That summer I was 21, going on 22, and I had found an opportunity to serve as a program leader and summer camp counselor at a Christian camp just outside of Allentown, PA.
I didn’t know a whole lot about Lyme disease at the time but I knew it was caused by tick bites and that it had been spreading a lot in the area. So I was cautious: I stayed on the paths, I didn’t go walking through underbrush or sit in tall grasses, and directed the kiddos (and myself) to regularly check for ticks.
My fellow camp counselors found my caution to be insufferable. They regularly jabbed me with platitudes about needing to “trust God” more and finally, they got to me. One weekend afternoon after the camp was empty of children for the week, everyone wanted to play hide-and-seek in the woods. The desire to fit in with the other staff my age was too loud. I decided that they were right, I probably should just “trust God” with this whole Lyme disease thing and live a little.
I laid down in the underbrush and leaves to hide. I did a good job — after a half hour, no one had found me.
The next day I felt feverish. I had a weird rash of clustered dots all over my legs. The camp nurse said it wasn’t anything she had seen before and certainly wasn’t Lyme disease. In the days that followed, I started feeling super exhausted. I slept 8 hours a night and felt like I hadn’t slept at all. I couldn’t do my job. On the weekend, I couldn’t hang out with anyone and be part of the gang. My neck was sore. I started getting unrelenting frontal headaches not solved by any amount of prayer, rebuking the enemy, or ultimately even any amount of Tylenol. I thought of going to the doctor but I was sure I was just experiencing some attack of the enemy. And I had come to the conclusion that doctors were for people who didn’t have faith. I wasn’t sure God even would allow me to go to a doctor; I was sure He wanted me to turn to Him instead.
One day I was taking a shower and realized my leg was hot and itchy. I looked down and saw this huge red puffy area on my leg. I got an even better look and discovered it was a circular round red puffy area the size of my hand, with a purple center. I wondered if it could possibly be Lyme disease and this is hard to describe but I will try: I felt this overwhelming glowing peace envelope me from within and without. I thought then about going to the doctor and the light and peace now glowing all through me seemed to smile at me. I knew this was God’s presence and I was shocked that He seemed to agree I should go to the doctor. I thought about getting a blood test and the glowing peaceful agreement continued.
Sure enough, I had Lyme disease. And being enboldened by my Holy Spirit encounter, I was able to break with my earlier condemnation about medical science and actually take the month of doxycycline antibiotic that was prescribed to me.
It turned out I could trust God — as He broke through my religious ideas and instead assured me that medical care was a good idea. But my earlier, wrong-headed “trusting God” to keep me from getting bit by a tick or contracting a lifelong disease, that had turned into what could have been a huge disaster. He did not protect me from the immediate ramifications of failing to protect myself. A tick had bit me and given me its diseased payload. But because He was merciful to me in my foolishness, thankfully I was able to tackle the acute phase appropriately and quickly, even though I still had years of low-level chronic remaining issues to resolve. Still, Lyme left untreated in the first phase can turn into a completely debilitating illness for years and years and I was mercifully somehow spared that.
This was the second time I learned that trusting God didn’t mean what I thought it did. It didn’t mean failing to recognize real dangers in the world and avoiding the knowledge and usefulness of medical science. In both cases, trusting God meant overcoming the fake “faith” offered by my legalistic mindset, and coming to a real faith in God who wasn’t being as “magical” as I wanted him to be about my problems, but who wanted me to deal in down-to-Earth terms with real life material-world issues and material solutions. God as I was encountering Him seemed concerned directly about how the universe and the natural world actually work.
I was 18 and I was sitting in the dentist’s office when the dentist said something I couldn’t accept: “Your wisdom teeth are coming in sideways and you need to have them removed.”
This was an insane thing in my mind. God gave me wisdom teeth. Surely He didn’t intend for them to be removed, like some medical rite of passage, before they had even showed up fully in my mouth. This was terribly “unnatural” and if I knew anything, I knew that natural was the way things ought to be.
I argued with the dentist.
The dentist explained, “If your wisdom teeth keep growing in at this angle, they will grow into the roots of the teeth next to them, and they will kill those teeth too.”
