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May 8 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 6, 2012 – Psalm 23:3

He restores my soul. Psalm 23:3a

INTRO: About five years ago, someone told Barbara and Ithat we needed to see The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

It is a foreign film with English subtitles
– Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of Elle magazine suffered a stroke in his brain stem that left his body paralyzed
• his brain was still fully intact – inside, he was still himself — “Locked-in Syndrome”
– the only part of his body he could control was his left eyelid
• by blinking once for yes and twice for no, he would go through the alphabet to spell words
– he spent the last summer of his life writing a book through this painstaking process of communication
• reading it, you discover the vast, rich, active inner-world of his mind
• all of it hidden from others except through the fluttering eyelid

There are lots of reasons to appreciate the movie (and book)
– e.g., inspire gratitude or admire his fight when had every reason to give up, etc.
– but also because it tells us something about ourselves: we all have locked-in syndrome
• I am this invisible inner self – full of stories, ideas, memories
• there is no way to get this out where others can see it except through my body
– when we try to reveal the person within, only a trickle manages to get out

Lots of people give up
– I’ve met couples, married ten, fifteen, and twenty years who still did not know each other
– never explored mystery of their spouse’s soul and gave up trying to reveal their own

We’ve come to a line in Psalm 23 that addresses this secret part of you
– “He restores my soul”

A couple of remarks about this verse

The verb translated restore is one of most common verbs in the OT (1000+)
– the basic thought it conveys is to return or repeat
– all sorts of uses: turn back, answer, recall, etc.
In this case, God returns or brings back the soul
– its tempting to say through food, drink, and rest (“green pastures,” “quiet waters) he restores our vital energies
• but that is to interpret it in terms of our modern perspective, where there is no soul
• the human person is thought to be no more than a collection of biological and neurological functions

In scripture, soul is the life-force of a person
– the life-center of the body, the mind, and the heart
– more than once in the Psalms, the soul is threatened (of being dragged away, thrown into the pit of death, devoured)
– soul is used as a personal pronoun – another way to say “I” or “me”
• the soul reminds us that there is an inner life

The soul is more than the body, but is not separate from it
– the only disintegration of body and soul occurs at death
– otherwise, a goal of Christian spirituality is the integration of the whole person

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. (1 Th. 5:23)

– if the soul is refreshed, the body is refreshed
– wear out the body and you can eventually wear out the soul

What David is saying, “God gives me my soul back”
– he rescues my inner self, he hands me my life back

Why is this one line of the psalm so important?

One of odd aspects of the soul is that receives no protection from its physical shell
– in fact, our bodies can create more burdens for the soul
• the soul can hide from others inside the body
• that way they’re not able to see the injury they do to it, but the body doesn’t provide a shield from those injuries

The mind doesn’t provide the soul much protection either
– habits of the mind sometimes form as echo of other voices that we have internalized
– our own thoughts turn against our soul – punish and ridicule it

We go through a normal day – some better, some worse
– our circumstances expose us to wide range of human experiences
• disappointments and lucky breaks, criticism and compliments, annoyances and encouragements, a few small pains and a few small pleasures
– we don’t realize that each one of these take a little piece of the soul
– the human soul doesn’t have an infinite supply of resources
• even the strongest people can be broken
• in fact, it’s a sad and terrible thing to watch happen

Guilt — especially excessive and unwarranted guilt– can cause the soul great harm

Illness and injury can cause the soul great harm
– this is what happened to Job
– several times he mentions the “bitterness” of his soul

And now my soul is poured out within me;
Days of affliction have seized me.
At night it pierces my bones within me,
And my gnawing pains take no rest.
” (Job 30:16-17)

In skin care, doctors sometimes talk about tensile strength
– the resilience and elasticity of the skin – its ability to recover
– the soul also has a tensile strength – there’s a limit to what it can take

The soul, in our society, suffers most often from neglect
– God has provided means to enrich the soul with such experiences as beauty, the arts, travel, education, and so on
– we prefer to ignore and silence it with entertainment

The soul is God’s specialty

Look at Psalm 121 – [Hint: the key word is “keep”]

The soul in need is driven to God (especially when desperate)
– but what it gets from God depends a lot on what it wants
– recovering from injury, illness, or stroke, most people are eager to resume life as they knew it before
• that’s also what most people want from God — “Fix me up so I can go back to living the way I was”
• true also of many Christians, even if we don’t consciously admit it

God has other plans for the souls he restores

What role does contemplative prayer have in restoration?

First, it is all about bringing the soul before God
– it is shutting down all the things that exhaust the soul

For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said,
“In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength.”
(Is. 30:15)

Second, it gives the body space to rest (and recover)

Third, it gives the mind space to rest
– when we surrender to God in prayer, there’s nothing we need do
– we are allowing him to do what needs to be done
• we are simply watching and responding
– sometimes he digs deep, and it can hurt – but his goal is to heal

A very important discovery of the last twenty years is neuroplasticity
– given the opportunity, the brain can repair or regain functions lost to damage of stroke or illness
– at the heart of the brain’s healing is meditative prayer
(see, for example, How God Changes Your Brain)

CONC: Contemplative prayer is not about technique
– it’s not about making ourselves more spiritual or more mature than other believers
– it’s about spending time with God, exclusively – without distraction
When we do this, he restores our soul — he restores us to our true humanity

Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
For You have rescued my soul from death,
My eyes from tears,
My feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the LORD
In the land of the living.
(Ps. 116:7-9)

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