Have you ever imagined yourself in the middle of a story in the Bible? Think about the time after a long day of teaching when Jesus suggested to the disciples that they go to the other side of the sea. (Mark 4)
He got into the boat and proceeded to take a nap. A fierce storm came up. What would it have been like if you had been in the boat with the disciples when that storm arose ?
These men were experienced fishermen. They had been out on the sea before, probably numerous times in terrible storms. But this time, they were scared out of their wits. This storm was like no other, and they began to think the end was near.
How would you feel? If you imagine yourself there in the boat, can you feel your pulse get faster, your mind start racing toward every negative conclusion possible, and your emotions in as much chaos as the water outside the boat?
Hmm…does this by any chance describe what life feels like to you right now? If so, I understand. It’s so easy to be in the middle of rough circumstances and feel like we’re going under. After all, that’s what our thoughts and emotions are telling us, right?
That’s what I thought for years. I somehow believed that my emotions and the thoughts that came into my mind were just part of who I was. Like the disciples battling that storm, I thought I had very little control over the thoughts and feelings that surged through me.
My thoughts just seemed to appear in my mind, and my emotions just welled up uninvited. And just like that boat in the fishermen’s storm, I floated right along with them.
Now, I understand that I was letting my soul dominate me rather than allowing my spirit to be in control. As a child of God, we never have to be a victim to any part of our soul. We can always be learning to keep the soul in its place.
First, a Look at the Soul and the Spirit
I won’t begin to say that I understand everything there is to know about what makes up the soul and the spirit. Even theologians disagree. But I want to share with you what I understand so far because it has made a profound difference in my life.
My best attempt at understanding this idea of soul and spirit is to describe it like a set of 3 Russian nesting dolls. The outer doll that we all see at first glance is a picture of our bodies. We’re familiar with all that makes up the body, right?
If we were to take apart the first nesting doll, we would find another doll inside. This would be a picture of our soul. Most people would say the soul is made up of the mind, the emotions, and the will.
Then if we took apart the middle doll, we would find the final doll resting inside. This would represent our spirit in this analogy. The spirit is our innermost being, that which connects to and is empowered with the Holy Spirit. This is the part that makes us who we really are.
(Of course this is a simplistic analogy, but hopefully it will help you picture the spirit being the innermost part of us!)
Living out of our spirit is what brings us freedom! Free from all that binds us up in knots and keeps us awake at night. Freedom from nasty emotions that leave us feeling guilty we ever indulged in them in the first place. Free from ruminating on negative thoughts sucking us into a vortex that never goes anywhere but to the bottom.
As a believer, we have the wonderful help of the Holy Spirit within us to help us keep our soul in its place and allow our spirit to come to the front.
I love what Graham Cooke says in his book, Towards A Powerful Inner Life:
If we have committed our lives to Jesus, it (our soul) loves God. It is unfortunately, like a pimply adolescent that lives in our skin. Our soul wants to meet God on our own terms…
The soul was designed to serve, a statement which begs the question: If it’s not serving God, who is it serving? Our soul will serve us, and even the enemy. It fights to stay in control. (p.22)
Dear friend, at our age, we really don’t want to be like a pimply adolescent, do we? And I know you want with all your heart to be serving God and not yourself. Let’s look at a few things we can do to keep the soul in its right place under our spirit.
Talk to Your Soul
Now before you say I’m going off the deep end telling you to start talking to yourself, let me explain that I have support for this suggestion from a Psalmist himself!
In Psalm 42, we find the psalmist being vulnerably honest in expressing his emotions and struggles to God. But then the psalmist turns and talks to his soul.
He knows that the emotions in his soul could very well overtake him. So he speaks directly to his soul, reminding it to put his hope in God, to have an expectation that God will bring about good.
The Psalmist could keep his soul in check by reminding it that regardless of the situation now, he would once again praise God. He goes on in that Psalm to recount all the many facets of God’s nature and kindness that he will bring to his mind (another part of the soul) so that he can have hope. And he reminds himself of God’s promises.
Even when the psalmist feels like God has forgotten him or rejected him, he continues to pray and praise and remind his soul of what it needs to do – hope in God. (see Psalm 43, too)
Dear one, be brave and speak up to your soul. Your volatile emotions do not have to be in control.
I’ve learned that it helps to have a phrase you can say to your soul each time you feel your emotions are getting stirred up. Perhaps you can say “Soul, calm down.” Or “Soul, get a grip.” We can tell our soul that our spirit is in charge, led by the Holy Spirit.