In that moment, in huge contrast to my own emotions of umbrage towards the dentist, I felt the peace of the Holy Spirit, as if the Spirit was gently indicating to me He agreed with what the dentist said. I couldn’t believe that either. Truth be told, I didn’t want to believe it. God was supposed to be on the side of natural things, not on the side of the medical establishment that wanted to unnaturally and invasively alter my body and remove my precious new teeth.
I left the dentist’s office having zero plans to see an oral surgeon and have these teeth removed.
Years later, my front teeth were all jammed together and twisted from the wisdom teeth pushing all my teeth into each other. A roommate tried to explain to me, in terms that to her were said so carefully but to me felt so rude, “You know, you’d be so pretty if only you’d get braces.” She didn’t know that my teeth had not always been like that, nor that there was a reason they were like that now.
Eventually I did get those wisdom teeth removed. The decade I had spent having “faith,” praying for my teeth to “align” and become straight, had only served to show me that there was such a thing as cause and effect after all, and spiritual things didn’t usually alter that reality.
And after my wisdom teeth were removed, I had to have another molar removed too. The pressure of the wisdom tooth up against it had caused it to absorb itself from the inside out, in something called, “spontaneous resorption.” I tried in vain to save the tooth first with a giant filling, then a root canal, but after a terrible abscess that was the worst pain in my life, that one had to come out too. Somehow the evil dentist had turned out to be more “right” than my wrongly placed “faith.”
I liked to think I was listening to the Holy Spirit. But I wasn’t. I still remember that moment when I actually encountered the Holy Spirit, and could have put my faith in the leading he was giving me to do the science thing. But I wasn’t ready, and made up a “faith” in what my own religious inclinations told me was right — a passion for what was “natural” over what was truly sensible.
I have more of these stories of learning hard truths from the effects my own foolish stubbornness, that have greatly shaped my journey. It seems the season to share. Stay tuned.
I’m going to begin a series of posts about experiencing God’s voice, and this is a HUGE subject that honestly could and probably should be a book, not a blog post. Many have in fact written books on the topic, and some of them are pretty good, and some are not. I wade into the topic with a fresh perspective — I have been through countless teachings and books on experiencing the Spirit and the voice of God and most of them didn’t seem to help me very much when I was trying to learn how to find Him in this way. So in this series some of what I’ll do is look at the pitfalls of the various approaches that are commonly taught as “the way” to do this, as well as bring my own perspective into play of what I’ve learned along the way of bumped knees and concussions in trying to go on pilgrimage to this place.
The subject is so vast, and it will be hard to do it justice. I’m very aware of my own lack of knowledge on this topic, and yet, I do know I have a small deposit of something worth sharing. If you want to follow along, please pray for me as I write that I’ll be able to organize what I ought to say in some coherent fashion and that, as one stepping into some role as a under-shepherd of God’s people in trying to nurture my readers along, that I won’t leave anything out that needs to be said for the sake of safety and edification.
Safety — it’s an interesting word on this topic. Realistically if you treat into these waters looking to stay safe, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong River. Yet there are disasters that we can hope to avoid, even so.
Some of those disasters involve what happens when you put “hearing God” into the context of community. Ironically, many people would point to community as the place of safety in learning to hear God, the idea being that community will keep experiments along these lines from going too far afield. The problem is that often those surrounding us in community aren’t real good at hearing God either — they either quickly shut down things the Lord would want to do because it doesn’t line up with their expectations of Him, or, they themselves are the ones saying they are hearing from God and in the process abusing and manipulating others with what they say God is saying. Hearing God is dangerous — hearing God in community is even more dangerous. And yet, the folks that say we need community for safety are paradoxically also right — community really is the best place to tread into these waters, as Jesus and His Word dwell among us corporately. As much as community can wound and trouble us on our journey, it’s still better to suffer those wounds and troubles than the ones we will end up with going it alone.
At any rate, I hope to do justice to all these pitfalls, and make a clear and balanced presentation of both the singular experience of experiencing God’s voice and the corporate dynamics of the gifts of prophecy and word of knowledge and wisdom and so forth. I might never get done this series.
