Resting – Sheep and Shepherds
He makes me lie down in green pastures. Psalm 23:2a
Sheep will lie down when they are:
- free from fear
- free from friction (within the flock)
- free of pests (flies, parasites, etc.)
- free from hunger
The shepherd makes it possible for sheep to lie down, to rest, to be quiet, content, and relaxed.
* Free from fear
Sheep are timid and can be panicked so very easily. A jackrabbit can bound before a flock, sending them all into a stampede. Most do not know what they are fleeing, but follow in fright.
- Sheep are quieted and reassured when they actually see their shepherd, knowing he or she is near.
* Free from friction
Sheep, like most animals, have an order of dominance within the flock. Shepherds call this the “butting order.” This may bring tension, rivalry, conflict, even cruelty within the flock. The sheep are always ready to defend their place in that order or against intruders.
- The shepherd’s presence calms them. They tend to forget their contests and discontent. The less aggressive sheep will be more content as well as more restful and calm. Sheep do not need to defend themselves when the shepherd is around.
* Free from pests
Sheep can be tormented by a number of insects and parasites. It is virtually impossible for them to lie down and rest when this occurs. They are shaking their heads, stamping around, always up on their feet.
- A good shepherd is diligent to keep his flock free from these pests. Insect repellents, dips, and other methods of care are most important to the sheep’s health. The shepherd is in and among his flock, keeping a watchful eye for problems. He wants to catch them early so as not to allow them to spread or cause serious disease in the flock. He is there to provide relief.
* Free from hunger
Sheep will remain on their feet as long as they are hungry. They are not content while they search for food.
- David was a shepherd boy before he was a king. He raised his father’s flocks in an arid, barren land. Green pastures of rich foliage needed to be produced in such a place. A shepherd works hard to clear land of rocks and brush. The land is then plowed and prepared for seeds of grass, grain and legumes. Watering the grasses is part of this preparation. The sheep need to be moved from one pasture to another as they will eat the grasses down to stubble, even into the root, if left in one area for too long. When sheep have this land of plenty, they flourish for they fill up quickly and then will lie down to rest and ruminate.
How does our Shepherd, Jesus Christ, guide us into rest?
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8
* Free from fear
We live in a world where anxiety, fear, and stress often knock upon our doors. We can dwell upon these things or we can rest in the Lord. When we are in the midst of those overwhelming feelings, it is truly hard to draw near to the One Who shepherds us. We tend to run without knowing what we run from or stand still while shaking in our boots. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit Who reassures us that Christ is near, has all things under His control. We do not need to do anything but rest in Him.
…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7
“It is the special office work of God’s gracious Spirit to convey this sense of the Christ to our fearful hearts. He comes quietly to reassure us that Christ Himself is aware of our dilemma and deeply involved in it with us.” W. Phillip Keller
* Free from friction
We also can live in friction. We struggle with competition, keeping up with our neighbors, jealousy, hatred, rivalry, covetousness, and discontent. When we are near to our Shepherd, in prayer, in reading His Word, in communion, in love, His Presence takes the discontent, hatred, and all else away. Abiding in the One Who is worthy to be praised removes those feelings because we are praising Him, loving Him, and walking with Him.
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 1 Timothy 6:3-7
And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15
“It is the humble heart walking quietly and contentedly in the close and intimate companionship of Christ that is at rest, that can relax, simply glad to lie down and let the world go by. When my eyes are on my Master they are not on those around me. This is the place of peace.” W. Phillip Keller
* Free from pests
We live with many small irritations, things that “bug” us. They may include disagreements with family members or friends, frustrations in traffic or at work, irritations that keep us awake at night. Our tendency is to hash and rehash things while they keep us restless.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:26-28
We have been given the Holy Spirit for intercession. He is there for us.
“In Scripture He is often symbolized by oil — by that which brings healing and comfort and relief from harsh and abrasive aspects of life. The gracious Holy Spirit makes real in me the very presence of Christ. He brings quietness, serenity, strength and calmness in the face of frustrations and futility.” W. Phillip Keller
Resting in the Shepherd by trusting Him with our cares and concerns is vital.
* Free from hunger
We have been given salvation and life in Christ. He is our Shepherd, the Good Shepherd. We have been given the gift to move from our sin into a life of overcoming victory. Jesus desires a life of abundant joy and contentment for us if we will come to Him. He will provide those green pastures.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6
Jesus said to them, “I am the Bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” John 6:35
“How He works to clear the life of rocks of stoney unbelief. How He tries to tear out the roots of bitterness. He attempts to break up the hard, proud human heart that is set like sun-dried clay. He then sows the seed of His own precious Word, which, if given half a chance to grow, will produce rich crops of contentment and peace. He waters this with the dews and rain of His own presence by the Holy Spirit. He tends and cares and cultivates the life, longing to see it become rich and green and productive.” W. Phillip Keller
Our Good Shepherd prepares and then leads us to the lush green pastures where we can feed on His Word and rest in Him.
Will we follow Him there?
Will we obey His lead?
Father, I pray that this is so. I ask You to open our eyes to the One Who gave His life for us. He is our Shepherd. I pray that we will obediently follow Him to these beautiful pastures of His loving care. I pray that we will feed upon Your Word ravenously. I pray that we will know the feeling of fulfillment so that our time of rest is calm, peaceful, filled with contentment. Thank You, Father, for the words and thoughts of Mr. Keller for he has taught beautifully while Your Word is a fountain of knowledge from You. I am grateful for this pasture. I lie in it more often than not. May I call upon Your Holy Spirit when I stray, finding myself lost. I want to lie in it always. Thank You, Lord, for being my Shepherd. Thank You for Your forgiveness. You are Beautiful to me, Lord Jesus. I pray in Your Holy Name. Amen.
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Photo 2: by Biegun Wschodni https://unsplash.com/photos/vD3L-rN_qNw
Quotes from A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm by W. Phillip Keller
W. Phillip Keller, author of A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm, is due credit for the outline of this post. The 4 points of freedom are from this book.