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He makes me lie down in green pastures...

There are four things that a sheep needs to lie down in contentment:

She needs to be free of all fear; She needs to be free of all friction from other sheep;
She needs to be free of all pests; She needs to be free from worry about finding food.

(Baa-ing sound is heard)

Ah, that sounds like Dolly. Come on out Dolly – donít be afraid, I was just telling these folk what a sheep needs in order to lie down and have a good sleep. Now, why arenít you asleep?

Baaa.. Iím frightened! Iím scared! Thereís wolves and monsters and Bogey-men in the bushes! Baaa...

There, there, Dolly. Thereís no need to be afraid. Iím here. Iíll protect you. Thatís my job – Iím the shepherd remember. Now settle down and go to sleep.

(Aside) sheep are so timid and easily panicked that even a rabbit suddenly bounding from behind a bush can stampede a whole flock. When one startled sheep runs in fright a dozen others will bolt with it in blind fear, not waiting to see what frightened them. As long as there is even the slightest suspicion of danger from dogs, coyotes, cougars, bears or other enemies the sheep stand up ready to flee for their lives. They have little or no means of self-defence. They are helpless, timid, feeble creatures whose only recourse is to run.

In the Christianís life there is no substitute for the keen awareness that the Shepherd is nearby. There is nothing like Christís presence to dispel the fear, the panic, the terror of the unknown. We live a most uncertain life. Any hour can bring disaster, danger and distress from unknown quarters. Life is full of hazards. No one can tell what a day will produce in new trouble. We live either in a sense of anxiety, fear and foreboding, or in a sense of quiet rest. Which is it?

Generally it is the ďunknown,Ē the ďunexpected,Ē that produces the greatest panic. It is in the grip of fear that most of us are unable to cope with the cruel circumstances and harsh complexities of life. We feel they are foes which endanger our tranquillity. Often our first impulse is simply to get up and run from them. Then in the midst of our misfortunes there suddenly comes the awareness that He, the Christ, the Good Shepherd is there.

Anyway, I was telling you about the four things a sheep needs to settle down and get some rest.

(Baa-ing starts again)

Ooh Dolly, what is it now – I am trying to tell these folk what a sheep needs in order to lie down and have a good sleep. Now, why arenít you asleep?

Itís Mabel, she keeps butting me and telling me I canít lie here, and Shirley says I canít lie over there because sheís top-sheep and I so I butted Mutton because sheís in the place I should be, but she wonít move because she reckons her arthritis is playing her up again...

Calm down Dolly, settle down flock. I am your shepherd – you are all equally precious in my eyes – there is no top sheep, there is no pecking order when I am around, now settle down to sleep.

(Aside) You see, an arrogant, cunning and domineering old ewe will be boss of any bunch of sheep. She maintains her position of prestige by butting and driving other ewes or lambs away from the best grazing or favourite bedgrounds. Succeeding her in precise order the other sheep all establish and maintain their exact position in the flock by using the same tactics of butting and thrusting at those below and around them.

Because of this rivalry, tension and competition for status and self-assertion, there is friction in a flock. The sheep cannot lie down and rest in contentment. Always they must stand up and defend their rights and contest the challenge of the intruder. But whenever the shepherd comes into view and attracts their attention, the sheep quickly forget their foolish rivalries and stop their fighting. The shepherdís presence makes all the difference in their behaviour.

In any business firm, any office, any family, any community, any church, any human organisation or group, be it large or small, the struggle for self-assertion and self-recognition goes on. Most of us fight to be ďtop sheep.Ē We butt and quarrel and compete to ďget ahead.Ē And in the process people are hurt.

It is here that much jealousy arises. This is where petty peeves grow into horrible hate. It is where ill-will and contempt come into being, the place where heated rivalry and deep discontent is born. It is here that discontent gradually grows into a covetous way of life where one has to be forever ďstanding upĒ for himself, for his rights, ďstanding upĒ just to get ahead of the crowd.

If we recognise Jesus as our shepherd, if we recognise that we are all equally precious in Godís eyes and that God loves each and every one of us beyond imagination, then none of that petty human rivalry matters anymore.

Anyway, I was telling you about the four things a sheep needs to settle down and get some rest.

(Baa-ing starts again)

Oh, Dolly, whatís the matter this time? I am trying to tell these folk what a sheep needs in order to lie down and have a good sleep. Now, why arenít you asleep?

Iím all itchy and scratchy, Iíve got bugs in my wool. Iíve got an itch I canít reach in he middle of my back – can you scratch it for me? (left a bit...down a bit etc. Oooh thatís better)

Iíd better give you a spray Dolly. (spray) Now lie down and go to sleep like a good sheep.

Sheep can pick up some nasty pests you know, especially in the summer, they can be driven to absolute distraction by nasal flies, bot flies, warble flies and ticks. When tormented by these pests it is literally impossibly for them to lie down and rest. Instead they are up and on their feet, stamping their legs, shaking their heads, ready to rush off into the bush for relief from the pests.

In our Christian lives, it is the Holy Spirit who lives within us and helps us overcome some of the temptations and pitfalls of life. You donít spray on the Holy Spirit, you build a closeness through reading the Bible, being faithful in prayer and worshipping regularly with fellow Christians.

Anyway, I was telling you about the four things a sheep needs to settle down and get some rest.

(Baa-ing starts again)

Oh, Dolly, whatís the matter this time? I am trying to tell these folk what a sheep needs in order to lie down and have a good sleep. Now, why arenít you asleep?

Iím worried about breakfast.

What do you mean, youíre worried about breakfast.

Well, Iím worried about whether thereís going to be any!

Of course thereís going to be some breakfast. Iím the shepherd and I have planned our route for tomorrow. There will be good pasture and still waters for you to drink. Now go back to sleep, let me worry about tomorrow. Good night!

(Aside) Not many people realise that many of the great sheep countries of the world are dry, semi-arid areas. Most breeds of sheep flourish best in this sort of terrain. They are susceptible to fewer hazards of health or parasites where the climate is dry. But in those same regions it is neither natural nor common to find green pastures. For example, Palestine where David wrote Psalm 23 and kept his fatherís flocks is mostly dry, brown, sun-burned wasteland.

Green pastures donít just happen by chance. Green pastures are the product of tremendous labour, time and skill in land use. Green pastures are the result of clearing rough, rocky land; of tearing out brush and roots and stumps; of deep ploughing and careful soil preparation; of seeding and planting special grains; of irrigating with water and husbanding with care the crops of forage that would feed the flocks. All of this adds up to a huge amount of toil and skill and time for the careful shepherd. If my sheep are going to enjoy green pastures amid the brown, barren hills it means I have a hard job to do.

I am their shepherd, but God is my shepherd. How He works to clear my life of rocks of stony unbelief. How He tries to tear out the roots of bitterness. He attempts to break up the pride in my heart that is set like sun-dried clay. He then sows the seed of His own precious Word, which, if given half a chance to grow will produce rich crops of contentment and peace. He waters this with the dews and rain of His own presence by the Holy Spirit. He tends and cares and cultivates my life, longing to see it become rich and green and productive. The Good Shepherd has supplied green pastures for all those who care to move in onto them and there find peace and plenty.

Now then, the four things a sheep needs to get some rest:

She needs to be free of all fear; She needs to be free of all friction from other sheep; She needs to be free of all pests; She needs to be free from worry about finding food.

I think weíve got them all covered, donít you?

Come on Dolly, itís morning – time to get up – weíve a busy day ahead – Follow me...