Please open your Bible at Psalm 23. We’ve seen that the greatest blessing any of us can know is to be wholly owned by the Son of God. To be bought and born into the flock of God.
The world feels sure that freedom comes from being your own master, but the Christian knows that the greatest comfort in life and death is to know that you are not your own, but belong body and soul to your faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
When you belong to the flock of God, there are certain things that the Shepherd will do for you. And because He is your shepherd, you can be sure of them. Last time we saw that the Shepherd will lead you. The Lord will lead you into rest. The Lord will lead you into righteousness.
Today we come to the second great gift that is yours when you belong to the Shepherd. David says, “The Lord is my shepherd…” (vs. 1), “He restores my soul.” (vs. 3).
At some point in your life you will need each verse of this Psalm. But to me, these four words are the most wonderful of all. “He restores my soul.” Present tense. David is saying, ‘God has restored me many times in the past and He will restore me many times in the future as well.’
Why is this so important? Why do we need it? If the Shepherd leads the sheep, surely that is all that we need? Why would we ever need restoring? Though the Shepherd leads us, we often go astray. And when we go astray, we don’t know how to find our way back.
God led His people in the wilderness. He made Himself visibly present in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. All they had to do was to follow!
But you know the story – they grumbled and complained. In their heart’s they wanted to go back to Egypt. When they were about to enter the Promised Land their faith faltered.
Here’s the problem: The Lord leads His people, but we don’t find it easy to follow.
You know this contradiction in your own life. You love the Lord but your heart wanders, your obedience falters, your faith often burns low. And if your final salvation depended on the consistency of your following the Shepherd, you would never arrive safely home. So, thank God for this wonderful truth that we are looking at today – He restores my soul.
1. The Good Shepherd Retrieves Us When We Wander
He restores my soul (v3)
God uses the image of sheep to describe His own people. Believers wander. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned – every one – to his own way and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isa 53:6).
The story Jesus told about the good Shepherd retrieving the sheep who was lost is a story about what the shepherd does for his own. When he returns with a lamb on the shoulders, he says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost” (Luke 15:6)
Of course, the parable illustrates how Jesus saves unbelievers, but its first application is to a sheep that belongs to the shepherd, a sheep, bought and birthed that wanders away and needs to be brought back.
Believers wander, and when this happens the Shepherd goes after His lost sheep “until he finds it” (vs. 4).
The same is true in the parable of the prodigal son. He is a son. He belongs to the father. And yet there is also something in him that pulls away from the father. This is our position as Christian believers. We are God’s flock. We belong to the Father. We are redeemed by the blood of Christ. We are new creations. And yet, there remains within us an impulse to wander.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Here’s why we are prone to wander: The Spirit has given us new life, we live this life in the flesh.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Notice the twin realities of Christian experience. We live by faith in the Son of God, but we live this life of faith in the flesh.
God’s saving work in us has begun, but it is not yet complete. We are not yet what we will be. Only when we see Christ will we be fully like Him. This is why Paul speaks of Christians as “us who are being saved” (1Cor 1:18). Present tense! The process is ongoing. And until the day when we arrive safely home, we have it in us to wander.
“If there is one consideration more humbling than another to a spiritually-minded believer, it is, that, after all God has done for him…there should still exist in the heart a principle, the tendency of which is to secret, perpetual, and alarming departure from God.” (Octavius Winslow)
That’s the reality of Christian experience, and David knew it. David had a heart after God, and yet there were desires in his heart that overwhelmed this love and dragged him into self-destructive sins. If it were not for the truth we are looking at today, that would have been the end for David, and our sins would have been the end for us too. But here’s the good news: The Good Shepherd retrieves us when we wander. He restores my soul.
What does this look like? How does He restore us when we wander? In the book of Revelation our risen Lord Jesus Christ speaks to seven churches. The first of these was a congregation in Ephesus. These were good people. They were:
“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance” (Rev. 2:2).
“You cannot bear with those who are evil” (Rev. 2:2).
“You…have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not and found them to be false” (Rev. 2:2).
“I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” But Christ says, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev 2:4).
It is possible to be a hard-working, upright, discerning, loyal believer and yet to have lost your first love for Jesus Christ. And here’s what is alarming. When the sheep wanders away from the shepherd, it doesn’t know how to get back. And when you lose your first love for Christ you don’t know how to get it back either.
But David tells us the good news: The Lord restores my soul. He does it by reminding us of what we have lost.
The Good Shepherd restores us when we wander by reminding us of what we have lost.
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen.” (Rev. 2:5)
Restoration begins with an honest recognition of what has been lost. That although you may be hard- working, upright, discerning and loyal, your heart has become cold. You were not always like this. The truth is that you have gone backwards. You have lost ground. Better things were once true of you, and better things can be true of you again.
