LEADING QUESTIONS SERMON SERIES
GO REST YOUNG MAN – HOW DOES GOD LEAD ME?
MAY 24, 1998
School mascots are interesting, aren’t they? The mascots spanning my scholastic career are as follows. The Bees, the Eagles, the Trojans, the Vikings, the Mustangs and the Seminoles. Mascots represent strength and confidence and valor. Come to think of it, I have never heard of a sheep as a school’s mascot. I can hear it now. So and so High School, home of the fighting sheep, bahhh. Believe it or not, our loving and transcendent God’s mascot is the sheep. He uses sheep to illustrate His relationship with mankind.
I am in a series on the Twenty-third Psalm we are calling, Leading Questions. This text was written from the perspective of a sheep. I believe that it gives us answers, precise, no-nonsense answers to life’s most profound questions. I think we could get it on the first read if it said, the Lord is my CEO and He gives me great incentives. Or, the Lord is my coach and He calls the plays. Or, the Lord is my teacher and He provides me all the answers to the test questions. But, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. What is up with that?
To understand the answers to life’s most profound questions we have to grasp the shepherd-like qualities of God and our sheep-like qualities. Question. Can God lead me? Can God guide my life? Can He give me directions in a direction-less world? And if He can, how does it take place? What is the step by step process? Over the next few moments, I am going to list out several phrases from the Twenty-third Psalm because these phrases will help all of us get a read on God’s lead. But before we talk about these phrases, let me give you one quick and important contingency. The Twenty-third Psalm was written only to those in our midst who are connected to the flock. It was written for those here who have made the Lord Jesus Christ their shepherd. Now I know that we have many people here who are kind of checking out Christianity. You are testing the waters and may be contemplating a faith decision. Pay close attention because what we are going to talk about can, and will, happen once you bow the knee and establish a personal connection with the Good Shepherd.
How do I get a read on God’s lead? Here is how the Lord leads us. First, He leads us to rest. God leads us to rest. Psalm 23 says, the Lord, “makes me lie down in green pastures.” Isn’t that great? God makes me lie down. He gives me rest. I don’t know if you know very much about sheep but I have been studying them over the last several months. Sheep have to have several things taken care of if they are going to lie down. Now some of you might be thinking that is weird, that sheep are so particular before they will lay down.
Well, let’s think about human beings. We are pretty particular, aren’t we? I have got to have a foam pillow. I have got to have a feather pillow. I have got to have a soft mattress, or a hard mattress. I have got to have a fan on. I have got to have the radio on. I have got to have a dimly lit room, or a dark room. Sheep are the same way. I think that God created sheep to have an illustration for human beings. The shepherd who shepherds his flock is going to make sure some things are taken care of if the sheep are ready to rest. First of all, he will make sure that they are free from fear. Sheep are very fearful animals. They are always looking over their shoulders. And they don’t rest until their fears are taken care of. They are thinking about the cougars and the coyotes and the wild dogs. One little field mouse or one lone jackrabbit can stampede an entire flock of sheep. It will freak them out. But when the shepherd is on the scene, and sheep make eye contact with him, their fears subside and then they are ready to lie down.
A lot of us deal with fear, don’t we? Fear of the unexpected. Maybe the fear of a disaster. And we are ambushed by these fears. The three biggest fears that we face are the fear of death, the fear of living alone and the fear of failure. What fear is tyrannizing and paralyzing your life? Maybe you have just gotten a grim report from the doctor. Maybe you are experiencing gridlock in a family situation. Maybe you find yourself looking over your shoulder. And maybe like a sheep, you are thinking about running, about getting out of there. Don’t do it. Focus on the Good Shepherd. You have got to realize and understand that Jesus, Himself, is near. He is right beside you. And the moment you understand that, the fear will subside and then and only then are you ready to rest.
The shepherd not only takes care of fear, he also takes care of friction. You see, sheep are competitive. They are jealous. They are always butting each other, trying to be the top sheep. Rivalries are involved. But as shepherd Phil Keller writes, “When I walk on the scene and the sheep look at me, suddenly they begin to forget about the competition and the rivalries and the problems they are having in the flock.” It doesn’t matter what firm or organization or team or company you are involved in, we are all trying to butt others out of the way, all trying to be the top chief, all trying to get that status. We deal with the same sort of issues that the sheep deal with. Yet, the Lord Jesus Christ challenges us to look at Him, to focus on Him because when we do that, we forget about the petty rivalries and problems and friction with others.
