Prayers, Power, Passion and Inspiration

For Your Soul . . . Spiritual


Introduction to Growing Your Own Soul:

Your soul is the place where you know there is a God even before you meet Him. The soul is that in us which longs for the right thing. And once we come into a relationship with God, it's the place where we commune with Him. The soul can be filled with God or devoid of Him, but if it is empty, God is the only thing that will fill it. We can throw all sorts of pleasures and loves in there, but none will satisfy like God, because the soul was made to long for Him and no other. When God breathed into Adam, he became a living soul forever longing for God's breath to fill him again.

Our soul is ours to do with as we please. We can choose to grow it or let it atrophy. The Psalmist, David, goes as far as to talk to his soul and tell it what to do. "Bless the Lord, O my soul." is a common phrase in his poetry, as if it might do something else if he didn't tell it to do this.

So to grow our soul means to enlarge our capacity for God and truth. Growing our soul is all about learning to walk with God -- listening to Him through His word and through the natural revelations of Him that come through the things He has made, which includes all the people you know since they were made in God's image. Growing your soul can also have to do with finding God in the ordinary life and activities we share in every day. It's about being more conscious of the presence of God within you as you go about your normal routines of life. Growing your soul doesn't only happen through spiritual activities like praying and reading the Bible; it also can happen in the way we do everything else. It's a God-consciousness that enlarges as we grow it. When Paul says to pray without ceasing, he means to be more of a soul-conscious person.

Thus growing you soul means to enlarge your capacity for God and your awareness of Him. For even the most mature of believers, this may be hard sometimes. We all go through times when everything around us seems dry and barren, spiritually. Our souls still long for God. David's soul longs for God in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1). And like a deer pants for water, his soul longs for God (Psalm 42:1).

That's important to know, because this is not a longing that is over once we meet God and are filled with His Spirit. We still long for Him because we long to know Him more, and we sometimes lose sight of Him even though we know better. Just as we must regularly take in physical food in order to stay alive, our souls must have spiritual food in order to grow and be healthy. If your soul is undersized, it is because you haven't been paying attention to it. It's been telling you all along what it needs, you have just been too busy or too distracted to hear it and do anything about it.

These pages are designed to help you do just that -- to grow your own soul. It's a good dose of soul food, some of it inspirational and some of it practical, but all designed to help fill up that place we have for knowing God, loving Him more, and becoming more conscious of Him in our daily walk.

Rick Warren's article on spiritual growth is a good place to begin, as he tells us why it is important to pay attention to what our souls need. Then I would recommend Henry Cloud's article in Purpose Driven Relationships on growing your own soul. He spends some time at the beginning defining what the soul is and then gives some practical suggestions as to how to help it grow. That theme of practicality is continued in a very personal way in Katie Brazelton's article on the ABC's of meeting with God. You'll even laugh along with this one! Then Brett Eastman shows us how pain plays an important role in growing your soul. And finally Lance Witt will talk to us about what we all need and don't take enough of: solitude. He even guides us through one possible map for a time alone with God.

All in all, this is a good feast for your soul and hopefully add some new habits to your life that will help you to become more of a soul-conscious person. Remember your soul is longing for the right thing. Listen to it!

by John Fischer

Does Spiritual Growth Just Happen?

Many people act as though spiritual growth is automatic. They may have a plan to save for retirement. They may have a plan for sending their kids to college. But they don't have a strategy for enriching their souls. They leave the single most important facet of human existence to chance!

But a soul doesn't automatically grow to maturity any more than a baby automatically grows to physical maturity. You've got to have a plan for feeding, exercise, education - and especially potty training - if a child is going to grow up healthy, strong, and mature.

A baby left on its own withers and dies. The same thing is true of your soul. Our world is full of people who have grown older but are still babies when it comes to spiritual maturity.

Spiritual growth is not automatic even for people who have opened their hearts to Christ. The writer of Hebrews sadly noted, "... though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again." (Heb. 5:12) Millions of Christians have grown older without ever growing up.

Spiritual growth must be intentional
The truth is that growth in the human soul requires a commitment to grow. A person must want to grow, decide to grow, and make an effort to grow.