But let’s begin — why did I entitle this “Experiencing God’s Voice” instead of “Hearing God’s Voice?” This begins my “fresh perspective” I hope to bring into this conversation. When I first wanted to hear God, I wanted most specifically to be “led by the Spirit.” I initially didn’t even realize that the way the Spirit “leads” us is by speaking to us! But I had no idea what avenue, or channel, or sense, or experience would actually constitute being “led.”
When people talk about “hearing” God, folks new to the experience can often assume we are talking about “hearing voices” or at least, a Voice. And, we are. But the fact is that God’s voice is not really all experienced auditory. The auditory experience of His voice is a real one, and one I’ll be discussing as we go forward, but realistically the Lord Himself is not simply transmitting in audio, although he can definitely be found on the audio frequencies. But if we think we are only meant to “hear” His voice, then figuratively speaking we start to search for Him on the AM/FM dials, hoping to pick up only some sort of “sound,” and while He can be found there, searching for Him only as audio not only blocks out the fulness of His “signal” but also ironically leaves us more open to confusion and deception in trying to hear Him. Realistically, the Lord is like super-broadband, transmitting on so many wavelengths all at once — He’s like a star in the Cosmos that you can view in infrared, radio, UV radiation, and visible light, and gravity waves all at once, or a broadcast station transmitting internet, HDTV, FM audio, and cellphone signal all at once. Likewise, He is not just speaking audio, but He speaks thought-to-thought, He speaks in visions, He speaks forth a sharing of the sense of His emotions, He speaks forth dreams, He sings, He laughs, He gives forth His fragrance and extends His love and peace and anger and pleasure and displeasure and His glory and strength and healing and power; He expresses Himself with various extensions of His spirit and personhood to us.
God’s utterance, is, in fact, Himself. His voice is the going forth of who He is, and as He is Spirit, we can only know Him Spirit to spirit. (I’m aware and tracking with you when saying such a thing creates a problem for us when we don’t even know what or where our own spirit is within ourselves.) But His voice isn’t just “voice.” After all, does a Spirit have a mouth or vocal cords? But just like our Sun has an outer atmosphere which is part of it, yet there are deeper layers still, experiencing the Voice of the Almighty has layers. He is extended to us at all times with a constant stream of His Spirit, pouring forth from His being, but there are experiences one might have with a solar flare which would be altogether different from touching the plasma surface of His burning, and different yet again from experiencing the substance of His core, even though His core drives forward and is one substance with all we might experience at any part of Himself.
Yet God is not an unfeeling, inanimate object like a star (no offense meant to any stars out there.). Analogies have their limitations. All of which to say — God is transmitting on too many wavelengths to merely talk about “hearing” His voice as if it would all be auditory or even all words, even though, “hearing” is what all of his communication, whether verbal or nonverbal, can be spoken of in a certain broad sense.
We just need to learn how to drink from the stream more consistently and consciously, instead of rarely and accidentally. It is a stream of living water; throughout the Bible, both “life” and “water” are motifs associated with God’s words. Put together, “living water” refers also to the Holy Spirit, who is made of the same substance of the God who is Living Word, but the Holy Spirit is unique in being the part of God that extends to us and abides within us, and thus carries the rest of God — all that He is, His Words and His thoughts and emotions and voice and personhood to us. Thus Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would “take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
In some words I think of the Holy Spirit as being like the “carrier wave” of a radio station; in radio, the “sound” of the station is wrapped up and embedded in the transmitted carrier wave and when the wave arrives at your receiver, the “sound” is part of but can also be decoded out of the wave. The Holy Spirit is the extension of Heaven from God’s throne to the innermost part of us, and He abides within us individually and among us collectively when we are gathered together in tune with Jesus and His Father and each other.
