“GREEN PASTURES, STILL WATERS: THE PEACEFUL LIFE”
“He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.” Psalm 23:2
The young man sat in the pastor’s study looking at the minister and said, “I am here, you know, simply to please my mother.” “Yes, she spoke to me about this,” the minister said. “It won’t make any difference what you say,” the young man said. “I’ve read all the books, I’ve heard all the arguments, and I still do not believe.” “You need something else,” the pastor said. “You do not need an intellectual argument. You do not need to read the great intellectual approaches to the faith. What you need is to experience God for yourself.”
I’m convinced that is what most of our world is looking for today. In the midst of their rebellion against the faith there is the feeling inwardly, “If only I could experience God. If only I could encounter Him. If only He would touch me.”
We are living in a time that is bone-chilling in its defiance of God. We come to church and say, “I do believe in God.” But at the same time many of us are practical atheists in that we keep God out of our lives in the detailed and practical approaches to things that concern us. So, on the other hand, one may say, “I am a believer,” on the other hand one may be a practical atheist, keeping God out of life. What the minister said to the young man is, “What you need, young man, is to experience God for yourself.” The 23rd Psalm is the statement of a man who experienced God for himself. It is not essentially about sheep. The sheep are simply the vehicle to say, “I am like the sheep and God is a like the shepherd. Therefore, I have experienced God and He relates to me like a shepherd to the sheep.” There are two beautiful pictures in this verse of how God relates to us. He gives us the two things necessary for life: food and water. To give us food,
First, is the picture of the shepherd relating to individual sheep in the flock. The author of the psalm is saying, “I have experienced God for myself.” It makes little sense to say that the sum total of my faith is a set of beliefs. But that is all that some people have. You can have a systematic theology without a personal experience with God. You can believe all the right things and be wrong.
Notice how personal it can be: “He makes me.” How so? I am enabled to take God’s word and apply it to my life, to perceive its truth, and to experience God speaking to me as the Holy Spirit opens its truth to my mind. Take Romans 8:28 for example: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Fact, it is written in the Book. That doesn’t do me one bit of good unless I can apply it to my life. You see, it is the Holy Spirit in me that says, “This verse is for you today.” I can apply that to whatever the situation is. All of us have before us situations that God’s word applies to - from insignificant things to the great moving courses in our lives.
I was reading one of Catherine Marshall’s books. She said, “I learned to apply this verse – ‘In all things give thanks’ – to my life. It seemed silly when I first started it. The car had broken down, the refrigerator wasn’t working anymore, some bills came due that I didn’t have enough money to pay at the time, some publishing things were up in the air, and I came across that verse and I took it and said, OK, Lord, today I’m going to do what that verse says. I am going to give thanks in all things. As I started giving thanks for all the frustrations that were bugging me, God gave me an understanding of the frustrations that enabled me to face them.” Try that for yourself. “He makes me.” This is the picture of the Shepherd relating to the sheep. I am at peace with God. I am not fighting God. I’m not holding my fist up in God’s face. I’m not defying God and saying, “Why did You allow this to happen? Why did you not step in and stop it?” This is a beautiful picture of God giving us peace one at a time. This is Green Pastures – taking spiritual food for daily strength.
Philip Keller in his book, “A Shepherd Looks At The 23rd Psalm” says that there are four reasons why a sheep will not lie down. First, a sheep will not lie down unless it is free from friction in the flock. A sheep is a social animal and peace has to be maintained. Do you find it hard to sleep when there is tension in your home? It is particularly hard to sleep when there is tension in the church flock.
Another reason sheep will not lie down is that insect pests are bothering them. In the summer when pests are more numerous, the shepherd anoints the heads of the sheep with oil to keep off the pests. He anoints each one, individually. I suppose one of the greatest afflictions in life is restlessness – never being able to be satisfied. One shepherd that I read about said that he had a sheep that was constantly restless. This sheep caused others in the flock to be restless. This sheep was always standing at the fence looking through to the greener grass on the other side and would eventually find a way to get under the fence and into the next field. He said, “Finally, in order to stop the restlessness of that sheep, we had to take her away from the flock and slay her. She was one of the most beautiful, one of the finest sheep that I had, but she could never be satisfied.”
This Psalm is a statement of a person who has said, “I have encountered God. He has made peace with me and therefore, I am able to make peace with others.” We as Christians ought to always endeavor to be at peace with others. Of course, there are some people that you just don’t like. They just rub you wrong and irritate you, but the love of God in your heart keeps you from hating them. Think of that person just now who causes friction and conflict with you and allow the Lord to help you loved him.
Another reason the sheep will not lie down is because they are fearful. That is very like us isn’t it? The sheep is fearful of the predator that might come – the wolf or the wild dog. Yet when the shepherd stands there in his authoritative presence, peace comes. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”
The fourth reason the sheep will not lie down is because of hunger. The green pastures are filled with nutrients for the soul. With the Bible in your hand, you can walk across the expanse of green pastures prepared just for you. Ezekiel 34 is one of the great Shepherd chapters of the Old Testament. Listen to this from verses 14-18: “I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel. There they will lie down in good grazing ground, and they will feed on enriched pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost and bring back -the scattered, bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy, I will feed them with judgment. And as for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God, behold I will judge between one sheep and another between the Rams and the male goats. Is it too slight a thing for you that you should feed in the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pastures? or that you should drink of the clear waters that you must foul the rest with your feet?”
To give us water:
A sheep is afraid of running water because of the heavy, wool coat. It would be like you getting into a river with an overcoat on. When it comes to the streams to drink, a sheep will find a place where the current is not swift. We cannot be at peace when there is the danger of a swift torrent before us.
Our Shepherd leads us to the still waters so we can safely drink and satisfy our spiritual thirst. You remember Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and he would have given you living water… Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:10, 14). It is amazing how God leads us to still waters and gives us peace.
Dr. Roy Pilkington was a research biologist. Through some mixup in his hotel plans, he had to stay at a different hotel. And when he got there, the receptionist was pale, gaunt, and fearful in her eyes. He went on and gave an advanced lecture on biology and came back that night. As he walked into the hotel, he overheard the receptionist talking with some other travelers. They were discussing the subject of suicide and thinking him to be a medical doctor said, “Dr. Pilkington is death by gas… If you turn on the gas in your room… Is that a very painful death? And then she said, “What is a lethal dose of aspirin if there was such a dose, how much would it take?” He went up to his room and began to think about the questions they had asked him. In the middle of the night he got up, put on his robe and ran down four flights of stairs to the reception desk and said to her, “You must tell me why you want to take your life.” And she said, “My father became blind at age 43 and died. I am now age 43 and the doctor has told me that this disease is inherited, and I will receive it also. I just cannot see myself getting old and being blind. Therefore, I want to end it now.” It just so happened that the research that Dr. Pilkington was doing was on diseases of the eye. He said to her, “Your disease is not hereditary, and you will not get it just because your father had it.” He went on to assure her and she said, “Thank you so much. I can now rest. Ever since my doctor told me I would get that I disease, I have been praying for God to show me a way to deal with this and He sent you.”
Dr. Pilkington went back to his room and began to think through the whole experience.” My hotel reservations at the other hotel were messed up, so I came here. I came in at the time that she was talking about her need. For the last several months I have been working on this very issue of diseases of the eye. I am hereby divine appointment.”
In the life of this lady, there was a raging torrent, but God led her to the still waters.
The peaceful life means: I am at peace with God. I am at peace with myself. I am at peace with others. Now, I can lie down in the green pastures and drink from the still waters. Thanks to the Shepherd, I am at peace!
Praise to His Glorious Name!