Remembering from where you have fallen will lead you to repent. You see this in the words of Christ to the church in Ephesus and you see it in the story of the Prodigal Son. He had wandered far from the life to which he had been born. He was the son of a kind and loving father, yet he squandered what he had been given. He wasted his time, his money and his strength. But then he remembered, “My father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here in hunger!” (Luke 15:17)
And then he said, “I will arise and go to my father.” (Luke 15:18)
Remembering leads to repenting and God retrieves us when we wander by reminding us of what we have lost.
I’m praying that in God’s kindness this will happen for some of us today. That as we look at this wonderful truth that God restores, you will say, “That’s exactly what I need.”
I’ve lost my peace, I’ve lost my joy, I’m hard-working, upright, discerning and loyal but I’ve lost my first love for Christ. I need Him to restore my soul. This is what the Good Shepherd does and you can ask Him to do it for you.
That’s what David did. He remembered the joy and he asked God to give it back. Restore to me the joy of your salvation (Ps 51:12).
2. The Good Shepherd Revives Us When We Falter
He restores my soul (Psa. 23:3).
Sometimes we need to be restored because we wandered away from the Shepherd. The root of the problem lay in our own sin and folly. But there is more to God’s work of restoration than retrieving us when we wander.
Philip Keller worked for many years as a shepherd, and wrote a book called, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”. He describes a condition in which a sheep becomes ‘cast’. It can happen when the sheep’s fleece is long and heavy, or when it is carrying lambs.
The problem in either case is the weight that the sheep carries. If a sheep lies down on its side, all is well. But if it rolls onto its back. It will soon be in trouble. It cannot right itself, and it lies there helpless with four feet kicking in the air.
When a sheep is on its back, it cannot restore itself. Keller says, “As it lies there struggling, gases begin to build up in the rumen. As they expand they tend to retard and cut off blood circulation to extremities of the body, especially the legs.”
He describes how, as a shepherd, he would restore a cast sheep. “I would have to lift her onto her feet, then straddling the sheep with my legs I would hold her erect, rubbing her limbs to restore the circulation to her legs. This often took quite a little time. When the sheep started to walk again, she often just stumbled, staggered and collapsed in a heap once more…[but] little by little the sheep would regain its equilibrium.”
The Good Shepherd restores us when we falter. There are many examples of this faltering in Scripture. I’ve narrowed my list down to five. All of them involve carrying a heavy weight
Faith can falter when we are:
a. Disoriented by injustice
My feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. (Psalm 73:2). This was Asaph’s story. He was the worship leader for God’s people in the time of king David and he wrote several of the Psalms. In one of them, he tells us about a time in his life when he almost lost his faith. My feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. (Psalm 73:2)
Here is a man in vocational ministry. He was leading others in worship, but his own faith faltered and the reason was that he was disoriented by injustice.
He says, “I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (v3). Evil men prosper and God lets them. The injustice of it all got to him and his faith began to falter.
Faith can falter when we are:
b. Drained by Conflict
“I, even I only, am left” (1 Kings 19:10). This was Elijah’s story. He had engaged in a great struggle and it had exhausted his strength. At one point it seemed that the whole world was against him: the king, the queen, the prophets of Baal and even God’s people who had given themselves to idols. God stood with Elijah and when fire fell from heaven on Mt. Carmel, everyone knew that the Lord is God. But the conflict exhausted Elijah and after Mt. Carmel we find him alone in the desert, sitting under a broom tree.
Here is a godly man, quite convinced that his life has no useful future purpose. He feels sure that the cause of truth is lost. “I, even I only am left.” Elijah had been drained by conflict and his faith began to falter.
Faith can falter when we are:
c. Disappointed by Outcomes
Let us not grow weary of doing good… (Galatians 6:9). This was the story of believers in Galatia. Paul says to them, Let us not grow weary of doing good…
Why would he say that? These people had been working hard, and they were disappointed with the outcome. They had given themselves to ministry, but they had not seen the fruit they had hoped for. Disappointment drained their energy. They grew ‘weary of doing good’ and their faith began to falter.
Faith can falter when we are:
d. Disheartened by Suffering
After you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings” (Heb 10:32-33). This was the story of the believer’s addressed in the book of Hebrews. These Hebrew believers had suffered since they first came to faith in Jesus. They had been publicly shamed and reproached. Their property had been plundered. Their lives had become a “hard struggle with sufferings.”
At first, they embraced this suffering with faith and even with joy, but as time went on, suffering took its toll. Pain saps your strength. Losing someone you love drains your energy. It sucks the life out of you.
