One thing that arguably irritates me more than anything else is the belittling notion that my friends have about working in ministry. Maybe you’ve heard this in different forms: “So, what do you do all day, watch Youtube and play guitar?” “Do you even work? It seems like leading worship on Sundays wouldn’t be that hard!” “They pay you to do that?” Maybe I just need to get new friends.
All (partial) jokes aside, if you are in vocational ministry, whether preaching, teaching, leading, counseling, or whichever area that the Lord has placed you in, you are aware that ministry is one of the most exhausting jobs in existence. There is a different type of weight that ministers carry, as we see in Scripture: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls and will give an account for their work” (Hebrews 13:17 NET). In addition to the exhaustion that comes with shepherding a flock faithfully, and with the temptation to not have a Sabbath for the sake of “productivity,” we as the church have bought into the lie that our culture tells us: “the more you are doing, the more successful and effective you are going to be.”
If you are in vocational ministry, whether preaching, teaching, leading, counseling, or whichever area that the Lord has placed you in, you are aware that ministry is one of the most exhausting jobs in existence.
I am extremely guilty of this. I have a type-A mindset that tells me my worth is based on the things that I do, instead of whose I am. When Jesus says in Luke 10 that the necessary thing that I must do is sit at His feet, I scoff. When Jesus says in John 15 that when I abide in Him my joy will be made complete, I try to justify a 15-minute quiet time in the morning as me abiding faithfully because I am just too busy for more. Do you see my hypocrisy?
I want to share some insight with you that I’ve gotten in a book I’ve been reading. A few weeks ago, my supervisor brought a book to my attention called, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.” The book was written by Phillip Keller in 1970. Keller was born in East Africa and spent a lot of his life as a sheep rancher in British Columbia, and out of this experience, he gained some awesome insight on sheep-to-shepherd relationships. He argues that the Psalmist David, who was a shepherd before he became king over Israel, wrote Psalm 23 with more contextual insight than most of us could ever articulate or imagine, especially without having some kind of shepherd’s experience. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this Psalm, it says this:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (NIV)
For sake of time and word count, I want to focus on the verse, “He makes me lie down in green pastures,” and what this means for us as worship leaders. More importantly, I want to focus on what this means for us as children of God.
He Makes Me Lie Down in Green Pastures
Keller explains the significance of what this line actually means. It’s not just a poetic line that the Lord gives us so we’ll relax because He is good, but he explains that sheep do not naturally lie down. It’s against their nature. They are very restless creatures, and they need four conditions to be satisfied before they will lie down:
- They must be free of all fear.
- They must be free from friction with other sheep.
- They cannot be tormented from flies or parasites.
- They must be free from hunger.
Do these four conditions sound anything like the worries of your own life? I know they sound like mine. All too often, I’m scared of the future. I’m scared of what people think of me. I’m scared that the Lord doesn’t actually love me. I’m scared because I don’t know where I’ll be after my current residency with The Austin Stone.
I compare myself to other worship leaders. I try to size myself up with other people to feel valuable. I let little things completely ruin my day. I focus on what I don’t have instead of being thankful for what has been given to me. I think the Lord isn’t going to give me what I need. I think going into ministry and abandoning law school is going to put my future family in tough economic binds.
You want to know what (or rather, Who) solves all of these problems? The Good Shepherd, our Jesus. He calms our fears, He takes away the need to compete with our co-laborers, He cares about our anxieties whether large or small, and He gives us our daily bread. This is the same Jesus that John 1:1-2 says was there before creation and creation came through Him. The same Jesus that saw every sin before you ever committed it and still said, “I choose you. You’re my child, with whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus calms our fears, takes away the need to compete with our co-laborers, cares about our anxieties whether large or small, and gives us our daily bread.
He is sovereign, child of God, and He wants us to remember that. Musicians Penny and Sparrow penned these lyrics that perfectly capture God’s heart toward us: “I see you, and I know you, and I’m not going anywhere.” Even when we are afraid, we know that our Good Shepherd not only sees us and knows us perfectly, but He lays down his life for His sheep (John 10:11). Even when all hope seems lost, and the mountains of stress seem to grow higher, we can trust that the Sovereign Shepherd is working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). We don’t have to fear the unknown, because “unknown” is not true of anything for our all-knowing God.
He is where your worth is found, child of God. Sheep, like humans, tend to fight over the best grazing (think jobs, positions). Sheep butt their heads against one another as hard as they can in order to try and show superiority to the rest of the flock, but all they end up doing is hurting themselves. Sound familiar? When the sheep see their shepherd and their attention shifts to him instead of on themselves, all competition and focus on lesser things fades away. Like the old hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” goes, “and the things of this world will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.” Jesus is the one who changes our wicked hearts from competition to humility, from comparison to celebrating others.
He sees you and knows your every need, child of God. Jesus takes care of ours flies and parasites. Whether your parasites are a sickness in your family, a member of your band that won’t submit to your leadership, burnout, whatever it may be for you, know that Christ cares. He perfectly empathizes. In fact, He tells us to cast our cares on Him, whether large or small (1 Peter 5:7). We as His children can trust that if He doesn’t immediately remove our “bugs,” it’s for His glory and our good and we can trust that He will always provide the grace we need to endure (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
He satisfies, child of God. Our Jesus offers us the bread of life, Himself, that completely satisfies, and causes me to not hunger anymore. He brings life and life to the full (John 10:10). The Good Shepherd feeds His sheep with the best grazing. The Good Shepherd offers us living water that will never run out (John 4:13-14).
I ask you, brothers and sisters, to consider this as your prayer. Ask God to let this be your reminder, your anthem, your song.
Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law. (Psalms 119:109 NIV)
We constantly try and take our lives into our own hands, but the way we fight that temptation is to be people grounded in the Word of God, in Christ. We must be a people who remind ourselves who the Good Shepherd is and who He says we are.
We constantly try and take our lives into our own hands, but the way we fight that temptation is to be people grounded in the Word of God, in Christ.
I’m certain that there’s someone who is going to read this blog who feels like God is angry with you, tired of you, on his last nerve with you … but call that what it is, a lie from hell. Jesus bore our guilt, our shame, our sin, once and for all, so that we could lie down in green pastures and have a relationship with Him. He calls you son or daughter. You are His beloved, with whom He is well pleased. Chosen. Holy. Blameless. Adored. Loved. Child. This is our Jesus, and this is who He says you are. Isn’t that comforting?
Are you lying down in green pastures? It’s offered to you, freely in Christ. All you need to do is ask and receive it.