Green pastures don’t just happen.”

If ever you’ve walked over the rolling hills of Israel, you’ve noted that the ground is rocky, barren and brown.

Lack of rain between May and October means that vegetation is either withered in the heat or non-existent. In the shepherds’ fields near Bethlehem where David grazed his flock, the earth is dry and scorched by the sun.

Green pastures are non-existent unless someone—usually the shepherd—has already gone to the trouble of clearing the rocks, plowing the soil, planting the seed, irrigating the land and carefully tending the grasses to be certain that his sheep have what they need.

When it comes time to lie down, sheep need green pastures.

Green pastures don’t just happen—they’re caused.

Green pastures are the shepherd’s provision for the flock when the lambs are small and the milk demand on the ewes is great.

To a shepherd, there are few things in life more rewarding than to watch his sheep sprawled beneath the summer sun with bellies full from a morning of munching on the rich green grass.

By skillfully managing the soil, it is possible for lambs to gain as much as 100 pounds in weight during their first 100 days of life. All they need is rest from trailing and lush pasture that allows them to fill up quickly and then lie down to rest and chew their cud.

For me, the trailing times have not been the growing times. Most often I have grown the most when taken away from the grinding demands of a heavy work load. I’m often hustled out of my spirituality—sometimes to the point of exhaustion. It’s then that I’m forced to rest. The forced rests that occur when He makes me lie down are often humiliating and painful.

When the steel doors to the psychiatric ward of the veterans’ hospital slammed shut behind me years ago, I saw myself in a barren, desolate place. It first appeared to be a place of death rather than a place of life.…

For days I withdrew into a medicated stupor. I resented sharing a room with one patient who was criminally insane and another who walked around like a zombie.

I refused all offers of help. I resisted any intrusions into my silence. I rejected the many opportunities to visit with friends.…

What a God-forsaken place to be forced to “lie down,” I thought.

It was not forsaken, however, God was there. He had already made provision for me.

The barren, rocky soil had already been broken up. The seed had been planted and the grasses had already begun to sprout, and for weeks I feasted on the presence of God and the provisions that had been awaiting my arrival.

In that pasture I gained new friends. I discovered a new compassion for the hurting, a new strategy in counseling, a new insight into communication. I had gotten to know and to trust myself. I had gotten to know and to trust God.

I was more calm, more confident, and the physical problem that had limited me for so long was finally under control.

A barren place? That’s the way it looked going in.

A green pasture? That’s what it turned out to be, and as I look back on it I see it as one of the most significant growing times of my entire life.

From the book, The Way of the Shepherd, by Don Baker, ?1987 by Don Baker, Published by Multnomah Press, Portland, Oregon 97266. This 95-page paperback with four-color photography by ?ke Lundberg is available in religious bookstores.