' The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters…' Psalm 23:1
I suppose there cannot be many of us who have not enjoyed a peaceful
walk in the countryside at least once; maybe following a footpath through
pastures where cattle or sheep are grazing. The sun is shining, there's
a pleasant breeze and it's only birdsong that breaks the silence of that
special moment. It's so quiet that you feel like whispering, the peace
and tranquility is so intoxicating. You sit down and breathe in the atmosphere,
soak up the feelings that this green place offers. Is this the picture
that the psalmist saw? I guess it was something similar.
Willem A. VanGemeren writes: "The 'green pastures' are the rich and verdant pastures, where the sheep need not move from place to place to be satisfied.... The sheep have time to rest, as the shepherd makes them to 'lie down.' (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 216).
The Holy Land of our day can give only an imperfect idea of what it was in Biblical times. Over 3000 species of Palestinian flora are known to exist. The Cedars of Lebanon were known throughout the world, and the mountain slopes of Hermon were covered with pine. Palm groves were a dominant feature of the Jordan Valley, and so much of the arable land which now lays fallow provided food and income for the families that farmed there. Olives, figs, pomegranates, grapes, fruits and vegetables for the table and medicinal herbs were cultivated.
When God led the people of Israel to the Promised Land he didn't just take them to any old scrap of land; he had something special in mind for his special people because his aim was to provide for their physical as well as spiritual needs.
There are few of us who are privileged to live in a land 'flowing with milk and honey', or indeed anything resembling the rich and fertile land that God's People were led into. For many of us the Promised Land is outside of our experience. There are so few 'green pastures' within the city landscape, so few quiet places where we can sit and take stock, listening to something other than the sound of motor vehicles, smelling something other than exhaust fumes. Many live in abject poverty and the psalmist's words 'I shall not be in want' are a dream that lies unfulfilled amid the struggle to survive in the day to day business of providing for a family's needs.
So where are the green places? How does a Christian understand those words which are sung or said so often within our Churches? If we cannot spend our lives in the peace and tranquillity of the countryside, because circumstances do not allow, then where can we find the contentment that the writer of Psalm 23 knew?
I look to an elderly lady, Mary to understand the true meaning of this 'green pasture' that God promises. She is 98, a former missionary in India, mind still sharp and active, a great lady of prayer, living alone for many years after the death of her husband and conscious that her body is getting frail and memory steadily failing. Yet this amazing lady, despite the struggle of advancing years can still say with a glint in her eye, 'But I'm happy!'
Or there's another elderly lady who, despite many years living on her own can confidently say that she has never known lonelyness.
I think that these two ladies are in God's green pasture, if not literally then certainly spiritually. They have the same contentment that the psalmist knew; the comfort of knowing that their Shepherd is there, protecting and providing for their needs, having time to be in fellowship with them, leading them gently beside the still waters where they can find refreshment. They understand the peace that God brings to troubled hearts, the Grace that he pours out and the solace there is to be found in being in God's green pastures.
If you can get out into the countryside then do that. Sit down in the warmth of the summer sun; spend time soaking up the tranquility of the setting that you have found yourself in. Look at how God has provided for the birds of the air and the beasts of the field; feel the peace of that place and listen to the stillness of the air. When you return to your own home, remember that experience and recreate it. Find time to sit and be still. Listen to the noises around you and bring raised or happy voices to God in prayer.
Find yourself in your own spiritual 'green pasture' with The Shepherd there to offer protection, comfort and peace. Learn to find contentment with yourself as you are, and within the situation you currently find yourself in, whether it be rich or poor. Be at peace with yourself and God.