Rest and Renewal Sound Good?

Please read Psalm 23:2-3 from the New Living Translation.

Here’s a parody of the 23rd Psalm that pretty aptly describes modern life.

The clock is my dictator, I shall not rest. It makes me lie down only when exhausted. It leads me into deep depression. It hounds my soul.

It leads me in circles of frenzy, for activities’ sake. Even though I run frantically from task to task, I will never get it all done, for my ideal is with me. Deadlines and my need for approval, they drive me.

They demand performance from me, beyond the limits of my schedule. They anoint my head with migraines, my in-basket overflows.

Surely fatigue and time pressures shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the bonds of frustration forever. (Attributed to Marsha K. Hornok at http://unfinishedchristian.wordpress.com/2009/05/15/psalm-23-for-the-workaholic/, retrieved on July 12, 2013.)

God does not drive His sheep, He leads. God gives each of us perfect free will. We will get what we want. If we want worldly comforts, amusements and achievements, then that’s what we will have. And that’s all we will have. God is gracious; He may not give us what we deserve, but He will always give us what we want.

My Shepherd leads me in the restful way.

Verse two is the very picture of a restful place, with its views of “green meadows” and “peaceful streams.” Left to themselves, sheep will not always find these places when they need them. The shepherd has to lead them to these places. In David’s world, these were seasonal places. Some areas, even parts of the desert, would be green with grass in the rainy spring and winter seasons, but in the summer and fall, they would dry up entirely.

This is a picture of having had the needs of nature met, including the need for rest. It is a symbol of God’s complete provision. Who would worry in such a situation?

In his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Philip Keller revealed three other requirements – in addition to food and water – that sheep have before they will lie down.

  • Because they are timid creatures, sheep must be free from fear.

  • Because they are social creatures, sheep be free from friction with others in the flock.

  • Because they are easily disturbed, sheep must be free from torment by flies or parasites.

Based on these surprising observations, Keller concluded two things:

  • It is the shepherd’s job to provide release from these anxieties.

  • A flock of sheeple operates under much the same dynamic. He wrote, “A flock that is restless, discontented, always agitated and disturbed never does well. And the same is true of people.” (Retrieved from http://bible-christian.org/lit/psalm23fromasheepsperspective.html on July 12, 2013.)

In Jeremiah 50:7 it says that God is our “place of rest;” He Himself is our “green meadow.” In John 6:35 Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry again. Those who believe in me will never thirst.” (NLT)

Sheep are, by nature, distrustful of moving water and dislike stagnant water. They may refuse to drink from either type. (And this for good reason – have you every tried to swim wearing a heavy wool coat?!) So PEACEFUL STREAMS is a better translation than “still waters” in the KJV. It is a body of water that strikes a balance; it moves enough to remain fresh, but not so much that it frightens the sheep.

Verse three promises that God will renew my strength. This is what the Great Shepherd promised us in Matthew 11:28-30; “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, And I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” (NLT)

The point, folks, is that God takes care of His sheeple. He wants us to enjoy life, to feel that life in His presence is worth living. God loves you and though life isn’t always pleasant, you should never feel that being a Christian is like taking medicine; “if it doesn’t taste bad it can’t be good for you”.

My Shepherd leads me in the right way.

God leads us “along right paths.” The tendency of sheep to wander off is a symbol of our human nature; we seek things rather than seek God. In a familiar verse, Peter makes it official: Once you were wandering like lost sheep. But now you have turned to your shepherd, the guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:25, NLT)

God had said the same thing hundreds of years earlier through the prophet Zechariah; So my people are wandering like lost sheep, without a shepherd to protect and guide them. (Zechariah 10:2, NLT)

Identification of a “right way” is really very simple; the correct destination must always be in sight. What makes a path “right” is that it leads to the right destination; it leads to God.

The purpose of His guidance and our right living is to bring HONOR TO HIS NAME. Simply put, the greatest, most important thing we can do is direct people’s attention to God; that includes ourselves of course. When the Bible talks about “glorifying” or “honoring” God, this is what it means; making God known.

We direct attention to God when we worship, witness, and live an obviously moral life. God is the very best and the biggest favor we can do for each other is to get people to notice Him.

Have you ever thought of it this way? God’s reputation is on the line every time you speak and with every action you take. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say that they stopped going to church because of what a pastor or church member did or said to them. I’ve heard it on numerous occasions. Whether it’s an excuse or not, our misbehavior can be a genuine deterrence. On the other hand, I can tell you how many times people got involved in church were invited or inspired by someone who did right by God. EVERY TIME. Yes, 100% of people who live and love and worship in the church do so because someone said and/or lived God’s word.

(The following was retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_time on July 12, 2013.) “Most countries in the developed world have seen average hours worked decrease greatly. For example in the U.S in the late 19th century it was estimated that the average work week was over 60 hours per week. Today the average hours worked in the U.S is around 33, with the average man employed full-time for 8.4 hours per work day, and the average woman employed full-time for 7.7 hours per work day. The front runners for lowest average weekly work hours are the Netherlands with 27 hours, and France with 30 hours.

“The New Economics Foundation has recommended moving to a 21 hour standard work week to address problems with unemployment, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, overworking, family care, and the general lack of free time. Actual work week lengths have been falling in the developed world.

“Factors that have contributed to lowering average work hours and increasing standard of living have been:

  • Technological advances in efficiency such as mechanization, robotics and information technology.

  • The increase of women equally participating in making income as opposed to previously being commonly bound to homemaking and child-rearing exclusively.

  • Dropping fertility rates leading to fewer hours needed to be worked to support children.”

OK, so if the work week is getting shorter, and we have more time for other stuff, why don’t we know how to rest? Why is it we’re in desperate need for renewal? People always say that a lack of time is to blame for the frantic pace of our days, but could it be that the fault really is our own? Could it be the choices we make about how we fill our time? If we choose to work hard and play hard, who really is to blame when we’re burned out?

I would say to you that if you’re always tired and often stressed, it’s time to make changes. Sheeple and sheep alike cannot lie down until the conditions are right and the conditions are obviously not right in your life. Here’s some practical ways you can follow Jesus to the GREEN MEADOWS and PEACEFUL STREAMS He’s promised us.

1. Start the day with at least five uninterrupted minutes of quiet with God. Read a little bit of Bible, but spend the balance of the time in prayer and meditation on this question, “God, what is the most important thing I can do today?”

2. Make the answer to that question your first priority. When you’ve got that done, treat yourself to an activity that does not have a lot of video or audio “noise;” something that does not make emotional demands for your attention. Music, conversation, reading, writing, thinking, praying, walking, and napping are all examples.

3. Then ask, “God, what is the SECOND most important thing I can do today?” And once it is done, treat yourself to another quiet activity. And so on, throughout the day.

4. Finally, go to bed earlier. An hour before bed, concentrate on being, not doing. You’ll sleep better if sleep is preceded by something that doesn’t involve a screen or speakers!

Most importantly, spend the day with the Great Shepherd. Sense His presence and let Him steer you away from activity that is evil or pointless. Let Him lead you to rest and renewal.

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