Most of us can endure our share of suffering for a time, but when it goes on and on we become disheartened and our faith can begin to falter.
Faith can falter when we are:
e. Depleted by Demands
Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:16). This was Paul’s story. As an apostle, he carried a weight of responsibility for all the churches. And he knew what it was to say Who is sufficient for these things (2 Cor 2:16)?
Asaph, Elijah, the Galatians, the Hebrews, and the apostle Paul: They all faltered. And they were all restored.
Is there any pattern to how God restored them?
All of them were restored through a fresh encounter with God. What is striking to me is that God dealt with each of them in a unique and individual way.
(i) God restored Asaph through in the course of his work.
But when I thought about how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Psalm 73:16-17. The sanctuary was the place where Asaph worked. So, this man kept doing what God had called him to do and God met him there.
(ii) God restored Elijah after a time of rest.
And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Arise and eat’” (1 Kings 19:5).
Restoration began for Elijah with sleep, rest and a good meal, fed to him by angels!
(iii) God restored the Galatians through a wonderful promise.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap…the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life (Gal 6:7-8).
You have been disappointed by how little has come from the good work you have been doing. But you are only looking at a small part of the picture. You will reap eternal life! So, don’t grow weary of doing good, for in due season you will reap, if you do not give up (Galatians 6:7-9). So, then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).
(iv) God restored the Hebrews with a robust challenge.
These people had endured long suffering and what follows the description of their trial in Hebrews 10 is the magnificent honor roll of faith in Hebrews 11.
Leading to our supreme example, the Lord Jesus Christ, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb 12:3). Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, (Heb 12:12).
That’s a robust challenge.
(v) God restored the Apostle Paul through the gift of a faithful friend
For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn – fighting without and fear within (2 Cor 7:5). So, here is a man whose faith is beginning to falter. How did God help him? But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,” (2 Cor. 7:6: see also 1 Cor 16:17,18, 2 Tim 1:16).
The Good Shepherd knows how to revive you when you falter.
He can revive you in the course of your work.
He can revive you through a time of rest.
He can revive you by a fresh glimpse of His promise.
He can revive you with a bracing challenge.
He can revive you through the ministry of a friend.
God knows how to restore you when you falter. He can do it. And He will.
3. The Good Shepherd Restores Us Himself
He restores my soul (Psa 23:3).
It’s the Shepherd Himself who restores the wandering faltering sheep and brings it home. We have looked at five examples of faltering faith. In each of them, God used different means to restore His people. But in each of them, God Himself drew near.
God gave Asaph the assurance that there will be ultimate justice. God showed Elijah that the cause of truth was not lost, that there were thousands who had not bowed the knee to Baal, and that a new generation was rising and that he must prepare his successor. God lifted the Galatians with the promise of a glorious reward. God roused the Hebrews by showing them that they were walking in the path of Jesus. God met the apostle Paul with this assurance: My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in weakness.
The Lord is my shepherd. He restores my soul. Brothers and sisters, we don’t restore ourselves. We could no more restore ourselves than we could have saved ourselves in the first place. God restores us. And He restores us through a fresh encounter with Himself in which God Himself draws near.
William Cowper knew what it was to battle with dark days of depression in his life. He wrote hymns and in one of them he expresses how God restored him. Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings, It is the Lord who rises with healing in His wings.
God may surprise you by how He comes alongside you and lifts you. He has many means of doing this, but of this you can be sure, When the Lord is your shepherd, He will restore your soul.
God is able to restore you. God gave life to your soul. He is able to restore life to your soul. He made you alive in Christ. He is able to keep you alive in Christ.
When God restores you, He will do it gently. David says, ‘Your gentleness made me great,’ (Psa 18:35). Think of the shepherd rubbing the legs of the cast sheep. There’s patience, tenderness, perseverance. God will restore you gently.
And He will do it joyfully. The shepherd Himself goes after the sheep that has wandered away, puts it on His shoulder and then brings it home, ‘rejoicing’ (Lk 15:5).
When your faith is faltering, and the shepherd finds you. He’s not going to rebuke you. He’s come looking for you. He has come to restore you. And God finds great joy in restoring His own people.
And think about this: How is it, that after all you have endured in your life, you are still a Christian today? With all the injustice that is around you, with all the conflict you have endured, with all the disappointments you have encountered, with all the pain you have suffered, with all the demands that are upon you? After all that, how are you still a believer today? There’s only one explanation: He restores your soul. God’s restoration explains your continuing in the faith. And God’s restoration guarantees your arrival in Glory.
Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed And yet in love he sought me And on his shoulders gently laid and home rejoicing brought me.
© Colin S. Smith
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