I can sense when I haven’t done enough soul care. My thoughts and subsequent actions are fleshy. Once I recognize that, it causes me to look around and realize that I’ve drifted into the shallow end.
Regardless of what my flesh wants, my soul craves deep water.
I have a friend who is working his way through some of the great hymns of the faith as a part of his devotional time. He’s copying the lyrics, looking up the writer’s history and the context in which each song was written. As he tells me about it, his face expresses joy.
That’s a great way to live deeper.
Other friends have worked their way through some of the great creeds and catechisms of the faith.
It’s another great way to do a deep dive.
The last time I went fishing with a buddy, I had my own little dock. I set up my lawn chair and cast my line into the still water. It was so still that you could see a reflection of the clouds in it.
My phone didn’t get service out there, which allowed me to be fully present in the moment. Birds sang. Fished jumped. And the breeze caressed my skin. As my heart rate slowed, it would’ve been difficult to miss God in all of that, making the trip so satisfying, even if I did only catch a fish or two.
Living deeper is a conscious choice to not stay in the shallow end. It’s knowing what’s good for your soul, then engaging in it as you unplug from everything else for a while.
That will look different for everybody.
One of the ways I’ve learned to do it is to read the Bible in smaller chunks. I’ve worked my way through Bible-in-a-year plans and there’s something to be said for that, but when I do it, it feels like I'm water skiing on the surface of the text. It’s just too much, too fast.
Spurgeon once said this: “Some people like to read so many [Bible] chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than rinse my hand in several chapters. Oh, to be bathed in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up in your very soul, till it saturates your heart!”
I don’t know about you, but reading a quote like this makes me want to slow my reading pace even more.
How do you feed your soul? I’d love to hear your specifics. Just click the reply button and let me know.
As we set our minds on the things of the Spirit, we can reenter our daily routines and responsibilities (that tend to run at a fast pace) with a different mindset — one that is anchored in gospel truth.
The Bible I’m currently using is called The Prayer Bible, which just means it contains prayers from church figures throughout church history that are interspersed with various texts. It’s designed to jumpstart a Christian’s prayer life by praying the scriptures.
As I was working my way through Matthew 12 recently—the portion in which Matthew quotes Isaiah 42 about the coming Messiah who would bring hope to the Gentile, I came across this prayer from John Bradford (a martyr who was burned at the stake in 1555):
“O Lord, you who have said you will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, be merciful, we beg you, unto all those who through fear and weakness, have denied you, by dissimulation [the act of deceiving] and hypocrisy. That it may please you to strengthen their weak knees (you who are the strength of them that stand), and to lift up their feeble hands, that their little smoke may increase into a great flame, and their bruised reed into a mighty oak, able to abide all the blustering blasts and stormy tempests of adversity …”
I don’t know about you, but his “little smoke” reference hits home for me. Will you join me in praying that the Lord would increase my little smoke and your little smoke into a great flame indeed?
The day before I was supposed to teach at a writers conference last weekend, I ended up in the ER with pain in one of my legs. Since I’ve had a blood clot in that leg in the past — one that broke off and hit one of my lungs, I'm quick to seek medical attention.
The medical staff was attentive, and after an ultrasound, informed me that I had a superficial blood clot. They used fancier language, such as “hematoma” and a couple of other words I can’t remember. Later, I found out from a nurse at my primary care physician’s office that a superficial clot is really a bruise. I don’t say “just a bruise” because I don’t take anything lightly when it comes to my leg.
I probably lost four hours that day — on a day I really needed to be taking care of last-minute preparations for the conference. But I’m learning to take advantage of unexpected breaks. They give me permission to slow down. That’s how I see it, anyway.
Even so, I don’t need as many unexpected reminders as I used to because I’ve gotten better about slowing down when my body tells me to. I just say no, and I don’t often apologize or explain why — partially because I don’t feel obligated to say yes to other people’s priorities, partially because I’m not sure everybody believes me when I explain the situation with my leg (the original clot caused permanent damage) and partially because the limitations I experience have cured me of my people-pleasing tendency. Pain has a way of doing that.
At the beginning of worship services, my pastor often prays for congregants who aren’t there that morning because they are suffering from depression or chronic health conditions. In doing so, he expresses an understanding and compassion that always makes me a little teary-eyed.
Something my dad used to say comes to mind. He used to say everybody has an agenda. The older I’ve gotten, the more I think he was right. I don’t think he meant that in a negative way. It was just a statement of fact.
If a person is organizing a committee, outreach or event, he or she often expects participation from others within the organization. That committee, outreach or event means something to that person, and maybe even to the organization, so I get it. But that doesn’t mean I need to (or even should) say yes.
I think it was John Maxwell who once said, “Learn to say no to the good so you can say yes to the best.”
Not every opportunity is the best. And being so deeply involved in the good is draining. The truth is, we have to guard our time. We need to listen to our bodies. And we have to prioritize the feeding of our souls so the Creator can rejuvenate and reorient us. If we do, we’ll be ready to say yes when the best opportunity comes along.
For those who are wondering, the hospital cleared me to teach at the conference, telling me to just keep heat on the affected area whenever possible. I was compliant. Honest.