Spiritual growth begins with a decision. It doesn't have to be a complex decision, but it does have to be sincere. When Jesus' followers decided to choose his Way, they didn't understand all the implications of their decision. They simply expressed a desire to follow him, and that was the beginning of an exciting journey of the soul. Jesus took that simple but sincere decision and built on it.

In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul to people who are already saved about their spiritual growth: "... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

Notice that it says "work out" - not "work on" - your salvation. There is nothing you can do to save yourself spiritually; Christ took care of that by his life, death, and resurrection. The important thing to note is that God has a part in our growth - but so do we. We must make an intentional effort to grow.

Spiritual growth is the result of the commitments we make
We become whatever we are committed to - without a commitment to grow, any growth that occurs will be circumstantial, rather than intentional. Spiritual growth is too important to be left to circumstance. It needs to be intentional, not incidental.

Spiritual growth that leads to maturity begins with the kind of commitment described in Romans 6:13: "... give yourselves completely to God - every part of you - for you are back from death and you want to be tools in the hands of God, to be used for his good purposes."

Spiritual growth is not a private matter
Some of us hesitate to commit ourselves to developing an intentional plan of growth for our members because we believe spiritual growth is a personal and private matter. Rather than interfere, we choose to allow each person to develop in his own way at his own rate.

This is an aberration from the truth. The idolatry of individualism has influenced even the way we think about spiritual growth. So much of the teaching on spiritual formation is self-centered and self-focused without any reference to our relationship to other Christians. This is completely unbiblical and ignores much of the New Testament.

The truth is that Christians need relationships to grow. We don't grow in isolation from others. We develop in the context of fellowship. Over and over again in the New Testament we find this basic truth: Believers need relationships with each other to grow!

Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another .." God intends for us to grow up in a family.

by Rick Warren

Soul Care: The ABC's of How to Meet with God:

Soul care is a subject not often addressed in today's hurried, harried culture. How in the world are we, mere humans, supposed to go about caring for our God-breathed soul? Soul - being simply defined as the very center of our being that knows God and longs to be closer to him. Psalm 25:1 teaches us to pray: "To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul." But what can we do to lift up our soul, to unlock the treasures that God has stored there, and to share our deepest desires and love with the One who created us? Thomas Moore, in Care of the Soul, states:

Culturally we have a plastic esophagus, suited perhaps to fast food and fast living, but not conducive to soul, which thrives only when life is taken in a long, slow process of digestion and absorption... The soul needs an intense, full-bodied spiritual life as much as and in the same way that the body needs food. (206, 228)

So, how can we give our soul a fully adequate meal everyday? How can we daily experience the long, slow process of digesting what our soul needs to live on? There is only one primary way that I know of and that is in regularly spending time with God and being continually in his Word. It is such an intense and rich method that it can't help but bring about renewal in the process of personal soul care. Let today be all about the freedom and permission to nurture your soul by private time spent with God, but do it in a way that makes sense to you. I've certainly experimented with what seems to work for me on any given day!

You see, my real name is Bored Easily Brazelton. I belong to the school of thought that says, "Variety is the spice of life" and that there is no right or wrong way of meeting with God and getting to know him. I love changing the location, style, conversational content, expected ritual, and obligatory order of my quiet time, because I have come to realize over the years that, for me, doing this greatly increases my ability to worship God and, therefore, lift up my soul.

Here are a few suggestions to do just that. Let your visit with God be...

A - Alive with ambiance: It may work for you to take refuge in your favorite La-Z-Boy recliner, meditating on a new-found Scripture verse. You might choose to lounge on the floor in the front of your living room fireplace as you clear the day's busyness from your mind, or you may decide to sit in a straight-back chair at your kitchen table, intently reading your daily devotional while chomping on peanuts. It could be your thing to crawl into your unmade bed with instrumental music playing in the background, while you glorify God. You may want to speak to God in your son or daughter's bedroom, thinking of requests and praise from your child or teen's point of view. Never underestimate the power and joy of sharing a cup of coffee with Christ at a quiet sidewalk café or of inviting him to sit with you and watch the sun go down from the comfort of your bay window. Or you may be among the rare breed who actually opens your Bible and prays, while seated behind your workplace desk - before checking e-mails, voice messages, and instant messages!