Just this one little thing has helped me so much when my emotions want to rear up in negative ways. I just say that phrase under my breath, and I’m reminded that I don’t have to give in to those emotions or be carried away by them.
This was crucial for me to learn:
My emotions aren’t me; they are just a part of me.
With the Holy Spirit’s help, I can stand outside of them and choose not to be ruled by them. When I allow my spirit to lead my soul, it’s much like a man leading a woman around the dance floor in a beautiful partnership together.
Preach the Gospel to Your Soul
One of the best ways I have found to keep my soul in its place is to preach the gospel to myself. No, I don’t mean I have a pulpit in my home, and I get behind it to talk to myself!
This is a concept I found from an English pastor named Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Here’s what he had to say:
Have you found this to be true? Are you listening to all that chatter in your mind or are you taking charge and talking to yourself instead?
And if you’re going to talk to yourself, what better thing to talk about than the gospel, the good news of all that Jesus has done for us on the cross. Especially when our thoughts don’t line up with what is really true..
Dr. Lloyd-Jones goes on to say this:
…you must go on to remind yourself of God, who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.”
This is so vital for us to learn!!! There will be all kinds of thoughts that go through our minds at any given time. We can choose to listen or we can choose to talk back. We don’t have to be held captive by the thoughts that besiege us. (You can read more about thoughts here.)
Preach the gospel! No matter how simple you need to make it, your soul needs to hear it. Remind yourself often of how much God loves you, how He’s forgiven you, how He has made you righteous, and is always with you to help you and guide you.
It doesn’t matter if you feel like it or not. Or if you feel like you know enough to “preach”. This involves a choice. Feelings or not, we can choose to remind ourselves of the truth and not be swayed by anything else.
Use Your Will
By now, you’ve probably already seen a pattern in learning to keep the soul in its place. It really comes down to using your will.
The basic idea of the will is that it involves choice.
I know you have used your will many times. When you’re determined to lose those extra few pounds before that special occasion, you use your will to make the choice not to eat dessert every night. Or maybe you exercise your will when you bite your tongue after a co-worker says something absolutely ridiculous.
If you want to live from your spirit in the freedom that Jesus purchased for you, you need to activate your will by making the choice to let your spirit take the lead, not the soul.
You don’t have to feel anything or even see a rational or logical reason. You just choose.
A choice can be made to believe the thoughts that come into your head or to take them captive instead. You can choose to give in to whatever emotions rise up in you, or you can choose to live in peace regardless of the emotions. Using your will involves making a choice.
In learning how to keep the soul in its place, you don’t have to be swept away by a storm of surging emotions or chaotic thoughts. Like the disciples in the boat with Jesus, you can be at peace because you have a Captain that is in charge. (Hebrews 2:10)
Tell your soul that it is no longer in charge. Your spirit, in right alignment under your Captain, can be in charge of the soul and the body.
Your spirit can choose to believe the Captain and trust Him and follow Him.
The storms around you may not subside. But the storms within don’t have to hold sway over you with their anxious thoughts and troubling emotions.
Make the choice to talk to your soul. Make the choice to preach the gospel to yourself when needed. Use your will to make the choice that your spirit will be in the lead to keep the soul in its place.
Dear one, I haven’t even scratched the surface in addressing how to help with our “inner man”. But I want to help you in this area to live with hope to have an overcoming life.
We’ll take some time soon to talk more about the soul and spirit. For me, it’s not an easy subject to grasp, but I’m anxious to learn more and share with you what I learn.
Having lived out of my soul for most of my adult life, I can tell you that it only brings misery. Giving in to emotions and believing every thought or voice in my mind left me very unstable. I didn’t know who I was or what God had done specifically for me.
But learning to keep the soul in its place and live from my spirit, in connection with His Spirit, has brought me peace of mind, peace of heart, and a deep joy to follow Him.
Learning with you,
In the comments today, let’s share one thing we might tell our soul when the emotions start swirling or one part of the gospel we might preach to ourselves the next time negative thoughts take hold in our minds. Let’s keep this positive because that’s how God deals with us.
In other words, if you had the thought that you were a failure, rather than tell your soul “Stop thinking you’re a failure!”, you could tell your soul:
“God promises that He is for you. He says no one can bring a charge against you. He won’t bring a charge, either. God is always for you and never stops loving you, even when you mess up. His mercies are new all the time. You’re okay.”
Let’s see if we can make a list of things in the comments to help us all be learning how to keep our soul in its place!
“Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.”
One more note: I don’t make any money from recommending Graham Cooke’s book Towards a Powerful Inner Life. I just found it to be helpful for me and wanted to share it. Here’s where you can find it if you’re interested.