Maybe you are saying to yourself that you have friction with someone, but they have not forgiven you. The person has messed you around. The person has abused you. The person has stabbed you in the back. Did you hear what Marty Rabon talked about in his songs? We serve a God of forgiveness. Jesus Christ has forgiven all of our sins; past, present and future. And most of the world has not accepted His forgiveness. Yet, Christ did the work. He forgave us. We are challenged, in fact, we have a mandate from the Good Shepherd, Himself, to forgive others no matter if they have abused us, wronged us, stabbed us. No matter if they will not forgive us, not admit that they are wrong, we are challenged to forgive them, to release them, to get rid of the friction because the Good Shepherd wants me and wants you to rest. Too many times in my life I have held on to the friction that I felt for others and couldn’t get the rest that He desired me to have.
The shepherd makes sure the sheep are free of fear and free from friction. Also he makes sure they are free from flies. Over the last several years my travels to Central America have put me in contact with the meanest insect in the world. The locals call them doctor flies. Doctor flies are terrible. I don’t care what type of insect repellent you put on, that is like an appetizer to them. They just drink that up and then they will bite the fool out of you. And if a doctor fly is in your room at night, there is no way you can rest. Doctor flies are bad. Well, let’s say you are a sheep. Sheep deal with flies. They are in their noses and eyes. And the sheep cannot and will not lie down if he is being bugged. You know how irregular people just bug us? What do you do about it? Think about the shepherd. A shepherd will take his sheep and put repellant on their bodies. He will dip the sheep to get rid of the ticks and the fleas. We are simply to present ourselves to Jesus Christ and say that we are exposing everything to Him. Then we ask Him to take care of all of the things that are bugging us. We ask to be bathed in His repellent, dipped in His love and forgiveness and grace. And after that, we will be able to lie down. The Good Shepherd leads me to rest.
This Thursday I spent some time with a man named Jim. Jim looked at me and said something that really rocked me. He said, “Ed, a couple of years ago I was heavily involved in cocaine and partying and women. But I couldn’t find rest. I was restless until one day some people came by my house and challenged to get into a personal relationship with the Lord. I did it and my life has never been the same since. I have a peace now, a rest, an assurance that words cannot express.” I turned to him and said, “You won’t believe this, man. This weekend I am talking about rest. And you just told me about your former restlessness and about the rest you are experiencing now.”
Are you like Jim? Today could be your day. Today could be the moment in time when you step across the line and connect with God’s flock. Today could be the day when you invite the Good Shepherd to invade every fiber of your being. But you are never going to experience rest until you make the wonderful choice to make Jesus your Savior. How does the Good Shepherd lead me? He leads me to rest.
But He also leads me in another way. He leads me to refreshment. Psalm 23: 2. “He leads me beside quiet waters.” Yes, He makes me lie down in green pastures but also He gives me refreshment. He leads me beside quiet waters. Sheep get water from two major sources. The first source will probably surprise you. Sheep get a lot of water from just grazing. When they eat the dew-drenched grass, they are taking in liquid. And if there is a lot of dew on the grass, they don’t have to drink a lot of water since they get it from their vegetation. Sheep naturally get up very early. They are early risers. They will get up at dawn and graze. And a smart shepherd is gong to lead the sheep to dew-drenched grass. They will get the liquid that way and can be refreshed. And the shepherd is thrilled because he has taken care of his sheep.
It is the same way in our spiritual pilgrimage. The greatest Christ followers I know, the people who live life with confidence, endurance and a vision, are the ones who get up early and feed regularly on God’s word. Some set aside the first minutes, some the first hours, of the day to talk to God in prayer and to read His word. As they do so, they experience rest and they are refreshed. And the Good Shepherd, Jesus, stands right beside them and is pleased. Sheep get water from the dew-drenched grass.
