Shalom
4. He restores my soul.


To restore is to put something back as it was. If we are to live in shalom, some restoration work is needed, and it is ‘he’ — the Lord who is my shepherd — who restores my soul.

The word ‘soul’ here does not mean what many in our culture think it means. The commonly held view (popularised by Plato) is that our souls are a detachable part of our being, somehow contained — or even trapped — in our physical bodies.

The Hebrew word translated as ‘soul’ here is “nephesh”. When God made Adam, he made him from the dust of the earth and then breathed the breath of life into his nostrils and he became “nephesh” — a living being (see Genesis 2:7). A better understanding of our soul is the uniqueness of our being as a living person. Or we could say, our soul is the real person — the real ‘me’. You do not have a soul; you are a soul.

Restoring our soul is about us becoming the real person we were made to be. In the previous reflection we acknowledged that our full lives can prevent us from living in fullness, and fullness begins with stillness. In the stillness, we discover what is essential and what is incidental to our lives. We can then make our lives less full in our doing, and more full in our being.

Similarly, if the real ‘me’ has been shaped by people, experiences and influences that are not the Lord who is my shepherd, then I will increasingly struggle to live in my true identity. To live as the real ‘me’, I need to be restored by my Shepherd, so I can know my true identity. Once I know who I really am, I can grow as that person and live increasingly in shalom. The key to knowing who I am is knowing whose I am. If I belong to the Lord who is my shepherd, then I will know who I really am.

Getting your life back

The best news about the Lord restoring my soul is that I get my life back! When the Lord restores my soul, I start to live as a true human, the one he made me to be.

When Jesus spoke with Nicodemus, he told him he would have to be “born again” to see and enter the Kingdom of God (see John 3:3ff). The Kingdom of God is the place where God is King and all of creation lives in shalom. Throughout the Old Testament period, the great prophets spoke in different ways about the age to come where we receive a new heart; where swords are beaten into ploughshares; where the wolf dwells with the lamb; where the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about seeing and entering the Kingdom of God, both had in mind the age to come and a life of shalom. And Jesus made it clear: you have to be born again to live a life of shalom.

Being born again is another way of saying “he restores my soul.” It is an opportunity to let go of everything that has defined and shaped our lives so far; our dreams and ambitions, our fears and doubts, even our certainties, and especially our concepts and ideas of who God is; and be reborn as the person the Lord made us to be.

A newborn baby experiences everything as new. When we are born again, we too find that our lives are filled with newness: new ways of seeing, new ways of thinking, new knowledge for our renewed minds, new love for our new hearts, and so the list goes on. Even many familiar things now take on a new meaning and they too seem to be restored.

We all know that we can be Born Again (capital ‘B’, capital ‘A’) at a defined moment in our lives where we choose to follow Jesus. But we can also experience being born again (lowercase ‘b’, lowercase ‘a’) every day. New encounters with God; fresh insights from the scriptures; powerful experiences of the Holy Spirit; all these can be so life-changing that we experience another way to be born again. The Lord, our shepherd says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). The Lord’s work of restoration is not static, but ongoing. Every day is a fresh opportunity to be reborn and become ourselves more fully.

This is how it is when the Lord restores my soul. I am reborn by God’s Holy Spirit and I get my life back — he restores my soul.

May you live in Shalom, and may you know that the Lord will restore your soul.
May you know who you really are by knowing whose you really are.

May you be born again this day and every day as the Lord restores your soul.

Shalom
3. He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

The first step towards fulness is stillness.
In the previous reflection we noted that most of us live our lives at less than 50%. We also saw that living in shalom requires we are open to more life — abundant life.

Most of us know our lives are full, but this is not the same as a life lived in fullness.
Which is why the first step towards fullness is stillness.

In our culture, we are programmed to ‘do’. We have lost the way of simply being. Most of us have been ‘doing’ for so long we don’t know how to be still.

In the previous reflections we established that to live in shalom requires that I be led by the Lord who is my shepherd, and that he provides for all my needs and only gives me good things.

