Can you imagine what it would have felt like to be those shepherds on that starry night in the fields of Bethlehem: all of the sudden God’s glory lights up the sky, and His angel army, so ecstatic for us, can’t hold in the news of Jesus any longer. With all their might, they cry out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14 nkjv).
I’m sure those shepherds were filled with every kind of emotion, wide-eyed, and stunned at their very personal holiday light show spectacular and salvation-themed serenade from heaven’s choir of carolers. But most of all, after the sensational celebration faded from the sky, I imagine those shepherds standing starstruck and in awe of their generous God. This Giver-God had just sent them the gift that cost Him everything, His ultimate Christmas present to mankind—all of His peace and all of His goodness beautifully wrapped up in the person of Jesus and left right on their doorstep.
At the time, the shepherds knew they were given a savior, but they probably didn’t realize they were getting a shepherd, One who would care for every intricate detail of their lives, especially the health of their souls.
At the beginning of 2014, the Lord spoke to Jeremy and I and told us to get healthy in our souls. We knew He wanted to give us more vision and expand our sphere of influence, but our increase was contingent on us becoming healthier.
Many may ask, “Well, then did you join a gym, hire a personal trainer, or adopt a new eating plan?” But that wasn’t at all what God was dealing with us on. He wanted us to get completely healthy on the inside; strong and secure; joyful and confident; and completely anchored in His love.
We began to diagnose soul sicknesses in ourselves. Just like a sickness affecting the body, the soul can become diseased if certain symptoms are allowed to hang around: symptoms like envy, covetousness, jealousy, insecurity, pride, fear, depression, condemnation, and so many others. We have to do as the psalmist did and cry out from a tender place, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24 nkjv). A good shepherd is a good leader, and Jesus has truly led us into wide-open, green pastures. I believe this year has been the most freeing year of our lives, and as it comes to a close, I can honestly say we are healthier than we’ve ever been.
Jesus is your personal Soul Shepherd. He is interested in your mind becoming sound, your will becoming secure, and your emotions becoming stable. He is the guardian over your heart, and His desire is for you to be completely healthy at your core. He is not after your programmed response; He is after your heart; He is more interested in how you look on the inside than how you look on the outside. He proved this when He chose King David over his brothers and said to Samuel, “The Lord does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 nkjv).
Jesus is in His very nature the real deal, and if you’ll let Him, He will help you strip away any pretenses and soul sicknesses that are keeping you in a small place. He wants to enlarge your heart and your capacity to receive all that He has for you in this life. He also wants to entrust you with more responsibility, more people, and more resources. But in order to do this, you and I must become honest before Him, an open book. We must hand Him the pen and humbly ask Him to rewrite the theme within our pages. Only then will we be able to live out this adventure-story He has planned for us.
But how do we begin the healing process? Let’s look at Psalm 23 written by another shepherd-king. David starts by simply acknowledging that he has a shepherd. He says, “The Lord is MY shepherd” (Psalm 23:1 nkjv, emphasis mine). Even if we don’t realize it, this is a strong statement of faith. David is making an honest evaluation of himself: a shepherd and also a sheep. He understands that he may have been entrusted with some sheep, even called a “shepherd,” but he still chooses to submit himself to God. He admits his every breath comes from the Lord, every door opened by His hand, and every leading from His throne. David has learned that everything good in his life has come from the Good Shepherd.
David is confident in who he is without pretending to be something that he’s not. He knows his place, and this results in his soul settling down under God. He is comforted in the Shepherd’s shadow, and he sits “down in His shade with great delight” (Song of Solomon 2:3 nkjv). David recognizes he is a shepherd in need of the Shepherd. He takes a position of humility, and humility is a perfect picture of a soul at rest in God. A soul that RESTS is a healthy soul.
After I had my first baby, it took me a while to learn how to juggle ministry and motherhood. At times, I became overwhelmed trying to be a good wife, mommy, and minister. Stress crept into my soul as I tried to fulfill all my duties at home. I somehow managed to prepare for upcoming services while cleaning up diaper disasters and sorting through the piles of laundry that our suitcases had thrown up in our entryway.
A soul that Rests is a healthy soul.
Around that time, Jeremy and I left our little boy with my mom over the weekend while we went to minister out of the country. When I came home, I scooped him up into my arms, and we did our little nightly snuggle routine, only this time I was fairly emotional because I had missed him so much. We turned the lights down, turned up the classical harp music, and then took off dancing around the room. Justus would lay his head on my shoulder and go completely limp in my arms. I was always so amazed at how chill he was, following my lead as I carried and whirled him sweetly around the room. This particular night I was so thankful to hold him again that I whispered in his ear, “Buddy, these are my favorite moments with you.” Immediately I heard the still, small voice of my Good Shepherd whisper inside me, “Sarah, these are My favorite moments with you, when you lay your head on My shoulder, REST, and let Me move.”
