I hadn’t previously thought it. But suddenly I knew: Psalm 23 is a song of rest.
Two years later, I learned: In the same time frame as my Spirit-to-spirit “suddenly,” Christian recording artist Matt Maher wrote a song, saying the same thing.
For me, the revelation happened in January 2014. It was a sunny Sunday morning in a valley-of-the-shadow season.
For years, I had been learning what it means to answer Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me … and I will give you rest.” Searching the Scriptures, I had explored the lives of eight people who came to Jesus while he walked the earth. I saw how rest looked for each.
But more, I saw the amazing ways the life of each intersected with mine. I saw what they who lived so long ago can teach us today about our deep need to return to rest, and the ways Christ provides it.
Writing what I was learning, I had drafted most of a book manuscript titled Return to Your Rest. However, I had no clue how to end it. What would tie together all I had learned about the rest God gives and the different ways it looks?
I’ve read or heard the world’s best-known psalm countless times. Yet, that bright-but-dark Sunday, when I read Psalm 23 in the New Living Translation, I saw what I had not previously seen. The entire psalm is David’s yes to God’s rest. In that same instant, I realized: The psalm beautifully summarizes what rest looked like for the New Testament women and men whose lives God had used to teach me so much. It could be my yes to rest too.
The past: Eight voices in harmony
First up, Nathanael, who walked away from the status and power he might have had as a religious leader in order to follow Christ. He sings robustly: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.”
Next, we hear the voices of two who once were demonized – Mary Magdalene, in duet with the man called Legion, or in The Message paraphrase, “Mob.” They sing in wonder: “He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.”
Now, the soprano and alto of Mary and Martha ring out: “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”
Then Zacchaeus and Matthew, the two tax collectors who invited Jesus for dinner, announce in tenor and bass: “You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.”
And Mary, the mother of Jesus, sings with joy: “You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.”
Finally, in four-part harmony, all their voices rise: “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”
The present: Matt Maher sings “Rest”
One other thing I didn’t know in January 2014: I still had more to experience before I could finish and publish Return to Your Rest. Now, two years later, the book ends by meandering through David’s Song of Rest, embracing aspects of rest that Psalm 23 reveals.
This spring, while preparing to release Return to Your Rest as an e-book, I had another “suddenly” – a nudge to see if any contemporary songs focus on rest.
To my surprise, just a cursory search on iTunes revealed six different songs, each by a different Christian artist, and each titled, “Rest.” All but one of the songs was recorded in the last five years. What’s more, the six songs correspond in a rather startling way with the three sections of my book: “Resisting Rest,” “Snapshots of Rest” and “Song of Rest.” So I’ve happily included links on the corresponding pages of the e-book. (You’ll find a YouTube video of Matthew West’s “Rest” in my recent post, “Sort of like frog gigging.” I suspect some of the other “Rest” videos will appear in future Return to Your Rest posts.)
Most stunning to me of all: “Rest” by Matt Maher is his rendering of Psalm 23. Matt’s song is copyrighted in 2015, but as the YouTube video below reveals: He was already performing it in March 2014.
So, hmm, no less than six contemporary Christian songs reveal: We need rest, and God himself is calling us to receive it. He’s reminding us: Psalm 23 is a song of rest – a song David started, but anyone can sing.
Listen as Matt Maher echoes David’s psalm. Maybe this very ancient and very contemporary song can express your yes to God’s rest too.
Parts of this post are adapted from Return to Your Rest: A Spirit-to-spirit Journey, © 2016 Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.