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Green Pastures

by David A DePra

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. (Psalms 23:1-2)

In this Psalm, David continues the Biblical picture of the relationship between a shepherd and his flock to illustrate God’s relationship to us. The phrase, "He (the Lord) makes me to lie down in green pastures," is descriptive of what our life is supposed to be in Jesus Christ. The "green pastures" are the spiritual place we live and move if "the Lord is our Shepherd." When Jesus is our Shepherd, we are both physically and spiritually safe -- and provided for. HE is our Shepherd, and in the green pastures of our relationship with Him, we "shall not want," that is, we will lack nothing we need.

The phrase, "He makes me to lie down in green pastures," is rather ironic, seeing as how there are very few "green pastures" in the land of Israel. There are pastures, to be sure, but generally speaking, they are not what we might think of when we think of "green pastures." That phrase tends to provoke the thought of a lush, green carpet of grass, where sheep are grazing to their heart’s content. But in reality, most of the pastures in Israel are on hillsides, and the grass which feed the sheep usually consists of clumps here and there, which have managed to spring up out of the rocky, desert terrain.

This tells us something about what must have surely been in the mind of David as he wrote this Psalm under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He was really saying that if the Lord is our Shepherd, that He will provide for us in ways that the natural resources – in ways that this temporal life – cannot provide. There may not be any truly "green pastures" anywhere to be found with the natural eyes. But when you are in the flock of the Lord, He will, spiritually, "make you lie down in green pastures" – He will provide things impossible naturally speaking.

Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd

In the phrase, "He makes me to lie down in green pastures," we really see two distinct provisions of God through Jesus Christ. First, we see REST. David said, "He makes me to LIE DOWN……" Secondly, we see FOOD: Sure. David says we lie down, "… green pastures." Both speak of not only our POSITION in Jesus Christ, but the walk and life we are to have with Him as our Shepherd.

Now, if there is one thing we must remember throughout this entire Psalm, it is this: None of what is described there is promised, and none of it applies to us, unless – what? Unless "the Lord is MY Shepherd." If Jesus Christ is not your Shepherd – generally and practically -- then you cannot experience the realities in this Psalm. They are found as real experiences in HIM alone – when He is functioning as our Shepherd.

One of the big mistakes Christians make is to sidestep Jesus Christ as Shepherd, and then try to realize everything which is contingent upon Him. We try to have church without Christ. We try to have doctrines, teachings, and programs aside from Him. We don’t actually SAY that, nor do many of us realize what we are doing. But Jesus must be Shepherd. We must believe and obey Him. If not, the realities of this Psalm will not come to pass in our lives.

Faith is Rest

David writes, "He makes me to lie down….." Faith is REST. The Old Testament is filled with the imagery of those who trust the Lord – whether it be people OR the allegory of sheep -- being able to LIE DOWN because they rest in God. When the Bible talks about sheep which "lie down," it is usually referring to the fact that the sheep are not afraid. Sheep are not able to defend themselves very well. Sheep are pretty much at the mercy of any predator which may enter the fold. That is why the Shepherd has the responsibility of protecting the flock. Sheep which are laying down are confident that He will do His job.

It is not likely that any flock of sheep is going to "lie down in green pastures," if they feel as if they are in danger. No. The opposite will be true. The sheep will be standing, on guard, and on edge continually.

This sounds like the Christian life of some people. They are never at rest. Physical danger aside, some of God’s own flock are under such continual condemnation, guilt, and fear, that they really are like sheep who are continually afraid. In Christ, it should not be like this. And it WON’T be if we truly trust God.

When thou lie down, thou shall not be afraid: yea, thou shall lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. (Prov. 3:24)

I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makes me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8)

And Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the valley of Achor a place for the herds to lie down in, for my people that have sought me. (Isaiah 65:10)

Thus says the LORD of hosts; Again in this place, which is desolate without man and without beast, and in all the cities thereof, shall be an habitation of shepherds causing their flocks to lie down. (Jer. 33:12)

For thus says the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.

