(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I
shall not be in want.
This morning, we need a quick reminder that of all the possible animals to identify us with, from the thousands of species possible, God choose in his wisdom to call us sheep. And we have found there are many reasons for that. Sheep, if they do not follow are in deep trouble - deep trouble from predators, deep trouble from all kinds of hazards because they simply are not smart enough to think ahead. Sheep because we desperately need the protection of a shepherd. Sheep because sheep take a lot of work to take care of like we do. Ask any parent. Of all the species, a human child demands the most care for a longer period of time than any other species. Without a shepherd, sheep do not prosper. So Jesus, the good Shepherd came to lead us so that we might have life in abundance, that we as sheep might prosper. The truth that we need to remember as we reflect on “he leads me beside quiet waters” is that sheep will drink from almost anything as long as it does not spook them.
That is a very practical truth, because I suspect most of us have assumed that “he leads me beside quiet waters” has something to do with relaxation beside a lake, at least that is how we picture it in our minds, something very fitting for holidays. And so if you type “quiet waters” into an internet search engine, the first sites you will hit have to do with places where you can vacation and rest beside water. Though this verse has everything to do with rest, the focus of that rest is in the leadership of the shepherd, not in the waters that are quiet.
You see, a good shepherd cares so much for his sheep that he will work hard for them. In shepherding, this means that the shepherd will be up before dawn leading his sheep into pasture. And the reason why he must get up before dawn is because the best water that sheep can take in is the dew that they drink while they are eating grass. If the weather is not to hot, and sheep can find shade during the day, dew on the grass in the morning is sufficient to provide all the hydration that they need for the day. And so a wise shepherd gets us early, leads his sheep to pasture before the sun has risen so that the sheep may be watered and receive the best water.
If however dew is lacking or the weather is very hot, then sheep need water. And sheep will drink from anything. They will drink from any puddle, puddles filled with manure from previous days, puddles filled with nematodes which are parasitic worms and there are some 20,000 varieties all of which can cause major bowel problems, and can be as short as .3 millimetres to 8 meters in length. Liver flukes can be taken in, they are flatworms that dig through the intestine wall, travel through the abdomen to the liver and cause serious liver damage and with other infections cause death. Sheep simply have no awareness of how dangerous quiet waters can be. They have no idea that drinking from this puddle of water may take their life in a month. That is why they need a shepherd to lead them beside quiet waters.
So a good shepherd will be very mindful of what the sheep drink. If a stream is nearby, a shepherd will lead them to the quality flowing water - but as Ang Lee, the director of Brockback Mountain discovered in the process of making the movie, sheep will not drink from flowing water. It spooks them. What a good shepherd will do is dig a hole next to the stream so that a small amount of water from the stream flows in and out of the hole. The sheep will then drink from the quiet quality waters in the hole that the shepherd has dug.
And if a stream is not nearby, a shepherd has to do the hard work of going to a well and lifting the water by bucket out of the well. That’s ok if you have a few sheep, but if you have hundreds, that is hours of heavy lifting just to water your sheep.
The key theme in this passage is the rest that sheep can have in the leadership of their shepherd. We need to remember that this passage is a boast about our good shepherd. In the end, it is all about our Lord, our manager, our good shepherd, Jesus who leads us beside quiet waters, who gives us the good water of life. Jesus does the hard work of leading us. And if we refuse to follow his word and his Spirit, we do it to our own peril and our own restlessness. There is true rest in following Jesus, who is the protector of our soul.
Now today is Father’s day, and in truth, this passage has a very practical application for parenting, true for both mothers and fathers, but because of this day, we will focus on Fathers.
In a sense, to be a Father is to shepherd our children with the kind of love and care that mirrors that of Christ, that we would give our lives for our children. Fathers are called by God to lead their children, their families into blessing, and like a good shepherd, there are themes that are very consistent with parenting and shepherding.
To shepherd sheep is hard work, in fact the mark of a good shepherd is his willingness to rise early and work hard, lead the sheep to the best possible water for their blessing. Hard work is what parenting well is about. I suspect that one of the greatest demises of parenting is parenting sloth. And today I am speaking to Fathers of which I am one and as guilty as you are. One of the greatest disasters of our North American way of life is so investing in our careers that when it comes to parenting, we leave it all to our wives. Children have been richly blessed to see all those mothers give their all to their children, our children are more richly blessed where their fathers equally give their all to parenting rather than other pursuits. How many of us here have to admit that when it came to growing up - Dad was absent? It is the presence of the shepherd that gives to the sheep prosperity and rest, not his absence. Our culture tells us as men that taking care of our children is secondary compared to our careers, our businesses, our television, our sports relationships. The biblical truth is, both parents are to regard their children as their first priority. To do otherwise is parental sloth. I know this is strong language, but the word challenges us to be fathers who are deeply involved in the lives of our children. What is more important to us - our children or our careers, our children or our income, our children of our businesses, sports, etc? We must decide and remember that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Father’s lead your children - and do the hard work of leading them. The question is though, how do we lead our children? What does it mean to lead our children? Scriptures answer to that is one word: “Wisdom.” Children are just like sheep. Anything that slakes their thirst for life - they’re willing to drink from it. But wisdom knows that to drink from some sources are dangerous. Wisdom knows that there are long term consequences to the decisions and actions we take. Wisdom knows that actions build into habits that build into character. And so wrong actions in time build unhealthy characters.
Fathers - lead by wisdom. Tell your children about the consequences of actions before you have to apply the truth to their lives. Give them the tools of wisdom for life before they need it applied to their own lives. I suspect one of the reasons why young people go astray is because parents choose to enforce wisdom when that wisdom should have been taught years before. Your presence with wisdom, in a lifestyle that reflects Godly peace loving wisdom, is worth every minute.
Teach them early, teach them while they are young so that they do not have to learn it for themselves the hard way. So many of us live with the assumption that our children have to learn things the hard way. For our lack of teaching and discipline, we depend on the Lord to teach and discipline them, and sometimes his discipline is very difficult to take. In error, we think we have to leave it up to the Lord, leave it to the school of hard knocks! Scripturally, that is not true. Covenentally that is not true. We are to bring wisdom to their hearts while they are young. It is worth far more than silver or gold, says the proverbs. It is worth far more than possessions or inheritances or even a college education. Wisdom guards a person for life. Fathers, give to your children the greatest gift - faith filled wisdom! May your children say of you “He leads me beside quiet waters.”
My Father demonstrated that kind of
wisdom a number of times. I remember well living in a home where my
father and brothers all smoked and so I decided one day that I would
like to try it, after all, growing up and smoking up was synonymous in
those days. My father, knowing I had asthma already, and seeing the
potential consequences of that decision on my part choose to help me
with my decision. He gave me my first cigarette and invited me to
inhale deep and hard with every breath. Within 15 minutes, my nausea
complete with very uncomfortable gastrointestinal convulsions
overwhelmed me. I never had a desire to drink from that puddle again.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.