Sunday, April 30, 2006

Psalm 23 - He Makes Me Lie Down in Green Pastures

The LORD is my Shepherd. Because He is my Shepherd I will not be in want. This means that I will not lack in any necessity and the LORD the Shepherd is all I need.

How does the LORD, the Shepherd meet my needs?

  • He makes me lie down in green pastures (rest)

  • He leads me beside quiet waters (refreshment)

  • He restores my soul (revival)

  • He guides me in the paths of righteousness (righteousness)

“He Makes Me Lie Down in Green Pastures” is about the provision of rest. Someone has captured why the concept of rest is attractive to us in the Psalm 23 Antithesis.

PSALM 23 ANTITHESISThe clock is my dictator, I shall not rest./ It makes me lie down only when exhausted./ It leads me to deep depression./ It hounds my soul./ It leads me in circles of frenzy for activity’s sake./ Even though I run frantically from task to task,/ I will never get it all done,/ For my "ideal" is with me./ Deadlines and my need for approval, they drive me./ They demand performance from me, beyond the limits of my schedule./ They anoint my head with migraines./ My in-basket overflows./ Surely fatigue and time pressure shall follow me all the days of my life,/ And I will dwell in the bonds of frustration forever.(By Marcia K. Hornok, Submitted by Barb Stephens, Fort Collins, CO)

The one thing that we need is exactly what the Shepherd provides, rest. He provides both physical and spiritual rest.

The concept of rest goes all the way back to the beginning of time. Genesis tells us that God worked 6 days and then and then on the seventh day He rested.

Genesis 2:2
And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.

Now, why did God do that? Was it because He was exhausted? Do you picture God out of breath by the seventh day, saying, “Whew! I’ve got to slow down! This is killing me!” No, God is all-powerful.

Exodus 31:17 gives us the reason God rested:

"It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed."

God stopped because He wanted to set an example for us, we all need to stop at times and rest.

Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand. This psalm is not promoting laziness. Remember God worked for six days. It is God’s will that every person be involved in some kind of a meaningful task. Whether that be running a business or running a home. Jesus is our example. No one was more active than He.

In John 5:17, Jesus says, "My Father is always at work...and I too am working."

In fact, there are a number of reasons why we all need to have some meaningful labor.

(1) Labor enables us to provide for our families.

1 Timothy 5:8
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.

It’s God’s design that we provide for our family so that we are not always leaning on someone else, continually looking for others to care for us. Now, obviously if a person can’t provide for their own then the Church family is to share in that responsibility. In fact, one of the main reasons for work is to share with others.

Ephesians 4:28
Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.

But labor helps us provide for our families.

(2) Labor encourages us to feel good about ourselves (it builds self-esteem).

When you put worthwhile effort into your labor it makes you feel good about yourself. One of the surest cures for depression is to get out there and begin to work hard and make oneself useful again.

(3) Labor enlarges our opportunities for achievement.

Generally speaking, the people who succeed in life are the people who know what it is to work hard every day. They arrive on time, give attention to detail and refuse to cut corners.

Marvin Gregory tells the story of a junk dealer who became a millionaire even though he only had an 8th grade education.

Somebody asked him how he was able to make a million dollars in spite of his lack of formal training. He said, "Well, it ain’t hard. I just bought junk for $1 and sold it for $2 and you’d be surprised how quickly that 1% profit adds up." Now, he wasn’t a great mathematician but people can make up for a lot of inadequacies if they’re willing to give 100% everyday.

(4) Labor enhances our Christian testimony.

Quite frankly, if you are lazy, people will have a hard time respecting you. But if you work hard & don’t complain you may have the opportunity to tell someone that you put forth your best because you’re not just working for an employer or a business but for God.

Colossians 3:23
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men;

In order to have the balanced life God wants for us we also must realize that our lives need rest. "Six day Shall you labor... but the 7th day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work..."

