He Makes Me Lie Down in Green Pastures
My children’s Bible had a picture of a shepherd reclining against a tree and his sheep laying in lush grass all around. It is what I think of when I recite Psalm 23. I think I developed this idea that sheep lay around a lot, but according to W. Phillip Keller, who is himself a shepherd, sheep cannot be made to lie down unless four requirements are met.
Requirement 1: They must be free from all fear.
Sheep can be skittish, and if one is alarmed the entire heard can go running. A pregnant ewe that is spooked will miscarry her lamb. Fear is a serious thing among sheep, so a shepherd tries to shelter them from becoming frightened by predators and sudden sounds. If there is the least amount of anxiety, they cannot lie down to rest; yet, nothing calms and reassures them like the presence of the shepherd in the field. They trust His care.
This world is fraught with anxiety and fear. “What if’s” keep us from being effective in the here and now, and since March we have truly been living in a pandemic of fear. The media and some local governments are telling the public that Covid-19 is an ominous threat that should keep them in a heightened awareness of impending doom. There is no rest where fear lives.
Do we remember that the Shepherd is with us and He is in control? David said,
“in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”Psalm 139:16
Before Jesus was arrested, he predicted that his disciples would be scattered to their own homes and leave him. He was not worried about this because he said that his Father would always be with him. Jesus told them, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
True peace does not come from the absence of storms, but from remembering to remember that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us.
His peace is our peace when we are willing to embrace it.
Requirement 2: They must be free from tension.
There cannot be any conflict with other sheep. When we had goats, I discovered the meaning of the term “butt-head.” We had one goat who was a problem from day one. We quickly learned never to enter the barnyard without looking both ways. Sophie would take advantage of any opportunity to butt anyone. She was contrary and sulky, and not even the other animals felt peace when she was around. A shepherd puts a renegade in its place.
Have you ever lay in bed at night remembering a conflict, rehearsing a rebuttal, or wishing you had only responded to someone differently? Conflict prevents rest, and while we cannot control how other people receive us, we do have control over how we conduct ourselves and receive others. Jesus gave us a key when he said to fear God and not man. Loving God with all of our hearts will lead us to act in ways that please Him, and as long as our eyes are on Him we will not worry about the approval of others. Remembering to forget what should be forgotten brings peace.
Requirement 3: They must be free of aggravations.
There can be no flies or parasites or other irritants that prevent relaxation. Keller explains how modern shepherds watch the behavior of their flock to spot problems, and how they spare no expense to treat the sheep to keep things that “bug” them away. They are careful to lead the sheep to places where they can find trees or bushes to hide from tormenters.
God knows us. The perfect shepherd knows what “bugs” us. He invites us to bring our problems, irritations, and overwhelm to Him, and He takes over for us. Knowing that we have placed it in His capable hands (and leaving it there) brings us peace and rest.
Requirement 4: They must be free of hunger.
Sheep will not lie down if they feel the need to eat.
Keller explains that the area where David would have tended his father’s sheep was dry and brown. In order for a shepherd to give his sheep lush pastures, he cleared the land of rocks, stumps and brush. Then he prepared the soil and planted grains and legumes that would fatten the sheep and provide the nutrients necessary for heavy milk flow.
When God brought Israel into a land “flowing with milk and honey”, he brought them into a land of rich pastures that kept the herd animals flowing in milk and provided pollinating bees what they needed to flow in honey.
God’s provision is always extravagant.
He has a promised land for each of us. A place where our hearts experience the freedom of resting in His presence, and where we flourish with gain and contentment from the provision He has for our spirits.
When we are free of fear, aggravations, conflict and hunger, we can also say, “He makes me lie down in green pastures…” and we can enjoy peaceful rest in the presence of our Savior.
Teach your children to “be still” in the Lord. Model it. Show them how to take their fears, frustrations, conflicts and cravings to the Lord, and tell them how God answers you. Repeat your testimony over and over…
Lord, let the change that needs to begin, begin with me.
Keller, W. Phillip. A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007. Print.