Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen. (Deuteronomy 4:9)
Throughout this study, we've discussed the key elements of a human being. But we live in this world as unified, living, breathing people. This is where the soul comes in, as it is what is running our lives. The soul is the whole you: heart, mind (thoughts and feelings), body, and social life combined. Our soul is in charge of the other parts of us, correlating, integrating, and giving life to everything going on in the other four dimensions. It is the life-center of the human being, as it coordinates how each part responds to the others.
Our souls are what respond to the events in our lives: thoughts and feelings about an event will come from our mind, our response to an event will come from our heart, our reaction is carried out by our body, and depending on the nature of the event, our social life may be affected. But our soul is the integrating element that will conduct and present our reaction. God wants to transform our souls. This renovation is absolutely critical if we desire to experience the best God offers in this life and the life to come.
Prayer: Mighty God, we know that You understand our souls, as they are the part of Your creation of us that conducts everything going on in our minds, hearts, bodies, and lives. We know that You want to transform our souls, so we ask that You will reveal Your vision of renovation to us. We want to become like Christ in the very deepest part of us - our souls - and we thank You for helping us to do it.
THE VISION TO TRANSFORM OUR SOUL
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalm 42:1-2)
Most people think of the soul as that immaterial and spiritual part of us that is contained in our bodies. This may be hard for us to understand, but the soul is bigger than that. The body is inside the soul, not vice versa. Think of this analogy: we have nine planets in our solar system circling around the sun with nothing visible holding them in place, yet not one of them escapes. So think of the motion, gravity, and the complex centrifugal and centripetal forces that do hold them in place as the "soul." We could say that this "soul" is an invisible essence of our solar system. In a similar way, the individual parts of us - heart, mind, body, and our relationships - are like the planets. Each part is held together by the soul, a force in our lives that can't be seen but is very real nonetheless.
Death Of The Soul And Soul Denial
Many reject the idea of the soul because they find it hard to conclude that there is an enduring, nonphysical center that organizes life into a whole. Think about this carefully. There are some very important aspects of our lives that require the full participation of a healthy soul in order to work well. A few are creativity, sleep, sex, parenting, relationships, health, and meaningful work. Now ponder how dysfunctional each of these have become in our time. One out of every two Americans over the age of eighteen struggles with some form of insomnia. Sex has no boundaries in our society. Pornography is epidemic. Sexually transmitted diseases are spreading. The divorce rate is extremely high. Almost half of children today are being raised in a single-parent home. And there is little sense of community.
People in our society are focused on themselves. The suicide rate among the elderly has never been higher, due to loneliness and the lack of a sense of belonging. While teenagers are better off economically, they have never been worse off mentally, emotionally, or behaviorally. Why should we be concerned about these issues? Because for each of these areas of life to work well, a fully functional soul is required.
Meaning, one of the greatest needs of human life and one of our deepest hungers, is a big problem for many people today, due to the loss of the soul. In the absence of meaning, boredom, aimless effort, and willpower are all that remain. People feel their entire lives have no value. In a life of boredom or moving about by mere willpower, almost nothing can be endured, and people who are well-off by other physical or social standards find such a life unbearable. They are "dead souls."
By contrast, when we face a difficult assignment or task with a sense of meaning, there is a power beyond us that is exhilarating and sees us through. That is the presence of the soul. If you pursue a path of staying true to God's Word, looking at it deeply and carefully, you will discover the role of the soul. You will become a Psalm 1 person: How well God must like you - you don't hang out at Sin Saloon, you don't slink along Dead-End Road, you don't go to Smart-Mouth College. Instead you thrill to God's Word, you chew on Scripture day and night. You're a tree replanted in Eden, bearing fresh fruit every month. Never dropping a leaf, always in blossom. You're not at all like the wicked, who are mere windblown dust - without defense in court, unfit company for innocent people. God charts the road you take. The road they take is Skid Row. (Psalm 1)
The "soul man" turns to the "soul book." The Bible - the laws of God - contains the secrets and directives for ordering our souls and growing them into Christlikeness. This can only come about when we realize we do not know how to govern our souls and know better than to trust our own wisdom.
The Psalm 1 person is first characterized in terms of what he does not do. He does not determine his course of action by the influence of those without God. He does not live as if God does not exist, nor does he make plans from a strictly human understanding. The person who lives only within human wisdom will experience an inclination to do what is wrong. The Psalm 1 person "thrills to God's Word" and therefore does not position himself to do wrong. He thrills in the law that God has given. He loves it and can't keep his mind off of it. He thinks it is beautiful, strong, wise, and an incredible gift of God's mercy and grace. He therefore dwells upon it day and night, turning it over and over in his mind and speaking it to himself. He does not do this to please God but rather because the law pleases him. It is the North Star that orients his whole being. The result is a flourishing life.
