Instructions on the Care of Your Soul

“Oh my soul, and all that is within me,” Psalm 103:1

I had a really significant conversation several months ago.

A friend and I were talking about our experiences with mental illness– anxiety, depression, and all the related symptoms that tendril and thread from the two.

Within the discussion, I shared with her that I had been under a blanketing depression since November. At the time of the conversation this depression was four months strong. I shared with her that what was strange about this depression was that I had a distinct feeling of being sustained even though I was self-aware of my depressed state.

It is an odd sensation to feel not OK and OK at the same time. Peace?

I felt like the Lord was hiding me under His wings. I had a feeling of safety and security that is actually quite antithetical to depression.

There was a deep sense within me that I could wait. I could wait on the Lord. I could wait for the clouds to break. It was going to be OK, and in fact it already was OK because God was there with me, and not just with me but was so near and involved in my situation that He had made Himself the very structure that was keeping me warm and dry while it poured outside.

Many times in my life depression has put its cold hand on me. Never until this past year have I had the experience of feeling like my body and its chemicals were depressed but my soul was OK. My body was broken but my soul was just bruised.

I was not dissociative from my physical reality. My soul was feeling the fight. My mind was foggy. I wanted to live on Reese’s and chocolate chip cookies, and because I’m a grown-up, I did. My emotions vacillated between sad, angry, and lonely. My will had spurts of intense positive resolution in response to the general malaise and defeat.

But! My spirit’s security in Christ spoke comfort where there was none. My spirit spoke future into the places where the past was on parade. My spirit spoke one word at a time so my tired brain could process truth. My spirit spoke about Christ when my soul wanted to speak about itself.

My soul wanted to talk about me– my thoughts, my wants, my unfulfilled desires, my frustrated dreams, my longings, my justifications, my failings, my hurt, my hurt, my hurt, my hurt, my hurt.

My soul wanted to talk about others– the injustices they had inflicted, the disappointments they perpetuated, the yelling, the controlling, the manipulation, the lying, the cheating, the stupidity, the ways they made me feel so alone, so exposed, so crushed and stifled, overlooked, forgotten.

That was my soul. My spirit wanted to talk about:

Christ.

I told my friend, that my experience these last months taught me that we must tell our souls to acknowledge God.

David the psalmist commands: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul!”

He says, “Do it soul! Rally. Rise up. Bless Him. You don’t want to, but you must. Soul! Hear me. Bless the Lord, oh my dear, sweet, sad, rebellious, self-sufficient, deficient, beloved-of-God soul.”

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not His benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desire with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:1-5 (NIV)

Psalm 103 mentions God’s love 4 distinct times and  His compassion also 4 times. His forgiveness, His redemption, His renewal, His healing and restoration, His commitment to  righteousness on His children’s behalf– these are the layers that fill out the depiction of God’s love and compassion toward His own. David calls these qualities, “God’s benefits.”

“Praise the Lord, my soul; and forget not His benefits.”

What part of David is commanding his soul?

There must be a sort of super ego to his ego if his self has a self to talk to his self.

Does self=soul? Is there more or less to our “selfs” than a soul? Is a soul different than a spirit?

The soul is our mind, will, and emotions. For someone with mental illness, like my-self, the idea that “the self” is equivalent to the soul would be damning. My mind, will, and emotions are seats of my sickness.

I hopefully maintain the belief that “the self” is tripartite. Being tripartite means that we have three parts: spirit, soul, and body. Or it could be body, soul, and spirit depending on whose in charge within you.

I believe that David’s spirit was commanding his soul to acknowledge the Lord. Our souls are the things prone to wander.

Our spirits are that part that was killed by Adam and then made alive by Christ. 

To me, the soul is double minded, sometimes an ally of the spirit and at others an accomplice of the body. The spirit is perhaps always an ally of the Holy Spirit? But the soul is surely fickle and must be commanded. (“Cain, sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” Genesis 4:7 NLT.)

I’ll throw a little theological conjecture in here: Is it our spirit that is saved; our soul that is being saved; and our body that will be saved? Maybe: Our spirit has been declared righteous (justification). Our soul is the thing being made holy (sanctification). Our body will be saved from destruction one day (glorification).

My friend’s response to my belief that we have an impetus on us to command our souls was, “This is why we must take care of them.”

I need to take care of my soul.

That comment was really provocative to me. I had to really think about it. I am prone to being hard on my soul. After all, left to its own devices, my soul is one half (with my body) of my flesh. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, ” said Paul. However, it is clear in Psalm 103 that God loves my soul and my body too.

So, I have to credit my friend for piquing my interest in what the Bible has to say about caring for our souls.

The Corinthians of the New Testament fell into the Greek fallacy that “the self” is just the material vs the immaterial, and that only the immaterial mattered. (The immaterial being the intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual.)

The Christian scriptures in no way support this view.