I've climbed the hill behind my home in the rain to declare my love for God's people; I've sat in a local park on a winter's day bundled up in blankets arguing with my Lord; and I've gone to the beach to weep and journal about being the stumbler that I am. My all-time favorite prayerful conversations, though, have been on my patio while sipping ice cold tea, nestled on a well-padded, swing chair for hours on summer Sundays, and engrossed in my Life Application Study Bible. Nothing has ever taken my soul deeper with the Lord than those unhurried, cherished times.

I draw the line at praying in the bathroom, although many good Christians have told me that the "lavatory" is the only place they have the privacy to pray. So much for my ambiance suggestion!

B - Based on the Bible: I disagree with letting our exercise time (jogging, swimming, biking, treadmill, kayaking, etc.) or our long commute to or from work be our only designated quiet time. I think that alone time like that (which includes singing, talking to, or listening to God) is a perfect prelude to even more incredible prayerfulness, but I feel that it shortchanges God when we squeeze him into another activity that does not include reading his Word. He doesn't strike me as a type of God who says, "It's okay if you multi-task on the go without Scripture."

Those who have an audio version of the Bible or those spiritual giants who have large portions of the Bible committed to memory can obviously disregard my unsophisticated opinion, being that I am an average sojourner!

C - Conversational in content: I've been taught that it is a good idea to prepare my heart with praise and confession, so that gratitude and requests can come spilling out. I never dictate to myself, though, which of those four basic expressions has to "be handled" first or last, or whether one conversational element can overshadow the others in a specific prayer session. If I am humbled by the mighty power of God or burdened with sadness over my sinful behavior, I allow that feeling to pour out without restraint. Whether I've got my face to the floor beseeching God for a favor or am kneeling with my hands raised in joyful thanksgiving, I go with the reality of the moment, rather than with a set of "should's" and "supposed to's."

Another common, human response to God, but one that is not often mentioned in Christian circles, is anger at God. For that emotionally charged feeling, I rely on a fast and furious game of tetherball in my back yard - me against him. Of course, he's a patient and gracious opponent, and eventually, I calm down enough to join him on a walk and hear his gentle voice and persistent, faithful message that assures me that I can trust him.

And for those who believe that a quiet time must always begin with purifying their heart, so be it. I stand amazed at the inner beauty of those repentant sinners.

Bottom line: What a privilege and joy to visit with our Creator and meditate on his Word - whenever, wherever, and however! May God greatly enrich your precious moments with him, as you strive to do everything in your power to care for and feed your soul, a soul that longs for nothing but intimacy with God.

by Katie Brazelton

Why We Must Open Ourselves Up to Pain?

Nobody likes pain. Even Christ, while hanging on the cross, asked God, "Why have you forsaken me?" Yet God often uses pain to lead us into dimensions of life we never even knew existed.

Has it ever occurred to you that pain often points out a problem that's blocking your personal growth? In order for God to deal with certain areas of our life, he allows us to experience discomfort or pain. Pain leads us deeper into the life of the soul because pain requires more than we have. Dealing with painful situations requires us to trust God more deeply. Pain deepens our faith.

How many times have you had a great idea, but you just fell short of following through on it? One reason we don't pursue those dreams more aggressively is that we fear the pain of failure or we are discouraged by the pain of self-doubt. Most people don't realize that the path to a richer life of the soul requires us to take risks - to open ourselves up to the possibility of pain - and learn to depend on God, rather than ourselves.

If we fail to open ourselves up to pain, how can we grow? If we fail to grow, how can we share the deeper things of the spirit with others? And if we fail to share, how will God's Kingdom flourish?

When pain creeps in, it's important to remember what its purpose is. Whatever we are experiencing, it's something God wants to work on. Allow him to have the first say in what he wants for our lives. Allow him to show us what it looks like to trust him completely in every aspect of our daily lives. Allow him to help us become more like Christ.

As difficult as pain is, experiencing it alone is even harder. We endure pain better and grow more as a result of it when we have others to help us through it. Praying with each other and helping one another can help us stand strong together against our fears and pain. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says: "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!"

