the stream is your soul…

The Psalmist wrote that blessed people are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in season, and whose leaves do not wither; they prosper in all they do.  Your soul is like an inner stream of water that gives strength, direction, and harmony to every other area of life.

From Soul Keeping by John Ortberg…

I, and no one else, am responsible for the condition of my soul.

In my early 50’s I was given a sabbatical: seven weeks with nothing to do.  The elders at our church invited me to take it.  Actually, they insisted that I take it.  I needed it because I was becoming increasingly frustrated and impatient and preoccupied.

Are you frustrated, impatient and preoccupied?

I felt as if I had too much to do and not enough time or ability to do it.  I was obsessed with external things that needed to be done around me.  I was operating on the unseen assumption that my inner world would be filled with life, peace, and joy once my external world was perfect.  That’s a great recipe for a healthy soul, as long as you life in a perfect world.  You don’t.

During my sabbatical, it was easy to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life”, as my friend and mentor Dallas Willard had so wisely counseled.  I found myself thinking that I’m a better person when I’m on sabbatical than I am when I’m working for God at a church, and I knew I was just plain wrong.  I began to form a new goal: I want to be as relaxed as I am on vacation while being as productive as I am at work.

There was only one place to learn about that so I drove back to Box Canyon to spend a day with Dallas.  I told him I felt frustrated because the people at the church I served were not changing more.  I asked him was I needed to do to help our church experience greater levels of spiritual growth.

Long pause … You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.”

Huh?

“No”, I corrected him, “I wasn’t asking about me.  I was asking about other people.  I was wondering what I need to make the church do.  I was thinking about a book everyone should read, a program everyone should go through, or a prayer system everyone should commit to.”

(do you feel it in his words?  do you feel the rush, the urgency, the “get something done”, the tyranny-of-the-urgent, the frustration?  He’s moving at 100 mph while his soul is moving at 5 mph)

“Yes, brother John”, he said with great patience and care.  “I know you were thinking of those things.  But that’s not what they need most.  The main thing you will give your congregation – just like the main thing you will give to God – is the person you become.  If you soul is unhealthy, you can’t help anybody.  You don’t send a doctor with pneumonia to care for patients with immune disorders.  You, and no body else, are responsible for the well-being of your soul.”

“I’m trying,” I said.  “I learned long ago about the importance of having a quiet time when I read the Bible and do daily devotionals; I do my best to start each day that way.”

“I didn’t say anything about having a quiet time,” he gently corrected again.  “People in churches – including pastors – have been crushed with guilt over their failure at having regular quiet time or daily devotions.  And then, even when they do, they find it does not actually lead to a healthy soul.  Your problem is not the first 15 minutes of the day.  It’s the next 23 hours and 45 minutes of the day.  You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing total contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.”

“But how can I have total contentment, joy and confidence?  My work isn’t going nearly  well enough.  Lots of people are not happy with me.  I am inadequate as a pastor, husband and father.  Every week I carry the burden of delivering a sermon and knowing I’ll have to feel the pain if it doesn’t go well.”

There it is again – do you hear his turmoil, his inner drive to perform, perhaps his need for validation?  He isn’t integrated.  His internal world is not functioning like an integrated system.  He’s fractured.  And much like a jet engine, when the parts fracture under stress, the engine eventually disintegrates.  He is dis-integrated.  I am too.

“I didn’t say you should experience total contentment, joy and confidence in the remarkable adequacy of your competence or the amazingly successful circumstances of your life.  It’s total contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday experience of GodThis alone is what makes a soul healthy.  This is not your wife’s job.  It’s not your elder’s job.  It’s not your children’s job.  It’s not your friend’s job.”

The stream is your soul.  And you are the keeper.  How is your soul?

Quick creek stream bank

Clear river water. Quick creek stream bank

how is your soul?

You and you alone are responsible for the condition of your soul.  The world moves at 100mph.  Your soul is not designed to move that fast.

… you must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life …

The Sower casts seed widely.  He’s divinely generous in the blessings He is offering.  The variable is soil (the soul) it lands upon.

Some of us have hardened our souls.  Your soul may be hard and dry and the seeds don’t have a chance.  Often these people have been hurt or disappointed.  They form a protective shell.  They become cynical, bitter or suspicious.  Or it can be fear – fear of being rejected, fear of looking foolish, fear of being hurt.