In this next line of the Psalm, David, who was a shepherd, writes that the Lord who is my shepherd makes me lie down in green pastures.” To get a fuller understanding of shalom, we must focus on the word ‘makes’. This word does not imply choice on our part — to be ‘made’ to do something is to be subdued by someone or something more powerful than yourself. The Lord, who is my shepherd, ‘makes’ me lie down in green pastures. He imposes it upon me. Remember, the shepherd only gives us good things, so his insistence that we lie down is part of his provision for our life in shalom. If he didn’t ‘make’ us lie down, we would continue to be human doings all the time, instead of human beings. We need stillness in our lives, and the Lord who is my shepherd makes me be still on the path to shalom.

The stillness the shepherd provides is the gift of joyful rest. It’s the gift of time set apart for the sheer joy of doing nothing.

We can see this from the Psalm — he makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. For a sheep — and especially in the hot and dry climate of the ancient near east — a green pasture is a place of luxury; enough grass to eat until you can’t eat any more. And the still waters from a desert oasis means coolness from the heat and enough water to drink and be satisfied. This is not a picture of resting out of need alone; it is a picture of luxurious rest.

But this picture of indulgence doesn’t mean that we don’t need to rest, because if we want to live in shalom, we do. How often do we take time for luxurious rest and to just enjoy the stillness? If the answer is frequently and often, then maybe we are well on our way to a life of shalom. But if the answer is rarely and infrequently, then we can be thankful that the Lord who is my shepherd will make me lie down and lead me to places of stillness.

Yet the need for stillness can sometimes be more urgent, especially if the only times we are still are when we freeze in the midst of difficult situations, or we get so exhausted that all we have left is to stop. An experienced shepherd knows the difference between a real oasis and a mirage; he has to, as it is a matter of life and death for his sheep. In the same way, the Lord knows the difference between the kind of rest that is part of the journey to shalom and the enforced stop that inevitably comes when we don’t practice stillness and become exhausted, or even burn out.

Many of us work too hard, often at the expense of our sleep, believing that it is more productive — perhaps even more ‘virtuous’ — to work hard rather than rest. But as Solomon writes in one of his Psalms,

“It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
(Psalm 172:2)

If we want to live in shalom, then we need to embrace the gift of sleep and ensure we prioritise it as a necessary part of our health and wellbeing. It is worth noting that from the very beginning, the day begins in the evening, which means one of the first things we do in each day is sleep.

We will consider how a life lived in shalom responds to troubles, burn outs and insomnia later on, but for now all we need to say is that the shepherd does not want to ‘make me lie down’ because I don’t know how to; he wants me to be still so I can enjoy being still.

The Sabbath was made for man

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
(Mark 2:27)

Jesus said these words to the Pharisees when challenged about his disciples eating ears of corn on the sabbath. Jesus pointed out that David (who wrote the Psalm we are exploring) took the Bread of Presence from the house of the Lord — something which was forbidden — and even gave it to his filthy fighting men. His point? Everything which is considered holy to God is ultimately for the enjoyment of his children. Therefore, sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.

‘Remember the sabbath to keep it holy’
(Exodus 20:8)

This is the fourth of the ten commandments and preceded only by those concerning how we relate to God himself. Remembering the sabbath and keeping it holy is a commandment. It is not optional. It is the explicit version of the more implicit line from our Psalm, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.”

Jesus often took time out to be still and to simply ‘be’ with his Father. He needed it, and we do too.

Presence in the present

All of us can practise stillness. For some, simply stopping and doing nothing for the sheer pleasure of it may seem so alien to us that we wouldn’t know where to begin. For others, we may have spent years taking time out for meditation or contemplation and will undoubtedly know the value of stillness.

However you choose to find stillness, the wonderful, life-changing power of being fully present in this moment in the presence of the Lord, who is my shepherd and made me, is something that can only be experienced firsthand.

Wherever we are on our journey, practising stillness is necessary for shalom.

Do you want to start today?
Start with something very simple: sit comfortably, close your eyes and breathe in for 5 seconds, then breathe out for 7 seconds. Count each second; observe your breathing. Do this for a full 3 minutes.

Soon, you will find that stillness comes more naturally and you can start to notice more than just your breathing. Before long, you will be enjoying being in the presence of the Lord as “he makes you lie down in green pastures; as he leads you beside still waters.”

May you live in Shalom, and know that the Lord will make you lie down in stillness.
May you know the joy of being present in the Lord’s presence.
May you know that the Lord gives to his beloved sleep.

