When I first joined my church seventeen years ago, members were asked to take a SHAPE test. SHAPE stands for spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experience. The test intended to help you take stock of who God created you to be and point you in the right direction on how best to serve Him. I was young, out of college, and lost. I wanted a test to tell me who I was. Even at forty, I still wish for a test to tell me who I am.
Back in those days, I was addicted to personality typing. I still love that sort of thing. Some people so clearly know who they are and what direction to take. I was not one of those people, but unlike millennials today, I didn’t feel the freedom to shift jobs and “find myself.” I stayed mired in lostness and made a lot of poor choices as a result that continue to affect me to this day. I often wish I’d made better choices or could go back and fix them. But the truth is, God has used those choices, good and bad, to lead me to who I am and where I am today. If I were to take that test today, the results would probably be very different, including all the elements of me that supposedly don’t change, like personality, spiritual gifts, and heart.
Back in my college years, I was into making collages. These days many people call them vision boards. I didn’t think of my board as giving me vision, though sometimes it did help me think about what I wanted to do. Mine were mostly similar to art journaling that people do today. I have always needed a medium like words or pictures to help me process and understand the whirling inside of me. I don’t know if that makes me more or less attuned to my internal, real self than most. But most people do not know their real selves and what really motivates them to do as they do. Most people don’t take stock of their feelings and understand why they act out of their feelings. (Thus, we have counselors.)
In regards to discipleship, I think this is most important. Why? Because Jesus said the Great Commandment is “to love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
How do we learn to love with the elements of you, such as heart, soul, and mind, when often we don’t know what a heart, soul, or mind is or does?
Ask most people what a soul is and you will find most people don’t have the same definition. Yet the Bible seems to convey that the soul is one of the most important elements of you and even God has a soul. I have to admit, I found it interesting that God has a soul. The soul is the part of you that lives eternally. It is the part of you that connects with God.
In studying Romans 8, I found that a lot of these terms overlap. I found the Bible to say that the mind is the place of thought, the will – the seat of your choices, even sometimes referred to as “strength,” the heart – the place of emotion and inner self, including thoughts and emotions, and the soul surprisingly was the sum total of all those things and the body. The heart is the sum of your inner self. Add the body and you have the soul. The soul is the inner sum of me and who I am.
After reading Soul Keeping by John Ortberg, I am certain I should have allowed the experts to define these elements of you and me. Here’s what how he says Dallas Willard an expert on spiritual formation defines the soul,
He goes on to say that integrity is a word of the soul, because the soul causes all the inner elements of you and me to work in harmony. When they become disintegrated is when we are confused and mired. It therefore becomes important that you do not neglect the soul because dysfunction will follow you when you do.
- “the capacity to integrate all the parts into a single, whole life.
- “what integrates your will (your intentions), your mind (your thoughts and feelings, your values and conscience), and your body (your face, body language, and actions) into a single life.”
- It is “healthy — well-ordered — when there is harmony between these three entities and God’s intent for all creation.”
Dallas Willard was a type of Father of spiritual formation. He said that “the most important thing in your life is not what you do; it’s who you become.” His approach to God’s word is very different than my denomination’s approach.
Loving then becomes more than a command, but a way of life. The soul is shaped by the very things I mentioned above: experiences, abilities, people, pain, etc.
We often don’t know until we allow ourselves to explore with God how we manipulate our own souls to do the very things we don’t want to do. We must get down to the soul level to care for our soul, as we are the only ones able to care for our own souls.
Taking our lives down to the very soul of ourselves as many implications for the way we should choose to live and care for our soul and thus obey God, which hopefully I will continue to write about.
I will end on this very intriguing quote from the book Soul Keeping,
“To love someone with your soul means your will, your choices, your mind, your thoughts, your feelings, your body, your behaviors, and your habits are aligned for the good of their entire being before God. We bless the soul when we love that way. That’s soul love.”
This is the way we are to love God, our self, and those we meet and why we are commanded not to be yoked with unbelievers. A believer and unbeliever can never fully become one (outside the marriage commitment), and it is for our own protection. Loving becomes an act of our whole self. Thinking about the elements of me has been very beneficial for my walk with God, and I hope it helps you today.
How are you caring for your soul? Is your will, heart, body, mind in alignment?