God can be felt (which is a problem if you’ve always been taught to be wary of “feelings” and “impressions” and “sensations.”). And yet, in wanting to be open to feeling Him, we must also be aware the balance is that most feelings are not Him. And God can be heard, and yet most voices are not His. God can give visions and dreams, and yet not all dreams or visions are from Him. And He can be manifested in miracles, appearances, experiences, and all sorts of things from flashes of inspiration to creativity to peace to joy to overwhelming love to heat to shakings to too many things to list. All of it, when legitimate, is an experience of His Voice. The stream is broad, and so is God’s wavelengths of speech towards us; the stream is powerful, and so is the effect of His Voice where it is made known and received; and the stream is deep; taking us to deeper and deeper experiences of communion with His person.
But all of this we will delve into. Why do some people get prayed for at the altar and while everyone else is falling down shaking, nothing ever happens to them? Why can some people hear God easily and others are left with their own thoughts? Why does music seem to bring some people easily into God’s presence and others can’t stand singing? Why do we talk about God’s presence as something you can experience when the Holy Spirit is in everyone who knows Jesus regardless of feelings? And how do you know if someone’s prophesying is real or not? Is it just a matter of “comparing what they said to the Bible” when the Bible doesn’t say anything at all about that person’s word they gave you that you need to drink orange juice every day for the next week? And what about “signs” and “confirmations?” And while we’re talking about the Holy Spirit and our spirit, and angels and demons and the like, what is “a spirit” anyway?
I’m going to wade through all of it. Here’s hoping you are with me on the journey. And please pray especially the Lord grants Himself to me as I write, as it is after all, all about Him and that is the real journey.
*********************Please let me know any topics you want me to explore in all this as we go forward, below. Or just make a general comment. 🙂
I wrote this a long time ago in response to a discussion that was going on in a community of Christians I was walking with. It’s a response to a view of “spirit and soul” that is widely taught, and comes largely from the teachings of Watchman Nee, but is found often in other writings from the “deeper life” movement (or somewhat in the teachings of Andrew Wommack.) While I appreciate Watchman Nee’s contribution to the body of Christ through his teachings to a very large degree, I do think after having lived under his understanding of things for several years of my life and finding some of those teachings bearing some not-so-great fruit in my own being, that I needed to look deeper into some of the things I had been taught. As a result, I came to some different understandings on the topic of soul and spirit than what Nee and others teach.
To begin with, I took a look at the verse that seems to be mentioned most often in conversations on this topic, which is this one:
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ” (Hebrews 4:12 NAS)
This verse is often thought of, and quoted as saying, that the Word divides BETWEEN soul and spirit. Those who hold to this type of interpretation often suggest that a person can be moved either by their “soul” or their “spirit,” and that the Word of God somehow sets a believer free from being “in his soul” (referred to in shorthand as “being soulish”), to instead be “in his spirit.” In this line of teaching, that which occurs or originates from within the “soul,” is thought to be insubstantial and unspiritual; and that which originates from or occurs within the “spirit” of a believer, is believed to be righteous and pure, of God, in concert with His true nature and will, and inspired by the Holy Spirit.
I believe that if these ideas are taken as an entire package, that they amount to an erroneous and cumbersome teaching, because this teaching fails to recognize the essential and rightful role of the soul in our ability to experience and access what flows through our spirits, and it puts a yoke on believers’ necks to perform some imaginary feat of placing their soul on the back burner while their spirit takes dominion over it. In some cases too, this teaching also contributes to the belief among intellectual theological type people, that that which is emotional (again, “soulish”) is inconsequential and even dangerous to one’s spiritual walk with God. (I’m not saying anyone should base their spiritual life on emotions, either, but when you’re done reading about the spirit/soul topic and want to take it deeper, I’ve been writing about the role of emotions in our relationship with God over here.)
So how do I personally believe this verse (Hebrews 4:12) should be interpreted?
The first clue to me that perhaps the usual interpretation is not correct, is that in no other place in scripture do we find any apostle warning us that it is terribly important to “walk in the spirit, and not in the soul.” I mean, there’s just no emphasis on anything like this anywhere in any verse in all of the New Testament. Instead of drawing a dichotomy between being soulish and being spiritual, the epistles of Paul instead emphasize the difference between being “in the flesh” and “in the Spirit.”