Power

Power, true power,
Knows the love of One
Who truly frees, to
Live, die, and live again.
Power, true power,
Does not hold on to
Things that are decaying,
Or hopes that are fading,
Or a life that is dying. No.
Power, true power,
Embraces death
In a defiant grip;
Not letting go until
Death itself has been
Subdued and overcome by
Power, true power.
And then a life beyond
And a life which was, before,
Flows in (to the place
Where death once stood),
And is gathered up and
Lifted high – a trophy prize –
To One whose love freed to
Live, die and live again, in
Power, true power.

“The Father has an intense love for me because I freely give my own life—to raise it up again. I surrender my own life, and no one has the power to take my life from me. I have the authority to lay it down and the power to take it back again. This is the destiny my Father has set before me.”

John 10:17–18 (TPT)

Shalom
2. I shall not want

The second part of the first line of the Psalm — “I shall not want” — is multi-faceted in meaning. Here we will consider two of these facets.

The need for need

The first is that because the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Of all the possible ways in which we can understand the axiom, “The Lord is my shepherd,” the writer chooses to express it through ‘provision’. His ability to provide for me is what makes the Lord my shepherd. If he could not, or would not provide, he would not be my shepherd.
Without need, provision has no purpose. Yet we know we have needs, many and varied; some simple and some complex.

To “not want” is an expression of having all my needs met.

As we stated previously, shalom is everything in the right place and nothing in the wrong place. Or we could say, ‘shalom is all my needs met and not being in want.’ To live in shalom requires an awareness that I have needs and wants and the belief that my shepherd, who is my provider, meets them. If I believe I have no needs, then I cannot have shalom, because I will not be open to receive what I need. Often the things I need most are those I am least aware of and so do not think to ask for these. But if I choose to have my needs met by the Lord who is my shepherd, even those needs I am unaware of will be met, because if “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”.

100%

If we were to imagine what life might be like with shalom — everything in the right place and nothing in the wrong place — most of us would agree that we live our lives at less than 50% most of the time. In some part, this is because our lives are affected — even afflicted — by external factors over which we have little control. Still, it is for the most part that we don’t know how to access more. It is possible to be born with physical disabilities, living with many limitations, and still experience a fuller life above 50%. Conversely, it is possible to be born with ‘perfect health’ and live only at 10%.

To “not want” means living at 100%. Although we might never achieve this entirely in the present world, it is possible to live at a much higher level of vitality, health, purpose and shalom than one might realise. To have shalom, I must choose to have more life than I currently have. Without making a choice, I won’t aim for more, or desire more, and so will never have more. I must choose. I must choose to allow the Lord, who is my shepherd, to provide for the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.

Therefore, I shall not want.

The provider provides

The second facet to consider here is the confident assurance that whatever the size or complexity of my need, if the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. This bold assertion requires us to decide: do I believe that the Shepherd will provide for all my needs, or do I need to also seek from someone or somewhere else?
Is that someone else ‘me’?

Deciding is essential, because unless you are clear on what you believe — and live out those beliefs — you will end up trying to go in many directions at once. Being unclear on your beliefs is a fast track to confusion and getting ‘lost’. The Shepherd makes no demands that we follow him, but is willing to lead us with the confident certainty that he can and will take us on the right path. Many of us live our lives without ever asking this question and therefore avoid the decision to follow the Shepherd. However, not deciding is still a choice, albeit a passive one. It is a choice which often leads us down a path we don’t know and into situations for which we are not prepared. Without a shepherd to guide us, we often end up lost.

Making my own path

Most of us begin the journey of meeting our needs on a path of our own design. Our thinking may follow this logic: “I believe, for a good reason, that no one knows me better than I know myself, and that I am the only one who truly knows what my needs are. Therefore only I can decide what the right path is.”

The hidden problem with this line of thought is that it is the same ‘me’ that got me to where I am today who now believes can get me to where I need to be. Yet it is the same ‘me’ — nothing has changed. How can I get myself out of my own problem? How can I guide myself along the right path to address a need to which I am blind? It’s true that some people discover the right path anyway, and may well believe it was all their own doing. If it’s true that only the Shepherd can lead us on the right path, we may experience the benefit of getting ourselves on the right path on our own in the short-term, but because we don’t know how we got there, we won’t have any assurances for the way ahead.

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
(Matthew 6:8)

“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?
Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil,
know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father
who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
(Matthew 7:9–11)

Our heavenly Father knows our needs and has the power and the means to provide for them — all of them. If we ask him, he will not give us anything that won’t meet our needs, like a stone instead of bread; he will only give us good things so we might know his shalom.

