"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:" Psalm 23:2a
Have you ever walked barefoot on luscious green grass? It's so soft and very tempting to lay in it. When we read in Psalm 23:2a, we see a key word here; "MAKETH". It's not a suggestion! He wants us to lie down in this green pasture. It makes me think about the times where I have laid in some soft green grass and just looked up at the sky, maybe looking at the clouds and pretty soon… I find myself falling asleep as it's so peaceful and I am content.
As I was working on this painting, and sought God's guidance, I also read a chapter from Philip Keller's book, "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23" on this particular verse. I learned that there are four things that will keep a sheep from lying down. They are anxiousness, struggles within the flock ("butting order"), irritations, and finally hunger. A good shepherd will make sure that their sheep are free from all of these.
The first one is ANXIOUSNESS: Only the shepherd is able to provide a way for the sheep to be free from their fear, aggravations or anxieties. The shepherd needs to be diligent in how he/she takes care of their sheep. Once the sheep sees their shepherd/master, they are able to rest and be content. This can apply to the Christian also. When we allow the worries of this world to cloud our thinking instead of keeping our focus on Christ, we become discontent and restless just as these sheep. Our focus needs to be on Christ, no matter what we are going through because we know that He will take care of us as He has promised in His Word. "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Hebrews 13:5.
When we are faced with the unknown, we have to remember, just as this verse says, He will never leave us. That's the key! We have to remember to keep our eyes on Christ, our Great Shepherd. When we do that, then things don't seem so terrifying and we realize that there is HOPE. We then can rest and have that contentment in Christ alone. "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7 A sound mind means that our minds are at peace. "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety." Psalm 4:8
The second one is STRUGGLES within the flock: The shepherd also needs to be present to prevent the sheep from tension or cruelty from within the flock. Sheep have what's called a "butting order", which is an established order of dominance among the sheep. Usually it is a domineering, arrogant old ewe who wants to boss the other sheep around. She does this by butting and pushing the other sheep away from the best grazing areas or bedding. The fact that this is going on, causes struggles or friction among the flock. When the shepherd is there, they are not so eager to show their bossiness as the shepherd will break it up. The sheep that do not fight for top positions, are content and able to rest.
As Christians we can also get caught up in competing with our fellow brothers and sisters in the LORD. It does not always have to involve what others have but instead in where we stand in leadership or position with the body of believers. We can become discontent when looking at other believers in what they do in the church or other ministries. Comparing ourselves to others only leads to discontentment. Paul reminds us, "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." Philippians 4:11. When we keep our eyes focused on Christ, our Great Shepherd, and not on those around us, we learn to be content in just Him. We then have PEACE.
The third one is IRRITATIONS: Sheep have to be protected from the annoyances and irritations that come from parasites and flies. Again the shepherd has to be diligent in making sure that their sheep are protected by applying various insect repellents and dipping them so they will be free from ticks or other parasites. If not treated, the to sheep will be tormented by these pests and will not lay down to rest.
In our Christian life, we too will experience irritations or annoyances that can rob us of the joy and peace we have in Christ. It may be a disagreement with a fellow believer or how something was done. As Christ followers, we need to allow Christ, our Great Shepherd, to come help us as He doesn't want us to handle this on our own. He does this through the Holy Spirit. I don't know about you, but if I try to handle situations on my own, I will mess it up for sure. I have to seek His guidance to give me discernment and grace. I need Him to lead me in His ways. When I do that, He truly shows me His MERCY and GRACE. I then can rest in Him.
Finally, the fourth one is HUNGER: Sheep flourish best in green pastures. In order to have that type of pasture, shepherds will have to work hard to get their pasture free from pests and rough terrain by lots of preparation in the soil, planting the seeds and watering. This can even apply to us in our walk with God. Christ clears out the stones of unbelief, tears away the roots of bitterness and just like the hard, clay ground being broken up, He breaks the proud and hard heart of the human. Christ then sows our hearts with His Word. We should desire to know Him in a personal way and we can by being in His Word daily, just as the sheep need to eat that luscious, healthy grass to grow.
In the picture, I have Jesus, the Great Shepherd, anointing the sheep's head with the oil to protect from the pests or irritations. For us as His followers, it is a reminder of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, giving us healing and comfort from the trials in our lives. As you look at Jesus, you will see His shadow which is a cross with the shepherd's crook on top of it. Just like a shepherd guides his sheep with the crook, Jesus guides us by showing us that the only way to salvation is through Him.
The painting also shows that the sheep are able to eat in the pasture due to the luscious green grass and finally the one sheep in the very front is lying down, resting because the Great Shepherd is there to watch over them. What a wonderful reminder to us. We can rest in Him because He is with us. Reading His Word daily fills the "hunger" and He is always there to take care of us and draw us close to Him. I'm glad He makes me lie down in His green pasture for that is when I truly know that “The Shepherd Gives Me Rest”! What about you? Are you finding rest in the Great Shepherd?
*** The book by Phillip Keller, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”, was used as a resource for some of the ideas in this devotional.
In this special blog series, I painted Psalm 23 verse by verse, personalizing the verses from a sheep's devotion to their Great Shepherd. Each picture is painted on a roof slate with acrylic paint. There are a total of 12 blogs when completed.