Have you ever walked a long road of darkness in your life? Perhaps a divorce, the loss of a loved one, or a time of family crisis? These are the kinds of things that can drain our spirits, leaving us feeling dry and worn out. One of the ways our church provides care during difficult times is through our Stephen Ministry program. These dedicated women and men commit to walking alongside you when the going gets tough and you need a friend. This past month I was honored to help lead a retreat for our Stephen Ministers at Loblolly Farm (generously provided by Bill and Jeanie Snoddy!)
The Stephen Ministers wanted to focus on the theme of “Soul Care.” They are a team that helps care for people’s weary spirits … but they also need spiritual care themselves. As I prayed about what to share with this wonderful group, the Holy Spirit drew me to Psalm 23:3: “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
I have read those lines many times. This is the first scripture passage that I remember learning. Hal and I use this psalm at every funeral we do here at Covenant. But I was still surprised when I looked up the meaning of the word “restore.”
I had expected that the word would mean something like “renew.” This is the sense of the English “restore” and Martin Luther’s German translation “erquicken.” However, the Hebrew word in this case is “shuv,” which means “to turn or return.” I wondered if this sense only occurred in Hebrew, but sure enough, the ancient Greek translation of the psalms gives the word “epistrepho,” which means to “turn around.” Similarly, the Latin vulgate translation gives the word “converto” which means to “turn the other way.” It seems that for many centuries Christians have read this word of scripture with a sense of the soul’s “turning.”
But what does this mean? The implications were not immediately clear to me and I was still puzzling on them during the Stephen Ministry retreat. On Saturday morning we had a powerful time of Bible study and sharing. Over and over again, Covenant members shared about the power of prayer in transforming a situation in their lives. One person said: “if you be worrying you ain’t be praying. If you be praying you can’t be worrying.”
At once the meaning of the scripture snapped into focus for me. There is a moment when we feel exhausted or worn out when we turn towards God and even though we may still feel like we are in “valley of the shadow of death” (verse 4), nevertheless we are no longer facing towards the darkness. Instead we are facing God. By God’s grace our perspective changes and our soul is “restored” to the right path. We don’t do it on our own. Psalm 23:3 says that God is the one that turns us around. God is the one who restores our souls. And it’s not just a change in perspective. The psalm ends by saying that at the end of the journey our cup “runs over” and we dwell with God forever. That’s the good news of the Gospel. When we feel too tired to go on, God turns us around through Jesus Christ and by the power of the spirit he leads us home to our full renewal, restoration and completion.
I am thankful for the way our Stephen Ministers encouraged me on that retreat. If any of you is facing a challenge right now I encourage you to request a Stephen Minister. And more than this, I pray that each of you would find that God “restores your soul” as you turn to him in prayer.
Yours In Christ,