The second clue for me is that in the line about the “division of soul and spirit,” there is usually no mention of the word “between.” This is important, because often the verse is quoted and interpreted as saying “piercing as far as the division BETWEEN soul and spirit,” but very few Bible translations actually use the word BETWEEN. For your perusal, here is a list of translations with the way they translate the phrase – and notice that while “between” and other synonyms are occasionally used, most translations don’t indicate such a word is in the verse.
First, versions that don’t say “between” –
New International Version even to dividing soul and spirit
English Standard Version to the division of soul and of spirit
Berean Study Bible
even to dividing soul and spirit
Berean Literal Bible
even as far as the division of soul and spirit
New American Standard Bible
as far as the division of soul and spirit
King James Bible
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit
International Standard Version
until it divides soul and spirit
New American Standard 1977
and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit
Jubilee Bible 2000
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit
King James 2000 Bible
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit
American King James Version
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit
Webster’s Bible Translation
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit
World English Bible
even to the dividing of soul and spirit
Here are some Bible versions that do use “between” or some similar word.
New Living Translation cuttingbetween soul and spirit
even to the point of dividing soul from spirit
Holman Christian Standard Bible
as far as the separation of soul and spirit
Aramaic Bible in Plain English
it pierces to the separation ofsoul and spirit
GOD’S WORD® Translation
cuts as deep as the place where soul and spirit meet
Weymouth New Testament
even to the severance of soul from spirit, and penetrates between the joints and the marrow
Here are some versions that seem to subtly agree with what I’m going to argue in the next few paragraphs is more correctly indicated:
Young’s Literal Translation
piercing unto the dividing asunderboth ofsoul and spirit, of joints also and marrow
American Standard Version
piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow
reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow
Darby Bible Translation
penetrating to [the] division of soul and spirit, both of joints and marrow
English Revised Version
even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow
Now, in and of itself this absence of “between” certainly doesn’t prove what the verse does or doesn’t mean, especially since some versions actually do translate “between” or some similar sense into the verse, but being infrequently used it did seem worth a better look; especially since my premise is that I don’t think it actually belongs there anyway (more on why, as we continue.)
So, the next question to explore is – what sort of word is sitting there in the Greek text that indicates what type of “division” soul and spirit are subjected to by the Word? It turns out that the word “division” here in the Greek is the word *merismos* (μερισμός).
Merismos (μερισμός) is defined by Strongs as meaning, “a division, partition, or separation.” There is only one other scripture (quoted below) where this exact word is used, and in that particular verse, *merismos* or division, is demonstrated to be occuring WITHIN a spirit – within, in fact, the Holy Spirit – as opposed to division occuring between the Holy Spirit and some other thing:
Hebrews 2:4 reads: “…God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts [and the word “gifts” in this verse is the word we are researching which is “merismos”, aka, “partitions/divisions”] of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”
So why not then approach our original verse in question, from two chapters later in Hebrews, the same book of the Bible, in the same way? Since it is clear that a “spirit” can be divided, then maybe it is reasonable to consider that Hebrews 4:12 is not suggesting that the Word of God divides BETWEEN soul and spirit, but rather that it beneficially creates a division within the soul of a person in some way, and similarly also divides and provides distinctions or divisions within the spirit of a person?
If this is indeed what the Word does, could it not be described or worded by saying that what would then be occurring here is the “DIVISION OF SOUL AND SPIRIT,” just as most Bible translations word it?
But traditionally, because “soul and spirit” are listed as a pair, we normally have the default assumption that the sword is dividing up the pair, and separating the soul from the spirit in some sense. Remember however, that the word “between” isn’t found in there at all. But furthermore, this interpretation of division BETWEEN the soul and the spirit really doesn’t make sense when applied to the remainder of the verse.
Take for instance the next phrase in question, which reads: “of both joints and marrow.” For years I read over this verse and thought it was saying “bone and marrow” but actually it doesn’t say that; it says “joints” and marrow.
