Table of Contents
- 1. Prologue: Latent Potential
- 2. The Neglected Human Spirit
- 3. Foundations for Development
- 4. Why Work on Your Spirit?
- 5. Preparing
- 6. Getting Started
- 7. Connections
- 8. Obstacles
- 9. The Engaged Life
1. Prologue: Latent Potential
This book is about developing a massive potential that has been given to each and every person that has believed in Jesus Christ and become a part of the spiritual family of the Father of Love. If you are not a Christian, this book can still be very rewarding for you, but it will be difficult to really get the full benefits without making some kind of choice.
We live in a world where we have access to a vast number of resources. And yet the majority of us are not living the kind of life we dream about and know in our hearts is possible; a powerful, abundant and fulfilled life that makes a wonderful contribution to the world around us. The problem therefore cannot be due to a lack of resources, it must be due to something deeper.
Part of the problem is that many of us have developed a limiting mindset that is all about trying to get God to reach down and solve our problems, those of our family and friends, and the problems in the world around us. My aim is to challenge this mindset and encourage you to develop a new and powerful mindset that enables you to recognise the unlimited raw potential that you have been given and intentionally develop this so that you can grow into who He has designed you to be and take your place as a partner with Him in bringing into being the Kingdom of Love on earth.
The potential I am talking about is our spiritual nature, the spiritual part of us, or simply put, our spirit. It is here that we have received a rich inheritance of raw materials that each of us is equally able to develop to start to experience the reality of a rich and rewarding life, and overflowing with abundance. This is what Jesus is all about as He says
John 10:10 - I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly
The word abundantly here simply means too much. Jesus stated that his mission was for us to have more life than we know what to do with, too much life for just us.
Developing potential means pushing boundaries and going beyond our comfort zone. It requires making strategic investments, working hard, and above all a commitment to continued practice. The results of this will be bringing into reality all that we know is possible for us, those we love, and the world at large.
2. The Neglected Human Spirit
The challenge many of us as Christians face is that we have never really been taught who and what we really are - that we are essentially spiritual beings and that the spiritual part of us is at least as significant, real and vast as any other part of us.
One of the reasons for this is that there is so little understanding of this area in mainstream Christian culture. Churches tend to fall between two extremes in their approach to the human spirit. On the one extreme there are churches that simply believe that the human “spirit” is just another word for our mind, believing that anything “spiritual” is a quaint way of talking about our psychology. At the other extreme are churches that are extremely focused on the supernatural, but this focus is on the operation of the the Holy Spirit and not the spirit of the individual. In both cases, the human spirit remains neglected and there is very little thought given as to how to intentionally develop it.
I am not saying there is no teaching in this area as clearly the Bible is full of references to our spirit, some of which are indirect such as
Eph 1:18 - that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened Eph 3:15,16 - to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith
And some of which are direct such as
Heb 4:12 - 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 Phil 1:25 - The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
In fact many of us might have heard preaching and teaching on this - for example on the famous passage in Gal 5:22,3 about the fruits of the spirit. The problem is that we have not been taught about the reality of our spirit. These phrases above are simply not a concrete reality to many of us.
To illustrate. I was born and raised in Africa. I grew up thinking I knew about snow. I learned about it in school, I saw movies with snow in, I had seen pictures of mountains with snow on them and people skiing, I had read books about adventures in the snow. I was very comfortable with the idea of snow. However, there came a time when I first visited Europe that I experienced my first European winter. This was when I had my first actual experience of snow. I can tell you candidly that I was not prepared for that experience - the reality of snow was very different to anything that I had imagined! For example I had no idea it was so wet or so cold!
