Get a Grip on Soul Care

Matthew 11:28-30

Let me tell you a tragic story. When I was younger, I owned a beautiful little 1965 VW bug. My grandfather gave me the car my senior year of college in 1976. It had been his for many years – it only had 30,000 miles on it. I loved that car, and for many years I took good care of it and it took good care of me. About nine years later when our firstborn arrived, Julie and I decided we needed to become a one-car family. So I ended up selling it to a neighbor who purchased it for his teenage daughters to drive. They were so excited to get this cute little car!

Unfortunately, since I lived across the street from them, I began to notice the car was not being taken care of very well. Little by little I watched it disintegrate before my very eyes as these girls drove it around and mistreated it. One day, when it was parked at the high school, some boys jumped on the side boards and broke them off the side of the car. I noticed dents and scratches. The car looked terrible.

Then one day I asked them why they weren’t driving the car. One of them said, “We didn’t know we had to check the oil.” They had burned the engine up. Tragic! I hope those girls learned a valuable lesson – maintenance matters.

But maintenance is not just important for cars, it’s also for all kinds of things, including people. The lack of it can cause some major breakdowns in our lives. Our bodies, for instance, need maintenance. They get tired, rundown, and exhausted if we don’t give them proper rest, diet, and exercise.

Our minds need maintenance as well. They can get tired when they never turn off. Many of us live with a constant information overload. I came across an article that read, “If you feel overloaded, you’re not crazy – you’re normal. You may feel distracted, frustrated, or half sick because the average office worker gets 220 messages a day in emails, memos, phone calls, interruptions, and advertisements. No wonder a survey of thirteen hundred managers on four continents found one third of managers suffer from ill health as a direct consequence of stress associated with an information overload.”

We find ourselves checking messages on our cell phones all the time – first thing in the morning, last thing at night. I find it gets me more tired because sometimes I get messages late, they bug me, and I find I can’t sleep at night.

Facebook is so popular these days. I recently read a story in the newspaper about the effects of facebooking. The American Psychological Association recently released a study on social media use, and its impact on American stress levels. Nowadays 43% of Americans say they check their emails, texts, or social media accounts constantly, and their stress levels are paying the price for it. They’re higher than the average person by several percentage points. People spend an enormous amount of time in front of a computer screen and the television screen with all kinds of junk on, which will take a toll on one’s mind.

Finally, our soul needs maintenance. In the early days of Methodism, John Wesley had class meetings, kind of the original small groups. At those meetings, Wesley always had people ask this question of each other, “How is it with your soul?”

How would you answer that question? The soul is the deepest part of your whole inner being. It is a combination of your whole person. It’s what makes you, you. Dallas Willard, a respected Christian scholar on soul matters, says, “The human soul seeks to combine our will, our mind, and body into an integral whole person. It seeks to connect us with other people, with creation, and with God himself who made us to be rooted in Him the way a tree is rooted by a life-giving stream.”

Our soul has the capacity to pull together all our parts into a whole life. It’s something like a program that runs a computer – you don’t usually notice it until it gets messed up. Our souls crave refreshment and rest. It needs God. As Augustine said in the early days of Christendom, “Our souls are restless until they rest in Thee.” And when it starts to disintegrate, all of life gets crazy.

There are indicators of soul fatigue in people’s lives. For instance, things seem to bother you more than they should during those times and it’s difficult to make up your mind about even simple decisions. You may have impulses to eat or drink or spend or crave that are harder to resist than they otherwise would be. You’re likely to favor short-term gains in ways that will leave you with long-term costs. Your judgment suffers. You find yourself with less courage. You feel like you are coming apart at the seams, and you feel far from God.

I came across the testimony of a fatigued and disintegrated soul in a book I read recently. The author writes, “When I was young, I had finished college and started life. I was married, had children and got a job as a financial analyst for an investment firm in Manhattan. I monitored the world. Currencies were my specialty. I placed bets on when the yen was going up and when the euro was going down. I had monitors that kept me in touch with every time zone every hour of the day. My cell phone was set on vibrate 24 hours a day because a window can open and close at any time.

“My boss was a remarkable man, one of the inventors of the hedge fund, which can enable investors to make money on anything, whether the price goes up or down. Everybody who worked in the firm was 20 years younger than he was. We would sometimes sleep on cots in our offices to be able to pull the trigger on deals in a heartbeat.

“I got more money for Christmas bonuses than my dad ever dreamed of making in a lifetime. My family lived in an apartment not far from Central Park. My kids went to a private school. We bought a place in the suburbs to escape to on the weekends. I’d wake up at 5:00 A.M., start a coffee IV, and live on adrenalin all day long. My wife did most of the day-to-day stuff with the kids. We had a kind of inside/outside arrangement where I was Mr. Outside.

“I had only one secret: I heard voices. Only one voice, actually. It came at random. I could never make out what it was saying. Whenever it spoke, something else was going on, or someone else was making noise, or I was on my way somewhere. It bothered me because I couldn’t figure it out. When I would be still to try to catch it, I heard nothing. It was like footsteps behind a character in a movie. As soon as the character stops to see if there really are footsteps, the footsteps stopped too.

“One day, though, when I got home from work, I heard it clearly. It said, ‘I am your soul, and I am dying.’ I didn’t hear it again for many years.”

