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“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

I recall praying this prayer at bedtime as a little girl but found it to be disturbing.  What is the soul? According to this prayer, if we die, what exactly what would get taken? How many of us really understand what this mysterious soul is and how do we take care of it?

The recently released book Soul Keeping: Caring for The Most Important Part of You (Zondervan 2014) by John Ortberg addresses these every issues.  Ortberg, an author and pastor with a degree in psychology weaves this study of the soul in with practical illustrations and humor. Much of his writing is based on the teachings of the late Dallas Willard, a brilliant American philosopher and “professor of the soul”, known for his writings on Christian spiritual formation.

Ortberg begins with a quote from Willard, “Our soul is like a stream of water, which gives strength, direction, and harmony to every other area of our life. When that stream is as it should be, we are constantly refreshed and exuberant in all we do, because our soul itself is then profusely rooted in vastness of God and His kingdom…”  The stream is your soul and you are the keeper. That inner stream gives strength, direction and harmony to every area of life.

Ortberg makes the case that anxiety, depression and fear are symptoms of a soul that has lost touch with its source of life. An unhealthy soul experiences dis-integration. A healthy soul is integrated and demonstrates harmony between the will, mind, and body. One who is pre-occupied with unhealthy habits is one whose soul cries out in distress.  One who lives a shallow spiritual life is one whose soul shrivels from neglect. Because the soul is the deepest expression of the person, the soul is the place of greatest pain. If our soul is unhealthy, we can’t help anyone.

We, and no one else, are responsible for our soul. Ortberg calls us to develop a well-cared-for soul by suggesting several tools. Here are a few:

  1. The soul needs a center. The private spiritual life where worship and confession are practiced is where values are selected and character is formed.
  2. The soul needs rest. Ortberg describes the person who is depleted and lists indicators of soul-fatigue. Hurry is the enemy of the soul. Our soul needs solitude with no agenda, no distraction, and no noise.
  3. The soul needs satisfaction.  The soul craves to be secure, to be loved and to be significant.  We find these only in God in a form that can satisfy us.

In addition to the book, a study guide and a six-session video is available for small group study. I look forward to taking a discipleship group through this study myself this fall.  I definitely recommend Soul Keeping to those who seek to slow down, draw closer to God and go deeper with their spiritual life.