Many of us grew up with what is called the "American work ethic." If you’re going to succeed, you must push yourself, drive yourself. And we are such a production orientated people that it is difficult for us to change pace & rest.

Virginia Brazier wrote:

"This is the age of the half-read page; and the quick hash, and the mad dash; the plane hop with a brief stop; the lamp tan in a short span; the big shot in a good spot; the brain strain and the heart pain; and the cat naps til the spring snaps and .... the funs done."

Well, in the middle of this rat race, God says, “I want you to take some time to rest”.

In fact the word “Sabbath” means rest. In Mk 2:27 Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

In other words, God wasn’t arbitrarily saying, "I’m going to force you to take a day off because I want it." No, Sabbath rest was given for our benefit. God designed our bodies, our emotions, & our minds to function most efficiently when we work hard but then balance that with rest.

So when David says that the Shepherd makes us to “lie down in green pastures” he is saying that the Lord wants us to take the appropriate times for rest. As sheep we need it.

Example of Elijah in 1 Kings 19:1-8

Several times in the gospels we are told that Jesus and the disciples took time out for rest (Mark 1:35-37; 6:31-32).

So rest is important to us as His sheep, but there are things that can keep us from lying down in the green pastures.

According to Phillip Keller who wrote, A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm, sheep do not lie down easily. He says: “It is almost impossible for them [sheep] to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met.” There must be a definite sense of freedom from fear, tension, aggravations and hunger or fear, friction, flies and famine.

  • Fear– Because they are timid they must be free from all fear before they will lie down.

  • Friction – Because of the social behavior within a flock sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others in the flock.

  • Flies – If tormented by flies or other parasites they will not lie down.

  • Famine – They will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food.
How does our Shepherd care for us in these four areas?

The Problem of Fear

“As long as there is even the slightest suspicion of danger from dogs, coyotes, cougars, bears or other enemies the sheep stand up ready to flee for their lives. They have little or no means of self-defense. They are helpless, timid, feeble creatures whose only recourse is to run” (Keller, pp. 36).

Two dogs have been known to kill as many as 292 sheep in a single night of unbridled slaughter. However nothing so quiets and calms and reassures the sheep as the presence of the shepherd.

Matthew 28:20b
“and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Keller writes: “In the Christian’s life there is no substitute for the keen awareness that my Shepherd is nearby. There is nothing like Christ’s presence to dispel the fear, the panic, the terror of the unknown” (pp. 37-38).

2 Timothy 1:7
For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.

Power – our Shepherd is all-powerful

Romans 8:31
31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

Love – Our Shepherd loved us with His life

Romans 8:32-37
32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written,
"For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

Discipline (KJV “sound mind”) – Our Shepherd helps us to think properly

Romans 8:38-39
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The problem of Friction

With chickens it is the “pecking order,” with cattle it is the “horning order,” with sheep it is the “butting order.”

Keller says, “Because of this rivalry, tension, and competition for status and self-assertion, there is friction in a flock. The sheep cannot lie down and rest in contentment. Always they must stand up and defend their rights…” (pp. 39-40).

See Ezekiel 34:15-22

Keller, “Whenever I came into view and my presence attracted their attention, the sheep quickly forgot their foolish rivalries and stopped their fighting. The shepherd’s presence mad all the difference in their behavior” (pp. 40).

This is the lesson that Jesus was trying to teach the disciples in John 13:1-17; 34-35

The problem of Flies

“Sheep in the summer time can be driven to absolute distraction by nasal flies, bot flies, warble flies and ticks. When tormented by these pests it is literally impossible for them to lie down and rest. Instead they are up on their feet, stamping their legs, shaking their heads, ready to rush off into the bush for relief from the pests” (pp. 43).

Only the diligent care of the owner who keeps a constant lookout for these insects will prevent them from annoying the flock.

  • Applying insect repellent

  • Dipping them for ticks

  • Shelter areas of trees and bushes for refuge

This all takes time and labor and expense to care properly for the flock.

