“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul; he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” Psalm 23: 1-3 (KJV).
A few nights ago, I was praying Psalm 23 when a word jumped out at me (not an uncommon experience). The word was restores. What does it mean to restore a soul, I wondered. Why would it need to be restored? How would God accomplish it? What would a restored soul be like?
I began to think of the meaning of the word “restore” in the English language. It can mean to bring back to a former, original, or normal condition, as in restoring furniture, restoring a neighborhood, or restoring a relationship. It can also mean to bring back to a state of health or vigor, as in “The aroma of the spicy pizza restored his appetite.” Or “As his fever went down, the toddler’s high energy was restored.”
The Hebrew root for the word “restore” used in Psalm 23: 3 means healing or refreshing or “taking back.” The form of the verb denotes that this is an ongoing, continuous action. God continually initiates the activity of restoring us; we just need to be open to it. The word for “soul” in this verse is nephesh – a word that can mean soul, life, heart, and mind – everything that makes you or me a person. It is the word used in Genesis 2:7 to describe what happened when God breathed into the clay figure He had made: “The man became a living creature [or soul].”
As I was mulling over this verse, I was suddenly transported to a class that I took decades ago, the Bethel Bible Series. We learned that when God created man and woman, they were in total harmony with each other, with God, with nature, and even with them- selves. When sin entered their lives, it brought the curse of disharmony. Perhaps the aim of restoring souls is the restoring of this harmony. We can be healed, refreshed, and taken back to the harmonious relationships God intended for us.
In the fractured and terrifying world we live in, wouldn’t being restored into harmony be glorious?! Indeed it will be glorious when this world comes to end and we enter into a new heaven and a new earth. Until that time, the Psalmist gives us the encouraging news that God will provide what we need – even an ongoing refreshing of our soul.
How do we get to that rarefied state in this anxiety-producing world? Psalm 23 gives us direction: we rest in the meadows, we join in the stillness of the water, we follow the guidance that God gives us in these times of quiet. The payoff for this surrender is shown in the next section of the Psalm: we will fear no evil; we will be comforted; we will feast in the presence of our enemies (and perhaps with them?); goodness and mercy will be lifelong gifts as we live in God’s Kingdom forever.
When I am caught up in the pain and anger and sorrow and injustice of this world, I will purpose to accept the gift of serenity and harmony that God is waiting to bestow. I know that when I am in that frame of mind, God can use me to bring God’s love into today’s chaos.