They are both parts of the skeletal system to be sure, but marrow and joints aren’t really a logical intertwined pair that could be divided, like one might think of dividing marrow from a bone. In fact, it would be much like saying that the Word of God divides the tree sap from the acorns…. sure, tree sap and acorns are somewhat connected, but they are not really a complimentary pair that could or would require separation, whereas in contrast, tree sap and a tree trunk would be a suitable example of a logical pair that could be “divided.”.
But the real explanation of this verse seems to be found in the final phrase,which contains one more “pair” of things that are divided, in the idea that the sharp sword “judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Here is where the type of “division” that I (and others) am proposing as what this verse describes seems to be revealed as the most reasonable – for why would we suppose that the division would occur BETWEEN the thoughts and intentions of the heart, as if the thoughts need to be somehow separated from the intentions. Does it not seem much more harmonious with the rest of scripture and even your own spiritual walk, to understand that this verse is saying the Word of God divides – aka, judges – both the thoughts AND the intentions of your heart?
And isn’t this what the Word of God does? It helps us understand which of our thoughts are of God, and which of our thoughts are not of God? And doesn’t it similarly help us discern …or judge…. or divide…. which of our intentions align with God, and which of our intentions are not aligned with God?
But aside from all this, there is more contained here in this verse I think to help us truly understand what the soul and spirit of a person are, and how they form what and who we are. I believe that the actual literary style of this verse is meant to draw a parallel between the three pairs I just explored, and that they correspond to and help explain one another. The three pairs are:
1) soul and spirit 2) joints and marrow 3) thoughts and intentions.
If you line them up like this, it is at least highly conceivable that these three are all somewhat congruent, things which are either all the same thing or at least which correspond to one another pair by pair, and as I’ll continue to discuss, they seem to match up quite nicely. So, if these three are taken as corresponding pairs, then we could conceptualize that in this verse, going across you get that “soul = joints = thoughts”, AND that “spirit = marrow = intentions.”
Now, what on earth does the author of Hebrews mean by corresponding the “soul” with the idea of a “joint?” Here are my thoughts on that. Adam was created from the Earth. He was a lifeless sculpture, a mere body, until in Genesis 2:7 reads that God breathed His breath (hebrew: neshamah, spirit) into Adam. When this happened, the rest of Gen 2:7 says that “Adam became a living SOUL.” From this we see that a body, plus a spirit, equals a soul.
The soul is essentially what forms as your physical being (your brain and your nervous system and hormones, which all affect how you think and who you are) come together and intersect with your living spirit (which comes from God and returns to God.) This then is the mystery as to why Hebrews 4:12 parallels the word “soul” with the word “joints,” because a joint is the result of the coming together of two things.
(For my scientifically inclined friends: It is important to note that this is not a truly biological description of how life works, but it is a metaphysical description of our physiology as beings which have both a physical and spiritual existence. And I might write a blog post to delve into that more at some point!)
The word “soul” in Greek is the word “psuche,” from where we get the English words “psyche” and “psychology.” It pertains to your awareness, your consciousness – with all your thoughts and emotions and perceptions as a self-aware living being. In a word, your soul is basically “you.” The word soul in some verses can only legitimately be translated as your “life” – your existence.
As Descartes once famously described “the soul” when he said, “I think, therefore I am,” and similarly the writer of proverbs wrote, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” – the soul is Biblical term for the experience of being a person, of having thought, of having feelings, being aware of and participating in your own existence, of being a living being. The scripture in fact makes mention of God Himself having a “soul” – and since we know that nothing evil dwells in God, it therefore stands to reason that the soul is neither inherently unspiritual, (since God Himself IS Spirit) or even a merely fleshy thing.
It IS true that it is the faculty of a human’s spirit which is most directly in union with God’s Spirit; and it is true that it is the human spirit which most directly receives from and communes with the Holy Spirit. But it is the SOUL – your mind, your self awareness, your heart – where you and I become aware of what is occuring in our spirits. You cannot readily perceive anything of your own spirit without doing so through your soul, because your soul is your life, your self, your thoughts! And there is verse after verse which confirms this – take for example the verses in Romans which speak of the “mind” (which is an aspect of the soul) being either “on the spirit” or “on the flesh.”
