Dwell: In Green Pastures

“He makes me lie down in green pastures”
Psalm 23:2a, NIV

Can you think back to a moment in your childhood when your parent’s presence calmed you? Like after a bad dream, and you sneak to their bedroom. Just lying on the floor next to my parents’ bed made me feel better because they were close by.

Michael Jr, a Christian comedian, created the coolest Father’s Day video a few years ago. His newborn daughter, literally minutes after delivery, is screaming and flailing on her ‘bed.’ Michael, her daddy, leans near her and speaks soothing words. And she stills. No more cries. 

A few minutes later, as the nurse is working on her, the baby screams again. And, daddy gets close and speaks. She quiets. Then as he says, “I love you,” she opens her eyes. It’s beautiful. And it illustrates just how much presence matters.

For newborn babies. For sheep. For each of us.

Sheep Need Presence

An interesting fact about sheep that I learned while reading Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm, is that four things have to happen before sheep will lie down. All four. Freedom from fear, tension, aggravations, and hunger. 

  • If a sheep is afraid for her life, she runs. She “bolts in blind fear” (p.42). 
  • If a sheep struggles with tensions between others in her own flock–which happens if the head ewe is a bully–she remains standing, always ready to defend herself. 
  • If a sheep is aggravated by pests–like flies and ticks–she incessantly moves to be rid of them.
  • If a sheep is hungry, never able to get filled, she constantly grazes.

There is no lying down in peace for a sheep if she’s afraid, tense, irritated, or hungry–and freedom from all of these depends on the presence of the shepherd. Only the shepherd can make it possible for sheep to lie down, to rest, to be content.

  • When her shepherd draws near, fear evaporates.
  • When her shepherd appears, the sheep’s attention goes to him. In fact, all the sheep forget their rivalries and in-fighting (p.47).
  • When her shepherd comes close to do the diligent care of preventing and ridding her of pests, the sheep calms.
  • When her shepherd calls to her, leading her to a lush, green pasture, she follows and eats her fill. Then she’ll lie down and rest as she ruminates.

The shepherd’s presence makes all the difference in a flock’s behavior. Left on their own, they exist anxious, defensive, miserable, and unsatisfied. But with a good shepherd’s presence, all four deterrents to rest can be eliminated.

Then, and only then, sheep lie down. 

Green Pastures

With a little context, we can better understand the significance of green pastures. Where David kept flocks, near Bethlehem, green pastures were nearly non-existent. To this day, the terrain of this area is dry, brown, and sun-scorched. In other words, “green pastures did not just happen by chance. Green pastures were the product of tremendous labor, time and skill” (p.53). 

Labor–like planting seeds and irrigating water. 
Time–it takes a while for seeds to germinate and plants to grow. 
Skill–there’s much to know about growing edible green plants for sheep in a desert.

This is a flock of goats just east of Jerusalem. Not much green here.
This shot is closer in, so you can see the scraggly vegetation available to herds in the desert of Israel.

So, when a flock of sheep–who can never lie down and rest until they’re full–is led to a green pasture, they’ve been taken to a place of extravagant provision. The shepherd has sacrificed much to make it happen. But, we remember there’s no deeper satisfaction for a good shepherd than seeing his sheep content (p.35).

With all this in mind, we can imagine David looking back on his abiding life and to speak over us just how much like a good shepherd God has been. David is proclaiming that God prepared places of peaceful provision for him throughout his life. 

Which is why when David describes God as “making him lie down in green pastures,” he is not implying a use of force. Rather, God’s presence and provision made David so content and safe that he was able to lie down–like a sheep in a green pasture–without fear or tension, aggravation or hunger. 

People Need Presence

Like sheep, we need presence–of other people, but even more so we need the presence of our Good Shepherd.

When fear–in all its forms, like worry, anxious thoughts, or dread–pulls me into its grips, my only escape is recognizing Jesus is near. I’m learning to replace the spinning, ‘what if’ thoughts with truth. Jesus is here. Jesus is my shepherd. Jesus has not given me a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). I name the fear, and I remember Jesus is near. Many times and in many different ways I keep at this pattern until I rest, at peace.

When insecurity and pride cause me to act out divisively and unjustly, I’m like a bully sheep who wants her way, who wants to be right, who wants the accolades. But, when I put my eyes on Jesus, all the jealousies and divisions fall away. His presence unifies and clarifies. His presence somehow makes all the silly, worldly priorities dissipate. His presence helps us focus on what matters most: Him, love, unity in His name and for His kingdom. To be close to Jesus, “conscious of His abiding Presence, made real in my mind, emotions, and will–by the indwelling gracious Spirit–is to be set free from fear of my fellow man and whatever he might think of me” (p.50). To walk in intimate companionship with Christ is to be glad to lie down and let the world go by (p.49).