Sheep also get water by drinking, by just lapping it up. Sheep are not real smart. We talked about that last week. Sheep, when they are thirsty, will just wander. Without a shepherd leading them to quiet waters, they will just wander off. They will find any polluted puddle and drink from it. And they don’t realize it but they are ingesting parasites and diseases that can ultimately kill them and mess up the entire flock. Sheep just do this.
I run into so many people who are trying to get their thirst quenched. They are hungry and thirsty for God yet they turn their backs on the Good Shepherd and drink from polluted puddle after polluted puddle. Little do they realize that they are ingesting parasites and diseases and it is tearing them apart.
Thursday night I was out of town and had dinner with four men from a southern state. These men were highly successful. Yet as I listened to their talk and looked into their eyes, I could tell they were lapping up puddle after puddle of polluted, parasite-laden water. They were moving from woman to woman, fun fix to fun fix, trophy to trophy, position to position. Each thought he would get his thirst quenched. Yet they were empty and thirsty and unsatisfied. It is staggering, the lengths we will go to to try and quench this thirst. We will get involved in community efforts or hobbies or sports and we think that will do it. Now those things are fine and dandy, but there is only one thing that will truly quench that deep down thirst. It is to drink from Christ.
John 7:37. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty….” Anyone. You may be saying, “But, Ed, you don’t know what I am involved in. You don’t know how I have turned my back on God.” “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me a drink.” I found out something else about a sheep that is kind of interesting. Sheep hate running water. They don’t like rushing water. And back in biblical days, there was a lot of rushing water on the hillsides of Palestine. If the shepherd led the sheep to the rushing water, they would just stand there. Mouths swollen. Thirsty. Panting. Dying of thirst. But they wouldn’t drink the water. They were afraid of the rushing water. Why? If water gets on the thick wool coat of a sheep, he can become water logged and drown. So the sheep will stand there looking longingly into the rushing waters of a stream, yet not drink. However, the good shepherd will venture out into the stream and with his staff loosen some boulders and make some quiet, still waters in the midst of the rushing stream. And then he will invite the flock to drink out of the quiet, still waters in the midst of the rushing stream.
How many times in our lives does the Good Shepherd lead us to rushing streams, rushing streams at the marketplace, in relationships, in difficulties. We stand there asking why God had led us to the rushing water. But if we concentrate on Him, if we follow His lead, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd will venture out into the stream, loosen some boulders and provide some still waters for us in the midst of the rushing water. I have had better nourishment, my thirst has been quenched to a better degree in the midst of the rushing stream than when everything is going fine and dandy. There is something about those quiet waters in the midst of the rushing stream that fills and energizes and gives us vitality. The Good Shepherd wants to provide those still waters in the midst of the rushing stream. But if you don’t follow Him, you will never, ever discover how great the waters can be.
The Good Shepherd leads me to rest, to refreshment. He also leads me to restoration. Psalm 23:3. “He restores my soul.” Are we tracking here? We are in the flock. We are following the Shepherd. He makes us to lie down in green pastures and leads me beside quiet waters with the net effect being, soul restoration. Now when I read that I asked myself why in the world does a Christian need soul restoration? After all, I am part of the flock. I am following the Shepherd. Do I need my soul restored? Yes. Restoration means a couple of things. First, restoration means that Jesus revives life in me.
Remember, this psalm was penned by David. David was called the man after God’s own heart. David was well acquainted with deceit and depression. He was well acquainted with falling into temptation. David needed restoration. He needed his life to be revived. And here is what he wrote one day. Psalm 42:11. “Why are thou cast down, oh my soul?” See that phrase cast down? It is a shepherding term. Cast down meant that a sheep would lie down and relax and all of a sudden he would become cast. He would be on his back, flailing, not being able to get up. And if the sheep is like that for awhile, guess what would happen. The sheep would die. So a good shepherd is going to watch for the cast sheep. He is going to check them out. Oh, there is a cast sheep. He will run over and turn the sheep right side up. Sheep get cast all the time.
