“He makes me lie down…” (Psalm 23:2)
So how did you sleep last night? Would you say that you generally sleep well? For years I struggled with getting a good night’s sleep. Even though I would be in bed for 7-9 hours I would wake up exhausted. About three years ago I hit the wall and blacked out during a Sunday morning sermon. I was rushed to the Emergency Room by ambulance, attended to by paramedics who assumed I had experienced a stroke. The results of an afternoon’s worth of testing was that I was simply exhausted. The E.R. physician prescribed a sleep study, which revealed that I had sleep apnea. Once I was treated for the sleep disorder, my life changed. Now I sleep well and wake up energized for the day.
One of the concerns that the Good Shepherd has for our lives is that we find rest. Not just physical rest that is the product of sleep, but the rest that comes to our exhausted and stressed out souls. Philip Keller has written a wonderful little book titled, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23,” that draws parallels from his experience as a shepherd with this famous Psalm. According to Keller, a sheep will not lie down unless four things are in place.
1. A sheep will not lie down unless it is free from fear. The anxiety of possible danger or imminent threat will keep the sheep on its feet. I think that in today’s culture we are less alarmed by crisis than we are the uncertain and the unexpected. When trouble comes we can dig deep and rise to the challenge. Its the unknown that keeps us up all night. The shepherd’s role is to provide a sense of security a create an environment that is conducive to rest. We can find rest knowing that God is on security duty.
2. A sheep will not lie down unless it is free from interpersonal conflict. Sheep, like many species, have a “pecking order” that is established through aggressive behavior. In fact, for sheep it is called the “butting order.” One sheep will butt another with its head to create dominance. So if there is conflict among the herd, sheep will not lie down. We have the same thing in our species. Rivalry, competition, aggression, dominance are all part of our sophisticated culture. Like sheep, we struggle to find rest when we are experiencing interpersonal conflict. Unfortunately, we will talk to everyone else about the problem except the person we have the problem with. Jesus gave his disciples some great pointers for dealing with interpersonal conflict in Matthew 18:11-15. There, Jesus said to go to the person in private and confront the issue with the loving intent of finding reconciliation. If you’ve been offended, go to the person. If you recognize you are the offending party, go to the person. Jesus bullets out the protocol for resolution. It works!
3. A sheep will not lie down if it is bothered by flies or other parasites. Minor irritations can cause us to lose our ability to rest. Isn’t it interesting that we seemingly handle big things better than those minor irritations? When those minor irritations and aggravations cause you to stare at the ceiling, try putting it all in perspective. Remember that even as you read this, two-thirds of the world’s population lives on $2 per day or less, and half of those on $1 per day or less!
4. A sheep will not lie down if its hungry. More about that tomorrow.
In the meantime, remember that God is interested in your physical and spiritual rest. Psalm 121:4 states that God, the keeper of Israel, neither slumbers or sleeps. So if God is going to stay up all night, we might as well go to bed.