The soul is the gatekeeper: this is why it is impossible to realistically speak about someone being “in their soul rather than in their spirit” – because the soul is simply the place where either the flesh or the spirit is being expressed. Either one takes place through the soul.
As long as we are alive in a body, our souls become a fulcrum, because they are able to focus on input coming from both the flesh (body), and from the spirit (which can also be joined to Christ’s spirit through believing in Him.) The more one focuses on what the flesh is experiencing and wants, the more the soul is flooded with feelings, thoughts, and emotions based on the flesh. And the more one focuses on what the spirit is experiencing and wants, the more the soul is flooded with feelings, thoughts, and emotions based on the spirit.
So then, if our soul is our mind and feelings and self-awareness, what then do we experience our spirit as? The Spirit, as the deepest God given life and breath within us, refers to the deepest part of our being, and this parallels marrow because marrow is the innermost part of the bone, and is then also corresponded to our intentions, which are the innermost part of the counsel of our hearts. Our intentions are the aspect of our hearts where, if we have received Christ into our innermost beings (hearts), God is at work to cause us then to “will and to do according to His good pleasure.”
In people who have not received Jesus into their spirits, input from the spirit is limited to earth-bound spiritual realities. Thus, people who are attuned to their spirits without Christ may still be acutely aware of their own life energy which God gave them in His breath, and they may use their spirits to connect to the general energy of life surrounding the creation, or in more spiritually developed individuals, they may be able to perceive other peoples’ souls and spirits, and encounter angels or in some cases demons. Everyone has some limited spiritual awareness even if they do not know what it is that they are perceiving.
In general, advanced spiritual abilities were not meant to be used apart from the safety and power of a vibrant spiritual connection to God afforded by imbibing Christ’s Spirit into our Spirits, and have been forbidden as witchcraft. When Christ is indwelling, spiritual abilities are meant to be developed almost exclusively as an outgrowth of intimacy with Him and His indwelling power within us.
One’s soul can be sensitized to spiritual input of the wrong type and care must be taken to cultivate sensitivity to God’s Spirit first and foremost – which tends to grow along with the soul growing in sensitivity to the love of God and the soul growing in its love for God. Love (and other emotions that are various shades of love) become a bond that connects our existential awareness to the Spirit of Christ and God in our own spirits, and which makes us more and more fixated on our spirits in the right way, thus subduing sinful inclinations coming from our flesh.
Intentions and emotions that originate in our spirit eventually make their way to our souls; and so our souls, if tuned to the Spirit, can be incredibly powerful instruments for the Lord’s use. On the flip side, our souls can be ensnared with input from the flesh, whether natural desires like hunger, or sinful desires like self-righteousness. The goal then is to see the spirit triumph over the flesh in the war for the soul’s attention – but once again, notice the issue isn’t soul vs. spirit, but rather flesh-oriented soul vs. spirit-oriented soul.
Now, it should be stated that the flesh in and of itself is not bad – we need to care for our flesh and “nourish and cherish it” as Paul says. But our flesh is not hooked up to God’s Spirit the way that our spirits are, so we need to make sure we learn to drink from His Spirit via our spirits so that our flesh’s needs and wants don’t dominate us more than His do. What’s best for our soul is best for our flesh as well – because as we learn to walk by and receive from the Spirit in our spirit, our flesh receives good things from the Spirit as well.
