Restore My Soul
On a trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast, I witnessed a beach restoration project. The beach, seriously eroded by high winds and surging waves caused by tropical storms, had all but disappeared. In fact, the coast had washed away to the point that high tide threatened the beachfront properties.
The Atlantic Ocean stole the sand, and then released it in a nearby waterway. So much sand had been dumped there that the depth of the waterway was reduced, threatening the safe passage of ships and fishing boats.
The restoration process was fascinating to watch. A dredge, situated on the water, sucked sand from the sand bar. The sand was then flushed through connecting pipes to various points along the beach where workers on Bobcats spread it. Little by little, the beach was replenished to its former beauty and the pass became safe again.
My soul felt like that beach, seriously eroded.
Following weeks of disruptions to normal life and routines because of Covid-19, I’d slipped away from God as surely as the sand had slipped from the beach. Not that noticeable to begin with because I put up a good fight. When the pandemic first struck, I made sure to keep some structure to my days.
But as the days wore on with no clear end in sight, I grew weary. Impatience, worry, irritation, and even anger stalked me. The already loose structure of my days crumbled to the ground, former good habits tumbling into the debris. Stripped of words, I couldn’t write, although I became a “Words with Friends” champ.
I hoped the beach would remedy that. But instead of writing, I spent hours contemplating the quiet. This brought on the guilt. Why didn’t I have the perseverance to stick to a regular writing schedule as most of my writing friends did?
As I enumerated my failures, God spoke. It’s okay to take a break from work, I heard Him say. It’s far more important to cultivate a relationship with Me. His presence was comforting, and my soul longed for Him to stay.
“He restores my soul.” Psalm 23:3 NKJV
The beautiful words in Psalm 23 indicate three components of restoration: rest, reflection, and replenishment. As I watched the glorious sand shoot out of those pipes bringing the beach back to life, I realized I needed the same thing. I asked God to restore me, to bring me back to life.
The most well-known use of the word restore in the Bible is probably Psalm 23, but the verb appears 1,060 times in the Old Testament. According to one old testament dictionary, restore suggests a “movement back to the point of departure.”
That’s where the sand was headed with the help of the dredge, back to its original point. That definition applied to me, too. God brought me back to my point of departure before the pandemic: firmly in His presence.
God was restoring me before I knew I needed it. He led me to a time of rest. He gave me hope through a restoration of His creation. And He provided me the stillness to feel His presence and hear His voice as I reflected on His work in my life.
Rest assured, God will always welcome your return. He desires to bring you back to Him, no matter how far you’ve strayed. Hear His promise in Hosea 14:4:
“I will heal their waywardness and love them freely for my anger has turned away from them.” (NIV)
King David wrote Psalm 22 and Psalm 23, but if we weren’t told that, we might not believe it. These two ancient songs of the faith are about as different as they could be. The first few verses of each psalm capture its tone. Here are the first two verses of Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1–2)
Now, read the first three verses of Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1–3)
In Psalm 22, David feels forsaken by an unresponsive God. In Psalm 23, David feels shepherded by an ever-attentive God. In Psalm 22, David’s soul is in restless agony. In Psalm 23, David’s soul is restored to a trust-fueled rest in the Good Shepherd’s care.
Two Perspectives on Reality
It is a beautiful and merciful providence that these two starkly different psalms are placed right next to each other, authored by the same person. Because they illustrate the diverse ways we experience the strange reality that is the life of faith in our world. If we live long enough, we all experience the occasional agonizing phenomenon of God’s apparent silence. And we all will also experience God’s kind restoration, peace, and protection. In fact, we eventually come to realize that what felt like abandonment was a merciful nearness and shepherding of a kind we hadn’t previously understood or perceived. We discover that God’s promises are infinitely more substantial and reliable than our perceptions.
But there’s an even deeper beauty and mercy in this poetic and thematic juxtaposition. Both psalms are messianic — they foreshadow and prophesy of Jesus. And in this profound realization, we discover that the order in which these psalms appear is no accident.
Jesus Was Forsaken
Stop and think over this sentence. Delve into it as deep as you can. You will never get to the bottom of it.
There was a moment, at the crux of history, when God was God-forsaken. To we who are not God, and who are only able to experience a few dimensions of reality, this is mysterious. But it was not a mystery; it was horrifyingly real. God the Son, the eternal delight of the Father, the radiance of the Father’s glory, the exact imprint of the Father’s nature, and the Father’s earthly visible image (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15) became in that incomprehensively dark moment unholy sin — our unholy sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). And while that moment lasted, the holy Father and the Holy Spirit could not abide the holy Son made unholy. God became the object of God’s wrath. A terrible, once-for-all-time fissure rent open between the Father and Son.
For Jesus, it was a truly hellish moment, which is why, in the words of R.C. Sproul, Jesus’s Psalm 22:1 scream “was the scream of the damned. For us.” Out of a love for us we have hardly begun to fathom, he took upon himself our damnable curse, becoming the propitiation for our sins (Galatians 3:13; 1 John 4:10). And he did it for us so that our curse would be eternally removed and we might become the objects of God’s eternal mercy, clothed forever with the holiness and righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Psalm 22 does far more than give us words to pray during our seasons of spiritual desolation. It gives us words to grasp the desolation God the Son experienced to purchase our peace and restoration.
