We have been looking at Psalm 23 for our communion meditations. And in the last two weeks we focused on five remarkable things from verse 1. First, that the exalted creator of the universe is willing to take on the humble job of being a shepherd. All that is implied in that contrast between the Almighty and the shepherd is mind-blowing. Second, that He is not simply the Almighty Elohim Creator, but He is also Yahweh, the God in covenant with His creation. The name Yahweh implies a covenant commitment. Third, that this covenant is not only a corporate covenant with everybody in general, but it is a covenant that commits God to caring about each individual sheep — "Yahweh is my shepherd." Fourth, that the word "my" implies a mutual ownership. He not only owns us, but we own Him as our shepherd. And fifth, that if we own the Owner of all things, that we do not lack anything. In Christ we not only have all that we need for life and godliness, but He is working all things together for our good — all things.
You would think that verse 1 alone would make it so easy for us to rest in Him and find delight in Him. But it is sometimes a struggle. Verse 2 says, "He makes me to lie down in green pastures..." This is obviously a beautiful picture of provision — lush meadow grass for the sheep. But it's more than that. When sheep are lying down, they are not eating. And the fact that God has to make us lie down implies that we won't do it on our own. It implies that we are naturally restless and have a hard time obeying the command, "Be still and know that I am God." At least some of us have a hard time. I'm a Martha; I'm not naturally a Mary. I have a hard time being still before the Lord. If I'm not eating, I am running or doing something else. So I want us to think a bit about that phrase, "He makes me to lie down in green pastures."
Growing up in Ethiopia I spent hundreds of hours with the flocks of sheep that my friends had. And we actually had our own small flock of sheep as well. One of the things that I remember is that it was nigh on impossible to get sheep to lie down if they had fear, were hungry, were picked on by other sheep, or had bugs bothering them. Both Douglas McMillan and Phillip Keller mention the same thing with the sheep that they took care of. It took a shepherd to cause the sheep to lie down. And by the way, the lying down shows that they are also stuffed and contented — they've eaten all they want. But there is a lot more to it than that.
Just like chickens have a pecking order, sheep have a butting order, and even the female sheep can sometimes pick on less aggressive sheep. In the last station I was at, my parents had one sheep that was a mean mamma. She was not only restless, but she made everybody else restless too. The others would be lying down and minding their own business, and she would walk up to one of them and stiffen her legs, arch her neck, roll her eyelids back and stomp her feet with a threatening posture right in front of the sheep lying down and make that sheep get up and run off a few yards. Then this sheep would do the same thing to another, and then another until she had the whole flock standing up and anxious. And we had a boy that we hired to take care of the sheep. And he would sometimes have to give the mean sheep a whack on the behind with his stick to get it to quit being so mean. And after it had been wacked a few times, all that the boy had to do was to walk closer and all the other sheep would look up, and this sheep would stop what she was doing. And the interesting thing was that even if this mean sheep didn't lie down, at least the rest of the sheep did when the boy was present. The same was true when our dog Lassie came around. If our shepherd boy was present, the sheep just stared at the dog. But if our shepherd boy was not present, the sheep would stampede at the mere sight of our dog. Sheep that were left to themselves inevitably were distressed sheep.
So this phrase, "He makes me to lie down in green pastures," is not simply a promise of provision. It is that. But it is also a recognition that lying down and resting in God's grace is not easy for us until we have been trained to recognize God's presence and to trust His presence. We tend to find our security in things other than the Good Shepherd. But our security is not in money, or family, or church, or getting all of our work done, or anything else. That phrase implies that God alone can give us the rest that we need. But some of us are like Martha. We are so restless that we have a hard time sitting down for half an hour for devotions. We feel the urgency of work or other agendas and see little need for being a Mary and sitting down at His feet. Concerns about this and that are constantly making us get up and do something. And some of us are actually worse than that — we are not simply restless, but we are also like that mean mama sheep and we want to make sure that everyone else is restless too. We want everyone else to have the same frenetic schedule that we do.
If you are a restless Martha, do three things: First, recognize that God alone can handle those inner feelings that we've got to be doing something. Augustine said, "Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him." We think that the restlessness will only be resolved if we get up and do something. But it is learning communion with God that is the answer. Second, begin the daily habit of having relaxed devotions where communion with God trumps learning or praying. If all you have in devotions is more grazing, you still are not lying down in green pastures; you are grazing in green pastures. Lying down implies that you are no longer eating. It implies that you are content in God's provisions and are now resting and delighting in God's presence. So start the discipline of daily devotions that focuses on communion with God. And third, start the discipline of practicing the presence throughout the day. And may the Lord train your hearts to find their rest in Him. Amen.