Too many damaged souls are living in our soul-damaged world these days. The problem is, the world doesn’t teach us to pay attention to what really matters. You and I need to remember that the most important thing about us is not the things we achieve. It is the person we become. So what are we to do for soul care, to get a grip on our souls?

In today’s reading from Matthew 11, we find Jesus offering help for the soul. It’s an invitation to people who were getting jerked around by life and trying to meet impossible demands. First He says to them, “Come to me.” Who is me? We’re talking about Jesus Christ, the One who lived and died and rose again, who has all authority in heaven and on earth, who loves you and gave His life for you at the cross for your forgiveness. He’s the specialist in soul care. Because He made you, He knows what makes you work and what you need. He says, Come to me. Move toward me. Trust me with your life. Follow me and I will give you rest. He is speaking to those who are weary and feeling burdened, those who are tired of carrying such a heavy load in life.

What kind of rest is He describing? Some might think He is talking about our eternal rest in heaven. It could be, I suppose. We talk about a person who has passed away by saying, “Rest in peace.” Someone might wonder if Jesus is talking about physical rest. No, because we know following Jesus involves caring a cross, which is not restful.

What Jesus is talking about is rest for your soul. Listen to His words: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29).

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me . . . Back in those days, a student would symbolically accept a teacher’s yoke – submit to the teacher, become a disciple, an apprentice, a learner. Jesus is saying, Learn from me; be schooled by me; be my apprentice; listen, watch, and apply. Don’t be afraid. I’m gentle and humble. You can trust me. What comes to mind as He says these words is the image of Him riding into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey to sacrifice His life for you and me.

. . . and you will find rest for your soul. You will have refreshment and renewal of your inner person. You will be strengthened to face the things life throws at you.

My yoke is easy and my burden is light. You won’t be oppressed or crushed by my yoke because you are yoked to Me, to my indestructible, resurrected life. This statement is an invitation to come and learn from Jesus how to live our total lives, how to find rest for our souls, how to invest all our time and energies of will, mind, and body as He did. To approach life with the same general strategy as His by following His preparations and habits that enabled Him. To receive His Father’s constant and effective support while doing His Father’s will, making Jesus able to keep His calm and His peace in His crazy, demanding ministry.

Jesus had spiritual habits that the disciples observed and picked up on just like He wanted them to. For instance, notice how Jesus was constantly turning off the noise in His life. He would often be by Himself for silence and solitude. Jesus knew the power of being still, of disconnecting from the noise and simply being in the presence of His heavenly Father. He knew how to surrender Himself and do absolutely nothing but being with God. Scripture gives us this truth earlier on – “Be still and know that I am God.”

Eugene Peterson, a Christian author whom I enjoy, says, “Two commands direct us from the small-minded world of self-help to the large world of God’s help. First, ‘Come, behold the works of the Lord.’ Take a long scrutinizing look at what God is doing. This requires patient attentiveness and energetic concentration. Everybody else is noisier than God. The headlines, the neon lights, the amplifying systems of the world announce human works. But what about God’s works? They are unadvertised but also inescapable, if we simply look. They are everywhere. They are marvelous. But God has no public relations agency. He mounts no publicity campaign to get our attention. He simply invites us to be still and look.

“The second command is, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Be still. Quit rushing through the streets long enough to become aware that there is more to life than your little self-help enterprises. When we are noisy and hurried, we are incapable of intimacy – deep, complex, personal relationships with God and others. If God is the living center of redemption, it is essential that we be in touch with and responsive to that personal will. If God has a will for this world and we want to be in on it, we must be still long enough to find out what it is (for we certainly are not going to learn by watching the evening news). A wise man had a wise word about this subject when he said, ‘Nothing was ever accomplished in a stampede.’”

Be still and know that I am God. When is the last time you took a walk out in God’s creation and just took notice of His marvelous work? Or found a quiet place to just be silent, just be with God.

Jesus also meditated on the Word of God. The wilderness temptations, the pressures – He always had a Word to lean on for strength. We know that from the temptation story. Scripture was in His heart! He was always off praying. Before He went to the cross, He went to the garden to pray. He prayed for all kinds of things He was facing.

Corporate worship. Scripture says He went to the synagogue “as was His custom.” The disciples learned, applied, and found it to be a valuable teaching for their souls. Therefore, they passed it onto others, and it has been passed down through the ages. People have been discovering it is good stuff for the soul, which is so prone to being fatigued.

My personal question for you today is, How is your soul these days? Is it fatigued? Is it well rested? Is it totally out of commission?

The appeal today is really quite simple: Jesus wants to give you rest for your soul. Take His yoke. Learn from Him. Enter into His habits. You can trust Him, because He gave His life for you at the cross to restore your relationship with God. And He rose from the grave – God’s affirmation. He wants you to be able to answer that question, How is it with your soul? with, It is well with my soul, just like the hymn.

Years ago, a book was written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which was a classic. It was entitled, “The Cost of Discipleship.” Have you ever stopped to consider the cost of non discipleship – a shrinking, shriveling, fatigued soul with no strength and no joy?

I invite you – I encourage you – to sign up for Christ’s soul care class today. Learn from Him, and you will find rest for your soul. This is His promise. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer