Come apart before you come apart
He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters.
Psalm 23:2 (Amplified Bible)
According to scripture, humanity was made for cycles of rest and work. The Creation story in Genesis demonstrates that even God himself, has cycles of rest and work. It is no wonder, that when God is our shepherd (Psalm 23:1), he leads us to times of rest.
Psalm 23:2 (above) reminds us of what Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe wrote: If you do not take time to come apart (from your work), you will literally come apart (life will fracture). As we surrender our lives to the shepherding of God, he will lead us to times of rest. These times of rest are essential for your health and your relationship with him.
The creation narrative gives us a alternative story regarding rest. In our highly efficient, high productivity modern economies, we are working longer than any generation before us (not including slavery). Our concept of rest is to simply stop working when we are tired. The creation narrative (Genesis 1-2) tells us that humanity's first day is a day of rest in which all work springs out of. In other words, we work from our rest, not rest from our work. It is in this rest, that we strengthen and restore our bodies and our spirits. It is in rest that we renew our dependence upon God and recommit our lives to him. This is why Sabbath (every seven days) requirements in the Old Testament forbade any work and encouraged worship on the Sabbath day.
Consider the following:
1. "He makes me" suggests that when God is actively shepherding us that he will compel us towards times of rest. God is not a taskdriver. In affluent cultures like ours, our overworking is often a reflection of our pathologic need to achieve. Jesus states "Come all who are weary and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matt 11:28). He is not calling for laziness or sloth, but a time of rest where you depend upon him to provide for your needs and the needs of your family. This is why participating in a Sabbath day of rest is an act of faith. You are trusting God (your shepherd) to provide for you in every way, as you rest in him.
2. "Lie down" suggests a dependent position. The understanding of God as shepherd suggests that we are first sheep. Sheep are vulnerable and incredibly dependent. It is this degree of surrender that opposes everything that we are trained to be. We are groomed to be independent, successful, and prepared. To understand God as shepherd is to understand that we are like sheep who are vulnerable and incapable of making the wisest choices for ourselves. This is the heart of the Genesis 3 story where humanity chooses to rebel against God's authority and chooses to take the role of moral agent for himself. Proverbs 25:16 says "There is a way that seems right to a man, but that leads to death".
3. "He leads me besides still and restful waters" is powerful! In the figurative sense, God as shepherd will lead you to things that cause peace. Everything that we do, apart from God, leads us toward frustration and a lack of peace. There is nothing that we can do, away from the will of God, that will lead to peace. It is peace, or the shalom of God, that we were created to experience. The Bible states that there is no rest for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22). While we often think of the wicked as those like Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and the like, the truth is that anything outside of the desired will of God is considered sinful, or using the older word, wicked. We often do not experience true peace and joy because we are simply outside of God's desired will for us.
Its interesting that God offers to shepherd us, but never demands it. He does not force us to enter the flock or beat us when we wander. He simply invites us to be part of his flock and to accept his shepherding without cost. This invitation begins with learning how to rest in him.
It is my prayer today that you join me in contemplating the role of God as shepherd today and that you will find and experience rest and peace.
God bless you,
Pastor M Traylor