“He restores my soul” (23:3a, NKJV)
Reading just the first two verses of Psalm 23 reveals a good God who promises to shepherd you personally towards contentment and rest amidst an environment that is dangerous and uncertain. This is clearly a Psalm we need for these times! The Psalmist emphasizes that this abundance includes and surpasses the physical by saying that this shepherd “restores my soul” (23:3). Dallas Willard goes so far to paraphrase the Psalmist as saying, “He heals and reintegrates my broken depths in his eternal life.” God’s restoration work is neither superficial nor temporary, having incredible implications for this life and the next.
We should be cautious of prosperity-gospel promises of financial abundance and illness-free living, especially while Jesus’ call to follow him directly challenges storing up for oneself and any kind of hoarding mentality. In the early days of the coronavirus, we saw multiple scenes of people hoarding toilet paper, disinfectant wipes and N95 masks. Hoarding is a natural part of our sin nature. We are all guilty in our worst moments of seeking first my kingdom instead of His.
In Matthew 16, for example, Jesus reminds his disciples the radical nature of following him, asking the rhetorical question, “What good is it for someone to gain the world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26). It’s reminiscent of Jesus’ parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12 where Jesus confronts the idea of selfishly hoarding riches to bless oneself instead of being rich towards God (Luke 12:13-21). In Psalm 23, Matthew 16 and Luke 12, we have the Good Shepherd deeply concerned about the state of our souls and alluding to the fact that overabundance can be a barrier to true contentment and health. These turbulent times have reminded us that nothing we store up for ourselves—our bank accounts, our security or even our health—is guaranteed to be permanent or satisfying.
Author Margaret Feinberg interviewed an expert shepherd, Lynne, who said this about a sheep’s greatest danger: “Probably the greatest threat is too much good food. Sheep often kill themselves by upsetting the delicate balance of their rumen by eating too much grain or rich new green grass. Once the balance of their rumen is upset, they will die within a few days if left untreated” (Scouting the Divine, p. 53). Physical death results from overeating. Spiritual death comes to those who overindulge when they should be sharing.
God promises to be a good shepherd who leads you to rest after filling your bellies with food and drink (23:2), but his intention is to steer you away from soul-killing overindulgence and hoarding. It’s true that too much of a good thing can kill you and God’s restoration project involves trusting him to lead us toward a healthy rhythm of harvesting, feasting, fasting and sharing.
Right now is seems like the world is being forced into a fast from what we called “normal” just month ago. This is painful and many from all walks of life are hurting. One aspect of God restoring our souls is to make sure we don’t overindulge during seasons of abundance, losing sight of the needs of others and resulting in damage to the health of our souls. In our current season where abundance seems distant, we are learning a new rhythm of dependence on the Good Shepherd.
Because of Jesus’ resurrection hope, we Christians have every reason to be generous!
Living Out God’s Word
Dallas Willard prayed his own paraphrase of Psalm 23 every day. My friends at Soul Shepherding have compiled it here:
The Lord is my Shepherd, I have life without lack.
In his green pastures I’ve eaten my fill so I lie down. At his still waters my thirst is satisfied.
He heals and reintegrates my broken depths in his eternal life
so I can walk in paths of righteousness on his behalf.
Even though I go through loss, hunger, disease, aging, and death I will fear no evil because you Jesus are with me. Your strong rod and protective staff put me at liberty.
Your abundant provision is a feast for me so I’m happy to share with my enemies. You give me hot showers and warm fluffy towels, joyful experiences and deep relationships, to make me feel clean, special, and powerful. My cup runs over so I can be generous without ever running out.
Surely this world is a perfectly safe place for me to be Because I dwell and abide with God in the fullness of his life in the Kingdom of the Heavens forever.
Slowly pray through Willard’s version of Psalm 23, inviting the restorative power of the Good Shepherd into an area of need. Invite God to prompt you to share your abundance with someone specific. Look for ways that sharing generously can be restorative to your soul.
Jesus, thank you for your unending commitment to restoring my life! During seasons of apparent abundance or lack help me not forget that there are others to bless. Redirect me from thinking that my problems would be fixed if I could only consume some good thing I keep longing for: money, freedom, control and certainty. Restore my soul as I follow you down the path of feasting, resting and sharing even in this season of apparent lack. You know me better than I know myself so I commit today to trusting you to fix the broken places in my life. Amen.