The world diverts the attention of your soul when it encourages you to think of yourself more as a victim than as a human.  You can be so wrapped up in the hurt you have received that you cannot notice the hurt you’re inflicting on others.

Do you know anyone like that?  Are you? 

What growth is going to occur on this path…

hard-path.jpg

Some of us have shallow souls.  Like a rocky path with a little bit of soil underneath, a seed can take root and it will grow but with no depth of soil underneath, whatever grows will wilt under the heat of the sun.  Many of us live shallow lives.  Yes we “know Jesus” but there is no depth to it.  He seems distant and far off except for when we appear at church but back in the working world, our attention is quickly diverted…

Frenzied?  Stressed?  Distracted?  Uncertain?  Confused?  Constantly comparing your life to others?  Overly focused on money or reputation or status or in getting your needs met?  Finding yourself looking for acceptance, acclaim, admiration?

This is a shallow soul and when the inevitable storms of life comes, you’ll wilt under the heat.

rocky soil

Most of us have cluttered souls“Some seeds fall among thorns, which grow up and choke the plants.”  It is the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth that choke off the good plants desiring to grow to produce fruit. 

“If the devil can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy because either way, your soul will shrivel.”

John Ortberg said, “Our world will divert your soul’s attention because it is a cluttered world.  And clutter is the most dangerous result because it is so subtle.  The busy soul gets attached to the wrong things because the soul is sticky.  The Velcro of the soul is what Jesus called “desire”.  It could be the desire for money or just “other things”.  Misplaced desire clutters our lives and even with some good soil underneath it all, the externals of the world – success, reputation, ceaseless activity, lifestyle, etc. – will choke off growth” and your life will look like this …

weeds-wheat1

So, let me ask you, “How’s your soul doing?”  It is hard and packed down, full of fear?  Is it shallow and lacking the depth to sustain you when the storms come?  Is it good soil but that is choked off by the craziness of this world?

You and you alone are responsible for the condition of your soul (soil).  Let us become men of good, deep, rich soil.  May we do the things we need to do to remove clutter from our lives and to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives so that we can be this …

good soil

hurry (takes a death)

EliminateHurry-032

Dallas Willard said, “Hurry is the great enemy of souls in our day.  You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Let that one sink in.

John Ortberg expands on this thought by saying, “Being busy is mostly a condition of our outer world; it is having many things to do.  Being hurried is a problem of the soul.  It’s being preoccupied with myself and what myself has to do that I am no longer able to be fully present with God and fully present with you.  There is no way a soul can thrive when it is hurried.”

No way.

Get that.  There is no way your soul can thrive when it is hurried.  Remember the record players and how some records were supposed to be played at 33 RPM and others at 45 RPM and still others geared to be played at 78 RPM?  Remember when you were a kid and you’d take a 33 RPM and switch the player to 78 RPM?  Remember what it sounded like?

Your soul is geared to run at about 4 RPM or 8 RPM or maybe 16 RPM.  This world you’re living in is constantly running at 78 or faster.  And you life disintegrates over this.  Your world has separated from your soul and if you’re lucky, your soul is quietly speaking to you.  It’s asking you to slow down.

It is only in the slowing down that your soul can connect with the Father, connect with the vine that nourishes and sustains you.  A disconnected soul is soon to be a withered branch tossed upon a fire.

Your soul is all you’re going to take with you into eternity.  You sure won’t take your body or your possessions or your checkbook.  Your reputation and your achievements will wither in the hot sun after you’re gone.  But your soul is what matters and you are the steward of your soul.  The world will not take care of your soul.  Only you can do that.

The starting point is being ruthless about eliminating hurry from your life.  Hurry suffocates the soul.  Your soul wants to breathe.  Your soul longs for connection with the Father.  Nourishment for your soul (your soil) will come from disconnecting from the Matrix and resting in the Father’s provision.

But to do this, it will take a “death”.  Much of where we’re heading will be around this thought of “it takes a death”.  The foundation of the Gospel is centered on a death.  To eliminate hurry from your life, some things are going to have to “die”.  You will have to surrender your agenda, your kingdom, your pace, your drivenness to achieve … surrender that, let it “die”(DIRT) … so that you can shift to, “Thy will be done”. 

Then you can stop the train, pause, rest and let your soul play at the speed it was intended to run.