Don't Be A Romans 1 Person
But God's angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this. People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn't treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand.
Since they didn't bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it's not as if they don't know better. They know perfectly well they're spitting in God's face. And they don't care - worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best! (Romans 1:18-23, 28-32)
Many people's souls are running amuck and their lives are in chaos, making living as a Psalm 1 person impossible. By default they have given themselves to being a Romans 1 people with giving their lives to their bodily desires and habits, blinded by false ideas through culture, music, movies, and TV. Because of this blindedness, their souls cannot find their way into a life of consistent truth and harmonious pursuit of what is good. Their souls are locked in a self-destructive struggle internally and with everything and everyone around them. Usually, unfulfilled desires and poisonous relationships are the most prominent features of such lives.
We each have a "soul file" that contains pieces of information specific to our development in the other dimensions of our lives. This "file" contains details on how we think and feel about life, on bodily behavior, on the choices that we make, and on how we handle relationships. The soul's job is to take this information and interact with it to live life. However, these "files" do not guide the soul in a unified direction. Therefore, most souls cannot produce an inner harmony, much less align with truth and with God. Our minds' thoughts may not be consistent with how we treat people or use our bodies. Our habitual condition may be one of conflict, and our actions may be inconsistent with our intentions or what we regard as wise.
For example: Say you are the chairperson of a 4 person jury and each person has a different opinion on the testimonies given. Your job is to organize everyone to come to a unified decision based on the truth. If no unified conclusion can be reached, the judge will declare your jury a hung jury. In the spiritual life, the soul is the chairperson, and the heart, mind, body, and social life are the four members. When the members are not growing and working in harmony with each other, our souls struggle to bring our lives together. We can end up with a "hung life" if we're not immersed in God's Word.
The Psalm 1 person has a progressively healthy soul under God and is able to sort all this out so the other four parts live in harmony. This person sees the need to transform every part. The Romans 1 person has a progressively unhealthy soul apart from God, and eventually God lets that person have his or her way - and the result is a ruined life.
The transformed soul is an ordered soul and does not permit a part of their life to be inconsistent or in disharmony with the other parts. The dimensions of self (heart, thoughts, feelings, body, and social life) are coherently drawn together by the soul to form a whole life devoted to God and to what He says is good. This is God's vision for the transformed soul.
Prayer: Father God, our souls are the essence of who we are. We see Your vision for transforming our souls, and we see that we must learn to love and live Your Word. We want our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, choices, and relationships to be ordered by Your law. We choose to renovate our souls by delighting ourselves in Your Word.
"Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road, the tried and true road. Then take it. Discover the right route for your souls." (Jeremiah 6:16)
The soul relies heavily on the move toward godliness in each of the dimensions of our lives. For the soul to be strong and healthy so it can do its job of ordering our lives around God's wonderful law, we must give special attention to its own spiritual transformation. We must begin with vision. We must embrace God's vision as our vision to bring the soul under His reign.
With biblical vision must come biblical intent. We must intend or decide in our hearts to move in the direction of a biblical renovation of our souls. With these firmly in place, we will turn our attention to the means: four specific things that God expects us to do to experience the renovation of our soul.
Acknowledge Your Soul And Place It Under God. In spiritual transformation, it is necessary to take the soul seriously and deal with it regularly and intelligently. We must be sure to do this on our own and also in our Christian fellowships. This may seem strange as most people think of the soul as already "religious." Secular culture dismisses it. Because there has been so little teaching on the soul, it is important to first simply acknowledge the soul and its need to be renovated.
Maybe in church you might have been taught the soul has to be "saved." Once the soul is "saved," it is usually treated as needing no further attention. Ignoring the soul is one reason Christian churches have become fertile sources of recruits for cults and other religious and political groups. If the soul is not acknowledged, it will not be properly cared for. This has to change. We must seriously acknowledge the soul as the living center of the Christian life and re-
assume the responsibility for its care.