As a shepherd seeks out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day…..I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment. (Ezek. 34:11-16)

Faith is in God

We might say that there is a general rest in Christ, and then a practical, everyday rest. The general rest is REST in the finished work of Christ as Lord and Savior. This is THE foundation for living. The daily rest is how we live that out – resting in the faithfulness of God to protect and provide on a daily basis.

One of the strangest contradictions you will find among Christians is that some of us have no trouble, it would appear, trusting Christ for salvation, but a terrible time trusting Him on a daily basis, especially through trials. Then there are others who have less trouble trusting Christ through trials, but continually struggle with whether they are saved. But this dichotomy should not be. Faith is faith. And once we understand WHO are Shepherd is, there really shouldn’t be "categories" of faith – just faith!

One of the reasons we trust Christ for one thing, but not another, is because some of us do not really place our faith in Jesus Himself. What I mean by this is that, for some of us, our faith is in our faith. In other words, our confidence resides in our "ability to believe" – or lack thereof. If we "feel" like we are believing, then we, ummm, feel confident. But if we don’t "feel" as if we have faith, then we get worried. Of course, this whole thing has nothing to do with anything. It isn’t what faith is all about.

Others of us have our faith in our understanding. We lean on our understanding of Jesus, and place our faith in IT, instead of in Jesus Himself. Then when God does something which is OUTSIDE of our understanding, we are terrified, or lose faith altogether.

Of course, if my faith is in my understanding, then my faith is in ME. But real faith dos not rest on the person exercising it. Real faith RESTS on the OBJECT of faith. This means that faith is not a "force." It is not "something I generate" that acts upon God. Faith is my response to the knowledge that Jesus is faithful. Thus, I REST because I know He is in charge.

Get that. Faith is IN Jesus. This has nothing to do with our so-called ability to "generate" it. It has everything to do with simple REST.

There is REST in knowing Jesus is in charge. This doesn’t mean that if your emotions act up that you have necessarily lost faith. It doesn’t mean you won’t have struggles. You WILL have them, because our faith is continually being tried. But it means that deep down, in the heart, there is a rest – a sense that the fundamental issue is settled. That fundamental issue is that everything necessary for my salvation is finished in Christ, and that I belong to Him. He is faithful, and nothing can change Him.

Have you ever recognized that even those WE change, and bounce back, to and fro, when it comes to faith and confidence, that Jesus Christ is the eternally the same? "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever." (Heb. 13:8) Thus, despite all of our inconsistencies, we can REST in the fact that despite them, Jesus remains faithful. His faithfulness to us was never dependent upon us. It was, and always will be, dependent upon His own love and faithfulness.

It Is Finished

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (II Cor. 5:17-21)

It is so easy to read a passage like this one from II Corinthians and miss exactly what Paul is telling us. Do we realize what "reconciliation" is? And that IN CHRIST God has reconciled THE WORLD back to Himself? And that all of this is a FINISHED work?

"Reconciliation" means to exchange enmity for friendship. And when the Bible talks about reconciliation, it is always a solution to a ONE-WAY problem. Man must be reconciled back to God – not God back to man. In other words, God has never had a problem. He has always loved us. It is man who declared independence from God, and is therefore in need of reconciliation.

Through the Redemption of Jesus Christ God has done everything possible for each person to be reconciled back to God. In fact, read again the passage from II Corinthians. Paul says that IN CHRIST God was reconciling back to Himself ----- WHO? Just saved people? No. The WORLD. Everyone. "The world" is never a term used to refer to the saved. The world means everyone, saved or not.

So IN JESUS CHRIST every sin – indeed, everything about us that separated us from God was placed. Jesus BORE the sin of the world. Thus, there isn’t any sin between anyone and God. Jesus took it out of the way!

Remember the words of John the Baptist: "Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of – WHO? Of the world. Jesus died for ALL sin – not just the sin of those who would believe.

Now, some folks have turned this Truth into the notion of "universal salvation." They make it mean that since Jesus died for all that all are automatically saved. This is not the Truth. Jesus died for all – He did everything possible to reconcile all – but all are NOT automatically saved. Only those who believe and embrace what He has done are saved.

