By Rev. Scot McCosh
In a conversation, lamenting the rapid pace of life that allows only for a mere, “Fine, thanks” as the answer to all questions concerning one’s health and wellness, a colleague suggested I change the question I put forth to others. He suggested that I must be ready to stop, listen and be ready for utter silence if I were to use his suggested change. The question, “How’s your soul?” I’ve tried it a few times and the reactions are quite fascinating. Silence is the most immediate response, often followed by, “Wow! That’s a good question.” Many times I receive a confession of fatigue and frustration as well as the ever popular, “OK.” So reader, I ask you, as you dive into 2019, “How’s your soul?”
Many of us express our deepest spiritual, soul-level sentiments in song. We have our joy-filled music, our sad songs, our love songs, our crazy get-up-and-dance songs, and those in the ancient world were no different. In fact, prayer has most often been expressed through poetry and song. The most widely read song book of all time is the book of Psalms, right in the middle of the Bible. It is full of answers to the “How’s your soul?” question and offers us some great models and answers to discover.
Jesus himself quotes the words of the Psalms, in his final hours on earth. Facing his imminent death, he cries out the first line of the famous 22nd Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That Psalm continues, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.” For some of you, this may be your answer to the soul question at some point in your journey. What’s fascinating is what’s on the very next page. The next song in the sequence begins, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” I love the diversity of sentiment, the raw emotion of pain and lament beside the placid contentment and confident faith. So often in life I’ve encountered seasons of each of these Psalms. I recall one year of combat, and one as a pastor, in which I felt as if I was just moving from one funeral to the next. I struggled to find the words of strength and hope to provide. Yet, it was in these same years in which I most felt God’s presence alongside me, restoring my soul in the moments it was completely emptied.
Learning to navigate from Psalm 22 to Psalm 23, and back and forth through the highs and lows of life, is what spiritual fitness is all about. It’s not found in a simple program or practice, but instead is built over a lifetime of experience, struggle, growth, death, faith, hope and love. The fact that such diverse songs are included in the book of Psalms gives us permission to cry out honestly to God, to wrestle with our doubts and disappointments and still to cling to the hope that God walks with us even in such times. So I ask again, “How’s your soul?”
As you develop your goals for the New Year I challenge you to keep this verse in mind, “…train yourselves to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8) Much like physical training, spiritual training is not a one-size-fits-all process. However, there are a few time-tested practices that transcend our individual distinctiveness: prayer, meditation, contemplation, sacred music, small group study, communal worship, fellowship with others and a mission in which to engage. Now is a great time to build your personal spiritual fitness training plan. Here are some ways to get started. Visit a local place of worship, regularly. Commit to reading sacred scripture daily. Start a prayer journal and write your thoughts, hopes, dreams, frustrations, out to God. Yes, like going to the gym, you’ll struggle to keep such practices, but with diligence along the journey, your spiritual fitness will grow. It’s not so much a destination at which to arrive, but rather a process in which to engage that brings with it a depth that can only come from experience.
As you work out your faith, you’ll find that the words of the first-century Apostle are true, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) While many are asking what 2019 will bring, we can know what will remain when it ends, and that is love. This is what it looks like, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) Have faith in the God who is love and loves you. Build hope as you find that love in the darkest days of the year. Share that love with all those made in God’s image. In so doing you’ll be able to answer, “How’s your soul?” with a resounding, “It is well!”
Scot McCosh is senior pastor of Mount Pisgah Baptist Church in Fayetteville