God breathed our spirits out, He imagined our personalities, and He crafted our bodies.

So it behooves us to know what God says about soul-care. Not what our culture says—our culture is steeped in the human potential movement— but rather we must know what God says about the instructions for the care of our souls.

 

 

 

 

Testimony

Testimony Shared at Cypress Church Gonzales: “Do you love Me?”

I had the privilege of sharing my testimony today at Cypress Church Gonzales with Dave Anderson. In the teaching today, Dave gave instructions from John 21– Peter’s reinstatement after denying Jesus 3 times. My testimony of being a disciple, denying Jesus, and then being reinstated is the object lesson. You can find my testimony starting right before the 23:00 minute mark.

Click here to listen.

And below is a “transcript” of my testimony. These are technically my notes but I followed them very closely if you are like me and prefer to read over listen.

Testimony: John 21 

I.  Dave has asked me to share my testimony as a sort of insight into how a person, like Peter, can go from being a passionate follower of Jesus, to denying association with Jesus, and then being called back to serving the Lord as a disciple again.

A. My testimony is a lot like Peter’s. In fact, the easiest way to describe my experience as  a disciple is through the pieces of Peter’s story that are scattered throughout the gospels. 

B. In John’s gospel, we meet Simon Peter in the very first chapter and are told that he was brought to Jesus. 

    1. His brother said, “We found the Messiah!” Peter was brought to Jesus. Jesus looked right at him and said, “I’m going to call you Cephas,” meaning Rock. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells Simon, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” 

Woah!

C. When I met Jesus it was very much like how Peter met Jesus. My parents brought me to church. 

  I encountered Jesus and knew that He was my Messiah, my Savior at a very young age. 

  And I experienced that feeling of Jesus looking right at me and saying, “I am going to call you by a special name for a specific purpose in my Kingdom.” 

  • And I responded to that very special encounter with Jesus just like Peter did! Peter was an ardent and dedicated disciple, as was I. 
  • Being a Christian was exciting and satisfying to me in my youth.

II.  My mentor growing up, a woman named Anne, used to say Peter was, “Ready, Shoot, Aim.” 

  1. We get many glimpses of Peter’s heart throughout the Gospels. But John’s gospel, chapter 13 particularly, paints him this way: 
    1. Peter didn’t understand Jesus (John 13:7). He wanted to, but He didn’t always get what Jesus was saying.

1. Peter was all or nothing (John 13:9). 

Peter wanted to be close to Jesus and in His confidence— to be His confidant the way that John was (John 13:23-26). 

Peter was passionate (John13:37). 

Peter was the first to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah (in Mark 8:29). He was bold and he was on board!

B. Peter’s theology about the Messiah was pretty accurate according to the rabbinical interpretation of that day- a conquering militant righteous king and deliverer— we see this at Jesus’ arrest when Peter felt it was totally appropriate to swing a sword at someone!

  • However, in John 18:10-11— When Peter drew a sword and chopped a guy’s ear off to keep Jesus from being arrested— we see that his theology was not in line with what Jesus had told Peter about Himself, or what the prophets meant when they depicted the Kingdom of God and the Messiah.
  • He believed Jesus was the Messiah, but what He believed about the Messiah was incorrect. — You and I also, can’t just believe in God we have to believe what God says about Himself.

III.  We also know that:

A. Peter chose to stop short of the cross; he chose to stop short of following Jesus to suffering (John18:15-17). 

B. Did you know John was the only male disciple at the cross because he was the only one who stuck with Jesus the whole way from Gesthemane to the Sanhedrin to the Cross?

  1. The servant girl, in Luke 22, who asked Peter if he was a disciple was asking so that he could go into the Sanhedrin with Jesus and John. 
  2. Peter could have followed Jesus to the cross. Instead he said, no, no, I’m not one of His.

3.   He lied about knowing Jesus so the he did not have to suffer with Jesus. 

C. The faith of my youth was Peter’s to a tee. I wanted the Lord. I was dedicated to all points of spiritual discipline. I wanted God to lead my life. I told a friend recently, “When I was young I was willing to be so weird for Jesus!” 

1. It is often easier to be extreme for Jesus than it is to be faithful to Him.

D. But I had a very immature understanding of Jesus. 

  1. I thought I understood what “Messiah” meant or how the Kingdom worked, but I really did not understand. 
  2. I definitely didn’t understand the Cross— I was eager for God’s Kingdom to advance, but I could not be close to Jesus’ heart until I had come close to suffering, because the Cross is suffering. 

IV.   In Luke 22:31, Jesus tells Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…”

A. When I was 23 years old, I suffered a psychotic break. That means that I experienced a complete break from reality with delusions and hallucinations. I was like the crazy people in movies, or the people talking to themselves that you avoid during street ministry. 