When life ‘bugs’ us, all the irritations can nag at us till we’re grumpy, unpleasant to be around, and even self-destructive. We can never settle into a comfortable position or place because everything gets on our nerves. We fidget and fight back. We languish in misery and lash out. But when the Holy Spirit reminds us of Christ’s presence, He brings quietness, serenity, and strength (p.52). Like a calming, soothing oil, the Spirit pours Himself over us. As we quiet, we can align our hearts and minds with Jesus and find a peace that surpasses all understanding and circumstance (Philippians 4). 

When we insist on eating from the barren soil of the world’s fallow fields, we starve. We move from place to place, anxiously striving to find something to satisfy our hunger. All the while Jesus beckons us to His fertile field. “Come eat,” He calls to us. “Come to me and never hunger” (John 6:35). And as we make our way to his green pasture, we wonder how He alone could possibly make us content, but we’re desperate. So we eat. And for the first time, we find satisfaction. Fulfillment. Contentment. And we lie down, ruminating over all He is and does.. 

Friends, to fully dwell in Christ–to find the peace and true rest we crave–we need to enter our Good Shepherd’s green pasture. He’s gone before us and sacrificed much so that we can eat to our content. So that we can feel safe in His presence because we trust He’s there to protect and provide.

I don’t know about you, but this is the life I long for. I’m so tired of worry. I’m so tired of being tired. I’m ready to be fearless and full in spirit, free of aggravations and tensions. I desire to be so content that I’m made ready to lie down. And rest with my Shepherd.

Father God, Your generosity and care astound me. Like David, I look back over my life and am in awe of all the times You’ve been there for me. All the ways You’ve provided for me and protected me. Forgive me for forgetting just how close You are. Lord Jesus, thank You for the great sacrifice You made so that I would have all I need to grow and thrive in this world. And, because of the mystery that is Ascension and Pentecost, I know You are always with me. I long to remain with You always. I am so humbled to know that You’ve gone before me and prepared green pastures for me–so that I can eat and be satisfied in Your presence. Holy Spirit, thank You for pouring yourself out on me, a balm on my irritated, restless soul. I soak in Your presence and peace. I welcome all your work in me. I listen for your nudges as You speak to my spirit all that the Father has given You to say over me. And I ask for your help to keep my eyes on my Good Shepherd. I know that it’s only in His presence that I’ll find true contentment and rest. In Jesus’ name, amen.

(inspired by The Believer’s Warfare Prayer, Psalm 23, Jeremiah 8:22 & 33:6, 2 Corinthians 5:15, Matthew 28:20, John 14:17, John 6:55-59, John 16:13, Psalm 4:8)

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  • Rhythms: The more I enter into these rhythms of time with the Lord–entering His presence through prayer and His Word–my body stills and my spirit calms. I feel myself letting go of to do lists and the incessant need to learn or accomplish. I feel myself enjoying these moments of simply ‘being.’ And after researching and writing about ‘lying down in green pastures,’ I realize where my Shepherd has been leading me. So, I hope that you are discovering your own rhythms–not legalistic lists that must be checked off, but the ebbs and flows of time with God, getting to know Him better and allowing yourself to remain with Him.
    • One rhythm this series is to memorize Psalm 23. This week we add, “He makes me lie down in green pastures” to what we’ve already put to memory (verse one). If it helps to put these verses to a tune, do so! If it helps to write it out and see it everyday, do that! Knowing this incredible Psalm by heart will be a rhythm for our souls for the rest of our lives.
  • Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
    • I know you want to see it. 🙂 Michael Jr’s baby video
    • It was tempting this week to tell you to just go read chapter three of Phillip Keller’s A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.* He shares some amazing stories to go along with the four deterrents to a sheep’s contentedness.
    • Though I didn’t quote it directly, Aimee Walker’s devotion, “He Makes Me Lie Down,” inspired me. It’s from Day 3 of her Psalm 23 Mini Study at The Devoted Collective.
    • Matthew’s The Believer’s Warfare Prayer continues to be a steady part of my daily/weekly rhythm as well as an influence for my thoughts about God and His will–and my own emotions, body, spirit, and will.
    • Our current playlist is a great resource for settling into worshipful rhythms. I added a song this week because I kept hearing its lyric about REST in my mind. MercyMe’s “Word of God Speak” embodies the idea of resting in God’s presence beautifully:

Word of God speak
Would You pour down like rain
Washing my eyes to see
Your majesty
To be still and know
That You’re in this place
Please let me stay and rest
In Your holiness

  • We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
    • As you feel led, share in the comment section. Let us know how God is leading you. And how we can be praying for you. Ask questions. And share your thoughts.
    • I hope you’ll invite someone to join our flock. All sheep need the Good Shepherd.

Featured Photo by Jessica Anderson on Unsplash
*an affiliate link with which I might earn a bit

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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