“The Lord is my shepherd; I have what I need. He lets me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters. He renews my life; he leads me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Are you tired? Most folks these days are pretty tired all the time. And I don’t just mean we stayed up a little too late last night watching Georgia defeat Alabama for the College Football Championship (but even for a fan of neither team, my was that final score satisfying). I’m talking about a whole other kind of tired. In fact, you’re probably not just tired. You may be exhausted; exhausted with the constant rat race you feel like your life has become. You spend every day running here and there and everywhere trying to do everything and please everyone and never taking a moment for yourself. And you’re tired. How do you catch up from running behind all the time? How do you find a rhythm that isn’t quite so frenetic? How do you get some rest? It starts by knowing what is true. David shares some of that with us in this famous psalm. Let’s take a look at it.
This may be the most well-known passage of Scripture in the entire Bible. The ideas of the Lord being our shepherd or walking through the valley of the shadow of death are part of our cultural memory. I can’t think of a funeral I’ve done that has not included a short reflection or at least a reading of it. It’s part of my standard graveside homily. For all of that, though, I don’t think I’ve ever spent much time really thinking about it. Perhaps you’re there too? Sometimes when we hear something frequently, we just assume we know it by volume. This is God’s word, though. There’s more here to be had. This isn’t just a psalm about God’s being our shepherd. It is about His giving us rest.
Still, though, it starts with God as our shepherd. Yet what does this really mean? Well, whole books have been written on this one idea, so I’m not going to try to sort it all out in the space of a paragraph, but here are a couple of thoughts. God is our leader. He knows what’s best for us and has our best interests at heart. He can see further than we can. All we do is spend our time focused on what we can consume that will feed our hunger. He, on the other hand, is constantly on the lookout for making sure we have the opportunity to consume what is good for us. He is looking to make sure we have a healthy balance of work and rest and play. He is watching for predators and working to steer us away from them so we are not destroyed. As our shepherd, God knows us. He knows who we are at even the barest glance. He can tell us apart from every other sheep. And He wants us to know Him. At the end of the day, to quote Peter, He cares for us.
Look at where David goes next. Because God is our shepherd, we have all we need. Now, think about that one for a minute. Can you even imagine having all you need? When was the last time you felt like you needed something? What was it? Something material? Something immaterial? A job? A paycheck? A friend? A vacation? A hug? There are perhaps many things we feel like we need, but in Christ, all our deepest needs can be met. We have a good shepherd who loves us and is committed to us.
So much of the running around we do that drags us down is because we are seeking for our needs to be met. We may not even be able to articulate fully what those needs are, but that’s what we are doing. We need to know we are good enough, so we kill ourselves trying to make everything perfect. We need to feel like we have life all together, so we work ourselves to the bone to show the world that we do. We need to escape the guilt of the past, so we try to please everyone around us. We need to not feel so lonely, so we give ourselves far too fully to anyone willing to give us the time of day. And we’re tired. But with our shepherd, all of our needs can be met.
Jesus affirmed your worth by giving up His life for you. If He, the creator of the universe, considered you worthy of that, no one – not even you – can legitimately question your value any longer. If the one who holds the stars in place thinks what you have to say is worth hearing, the value of your thoughts and ideas is settled. If the God who spoke creation into existence wants to spend time with you, you don’t ever have to be lonely again. You can simply rest in Him.
The idea of meeting our needs, though, is big and a little vague. As a result, David goes into more detail as to exactly what that looks like. Look at the next three phrases. He lets me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He renews my life. Our shepherd creates places of peace for us. He carves out places in our lives in which we can rest. We may be moving at a frenetic pace, but He gives us the opportunity to rest in Him. We simply need to take it. We can enter into His presence in Christ and be shielded from the chaos of the world. Even while living in the midst of it, we can go peacefully through it because He is with us.
And He doesn’t leave the discovering of the right path to take up to us. He shows us where to go. He leads us along the right paths. Now, this doesn’t mean He is going to give us a step-by-step set of instructions for life. We have to make our choices. But He has shown us in His word the kinds of choices that honor Him. If we are making those, we will be on the right paths. And when we are on the right paths, we don’t have to waste any time or energy going to the wrong places and dealing with the consequences of that. We can rest in Him.
Now, this last part can sound kind of strange to our ears. It sounds a bit like God is just egotistical. He does all of this for His own name’s sake. Another way of putting that is He does it for His glory. Isn’t that just arrogant of God? To do all of this for His glory? It’s not. It’s actually a very good thing. For starters, God is worthy of all the glory and honor and praise. We were created to bring Him glory. When we are doing that, we are fulfilling our created purpose. It’s hard to imagine a much better place to be than doing the thing for which we were created.
There’s more, though. Because God is doing all of this for His own glory, it doesn’t depend on us. Whether or not we are good enough to deserve what He’s doing for us (we’re not, but that’s a conversation for another time) doesn’t matter even a little. How we feel about ourselves is irrelevant to this conversation. Our pasts don’t factor into the discussion here. All of this depends entirely on God. And He’s decided He’s going to do it because of His great love for us. That means we can simply receive it and not worry about the rest. You can rest in Him and trust everything else into His faithful hands. That doesn’t mean you don’t do anything. There is still much to do. But you do it all from a place of peace and contentment. That makes all the difference.
So, if you are tired, worn out by life, exhausted from still dealing with all the Covid-craziness of our world, then take up His invitation to find rest in Him. Let Him be your shepherd. Find all you need in Him. Rest easy in the green pastures and alongside the quiet waters He will lead you to. Let Him renew your life. Trust the paths He opens for you. Delight in His being glorified through you. This is the life you’ve always wanted. Well, it is yours in Christ. Take it and enjoy.