The point, however, is this: If you have embraced, by faith, what Jesus Christ has done, then you are saved. You ARE reconciled to God. It IS finished. And, as Paul says, in our passage, God is not "imputing your sins" against you. God is not keeping track of your sins to see if you are worthy! You aren’t. That is why Jesus died. He did for you and I what was not possible for us to do otherwise.

Now once we get this settled, it should become to us much more than merely a nice teaching to believe. It should be reality in which we REST. We will recognize that we don’t need to do any work to achieve what is already finished in Christ. We can "lie down" in the "green pasture" of His finished work.

What will the effects be of this rest? Well, the same ones that we said are seen in sheep. Instead of always thinking we are in danger of falling out of God’s grace, we will rest in His grace. Instead of thinking that we must work to provide for ourselves, we will rest in the fact that it is already provided. Then we can do works, not to earn anything, but precisely because it is all given us free. Do sheep earn the right to be in the pasture? No. But they do plenty once they are in the pasture. And by faith, we can "lie down in green pastures" – REST in God’s provision in His Son.

Spiritual Food

The "green pastures" of the Lord contain everything a sheep needs to live. Therein is the spiritual nourishment necessary for us to grow into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

Isn’t it amazing that God calls His people "sheep," and that Jesus Christ is called "The Lamb of God?" This is no coincidence. Not only did Jesus become one of us, and AS The Lamb of God take away the sin of the world (see Jn. 1:29), but we are to grow to bear His moral and spiritual likeness. The sheep are to look like the Lamb who is also the Shepherd.

God knows exactly what kind of diet each of his sheep need. Proverbs 30 says:

Feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain. (Proverbs 30:8-9)

"Convenient" food is the spiritual food that is necessary for a person, at that time and at that place in his spiritual walk with the Lord. Thus, even though all are sheep, and all need food, only the Shepherd knows what kind, and how much, for each sheep.

This is one reason that we are told that it is folly to try to compare ourselves with other Christians. Despite the fact that God has the SAME purpose in each life – to conform us to Christ – He uses different tools to accomplish His purpose. What is good for one is not necessarily always good for another.

One place we might point to in scripture would be Jesus’ teaching about the danger of putting new wine in old wineskins:

No man puts a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new makes a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agrees not with the old. And no man puts new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. (Luke 5:36-38)

It is simply a fact that there are some Truths which you and I are NOT ready for. And there are also some trials which our faith is presently not strong enough to endure. Thus, God doesn’t hold us accountable for those things – because we have not seen the Light. Our eyes are not yet adjusted for it. But make no mistake – we are accountable if we are ready. We are accountable for eating the spiritual food God does present to us.

Spiritual food comes in all shapes and sizes. Relationships, circumstances, trials, blessings, revelation, prayer – life itself. God will use all of these things as vehicles by which to convey to us Jesus Christ.

What Color is Your Pasture?

When we receive Jesus Christ as Savior, we enter into a relationship with God. That relationship IS the green pasture spoken of by David in the Psalm. Jesus Christ IS our Shepherd, and embracing Him will always result in that kind of relationship with our Heavenly Father. But despite the fact that most of us will say that the Lord is our Shepherd, and that through Christ we are one of God’s sheep, some of us don’t lay down and REST in that reality. Instead of "laying down" in the "green pasture" of our relationship with God, we leave the pasture He has for us and stray off.

I am not here talking about losing one’s salvation – any possibilities of which are another subject. No. I’m talking about someone who receives salvation, but then – within salvation – either seeks, or gets sidetracked, into another pasture. Some sheep wander. They walk away from the very thing they are seeking.

We might say these sheep are "color blind." Despite being saved, and despite having green pastures all around them, they don’t realize it. They can’t see how "green" things really are in Christ. In fact, because they are color blind, most every pasture looks the same to them. And some of those other pastures seem to offer them things which they want. And there is a shepherd in everyone of those other pastures calling to them to come and graze THERE.

