us in our world. It is easy to go to church and sing about “keeping our eyes above the waves” because we know that we belong to God. But it is harder to live in that faith when we are being tossed in a figurative tsunami at sea, yet it is as true in that moment as in any other moments of life.
We are waiting for the world to settle down. We are waiting for peace to be had. We are waiting for politicians to work out the problems, or Jesus to split the sky before we can find rest. The fact is God is wanting to give us peace when a murderer is on the lose, when our lives are falling apart, and perhaps if we would let Him have His way, we would live quieter more peaceful lives (you know like the ones we are told about in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 to live.) Then maybe, just maybe, the ones who do not know Christ will see the peace, love, and joy we have even in the midst of conflict, and they will see something they want. Then they will discover like we have (or still are discovering) that it can only be found in and through Jesus Christ.
Grace and Peace to You.