Psalm 23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters…
The Picturesque Scene
Picture it… Green pastures and quiet waters. I grew up in rural central Pennsylvania, where green pastures and quiet waters were not uncommon. In the desert southwest, where we have stone yards, cactus and hard, parched ground the scene may be difficult to imagine. But what comes to mind for you when you think of green pastures and quiet waters? Peaceful. Serene. Calm. Fertile. Life-giving. Tranquil. REST.
You can’t recite the words of this verse without a big exhale. Doesn’t it sound wonderful, beautiful and restful? The theme of verse 2 is certainly about rest, but not just any rest.
Basic needs of sheep
The basic needs of sheep are quite simple…grass and water. Did you know that sheep are afraid of running water and will only drink from a quiet pool? A good shepherd, particularly in a semi-arid region such as Palestine, would know where to find the rich grassy meadows and the clear still waters. And so he would lead his sheep to a place where they could feed and drink and find restoring rest.
Since we are His sheep, very practically this verse suggests that where He makes us lie down, and where He leads us is where we too can be nourished and enjoy true rest.
The miraculous ‘binky’
My son Ian as a toddler and young boy had two speeds— 80 mph or asleep. Nap time became MY green pasture and still water! Because it was so coveted, I planned my entire life around it. But, as you can probably imagine the transition from 80 mph to lying down in his crib was not always smooth. Until I discovered a magical solution — a plastic pacifier worth it’s weight in pure gold! This seemingly insignificant prop, that we lovingly referred to as a binky, transformed our world!
He makes me
I have known Psalm 23 by heart and it was this time of deeper study that I was halted by the verb in verse 2. “He makes me…” Did you read past it too? That sounds forceful doesn’t it? I’ve always known God to be patient. He extends me a long leash and allows me to screw things up. But this says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
The Way I See it.
The way Jesus my Shepherd makes me lie down is not unlike my strategy as Ian’s mom. I know Ian needs rest, but he would fight me to accept rest. So, as a crafty, but insistent mom, I allowed Ian to enjoy his binky ONLY from inside of his crib. My bribe worked! Ian now looked forward to lying down. Nap time for Ian, consoled by his binky and stuffed rabbit, went from a battlefield to his green pasture and quiet water.
You would never fight rest, would you? (Read my sarcasm!)
At one time or another, every one of us has stretched the capacity of our physical body. We burn the candle at both ends. Or strive for a season pushing hard toward a goal. We say yes when our body screams no. Our body may perform for a long time on insufficient rest. But eventually, even with excessive caffeine, our body will physically break under the pressure and demand rest. In other words, ultimately our body “MAKES US” adjust.
The green pastures and quiet waters mentioned in Psalm 23:2 offer MUCH MORE than just physical rest.
Rest vs. sleep
Rest, is not the same as sleep. The REST we need, soul restoring rest, replenishing, nourishing rest, cannot be found apart from the good Shepherd. That is why verse 3 begins with this promise, “He restores my soul.” More about that next week.
He makes and He leads…
In verse 2, right after He makes me, He also leads me. Most of you who know me or have been subscribed to my blog for even a short time, know that I’m a recovering control freak. Control freaks not only resist being made to do something; they resist being led somewhere.
The illusion of Control
I’ve found that sometimes circumstances can expose my illusion that I have control. Can you relate? Have you ever failed to protect your kid? In spite of eating right and vigilant exercise, has your health ever not cooperated? Has the weather ever derailed your plan?
When Ian was hit by a car, clearly, I had no control. I was grateful though, that even though I was terrified, my good Shepherd made me lie down in green pastures and led be beside still waters, right there in that ICU. Some days anxiety trumped even my good Shepherd’s efforts, but when I did cooperate, I was better for it.
The place isn’t perfect
Picture again the tranquil scene that David writes about in verse 2. He doesn’t mention that its hot and humid and the mosquitoes are biting. The tranquil scene promises restoring rest, not because the place is perfect and problem free. Rather, restoring rest is possible because it’s where the good Shepherd has led you.
In search of rest
If I’m honest, often I try to find rest apart from Him. I seek escape and search for stress-compensating outlets. Comfort, ease and bandaids for my non-restful circumstances entice me and divert my attention. Eventually because these counterfeits can’t deliver, I crash. The green pastures and quiet waters I have found are just a mirage and will never provide the soul restoring rest I long for.
Here is short list of my favorite green pasture and still water imposters.
- a competitive tennis match for some ‘healthy stress relief”
- mindless TV or candy crush
- making cookies and eating too many
The reason for unrest
Beneath the surface, it is our separation from God that exasperates our sense of unrest. Ironically we desire green pastures and quiet waters because we think that is there where life is easiest and most comfortable. It’s there where we escape conflict, disease, and hard stuff. That is not always so! Instead, authentic green pastures and quiet waters are soul restoring because you have followed the good Shepherd there.
Read Psalm 23:2 again. This verse is NOT primarily about a peaceful place. Rather, it is about our acceptance of the authority of the good Shepherd.
This week, as you commit verse 2 to memory, trust your good Shepherd and His authority to make you and lead you.
Jesus, my good Shepherd, Thank you for making me and leading me. Remind me that restoring rest is available, not because the place is perfect, but because you are perfect and have led me there. Help me to trust your guidance and to accept your authority. Amen.
Questions to ponder…
1. Think of a time when you resisted rest? What happened?
2. Consider an instance when you experienced green pastures and quiet waters and it wasn’t a peaceful place or situation?
3. How do you seek rest apart from the good Shepherd?