Recently Carl Stagner of JesusIsTheSubject.org reached out to me and other pastors with a series of questions concerning soul-care. I shared his article a few days ago. Below are more thorough responses to my thoughts on caring for your soul. Don’t neglect your soul. It needs extra attention right now.
What are some practical things anyone can do today to help care for his or her soul in the midst of challenging times such as those we’re living in now?
First, recognize your soul needs special attention right now. I had a professor named Dr. Lyle Dorsett at Beeson Divinity School who would walk the halls, look students in the eyes and ask, “How is your soul?” To be honest, there were days I didn’t want to answer this question and so avoided the professor. It’s a deep and more difficult question to sidestep than a simple, “How are you doing today?” However, you should ask yourself this question and answer honestly. If your soul is in despair or disturbed, it needs to be redirected toward God (Psalm 42:5). If it is distracted, it needs to be refocused on Him who is most important (Matthew 16:26).
Second, make sure you’ve established or re-established Godly rhythms to your life. This has helped me care for my soul. Humans are creatures of habit and need routines. Unfortunately, many of our rhythms and routines have been upended by what seems to be an ever-changing world. Our jobs have changed, the time we spend with friends has changed, our church has changed and things continue to change. No one is really equipped for constant change. It leads to anxiety in most people.
I have worked extra hard to set a schedule for my life. I try not to be too ridged but to establish some normalcy and to be grounded by my routine. I would encourage you to schedule a morning routine with God that prepares you for day. For me this looks like time reading my Bible, prayer, a trip to the gym (if possible) and then worship music as I help make sure my kids have breakfast before school.
I typically have a plan for the rest of the day but my relatively unchanging morning routine helps me pivot when needed in the afternoon. Similarly, don’t forget to Sabbath. Many people have cut this out. Go to church (or watch online). Put down your devices, ignore the news and spend time with those you live with. If you are a pastor, take a day off and remember your church and the world will go on without your constant attention.
Third, remember that God loves you. My kids are young so we sing “Jesus Loves Me” almost on a daily basis. I currently sing this song not just for my kids but for myself. As a leader, I am trying to make decisions and understand issues that are divisive or that I don’t always feel like I have firm grasp on. I strongly believe in the unity of the church and I love God’s church, but at this moment unity is tough because there is so much angst in our country. Reminding myself that Jesus loves me frees me to make tough decisions, say tough things and love others with the love he has given me.
Every Christian needs to be reminded that “Jesus love me.” If you are a leader making tough decisions for your community, business or team, remember that Jesus loves you. If you are battling illness or the threat of illness, remember Jesus loves you. If you have said or done things you regret over the past few months, Jesus loves you. If you are a pastor and your church is less than half-full, Jesus loves you.
What would you identify as some pitfalls that Christians may face when life gets difficult and the future is so unknown? What would you suggest Christians ought to do to help avoid such pitfall(s)?
I am coaching middleschool football at the moment. All our players are fairly young and haven’t played a lot of football, so we spend most of our time teaching them the basics. Yet what I observe as the game goes on and players get tired or sore is that the fundamentals diminish. When this happens, the players start running around doing their own thing. Then the game gets out of control.
I think Christians are often like middle school football players. When life gets tough, we forget to practice the fundamentals and then just do our own thing. As this happens, anxiety, worry, angst, anger, a critical spirit and divisiveness become the norm in our life. We then begin to look and sound no different than others. This shouldn’t be the case.
As we face difficulties, that’s when we most need to practice the fundamentals of our faith. We need to be read our Bible daily, exercise prayer and meditation, worship regularly, make an effort to fellowship (no matter how small the group). And finally, remember who is actually in charge of the future. We may not be able to predict what will happen tomorrow but our future is not a complete mystery to us. We must anchor ourselves in the promised future of Revelation 21 to the faithful.
As a minister of Jesus Christ, you’re surely not immune to soul-aches (perhaps some anxiety, fear, depression, etc.). What is one challenge you’ve faced in a particularly acute or notable way this year? And, what is one way you have found some success in dealing with it?
Under question #2 I tried to give you advice I am currently following. I of course have soul-aches, experience anxiety, have fears and get down like everyone else. We all deal with these issues, some more than others, but they are a part of being human and it’s one reason why we all need Christ.
Racial-reconciliation and justice, how to operate during the pandemic and the political landscape has been a constant struggle for me. It’s challenging to figure out what to say or do about any of these issues. I believe they should be addressed by the church in a biblical and gospel-centered way while recognizing their complexity. The weight of each feels overwhelming if I am not practicing spiritual disciplines and remembering that God loves me, even if others might not like what I am saying or doing at the moment as I attempt in good faith to serve Christ.
What is a passage of Scripture that’s been particularly helpful to you during this rough season of life?
With not always knowing with confidence what to do or how to lead in the current moment my mind goes to 2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
What extrabiblical book might you recommend for pastors and/or anyone who might be taking this season of life especially hard?
One of the books I am currently reading and relying on for my current sermon prep is Dallas Willard’s “Renovation of the Heart.” I chose this because being in a time of distress can be transformative for good or ill. When I look around, I see people who are growing increasingly angry, divisive and unloving. I recognize that I am in danger of that if I am not careful. Instead, I want to make sure I am being transformed into the likeness of Christ in this moment. This book helps if you find yourself avoiding the health and transformation of your soul.