In the Christian flock the sheep experience constant irritations, annoyances, petty frustrations and reoccurring disagreeable experiences. In those times the Shepherd has a great resource at His disposal, the Holy Spirit.

In Scripture the Holy Spirit is often symbolized by oil – which in ancient time was used for soothing, healing and comfort (Psalm 23:5; Luke 10:34; James 5:14)

Isaiah 1:5-6
5 Where will you be stricken again,

As you continue in your rebellion?
The whole head is sick,
And the whole heart is faint.
6 From the sole of the foot even to the head
There is nothing sound in it,
Only bruises, welts, and raw wounds,
Not pressed out or bandaged,
Nor softened with oil.

When we get irritated, frustrated and annoyed, the Holy Spirit…

  • Sprays us with His strong repellent against the satanic insects (Eph. 1:13; 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:22 )

  • Dips us against the tics of the world (1 Cor. 6:11; Gal. 5:16-23; Eph. 5:18ff)

  • Leads us into His shade and protection (Rom. 8:14; 1 John 2:27)
The problem of Famine

Keller says that because many of the great sheep countries of the world are dry, semi-arid areas (including Palestine):

“Green pastures did not happen by chance. Green pastures were the product of tremendous labor, time, and skill in land use. Green pastures were the result of clearing rough, rocky land; of tearing out brush and roots and stumps; of deep plowing and careful soil preparation; of seeding and planting special grains and legumes; of irrigating with water and husbanding with care the crops of forage that would feed the flocks.” pp. 45

In other words, the shepherds had a lot of work to do.

Green pastures were important to raising healthy sheep.

“When lambs are maturing and the ewes need green, succulent feed for a heavy milk flow, there is no substitute for good pasturage.”

There is nothing that brings more pleasure to the shepherd than to see his flock well fed lying down and resting in a green pasture ruminating and content.

Our Shepherd has done for us what any good shepherd does.

  • He has cleared our lives of the rocks of stony unbelief

  • He has torn out of our souls the deep rooted shrubs of bitterness

  • He has plowed up the hard as sun-dried clay heart of ours

  • And He has planted there in its place the seed of the word of God

  • He waters the seed with the dew of the Holy Spirit

  • And afterwards, he tends and cares and cultivates the crop into life giving, restful green pastures

Psalm 34:8-10
8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
9 O fear the LORD, you His saints; for to those who fear Him, there is no want.
10 The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing.

The role of under-shepherds

As under-shepherds, Pastors are expected to feed His flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2; Ezek. 34:1-10; John 21:15-17). The food for the soul is the word of God (Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:2)

“There is nothing scorched, dry or parched about our Shepherd’s provision; it is all green, fresh, and tender.”

There is one last point I want to make. According to Mark A. Tabb

“Stopping to rest isn’t a sheep decision in the twenty-third Psalm. The shepherd forces them down. He knows what is best for them. He knows they need to rest.”

Phillip Keller writes,

“Often they [sheep] will be grazing in the field and the cry of a child or the shout of a wolf or some disturbance will come and they will begin to run back and forth across the pasture, round and round in circles, wearing themselves out. The shepherd knows that they have a long journey ahead of them and can’t expend their energy this way. So, he will move into the flock and take each sheep by the scruff of the neck and he will force it to lie down until he quiets it, and then another and another until the entire flock is at rest. He literally moves into the midst of the flock and causes his sheep to lie down in the pastures.”
Has the Shepherd ever done that for you? Sometimes maybe through sickness or some event out of your control, He forces you to rest? To take a new look at your life and your habits? Maybe it’s as simple as hearing a sermon, maybe it’s a physical injury slowing you way down.

Whatever it may be, Jesus can give you a rest of soul, a rest of spirit. When you come to trust the Shepherd completely you discover that no matter what happens to you externally, internally you can have rest. Ultimately, the rest here is a SPIRITUAL REST (Hebrews 4:1-11; Matthew 11:28-30).

No comments: