Summary: God is in the restoring, renewing, reviving business.
“Go in Peace: Strength for the Way”
“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.”
Why would God be in the restoring, renewing, reviving business? Perhaps it’s because we are so often weak and tired. Americans are notorious for sleep deprivation. Americans can’t sleep; we have great trouble resting. We are too busy, too success driven, too desirous of material things, too competitive, too insecure, too full of fear. Our minds, our bodies, and our souls are worn out, tired, and weary.
Yet this shouldn’t surprise us. Remember, we are sheep. Sheep cannot sleep well. In fact, everything must be perfect for sheep to sleep soundly. Only when a good shepherd has cleaned them, disinfected them, led them to good pasture and clear water, and found them appropriate places of safety can sheep lie down and sleep well. Like sheep, for sound sleep and healthy rest, we need a good shepherd. Thankfully, God is in the restoring, renewing, reviving business.
The truth is, WE OFTEN FALL. What does falling look like? There are times we burn out, become apathetic and immobilized by exhaustion. We cry out, like the old TV ad, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” But why does it happen? Once again we get our cue from sheep. Sheep sometimes go belly up. They end up lying on their backs and cannot then get up. It’s called being “cast.” There they lie, their feet flailing in the air, lashing about. If no help comes soon, they will die from either suffocation or from an enemy attack.
Sheep become cast in, basically, three ways. First, they BECOME TOO COMFORTABLE. Sheep sometimes look for a soft hallow spot in the ground - a sort of natural resting place. Because it’s hallowed out, when they lie down it is all too easy for them to roll over onto their backs - and once on their backs, they are stuck – and all because they sought comfort.
It is so easy for us to want no demands, to crave only comfort. Perhaps that’s why Paul wrote (I Cor. 10:12): “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” Think of the rich young ruler who approached Jesus. He liked life the way it was, even though he wasn’t sure about eternal life. He just wasn’t willing to meet Jesus’ demands; they made him uncomfortable. In Rev. 3, we hear Jesus speaking to the church in Laodicea. Verse 17: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” Like them, it’s easy for us to have little enthusiasm, sense no urgency, and have no compassion for those who are broken or lost. It is so easy to be a mild Christian while facing little hardship, living an easy life, blocking out all demands, with no sense of surrender. We become so comfortable that we seek accommodation with the world’s mindset, give in, and compromise so as to avoid conflict and pressure. Then when a real challenge comes, when we are face to face with Jesus’ demands, we have no strength or desire to respond and we go belly up.
Sheep also cast because they BECOME TOO DIRTY. Their wool gets too long and is matted with manure, burrs, and other debris. In other words, they are weighed down by their own wool! Now in Scripture wool represents the old self-life and sin. My wool is my own desires, my own hopes, my own dreams. Wool represents our worldly pursuits, our selfish ambitions, our wandering away from God’s commands. Our wool is all our busyness and baggage which weigh us down. It stands for anything which drives us away from God, even, perhaps, some “good things.” Maybe that’s why no High Priest could ever wear wool into the Holy of Holies - it stood for pride and personal preference. Our dirt prevents us from jumping up to follow Jesus; it’s not that we don’t want to – we just can’t. We’re too burdened down by all our dirt. We try to get up but have no strength, and we go belly up. This is why the writer of the letter to the Hebrews urges us (12:1) to lay aside every sin and weight which clings too closely!
The third reason sheep become cast is that they BECOME TOO FAT. They eat too much food, too much of the wrong kind of food, and get too little exercise. It reminds me of Isaiah 55, where God asks, “Why spend your money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” Sounds like us at times, doesn’t it? We work so hard and such long hours to gain only bread and receive what does not eternally satisfy. Then we may have a moment when we think maybe we’ve done well in the world. We’ve “arrived.” But soon we discover that it’s all wealth and little health. Too much wealth for our own good, and too little exercise of faith. Remember the farmer Jesus spoke about who didn’t know what to do with all his produce, so he built more and bigger barns? Jesus told him He would soon be belly up. Success is not a sign of spiritual health; affluence is not a sign of godliness. Too much wealth too often leads to a false sense of no need - at least the rich young ruler sensed a need! The tragedy is that the fatness comes on so slowly that people do not even realize it - sort of like freezing to death. The great newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst was an art patron and spent a great deal of money on treasures for his personal collection. One day he found a description of an art work that he felt he must own, so he sent his agent abroad to find it. After months of searching, the agent reported that he had found the object. It was already in Hearst’s warehouse, with many other treasures, still in crates. He was searching for a treasure he already owned! He was too fat to know where to find the treasure of his heart. So we become too fat and, when trying to respond to Jesus, have no strength and go belly up.