Psalm 23 is familiar to most Christians. I encourage you to read it anew, and perhaps this rendering from the New Living Translation may help you look at it with fresh eyes:
Psalm 23:title–6 (NLT)
A psalm of David.
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
2 He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths, bringing honour to his name.
4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
5 You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
You honour me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.
Did you read it? Or did you quickly skim through, confident you know what it says, and wanting to see if this post anything useful to say to you before you rush on with whatever is next for you?
While it’s not known precisely when he wrote this, we know David’s life was consistently one of significant difficulty and challenge. In his youth, he spent his days defending sheep from lions and bears (see 1 Samuel 17:34-36), during his middle years he was on the run from Saul (see 1 Samuel 19ff), and in his later life he had significant family conflict (2 Samuel 15), the death of a young son (directly due to his own sin, see 2 Samuel 12:15ff), and the constant threat of war.
How could a man like David pen Psalm 23? Being so acquainted with difficulty, how could he write this sweet psalm?
In the midst of the challenges, struggles and stresses in your life, are you able to reflect on God’s grace and blessing in a similar way? I want to share a few thoughts on how we can seek to refresh our souls.
One thing that strikes me is that David is comfortable receiving the good things God gives. When God leads David beside peaceful streams, or lets him rest in green meadows, David receives that grace. He isn’t worrying about the things not getting done right now; he simply receives and enjoys God’s blessing. It reminds me of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. There was physical work that needed doing, sure. But Jesus Christ was there, right now! Sitting at His feet and receiving the blessings from Him is “the good portion” Mary chose.
What about you? God intends for everyone to have a day of rest every week. Do you receive that? Or the blessings of family and fellowship, the blessings of His Word and reflection upon it. What about the blessings of exercise and sleep? On a weekday night, we Britons average just 6.5 hours sleep according to one survey. Are you choosing lesser things over the good gift of sleep that God gives us?
I will also add that I think God intends us to have a hobby or two. David was a musician, and while he surely used his talents to worship his God, no doubt it was also a simple, enjoyable activity for him. God created mankind to tend the garden, and I’m sure Adam and Eve derived great pleasure from their gardening hobby! There are plenty of godly activities a Christian can do with thankfulness in his or her heart. These are graces we receive to refresh the soul.
On the opposite side of the coin, there are things we sometimes need to let go and lay aside. The writer to the Hebrews says as much in 12:1-2, where he urges us to lay “aside every weight and sin” in our walk. There are sins from which each of us should repent and depart, but there are also “weights,” aren’t there? Things that hinder us physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Or things that simply aren’t for now.
Consider David again. He was anointed king in 1 Samuel 16, but it was not until many years later, in 2 Samuel 2, that he finally took the throne. David did not strive for what was rightfully his; to the contrary, he actively chose not to eliminate Saul, the reigning king. He laid aside his rights, trusting God to fulfil the promise at the right time.
What do you need to lay aside? Maybe it is the unreasonable pursuit of perfection. Perfection is a “not yet” thing: we yearn for the perfect because God is perfect and things will be perfect in eternity. But right now, we are to trust the perfect God to make up what we still lack.
Maybe it is the illusion of control you need to lay aside. You need to choose to trust God’s leadership and provision. Perhaps it is a yearning for justice over some wrong. God loves justice – in fact it is the foundation of His throne in Psalm 89:14, and a desire for justice now is a good thing. However, it is another “not yet” thing, coming to fulfilment only in eternity. Asaph had to learn about this in Psalm 73.
I think for some of us, the need to lay aside is much simpler. It’s the overemphasis we can put on hobbies which crowd out time for the better blessings God has for us. Perhaps we just need to lay aside the TV and get a proper night’s sleep!
Extending the topic of laying aside, I want to focus on one particular modern issue: that of data overload. Consider this quote from Richard Swenson’s book Margin:
“No one in the history of mankind has ever had to live with the number and intensity of stressors we have acting upon us today. They are unprecedented. The human spirit is called upon to withstand rapid changes and pressures never before encountered.”
We have more (bad) news to read, more data to process and more things beeping and buzzing for our attention than ever before. We have multiple tabs open and multiple tasks underway at a time. Resting in “green meadows” or being led by “peaceful streams” is something we cannot make time for, because think of all the things I could miss!
If you want to refresh your soul, consider some “unplugged” time.
Let us finally consider this. Do you believe that God wants you to have His peace? Of course, the spiritual peace with God the Father following the atoning death of Christ Jesus. Yes, that is true and wonderful. But what about the peace David had in his heart as he penned this psalm? Do you believe that you can have that kind of soul peace today? I am confident that God calls to all of us to come aside and rest in Him way more often than we actually do.
I’m asking God to help me make time to refresh myself in Him. To receive the good blessings He has for me, and to lay aside the lesser things that encumber my walk.
As the wise father counselled his son:
Proverbs 3:7–8 (ESV)
7 Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
8 It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.