Soul Care: Creating Space for God
by Teresa Nardozzi
2014 was a difficult year. Many contributing factors, including the lingering and debilitating effects of my father’s struggle with cancer and the pain of watching a prodigal wander farther and farther from home, left me weary and emotionally spent. Much like the father in the biblical account of the prodigal son, waiting and watching from a distance was taking its toll on me. I didn’t recognize the dark clouds that seemed to follow me through each painful month, but looking back, I can see how the haze of heartache and sorrow wrapped me in heaviness.
I knew that serving Jesus was the only thing that would fill my heart, which was searching for something that would impact my ministry and service for the Lord. I like to say that “God knows exactly what we need even when we aren’t smart enough to ask.”
A flyer came across my desk for a conference on prayer, which I quickly dismissed, thinking there is nothing wrong with my prayer life. In fact, I was spending more time in prayer than ever! Not too many days later, the same conference information was delivered to my door by a co-worker simply saying, “I think you may be interested in this!” Okay, okay. I am listening!
In a matter of a few days, I was registered, flight purchased and began preparing for what would become a significant milestone in my spiritual journey. The School of Prayer for all Nations (SPAN) in Richmond, Virginia, is hosted by the International Missions Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention. Not having been raised a Southern Baptist girl, I didn’t know what to expect, but from early in the planning stages, I began to sense God was doing something fresh.
Arriving at the serene setting of the training center for international missionaries, we were instructed to “disconnect” from technology, work and the world for the next 15 hours. In other words, complete silence. For someone who had been running on empty and whose pace of life resulted in “constant brain syndrome”—that feeling that you can’t shut down, can’t absorb, can’t connect and life is basically on “cruise control”—this was not a simple assignment!
SPAN began the next morning with a statement that summed up my current state of mind. Randy Rains, Vice President of IMB, said, “The lack of soul care leaves an array of debris in its wake. When we fail to care for our souls, it is easy to become physically, emotionally and spiritually tired, which can lead to a number of problems, including burnout, stressful marriage and family life, conflict in relationships and moral failure. We simply cannot afford to neglect the care of our souls.” Soul care? That sounded both lavish and indulgent all at the same time. But soul care is not a selfish pursuit. Paul stated in Acts 14:21-22, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
If the disciples needed their souls strengthened, how much more do we need that care today?
Lysa Teurkerst writes in the Bible study The Best Yes, “The decisions we make dictate the schedules we keep; the schedules we keep determine the life we live; the life we live determines how we spend our soul and how we spend our soul matters….” Soul care isn’t a new concept. David writes in Psalm 62, “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken.” This idea of soul care is a discipline that somehow I had missed…waiting in silence for God. My high-I, type-A, driven personality doesn’t slow down and wait very well. Gordon Fort, former IMB missionary and teacher at SPAN, explained that the process of soul care begins with being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), not something you do, but something you become. Something that requires time—solitude and time. “Silence is God’s heart language, and everything else is a poor translation.”
Jesus stated it like this in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for our souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Christ gave us this example in His own life. Throughout the New Testament we see Him engage with people, then disengage. Engage and disengage, engage and disengage.
Paul calls it “training yourself for godliness” (I Timothy 4:8). In Philippians, Paul encourages us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. To “work out” our salvation means to cooperate with God through the practice of spiritual disciplines: prayer, fasting, solitude…“Be still and know that I am God.”
Let me paint a picture for you. If there is a loss of cabin pressure, the panels above your seat will open, and oxygen masks will drop down. If this happens, place the mask over your nose and mouth, and adjust it as necessary. Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others.
Sound familiar? This is the case with soul care. You can’t be an effective mom, wife, friend, leader, follower of Christ without proper oxygen. If you aren’t getting your oxygen—your power—from THE power source, you are anemic.
Many of us are on overload with busy family schedules, work responsibilities, volunteer opportunities or just data overload from technology! It may seem impossible to schedule yet another thing or you may find it difficult to focus on any one thing for more than ten minutes. I found soul care to be exactly what I needed to bring peace and stability back to my frenzied mind and lifestyle. So, how can you implement this spiritual discipline back into your life?
Steven Smith (Embracing Soul Care) explains: to prepare the time to be by yourself with God, find a comfortable place that is private enough for you to be open and available to God. Get in a comfortable position (not too comfortable!) and sit quietly for a few minutes. Be aware of God’s presence and your desire to be with Him. Invite Him to fill your thoughts.
“In silence my soul waits for you and you alone, oh God.” (Psalm 62:1)
This may take an hour or so for your soul to become quiet. Let the business and restlessness settle in your heart so you can be alert to God.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is true about you these days?
- What is your physical condition?
- What occupies your thoughts?
- What concerns weigh heavy on your heart?
Take a small portion of Scripture and something to write with. Set aside one hour or more just to focus on the words of God to your heart, reading those words slowly and thoughtfully.
Listen carefully to what happens between you and God. Notice if there are any shifts or changes in your soul, any conviction, or specific guidance or wisdom.
Let the time you set aside be spent just listening. Did you know the words SILENT and LISTEN have the same letters? Interesting.
It may be difficult at first, maybe even awkward. Try to remember all He asks is for you to BE STILL. Much like a jar of pond water, it will take time for the muddy water to settle in your brain. But the clarity and the purity of the time spent will be worth the wait.
As you invest more time in soul care, you may find yourself longing for “being” with the Lord! My friends from the School of Prayer for all Nations give us a guideline for creating soul care into our schedules:
- Withdraw weekly – allocate some time on a weekly basis to soul care.
- Move out monthly – you may not actually want to move out, but move away from distractions for a longer period of time at least monthly.
- Abandon annually – a time you can designate for a few days to get away alone to spend in soul care.
Withdraw, move out, abandon—May you experience soul care from your Creator this year!
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