Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Green Pastures

"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures..."
Psalm 23:1, 2

I have been studying about sheep 
and their relationship with their shepherd.
It is quite interesting and enlightening learning.

It is the shepherd's responsibility to make sure the 
sheep and lambs are situated on the very best possible 
feeding grounds, based on their nutritional needs.
If the sheep are left too long in the same pasture,
the pasture becomes contaminated with parasite eggs and larvae,
which causes an adverse affect upon their health.

An experienced shepherd knows when it is time to 
make a move to a new pasture.
He is constantly on watch and in tune with whether or not
the sheep entrusted to his care are being nourished properly
and sufficiently.
He is completely aware of the age of each of his sheep,
and he realizes exactly what they need to thrive and be in good health.

I am amazed at the correlation of an earthly shepherd's care of his sheep,
to our loving Lord, and the gentle Shepherd He is to His children.
He knows whether or not we are still in the lamb-stage, spiritually speaking,
or whether we have progressed to the capacity of a mature sheep.
Our Shepherd knows that the nutritional needs are different for lambs and sheep.
He leads us accordingly.
He knows where we will best thrive and prosper,
and He is ever on the watch for the best interest of our spiritual well-being.

Speaking of Himself as our Shepherd,
Jesus said in John 10:3-5,
"...and the sheep hear His voice:  
and He calleth His own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.  
And when HE putteth forth His own sheep, He goeth 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."

When our Shepherd calls our names...
when we hear His familiar voice...
it is up to us to follow Him.
To trust His wisdom.
To be obedient...
just like sheep.

When He calls us out...
when "He putteth us forth"....
He goes before us.
He winnows our path.
He clears the way.
He knows where the greenest pastures are,
and we can trust that He is ever leading us there.

We don't need to be afraid of unfamiliar pastures.
Our Shepherd knows the spiritually-nutritious quality of each and every pasture,
He created them all....
and He will place us in the one best for us.
He will lead us to the place that is most beneficial to our spiritual well-being.

Our Shepherd is continually aware of our needs.
As we grow and mature, spiritually,
He must move us along
in order to keep us healthy
and cause us to continually thrive.

I have questioned His reasoning,
as we have heard His precious voice
calling us out of the "familiar"...
out of our complacency....
out of our comfort zone.
I have heard the voices of others 
telling us we were in error...
that we needed to turn around...
and do the complete opposite of 
what our gentle Shepherd commanded.
Their voices were compelling...
but ever contradicting God's tender call.

Sometimes, our Shepherd must lead us over rocky, uncomfortable terrain...
to get us to the lush, green pastures He has in mind for us.
The road ahead can be intimidating...
we can feel the temptation to turn around....
and go back....
to what was easier.
The Shepherd knows this...
He senses our hesitation.
He has valid reason for moving us out...
for moving us on.
He realizes that if we turn around,
our spiritual health will be compromised...
we will be in jeopardy of starvation...
and contamination...
from staying in the same pasture for too long.
So, He calls...
He continues to beckon...
to encourage us to plod on....
to disregard the discomfort....
to ignore the other voices....
to not be afraid.
He sends His rod and His staff....
to comfort us on our journey.
To correct us when we get too close to the ledge.
To prod us back in the right direction,
when we start to look back.

He loves us too much to let us stay in an unhealthy pasture.
His goal is to lead us to Heaven....
to live with Him for eternity.
He knows the route to get there.
All we have to do is follow.
He has feeding grounds that you and I have never heard of.
There are green pastures that will feed and nourish and bless 
us in ways we have never before been blessed.
But, in order to get there,
we must follow Him.
When faced with the choice of following His voice 
or staying where we are,
we have to choose to trust His wisdom...
no matter how radical or unfamiliar or steep the path in front of us.
We cannot fear the unknown.
We need not...
for our Shepherd leads the way.
He will steer us through the narrow passages.
He will walk ahead of us on sure ground.
All we have to do is place our feet in His footprints.

What would happen if when the shepherd called his sheep,
they refused to follow him?
What if he did his utmost to make them move,
and they decided they were going to stay where they were...
in the parasite and larvae-infested pasture?
What if they made up their mind that His command to move didn't make sense?
That they were comfortable and at ease,
and they were not willing to leave the familiarity of their surroundings?
What if they listened to the voice of a stranger....
telling them to stay in the familiar....
to draw back from the discomfort of the elements....
and whatever else they might encounter?

Their health would suffer,
they would become ill,
and eventually, they would starve....
completely to death.

The Eastern shepherds give names to their sheep 
just like you and I name our dogs, cats, horses, and other pets.
The individual sheep recognize their own name, 
and they come when called.
It is amazing how obedient,
and compliant sheep are.
They simply trust their shepherd....
and they follow his lead.

When there are several flocks mingled together in one place, 
the sheep quickly separate at the sound of the voice of their own shepherds.
The voice of a strange shepherd has no effect upon them.
They ignore the voice of any shepherd, 
other than their own.

Our Shepherd is never without resources.

God always has a feeding plan for His children,
even in the midst of famine, drought,
or the worst and most barren of circumstances.

Long ago, there was a drought in the land of Israel.
It didn't rain for over three years.
But God's eye was upon His faithful ones.
He had a plan to sustain them.
In I Kings 17, we read of how He cared for His faithful prophet, Elijah.
His first command was for Elijah to leave what was familiar to him,
to turn eastward,
and to go to a brook called Cherith.
Elijah obeyed.
He made a move, at God's command.
Had he stayed where he was,
chances are, he would have starved and died of thirst.
There was fresh, clean drinking water in the Cherith brook...
right in the midst of drought.
The brook took care of his need for water,
but where did Elijah find food?
God commanded ravens to bring bread and meat to him...
every morning and evening...
every day!

God never runs out of creative means to feed and nourish His sheep.

After a period of time,
the Cherith brook dried up due to lack of rain.
God's eye was still on Elijah.
He saw what was happening.
He was in control.
He didn't choose to send rain to replenish the brook,
but He chose to move His child....
to another pasture...
to another feeding ground.

He told Elijah to pick up and move to Zarephath...
that He already had a plan in place for his sustenance....
that He had spoken to a widow woman there,
and she would obediently sustain him.

What if Elijah had grown fond of the Cherith brook?
What if he had become comfortable there and
enjoyed having the ravens coming to bring his food twice a day?
What if he refused to leave his comfort zone?
He wouldn't have lasted long around a dry brook
He wouldn't have been able to sustain life with no ravens flying over with food.

His time there was over.
It was time to move on and obediently follow His Shepherd.

When he arrived in Zarephath,
sure enough arrangements were already made for his survival.
He stayed there, until God told Him to move on.

See the pattern?
Our Shepherd is in control.
When He says,
"Deny yourself,
take up your cross,
and follow Me",
He knows what He is doing.
It may not make sense to other sheep around us.
But, if we linger where we are when He says,
we will wither up and die, spiritually.

He is constantly working and endeavoring to keep us in a healthy state.
He wants us to thrive.
To be all we can be for Him.

Our job is to know our Shepherd intimately.
To recognize His voice above and apart from all others.
To stay close enough to Him to be able to hear when He speaks.
And when He tells us it is time to move to another pasture,
no matter how uncomfortable it may be to leave our sense of familiar,
no matter who does or does not understand us or our actions,
no matter how rough and rocky the terrain,
we must follow Him....
and Him alone.

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