As the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned this past week, someone who is affiliated with the cathedral reportedly said: “The building is burned, but the faith is alive.”
Seems like an appropriate quote for Good Friday — the day we contemplate what our sin cost Jesus. Our sin was a fire that ravaged Jesus’ body on Good Friday, and yes, Sunday is coming and we’ll celebrate, but let’s not get too hasty.
I don’t know your faith tradition, but if you have a Good Friday service available to you in your area, consider attending it. Attending is the wrong word. Consider participating in it. And while you’re there, examine your heart, experience the somberness, and feel the weight of your sin.
Ron Benson, a pastor and writer, made this comment recently on his Facebook page: “We are all in a hurry to get to Sunday. We need to stop and spend time on Thursday and Friday. Don't say, ‘It's Friday, but Sunday's coming,’ too fast. Linger here. Let it sit on your shoulders, on your conscience, on your heart. The victory can only be known by the cost it took to get there.”
Jesus knew his lot, and he was obedient, even unto death on the cross. In Mark 10:32-34 (ESV), he said this: “And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.’”
They will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. Those words paint horrendous imagery, but it was the cost of my sin and yours.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul says this: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day ...”
Consider such things today, for, as Pastor Benson said, the victory can only be known by the cost it took to get there. Then celebrate on Sunday!
A few years ago, I wrote an essay about a unique coffee shop I visited and I thought you might enjoy it. It comes from Common Grounds: Contemplations, Confessions, and (Unexpected) Connections from the Coffee Shop.
This coffee shop is in the part of town where art meets dreamer meets poverty. If you visit, you’ll find learners here—people who are digging deep into a book to talk about it with another learner. The last time I was here, a man read a portion of his Bible aloud and then he would stop every once in a while to ask a question or to hear some insight from the man who sat across the table from him. It appeared to be a one-on-one discipleship relationship, and it was sacred.
Tonight, I had to go up into the loft to find the only remaining open table. I ended up sitting above an older African-American man who was in the middle of discipling a considerably younger white woman. As I sat down, they were dissecting the Greek word kronos.
“He is the timekeeper,” the man says. “He controls everything. He controls the stars. He controls time. He controls light.” His voice rises with each statement, as if he were behind a pulpit. He easily transitions to quoting the book of Enoch, saying Christians were the keepers of the book, and even quoted from it. “Enoch is like the angels. God has chosen him to do something special. We can get the truth about things from him.”
I have no idea which religion the man adheres to, but whatever it is, he believes it with all his heart. He went on for another twenty minutes giving her his opinion about how Jesus and Enoch could be one and the same. After he finishes, she tells him she follows a blend of Christianity and Judaism, and that she appreciates studying the original meaning of the texts.
A couple of middle-aged women sit behind them. Again, it is one African-American woman and one white woman. The African-American woman is reading from her laptop screen and the white woman is busy scribbling notes.
Two men near them are talking about Johnny Cash, while playing a game that resembles checkers, except it has more (and smaller) squares and more pieces.
Next to them, two men sit with one woman—all of them are reading. One of them is reading a book, and the other two are reading something on their laptops.
The man who is reading a book looks up at the two men who are playing the checkers knockoff game. “What are you guys playing?”
“It’s called Joe [I’m relatively certain that I’m spelling it incorrectly, but that’s how it sounds], from the Chinese ‘ego.’ It’s like a farm game, you try to protect your territory.”
“When does the game end?”
“Usually when Pete resigns.”
“It ends when neither side has a good play.”
The sensei, who is wearing a tie, spends the next ten minutes describing the game to the book-reader and a couple who walks up and introduces themselves to him. The man in the couple says he knows the basics of the game, but wants to know more. He’s come to the right place—the place of learners. The sensei takes him under his wing and begins to explain the strategy. Ten minutes later, everybody exchanges names and numbers and plans their next game for this coming Friday evening.
I haven’t heard a single mention of the Kardashians or The Bachelor yet, and I have to say, it is refreshing. I’m not anti-Bachelor as much as I am pro-going deeper, no matter the topic. I know they are not mutually exclusive, and I have my own guilty TV pleasures, but being around people who know how to go deep is inspiring. It’s one thing to get excited about who Juan Pablo is going to choose, and quite another to get excited over a game that taps into political philosophies and personal worldviews.
Mini-communities are forming before my eyes. It makes me want to want to lay aside a higher percentage of low culture to engage in more high culture. Again, I don’t believe they are, or need to be, mutually exclusive, but too much low culture has a negative effect on my soul. It makes me long for what I don’t have (a spouse, money), rather than inspiring me to consider deeper concepts (what I believe, why I believe it). Conversely, I have to admit, too much high culture gives me a headache. So I guess I need to find the proverbial balance.
I look over and see that the other readers have pulled their table over to join the Joe players, making them one. Most of the rest of the crowd has turned over. The twenty-five or thirty people who are here are creating a gentle hum of conversation. Other than one woman, nobody is locked into his or her cell phone. Instead, they are locked in with one another.
It is a Tuesday evening, and they could be watching a television show about relationships. Instead, this crowd of people from every walk of life has intentionally sought out a place that is out of the norm—one where they can experience genuine relationship with some people who are like them, and some who are not, knowing they would find more satisfaction. And I suspect they did.