Instructions on the Care of Your Soul

“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” Matthew 26:41

So, I feel a little silly, but I did not know that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” were words spoken by Jesus and not the Apostle Paul. It really sounds like something Paul would couch between confessions that he is the chief of sinners and thorns in sides or taking license with grace or something…but, nope. It was Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man grappling with the very human tension of living in spirit and truth while body-bound.

Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Matthew 26:38-44 KJV

Jesus’ spirit was willing to go to the cross to save mankind. His soul was sorrowful. His soul was self-aware. His spirit was aware only of the Father.

This passage solidifies for me a hunch that I first broached at the beginning of this series– that the soul is a part of the flesh distinct from the spirit.

The soul, the immaterial portion of Jesus’ flesh, felt that it could die just at the thought of the physical suffering and spiritual pain that He would experience when He was punished on the cross both by the Roman guards and by God.

A spirit is eternal, it cannot die. Jesus said His soul was so sorrowful it could die. “My soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death” (NIV).

You have to know what your soul is if you are going to give it what it needs. Your soul is the corruptible part of your inner being. It is subject to death and decay. It is fallible and weak and susceptible to illness. It is enmeshed– not intertwined– but completely enmeshed with the body. The soul is not the spirit.

Your body is the way that your soul is perceivable. You can only discipline your soul through the actions of your body, proving that your inner person is no more holy than your outer person. They are both your flesh. They are both dying without Christ’s life breathed into your nostrils.

Your soul, just as your body, has need of the resurrection. Your soul isn’t, like, in cahoots with the Holy Spirit while your body wastes away. We are holistically dying until we are holistically living. Cleanliness is not next to godliness. Self-care is not a spiritual discipline. Pop psychology is not regenerative. Your soul needs life in the spirit. Making your heart feel content, your intellect feel stimulated, or your will feel applied is a losing battle of soul appeasement because these are as much a part of dead works as anything else. Wasn’t the Old Covenant law essentially just intricate hygiene rules? Isn’t self-care the en vogue word for hygiene?

My mom encouraged me once when I was really depressed to put some make-up on my face to perk myself up a bit. “Really,” she said, “you’ll feel so much better.” I mean, yes, taking care of my appearance makes me feel much better– as long as I am actively doing it. I can look smokin’ gorgeous one day and it does brighten my attitude. However, the next day when I’m unmotivated and yesterday’s mascara is crumbling onto my cheekbones, I feel worse than if I hadn’t had my day of being beautiful because now I have blackheads and depression. Their is no ritual, routine, or bronzer that can save your soul from the gravity of slowly falling apart.

You are no more saved by your thoughts, theology, emotions, fortitude, political positions or character than you are by flagellation, hand-washing, sacrifices, ordinances, random acts of kindness, or sabbath observation. Those works of the flesh are good exercises but they are not worshipping in spirit and in truth. They are worshipping in the soul and in the shadow of the truth (see the entire Book of Hebrews).

There is no component of the inborn inner person that equates to the spirit. Not the mind, not the will, not even the heart is made of spirit. Jesus was made to be man with all of man’s weaknesses and all of man’s temptations (Hebrews 4:15). The soul was counted as a weakness to be overcome by Jesus in Matthew 26:38-44. He had to overcome the feelings and desires of His soul to obey the Father unto salvation.

Why would this power struggle be the plan for salvation?! Because His strength is made perfect in weakness. The Father was glorified through the weakness of Jesus’ flesh.

Jesus exhorts His disciples in Gethsemane to be watchful and pray otherwise the flesh could win out over the spirit. Wasn’t Jesus telling them this because it was what He himself was experiencing at that moment?

“Watch with Me,” He said. Jesus was having to fastidiously watch His own soul so that He would not fall into the temptation to save Himself instead of me. He needed help, intercessors, and accountability, but ultimately Jesus would go to the cross all alone starting right there in Gethsemane. He was watching His emotions (sorrow), His mind (if another way is possible), and His will (not my will) while He travailed in prayer.

Jesus’ soul was the first aspect of His flesh that was put to death for my sins.

I’m alive in His Spirit because of the death of His flesh.

The care of my soul is maintained in the way it was won: by putting to death the works of the flesh. Be watchful that you’re not trying to resurrect your own wellness through drinking enough water, making your bed, writing goals on your mirror, or putting on make-up. Your flesh can do nothing for your flesh. The care of the soul is a matter of the spirit.

Not my way to care for my soul, but Yours. Amen.

morning glories georgia okeefe

— Who, being in nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8 —

— For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13–

* artwork: “Morning Glories” Georgia O’Keefe

 

 

 

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.