“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” – Psalm 23:1-2 (NIV)
Back in the spring of 2015, I received a phone call from the headmaster of the most prestigious local private school, offering me the history teacher/department chair position. I had visited campus previously and knew that this was my dream teaching job. On my way home, I felt the presence of God overwhelm me as he reminded me of Psalm 23.
God was telling me then that he always provides and that this new school was going to be a much more peaceful place for my mind, body, and soul than my current school was. While this has certainly been true, I have found myself multiple times experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. Why is this the case? What happened to the green pastures and quiet waters promised? Has God been unfaithful? In short, no.
Within the past week, I have re-read Psalm 23, and this time something new popped out at me. God has to make me lie down in green pastures and lead me beside quiet waters in order to refresh my soul because I choose not to do so on my own. While I was blessed with a great job at an amazing school, my own vain ambition, paired with my desire to please others, had gradually amped up the amount of stress I was experiencing. Just like a stubborn sheep, I had wandered away from my land of plenty provided by the shepherd and found myself in a parched desert full of full of noise and void of sustenance. It was my own doing. My finite sheep brain often gets led astray by the empty promises and tantalizing temptations of this world.
So what did the shepherd do? He allowed me to experience the full effects of trying to be a great teacher, writer, and blogger instead of simply teaching, writing, and blogging to the best of my ability while also investing even more of my time and energy into being a Godly husband, father, and steward of my body, spirit, and mind. I actively chose to pursue personal and professional success without balancing them with spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational success. God let me traipse around the barren wasteland for a while until I finally broke down exhausted, thirsty, weak, and in need of green meadows and bubbling brooks. Then he led me back to where I needed to be. This last week has been so full of peace, fulfillment, satisfaction, joy, and hope.
I have seen many people write about how they could never serve a God who jealously demands that his followers receive their satisfaction and fulfillment from him as they give him praise and glory. They say this is a selfish way for a supreme being to act. Where is the love and kindness for his people? I totally disagree. There is no kinder or loving thing that God could do than to take away my joy when I go down a destructive and harmful road. He has placed within each of us a void that can only be filled by his love. Anytime and every time that we stray from his purpose for our lives, he allows us to experience a lack of fulfillment and an insatiable appetite for something more. He does not relieve us of this burden until we submit to him and allow him to heal us, refreshing our souls, cleansing our hearts, and renewing our minds. Without this mechanism, I would continue to wander away from goodness and towards danger just like an ignorant sheep.
Let me leave you with a thought. What would be the more loving and kind action of the shepherd? Should he exercise force by making his sheep lie down in green pastures and leading them beside quiet waters? Or should he allow the sheep to wander far away from his protection, provision, comfort, and guidance free from all consequences? Speaking as a sheep myself, it is pretty easy to answer these questions. I am eternally grateful for the many times God has made me experience his peace, love, hope, and joy, even when it means that I must experience the lack thereof for a while to realize the great love of the shepherd.
Maybe you are like me. Maybe you keep thinking you are going to achieve peace, happiness, and satisfaction from success, fame, wealth, relationships, material possessions, or travel. That is what the world tells us, but through your labor, you either fail to achieve your goals, resulting in frustration, or you actually do achieve your goals only to find out that something is still missing. Maybe your green pastures and quiet waters are near, but you (like me) have stubbornly and ignorantly refused to lie down and take a drink just like a real sheep might. Maybe if you spent more time seeking God, studying his word, loving those that God put in your life, and intentionally using your talents for God’s purposes, you could finally experience that rest that you have craved for so long. This may be true for you, but it is most certainly true for me. If you’re trying to do it your way and experiencing depression, frustration, or lack of motivation, be thankful that God loves you so much that he will not allow you to stray too far from him or his will without letting you feel the effects.
Please take my word for it and allow him to make you lie down in lush meadows, walk beside still waters, and restore your soul.