What could be more tragic that to BE in the very place you long to find, yet LEAVE it because you don’t recognize it? What could be more tragic than to settle for something less than the "green pastures" of God’s provision, when right in front of you was the fullness of what God has for you?

How could this happen? Well, bad teaching for one thing. If you have been told that the "green pastures" of the Lord look a certain way – and this expectation is in error – then you will adjust your eyes to that wrong expectation. Because you are color blind you will have no real discernment. If you happen upon the real thing you may, in fact, reject it.

But really, when everything is said and done, there is always a deeper reason why we don’t see: We don’t yield to the Shepherd. Thus, the key here is NOT TO TRUST their own eyesight. It is to trust the SHEPHERD. He will keep you where you belong. He will lead you to "lie down in green pastures" – even if, at first, you can’t see they are green. His voice will stand out as THE voice if you are willing to do the will of God.

For those of us who are color blind, that is, cannot yet see God, we need to learn to trust that it is sufficient that God sees us. If God is saying, "This is My pasture. Rest and wait. You will eventually see," then we need to believe and obey. We need to make room for the possibility that God is much bigger than our understanding of Him. How foolish it is to think that what I see and understand is all there is to see and understand! Yet such is the pride and arrogance of people – some of whom call themselves by the name of Christ. This is nothing but unbelief.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not unto your own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in your own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. (Prov. 3:5-8)

The Shepherd

Now, if there is one thing we must get settled, it is this: The Christian life is NOT one where we are continually and desperately trying to find this "green pasture" which belongs to God. No. If we are IN CHRIST, we are IN the green pasture! We BEGIN there. This doesn’t mean we have lived in it yet, or that we have grazed in it very much, at that point. We must continue to believe and obey God! But through Christ, we are birthed into the pasture which God has for us – by grace through faith.

So what we see here is that the key is NOT that we try to find the green pasture. No. The key is that we return to the Shepherd! Simply surrender to Him. Then HE will cause us to "lie down in green pastures." He will give us rest.

Get that: Christianity is not about the green pastures. It is about the Shepherd. We must COME TO HIM. But once you come to Him, you get the "green pastures" in the package. He will cause you to "lie down" in the green pastures of the will and relationship which God has for you.

And when he puts forth his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers…..I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. (John 10:4-5, 14)

Other Pastures

Some of us never seem to "lie down" in those "green pastures." We are BORN into them, through Christ, but then begin looking elsewhere for our means of living. In fact, some of us have strayed off into other pastures and have settled for much less than God would have for us. For some, this is the result of unbelief and disobedience. For others, it is the result of deception. They think the pasture in which the are "grazing" is the fullness of what God has for them. But they are wrong.

Funny thing about deception: When you are deceived, you don’t know it. You think that what you have, and where you are, is all there is. You may even think it is the green pasture God has for you. But, for many of us, it is not. We have been sold "a bill of goods." We are deceived. We have been deceived into settling for a lot less of God than there really is.

We are apt to think that we are not at fault for this condition. But we are. If there is one thing that is for sure, it is that God wants us back in HIS pasture. Thus, He will always keep before us a circumstance or issue which will give us the opportunity to seek Him. And if we do seek Him, we will find Him. We will find Him in HIS GREEN PASTURES. At that point, we will have to choose to leave where we have strayed and return to our Shepherd.

There are all kinds of spiritual pastures out there -- many places we can go to as a substitute for God. Indeed, there are many pastures which actually "look" green. But upon closer inspection, these pastures are actually made out of artificial turf. They are FAKE. There is no real spiritual food there. They offer what appears to be a good environment. But there is no spiritual substance to it. The sheep are starving and don’t even realize it.

There are other pastures, too. Some of them are places where the sheep, by their own self-will and disobedience, decide to live. Maybe, in fact, there is lots of "good tasting food" there – food that is not healthy for a sheep – but which tastes good for the time being. These sheep are not healthy sheep, but because the process deteriorating their health is slow, they don’t realize what is happening to them.

