Soul neglect. It happens when we don’t allow God’s Word and the interaction of prayer to intersect and integrate with our lives…either because we don’t take the time, or we aren’t paying attention when we do. Did you know you can read the Bible and the words can run off your soul like water off pavement? I’m not saying you aren’t saved, and yes, the Spirit of God is at work in all of us. Yet we are also given the opportunity (responsibility) to open ourselves up to, and participate in His movement in our lives. So in large part our spiritual growth is a partnership between us and the Almighty.
In the last post I said I’d share some consequences (perhaps ‘effects’ is a better word) of soul neglect. I can only share from my own experience. I’ve been searching over the past few days for the right overall description. I think it boils down to a misunderstanding of my relationship with God, and with others. I’ll take them one at a time.
When I became a Christian I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. I was saved and would go to heaven. I was told Jesus would live in my heart from then on, and wanted to be the Lord of my life, whatever that meant. It’s the “whatever that meant” part that I have been grappling with, and will grapple with for the rest of my life, I think. What, exactly, does it mean that Jesus lives in my heart…and that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6: 19-20)? I have found that Evangelical Christians especially don’t like the word ‘mystery’ because it implies we don’t understand everything about our faith. Yet I’ve heard or read very few sermons or explanations on this topic, which tells me it’s a fairly unapproachable concept to the average mind.
Practicing Lent and addressing my own soul neglect, I am no closer to understanding the mystery of the indwelling of God. I take it on faith, just as I take it on faith that my heart is capable of compassion and love. In both cases there is evidence to support the assumption. But I have come to understand what it means to make Jesus Lord of my life. It has been said that God is a gentleman. This means He will not take over my life in tyrannical fashion. It is my choice to stay in control, or allow Jesus to sit on the throne, as it were. So understanding my relationship with God and the lordship of Christ means, to me, recognizing that He is the good and noble king, I am the country peasant. He is the creator, I am the creation. He is the kind master, I am the bond-servant (Paul’s term to describe his willing position of subservience to God). Both the Psalms and Revelation provide descriptions of God sitting on a throne wrapped in a robe of various sorts…my happiest thought is sitting at the base of that robe for all eternity (it is velvet, in my imagination), burying my face in it and using it to wipe my tears of gratitude, leaving it only in what are my feeble attempts to bring Him glory.
When I understand my position before God (He at the helm, me working the lines, or sometimes taking shelter in the bulkhead!), I am more apt to have the right attitude toward others, even myself. Jotting notes for this post, I wrote “self pride = external criticism.” The more highly I regard myself (arrogance), the more likely I am to see others as means to an end, sometimes trample them underfoot, even neglect my own true needs. I began a list of attitudes and behaviors I have become more aware of over the years, while attending to my soul neglect, and it ain’t pretty: complacency, cynicism, obsessions, addictions, exaggerated self-importance, lack of empathy, rudeness (but with finesse), the need to be right…the list goes on.
Everyone is different. You might be a much nicer person than me – a lot of people are – so your list will look different. But you have a list, I guarantee it.
I have another list. I call it my Tree of Gs, and they are characteristics that I now strive for (with the help of the Spirit living within me): gratitude, goodness, generosity, graciousness, gentleness. I don’t believe I will ever “achieve” these fully – I am a work in progress – but they are qualities I have found lacking in myself, and which are worthy of my gaze. They can be summed up in Paul’s goal, expressed in Philippians 3:10, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…,” that I might live for Him now, as well as look forward to spending eternity with Him in the hereafter.