Welcome to My Beloved Shepherd blog, a personal meditation on Psalm 23. Today we are looking at the fourth line of the Psalm:
He leads me beside the still water.
It's the highest magic of our realm. It surpasses all others to bless and nurture our world and everyone in it.
Water is beautiful! The roaring waterfall, the sparkle on the waves, the intricate snowflake, and the towering iceberg are just a few of water's manifestations of beauty.
It comes in many forms. Water is the ultimate shapeshifter from mist to flake to liquid to solid. It can be hard or soft, hot or cold, gentle, or thunderously destructive.
What can't it do? Water has a million uses - brewing coffee, making soup, growing a garden, cleaning - almost everything, generating electricity that powers every conceivable machine, transportation routes, drilling cavities, drilling a lot of things, endless entertainment, cooling hot things, heating cold things. This list could go on and on and on.
But the deepest magic of all is that water is life. No living thing survives long without it. From the fish in the seas to the tiny hummingbird and the even tinier grasshopper, water is the source of life. We, humans, need so much water that apparently, we never do drink enough. Even our brains are about 75% water!
The Bible says that from the very throne of God in heaven flows the river of life. (Revelation 22:1) Water is mentioned a total of 722 times in the Bible, more often than faith, hope, prayer, and worship. Jesus said he had living water. If you drank from it you would never thirst again. At a huge festival of remembering Israel's journey through the desert, Jesus stood up and shouted so all could hear, "All of you who are thirsty, come to me and drink."
Water is and always has been a big deal in Israel. Up north, there is plenty of water and it is green and lush. But in the south, around Jerusalem and Judean hills, it is a true desert. In the summer, there is little rainfall and it can get very hot. In biblical times, people would dig pits or cisterns into the stone and store rainwater for the dry times. This was a very common practice. They would plaster the insides of these cisterns to keep the water from leaking out. But often the plaster would crack and all the water would leak out, sometimes leaving deep mud and muck.
These empty cisterns became dungeons for prisoners. There are a number of stories in the Bible of people being trapped in pits, dungeons, and sunk deep in the mud. Historians think that these were probably the broken cisterns.
This reality of the broken cistern is the backdrop for a powerful verse.
This verse was written literally 2700 years ago and yet it is completely relevant in this present day. The point is that God is the source of life. He is a spring of living water. But instead of drinking, dancing, and diving in this glorious fountain, we forsake him, turn away, spurn his gift and go make our own empty lifeless substitutes that don’t even work. That sounds idiotic, doesn't it? And yet, we all do it! Why, why, why? Here are a few reasons.
- We're pretty sure we know better than God what's best for us.
- We're afraid that God is going to hurt us or rob us if we trust him.
- We don't believe his fountain of living water is any better than our muddy, broken-cistern water.
- Here's a big reason: We are going to turn away from our broken cisterns and back to Him - soon, just not quite yet. It's like that thing we keep putting on our To-Do list and never get to.
- Here's another big reason: We don't realize that this is what we are doing. We have decided to live life on the surface; we're not going to look inside, examine our motives, or listen to the Spirit. We are certainly not going to pray Psalms 139:23-24
- Here's probably the biggest reason of all. We are so busy working on our cisterns - planning, gathering materials, going to classes, watching DYI videos, getting a loan, hiring workers, renting machinery, finally making the dang thing and then constantly attending to the never-ending upkeep that a broken cistern requires - that we don’t' have time or energy for anything else. Furthermore, we are working on several other broken cistern projects, including one with a friend at church. Or maybe we're even running training classes for broken cistern diggers.
Read through that list of reasons again. What one describes you? I'm partial to the first two and the last one. Especially the last one.
I'd like to share a word picture story. (A word picture story is a short tale that creatively illustrates a truth or makes a point.)
There was a lady named Jeannie.
(Okay, that is my picture and my middle name is Jean, but this could be any lady.) She had an ordinary life. She had a job and family and friends like most people. She had a few things she was good at and a lot more (she thought) that she wasn't good at. She looked happy on the outside. And mostly she was. But there was always that sense of loneliness or fear not far away.
But Jeannie did have something she was really proud of. It was a family heirloom passed down for many generations. A deed was done by one of her ancestors that was rewarded by a Duke or Prince of some sort. On a cold December morning in another century and on another continent, a messenger in a carriage arrived, bearing a box with the insignia of the royal house. Inside the box, on a bed of purple satin lay a large and dazzling Christmas ornament, a crystal ball decorated with jewels and gold.
Each Christmas season, Jeannie unwrapped the ornament with wonder. This year was no different. But mixed with the wonder was sadness. Year by year, this gorgeous masterpiece was growing dull. The colors were dim, the gold didn't glow and the jewels looked fake. Worse, two terrible cracks spread across the ornament's lovely visage.
Jeannie had tried her very best to handle it with the utmost care. She shook her head. She would just have to try harder.
Carefully, she lifted the ornament from the purple satin. (Not the original satin, of course. That had disintegrated long ago.) It took her breath away. With slow and deliberate movements, she made her way to her Christmas tree.
Now, you are going to be surprised to hear this, but Jeannie's tree was old and dead and all dried up. Not a single evergreen needle was left, just the bare branches. She knew that the branches were too brittle to bear the weight of her ornament. Instead, she carefully squeezed this priceless treasure between several of the thicker branches. It held! She let out a breath and stepped back.
Snap! A branch broke and the ornament fell the floor. Jeannie cried out in alarm. She picked it up and saw that a jewel had fallen off. "I am not doing a very good job, taking care of this."
But! But right behind Jeannie was a living Christmas tree, growing right through the floor. It was huge! Green and healthy with branches packed with soft and fragrant needles. She knew it was there. She had to walk around it every day. Should she put her ornament there instead? Of course, she should, right? (Come on Jeannie, it's not brain surgery.)
She hung her heirloom on a strong branch and let go. The branch held. More than that, other branches seemed to gather around it.
The next morning, when Jeannie walked by the tree, (That had been there all this time.) she couldn't believe her eyes. Her beloved ornament looked better than it had in years and years. Had it changed? Or was it just that it looked so beautiful in the tree?
The next day, Jeannie couldn't wait to see her ornament. Yes! There was no question, it was brighter. And, wait! She looked closer. Were those wretched cracks disappearing? Day by day, the ornament grew in beauty and brightness. Soon, the cracks were gone, the jewels blazed with color and the gold shone like the sun. Jeannie was filled with joy. She loved to gaze on her treasure and imagine if this is what had looked like when it was first created.
Then, one day, Jeannie found herself looking back at her tiny, dead tree. (Believe it or not, she still had it!) She could hang her ornament there now! It was strong and whole. It would be safe there. She looked back at the living tree, where the ornament clearly belonged. Then, back to the dead tree. What will she do?
Don't do it, Jeannie! Don't go back to your broken cistern! Don't hang your hopes and dreams on that fragile thing. It will fail you!
The Good Shepherd is all about doing whatever he can to give his dear sheep the best care possible. His sheep are everything to him. He has the sweetest, cleanest, freshest water for them. He knows how much they need it. He knows where the best water is. When we follow him, we find an abundance of water, enough to drink, wash, and dance in.