Trusting this truth — that the Father only gives us good things — is crucial if we are to live in shalom. Why? Because we all know that life has its share of suffering, pain and grief, and if we lose sight of the Lord shepherding us through these times as part of his provision, we will find ourselves lost in futility and despair. Jesus has come that we might have life in all its fulness (John 10:10) — fulness includes suffering, pain and grief, but it also includes love, hope, peace and joy. To live in shalom means the acceptance of those things we might otherwise choose to avoid and instead, the discovery of ‘the Lord who is my Shepherd’ leading us through those times and ensuring we are being filled up with his provision.

Only the Lord can provide joy in the midst of suffering. Only the Lord can give us hope in the midst of despair. In our pain, Jesus promises that his grace is sufficient for all our needs — that means enough grace each and every time. And when we grieve, Jesus is the one who weeps with us (John 11:35) and wipes away every tear (Rev 21:4).

This is shalom: to not just believe, but to know that ALL things work together for our good, if we love the Lord (see Romans 8:28).
Therefore, if the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

May you live in Shalom, and may you know that the Lord will meet your every need.
May you know that there is ALWAYS more life and you are free to choose it.
May you know that the Lord only gives you good gifts.

Shalom
1. The Lord is my shepherd

Shalom – a definition

This simple ancient Hebrew word expresses an entire worldview about our human experience. Often translated as ‘peace’, shalom is about harmony, wholeness and the transcendent peace that proceeds from these.

Shalom means that everything is in the right place, and nothing is in the wrong place.

Shalom gives attention to both aspects of this reality: a life lived in shalom is one that is full; complete of the things that produce harmony and wholeness. It is also one that actively and necessarily excludes everything that reduces these.

Most, if not all of us, desire to live in shalom, yet most, if not all of us, do not know how to live this way. This series of reflections provides a paradigm for shalom intended to help those who seek to live it.

Psalm 23 — An expression of Shalom

A Psalm of David.

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.

Even though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.
(ESV)

 

1. The Lord is my shepherd.

The journey of shalom begins here.

This simple first line introduces a very profound concept: shalom is not something I can achieve on my own — I need guiding. Furthermore, living shalom is not a fixed state, but a life led by one who acts like a shepherd.

Here the Psalmist names the shepherd as the Lord (also Yahweh or Jehovah) which is the self-revealed name of God, who is also the Creator. The Bible begins with — and indeed has as its premise — God as Creator. So we could say, “My Creator is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Which leads us to a more profound discovery: reality itself only makes sense through the ‘shepherding’ of the one who created it. In other words, our understanding of the world, our lives, and any sense of ‘purpose’ come from the Creator and what he chooses to reveal to us.

Accepting this is crucial because it is the paradigm with which we can understand shalom, and without which we cannot. There are, of course, other ways of perceiving reality, the universe, our lives and our purpose, but none of these would be ‘shalom’.

We cannot separate shalom from this crucial understanding:

The Creator has structured reality with shalom as its purpose,
and is continually and actively involved in bringing it into being.

To live with shalom, I must choose to submit myself to be led by the Shepherd. I must also know who he is — the Creator of all things. I cannot lead myself because I am not the Creator, and therefore don’t know how. If the Lord is my Shepherd, he knows everything — everything about who I am, and everything about where I need to go. His purpose for me is shalom, and if I follow him, he will lead me.

Therefore, the Lord is my shepherd.

I AM the Good Shepherd

“I am the Good Shepherd”
(John 10:11)

With this claim, Jesus reveals himself as both the Creator and the Shepherd. The “I AM” part is undoubtedly a reference to the same “I AM” God uses to reveal himself to Moses at the burning bush. John’s gospel begins with clear statements that Jesus is God — the ‘word’ that was there in the beginning and through whom all things were made. It is John who repeatedly records Jesus making his “I AM” claims. When we hear Jesus say, “I AM…” we are supposed to hear those words as being the voice of God spoken through the one who is the ‘living word.’ Jesus makes seven such claims in John’s gospel — no accident as seven is the number of perfection and a further hint of Jesus’ divine nature.

