He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.
My first congregation was at Norfolk, Virginia. That fall, a naval officer invited me to come aboard his ship for a meal with his captain and fellow officers. I felt honored.
But before the meal ended, someone came in to speak to the captain. When he left, the captain stood up and said, “Gentlemen.” Then left. Quickly, everyone else was gone (and I still hadn’t eaten my dessert).
When I asked my member, “What’s happening?” He answered with one word. “Hurricane.”
The fleet was heading out to sea. Why? To escape the path of the hurricane, he explained. Then he added, “Sometimes, the sea gets angry.”
Growing up near Green Bay, I knew the word, hurricane. But I had never felt the fury of such a storm. I had never seen raging waves. Now I have. Now I know why people lying in the path of such a storm become stressed.
Now, I have seen both angry seas and storm-tossed lives. The rhyme I learned as a second grader no longer fits well into my picture of life. We sang, “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”
Each of us probably has felt differently about that song at different times in our lives. Our reactions may have run from, “Yes!” to “Nonsense!”
Youth often crave excitement and adventure. If life can be pictured as floating on water, the young and inexperienced want waves tossing the boat and wind stinging the face. A raging river is preferred. Anything else seems boring. Life seems indestructible.
Maturity takes a different approach. Storms are to be avoided. Maturity has seen the destruction that the course of life can bring. It has felt the pain and counted the loss. Raging waters are not wanted. Better now to float gently down life’s stream. Life is fragile.
Each person’s life floats on its own riverbed. Some rivers are straight and smooth. Others have sharp bends and dangerous waterfalls. Those who have lived for quite a while seldom have floated only on the straight and smooth stretches of life. Many of them look back in amazement that they survived the rapids. They have seen the wrecks of other lives littering the shoreline. They have no desire to end up as flotsam.
They look for the still waters.
Going through rough times takes something out of a person. Stress and strain take their toll. The person who survives the whitewater of life often comes out on the other side winded and weak. He needs to catch his breath. He needs to clear his head.
He needs to restore his soul.
The Good Shepherd knows this. The Good Shepherd offers this. He repaints the picture.
Maturity may have a different view of life, but it does not control life. Plans and objectives will no longer be handed down through the chain of command once we return to civilian life. But whether we are on active duty or living as a civilian, there still is a Commander who does give orders and does have expectations.
He is there to lead, and we are here to follow.
There is a reason why Jesus calls himself a shepherd instead of a general. His eyes are focused not on completing a mission no matter what the cost, but upon his people, who have already cost him his life.
This famous psalm pictures the Christian, not floating on a river, but walking on solid ground, following the Savior to green pastures and still waters. It is a precious portrait.
The life of a warrior doesn’t seem to fit well into this picture. Even if war is already in the rearview mirror, the roar of battle may still echo in the mind. The blood-soaked bandages may still sit in the memory of the eyes. And the heart pierced by the loss of battle buddies may still show the holes.
Yet the Christian warrior, young or old, does belong in this pastoral setting. This is where the Lord has led him. This is now his home base.
The great war is over for those in service to Christ. The Prince of Peace reigns, leads, and protects as they walk the path toward glory. Angels guard the perimeter.
Only one major landing is left. The pounding of the surf onto the final shore may be frightening. But its threat is an illusion. The first step ashore will reveal, not another field of battle, but green pastures with still waters—and a soul at perfect peace.
We will know we are safe at home.
God of grace and glory, you have watched over us all life long. You saw dangers where we saw only fun. You steered us away from threats we never saw. You saw the goodness in that which seemed bad to us. You have led us to this day and this place. Keep us in your care. Feed us with heavenly food. Bring us home. Amen.
Points to ponder:
- Why might it not be wrong to seek adventure and excitement in life?
- Why might it not be wrong to seriously seek peace and safety in life?
- Why is the account of Jesus stilling the storm with the words to wind and waves, “Quiet! Be still!” so meaningful even if we are not near water?
Written and recorded by Rev. Paul Horn, WELS National Civilian Chaplain to the Military, San Diego, California.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.