When it comes to “soul care,” we must be clear about who does what and how. The “who” of soul care is God first and then us, but “us” in a way quite different than God. This brings us to the “how,” which is through interactive relationship between God and us. Let me explain.
We cannot presume to be our own primary soul-care giver. Yet often we do just that. So the good first step would be to confess our control issues and our strong desire, or demand to find secrets and use them to manage our spiritual life on our own, “the Lord being our helper.” This is entirely unnecessary because we are loved, sought, bought, wooed and won by Jesus. Our hearts were strangely warmed, and we became new — our sins and rebellions forgiven. We were given a new start, like rebirth, to a way that works differently than all the other ways we have tried. Within us, we have the Spirit of Jesus who promises never to leave or forsake us. Thus, our primary (soul) caregiver lives with us and within us.
Even so, most of us feel the need to assume control of the process. We will appreciate a short, simple and foolproof checklist. But there are problems with this. First, it is pointless — akin to mail-order neurosurgery, mastering marriage by fortune cookie, or midwifery by YouTube. It can’t be done this way. There is no such thing as life in a box, or human relationships by recipe.
But there is One who gives life and makes alive, and then deepens and develops life in us and for us. The One the Psalmist sang about thousands of years ago:
“The Lord is my Shepherd … gives me everything that I need … rest, guidance, protection, healing, assurance … goodness and love all the days of my life, along quiet streams, through threatening valleys, and even in the presence of enemies” (Psalm 23).
This Lord’s constant and total care became flesh in the person of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who is our primary (soul) caregiver. In the care of this One, my soul can prosper and so can yours. The Lord takes command of our welfare and well-being. We can and must rest in the blessing of this care.
To name God as our ultimate caregiver — and to confess we are not in control — does not make us simply passive recipients of whatever God pours into us. Rather, it dignifies us as responsible partners in a life-giving and growing relationship with God.
True soul care comes within this relationship of love. Growing, maturing and flourishing are not “done” to us, but develop and deepen in the course of our relating. This is simply the way all love relationships work, all the more so in this relationship. Our growth requires our responsiveness because we ourselves are the primary material necessary for shaping and forming us into the persons God created us to be. The only way we can be transformed and shaped is by relating in responsively participating in the give and take of relating.
Thus, we begin by confessing and abandoning our tendencies to seek control in order to engage in responsive and accountable ways. As people who are surrendered to the care of the Lord, here then are several counsels for this type of responsiveness:
Humility + Gratitude
Cultivate humility and gratitude as default to whatever the circumstances. God first loved us lavishly and sacrificially before we could ever know or respond and after we had often responded poorly. Such love makes us wonder and draws us to humble gratitude. Let this become foundation to our lives: grateful humbling before the One who loves us so amazingly.
Listen to God
Listen to what God says in love. God has, in fact, spoken often in a variety of ways. He tells stories, gives instructions, sings songs, composes poems, issues warnings, offers wisdom, and embodies all He says in the coming of Jesus. Our Scriptures are the most important things God wanted us to hear. We cannot be well, with souls that prosper, without becoming people who listen and are shaped by what God has said to us.
Then practice a more active listening to God. As we consider what is written, we find God’s Word powerfully shaping us. Over time, we find our thoughts, perspectives and even our feelings begin to track with the ways of God revealed in these writings. We sense how God is and acts. Active listening prompts responses to our circumstances that reflect God’s ways. We not only pray as we read, we pray what we read. And, as we pray, we live and we act.
Finally, as I just noted, our responsiveness includes prayer, but most importantly prayer as conversation with God. We are always in the Presence of God. Whatever experiences we have, we have them in the Presence. As we would share our experiences with close friends who are with us, so we learn to talk about our lives, circumstances, joys, sorrows, questions and conclusions, and everything else with the Lord God.
Bishop David Kendall is is an ordained elder in the Great Plains Conference who was first elected to the office of Free Methodist bishop in 2005. He is the author of “God’s Call to Be Like Jesus” (fmchr.ch/godscalldk) and the co-author of “The Female Pastor: Is There Room for She in Shepherd?” (fmchr.ch/fpsisdk).1