Dwell: On Right Paths

“He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.” 
Psalm 23:3

The ‘power of three’ exists all around us, conveying to us perfection, completion, and wholeness. We see it in nature: morning, noon, and night. Birth, life, death. And in literature: beginning, middle, end. Musketeers, little pigs, and blind mice. In art: primary blue, red, and yellow, as well as, the ‘rule of thirds.’ And, in sports: ready, set, go! Gold, silver, bronze. Even the Latin phrase, omne trium perfectum, is a trio of words meaning, “everything that comes in threes is perfect.”

Threes in Scripture hold similar value–the perfection of the Holy Trinity; the wholeness of body, mind, and spirit; and the completion of Jesus’ descent into death for three days. To name a few.

So, on this 9th day of October–a day of three threes–we’ll dive into Psalm twenty-three, verse three, which is packed with three phrases that will guide us toward a better understanding of God, our dwelling place.

Restoration of Soul

Translations can confuse us. In versions like the NIV, of which I am quoting in this series, the first third of verse three (in italics below) is the final third of a long run-on sentence (which begins in verse two). See the sentence in its full glory:

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3     he refreshes my soul.

Psalm 23, 2-3a, NIV (italics mine)

Three complete thoughts, each making sense on their own. But when they’re tied together by the commas, a relationship is communicated: because we’ve been lying down in green pastures and beside quiet waters, our souls are refreshed. And it makes sense.

But, in other translations, such as the New King James Version, the punctuation implies “He restores my soul” connects with our being led by God:

He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Psalm 23:3, NKJV

This hair-splitting exercise is less about being ‘right’ and more about understanding what is meant by He restores my soul. And, what I’ve been discovering is that to know sheep–as our author David did–is to better understand how it looks for God to refresh and restore us.

Sheep who get too fat, too cozy in hollows of the ground, or too heavy with wool can easily become cast, an “old English shepherd’s term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself” (Keller, 70). If a shepherd isn’t able to act quickly enough to get the sheep set upright, the sheep dies.  

Similarly, we can get so fat with self-assurance, so comfortable with our cozy lifestyles, and so heavy with the burdens of our worldly possessions or pride that we get dragged down. We topple. We can’t get up without help.

Then, our Good Shepherd comes along. And as part of His flock, we know His voice (John 10:3), so we allow Him to right us–perhaps with discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11), or pruning (John 15:2), or refining fires (Zechariah 13:8-9). By whatever method He chooses to restore us, we can trust that He knows what He’s doing, that He knows the best way to restore our heavy, prideful, or apathetic souls. 

So whether we need our souls refreshed or restored, we can celebrate that we have a Good Shepherd who knows just what we need and how to help us get there.

A beautiful path, holding much promise, in Charleston, SC

Paths of Righteousness

And our getting there depends on us being on the right path.

Sheep are creatures of habit. If not led by a strong, caring shepherd, they’ll wear down paths in pastures until the land becomes desolate and polluted. Overgrazing is a real problem in the sheep world because, on their own, sheep get stuck in ruts (Keller, 83).

And so can we. 
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.

Isaiah 53:6, NLT

Like our sister sheep, we can be stubborn and overly self-confident, sure that we know what’s best. How many times a day do I either ignore God or choose to avoid Him so that I can do what I want? In college it looked like too much drinking. In my 20s it looked like too many plans so that by my 30s busyness had me running in circles. In my 40s it looked like knowing what was best for my teen sons so that now in my 50s I still have urges to fix their lives. I’ve given myself over to repeated behaviors of overindulgence till I’m trapped in my self-made wasteland.

But Jesus.

To read my decades-long journey above is to assume I’ve done nothing but spiral in my own stiff-necked, strong-willed ways. But my Good Shepherd–over and over–has come along to set me right. He has reminded me that He is the Way (John 14:6). He has taught me to understand that following Him is to deny myself and take up the cross (Mark 8:34). He’s pruned my pride. He’s refined my self-indulgence and self-assurance. He’s allowed me to live in the consequences of my choices. But in all of it, I’ve felt nothing but His love and kindness. By His Word, I’ve seen “the right ways of truth, and holiness, and righteousness” (Poole). By His Spirit I’ve been empowered to obey. Through it all, I’ve been learning to trust Him–and follow as He leads even when I can’t see where the path is going.

A winding path, full of mystery, in Saluda, NC.

