Project Restoration Soul
by Sherri Gragg
Young newlyweds, Paul and Laura Baxter, were looking for a new flat, but couldn’t find anything that quite fit their needs. Then the day came when their eyes fell on a property for sale in the center of Pensford, England. There a glorious old stone church rose from lush swath of green, an island, in the center of the River Chew. It was St. Thomas a Becket Church. The church’s Victorian era nave and medieval tower secured it The United Kingdom’s highest rating for a historical building. Even so, a catastrophic flood in the 1960’s led to the church’s deconsecrating. By the time Paul and Laura walked through the centuries old cemetery on the front lawn to stand gazing up at the gothic arches and stained glass windows of St. Thomas a Becket, the structure was in horrific disrepair. But somehow, Paul and Laura saw their beautiful future home in the crumbling stone and in the trash-strewn, damp interior.
And so, an ancient house of worship found a new calling.
The Baxters had a very limited budget so Paul did most of the work himself. He learned the art of restoration along the way. He chipped and sanded centuries of paint from the interior of the structure by hand and secured 7,000 slate tiles to the roof to seal out the rain. Long days stretched into even longer weeks and months, but in Paul’s loving hands St. Thomas a Becket was reborn. The end result was stunningly beautiful.
Restoration. We are drawn to the word aren’t we?
There are moments when we are more aware of it than others, but we all know that there is something not quite right deep in our heart of hearts. We step back from our lives and find we have made devastating missteps along the way and the path before us seems too marred to ever be clear again. We need to believe there can be a new beginning, that life can once again breathe into the dark, dank corners where it seems all hope is lost.
And so we pray with the Psalmist, “Lord…restore our souls…” (Psalm 23:3)
Kenneth Bailey is a renowned theologian and authority on the Middle Eastern culture that is the framework for the Scriptures. It is fascinating to read his works. One of the things I love about his writings is that he explains the importance of structure in Middle Eastern literature. Often, a piece of Middle Eastern literature will follow a pattern in which a series of phrases will be balanced on either side of a central and therefore key phrase.1 The central, key phrase in Psalm 23 is at the end of verse 3. “For his name’s sake.” The remainder of the Psalm is a compilation of images of God’s tender care of us. He nurtures us, comforts us, protects us. He restores our souls…In the process, His name is glorified.
A deeper study of the concept of restoration in Psalm 23 reveals even sweeter truths. God’s restoration of us is not limited to the scars our souls bear from our journey through a fallen creation. He also lovingly heals the wounds we have inflicted upon ourselves through our own rebellion and disobedience. In Finding the Lost—Cultural Keys to Luke 15, Mr. Bailey explains that Psalm 23:3 would be better translated as “he brings me back” or “he causes me to repent.”2
In the Western church we often describe repentance as being sorry for our wrongdoing and “turning to go in the opposite direction” to do the right thing. The religious leaders at the time of Christ took it a step further. They taught repentance also included making amends above and beyond the offense. But in Luke 15, Jesus redefined repentance for us. He brushed aside the old teaching to replace it with new imagery. He showed us the complete helplessness of the lost—a coin, a sheep…a son who had gone much too far. All of these lost were utterly dependent on the gracious, mighty salvation of someone who was not only able, but willing to come save them. According to Jesus, The Seeker of the Lost, repentance is simply the willingness to be found.
We often think of glorifying God by what we do, but the 23rd Psalm paints a picture of how we can glorify God by surrendering to his loving care of us. The question for us as we consider God’s glory is—are we willing to be found? Are we humble enough to stop striving so that we might simply rest in a loving Father’s rescue and restoration of us? Scripture seems to say that God is glorified when we are.
1Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (Explanation of Step Parallelism)
2Kenneth Bailey, Finding the Lost—Cultural Keys to Luke 15
Sherri Gragg is a Christian author and mother of five. Her first book, Arms Open Wide—A Call to Linger in the Savior’s Presence, will be released by Thomas Nelson Publishers in April 2014. Sherri blogs at www.sherrigragg.wordpress.com