Once we admit we all are in over our heads, we can strengthen and encourage each other in our difficulties. Then we begin to take steps toward permanent healing and growth. When we push through the pain and plunge into the new spiritual territory God wants us to explore, we'll be amazed at how far he can carry us to do his will.

by Brett Eastman

Growing Your Soul:

"Soul" is a very difficult concept to get our arms around sometimes. In one sense, it seems easy as we speak of a musician as having a lot of "soul." Other times, we speak of things we love using the word soul: "It touches me all the way to my soul," or "Deep in my soul, I feel this." These examples are a collection of meanings that we all understand, but trying to precisely define the word gets tricky. So for a moment, allow me to not be the technical theologian and let's just use some simple definitions about soul that we can relate to and learn how to grow.

I like to think of the soul as the same as "life." Jesus said that it would not be a good thing to gain the whole world and lose our "soul" (Mark 8:36). He was speaking in the context of saving our "lives" by "losing" them. What did he mean? He wanted us to get rid of the things of this world, denying ourselves the things that get in the way of our "real lives," so that our souls could grow and prosper now and through eternity. So how do we make sure that our "lives" are growing?

Simply put: Invest in life, not the passing things of the world. And guess what? That does not mean religion or religious activities. It means investing in the things that God himself does and has passed on to us in his image. Things like the people you love, your love and relationship with him, investing your talents to grow them and use them to grow his Kingdom, and celebrating life.

So here are two questions: What things are taking up space in your soul - your life - that are not really alive? And what things do you really need to invest in and grow? Remember, the things that have our hearts and attention are the things that are going to grow. Wherever we sow, we reap. So, here is a suggested diet:

Dump religion, and get a relationship with God. Don't think that by doing a religious activity that you have been connected. Sit with God, talk to him, make dates with him, sing to him, cry to him, and praise him when you are in the car. In other words, just "hang." That is what the teenagers call it when they are with each other, and Jesus' word for that was very similar - "abide." In other words, just stay connected. If you do that, your real life - your soul - will grow in relation to God.

Dump some of your relationally meaningless, non-soul-nutritious activities, and spend some real relationship time with the people you want to invest in. I am not trying to be a killjoy, because I love some mindless TV to unwind at times, too. But there are a lot of time-filling, non-life activities that we all do from time to time that could be better spent calling that person you want to invest in, going for coffee, and really talking about matters of the heart. Or joining a small group that goes deep and stays down long. Or just spending fun time with people your soul is really connected to. Remember, you will carry that love in your soul forever. But if there is nothing on the inside, then everything else will be left down on Earth. So, pack your bags - your soul - with a lot of deep relational ties with people who matter to you.

Invest in life-giving skills. Remember, as Jesus said, life comes from carrying our cross and doing some hard work. If life is about relationships and talents, among other things, then what are you doing to grow those areas? Take a class or join a small group on communicating, loving your spouse, dating, or parenting. We all need help and continuing education in life skills. The Bible is actually a manual for that very purpose, to grow our ability to love and work so we will be ready for eternity. So, what is your current curriculum?

Take new risks in the world of talents and service. Get out of the boat and use your talents to serve somewhere - either professionally or as a volunteer. As the old saying goes, if you "don't use it, you lose it." This idea can also be seen in the Parable of the Talents. (Matt. 25) Take a class, get a mentor, read books, and begin to dust off that talent or that dream and go for it! God gave you some unique talents and he wants you to develop them. They are a part of your soul and life. Invest in them, and you will get an eternal return.

Get healed. Remember, your soul and life have been injured too. That is part of living on this Earth, and God wants to heal your life. If that means joining a group, getting a counselor, or going into recovery, then do it. You want to redeem those pains so that aspect of your soul is available for growth and life. Right now, some parts of your soul may be sitting out the game of life because they are injured. If that is the case, they aren't growing. Get in a healing environment and get better. Then you can live more fully, even for eternity!

Party! God is a celebrator! He loved weddings, feasts, gatherings, and festivals. Have you become a workaholic or so serious all the time that your soul is not being stretched in its ability to have fun and celebrate things with the ones you love? Take time for celebration. Have some fun. Remember, God is not all about work!

So, the soul, as technical as it sounds, is, in the end, what you are passionate about. That is why musicians so often speak of it that way, as you can feel the passion and the heart in the music of someone who has "soul." The trick is to get passionate about the things of real life and not the things that are passing and bring no life at all. If we do that, then our souls will grow.

God bless,

Henry Cloud, Ph.D.

Enjoying God's Presence in Solitude:

You were designed to enjoy the presence of God, but that's easier said than done.

