There were plenty of words that God COULD have used. When I saw the one that He chose, it grabbed my heart in a way that I hope to never forget.
I was reading Ezekiel 34 a few weeks ago, a fairly well-known passage, especially among pastors. It’s well-known for its sobering condemnation of the leaders of Israel for failing to care for the people of God. No one wants to hear this kind of rebuke: “Woe, shepherds of Israel … should not the shepherds feed the flock? …Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and severity you have dominated them” (vs. 2-4). It’s tragic when modern day leaders deserve a similar rebuke. Lord, please protect me from that.
I never noticed that the second half of that same chapter contains God’s solution to the problem. He would step in! He would bring to His people the tender care that their human shepherds had failed to provide. He Himself would search for them and gather them, care for them and feed them. God was promising to fix it!
And then, verse 15 happens. I hope that I never forget verse 15:
- “I will feed my flock, and I will lead them to …”
How MIGHT God have finished that sentence? There are plenty of possibilities. “Holiness” would fit. So would “obedience.” No one would be surprised to find “righteousness” here, nor “faith.”
But that’s not what He said.
- “I will feed my flock, and I will lead them to rest.”
There it is! The end goal of the feeding and leading is rest. As a diligent pursuer of God’s gift of Sabbath rest, it shouldn’t have surprised me. But I admit that it did – and it made me smile.
It also made me reflect on this beautiful image from Psalm 23: “He (the Lord, my Shepherd) makes me lie down in green pastures.” That one phrase (and the picture that it brings to mind) contains all of the beauty of Ezekiel 34:15. In both cases, the work of the Shepherd provides nourishment and rest to His people. As Phillip Keller explains in “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23,” the ability of the flock to rest in green pastures brings honor to the shepherd whose work makes it possible.
If that is God’s goal, and if our ability to rest brings Him pleasure and honor, why are we so reluctant to pursue that rest? If THIS is what God wants for us, why do we have to convince ourselves that it’s OK?
Could it be that we have replaced “rest” with “productivity?” Are we evaluating our response to God’s work for us by measuring the work that we do for Him? Are we as individuals (and am I as a leader) falling for the lie of the performance orientation, the idea that God likes me more when I get a lot done? And more importantly, am I somehow communicating this idea to those who look to me for leadership?
These verses, and others like them, call us to a different kind of thinking. Actually, they call us to a different kind of life. It’s a life that includes work and service, of course. But it also includes, and in fact it is characterized by, satisfying nourishment and refreshing rest. That rest is a result of the amazingly gracious work of our Good Shepherd, whose care for us makes it possible.
He feeds me – and He leads me – to rest.
I love all of those words, especially the last one. My rest brings Him pleasure, which is why He leads me there. I never want to forget that.
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