Read an Excerpt
Living in Grace
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
Living in grace requires new eyes. We must learn to see God's everyday grace at work all around us.
Jesus was the master of this. For him, it was simply apparent that we live in a God-bathed world. He saw that we are surrounded by evidences of God's gracious shepherding. 'Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly
Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?' (Matt. 6:26).
Some time ago, my wife and I were watching two geese and their goslings eat. One adult and nine little goslings were devouring the grass, while the other adult stood watch. 'Look at that mother goose watch over her family,'
'How do you know it's the mother?' I asked. 'Maybe it's the father goose.'
'No, it's always the mother who sacrifices herself for the family. It's the same in every species.'
Just then, the two adults traded off. The eater started watching and the watcher started eating. I was so grateful.
Jesus said that anytime you see a bird nibble some seeds, you are watching the grace of God at work. It's such an ordinary event that most of the time we fail to even notice it. But it is not a random accident that food is available. It is the Good Shepherd at work. Every time you wake up, think a thought, or enjoy a meal, these are not random occurrences; they are gracious gifts from the hand of the Good Shepherd.
How many 'ordinary' examples of God's grace do we experience every day and fail to even notice? In the rush of our days, in the preoccupation of our agendas, how many provisions of the Shepherd do we race past altogether?
The Discipline of Noticing
If we want to live in grace, we must develop eyes that see. We must learn what might be called the discipline of noticing.
To notice something---to truly pay attention---is a powerful thing. Children demand it. Spouses feel hurt without it. If you have ever been so caught up in watching a basketball game on TV or reading a great book that you didn't notice how much time had passed, you've known what it is to pay deep attention to something. You became absorbed in it.
The practice of noticing is a skill. It involves learning to pay attention to gifts that we otherwise take for granted. Stop for a moment and try it. The breath you just took, the way your eyes are reading these words, the working of your mind to understand and learn---notice them. They are not accidents. Nor are they entitlements.
They are gracious gifts. And what's even more amazing is that their Giver is lovingly present with you even as you are experiencing them.
The sight of a garden blooming in a riot of color, a cold glass of water on a hot afternoon, an encouraging word from a coworker, a warm blanket on a chilly night,
the taste of your favorite food, a long conversation with a good friend. All ordinary, but all grace nonetheless.
Train yourself to notice, to pay attention, to become absorbed in the grace of your Shepherd.
Seizing Ordinary Moments
Just as we must learn to see Jesus' ordinary gifts of grace, we must learn to seize his ordinary moments of grace---moments that the Shepherd would like to use to replenish and refuel us.
A lunchtime walk, a moment of solitude in the car or on the train, the still of the house when the baby is napping,
sitting with a glass of iced tea in the backyard. Each can be transformed into a personal and private time of 'green pastures and still waters'---if you have eyes to see and the willpower to slow down. Your Shepherd has provided everything necessary to transform your rushed soul into a restored one. But he won't force you to turn aside. He won't tackle you to get you to lie down. The choice is yours.
I Shall Not Want
When our spiritual eyes begin to work, we become aware of his grace all through our days. Our lives become filled with genuine gratitude instead of with ceaseless discontentment. 'The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want'---I lack nothing, the psalmist says.
Phillip Keller, a twentieth-century shepherd, writes about his experiences on his sheep ranch. He describes one sheep who had the fatal flaw of discontentment:
She was one of the most attractive sheep that ever belonged to me. Her body was beautifully proportioned.
She had a strong constitution and an excellent coat of wool. . . . But in spite of all these attractive attributes she had one pronounced fault. She was restless---
discontented---a fence crawler. . . .
No matter what field or pasture the sheep were in, she would search all along the fences . . . looking for a loophole she could crawl through and start to feed on the other side. It was not that she lacked pasturage.
My fields were my joy and delight. . . . It was an ingrained habit. She was simply never contented with things as they were. Often when she had forced her way through some such spot in a fence . . . she would end up feeding on bare, brown, burned-up pasturage of a most inferior sort...
...She was a sheep, who in spite of all that I had done to give her the very best care---still wanted something else. She was not like the one who said,
'The Lord is my Shepherd---I shall not want.'
---A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
To say 'I shall not be in want' doesn't mean we have no significant requests or needs. It certainly does not mean we should be passive in the face of injustice or poverty. Not wanting means being settled. Settled that the Shepherd knows our real needs. Settled that his pastures really are more lush than the burned-up ones we habitually pursue. Settled that he can be trusted to provide the best gifts.
In his grace, he does so all the time.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
Read these words each day this week. Let them sink in. Consider writing them out, paraphrasing them, or committing them to memory. Your challenge is to live with those words today. Specifically, experiment with the following:
Today I Will Notice
I will try to have eyes that see God's gracious daily provisions,
even in the ordinary---a warm bed, a closet full of clothes, a comfortable pair of shoes, a hot shower, the ability to see, hear, walk,
I will look for examples of God's grace around me---in scenes of natural beauty, in the face of a friend, in wholesome pleasures that bring me joy, in my church body gathered in worship.
Today I Will Give God the Opportunity to Restore My Soul
I will be open to ways, large or small, that God wants to lead me to green pastures or quiet waters, and I will consciously try to be with my Shepherd there.
As you go through the week (and throughout this whole study),
consider keeping a journal of your experiences with this exercise.
How were you stretched to do life differently? Did you find yourself becoming more aware of God's ordinary acts of grace in your life? How were you nurtured and restored? What effects did you notice on your level of contentment? What aspects came easily?
What was frustrating?
NOTE: Whatever impression you might have from your reading of Psalm 23, David's life was anything but smooth and serene.
After killing Goliath, David's rise to prominence enraged the insecure and arguably insane King Saul. David was literally stalked by Saul. Forced to live as a fugitive, David narrowly escaped multiple assassination attempts.
David was also no stranger to crushing grief. Jonathan, his most trusted friend---one who 'became one in spirit with
David' (1 Sam. 18:1)---was killed along with Saul in battle.
David also lost an infant son and a grown son to death.
David knew shame and regret.