“The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:1-2)
All my life I had envisioned the “green pastures” in Psalm 23 to look something like the classic Windows wallpaper, “Bliss”. You’re definitely acquainted with it: Rolling hills against a pastoral landscape.
In this world, however, most of us know by now that life isn’t all that simple. Perhaps instead of peace, some of us feel preyed upon in this world. For some of us, the peaceful images of the Psalms have no resonance — our “quiet waters” might look more like a raging river (Psalm 23:2).
Or the “right paths” might be roads we once knew a long time ago, but can no longer find (Psalm 23:3). Certainly, our present struggles and anxieties may feel more real to us than God. And yet in spite of them, He – our great Shepherd – is still greater.
I’m not saying this to trivialise your pain. By greater, I mean that God meets us where we are — but won’t leave us there.
Greater means he leads us for His name’s sake — for His glory (Psalms 23:3). He’s got His eye on greater, higher things whether we’re in good times — or in our darkest valley (Psalms 23:4).
We must believe that God desires to guide us to life — and all we need to do is follow Him.
THE END IN MIND
I do get it. The narrow path is so difficult to find because we live in a culture that has conditioned us to put our heads down in the grind (Matthew 7:14). The Singaporean hustle really looks like a logical way to life. But do you want to finally look up when you are 50 only to realise you’ve missed God’s best for you?
The problem is that the process becomes life itself, and we forget all about the destination. We punched in “paradise” into the GPS early on — but stopped for something cheaper and easier.
In light of worldly wisdom and logic, it’s worth considering what David’s starting point was: I lack nothing.
The problem is that the process becomes life itself, and we forget all about the destination.
He wasn’t kiasu. He didn’t fear lack, like we are so prone to. He didn’t strive. Don’t forget that this was a man who had lived both as king and cave-dwelling fugitive. David understood both gain and pain.
And yet he had peace — true peace — which came only from God.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:2)
What does God do for His sheep when they allow Him to lead them? I believe that in His mercy, He first makes His sheep lie down. He makes us stop in our tracks — when all we want to do is run around and do our own thing.
Then He gently whispers: Stop striving. Here is everything you will ever need. Trust me. Lie here for a bit, be still, and I will refresh you. Trust me.
WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
In David’s time, green pastures certainly weren’t like the pastoral ones on our wallpapers. They probably were more like life-sustaining, little patches of life through a desert.
In such a harsh environment, the sheep would require their Shepherd to guide them, often to places that might not look promising, like a rocky outcrop. But often, after a long climb up steep rocks, there would be life-sustaining nourishment.
For us, being good sheep doesn’t mean having blind faith. It means having faith and being obedient — counting the cost and following the Shepherd. It takes trust — trust in the Shepherd and His character — but we gain peace from doing so (Isaiah 26:3).
Instead of simply counting the cost of following the straight and narrow path — count the cost of not doing so.
We desperately need to know what it really means to follow Christ. We must never confuse the peace of following God with coasting in life. True Christianity isn’t about frolicking in worldly abundance and chilling out on nice green pastoral hills.
It’s a lifetime of fighting where souls are at stake. Indeed, the race and “the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12) rage on each and every single hour of our lives on earth. With such a difficult road to travel on, it’s little wonder that many of us take detours or shortcuts through the woods.
But instead of simply counting the cost of following the straight and narrow path — count the cost of not doing so.
TRUST — CAST — REJOICE
When we consider how much is at stake and how fiercely we must fight, we may become anxious. In keeping our peace and eyes on the heavenward prize — here are some handles:
- Trust the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6)
- Cast your anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7)
- Rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 4:4-7)
When we align our lives to His will, we’re placing our whole lives in His hand, and now the LORD Himself is going to act (Psalm 37:3-5) on our behalves.
What an assurance it is that peace doesn’t lie in our abundant surroundings — in mere things so prone to flux and change.
Instead, true peace comes from trusting and walking with an unchanging and sovereign God. Think of Jesus who rested peacefully in the boat’s stern (Mark 4:35-41) as the storm raged — Peace lies in the boat with us.
So what to the raging river. So what to the storms of this life. And so what to the sting of death.
The Lord our God is with us and for us: there’s no more need to be afraid.