This is how it is regarding our spiritual nature, or our spirit. Although we may think we know about it and have this topic covered, the actual first hand experience of the reality of our spirit can be quite different to what we might expect. Although many of us accept that we have a spiritual nature, we have never really known how to experience it, recognise it and intentionally develop it. Although our spirit is often at work in our lives, we have used a range of words like ‘hunch’ or ‘gut instinct’, or ‘intuition’, or even ‘subconscious’ to explain it away. In church we have used words like “heart” as in Rom 10:9 “confess with your mouth … believe with your heart”. Controversial as this may be, it is actually fairly common for many people to confuse the operation of our own spirit with that of the Holy Spirit.
The Human Trinity
At this point the whole question of definitions might crop up. I can imagine someone thinking “what do we actually mean by the word spirit anyway?” This is both a fascinating and important question. At the same time I am pretty certain that if I asked twenty different people what they understood by their “spirit” I would get twenty very different answers. I can also be pretty certain that in nineteen out of twenty cases those answers would come from people who had probably never experienced the reality of their spirit or if they had, had not recognised it as such.
For the sake of this book I am going to ask that we park the question of definitions for now. Rather, I would like to propose using a framework outlined in the Bible
1 Thess 5:23 - may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”
In this verse Paul does three things. Firstly, he outlines that there are three vitally distinct parts of our human existence; secondly, he assigns an order to them, spirit first and body last; and finally, he states that all three of these parts of us will be preserved eternally, in other words, we are not just a body or a soul or a spirit - we are (and eternally will be) a combination of all three.
All that I am going to ask based on the above framework is that we agree two things: firstly, that there are three different, unique, and distinct parts to us; and secondly that no two parts are the same. Our spirit is a different kind of thing to our soul, and our soul is a different kind of thing to our body. To help our understanding we can use the simple model below:
Body: Our body is our hardware - the physical part of us including organs, blood, bones, skin, hair, joints, cells, nerves, bio-electrical systems, brain, etc. Basically, the part of us that functions by means of the physical senses.
Soul: Our soul is invisible, it is software. It is the part of us that thinks and feels and interprets the data coming from the body. The software depends on the hardware to run. If the hardware malfunctions, the software doesn’t work. For example, if you put me under anaesthetic, then everything from my soul goes away because my physical body is anaesthetised and I am unconscious.
Spirit: The invisible part of us that is distinct and separate from both hardware and software. This part does not depend on my body (hardware) to function. An example of this is when people have been under anaesthetic, and yet they can remember everything that happened. This cannot be the soul, because the sensory machinery is off-line. Another example is babies in the womb who are able to respond to language, even though their brains have not been physically formed.
My intention in outlining this framework is to provide a Biblical tool that can help us to pay attention to and learn to recognise the different parts of us, and separate them out so as to learn more about how we are made and how to optimise that design..
Each According to Its Kind
At this point you might be tempted to start thinking thoughts such as “how do my spirit, soul and body interact with each other?” This is actually another really great question. However, I would ask that again, for now, we park this. These kind of questions are much better dealt with once we have made some definable progress in developing our spiritual nature. For practical purposes the only important thing is to hold our agreement that spirit, soul and body are three separate natures that should not be confused. It follows logically from this that each nature needs to be developed in a way that is specific to itself. Activities that might develop our body do not necessarily develop our soul, and likewise activities that develop our soul do not necessarily develop our spirit. Our soul enjoys certain things that our body does not and vice versa.
To give some examples. Mathematics is very beneficial to my soul, it helps me to develop my mental strength and ability. When we are actively engaged in the practice of mathematics however, this is not very exciting or rewarding for our body. The practice typically involves sitting still in one place, in a set position so that our mind can function at full capacity without any interference from our body. Another example would be physical exercise. It is well know to many gym goers that our minds find repetitive physical exercise pretty boring and non-stimulating. In the first example, our mind is receiving stimulation, but not our body, whereas in the second example it is the other way around. This is quite easy for us to understand when it comes to body and soul, however, because both spirit and soul are invisible it is more difficult to grasp this. Suffice it to say that mathematics is equally uninteresting to the spirit as it is to the body, and likewise activities that our spirits find stimulating can be very uninteresting to our soul.
