Defining the Soul (2/10/19)

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Sheila Walsh, a Christian singer, writer and former cohost of the 700 Club described what happened when she hit a spiritual wall in 1992.

“One morning I was sitting on national television with my nice suit and inflatable hairdo and that night I was in the locked ward of a psychiatric hospital. It was the kindest thing God could have done to me.

            The very first day in the hospital, the psychiatrist asked me, ‘Who are you?’

            ‘I’m the co-host of the 700 Club.’

            ‘That’s not what I meant,’ he said.

            ‘Well, I’m a writer. I’m a singer.’

            ‘That’s not what I meant. Who are you?’

            ‘I don’t have a clue,’ I said.

            And he replied, ‘Now that’s right and that’s why you’re here.’”

(Quoted by Peter Scazzero inEmotionally Healthy Spirituality.)

I’ve been challenging us to answer this same question. I asked you to wrestle with answering it at the end of the sermon two weeks ago. You’re supposed to show us your answer today in the way you dressed for church. Do you know what I’ve discovered as I’ve wrestled with this question and as I’ve talked with many of you about it? We have the same struggle that Sheila Walsh had. We too have trouble defining who we are.

After she admitted she didn’t know who she was, Sheila continued: “I measured myself by what other people thought of me. That was slowly killing me.” Can you relate to her comment?  Please take a moment and honestly answer this question. Do I put more focus on living for God or living up to other people’s expectations of me?

Living to please others or trying to live up to the image we think they have of us is a never-ending battle. And it’s exhausting. This lifestyle goes against everything we’re created to be. The only way to overcome it is to understand who God created us to be and then live an authentic life with him. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to define what the soul is, look at how God interacts with it, see what harms the soul and how to get health and prosperity for our soul.

However, before we begin this journey together, please let me share some important points we need to know.

1) I’m on this journey with you. I’m learning a lot myself because I don’t have it figured out.

2) We’re only going to scratch the surface of understanding our soul and how God relates to it. Fully understanding ourselves and our God is a lifelong journey.

3) Under absolutely no circumstances should anything I say be interpreted that I’m saying it’s ok to sin, to ignore the sins we already struggle with or to be disrespectful to those around us. I’ll never mean that.

4) I know this is a deep subject to discuss. That’s ok. The last thing this world needs are more superficial Christians. If we’re serious about our faith, we should have a desire to go deeper in our understanding of what it means to walk with Jesus.

Let’s begin our journey trying to discover who God created each of us to be. Genesis 2:4-7 says,This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earthand no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streamscame up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a manfrom the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” God gave the first man, Adam, his soul when he breathed life into him.

Every person who has walked the face of the earth from Adam until now is born with a soul that’s given to them by God. Each soul is unique. There has never been another person like you before and there never will be. Even identical twins have different personalities and mannerisms.

If we really want to know who we are, we have to understand our own soul. I truly believe one of the biggest problems in the church today is Christians don’t understand themselves and how God relates to their soul.

The first thing we need to do define what the soul is. The scholarly definition tells us the soul is the “immaterial part” of us. In plain English, the soul is the parts of us that aren’t flesh and bone. It has 4 distinct parts.

The first part is the mind. This is our rational functions, such as our thoughts. God gives us a mind so we can think and process what’s happening in the world around us and then decide how to react. The way we choose to use our minds affects the quality of our lives.

In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it.
Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the big stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. On approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. As the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many others never understand. Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve one’s condition.

If you were placed into the middle of this story, which person would you be? A person who complained about the rock but didn’t remove it or the peasant? Often, we look at things from a negative angle, but that’s not how our souls are created.

In her book, Switch on Your Brain, Christian author and scientist Dr. Caroline Leaf quotes 2 Timothy 1:7“God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Her next sentence is, “Science shows we are wired for love with a natural optimism bias. This means exactly what the scripture says above.” Science now has the ability to prove what the Bible has been saying for thousands of years. We’re created to be positive thinkers.

The second part of our soul is the heart, or attitudes, such as emotions and desires. Our emotions affect us, even if we try to hide them from others and perhaps even ourselves.