To faithfully follow our Good Shepherd, our attitudes must shift. We need a willingness to keep laying down habits and comforts that lead to our destruction, to continually surrender our will for His, and to consistently choose obedience.

His Name Sake

Sheep literally leap with joy when their shepherd opens the gate to a new pasture full of green grass (Keller, 87). In the same way, we can delight in our Shepherd as we trust Him to lead us in paths that are right and good.

Just as good shepherds receive much joy in flocks that are healthy and happy, our Good Shepherd rejoices in seeing us content and flourishing under His care (Keller, 35). He restores our souls by leading us along right paths for our good. Absolutely.

However, there’s even greater joy for the Shepherd when one in His flock learns to love Him and others more than herself. “Once a person discovers the delight of doing something for others, she has started through the gate, being led into one of God’s green pastures” (p.91). Selflessness is a hallmark of one who walks the right path.

And yet. There’s a greater good here than our own or others’–it’s God’s. God’s glory. That’s always the bottom line, the endgame, the grand finale. 

When we obey by doing what He tells us to do, we’re acting in a manner that maintains God’s good reputation (p.94). Friends, when we allow our Shepherd to lead us in all His righteous, holy ways, our following brings His name into the bright spotlight of goodness. Our lives reflect who God is to the world. 

Our Good Shepherd dwells with us, running toward His upturned sheep to restore our souls. Guiding us along right paths–for our good and others’. And, always, for His name’s sake. 

Father God, You are perfection. You live in perfect harmony as the Triune God; You make broken hearts whole; You make me complete in Christ. In your loving kindness, You exert your will over me in order to restore my soul to the place of wholeness and holiness. You are holy, holy, holy. And I am yours. Lord Jesus, my Good Shepherd, You always set me back on my feet when I fall flat on my face. You’re faithful and loving and oh-so good. I feel my trust in You growing, so I choose to follow You–wherever You lead. Even when I can’t see where it is You’re taking me. Holy Spirit, thank You for enabling me to trust my Good Shepherd, to follow Him obediently. Help me to anticipate the joy of entering His gate to find a field full of grace and hope and peace. I pray that You’d continue your work of pruning and refining in me so that I will always choose to follow in the ways of my Shepherd. May I surrender my will, my mind, and my heart to You so that I can live as a living sacrifice, reflecting the goodness of my Shepherd to all who meet me. I pray this for my good, for the good of others, and for your glory. In Jesus’ name, amen.
(inspired by: Psalm 23, Matthew 28:19, Psalm 34:18, Colossians 2:10, Revelation 4:8, John 14:15-18, Romans 5:1-2, John 15:2, Zechariah 13:8-9, Romans 12:1)

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  • Rhythms: Just as the Waltz flows with its 1-2-3 cadence, we can move in rhythms of holiness.
    • 1-getting still, 2-entering God’s presence, 3-breathing Him in. OR,
    • 1-sing in worship of Him, 2-raise our hands in abandon, 3-adore Him with words of praise. OR,
    • 1-read His Word to see more of Him, 2-allow the Spirit to open our eyes to a truth we need, 3-sit in the revelation, allowing it to cleanse or fill or encourage.
      • Scripture memory is a much-needed rhythm in our days of bombardment and busyness. We’re so easily thrown out of sync with the Spirit that we need a verse or chapter at hand to empower us over all the irregularities. To be able to speak God’s Word over ourselves, our people, and our situations pulls us back into rhythm with our Good Shepherd. So, this week, add verse three to what you’ve already memorized. Three verses at the ready. Three verses packed full of promise. Three verses that will have us back on the right path.
  • Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
    • One song on our playlist, “Restore My Soul” by Vertical Worship, cries out three lines of rhythmical prayer, then points us back to the right path:

      Restore my soul, revive my heart
      Renew my life in every part
      Reveal to me what sin remains
      Then lead me to the cross again
    • Each chapter in Phillip Keller’s A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23* has its own great rhythm–sheep’s lives, Christians’ lives, God’s way and invitation. I have loved rereading it for this series!
    • I also mention Matthew Poole. I loved the line in his commentary on Psalm 23:3 about how the Word and Spirit work together to keep us on the right path with God.
  • We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
    • As you feel led, share in the comment section. Let us know how God is leading you. And how we can be praying for you. Ask questions. And share your thoughts.
    • I hope you’ll invite someone to join our flock. All sheep need the Good Shepherd.

Featured Photo taken by me in Asheville, NC
*an affiliate link with which I might earn a bit

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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