The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul. Psalm 23: 1 – 3 (NRSV)
Psalm 23 is the best-known, best-loved, and not to mention most-memorized of all the Psalms. We read it at funerals to comfort the grieving, at hospital beds to encourage the sick, and to those who have run aground on the discouragements of life. We read it because it is a song of confidence in God. This psalm is called the Shepherds Psalm because it portrays God as a good Shepherd, who cares for his flock. The Psalm is attributed to King David. If anyone was qualified to describe God in this manner, it was David. David had been a shepherd before he became king. So David had a pretty good idea of what a shepherd is like. How often David must have gazed up at the heavens on those star-filled nights while he was out watching over his father’s sheep and pondered the very nature of God! There in the depths of his heart he must have pondered how much God was just like a shepherd. His years of shepherding had taught him a few things, and as he contemplated the shepherd’s work, he found a fitting description of what God does for his people.
There are a number of things David notes in this Psalm. The opening sentence really says all that needs to be said: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” The NIV says, “I shall not be in want,” and the NLT says, “I have everything I need.” Everything that comes after the first sentence is unpacking what the Psalmist means by having everything he needs. We’re already into the summer months, and we’re anticipating time off and vacations and days on the lake or the river, so I believe it’s important to focus on only one aspect of this Psalm today—rest.
We don’t often rest well in this 24/7/365 culture in which we live. Rest is almost a forgotten art, but rest is integral to our human existence. We can’t wind the rubber band tighter and tighter. The tension has to be released, or sooner or later the rubber band will snap. When it snaps it will lead us to a mental failure, a moral failure or severe chronic health conditions. I used to use a lot of Andy Griffith illustrations in my messages. I figured out, however, that younger generations didn’t know who Andy Griffith was. I don’t use them much anymore. Still, there’s one episode of the Andy Griffith Show that illustrates how we live most of our lives. The episode is entitled “Man in a Hurry”
and it’s about a business man whose car breaks down on Sunday. Of course, Wally, the owner of the filling station, isn’t available on Sunday, so Mr. Tucker convinces Gomer to try to fix the car. The man finds it imperative to get to Charlotte. No amount of coaxing will encourage the man to rest, relax, take it easy until Monday morning when Wally will be back and willing to fix his car. He’s a man in a hurry. That desperate need to be on the run was broadcast in 1963—that’s the year I was born, folks. Things have only gotten worse since.
We need rest, and the Psalmist says that’s exactly what the shepherd offers his sheep. “He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.” You know how it is, right? Living life with all these balls juggling in the air—you’ve got the work ball, the family ball, the church ball, the society ball. We run frantically around trying to keep all the balls juggling at the same time. Let’s take a look at one of those balls—the work ball. The average American works 47 hours per week. We can’t wait to get to the weekend, right? But then, we don’t rest because we have to keep the family ball in the air. There’s laundry to be done. The yard needs mowing. The hedges need trimming. The roof needs fixing. The kids have ball games. Juggle, juggle, juggle.
Seriously, don’t think we’re going to wait until we take a vacation to rest. You’ve seen National Lampoon’s Vacation. That’s the way most vacations go. Run from one place to the next trying to take in all the sights we can because our time is limited and we want to get the most bang for the buck. We have to come home and go back to work to rest—most of the time. There’s even a new Vacation movie coming out soon. Unfortunately, I’ve seen the trailer, and there’s no way I would link it on this blog (nor recommend you see the film!).
For me, a beach vacation is one exception that comes to mind. It was at the beach I discovered the value in doing nothing, and I discovered that doing nothing is actually doing something. Resting is not about letting all those balls we juggle drop. Resting is taking the balls and setting them down.
If we’re not resting, that might be a pretty good indication we’re not following the Shepherd. If we go 24/7/365, that’s a pretty good indication we’re not following the Shepherd because the Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters. HE does it. He does it because rest is part of God’s nature. God worked for six days and he rested. God looked on the seventh day and saw that it was “very good.” The work was complete. And God built that rhythm into life. God didn’t need to rest because he was weary from the work. God rested because the creation was complete. It was whole. Yeah, we had to go and mess it up, but we can rest because we are complete in the Shepherd. We find wholeness in our relationship with the shepherd, and I remind you that wholeness is really the definition behind this little thing we call salvation.
Rest comes as a result of contentment. Sheep rest when they are content. Phillip Keller in his great book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, says there are four things that create discontent in sheep: 1) fear, 2) friction, 3) parasites, and 4) hunger. The sheep are able to rest when the shepherd addresses each one of those circumstances. So, what are we afraid of? Afraid of not getting ahead? Afraid of not keeping up with the Joneses? Afraid of death? Where are the places of friction in our lives? Is it work/family balance? Is it in a relationship? What are the parasites that are drawing the life out of us? What are we hungry for? More possessions? We find meaning, purpose and value in life when we depend on the Shepherd, not when we depend upon ourselves.
Most of us aren’t Andy Griffith, and we don’t live in Mayberry. Resting doesn’t come automatically to us. We have to cultivate the art. Let me offer four suggestions:
- Block out time on your calendar to do nothing. It’s not a license to be lazy. It is an intentional disconnect from the distractions, and a time to listen for the Master.
- Don’t take yourself (or your job) too seriously. Some things are serious, but far fewer than we think.
- Laugh every day, out loud, at something—I didn’t say laugh at someone. That can be destructive. But, the wisdom writer of Proverbs says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22)
- When you relax…really relax. Blow it! Enjoy the leisure. Ignore the critics. An unknown alcoholic with AA said, “A relaxed, easy-going person is more attractive than an uptight, rigid person who squeaks when they walk and whines when they talk.” Seriously! Relax!
Rest is part of God’s provision for our lives. As we kick off this summer, it’s a good time to be reminded that rest is part of the “all I need” the Good Shepherd provides. Perhaps that’s our greatest need. Maybe it’s why that’s where David started this greatest song.
Until next time, keep looking up…