George Gallup has said, "If the focus of the twentieth century has been on outer space, the focus of the twenty first century may well be on inner space."

I think he is right. There is an insatiable hunger in our world for spiritual reality. However, much of this hunger is misguided and misdirected. Even a casual observance of the cultural landscape reveals that there is something hard-wired into man that longs for spiritual connection.

This reality sets up a titan clash of two worlds. On one hand, there is the world of the inner man in need of soul connection with God. On the other hand is the outer or external world of our culture that is visible.

We were created with a need for solitude. Before the defining moments of many biblical heroes, they went to be alone with God. Look at Abraham, Moses, and Joshua. Jesus himself spent time in solitary prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest and crucifixion.

Your life is full of pressures, distractions, and fast-paced living. According to Thomas Merton, it is reflection and wonder (solitude) that scoops these invaders out of your life. Through solitude, there is finally room in your soul to meet God and for him to do the work in you that he longs to do.

Unfortunately, we fill our souls with lesser gods, and we miss the richness of the relationship with God we were created to enjoy. Your soul does not have an infinite capacity. Solitude creates capacity for God.

Everything in our culture seems to keep us from experiencing that solitude. We live in an age of continuous activity that consumes all of our time and attention, but it cannot satisfy our soul. By the way a lot of us live, you would think that we believe the bumper sticker theology that says, "Jesus is coming soon. Look busy."

Hurry is a devious enemy of the soul. In our rush to accomplish much and live life to the fullest, we rob ourselves of some of life's richest moments. Following Jesus cannot be a sprint.

The goal of solitude is not so much to unplug from my crazy world, as it is to change frequencies so that I can hear the Father. Richard Foster has said, "Solitude doesn't give us the power to win the rat race, but to ignore it altogether."

But how do we do it?

It will take some work and cultivation. Psalm 143: 5-10 gives us a great template for our endeavor.

Psalm 143:5-10 (NIV)
I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
[6] I spread out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
[7] Answer me quickly, O Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
[8] Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
[9] Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord,
for I hide myself in you.
[10] Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

1. Look to the past (v. 5)
An integral part of the solitude experience is looking into the Bible to discover the person and character of God. Open your time with God by praying, "Lord, I come to your Word to meet you. These are not just old stories or something on my to-do list. These pages reveal you and your heart. I want to know you."

As you keep reading in Psalm 143, you'll notice the phrase, "I will meditate on all your works." Meditation is giving attention with intention. You must linger on scripture by carefully processing it. This isn't Bible study. You are using Scripture to prompt access to God.

2. Look at the present (vv. 6-8)
Now you'll move from the historical to the personal. The Psalmist says, "I spread out my hands to you." Spreading out hands symbolizes an openness of heart and a searching soul.

You want to develop a hunger for God during this time. You might not be there yet. That's OK. Tell God that you want to hunger for him. That's a prayer God will answer. But come in expectation. God is with you. His reality is fact, not conjecture. You don't need to wonder about his arrival, simply be still and realize he is already there.

That presence must come on a regular basis. You can't rely on either last month's or next month's portion.

3. Look toward the future (vv. 8b-10)
During your solitude experience you need to place your future in God's hands. The more time you spend with him in solitude, the more you'll be able to discern his voice.

We don't just learn about God's will for us during the time of solitude. We also work up the courage to live his will. Discerning God's will is never a substitute for living it.

The Psalmist also says, "May your good Spirit lead me on level ground." Knowing God intimately puts you on level ground. Life might take others on a roller coaster ride, but deep, intimate knowledge of God that you'll gain through solitude will put you on level ground.

Solitude isn't just for the postcard views in the mountains of Colorado. You can get off by yourself anywhere. Solitude is more about the heart than it is the physical location. You just need a few minutes alone. It could be in your car, it could be in your home or backyard or it could be in a quiet booth at a restaurant. When we go into solitude, we are withdrawing temporarily from conversation, noise, distractions, deadlines, and the constant bombardment of stimulation.

It's God's greatest desire that you know him intimately. It's why you were created. Take a look at your schedule and find some time to spend with God in solitude. Start slow. Be gracious with yourself and realize that discipline of the mind doesn't come easy. Your mind might wander. Then buckle up. God will use your time with Him to move you along the greatest adventure of your life - the journey of faith.

by Lance Witt


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