Restore My Soul

In Pursuit of Personal Revival

It all happened so slowly, so silently. Each step seemed so small, and even so reasonable in the moment. You didn’t pack up and run like the prodigal son. But somehow, when you look back, you find yourself farther from God than you thought you were.

Maybe you overheard someone praying with simple, childlike love for Jesus, and you can’t even remember the last time you prayed like that. Maybe months have passed since you have woken up and wanted, really wanted, to read your Bible. Maybe corporate worship has become a mere habit, a hollow sound, a form of words without wonder. Maybe you just committed some sin, or entertained some thought, you couldn’t have imagined a year ago.

Maybe you know exactly how you got here: a subtle worldly compromise, a Christless relationship, a slow but deep neglect, a secret sin unconfessed. Or maybe you struggle to trace the path you walked from there to here. You just know that you are not where you once were.

And now, perhaps, like that son in the far country, you think of your Father. You remember home. You wonder if you could find your way back.

‘He Restores My Soul’

At one time or another, all of us in Christ find ourselves in need of returning to Christ. Maybe we’ve wandered from him only for a few days or a week, or maybe we’ve allowed months or more to pass. Either way, our feet have strayed; our love has waned; our zeal has cooled; our eyes have dimmed. We love Jesus less today than we did yesterday. We need renewal.

Yes, but how? What road will lead us back to our Father’s house, back to the land of our first love? We might begin by remembering a line from David’s most famous psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
     He restores my soul. (Psalm 23:1–3)

Our Lord Jesus specializes not only in saving the lost, but in restoring the saved. He calls himself shepherd, the good shepherd, and as such he does not rest easy while one of his dear sheep wanders from his fold. And therefore, however far we feel from Jesus, and however unable to see the paths back to him, he knows how to restore our souls. He can bear us on his shoulders and bring us home.

And when he does, he often carries us along four restoring paths.

1. Remember

Remember . . . from where you have fallen. (Revelation 2:5)

Personal revival often begins when we remember how far we have fallen, just how far we have wandered. And by remember, I mean really remember. Ponder the past. Relive former, more spiritually alive times in your life. Feel the sorrow of first love lost.

Do you remember the way you once treasured God’s word in your heart like so much gold and silver? Do you remember how prayer felt sweet as honey on your tongue? Do you remember how you hurried to arrive at corporate worship lest you should miss some song, some part of the sermon? Do you remember telling others about Jesus not from guilt but from the natural overflow of your joy? Do you remember how you once fasted with freedom; gave your time and money with a happy, open hand; killed your sin with radical resolve; and heard the name of Jesus as the most wonderful sound in all the world?

“Our Lord Jesus specializes not only in saving the lost, but in restoring the saved.”

We may feel tempted to run from such remembrance, to pretend all is well for fear of facing how much we’ve lost. But don’t run, and don’t pretend. If there is sorrow here, Jesus has promised to sweeten it. Painful remembrance is often our first step toward home. And if we humble ourselves under the comparison of us then and us now, God pledges to make us the special objects of his reviving love:

Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)

The only spirits God revives are lowly spirits; the only hearts he restores are contrite hearts. And so often, the fruits of lowliness and contrition grow from the soil of honest, unflinching memory.

2. Return

Return, faithless Israel, declares the Lord. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful. (Jeremiah 3:12)

There is, no doubt, a sick kind of remembrance, a kind that leaves us more lost than we were before. Some, forgetting God’s mercy, remember themselves right into a pit of despair. They recall home from the far country, but they don’t dare to hope that their Father is waiting for them, ready for them, scanning the horizon with ring and robe in hand. And indeed, we would have no reason to hope unless God himself told us not only to remember, but to return — unless he said, again and again to his lost children, “Come home.” But he does.

Note how God speaks to his wandering people in Jeremiah 3:12. They have not yet done anything to reform themselves. They are, in his eyes, “faithless Israel,” their faithlessness having driven them far from him. But he will not allow their faithlessness to become a reason for staying far from him. “I will not look on you in anger,” he says, wooing, “for I am merciful.” However far we’ve wandered, we find in God a mercy far deeper than our faithlessness.

He gives only one condition for his welcome: “Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God” (Jeremiah 3:13). Only confess. Only repent. Only own your sins without excuse and receive the blood of Jesus. And then believe that whatever faithlessness has led you far from God, he still says gladly through Jesus, “Return, O faithless children, declares the Lord; for I am your master; I will take you” (Jeremiah 3:14).

3. Remove

Remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes. (Isaiah 1:16)

True remembrance plus faithful return does something deep in a soul. As with the godly grief the apostle Paul describes, we feel a renewed “indignation . . . fear . . . longing . . . zeal” (2 Corinthians 7:11). Freshly forgiven in Christ, and now no longer wandering, we rise like men and women newly alive, ready to remove whatever we have allowed to take us from God.

Revival brings a kind of holy violence to those it touches. In the Old Testament, we read of revived kings like Josiah taking hammer and torch to the idols throughout Israel (2 Kings 23:4–20). In the New Testament, we read of a more spiritual, but no less real, violence. The saints of Christ still know how to handle hammer and torch, toppling and burning idols of heart and life that have stood all too long.

We should beware at this point of a common danger that threatens the Spirit’s restoring work. Even as we labor to remove idols — habits and hobbies, entertainments and relationships, websites and apps — we can nevertheless fall short of removing all. Like the Israelites who left some enemies in the land, or like the kings who allowed the high places to stand, we can rest satisfied with half-reformations, quasi-revivals, near-renewals.

In all likelihood, such partial measures will only leave us in need of revival again, and probably sooner than we think. Don’t hesitate, then, to smash and burn your once-loved foes. Every swing of the hammer clears more space for Christ. Every piece of scorched ground becomes a garden where the Spirit’s fruit can grow.

4. Restore

Do the works you did at first. (Revelation 2:5)

Ultimately, the work of soul restoration belongs to God. “He restores my soul,” not I. But as he restores us, he also grants us to play a part in the restoration process. Just as King Josiah not only cleared the land of idols but also reinstated the Passover, so we not only remove sins but also restore those holy habits we have long neglected. We “do the works [we] did at first” (Revelation 2:5).

Such restoration has been God’s purpose from the beginnings of his dealings with us. Every painful removal was meant to make way for something better. When God brings personal revival, he inevitably brings with it a closer, holier walk with him, a fellowship with him on his “paths of righteousness” (Psalm 23:3). And oh, how great is our joy!

Then the Bible becomes hallowed ground again. Then the door of our prayer closet becomes a doorway to heaven again. Then sermons become feasts again, and evangelism becomes a privilege again, and offenses become overlookable again, and God’s people become again “the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3). Then we see that our God is not only the God who saves, but the God who restores — who delights to restore, who restores beyond all that we could ask or imagine.