“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” Jesus, Matthew 16:26
There have been three different points within my life in ministry where I was very much in danger of losing my soul, largely because I had stopped being attentive to it.
Ruth Haley Barton, in her book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, describes the soul as “…the very essence of you that God knew before he brought you forth in physical form, the part that will exist after your body goes into the ground. This is the ‘you’ that exists beyond any role you play, any job you perform, any relationship… It is the part of you that longs for more of God than you have right now, the part that may, even now, be aware of ‘missing’ God amid the challenges of life in ministry.”
I believe that intentionality and consistency in spiritual practices within my daily, weekly, monthly and annual rhythms are key to the well-being of my soul, my spiritual life and my relationship with God. Practices such as prayer, reading of Scripture, solitude and silence, retreat, sabbath, play and holiday are a few examples. Yet the mere existence of these spiritual practices within my life is not enough.
Years ago I realised that there is one main mindset that is most effective in negatively impacting my spiritual well-being and the attentive care of my soul. It is effective because it is subversive.
It is when my primary heart motivation behind these spiritual practices subtly shifts from being about a desire for more of God’s presence to being about me being a better leader, a better “Christian”, having more to offer others. When I find myself only reading Scripture when I have a message to prepare rather than practicing Lectio Divina to prayerfully engage with Scripture that it might transform me. Or going on retreat so I have energy for the next month’s ministry plans rather than to enjoy time with Jesus.
When that subtle shift happens, the practices slowly become work, burdens, things I have to “do” rather than the cultivators of life they had been previously.
I think that is why often when I have gone on holiday, my spiritual practices have slipped and upon returning home, I find it a struggle to return to them or to find a rhythm that works well for me. They had become related to work, to ministry, practiced primarily for the sake of others rather than for the sake of my own soul and intimate connection with God, which then naturally flows into and touches every area of life.
I wonder how much more effective my holiday would be if I saw it as a spiritual practice, another cultivator of life and relationship with God?
The concept of seeing holiday as a spiritual practice is a fairly new one for me and I owe it to Pete Scazzero. His challenge is to view holiday as a mini-sabbatical and to intentionally include things that refresh and restore your entire being, including your soul, giving yourself a couple of days when returning home to simply spend time with God before rushing back into work. This practice sets you up to return to those life-giving practices and rhythms as you re-enter daily life.
Caring for the well-being of my soul now looks like not just the existence of spiritual practices, but attending to my heart motivations behind those spiritual practices, and when needed, gently shifting my focus back to my deep desire for more of the presence of God.
May this encourage you to do the same, that your soul and your entire being flourish.
National Coordinator, 24-7 Prayer Scotland