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Season 12 - Week 1

“Psalm 23: He restores my soul – but how?”

I wonder how you are doing in this complex season, coming out of global pandemic? Because it is complex, and it has taken many people by surprise. Re-entry, Re-turning, with all those words starting with ‘re’ there’s one you might have expected to feel more of - relief.

Actually many people are finding that this season is bringing not the things they expected to feel - joy, excitement, and that automatic return of their normal energy and enthusiasm, but other things which are more tricky to manage - loss, grief, sadness, and most of all that overwhelming exhaustion and loss of motivation that comes from spending over a year leading youth work through the pandemic.

And all of that means as we head into this autumn, and the new academic year where hopefully we can return to something more like normal actually many people are actually looking to that with something more like dread - because how can you drag yourself into that feeling the way that you do? And particularly because we’re aware of the needs young people ill have, and want to have the capacity and energy to respond to those well - that's when the way WE are feeling starts to become tricky - because if we’re honest many of us are not feeling up to the challenge right now.

So how DO you reboot your mind and restore your energy and get back to feeling more like your usual self? What can you do that will prepare you and enable you to be the things you need to be?

Psalm 23 is probably one of the most well known passages in the Old Testament. Most people think David wrote it in his more mature years, looking back on what he’d learned through his experiences - and some of the really tough and challenging times he went through earlier in his life. David had experienced stress, demand, isolation and moments where his life, like ours (though for very different reasons!) changed completely in a moment. And here is what he had learned about the God who looks after us much like a shepherd does sheep.

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

I want to look at three things, drawn from this ancient wisdom - three things David has learned that God invites us to do so he can restore us in times of exhaustion. And I want to ask you three questions as you reflect on what YOU need to do the most in this time to prepare yourself. Because God longs to restore us. but sometimes we need to allow ourselves to be directed by him, as our shepherd, so that can truly be possible.

1. He makes me LIE DOWN

One of the biggest challenges of this season has been stress. Not necessarily DISstress but just stress - the relentless demand and challenge asking your brain to work hard, adapt and react to constant change and the loss of normal routine.

Even if you’ve had long periods of boredom or furlough, losing that normal pattern of life, and having to work hard to think of how to fill each day is hard work for your mind. Motivating yourself when it feels like there’s nothing useful you can do - trying to focus attention on something and thinking creatively about things to do - all that triggers stress.

And all that stress isn’t just in your head – it’s a physical reality. Your body has a physiological system it uses to makes sure it can keep you ready to respond to all that demand. Think of your mind like a runner in the starting blocks waiting for the starting pistol to fire. It’s like your brain has been on a kind of emergency mode, constantly scanning the horizon for new things, working hard in every moment - and we’re simply not designed to be in that place for that long.

Raised stress like that inevitably takes its toll. You might remember the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 18 and 19 - he’s one of the Old Testament heroes, an amazing man of God, and he’s just pulled off this amazing moment where he calls down fire from heaven and defeats the prophets of Baal. You’d think he would be feeling AWESOME - but he’s had a kind of full on few days. And we can see how close to the edge he is because this man who just faced hundreds of baying screeching prophets suddenly gets a threatening letter - and in that moment he is OVERWHELMED and he feels like he can’t cope and he FLEES. He runs away and ends up alone and vulnerable and saying to God he doesn’t want to do it any more.

And what does God do? He doesn’t give Elijah a good talking to or tell him to pull himself together - he sends an angel who does two things - rustles up a meal, then tells Elijah to get some sleep.

You’d be amazed how much of what we struggle with in tough moments is actually related to physical exhaustion. And particularly post pandemic - you really need some rest!

I love that the Hebrew in this verse in Psalm 23 literally means to stretch out – it’s not just a bit of good sleep - it’s that stretching out, contented kind of rest that I see my cats doing all the time, usually when I am working away from my home office and they are sleeping on the desk next to me. It doesn’t always come as naturally to us particularly if by character we’re the kind of people who like to be always active or busy - and particularly if your mind is still in that emergency space - wired and ready for the next challenge. You may need to REALLY deliberately thing about this one.

What do you need to do to get that kind of physical rest this month?

2. He leads me beside STILL WATERS

Sometimes the thing we need more than anything is about peace and calm, so we can properly refresh.

That’s particularly true right now. Because we are physically tired but did you know you are cognitively tired too? In fact what is called cognitive fatigue - when your brain is so fried that it cannot function the way it normally would - cognitive fatigue has been one of the most remarkable impacts of these last few months. Because over a year into pandemic demand, your BRAIN needs a break! It’s like a horse race where we have been whipping our brains to try to keep them going - but they just cannot do it any more!