One of the most popular comics of the late 1970’s and 80’ was Rodney Dangerfield. He made millions of dollars talking about the fact he got “no respect.” Yet, in a 2004 article titled, Strange, Unhappy Life of Rodney Dangerfield, Jeff Pearlman writes, “Dangerfield was diagnosed as clinically depressed several years ago, but he traces it back to his boyhood. He was born Jacob Cohen, was abandoned by his father … and was raised, along with his sister, Marion, by a cold mother whose cruel remarks made him feel worthless.” Anyone who ever watched him on television or listened to one of his records would never have realized this.

Many people bury their negative emotions because they are painful. Doing this doesn’t change the fact God created us to be emotional beings. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” The simple truth is we will never know who we really are in Christ until we acknowledge and deal with our emotions. As Peter Scazzero writes in his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, “Emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable.” It’s impossible to be spiritually mature if we’re emotionally immature.

The third part of our soul is our Will. It chooses and decides, such as wants and dislikes. If we go back to the book of Genesis, we see God gave Adam a free will so he could choose whether or not he would listen to God. Genesis 2:15-17 says, 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” As we know from reading the rest of the story, Adam made the wrong choice. Not every choice we face is as serious. Most of them are about day to day life.

The choices we make prove each one of us is unique. We all have different likes and dislikes. And they can change as we mature in life.

As a pastor, I’ve officiated many funerals and memorial services over the years. I’ve decided that I don’t want my memorial service to be sad and somber. I want it to be tacky and full of joy. For example, I want laser lights and people to bring their pets with them. If it’s possible to look down from heaven, I want to be able to look down and laugh at what I see. I told my wife, Stephanie, I want people to leave the service saying, “Can you believe they did that?”

Some people have asked me over the years, “How do you think of this stuff?” The truth is I don’t lay awake at night and thing about it. It just pops into my head. That’s how God created me to be.

There’s one more part of us that some scholars say is part of the soul and other scholars say it is not part of the soul. It’s our spirit. This is the part of us that connects with God. We see this union in Romans 8:16. It says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Anytime the Bible has word “Spirit” with a capital “S,” it’s referring to the Holy Spirit. Spirit with a small “s” refers to the spirit each person has within her or himself. So, is our spirit part of the soul or is it different? It doesn’t matter for this sermon series. We’re still the same person. For the purposes of what we’re doing, I’m going to include passages about the spirit in our discussions.

The four things we’ve just studied make up our soul. It was created to be pure – and good. The problem is the world we live in contaminates us. We have trouble understating our soul and how it relates to God. However, with the power of Christ in us, we can work at it.

Please pick one area of your soul and work at making it what God wants it to be:

*Mind – rational functions, such as thoughts.

If you often have negative thoughts, you can change this.

            -Write down positive Bible verses and place them around your home or workplace.

            -Reflect on the good things happening in your life.

            -Don’t allow negative thoughts to take hold in your mind.

            -Read Switch on Your Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf.

*Heart – attitudes, including emotions, desires.

No matter how much we might want to deny it, the negative emotions that we bury deep within us come bubbling to the surface. And they affect what we do and how we treat other people. If you struggle with this:

            -Talk to other people about your emotions, even if it means you need to see a trained counselor.

            -Journal your emotions. It’s amazing what God will show you about yourself if you do.

            -Read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero.

*Will – chooses and decides, such as want and dislikes.

If you’re struggling to be yourself because you feel that you have to live up to others expectations, make a conscious choice right now to change that.

            -Take time for yourself to do something you enjoy.

            -Rest and refresh your soul.

            -Be willing to admit that self-care isn’t selfish care.

            -Read The Deeper Journey by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.

*Spirit – part of us that connects with God.

If you know your connection with God is not what it should be, then schedule time to pray, meditate on Scripture and just be with God.

The issues we have in each of these areas of our lives won’t go away by themselves. We have to take responsibility for them. This isn’t about self-help or psychology. It’s about knowing who God created us to be so that we can have a better relationship with him and with each other.