As I thought about this, I thought about my own life. I have been cast before. I have been on my back in a difficult situation and so have you. What happens when a sheep and a Christ follower become cast? How do we become cast? I have found that we get cast when we become too comfortable. That is what happens to the sheep. A sheep finds a little depression or a hollow. The grass is so cool, so inviting. He just gets comfortable and after awhile he begins to turn over and gets cast. A lot of Christians are in danger of becoming cast when they get comfortable. They say they want to get to that position, that realm, that level and once they reach there, there will be no problems. They think they won’t need any endurance, any vision, any commitment. They think they can just relax. If you do that, you will be in danger of getting cast. Don’t get relaxed. The Christian life is the greatest life in the universe. It is not easy. It is not a lay-up. It will take everything you have. But it is the life you were wired up to live. There is nothing like it. Talk about adventure. Talk about excitement. Talk about potential. It lies in being connected with Christ. Comfort is not in the Bible. We are never to become comfortable Christians.
Another way humans as sheep can become cast is if our wool coats become too thick and too heavy. Big old sheep have thick wool coats that begin to collect everything; burrs and briars and mud and manure. And if that happens, they can easily get cast. Things just stick to the sheep like Velcro. We can become cast if the things of the world stick to us. My title. My salary. My corner office. Who I am. Where I am going. My recreational pursuits. My car. My wardrobe. They can stick to me like Velcro and if I am not careful, I can become cast.
What happens when a sheep has a coat that is too thick, all matted with mud and manure and briars and burrs? What does the shepherd do? He takes out the shears and goes to work. The sheep begins to feel naked. He has been sheared by the shepherd. Well, the shepherd has to do this. And the Good Shepherd sometimes has to do this to you and to me. We become too proud, too cool, too sly, too hip, too vogue, too attached to the things of the world. And when He shears us we will cry and moan and ask God why He is doing that to us. He is doing it to help us, to improve us, to make us more and more reliant on Him.
There is one more reason we become cast and I will stop here. When we are just overweight. When a sheep has gained too much weight, it can become cast. A good shepherd will put the sheep on a diet. He will probably lead it to pastures of oat bran, I don’t know. Instead of water, he will have him lap up some carrot juice. Oftentimes, since we live in the belt buckle of the Bible belt, we have a lot of people who go by the label of Christian who just want more and more information, more and more Bible knowledge. They think they have to know theology and eschatology, etc. and they ingest calorie after calorie and get spiritually fat. They are spiritually fat because they don’t really use their gifts, use their talents within the context of the local church. The Bible was not written for our information. It was written for our transformation. Instead of being studied, it should be lived out. If most of us would apply 10% of what we already know, we would be way ahead of the game. So if we just sit there and ask to be fed, we will become cast.
Soul restoration has to do with reviving life in me when I am cast. And it has to do with one more thing. Restoration also means to return. The Good Shepherd keeps sheep from wandering. As I said earlier, sheep have a tendency to just wander. If a shepherd has a flock and just one or two sheep keep wandering off, day in and day out, the good shepherd will leave the flock and search for the wandering sheep. But once the shepherd finds the sheep, here is what he will do. He will take the wandering sheep, hold it close to his heart and he will break a leg. You may be saying that that is kind of cruel. Oh, no, it is not cruel. He is doing it because he loves the sheep and wants the sheep to depend on him. He is doing it to assist the sheep, not to hurt or damage it in any way. Once he has broken the sheep’s leg, he provides a little splint for it and he carries the sheep on his shoulder. The sheep begins to totally depend on the shepherd. Then after a while of doing that, the leg heals. But this sheep, boy, is biting on the heels of the shepherd from then on.
Has God every broken you? Do you keep wandering off? After awhile He will. But He will do it out of love. God disciplines those He loves. Lisa and I have four children. We don’t allow our kids to just go wild. We discipline them. We tell them that we are doing that because we love them. God does the same thing to every Christ follower here. So what are you doing about it? The ball is in your court. It is your move. It is your choice. The Shepherd can lead you to the quiet water. He can challenge you and make you lie down. He can restore your soul. But the bottom line is that you have freedom of choice. You either choose it or you don’t. So the next time you hear about a school mascot, whether it is a Bee, an Eagle, a Trojan, a Viking, a Mustang or a Seminole, think about God’s mascot, the Sheep. That is His illustration of His love-based relationship with mankind. Follow the Good Shepherd and you will go rest, young man or young woman. You will go rest.