In this particular claim, Jesus reveals himself as the Creator Shepherd. As we saw earlier, reality itself has been created with shalom as its purpose and Jesus as Creator is continually and actively involved in bringing it into being (see Colossians 1:15-17 & Hebrews 1:2-3). As the Good Shepherd, Jesus knows that we must be led if we are to live in shalom. He knows our needs and we recognise his voice. He calls us forward from our past into a future of hope, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

As our Good Shepherd, he says to each one of us, “follow me.”

May you live in Shalom, and may you know that the Lord desires it for you.
May you know that the Lord made you and will also lead you.
May you know that the Lord is your shepherd.

A Sabbath Season

We had so much leisure,
But never enough rest.

We had so much wealth,
But valued all the wrong things.

We were prosperous in many ways,
But in many more we were unfruitful.

We had the best healthcare in history,
But we still made ourselves sick.

We had the best survival rates for infants,
But we prevented many from being born.

We built our cities greater than cathedrals,
But we let our society go to ruin.

We could predict the weather like never before,
But we still built our houses on the sand.

We developed crops that could withstand devastation,
But we overworked and poisoned the soil.

We produced enough food to feed the world twice over,
But many still went hungry.

We had the world as our oyster,
But we missed the pearl of great price.

We forgot the Sabbath, and did not keep it holy,
But God did not forget, and now is his season of rest.

Come to me

Come to me in your busyness.
Come to me in your weariness.
Come to me in your heaviness.
Come to me in your loneliness.
Come to me in your emptiness.
Come to me in your sadness.
Come to me in your sorrowfulness.
Come to me in your illness.
Come to me in your sickness.
Come to me in your uselessness.
Come to me in your hopelessness.
Come to me in your desperateness.
Come to me in your darkness.

Come to me in your usefulness.
Come to me in your happiness.
Come to me in your joyfulness.
Come to me in your hopefulness.
Come to me in your lightness.
Come to me in your quietness.
Come to me in your stillness.

Jesus says,
“Come to me in your all-ness.
And I will give you my sabbath rest.”

(For a time of isolation and sudden change)

Who wears the crown?

When the virus stalks in our midst,
And spreads its woe unseen,
Who wears the crown?

When fear crowds in,
And all must isolate,
Who wears the crown?

When jobs and money are no longer secure,
And provision is scarce,
Who wears the crown?

When those nearest to us are vulnerable,
And safety means distancing ourselves,
Who wears the crown?

When our leaders admit their limits,
And their strategies rely on hope,
Who wears the crown?

When we can only see an unfamiliar future,
And we are shaken into sudden change,
Who wears the crown?

He is near to the lonely and broken-hearted,
And with all His heart consoles the afflicted,
For Jesus wears the crown.

He is our provision and provider,
And by His Word we live, breath and have our being,
For Jesus wears the crown.

He is not caught off guard,
And all things work together for our good,
For Jesus wears the crown.

He knit us together in our mother’s womb,
And every day of our lives are known to Him,
For Jesus wears the crown.

He may not be seen in the ways we expect,
And yet his presence is found in those He loves,
For Jesus wears the crown.

His love drives out all fear,
And death is swallowed up in His death,
For Jesus wears the crown.

A response to corona – the ‘crown’ – virus.

Wings extended

Her unassuming way
Was no indicator of the
Strength within; a heart
As tender as a dove and
Strong as steel.
It didn’t matter how unclean
You were, how insecure,
How needy or how far you’d
Fallen,
With a simple, unconscious gesture,
She would extend her wings,
Exposing the softest down,
And shelter you in warm comfort
Beneath her protective pinions.
Her open heart was
Her mother’s touch, and
No matter whose child you
Were, she could, and would
Be your mother too.

For Sheila

The boat’s righting

As the hull leaned,
Under windward strain –
Perilously exposing its deck,
Like an open mouth
Ready to gulp the ocean –
She climbed the mainmast
(Although how, she did not know),
And once atop leaned out
Leeward, facing the storm
With all its blustering rage.
As she hung there, cruciform,
The hull righted and all souls
Aboard were rescued from the
Swallowing sea.
As she maintained her position,
Painfully exposed, she heard
On the wind a silent whisper,
“Hold fast to righteousness
And do not be afraid,
For this storm turns the tide,
And clears away the dead wood
And all that is not held fast;
This lifeboat will not succumb,
For you are its righting, and in
The morning’s calm you will
Lead my people ashore to
Rebuild a new land, patterned
On my kingdom.”