David goes on to write, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the still waters, He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:2-3 nkjv). I’ve been interested to learn that sheep by nature will not lie down and rest if they are hungry, stressed, nervous, or fearful. They also refuse to rest if there is any competition or conflict with the other sheep. Have any of these symptoms kept you up past your bedtime—one thought after another, your soul spinning out of control? I have found that any issues with rest are often issues of trust.
I am certain from studying the Scripture that David was tempted with the same soul issues, but I believe he did something drastically different than the majority does. When symptoms of fear, anxiety, envy, jealousy, strife, unforgiveness, competition, bitterness, or depression tried to attack his soul, he immediately recognized them as foreign feelings. As soon as he felt friction in his heart, he came clean with God. He threw every wrong emotion out in the open and left nothing hidden to fester on the inside. He did this by having honest conversations with his Good Shepherd. He wrote about it. He sang about it. He got real with himself, and he got real with God. He didn’t make excuses for his behavior, but he fell on his face and became truly repentant before the Lord.
He admitted, “This is where I’m at.” But he didn’t stop there. He went on to finish up most of his songs with a tone of sweet victory, confidently declaring, “BUT THIS IS WHO YOU ARE!” We see in Hebrews 6:19 that it is hope, confident expectation to see the goodness of God, that is the “anchor of the soul.”
A soul that Remembers is a healthy soul.
At times I’ve had to speak to my soul and say over and over, “Grace is working, and I am resting. Grace is working, and I am resting.” In Psalm 103:2, David also speaks to his soul, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits.” In other words, remember the good things He has done for you. A soul that REMEMBERS is a healthy soul. Using our memories to worship God refreshes the soul. The Lord gave me a song along these lines; it’s called “Arise My Soul and Sing,” and it goes like this:
Looking back on all You’ve done,
The miracles, how far we’ve come
The story of Your faithfulness,
I won’t forget.
When all around was shifting sand,
You raised me up and made me stand
I’m anchored in your perfect love
I will not fear
I call to mind our history
Each memory a victory
My thankful heart alive with praise
I won’t forget
Yet I’ll say,
Arise, arise my soul and sing
Remember all the greater things
That He has done, what’s yet to come
Arise, arise my soul and sing
Give glory to the risen King
With hands held high, hearts open wide
Oh my soul, arise.
My little boy loves this song, and he makes me sing it to him every night before bed. We also start our bedtime prayer saying thank you to the Lord for everything good that He has done for us that day. For me, thanksgiving is the language of faith and the language of the joyful soul. Sometimes when I’m tempted to doubt the future of our family or ministry, I go back and remember specific moments as a little girl, as a teenager, as a college student, or even recently when my Shepherd has provided for me, led me, protected me, and kept me healthy. His faithfulness is my fuel.
In my own life, I have discovered that there is only one way to find true soul satisfaction, and that is by returning to the presence of my Shepherd. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls]” (Matthew 11:28 amp). A soul that RETURNS is a healthy soul.
Time spent with Jesus does more for the health of our countenance than anything else. Once when David was hiding in the wilderness from King Saul, far away from the courts where God’s presence lived, he cried out, “O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for you” (Psalm 63:1 nkjv).
Sometimes after long days of ministry, preparing meals for my family, soothing a teething toddler, and listening to a very talkative four year old, I can sense that my soul just needs a drink. Many nights I sit down at my piano and take some time to sing to the Lord. Without fail, He always shows up and refreshes me. He has promised to “satiate the soul of the priests with abundance, And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness” (Jeremiah 31:14 nkjv). Wow, we can actually overdose on Jesus! Like David, I have learned that His presence is medicine.
The good news is because of Jesus we have been given a clean bill of health. And the more we spend time with Him, the more we start to look like Him. Jesus was and is completely healthy in His soul. What was it that gave Him so much joy? He spent all of His time preaching, teaching, healing, loving, serving, giving, and forgiving. He is addicted to blessing us!
A soul that Returns is a healthy soul.
There is a great healing verse that we have quoted over ourselves for years; it is found in 1 Peter 2:24. Speaking of Jesus, it says, “By whose stripes, you were healed.” But have you ever made it to the finish line of that chapter? The very next verse says, “For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (v. 25). The health of your body is directly connected to the health of your soul. So make an appointment with the Great Physician today, and let Him diagnose your soul. His prescription will be to rest in His goodness, remember His faithfulness, and return to His presence.