I approach study and prayer time pretty systematically. Sure, there are times that I deviate from the plan, but they are pretty rare. I have a list of several passages that I walk through–one passage at a time for each area of concentration, such as adoration, thanksgiving, confession. When I’ve reached the end of that list, I start over at the top of the sheet of paper, with the first passage. For me, this has been soul altering.
But here’s the confession (don’t act like you weren’t eager to get to this part):
There are a handful of passages that I consistently skip.
Some are a bit too, I don’t know, hard to face? Hard to look at? Hard to sit with? Not quite sure of the right words, but there are a couple that I don’t like to return to often, so I skip those.
And then, there is Psalm 23.
I know this is many, many, many folks favorite passage of scripture. It’s brought much comfort to millions. The imagery is beautiful. It paints a picture (I always picture New Zealand. Maybe I’ve watched too much Lord of the Rings.) It’s one of the first sets of scripture that people memorize–right up there with The Lord’s Prayer and John 3:16.
Which is one of the reasons why I skip it.
I know what it says. I can say it in my sleep. I can say it fast, slow, and possibly backwards. In my (wrong, I know, and messed up, I know) brain, it belongs on some piece of cross stitch fabric hanging in someone’s nice parlor and not as a part of intense study.
And so, for a few years now, I have skipped it nearly every time it has come up.
This morning, though, I didn’t skip it. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because I had been up since about 3:30 am, and I was looking for something “easy” to study. Something not-so-challenging after a challenging, short night. Psalm 23 could be done half-hearted. Not much effort.
It was not an easy study. It was challenging. It dug at both my mind and my soul. And, once I got going (which, admittedly, it took a little over an hour before semi-concentration settled in), this passage was as far as I got. No other scripture studied, no other words read, no other prayers written. Just this.
I’m not sure why the words were so loud this morning. Maybe they were loud precisely because it was a short, interrupted night.
Or, maybe it is because I lingered a bit longer and took some extra time.
Or, maybe it was just time.
Whatever the reason is, it doesn’t really matter. What does is this phrase: He restores my soul.
There is nothing new here. This is not some grand revelation, I fully realize that. These words are whispered in hospital rooms and at gravesides, they are taught in Awana and children’s Sunday School classes, they are printed on bookmarks and Hallmark cards and funeral home fans.
But I think, sometimes, we skip over the “He restores my soul” part to get to the “Yea though I walk…..” part. That’s where we need comfort–that’s when we turn to these words–when we are in those dark valleys of beeping IV’s and nausea from chemotherapy and ambulances, or those dark days of devastating news–such as the likes of September 11th, or the knock on the door from a state trooper with unbearable news, or the clutches of suicidal thoughts, or the arrests of husbands. We rush to the “even though life is hard and evil penetrates, we will not fear because you are near, God.” section. And we are not wrong to go there. We are right to gently remind each other of this in the hard days, as we sit with friends who are shattered. We are also right to tell ourselves over and over and over and over again that “We will fear no evil–God is near” because sometimes repetitious preaching of those words to our souls is needed.
However, comforting without restoration is useless. Comforting without hope is shallow. Hollow. Empty. If my child breaks his leg, my saying “I’m sorry that happened to you.” without helping him to get medical attention to restore health to his leg, is quite useless.
The precise reason why God’s shepherding presence is so comforting–the reason why we can say “thy rod and staff comfort me” is because of this: the hope of restoration.
Our souls need to be restored. My soul needs to be restored.
Not just once. Often. This morning, even.
Because here’s the thing, the key….:
The verb is present tense. It is not past tense. It is not finished. It is not “He restored my soul.” It is now, and it is on-going.
He restores. He restores. He restores.
Over and over and over and over.
Because, I’ll tell you this again: our souls need restored, often. Often.
We need it on the very darkest of days, yes. The days that bring disaster and crises. The days that make us reach for these words regarding the shadowy valley and the comforting rod and staff tucked away in the middle of our Bibles.
But we also need God to be a God who restores on the Ordinary days. Days when alone-ness is so acute. Days that work threatens to bury us. The days when there is $16 left in the bank account, and there is no food left in the cabinet. The days that we are weary of parenting, or nursing, or caring, or forgiving or shepherding.
We need it when the nights are unbearably short.
But don’t miss this: We also need to be restored on the joyful days. The days full of laughter. The so-called “successful” days when we are buzzing alone in life–when the promotion comes and when our kid scores the winning goal and when we get that first parking spot at the store and when we wake up settled and when we sense God’s presence. Even when we define things as being “good”–our souls still need restoring.
Every single day.
He is the restorer, and He does restore. How often I forget that.
We need it in the mystery that is salvation, accomplished on the cross, and we need it the days that follow…..right through to the day that restoration is finalized and we are home.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord