May 15, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Psalm 23:2-3 (NIV)
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
The Lord, as your Shepherd, leads his sheep to rest. He makes us lie down. If you follow the shepherd, you will follow him to a place of rest; if you resist accepting rest, you are resisting the work of your shepherd. The rest he leads us to is important for the restoration of our souls and for us to grow in righteousness.
In yesterday’s devotion, I reflected on David’s affirmation in Psalm 23 that with Christ as your shepherd you have everything you need. Meditation on that truth has not only helped me experience peace in the midst of worldly uncertainty (as I noted yesterday) but has helped me view the remainder of this Psalm in a new light.
After David affirms that with God as his shepherd he lacks nothing, he gets specific about what the Great Shepherd does. He doesn’t tell us that the Lord our shepherd will make us prosperous or keep us from experiencing hardship. (Indeed, as David later acknowledges, our path may lead us through the valley of the shadow of death.) Rather, he tells us that the shepherd makes us lie down. That is, he leads us to rest. David uses the pastoral metaphors of green pastures and quiet waters to draw us imaginatively into what that rest is like, and then he tells us the result of that rest: God uses it to refresh our souls.
Work is good. God made us in part to participate in the work he has for the world. But he made us especially to participate in Him. As good as work is in its proper context, rest is also vital. The poetic “day” of Genesis 1 starts with evening and then follows with morning; thus the day is supposed to start with rest. Likewise, the Sabbath is an important part of the week: a day of rest that even God participated in after his creation work. So we ought not to be surprised that the shepherd leads us to rest. Indeed, David’s language is even stronger; the Lord as our shepherd makes us lie down and rest. There is a clear implication: if you follow the shepherd, you will follow him to a place of rest; if you resist accepting rest, you are resisting the work of your shepherd!
Your soul needs refreshing. I know mine does, especially in the midst of a world that wants to fill us with strife and anxiety. God our shepherd restores our souls, and he does so by leading us to rest.
There are three important points to make in light of this. Each one could be several devotions on its own, but they are worth mentioning in brief. First, accepting rest and ceasing our striving can be hard, especially when we are anxious about the realities of day-to-day life—anxieties that may always be present but are exaggerated by pandemics, fires, and floods. This is why David’s affirmation that God gives us everything we need is so important. That “everything” includes not only our spiritual needs—the restoring of our souls—but also our material needs. Remember that God made us as bodily beings and he cares about us our physical needs. The Bible makes that abundantly clear. (Consider the manna in the wilderness, or Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.) This is not a promise of worldly prosperity, but it is a promise to care for us. When we trust in God to provide for everything we need, then we are free to accept rest even in the midst of worldly uncertainty.
Second, God leads us along a path of righteousness – or as the NIV states, “along right paths.” And he leads us so for the sake of his own name and glory, not for the sake of our wealth, fame, or prosperity. We need to care more about being righteous than about being wealthy or comfortable. We follow the shepherd’s right path to bring glory to the shepherd’s name. The path toward righteousness is the path of following the shepherd. Peter in his 2nd Epistle gets at a very similar idea when he states: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3, NIV).
And finally, note the intimate link between rest and righteousness. Righteousness does not come from our own striving. It cannot be achieved by self-effort any more than our salvation can. Righteousness comes from yielding to the shepherd and following the shepherd’s path—including accepting the gift of rest, allowing the shepherd to do his soul-restoring work in our lives.
Do you want your soul to be refreshed and restored? Then accept the shepherd’s leading to times and places of rest. Accept the promise that he the Lord will take care of your needs. Do you want to grow in righteousness? Then accept the soul-restoring times of rest when you can cease striving and simply be with your shepherd delighting in his goodness.
How do you think David, in the midst of so much turmoil in his life, was able to experience rest and restoration?
What are some times or places that have been restful and restoring for you? How has rest impacted you? What are the hindrances or obstacles for you to find or experience the sort of restfulness that David describes in Psalm 23?
Watch (or listen to) on YouTube one (or more) of the following songs inspired by Psalm 23.
- “All I Need” by Matthew Dickerson
- “Psalm 23 (I Am Not Alone)” performed by Josh Sherman with People & Songs
- The traditional arrangement (set to an old Irish melody) of Henry Baker’s 1686 hymn “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”
- The modern tune and arrangement of “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” by I Am They
- Stuart Townend’s recording of “The Lord’s my Shepherd”
Lord Jesus, I praise you again for being a good and loving shepherd. I thank you for the times and places when you have led me to soul-restoring rest. I think you for leading me in a path of righteousness. I know that while work is good, so also is rest, but I acknowledge that sometimes I resist your gift of rest. Help me to accept the rest you lead me to. Help me to follow you along your path, both of rest and righteousness. Amen.
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Stories Beside Quiet Water
Matthew Dickerson’s books include works of spiritual theology and Christian apologetics as well as historical fiction, fantasy literature, explorations of the writings of C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, and books about trout fishing, fly fishing, rivers, and ecology. His recent books include: Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear and The Voices of Rivers: Reflections on Places Wild and Almost Wild. He was a 2017 artist-in-residence at Glacier National Park. He lives in Vermont with his wife, dog, and cat, not far from three married sons, and is an active member of Memorial Baptist Church. Matthew is also a professor of computer science at Middlebury College in Vermont.