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Is it circumstances? Though spiritual health and well-being are certainly affected by circumstances, they are not determined by them. We only have to think about saints (of old or of today) who stand strong and joyful under dire conditions to be reminded of this. Spiritual health is determined much more by our inner postures--the attitudes of our hearts-than by anything that comes at us from outside of ourselves.
Mindy Caliguire offers a simple diagnostic for a healthy soul:
"A soul is healthy to the extent that it maintains a strong connection and receptivity to God." (Discovering Soul Care)Caliguire identifies three postures which, if we engage in them proactively, have the power to keep a leader healthy regardless of circumstances. Let's explore each of these three postures.
Intention Maintaining a healthy soul first requires intention, the will to act, which, in our context, is fuelled by the desire to live in deep relationship with God. Desire is a key component in this. According to David G. Benner, "Willpower may be sufficient for superficial behavioral changes, but only desire is capable of leading you toward deeper authenticity and integrity. No one drifts into such a life without intentionality, commitment, and a persistent desire to become more." (Soulful Spirituality) Getting in touch with your desire for God (or at least your desire to desire God) is essential if you are to move your intention past expectations or vocational obligations toward a real decision to live differently.
Intention is also essential for winning the battle against the unending barrage of tasks and demands which scream for a leader's attention each day.
In the Urgent/Important Matrix, tending to your soul fits in the 'Important but Not Urgent' quadrant alongside other activities which are central to achieving your personal and professional goals. Without skilful prioritising and planning, the priorities in this quadrant tend to get shoved aside by urgent tasks, often to the frustration of your goals, your effectiveness and, ultimately, of you. Your decision to prioritise your soul life needs to take into account its place of priority in your life, along with taking an honest look at the things which tend to displace it.
Connection is the second component vital to a healthy soul. The desire for connection resolves that time set aside to meet with God is an authentic meeting. It determines that going through the motions is not enough: a quick reading of a portion of scripture or a devotional and offering a prayer are not sufficient to feed your soul. Likewise studying for a sermon or a Bible study, as important as these tasks are, cannot take the place of an encounter where your heart is spoken to and your spirit is quickened. As often as possible, I come to the time I've set apart to meet with God saying, "I won't leave this place until I have truly engaged and have gained food for my soul." I am never disappointed when I approach my meeting with God that way.
Connection has offered two gifts which have been most meaningful to my own ministry. The first is that I am assured of God's love and acceptance, and become securely grounded in them for a new day. This security provides strength to lead and minister to others without the need to gain their approval, and without the temptation to look to others for my sense of worth, because my approval and worth have already been affirmed in the time set aside for connection with God.
The second gift is that the power for ministry flows from God and, as a result, my natural gravitation toward self-effort is stilled. When beautiful things happen, my heart is quick to give God praise and I'm very aware that it's the Spirit who's at work, which brings us to the next point....
Receptivity is the third component necessary for maintaining a healthy soul. It involves inviting the Living Word to speak personally to you each day. Fuelled by the awareness that you can do nothing of true value without being connected to the Source (John 15:5), you are aware of your absolute dependence, and come to God open and ready to receive.
Receptivity also involves surrender, a willingness to be shaped, corrected, spoken to and led, not only during the times set apart to be alone with God but also as you go about your day. With a desire to remain aware of the Spirit's presence, you remain open to the Spirit's promptings and alert to how he is working.
I recognise that my level of receptivity is relative to my belief (or my doubts) in the goodness of God. It's during the times when I'm doubting that God is for me and that he desires to include me in fulfilling his mission in this world, that I tend more toward independence than openness, and to self-satisfaction rather than surrender. Yet those ways of living lead me down the path I don't want to walk--and to a depleted soul rather than to a healthy soul.
How does this work for you? Which of the three components (intention, connection, receptivity) seems to promise the most to you at the moment?
What helps (or hinders) you in maintaining spiritual health?
Conversations about the inner life
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