If God’s Spirit within our spirit is given dominion in the soul, then the soul will carry out the Spirit’s desires and enslave the flesh to its whims. But if you, or rather, your soul gives the flesh provision to dominate attention over the spirit, then the soul (you) will carry out the flesh’s desires and enslave the soul AND spirit to its whims, until the spirit is strengthened by the wooing of God’s Spirit within with grace, love, and power, to set the soul (you) free from the deception of sin to repent and choose agreement with the Spirit once again. When our hearts are single upon Christ, our flesh is “reckoned dead” by an attitude informed by the Word, we give no place to the enemy, and then all of our thoughts and emotions – whether in our souls or in our spirits – are in tune with and proceeding from cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
Hebrews 4:12 then is basically saying that the Word of God goes deep within us and reveals everything, from the shallowest to even to the deepest parts of every faculty of our being. It divides up our soul, showing us whether the various aspects of our soul (our mind, our emotions) are loving our flesh or loving God. And it divides up our spirit, showing us at what points our spirit is moving in harmony with His spirit, or contrary to Him. This is why another verse talks about keeping our spirits blameless – our spirits have been joined to the Lord “as one spirit with Him,” sort of like a marriage. IF our souls – our minds and emotions – tune into the Lord’s spirit in our spirit, the fulcrum of our souls allows the presence and substance of Christ to flow across it as a bridge and flood even our flesh with His glory and love and power. But it works the other way – if we tune into the sinful inclinations of the flesh, those types of thoughts and desires flood across the fulcrom of our souls and quench, subdue, and inundate our spirits with opaque earthly input that blots out the light of Christ’s Spirit shining in our spirits, and taints our spirit with the dust of this realm.
So the point here is that it is not really all that important to know whether or not what you are “feeling” at any given time is occuring in your spirit or soul. We don’t need to go around doing some sort of internal gymnastics to figure out if we’re operating out of our soul or or spirit; but we do need to be pierced and divided by the Word of truth so that in every area of our being, whether spirit, soul, or body, that all three are blameless (aka, working in conjunction with God’s will and for His glory by functioning in cooperation with HIS Spirit. ) If you embrace and connect with an awareness of the Holy Spirit within you, your soul is latching onto the Spirit within your Spirit and things are heading in the right direction.
Via our souls, we can either walk with God’s Spirit (like a harmonious marriage) or start to turn our spirits away from Him (thus grieving Him – like a disharmonious marriage.) Our spirits are permanently joined with Him – but when we have allowed via our soul for our spirits to become tainted by our flesh, we may sense that defilement the more we then turn our attention to Christ in our Spirit. It is important to keep our spirit blameless before Him by receiving His Word into us which is able to separate, cleanse, and wash us from all unrighteousness as we receive and yield to it, and finding where to be agreeing with that Word as we confess our sins to Him.
So there you have it – my thoughts on this subject. It makes no sense to “stop being soulish” in our efforts to be spiritual, as everything spiritual about us only is accessible to us in our souls. But if we are truly spiritual, our souls will be places of His glory every bit as much as our spirits or our bodies, and there is no reason to disregard our souls as somehow unspiritual, for they work in complete cooperation with our spirits when we seek to walk in the Spirit.
Jesus never condemned the “soul” as being inferior to the Spirit, as many often teach. What He did teach is that if we seek to find our life (the Greek word is for life in this verse is also the word psuche / SOUL), we will lose it, but if we seek to lose our souls, we will find them. Somehow I think we get wrapped up in the part about losing our life (souls), but the reality is that as we give our life (souls) over to Christ, we FIND them. And this is a good thing! He WANTS us to find our life (souls) in Him! We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Some of those areas are the domain of the Spirit; and some are the domain of the soul, and some pertain to your body: regardless, we are to LOVE the Lord with every facet of our being.
People thoroughout scripture are recorded as pouring out their “souls” before the Lord in prayer; they were not criticized for praying soulishly or emotionally. And many of us experience physical manifestations when we are praying; and many of us experience emotions and visions and ideas and all sorts of things that would normally be thought of as belonging to the body or the soul, rather than the Spirit. But the fact is that the Spirit of God tends to want ALL of us; His aim is to have every part of us for His use!
Many times people preach that the soul is the realm of emotions, and that the spirit is something else. The soul and the spirit both can have “feelings” of one sort or another. But the fact is, that scripture is FILLED with examples of people and even the Lord Himself having emotional type things in their spirit, although the emotions of the Spirit feel and are different than emotions that are the normal workings of the soul, even though they all flood into the soul in order to be perceived. Feelings are not inherently unspiritual or insignificant; neither are they necessarily spiritual or significant. A few verses about emotions in our spirit:
1 Sam 1:15:
And Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord, I am a woman of
sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink,
but have poured out my soul before the LORD.”
“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish
of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”
And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has