Opening to the Fullness of Joy
Personal soul care also requires attending to our feelings. Emotions are a real component of life and of our lives in Christ. Some ministers allow their emotions to defeat them.
We do well to note, however, that love is the foundation of the spiritual life and joy is a key component in the Christ life. Joy is not pleasure, a mere sensation, but a pervasive and constant sense of well-being. Hope in the goodness of God is joy’s indispensable support.
In a moment of worship and praise, Paul spontaneously expressed a benediction on the Christians in Rome: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13, NASB). This verse addresses the profound needs of the emotional side of the Christian’s life.
The great central terms of life in Christ are “faith,” “hope,” “love,” and “peace.” These are not just feelings; in substance, they are not feelings.
They are conditions involving every part of an individual’s life, including the body and the social context. They serve to equip us for the engagements of life. They do, however, have feelings that accompany them, and these positive feelings abundantly characterize those living in the presence of God. These feelings displace the bitter and angry feelings, that characterize life “in the flesh”—life in human energies only. They even transform the sickening emotional tones that permeate and largely govern the world around us—even many times the Church world.
Jesus taught us to abide in God’s love “that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15: 10-11, NASB). Our joy is full when there is no room for more. Abiding in God’s love provides the unshakable source of joy, which is in turn the source of peace. All is based in the reality of God’s grace and goodness.
Faith, hope, love, joy, and peace—the “magnificent five”—are inseparable from one another and reciprocally support each other. Try to imagine any one without the others!
Solitude and Silence
Among the practices that can help us attend to soul care at a basic level are solitude and silence. We practice these by finding ways to be alone and away from talk and noise. We rest, we observe, we “smell the roses”—dare we say it?—we do nothing.
This discipline can be used of God as a means of grace. In it we may even find another reminder of grace—that we are saved, justified by His redeeming power—not by our strivings and achievements.
In drawing aside for lengthy periods of time, we seek to rid ourselves of the “corrosion” of soul that accrues from constant interaction with others and the world around us. In this place of quiet communion, we discover again that we do have souls, that we indeed have inner beings to be nurtured. Then we begin to experience again the presence of God in the inner sanctuary, speaking to and interacting with us. We understand anew that God will not compete for our attention. We must arrange time for our communion with Him as we draw aside in solitude and silence.
The psalmist said, “Cease striving and know that I am God” (Ps. 46: 10, NASB). And immediately following this, the writer affirms the success of God’s mission on earth: “’I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold” (vv. 10-11, NASB).
Other translations of this verse read, “Be still, and know” (NIV) or “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me” (TM). God’s provision for us and for His work through us is adequate. We do not have to “make it happen.” We must stop shouldering the burdens of “outcomes.” These are safely in His hands. Someone insightfully said, “The greatest threat to devotion to Christ is service for Christ.”
What a paradox! This is so easily a challenge for many ministers. Allowing service for Christ to steal our devotion to Him is a radical failure in personal soul care. But it is one from which the practice of communing with Christ in times of solitude and silence can deliver us.
Time is made not found.
A response to giving attention to personal soul care often is, “I don’t have time for extensive solitude and silence. I have too much to do.” The truth is you don’t have time not to practice solitude and silence. No time is more profitably spent than that used to heighten the quality of an intimate walk with God. If we think otherwise, we have been badly educated. The real question is, “Will we take time to do what is necessary for an abundant life and an abundant ministry, or will we try to ‘get by’ without it?”
So a couple of words of counsel are appropriate for our attending to the inner life. First, God never gives anyone too much to do. We do that to ourselves or allow others to do it to us. We may be showing our lack of confidence in God’s power and goodness, though it may be that our models and education have failed us.
Second, the exercise of God’s power in ministry never, by itself, amends character, and it rarely makes up for our own foolishness. God’s power can be actively and wisely sought and received by us only as we seek to grow by grace into Christlikeness.
Power with Christlike character is God’s unbeatable combination of triumphant life in the kingdom of God on earth and forever. Power without Christ’s character gives us our modern-day Sampsons and Sauls.
