Lying down in Green Pastures
While Sandy and I were in Australia last year, our host Amanda Patch took us to visit a tourist site that let us see how sheep are rounded up, penned, and sheared. It was fun and also very informative. But an old out-of-print book I later happened to read excited me more. It was written by a man named Phillip Keller who once had his own flock, and being a Christian, made the comparisons between sheep and God's people come alive. If you ever can find it, the title is "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23."
When we read Psalm 23, it is so idyllic: "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want." For someone to say that with any conviction, they must truly believe with all their heart that they shall not want. Yet all of us are always wanting something--whether it is success, healing, heart's desires, or a miracle of some sort. Inside of us, is a whirlpool of things we want or desire. Sometimes we pray about them, yet many never pray at all. They just assume that since God knows everything, why pray? The good shepherd is looking out for us, but even a sheep goes "Baa-a-a" when hungry or thirsty or is hurting. What is meant is simply that when we pray we believe, and that settles the matter.
"Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests
be made known unto God..." (Philippians 4:6)
Yesterday, I brought a message about this at our church and it focused on a particular aspect I gleaned from that book. It had to do with the very next sentence of that Psalm, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures." Keller wrote that sheep refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear. Not having been around sheep much, I was not aware of that particular trait, but it leaped out at me like a red light in an intersection.
What does it mean when the psalm tells us that the Lord "maketh us to lie down in green pastures?"
I can picture it for myself: a mattress of soft, green grass, cold shade under some tree, no noisy street traffic or worry from dangers or problems--just peaceful rest! Sometimes that is a shock to my system. The tv might have been blaring when I sit down to this computer and though I was not listening to it at all, it was interfering with my thoughts. What a blessed delicacy to just turn it off! The silence was like a cool shower. You and I, as the sheep of His pasture, were made to lie down in green pastures; to enjoy the rejuvenation of mind and body. Without it, we suffer in both those areas.
But it is fear that keeps a sheep from lying down. There is a lot of tension in the flock; friction among themselves, rivalry and competition, fear of the unknown, just as in the world around us. It is only when the shepherd's presence comes into view that things change. As Keller wrote: "It is the Shepherd's presence that puts an end to all rivalry and fear. In our human relationships, when we become acutely aware of being in the presence of Christ, our foolish, selfish snobbery and rivalry will end. We know He will not allow anything to harm us. It is the humble heart walking quietly and contentedly in the close and intimate companionship of Christ that it can rest and relax, simply glad to lie down and let Him take care of things. When my eyes are on my Master, they are not on those around me or things that may bother me. This is the place of peace."
When we think of ourselves, we naturally focus on our problems, our situations. The things that are going on in our lives. But if they constantly bombard our thoughts, we form a roadway that eventually becomes a rut, and ruts are a problem with sheep too. Those well-worn areas get infested quickly and eventually destroy everything around it. Sheep are notorious for ruining the land, but only if they do not have a good shepherd that does not allow them to stay in one place for a long time. That is why the Shepherd keeps sheep "on the move". The Greek for "sheep" is the word "probaton": something that walks forward.
Remember, fear keeps a sheep from lying down in green pastures. Can't you see how we can easily end up as a sickly, wasted, confused, bitter and worn-out person when fear dominates our thoughts? Despite all the Shepherd's efforts to save us, sheep cannot be made to do something contrary to their nature. It is their decision to trust or not to trust, to lie down in the green pastures provide them, or to wander off where predators await a ready meal.
Let's look at a couple of examples of men who lived in those green pastures:
ABRAHAM: (Hebrews 11:8) "By faith, Abraham when he was called to go out into a place which he should after
receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went."
PAUL: (Acts 20:22) "And now, behold I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall
befall me there.
Here we see two men that had discovered the secret of lying down in a green pasture...in any place, at any time, in any situation. Abraham was leaving everything he knew...going into a strange land and making a new start, simply because God called him to go. Did he pace the floor of his tent in fearful doubts? No.
Paul listened to the Spirit and knew he was to go to Jerusalem, where there was certain danger. Was he frightened? No...he was lying down in a green pasture all the while. Look at what he wrote in Philippians:
"I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know
how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound
and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (4:12-13)
In a nutshell: You and I must learn this lesson well. We cannot say prayers with any kind of faith for answers, unless fear has been eliminated. And the peace we so desire will only come when you and I lie down in green pastures with the knowledge and assurance of the Shepherd's presence and love us. Total peace. Total trust. Fear will drive us to spiritual, mental, and physical exhaustion. The more we think of things to fear, the deeper get the ruts in our lives. As Keller wrote:
"It is the Master in people's lives who makes the difference in their destiny...."
What is your fear tonight? What occupies your mind--right now? Can you truthfully say you could lie down in that green pasture, rest there in complete peace with no thoughts about whether that cancer will kill you, whether you will go bankrupt, whether you will lose your marriage, your job, all these things tormenting your mind? You tried prayer? But did you lie down in the green pasture after having prayed? Remember, you cannot lie in a green pasture as long as fear still dominates your mind.
Perfect love is what casts out fear. We cannot have faith and fear at the same time.
Believe me...after all these years of following my Shepherd, I too never knew where I was going or what would happen to me next. I never felt so naked and weak at times. Fear wanted to take me over...but then I saw Him standing by the green pasture, inviting me to lie down. Took awhile to shake off my fears and simply trust Him. But sure glad I did. For it was there He restored my soul...
MARY ELIZABETH ADAMS