This is possibly the most recognizable psalm in scripture. For all that I hear it often, I do not as often stop to consider what David says and how it applies to me.
The summary of the psalm is that God is David’s Shepherd and all that that implies. The Shepherd looks after the sheep, guides it, and protects it. The sheep’s responsibility is to accept the Shepherd’s care, to follow, and to stay where it can be protected.
As I was reading the first few verses this morning, I had questions.
How do I come to the place where I do not want? Not merely the place where all my needs are supplied, but the place where I have ceased wanting every bauble that the world dangles in front of me.
Why does God have to make me lie down in green pastures? Should I not want to rest in the place where I am provided for?
Why does He have to lead me beside the still waters? Should I not be drawn to them?
And it seemed as though I saw something of a progression.
To come to the place where I do not want requires me to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first and foremost. Paul wrote that he had learned how to abound and suffer lack; to be wealthy and poor; to be loved and mistreated. He had learned these things by seeking God. Along the way, circumstances had changed, but Paul’s pursuit and the God he pursued had not changed. That constant thread of pursuing a fixed goal brought Paul to the place where he could say that he was content with whatever God brought his way. And David had a similar experience. He had been a simple shepherd, then anointed king, then living in the palace with the king and best friend to the king’s son, then pursued into the wilderness where he lived in caves and tents, then into a palace as the king, then back out on the run, and back into the palace. I have often heard that this psalm was written in David’s youth, but I wonder if this is not the sage voice of an aged king looking back on all his experiences and seeing his Shepherd’s rod and staff guiding him the entire way.
I think I need to be made to lie down because life has always been moving at a frenetic pace. Even when the most important things were to take care of crops and livestock so that there would be provision, there was always something that demanded our attention. David knew this well. Shepherding his father’s sheep would have required constant vigilance from him. Living in the palace would have required the same. Likewise living on the run or being the king over the nation – every phase of David’s life required his attention. There is nothing wrong with being attentive and vigilant, but I can get so fixated on vigilance in some aspect of life that other parts of my life suffer. The circumstances of life are going to move quickly and I am going to be tempted to try to keep up. I cannot. There is always one more thing that needs doing, one more task that should be completed, one more project, one more line, one more note, one more … whatever. Sometimes – and my Shepherd knows when these times are – I need to be made to lie down in a good place and rest.
And the same is true of the still waters. I ought to be drawn to them, but there is all the bustle of life; all the roar and spray of the rapids. Years back, I stopped watching television. It was not so much a conscious choice as it was a time consideration. I worked two part time jobs for a while. When one of them became full time, it came with a hefty commute. And there was not enough time to work and commute and watch TV and spend time with my wife. Simple choice. I stopped watching TV. When that source of noise was removed from my life, I noticed things I had not noticed before. The still waters become most attractive when we are near them and can see their charm. When we are near the noise of other waters, it is a simple thing to overlook the still waters and to forfeit the peace they bring.
Jesus said that all who are weary and heavy laden can come to Him and find rest for their souls. He might very well have been echoing what David said in this psalm. I am a sheep in need of a Shepherd. I can choose the Good Shepherd, Who will lead me into His provision and peace. Or I can choose another.
Lord Jesus, thank You for being the Good Shepherd. Thank You that Your offer of rest is open to all who would come to You. Please make me lie down in Your green pastures and lead me beside Your still waters that I would find rest and peace in You.