Do you remember the ten commandments God gave his people way back in Exodus 20? Number 4 is the one about keeping a sabbath day - one day of rest every week. Its a pattern of work and rest first demonstrated by God in creation where He WORKS for 6 days then RESTS. And the Hebrew word used tells us it is about quiet time, a PHYSICAL rest, but also a moment of getting away from demand and stress - so a COGNITIVE and EMOTIONAL rest as well.

Interestingly the command to rest seems to have to be repeated several times – it’s like people just always find this hard and need reminding that it matters! And one of those reminders gives us another important piece of wisdom – it’s in Exodus 34:21, in the context particularly of busy or demanding times reminding us we MUST REST even though our temptation might be to think we can push the limits and rest later. But the language used this time is deliberate - and it’s different - this passage uses a Hebrew word that just means this: STOP!! It is a strong word literally meaning desist, cease!!

Good rest is about time SET APART from whatever demands we’re facing in that season. Which means we need to think about what those things are for us - because everyone is different. It may be about work. Or a barrage of household or family responsibilities, chores, caring or things you have to keep an eye on. Or, for some it may be quite different - relentless quiet, isolation, deafening loneliness.

So here’s my second question - what is the relentless demand YOU need to escape from? What needs to STOP? - so that you can find rest?

And finally is that evocative and beautiful line:


And this is a beautiful word which refers to that bit of you which is your inner being. It’s the bit of you that is the source of all the things your love, your drive, your passion. And what David is reflecting here is something amazing God does for us - he restores - or literally returns or renews our inner being.

You know when you just feel drained? Not physically but that kind of existential exhaustion, like your inner drive is just spent. You can’t DO this anymore, it’s all been too much? David’s promise here is that God can return your passion and inner fire.

You see what is wonderful here is the contrast to our world which can be so focused on outcomes and achievements and what people can get from us that sometimes it can feel like we’re just supposed to be productivity robots getting stuff done, ticking things off a list to keep our heads above water. When life has drained that out of us it can become repetitive, meaningless, one demand after another.

God wants more for us than that. He wants to restore our inner passion - for us to find things that we LOVE to do, to trigger JOY and DELIGHT - GOOD THINGS.

And it’s hard to feel those things when we’re exhausted so that’s why it comes after the rest and the quiet - but then - THEN, we need to think about what are the things that do bring us JOY.

Nehemiah 8:10 encourages the people of God even in the midst of challenge to have moments when they focus on joy - because JOY is our STRENGTH. That word literally means it is our FORTRESS, our TOWER, a place of protection or safety in life’s tough times or battle times or somewhere to retreat to in storms.

So often we think of life as binary - good OR bad - but the truth is even in the midst of challenge and pressure, good things remain - you can find sources of joy - but you have to seek them out.

So my third question is this - What are the sources of joy God longs to restore that will replenish your inner fire, passion and zest for life and the things God is calling you to? What wakes your heart and makes your soul sing? They may be things that just trigger positive emotion and FUN for you - smiles and laughs and moments of light or making you feel alive.

Or it may be that deeper spiritual sense of joy Nehemiah talks about - the joy of the Lord - because the most reliable source of joy is found by moving our perspective from those things that drain us to God somehow. A great way to do that is to trigger what psychologists call AWE - that’s reminding ourselves that we’re part of something much BIGGER than ourselves - the creativity and majesty of God - through a great view or a colourful sunset or just getting somewhere you can see the sky and watch the clouds or count the stars.

How can you pursue Joy this week?

You know - restoration is not easy and it doesn’t happen automatically. Sometimes we need to take action and make good decisions to enable something God longs to do for us.

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David.

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

This week's author


Dr Kate Middleton

Questions & Challenges


Questions for you to consider this week

How do I reboot your mind and restore my energy and get back to feeling more like my usual self?

What can I do that will prepare me and enable me to be the things you need to be?

What do I need to do to get proper physical rest this month?

What is the relentless demand I need to escape from?

What are the sources of joy God longs to restore that will replenish my inner fire, passion and zest for life and the things God is calling me to?


God, of your goodness,
give me yourself; you are enough for me,
and anything less that I could ask for
would not do you full honour.
And if I ask anything that is less, I shall always lack something,
but in you alone I have everything.

A prayer of Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

Other Weeks

Week 2



Week 3



Week 4



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