For most of us, the line between soul and spirit is an amorphous one. In fact, many use the terms interchangeably. However, I believe they are two separate, though not unrelated, parts of our identity. Just as God exists in a trinity, so do we, being made up of body, soul, and spirit. Because of this, I think a quick definition of the soul and the spirit is in order.
The soul is the seat of your thoughts and emotions. The soul often receives a bad rap. To behave in a soulish way is Christianspeak for acting poorly. But the soul is an important part of our makeup. We spend years and years developing our own souls and those of our children. Compassion and empathy are outpourings of the soul as is falling in love. Studying hard in school is soulish work and important at that. However, our souls can get out of hand and it is our spirit, in conjunction with God’s spirit which must bring it back into alignment with God’s will. Anxiety and lust are less worthy attributes of the soul.
The spirit is at once harder to locate and of supreme importance in the life of the believer. In the Bible, the spirit is described as a breath, as light, and as power. Simply put, our spirit is our life source. God breathed His spirit into Adam and he lived. God is the Father of light and He Himself is made of light. When we become born again of the Spirit, the power source of our life is disconnected from its original human source and plugged into God’s infinite power source. His Spirit dwells within us and this is how we know we are His children.
So in order to walk in Spirit and in truth, we must learn how to strengthen our spirit man. And we must also be aware of what weakens it. For to strengthen our spirit in Christ is to begin to partake of the fruits of the Spirit. We first experience those fruits in our spirit, and they are then shared with our soul and made evident through our bodies as we interact with the world. Our spirits are vital to our walk with God because it is in our spirits that we experience the presence of God.
Spirit Quenchers: The Three Culprits
- The first and most obvious spirit quencher is sin. We engage in sin and look around. Often the consequences are not obvious in our lives, at least not at first. So we continue. But the consequences of sin is death. That death first begins to dim the Spirit in us. If it is our spirit which keeps us alive, then sin becomes a disease gradually spreading throughout our being. We lose our spiritual vitality, which endangers our lives.
Guilt and shame, natural results of sin, weaken our spirits. We cannot move in love, power, and a sound mind when our spirits are dimmed by conviction, self-deception, and self-hatred. If our spirits are dimmed, then the presence of God in our spirit dims as well. Stress and anxiety, self-loathing, and frustration, these things kill our spirits and according to scientific research, our bodies as well.
- Toxic relationships are not often recognized for the poison they are to our spirits. If we surround ourselves with people who live in the dark, we should not be surprised when the darkness comes to roost within us. If you have relationships that leave you drained or bruised, you are complicit in the weakening of your own spirit.
Just as our sin affects us, so too does the sin of others. We are meant to live in community. We take on the characteristics of those with whom we associate. Look around. Do you want to become like those surrounding you? If not, do your spirit a favor and see life-givers rather than those who would discourage your spirit.
- The world is the ultimate spirit killer. Life is hard and we are wired to pick up on negativity. The media and entertainment industries have a lot of power in our lives. Some shows are truly life-giving while others appeal to the worst in us. What do you partake in?
Many times my students have written papers about how they do not believe violent video games or shows have an effect on people. While obviously a straight line cannot be drawn between playing a video game and acting violently, my question is a little simpler. Why do various industries spend millions of dollars on advertising if it doesn’t work?
The world is full of a great deal of interesting and incredible things to do and see. Are you encouraging your spirit by setting your eyes on the beautiful and the noble, or are your eyes set on the ugly, the negative, and the painful? I do not mean you should avert your eyes from the suffering of others. I mean that you should avoid things meant to inflame, deceive, or manipulate.
The good news about our spirits is that they can be quite resilient. And we can strengthen them considerably with intentional living.
Four Spirit Strengtheners: Learning How to Live
- Truth and lots of it. Be ruthless with yourself. Denial has a way of killing the sensitivity of God’s spirit in us. Learning how to play ‘It is what it is, and not something else’ is rough. I usually play ‘It is something way better than what it is’ and my husband plays ‘It is something way worse’. Makes for some good times. But the truth about who you are, what you are doing, who is in your life, and their effect on you is crucial to your spirit.
Jesus is reality. When He says He is the Way and the Truth and the Life, He is calling Himself the actual reality in which you must live in order to have real Life in your spirit. Truth is freeing and above all things, our spirits desire freedom!
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12. Want to set your spirit free from the restraints of the soul and the body? Go get you some truth. No better place than the Word.
- Surround yourself with inspiration. Great people, great books, great music, and the beauty of nature. These things lift us up out of the drudgery of the world. Find things that lift your spirit. Don’t neglect to do things that give you real pleasure. After all, our original purpose was to live in the garden, enjoying God and the things He made. Getting back to this original purpose gives your spirit courage to rise above the demands of the soul.
- Love, love, love. Love is its own reward, I think. And we are desperate for it. I sometimes get teary at the provision God has made us in the form of our pets. He was so intent on making sure we did not go loveless in this vast and often ugly world, He gave us animals that know how to love unconditionally. How many lonely people turn to their animals for comfort because no humans will make the effort?
If you look at your life and it is empty of love, start giving love out generously and it will return to you at least ten-fold.
- Practice makes perfect. Brother Lawrence practiced the presence of God while he humbly did the dishes at his monastery. Practice God’s presence. Learn to listen to His spirit in your own spirit. I find contemplative prayer really grows my spirit. I think about Him as I clean, as I write, as I shop… Over the years, I have trained my spirit to be in tune with His. I have a long way to go but my spirit is stronger than it was.
Want a measuring stick for how strong your spirit is?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. Gal. 5:22. The more of these you experience daily, the stronger your spirit is. So go cultivate with the Gardener of our souls, in whom we live and move and have our being.
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