I’m currently leading a discipleship group along with my wife, going through a book called The Great Omission that looks at really complicated theological concepts that Christians cannot leave out of their lives. I read this book nearly two decades ago when I was going for my Master’s in Family Ministry and honestly, the book is more relevant than ever as it dives into what discipleship should be, how we need to be practicing spiritual disciples within the spiritual formation, and address the heart of the Church that has forgotten about discipleship in our modern times.
Last week our group took these topics in the twelfth chapter and applied them to the soul. It was discussed how the soul can be influenced by our thoughts and emotions, but how our soul also has power over our thoughts and emotions as we as Christians have accepted Christ as our Savior and Redeemer.
In the text, it notes that while spiritual disciplines are important, truly only five disciples will change the soul while the rest simply impact our thoughts and emotions. Dallas identifies these five techniques as Solitude, Silence, Fasting, Rest, and Memorizing Scriptures.
Mental Health Is Influenced Here
I find these five items interesting because they are great coping skills for our heart and mind too, but when done with intentionality and done well, it can change the heart and the soul as well. If we can focus on changing our souls with these disciplines, we will find our hearts and minds following.
To be clear, you still need to be praying, serving others, and worshipping. These are relational connections to God and others. But the strength and stillness of our souls will change who we are. Yet, too often we are worried about the next thing we need to do, accomplish, or start-up.
Good Soul Care Requires Stillness And Receiving
Looking back at my life and my development as a person, I find my youth as doing a lot and figuring out who I was trying to become. As a young adult, I realized my relationship with God was most important and instead of trying to figure out what I was to do, I listened to who God wanted me to become. Now as a parent and established in what I have been led into, I find myself trying to stop and listen more and more.
Soul care with spiritual formation using the five techniques described above is not about doing, but about stopping ourselves physically and mentally enough that we can hear what God is trying to teach us and receive His guidance. In this posture, we stop trying to be the one in the lead and allow God to take the reins.
This posture of listening, stillness, and receiving reminds me of the story of Elijah, a favorite of mine, in 1 Kings 19:9-18 (NIV). Here’s a portion of it:
There he went into a cave and spent the night.
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
This interaction came after a grand display with pagans where Elijah showed the might of God, showing off how God is stronger than all others, and yet Elijah’s response continued to be ‘do, do, do’ and not to listen for what God had next for himself. It wasn’t until God whispered that Elijah heard.
A Discipleship Goal
Some might identify being able to move towards stillness and listening as a sign of maturity and maybe they are correct, but I see this as someone who is still young and still not fully matured able to learn this. I believe this is something we miss teaching our youth quite frequently, and in an age of video games, social media, sports, and so many other distractions, who has time for quiet stillness and listening?
Remember that my initial comment is that Dallas Willard is speaking about spiritual formation within a book about discipleship in talking about these five techniques. We must learn them, we must teach them. We could certainly make errors like the desert fathers from the second century and find solitude as the only thing we seek and cut ourselves off from the world, but this is not what God wants. We could seek rest that is nothing but vegging out in front of a television with chips and soda, but I believe this is also not what God wants.
What do healthy Solitude, Silence, Fasting, Rest, and Memorizing Scriptures look like? And how can we find good soul care with ourselves as well as teach it to others? Check out Dallas’ book as well, but I’d love to hear what you have about the topic for more ideas.
I believe discipleship should be about evangelism, the study of Scripture, worship, and serving. But I also think we need to make soul care a big priority as well. And maybe when we have healthy souls, we could find ourselves a little bit more emotionally, cognitively, and relationally healthy as well.