Yoke Yourself To Christ. Once we clearly acknowledge our soul, we can learn to hear its cries. Jesus heard soul cries from the weary humanity He saw around Him. He saw the soul's desperate need in those who struggled with the overwhelming tasks of their lives. To Him this was a sure sign of souls not properly rooted in God - souls, in effect, on their own. He saw the multitudes around Him, and it tore His heart as they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Being in Jesus' yoke is not a matter of taking on additional labor, but of learning how to use His strength and ours together to bear our load and His. Our souls are at peace when they are with God, as a child with its mother.
Abandon Outcomes To God Through Humility. In this process, we accept our powerlessness - in our hearts, souls, minds, and strength - to make things come out the way we want. To move our souls in this direction, Peter tell us, "Clothe yourselves with humility" (1 Peter 5:5). He goes on to say, "So be content with who you are, and don't put on airs. God's strong hand is on you; he'll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you" (1 Peter 5:6-7). God has a plan for us that goes far beyond what we can work out on our own. We simply have to rest in Him as He reveals it to us. Resting in God, we can be free from all anxiety, which means deep soul rest. We no longer fret or get angry when others seem to be doing better than we are, even though we may think they are less deserving.
On the other hand, a life rooted in pride with a pattern of disobedience to what's right distances us from God. We think we are "big enough" to take our lives into our own hands and disobey, instead of humbling ourselves under God's almighty hand. We believe that if we don't take matters into our own hands, we will not get what we want. A humble person has abandoned outcomes to God. The more we get to know God and His ways, the more we begin to live in the pattern of Psalm 37:4. As we delight ourselves in the Lord, the desires of our hearts will become more like His desires for us.
Receive, Study, And Internalize The Law Of God To The Point Of Obedience. The best place to turn for help to abandon outcomes to God - and resist abandoning God for our outcomes - is the Law of God. The Law, which is in the first five books of the Old Testament, provides us with a picture of reality - of how things are with God and His creation. When we add to the Law the other writings of the Bible, we are given vital insight that enables us to know God, what He is doing, and what we are to do. David said it best in Psalm 19:7: The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The Bible contains everything we need to accomplish God's purposes. It is a road map to living out God's will.
To transform our souls, we must lean on the law of God and approach it with a grateful heart. We need to receive it, study it, and internalize it to the point of obedience. We need to actually do what it says. Also we must remember that the Bible is not an ordinary book. We do not study the law of God in our strength alone. We study and apply God's Word in His strength for it to be rightly applied in our lives. A person whose aim is anything less than obedience to the law of God in the Spirit and power of Jesus will never advance in spiritual formation and will never have a soul at rest in God.
Prayer: Holy God, we embrace Your vision of bringing our souls under your reign, and we intend to move toward a biblical renovation of our souls. We know our souls are our centers, and we will learn to take care of them by yoking ourselves to Christ. We will learn to rest in You and will devote ourselves to listening to, studying, and internalizing Your Word. We will learn to do what Your Word says so that we can become like Christ.
Let's review the principles from this Part:
The Vision To Transform My Soul
The soul is our organizer
Death of the soul and soul denial
Be a Psalm 1 person
Don't be a Romans 1 person
The Means To Transform My Soul
Acknowledge your soul and place it under God
Yoke yourself to Christ
Abandon outcomes to God through humility
Receive, study, and internalize the Law of God to the point of obedience
At the beginning of this study, we looked at our vision for our lives. The question has now shifted: "What is God's vision for our lives? This is the all-important question and the one we have attempted to uncover in this study. The heart cannot be renovated if the other parts of our lives remain in the grip of evil. As we run this race, we need to keep looking up at our Coach, who gave us faith to run in the first place and who will bring us safely to the end.
This world is aching for people who take Jesus at the power of His word and seek to become the kind of people He envisioned them to be. Whatever our situation, now is the time to make the changes and undertake the initiatives that are indicated by the lessons we have studied.
Prayer: Oh dear God, we want to have renovated hearts, and we have seen Your vision for our lives. We give You our thoughts, our feelings, our hearts, our bodies, our social lives, and our souls for Your renovation. We will run the race You have set before us, and we will keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, who will keep us running until the end. We thank You for giving us the means to carry out Your vision, and we commit to finishing strong for You! Thank You for Your renovating work in us.
This concludes the study of Renovation Of The Heart by Dallas Willard. The ten Parts will remain posted until Monday, June 3, at which time a new study will begin.
I hope you have enjoyed this study and received helpful insights for a closer walk with Jesus.
Thank you for your time and "The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you." (Numbers 6:24-25)
(The next study will be on the book "Experiencing The Depths Of Jesus Christ" by Jeanne Guyon. You won't want to miss this one!)