B. For a month long period, I was insane. I had an intense mood swing of hyper-activity. I couldn’t sleep. I was talking at lightening speed. And behaved in erratic and irrational ways. I went missing for a brief time. I was not lucid or sane at all during this time. I was forcibly hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder.  

C. At that time, I did not know anything about mental health or mental illness, neither did my family. It felt like a death sentence. It seemed like this illness was going to destroy my whole future.

D. This experience was very scary. It was embarrassing. It left me feeling deeply insecure about my identity— how could I be useful to God, or to anyone, if my mind could just break at any moment? 

E. The hyper-active “mania” mood swing was followed by a heavy depression. I could not understand why God bothered making me, if He was going to make me so defective. All of my hopes, expectations, and dreams were dashed. The Bible tells us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick,” (Proverbs 13:12). That was true for me.

F. For seven years after my “manic” episode and the psychosis, I could not approach God and I stopped identifying myself as a Christian. I stayed far away from church. Not only did I feel let down by God, but my psychosis had so many spiritual and supernatural elements to it, that I became afraid that if I prayed or read my Bible I would go crazy again— that was a terrible lie of the enemy that I accepted. Fear and disappointment kept me from Jesus for seven years. 

G. This was 7 years of intense sifting. My faith was being sifted…so that it could mature.

V.   Like Peter, when my moment of testing came, the moment to use deeds not words— “I’ll follow you anywhere, Jesus! I’ll be obedient to the point of death!” became: “…but bipolar disorder? No Jesus. I’ll stay out here by the fire… When the servant girl comes to ask if I’m yours, I’ll have to politely deny You. When the servant girl invites me into the Sanhedrin, into Your suffering, I’ll politely decline. Bipolar disorder doesn’t fit into my model of Christian suffering. When the servant girl asks, I’ll say, ‘I can’t go to that cross.’ That cross is too costly! In fact, maybe, Jesus, You’re not the Messiah I thought You were. I’m going to stay outside. I’ve just realized that everything I thought I was sure about, I’m not so sure about.”

A. So instead of following Jesus toward the cross He had for me (like John did), I ran away from my Lord, alone, and weeping bitterly (like Peter did in Matthew 26:75)

B. My diagnosis with a mental illness brought me to a point where Jesus didn’t make sense to me. Like a disciple, I had heard everything He said. I had loved the teachings. I had followed Him around and believed the miracles. 

C. But I could not follow Him to the door that the cross and the resurrection were behind. My own personal “door to the Sanhedrin,” the door that if I went through it, led to my flesh being crucified, where all my self-sufficiency and pride would be brutalized by mental illness.

D. I have often told people that my psychotic break and receiving a life-long diagnosis of bipolar disorder was like experiencing my own death.

E. Would I get to be completely restored by Jesus’ resurrection power? I was too afraid to find out. That was the door I just couldn’t go through with Him. My faith was too immature to allow Jesus to walk me through my mental illness. I thought He abandoned me and that I’d be better off on my own.

VI.  Jesus prophesied over Peter, and I believe this is for me too:

A. He said “Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to have you and to sift you like wheat, But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have repented and turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  (Luke 22:31 paraphrase.) 

B. If you are being sifted, when you are being sifted, and you think, “I can’t get to the other side of this suffering with Jesus. I can’t go before the court of public opinion and be judged and humiliated, falsely accused and afraid with Jesus. I don’t know that if I stick with Jesus it’ll all turn out ‘alright’ in the end. That’s not a cross I can go to— any cross but this cross, Lord. I must have been wrong, because this does not look like Christian victory. I don’t think this is a Messiah that I can follow…What was my life as a disciple for?”

C. Jesus has prayed for you. (And Jesus’ prayers are always answered!) He has prayed that your faith will not fail. He knows you will “turn again” to Him, and when you have turned again you will strengthen your brothers.

VII.   When Jesus rose from the grave he told the women: “Go tell my disciples AND Peter,” Mark 16:7 (ESV). Other versions says, “Go tell my disciples INCLUDING Peter.” 

  — Either way it is translated, Mark 16:7 tells us two things: 1. Peter had separated himself from the group of disciples. 2. Jesus still had plans for Peter.

  1. He still had plans for me during the 7 years I was in denial. He still has plans for you. Even if its been years that you just couldn’t bear the name of Christ, He still has plans for you as His disciple.

B. In John 12, Jesus tells his disciples: Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

C. And His question to me, His question to you, His question to Peter is “do you love me?” 

D. No matter what has transpired between you and God, all He wants to know is: “Do you love me?” 

1. Pain, disappointment, confusion, shame— these turn many away from following the Lord. But Jesus turns us to Himself again with the gentlest question: Do you love me?

2. Today, I say:

“Yes, Lord, you know I do.”

3. And I hope today that you will also say: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

VIII. Dave has been giving some wonderful instructions and insight on just how it is that we say that to Jesus. So I’ll turn it back over to him.