The Dignity of the Soul

people-circle-webWe will not care for something if we do not understand it. We will not care for our environment, if we fail to understand and grasp the fragile nature of this world. We will pollute, abuse and create more toxic waste until we understand that significant damage has been done. We will not care for our automobiles unless we understand that some basic maintenance is needed at regular intervals. We learn that we need to change the oil, rotate the tires and check the fluids to keep our cars running. Otherwise, they will breakdown, burn out or fail us—when we need to go somewhere. Friends, the truth is, that most of us will spend more time and money on the care of our cars than we will on the care of our souls.We will not care for our souls until we understand our souls and grasp the importance of the soul. We can drive our bodies to exhaustion; run our lives on empty until we burn out and annihilate our hearts because of busyness—not really knowing the effect on our souls. In my work with busy leaders who work both in the marketplace and ministry, I often hear the laments and complaints of people who live exhausted; feel like they are chained to a spinning hamster wheel and know deep in their hearts that the pace of their life is simply not sustainable. They are concerned and so am I.Jesus spoke of the real possibility of losing our soul. Jesus said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26, ESV). When we lose our soul---we have not considered the real worth of our soul. We barter, trade, and do business every day in our lives—but somewhere along the way, we must consider the soul’s worth. It was Jesus’ way of waking us up to the dignity of the soul. If we never think we can lose our soul, we will remained chained and enslaved to a view of life that God never intended.Every soul has dignity. But our culture shapes us to think that only certain people have worth. We think: powerful people; important people; rich people and strong people have value. If we’re not rich; not powerful or not important then we may believe the lie that we do not matter. When we look at the bodies of the Syrian refugees floating in the Mediterranean Sea, we may not think of their dignity—their worth. Hitler did not consider the worth of six million Jews when he devised plans to exterminate them. When we see the news showing victims who are flooded out or the fatalities due to a tornado in a state we seldom visit or know anything about, we may forget the dignity of the souls who have experienced such a catastrophe.The worth of a soul is grounded in the very beginning of time and revealed in the first book of the Scriptures. We are told in Genesis 1:26-27 that man and woman are created in the image of God. Every living soul—every soul who has been a victim of some form of abuse be it sexual, physical or emotional is an image bearer of the Most High God. Every person in every culture matters to God. Each person is an image bearer. The soul of a human being reflects the very image and nature of God. It is precisely right here that we find our worth—our dignity—our value. There is glory in each of us—a glory that reflects God to the world and to one another.John Stott, author and highly acclaimed scholar has said, “When human beings are devalued, everything in society turns sour. Woman are humiliated and children despised. The sick are regard as a nuisance and the elderly are a burden. Ethnic minorities are discriminated against. The poor are oppressed and denied social justice…Labor is exploited in mines and factories…there is no freedom; no dignity; no carefree joy.”When we live exploited or despised; humiliated or celebrated; all of us have value, worth and dignity. It is right here---right with this understanding that we can and will begin to care for our souls. When we know who we really are and whose we are, we will begin to care for our souls and the souls of others.Recently I attended a gathering of men and women all in their 30’s. They were all young professionals--most dual income families with very young children. I asked them how many hours they generally worked each week. One by one, they described their hectic lifestyle of getting up early and going to bed late. They described 60 and 70 hour work weeks with little time to be a Dad or a Mom. The children got the leftovers. The spouses got the fumes of their high-speed life. I asked them, “Do you feel more like a machine than a soul?” In complete unison they all responded: “A machine.” Their responses reminded me of a sad time in Gwen’s and my life, when we now confess: we gave the best of our lives and souls to our work and the left-overs to each other. There is no badge of honor to wear when this confession can be said of a person.[tweetthis]The soul is not a machine.[/tweetthis] If we are image bearers, then we have a worth that must be re-discovered whether we are white collar migrants or seasonal fruit pickers in California. When we work long, hard hours; when we live over-committed and over-extended lives; when we live in a perpetual state of busyness with little or no margin for a life we secretly long to live—we lose our dignity, exploit our worth and lose our souls.Why is this true? It is true because the soul matters. People matter. We are not machines and God never intended for the people he made in his own image to live with the feelings of having to make more bricks with less and less straw.When we learn to live with the soul in mind, we embrace a life that is marked with dignity, worth and inherent value. We learn to make healthy choices about our bodies—our health and vitality. We live with something greater in mind and heart than mere survival. We refuse to be made to feel like we are nothing but cogs in the wheel. We weigh what we might gain by what we might lose and if we lose our dignity—our worth and our value, then we will say no and embrace a life that might be marked by simplicity; down sizing and wholeheartedness.Jeremiah Potter Pictures 001Caring for the soul first begins with understanding what the soul really is and really is not. Shaped by culture and formed to live on an unending hamster wheel, we need to learn to dis-engage from our fast moving and spinning existence and live with the soul in mind. The soul of our children is at stake when we hurry them up to get more; achieve more and do more. The soul of men and women is at stake when we submit to schedules and a cadence that simply is not sustainable. As I work with leaders in the marketplace and ministry, I see, more and more that the lifestyles we have created for ourselves simply is not sustainable. We might live in fifth gear for a while—but no one can live in fifth gear for decades upon decades without paying the high cost of blow out in the body, mind and/or heart.Nelson Mandela, the famous leader and cultural changer in South Africa wrote, “Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose.” If we ponder Mandela’s words as we plan our work week and life, we will chose to live with the soul in mind—not just money; status or position. We can be robbed of our dignity when we choose to live like machines rather than live as souls. Even God chose rest—and as we learn to embrace our God-given nature, we, too must rest. We can choose not to exploit our bodies with too much of anything that will rob us of dignity and value. We only have one body and we will not be given another. We only have one soul—one life. When we understand this---then we will begin to care and continue to care for as long as we have breath. 

Fireplace 101 promoWe are very excited to share with you that we have completed the brand new "SOUL CARE: 101"  This is a series of 8 spiritual conversations about caring for the soul and will be available soon to purchase on DVD; Streamed or attend a special online class led by Steve and Gwen Smith.  Keep watching the website of Potter's Inn: for more details.  Each session is 15 minutes and comes complete with a study guide which contains notes to the sessions,  a Bible study to dig further and resources for your use. It is designed for individual or group use and is ideal for small groups or class use.