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

“For out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

“Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life,” Proverbs 4:23.

If you are like me, and grew up in the evangelical Purity Culture of the 1990s, you have probably never connected this verse to anything beyond romantic relationships. We were told as young tender buds to “guard our hearts and not give them away too easily.” Because– if we did the rest of our lives would be plagued with guilt and the shame of betraying a far off, future husband.

Unfortunately, the Purity Culture did a terrible job of delivering its argument, implementing a meaningful abstinence for young people, or teaching the biblical approach to singleness. See the heart of 1 Corinthians for a beautiful portrayal of what the young, single, and chaste should be enjoying in Christ.

The heart is not synonymous for love, our love life, nor is it the singular place from which we love God. In fact, it is our whole self that loves God. “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength.”

This verse taken from Deuteronomy 6:5 is reiterated throughout the rest of Deuteronomy and is notably quoted by Jesus in each of the synoptic gospels.

What peaks my interest is that each reiteration of this command includes different aspects of the self.

Sometimes strength is explicitly considered a function of the mind (inner being), and sometimes it is external (keeping laws). Sometimes mind and soul are distinct, and sometimes equivocated. The heart, however, is always listed first, and is always simply referred to as “the heart.”

In the King James Version of the Bible the word “heart” is used 725 times in the Old Testament and 105 times in the New Testament.

Interestingly, as each new translation is released the use of the word translated as “heart” decreases. My off-the-cuff analysis of the linguistic shift would be that subsequent translations use words like soul, inner being, and other comparable words for heart as they diverge from the KJV.

Until further notice, I am making the argument that each component of the soul is unique in function, particularly in the functionality of relationship to God and the spiritual realities of existence. This means that I would rather dynamic equivalencies not be used in translating the words for “heart.”

Regardless, the heart is of utmost importance to the Lord. Thus the ubiquity of Proverbs 4:23– “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (NIV)

A survey of the word “heart” in scripture gives a dynamic picture of both the centrality of the heart to man’s person, and the central importance God puts on the heart, and the singularity of His interest in it.

Above all else, God cares about the state of our hearts.

He takes action upon our hearts and commands us to take action upon them as well.

Here are some observations of what scripture tells us about God’s expectations and edicts for the heart:

  1. When reconciled to God we get a new one. To me, this is an argument against the heart being merely the seat of the emotions; it is rather the seat of the whole person.(Psalm 90:12 and Ezekiel 11:19)
  2.  The heart is not incapable of good but it is inherently bad— dead in trespasses.
  3. A perverse heart can have no access to God (Psalm 101:4).
  4. The heart is the thing that qualifies a person as either pure or defiled.
  5. It defiles itself but God regenerates it.
  6. It is the thing by which we are judged.
  7. It is what is tested.
  8. The heart has intent— it is the motivational center of the inner being.
  9. It is the thing that believes.
  10. The heart and the spirit are candidates as the two inner being components that are synonymous, rather than the heart and the soul (Psalm 51:17). Theologians look for evidence of synonyms between spirit and soul because of the ongoing confusion as to whether or not they are distinct. (Psalm 139:23. Proverbs 17:22)
  11. There is a thing within us that can command our heart. What is that?
  12. The heart is definitely a faculty distinct from the mind.
  13. No matter our deeds, it is the motivation of the heart that dictates the spiritual quality of our actions (Ephesians 6:6).
  14. The heart generates active sins. It is not just a philosophical/spiritual/qualitative center, but it is a moral center.
  15. Desires come from it. 
  16. It meditates. Is this a thinking or a ruminating? To me ruminating can be subconscious. The heart might “think” apart from the mind based on my observation.
  17. It plans (Proverbs 16:1).
  18. It prays.
  19. The heart is a reflection (mirror) of the person— it produces fruit that reveals the fabric of a person.
  20. It is intended by God to be glad, have joy, be tranquil and at peace, and to not be troubled.
  21. Philippians 4:7 says the peace of God guards it. The heart is supposed to be at peace when operating in its created purpose of abiding in God.
  22. God works on the heart to work on a man. This “heart part” can act as the whole in responsiveness to God. (Acts 16:14, and Pharaoh in Exodus.)
  23. The mind’s quality is influenced by the heart’s quality.
  24. The sincerity or insincerity– proof of an emotion– comes from the heart.
  25. The heart is the recipient of the Word and the gospel.
  26. The Lord can act on the heart to make it soft or hard, or established, or He can put a fear of God within it.
  27. Only God knows, and only God searches, the hearts of man.
  28. The heart follows a person’s treasure.

(For references to all of the verses that I pulled these notes from click here.)

“To guard” in Hebrew has the same meaning as “to cultivate” and “to tend.”

So, these instructions I leave with you to cultivate and tend to your heart:

  1. Take action on your heart. Do not be passive about the state of your heart.
  2. Meditate on what God wants for your heart: peace, tranquility, good. If something doesn’t align with those attributes, it is fair warning.
  3. Receive the Word of God and the Gospel of Christ into your heart. Believer, never stop receiving the Gospel into your heart just like you did at first.
  4. Assess, reassess, and assess again what your treasure is and where you have invested it.

Your heart itself is a treasure to be invested. I can’t help but think of the Garden of Eden when I see that “to guard” also means to cultivate, tend, and “to keep” in the original language.

We are hopeless in sin and depend on grace constantly to do anything; we cannot save ourselves in any way. Yet, concerning our heart we have been given a mandate, an action step.

When God made Adam He put him in the Garden of Eden expressly to “work it and take care of it,” Genesis 2:15. “And the Lord commanded him…you are free…but you must not…” Genesis 2:16-17.

Our heart is now the place where we walk with God, and it comes with a mandate– With instructions. Cultivate, tend and keep it, for the rivers of your life flow from it.