There are other sheep who decide to pick out their own pasture. They pick it out, and then work their way into a position where they are able to reign and rule over the other sheep. The Shepherd? Well, they say He is running the flock. But of course, He isn’t even in that pasture. Over the course of time, these sheep become so hardened in their ways that they come to believe that their pasture IS the pasture of the Shepherd – simply because THEY are running it.

The twenty-third Psalm does NOT read, "I am the Lord’s Shepherd, I shall not want. And I will lay down in whatever green pasture suits me." Sorry. It just doesn’t.

If the Lord is YOUR Shepherd, then you belong to Him. You don’t get to direct traffic – not in your life, and not in the life of the other sheep. He leads you where He wants you to be. And if we would simply believe that, we’d find out that we never need to stray outside of the GREEN PASTURES – God’s will and relationship for us which He has in Jesus Christ.

Again – the key here is not the pasture. It is the relationship which the sheep have with the Shepherd. Seek the Shepherd. Listen for His voice. Believe and trust Him. Obey Him. If you do, you WILL end up back where you belong. He will be YOUR Shepherd and you "shall not want." He will make you to "lie down in green pastures" – the life of the Spirit.

Seeing Our Need

There are some common denominators as to why Christians stay in these other pastures which are not of God. But the most fundamental one has to do with NEED. Many sheep have no consciousness of need. Thus, it really doesn’t matter to them what pasture they are in. One is as good as another. Other sheep do sense their need, but try to satisfy it by eating of the food in a pasture other than the one which belongs to the Shepherd.

Herein we see two reasons why Christians are deceived – blinded to the Truth. Either we do not see our need, or we do see it and try to satisfy it through our own strength. We pick a pasture which suits us – temporarily satisfies our appetite.

Remember, David wrote: "The Lord is MY Shepherd. Therefore, I shall lack nothing – for HE makes ME to lie down in green pastures." We cannot change the order or emphasis of this Truth. First, the LORD must be my Shepherd. I must come to HIM. I usually won’t do this until God shows me my need. Secondly, once I do come to Him, I will see that I "shall not want." That is, my need will be met. I will lack nothing because, in Christ, I am made complete. Thirdly, I will "lie down" in the green pastures of a living relationship with Him. I will not only REST in the finished work of Christ, but I will build upon it with a life reflective of that faith.

Are You Disturbed?

Thankfully, God is not passive in these matters. He is ALWAYS trying to get us back to the place where HE wants us. God is always seeking to keep His sheep in the green pastures which He has for us in Christ. Always. But He is leading – not "driving" – His sheep. In other words, we have to choose to FOLLOW Him. We have to choose to return to the Shepherd.

One way God seeks out His sheep is to cause a disturbance in the pasture we have chosen. Obviously, if we are comfortable in our pasture, eating unhealthy food, or wandering around on artificial turf, the only solution God can bring is to initially make us UNCOMFORTABLE. God will therefore bring a storm or a disturbance of some kind. This disturbance is geared to showing us our real need for the real pasture of the Lord.

This is God’s mercy. If you are comfortable, getting what you think you need in your fake pasture, God will disrupt this, and things will no longer satisfy you. You will then start seeking another pasture. If you seek the Shepherd, you will be brought back to where you belong.

Note how all of this comes back to one thing. It is again the very first verse of our Psalm: The Lord is MY Shepherd. It all comes back to whether I really want Him as my Shepherd. If I do, I’ll end up in HIS green pasture.

The Grass IS Greener……

We have an expression, "The grass is always greener on the other side." We mean that no matter where you are, there is a tendency to be dissatisfied, and want to find something better. But most often, once you arrive "on the other side," you find out that the grass there really isn’t any greener there than where you were to begin with.

There is a reason for this: You have changed environments. But YOU haven’t changed. Thus you have actually brought everything which made the first pasture unpleasant WITH you. And it is only a matter of time before you make that new environment resemble the first.

This expression, however, is actually true with regards to the green pastures of a relationship with God. If we are not in HIS pasture, under HIS Shepherd, then we are in the wrong place spiritually. Thus, the grass really IS greener on the other side – God’s side. And we need to come to the Shepherd to be there. *

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