So That You Will Never Be Forsaken
This restoration, the great messianic restoration, is what made David sing for joy in Psalm 23. The Good Shepherd, having laid his life down for the sheep (John 10:11), gives his sheep eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will be able to snatch them out of his hand (John 10:28).
No one. Not “death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” the great Shepherd of the sheep — even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Romans 8:38–39; Hebrews 13:20; Psalm 23:4).
Our great Shepherd has walked through this valley before us and for us. In this valley, he was stricken and afflicted, betrayed, beaten to a bloody pulp, and brutally crucified by evil. He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). He was smitten and forsaken by God (Isaiah 53:4; Psalm 22:1).
And he did this for us so that he might say to us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
He Will Restore Your Soul
In this world we will have tribulation (John 16:33). The Bible’s portrayal of tribulation is realistically horrible. Psalm 22 is a description of David’s tribulation, and it was severe. But it is also a description of Jesus’s tribulation, which was infinitely more severe than David’s — or ours.
Do you feel forsaken by God? Jesus understands. He truly understands more than you know. We can feel forsaken by God; Jesus was forsaken by God. We feel lonely; Jesus was, for a horrible moment, truly alone. As our Great High Priest, he is able to sympathize with us in all our weaknesses, since he was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
But Jesus does far more than sympathize with us. As our great sacrificial Lamb, he atoned for every sin we commit in all our weak, faithless stumbling, removing our curse forever by becoming our curse. And as our great Shepherd, he is leading us through every tribulation — no matter how severe — to eternal restoration.
That is the promise of Psalm 23, purchased by the price of Psalm 22: your Good Shepherd will restore your soul forever. He was forsaken by God, scorned and mocked by men, and his hands and feet were pierced (Psalm 22:1, 6–7, 16) for your sake. So that he could guide you through every evil valley, honor you before every evil enemy, pursue you with goodness and mercy every day of your earthly life, and bring you to live with him in his house forever (Psalm 23:4–6).
Psalm 22 may be your song for a brief night, but Psalm 23 will be your song for an eternal morning (Psalm 30:5).
God Can Restore What’s Been Lost and Broken
“… the LORD restored his fortunes. In fact, the LORD gave him twice as much as before!” Job 42:10b (NLT)
In a short period of time, and due to circumstances beyond my control, life changed dramatically.
As a result, the financial situation for my three children and me went from secure and life-giving to unsecure, unpredictable and insufficient to sustain even our basic needs. Desperate fears of how to provide for my family pulled me into a pit of fear and despair.
But one night I had a dream, and all that changed.
In this dream, I was slumped over. Tears pouring down my face. Sobbing out loud. Rubbing my eyes. Completely broken and spent. My waking emotions playing out in my sleeping subconscious. Then I noticed a figure slowly entering the room. Yet I wasn’t alarmed; in fact, I felt totally at peace.
Rather than fear, a strange sense of calm and safety washed over me. I immediately knew in my spirit it was Jesus. He spoke softly and gently with a deep, yet tender, and loving voice: “Why didn’t you come to Me earlier? I will restore all that has been lost and broken.”
Hearing His voice startled me into consciousness, and I abruptly awoke — fully believing I’d experienced a divine encounter with my heavenly Father. His words kept echoing over and over in my mind, “I will restore all that has been lost and broken.” Words I had longed to hear. Words that reaffirmed He saw me and was watching over me. Words that gave me great hope and reassured me He not only had the power to restore all that had been taken from my life, but indeed He had plans for it.
But what about hearing Jesus whisper, “Why didn’t you come to Me sooner?”
This was perplexing, because I honestly believed I had come to Him. A million, gazillion times in fact. However, what I had not brought to Him was my total surrender and trust. Instead of surrendering my problems to Him, I just told Him about them constantly then continued trying to solve them on my own.
Rather than trusting for miraculous provision, I fretted and worried whether He would come through or not. I continually felt crushed and hopeless under countless adversities — much like Job in the Bible when he faced great loss and calamity.
In one day, Job lost his 10 children along with all his possessions and wealth. Shortly after, he was afflicted with a horrible skin disease. (Read chapters 1-2 in the book of Job to get the full story.)
Job didn’t understand why he had to suffer so much. So, throughout the book of Job, we see him expressing heartache and anger at the pain and suffering God was allowing. We also see evidence of his impatience regarding how long it was taking God to bring about restoration.
Yet through it all — and despite his human emotions — Job never doubted that full surrender and trust was necessary. In Job 1:21b he even says, “The LORD gave me what I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!” Despite his suffering, he trusted God’s will for his life and continued to praise Him. As a result, not only did Job’s faith soar, but his life did as well.
Eventually in Job 42, we read how God blessed Job and his faithfulness in every way. Today’s key verse, Job 42:10b, says, “… the LORD restored his fortunes. In fact, the LORD gave him twice as much as before!” God gave Job a double portion of all he’d lost, restored his marriage and many relationships, gave him a new household of children and allowed him to live happily to a ripe old age.
Whether it’s our hearts, finances, relationships or lives that need mending, God always has a plan to heal and restore. Although I don’t know God’s exact plans for my future, I do know He is good, and I fully believe restoring my heart and my life are on His holy to-do list.
Total surrender and faithfulness will always open the door for God’s restoration to begin.