Knowing Christ through times away in solitude and silence will “let our joy be full” (see John 16:24). It will bring over us a pervasive sense of well-being, no matter what is happening around us. Hurry and the loneliness of leadership will be eliminated. We can allow the peace of God to sink deeply into our lives and extend through our relationships to others (see Matt. 10:12-13).
A young Christian who had been guided into the effective practice of solitude and silence had this to say:
The more I practice this discipline, the more I appreciate the strength of silence. The less I become skeptical and judgmental, the more I learn to accept the things I didn’t like about others, and the more I accept them as uniquely created in the image of God. The less I talk, the fuller are words spoken at an appropriate time. The more I value others, the more I serve them in small ways, and the more I enjoy and celebrate my life. The more I celebrate, the more I realize that God has been giving me wonderful things in my life, and the less I worry about my future. I will accept and enjoy what God is continuously giving to me. I think I am beginning to really enjoy God.4
Experiencing God through the practice of connecting with Him via this discipline brings rich rewards.
Planning for Fullness of Life
Our discussion so far has been more illustrative than expository. Solitude and silence are absolutely basic in our responsibility to soul care. But they also open before us the whole area of disciplines for the spiritual life. It is vital for us to keep before us that there are tried and true ways we can pursue toward abundant life in Christ. These ways are often referred to as “spiritual disciplines.”5 We can and must incorporate these into our lives as completely reliable ways of personal soul care. There is no substitute for this.
A person could make a long list of such disciplines, drawing on the history of Christ’s people. The list would certainly include fasting, which when rightly practiced has incredible power for the transformation of character and for ministry. On this list would also be such practices as frugality, service, celebration, prayer (as a discipline), journaling, fellowship, accountability relationships, submission, confession, and many others.
There is no such thing as a complete list of the disciplines. Any activity that is in our power and enables us to achieve by grace what we cannot achieve by direct effort is a discipline of the spiritual life.6
As we seek to know Christ by incorporating appropriate disciplines into our lives, we must keep in mind that they are not ways of earning merit. They also are not paths of suffering or self-torment. They are not heroic. They are not righteousness, but they are wisdom.
Once we team that grace is not opposed to effort (action)—though it is opposed to earning (attitude)—the way is open for us to “work out” all that is involved in our salvation, not only “with fear and trembling” but also with the calm assurance that it is God who is at work in us to accomplish all of His goodwill (see Phil. 2:12-13, NASB).
When we have settled into a life of sensible disciplines with our ever-present Teacher, then Peter’s admonition (2 Pet. 1:5-7) to add virtue to our faith, knowledge or understanding to our virtue, self-control to our knowledge, patience to our self-control, godliness to our patience, brotherly kindness to our godliness, and divine love (agape) to our brotherly kindness will prove to be a sensible plan for life. God will use this course of action to help others through our ministries as well.
“As long as you practice these things,” Peter continues (v. 10, NASB), “you will never stumble.” In our walk with God in Christ there will be provided to us, from “His riches in glory” (see Phil. 4:19, NASB), sweetness and strength of character, profundity of insight and understanding, and abundance of power to manifest the glory of God in life and in ministry—no matter the circumstances! And “entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you” (2 Pet. 1: 11)
- For development of this point see my Renovation of the Heart, especially chapter 2 (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002).
- For some illustrations of how this works, see Frank Laubach, “Letters of a Modern Mystic” and “Game with Minutes,” in Frank C. Laubach: Man of Prayer (Syracuse, N.Y.: Laubach Literacy International, “New Readers Press,” 1990).
- Thomas Watson, All Things for Good (1663; reprint, Carlisle, Penn.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), 74.
- Quoted from Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988), 165.
- For further discussion see Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978), as well as his Streams of Living Water (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998). See also Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines.
- See Foster, Celebration of Discipline, as well as Chapter 9 of my The Spirit of the Disciplines, for ways of listing and classifying many of the disciplines and for discussions of any particular ones.