More than 2 decades ago, John Ortberg drove to a modest house to meet a spiritual giant. He supposed the truth of why he went to see him is that he was (in his small world) a celebrity and that he thought if he could be around someone important, perhaps a little importance could rub off on him too. And maybe he could help John become more successful. John did not know then what he would learn over many years —that he was a healer of souls. “The most important thing in your life,” Dallas Willard said, “is not what you do; it’s who you become. That’s what you will take into eternity. You are an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe. Your soul is not just something that lives on after your body dies. It’s the most important thing about you. It is your life.” Over the years John sought Dallas’ wisdom to help him understand the human soul, and in his new book Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, he shares what he has learned. A grace to welcome John Ortberg to the farm’s front porch today:
I and no one else am responsible for the condition of my soul. The soul needs a keeper.
Our world has replaced the word soul with the word self, and they are not the same thing.
The more that we focus on our selves, the more we neglect our souls.
In our day, we talk a lot about self-talk.
Books get written about the importance of self-talk. Apparently, that’s a really important part of the human condition.
Everybody here talks to themselves.
In the Bible, people talk to their souls.
The difference between talking to yourself and talking to your soul is the soul exists in the presence of God.
So you will see in the Psalms and elsewhere people speaking to their souls because when you speak to the soul, it naturally turns to prayer because in the soul God is always present.
Your soul is not the same thing as your emotions.
We live in a world where we’re encouraged to think that our feelings dominate our lives and that we are powerless over them.
Normally when we are angry about something, we mutter under our breath: “Well that sure was stupid, you big dummy.”
We beat up on ourselves or worse, on others. We may find temporary relief from that, but the soul still cries for attention.
The next time you blow something — when you’re frightened, when you’re dissatisfied — instead of mindless self-talk, speak to your soul: “Why are you afraid, O my soul?”
At first it might seem a little silly, but remember, you are the keeper of your soul. Only you.
Not long ago I got really angry at somebody. Finally I literally stopped in my tracks because I was so immersed in anger and said, “Soul, why are you so angry?”
Something interesting happened. I found that I just began to pray, and it was like God saying to me, “John, you are not your anger.” It’s like my soul had a place to stand with God, and we could talk sensibly about my anger, even as it ebbed from my soul.
“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
No, I am its keeper, not its captain. I did not make it, and I cannot save it from death.
That’s why soul-care is a different task than self-care. I do not care for my soul only for my own sake. It is only mine on loan, and it is coming due soon.
The psalmist wrote that blessed people are like trees planted by rivers of water, which yield their fruit in season, and whose leaves do not wither; they prosper in all they do.
In the ancient Middle East, trees were rare. Rain was scarce. Deserts were plentiful. But if a tree were planted by a river, it was no longer dependent on uncertain weather or the surface condition of the soil. It could flourish at all times because its roots allowed the water to stream into each part of the tree to bring it life. You couldn’t see the roots, but no one could miss the green leaves or fresh fruit.
Our soul is like an inner stream of water that gives strength, direction, and harmony to every other area of life.
We will always take the most care of that which we value most deeply.
John Ortberg is a bestselling author, international speaker, and the senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC) in the San Francisco Bay Area.
His books include, Who Is This Man?; The Life You’ve Always Wanted; Know Doubt; and The Me I Want To Be. John holds a Master of Divinity and a doctorate degree in clinical psychology. Now that their children are grown, he and his wife, Nancy enjoy surfing the Pacific to care for their souls.
With a hot cup to wrap your hands around: Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You.