Welcome to part 3 of a series on Worship and the Greatest Commandment. In Part 1 I discussed our tendency to worship in a fragmented way. Worshipping with some parts of our being, while neglecting others. In an effort to help us worship better in ways that aren’t natural for us, I want to look at each part mentioned in the Commandment and try to discern some ways that we can engage the parts of us that we neglect. Last week, in Part 2, I offered some suggestions about what some of the barriers may be that prevent us from worshipping with all our Hearts, as well as some suggestions to overcoming those barriers in corporate worship. This week, I want to look at the Soul.
“With All Your Soul”
I have to say that of all the posts in this series, this one is the one I’ve had the most trouble with. Partly because my understanding of what the biblical writers meant by the word “soul” is more fuzzy than the others, and partly because, if I’m right about what they meant by the word “soul”, the ramifications of bringing all of this part of me to God in worship and surrender make me the most uncomfortable.
What is a Soul?
All of the Greek words (actually, they would have originally been Hebrew words, since this commandment comes to us originally in the Old Testament) used in the commandment line up quite nicely with our English words. “Kardia” means heart, and the biblical writers would have seen that as primarily the seat of the emotions, much like we do. “Dianoia” is the Greek word for mind, and “isxuos” is the Greek word for mind, and as far as I can tell, both of these words were understood much the same as we understand the mind and strength today. But the Greek word “Psuche” or soul presents a bit of a problem.
Our English word “Psyche” comes from the Greek word “Psuche”, but where we use “Psyche” to describe the workings of both the conscious and subconscious mind, the Greek usage of the word “Psuche” has almost nothing to do with the mind at all, as far as I can tell. “Psuche” is perhaps better translated as “life” or “essence” since it was the part of you that you can’t live without. You can survive without your emotions, although that would make you a sociopath. You can survive without your mind, although you’d likely be in a coma. You can even survive without your strength, although you’d be immobile and probably confined to a bed or a wheelchair. But you can’t survive without your “Psuche” or soul. When this part of you leaves, it turns off the lights and locks the door on its way out.
Now that doesn’t mean that the Ancients used the word the way we do. Jesus speaks often of the soul, and when he does, translators render the word as “life” as often as they do “soul”. For example, Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life [Psuche] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?.”. In this passage, both “life” and “soul” are used to translate the same word. So the soul is not some ethereal part of you that goes to heaven when you die, although other examples show us that there’s more to this word psuche than just our physical life, in which case the Greek writers would have used the word “Zoe” (from which we get the word “Zoo” & “Zoology” the study of living things) or “Bios” (from which we get “Biology”, the study of,… er… other living things). Either way, it seems that “Psuche” means “life”. Life both in the sense of the here and at the same time, the life which transcends this life and which carries on into the age to come. That’s by no means a clear explanation of what the scriptures mean by the soul, but hopefully it’s clear enough to begin to discuss how we are to worship God with our souls.
How do we engage the soul in Worship?
With the definition of what the soul being difficult to nail down, it’s hard to know just what to suggest to engage it in corporate worship. When I think about worshipping God with all my soul in this sense, most of it seems to play out in what happens between Sunday mornings. For me it means trusting God to save me, rather than thinking I can earn or bribe my way into heaven through good works. In a more practical sense, trusting God with my life means sticking it out in what I believe is my calling, even though it’s an awfully unconventional and often difficult way of ministering and making a living. I trust God to be my Provider, rather than an employer or some other kind of safety net. It means following Him where He leads me and trying to be attentive to His guidance and direction in my life. But there are a few things you can do on a Sunday morning to help move people in the direction of worshipping and trusting God with their souls.
1. Offering. If worshipping God with all your soul means surrendering it to Him, I can’t think of a more practical way of saying to God, “I trust you with my life, and with my well-being.” than to practice sacrificial generosity, and to learn to give selflessly. The practice of giving an offering in church isn’t to support the work of the church, or to pay membership dues. Certainly, giving does that, but those reasons are more crude and self-serving than what we’re talking about here. When I say that giving is a way of worshipping with our soul, I mean that somehow our giving is an act of worship, a statement that says, “I do not put my trust in these things, but in You, my provider.”. Less the kind of giving that benefits another, since in doing that, we’re still affirming the notion that money is the only thing that gets anything done in the world, and more akin to a burnt offering.
2. Preach and Rehearse the Gospel. Through the preaching and rehearsal of the Gospel (by rehearsal, I mean acting out the truths of the Gospel through confession & assurance, communion, etc.), we worship God by entrusting our souls to Him. To accept the Gospel is to come to Jesus and recognize there is nothing we can do to save our souls, and thus place our souls in His hands and entrust them to His care.
3. Encourage and Support One Another. Whenever you step out to live a live of faith, there’s a constant temptation to give up and pursue safety and stability instead of trust and obedience. Churches need to celebrate and support those in their congregations who are an example of what it means to trust God with their life, as an encouragement to those individuals and as an example to others.
Those are 3 very brief examples of how we can worship God with all our souls which is by no means an exhaustive list. What might you add to this list? How does your church encourage you to place your “life” or “soul” in God’s hands as an act of worship?
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