Several years ago, being a relative novice to the pastoral ministry, I was enmeshed in a particularly demanding project with many challenging tasks. The pressure was great and I was determined. Things had to be done. It seemed up to me to do them. There was no way that I could even think of taking a day off! (Someone had once ill-advised me that since the devil he never takes a day off why should the Lord’s ministers?
Then all of a sudden, I was afflicted with a sudden but relatively minor ailment. Although I can’t recall exactly what it was, I do know that it was nothing serious, probably a flu or sinus infection. It just sidelined me. I was forced to rest from my regular activities and spent the best part of three days reading, reflecting and praying. It was then I realized that Psalm 23, was applicable to me in these kinds of situations. It seemed that the Lord, gently but not so subtly, caused me to lie down in green pastures… I also slowly learned that the ministry was his not mine.
The Lord was shepherding me, nourishing and guiding me even though I was unwittingly disregarding his commands. (“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.) The work of the Lord can and should be accomplished in six days! (Had I, blinded by busyness, eagerly yet ignorantly modeled my ministry after the devil?)
Thus I learned the importance of this divine rhythm for the work to which God had called me. Moreover, I learned that my heavenly Father had used “inconvenient” illnesses to slow me down and caused me to reflect more on my relationship with him. I needed my soul to be restored!
Another pattern or discipline that I learned early on in life was the necessity of a “quiet time.” As a child I was instructed in the importance of routine (i.e. daily) Bible reading. Entering the pastoral ministry I became aware of some ministers who were too busy with the work of the Lord to spend time in the word of the Lord. This led to the downfall of some colleagues who disqualified themselves from future service to the Lord. By God’s grace I determined that I would spend quality time each day in the reading and study of Scripture and that this would be separate from sermon preparation, church related Bible studies, etc. I was personally convicted of the need for the daily nourishment of God’s word. And now sinus infections, pulled teeth or minor episodes with the flu came to be opportunities for reading extended passages of Scripture.
So by God’s grace I have been able to routinely read portions of the Bible almost every day over the course of my life and ministry. Exceptions would include serious injury and illness. (Even then, my dear wife read the Scriptures to me when I was too weak to do it myself.) This spiritual discipline is always number one on my “to do list” each day. The Lord continues to restore my soul!
Since my injury five years ago I have spent even greater amounts of time reflecting on and praying through well-known passages of Scripture such as the Lord’s Prayer, The Apostles Creed and the 23rd Psalm. Sleepless nights are eased by fellowship with the Lord as the various elements of these well-known Christian symbols direct my thinking and prayers.
On the other hand, my struggle has been reading rapidly over Bible passages which now seem familiar to me. The pitfall I must avoid is routine and repetition. I need to consciously slow down and consider what my heavenly Father has to say to me each day through his word. Often I am tempted to dash through this discipline and not regard it as a blessing and time of fellowship with my Lord. Nevertheless, routine and systematic Bible reading the entire Bible is a means the Lord uses to refresh my soul.
Another way that the Lord refreshes my soul is through corporate worship. I benefit from the public reading and preaching of God’s word, together with the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and baptism. I have been blessed not only to lead, but also to participate in these means of grace. Whenever I miss public worship (and this is very rare), my attempts to compensate include additional private and/or family worship. The Lord restores my soul through corporate worship.
So the Good Shepherd refreshes my soul in several ways. He renews and restores me; he gives me the desire to seek him. What he does for me, He also does for each of the sheep.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:6–11, ESV)