The point of these examples is to get across how important it is to recognise that there are three separate areas of development and we need to pay attention to the types of things we need to do to develop each of our three natures according to how they are designed. To return to the examples above, if we try to develop our spirit only by the practice of mathematics, we are not going to see much progress. That would be the same as thinking that by regularly exercising our body we can develop our mathematical ability. It is obvious to us that if we want to develop our body, then we need to exercise the body - we can’t get fit just thinking about it - and likewise, if we want to develop our mind, then we need to exercise our mind. What is less obvious is that if we want to develop our spirit, then we need to exercise our spirit. The bottom line here is that the spirit, soul and body all need to be developed according to their kind.
In our society we spend most of our time and effort developing our soul. That is a good thing in that we recognise that in order to become strong we need to exercise and do work. It is a bad thing in that it is unbalanced because we ignore a much bigger and richer area to develop which is our spirit. This is why we experience such frustration with life.
3. Foundations for Development
We have seen that the Bible says that all human beings are made of three distinct natures and that it logically follows that each nature needs to be developed in its own way. The question now is what do we do about it? In order to answer, we will first need to take a look at some of our own foundational beliefs to see if there are beliefs or models that get in the way of us developing our potential - and by the way, this applies to any kind of potential, not just our spiritual potential. Knowing that our models are OK will help greatly in ensuring our success in this journey of developing our potential.
The first foundational belief we need to look at is our belief about principles. What is a principle? Simply put it is a law that works every time for every person without exception. An example is gravity. Whether you believe it or not, whether you know about it or not, it works. Principles are very concrete. If you walk off the edge of a cliff, you will experience the law of gravity regardless of any beliefs you might have about it. This is the same in a spiritual endeavour - there are principles that if you violate them, you will experience the consequences, they function just as certainly as gravity.
How does this apply to our Christian walk? For many of us the way God works seems to be totally mysterious (if we are being polite) or random (if we are being candid). One of the reason things can seem this way is that very few of us have been taught just how important principles are to God. In fact the longest passage in the Bible by far (Psalm 119) is one-hundred-and-seventy-six verses dedicated entirely to the power of principles (called “ways”, “statutes”, “precepts”, “decrees” or “laws”). God has designed every aspect of existence to run according to principles. He has established a system of principles to governs the natural world (science), the human world of relationships (family, business and society), and the spiritual world (spirituality, faith and religion). These principles are grounded in his very nature
Col 1:17 - He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together; Heb 1:3 - He .. upholds all things by the word of His power)
In order to intentionally develop our spirit it is important that we know without a shadow of a doubt that God is not random. He is actually so consistent that in His Word he is described as changeless (Jas 1:17 “coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow”). That means that the laws that govern the development of our spirits are not random but extremely consistent and predictable - they will work for every single person every time. It is vital we acknowledge this. Fortunately, God is not only consistent, but he is also transparent. His ways are open to all - nothing is hidden. It does not matter if you are a Christian or not, anyone can take the principles that God has established and apply them. History is full of examples of individuals and governments that have taken Christian principles and applied them to achieve great success without ever becoming Christian.
At this point we are likely to hit some internal objections. We can all remember unpleasant things that have happened to us in life, or tragic and awful things we have witnessed. Either in our present or our past, we have either secretly or openly asked “where was God?”. And without any answer we have formed limiting beliefs, beliefs not based on reality. What I am going to ask you to do is to consider the possibility that so much of the pain and suffering in our world could be avoided if we had a better understanding of the principles our Father put in place to help us, and that if we applied ourselves to discovering and applying those principles, our world could be a vastly better place.
In summary, God is a god of principles, and he has established principles to govern all areas of existence, including the spiritual. If we want to partner with God to develop our potential, we are going to need to learn to appreciate the importance of principles in His design, and learn how to work with Him to use these to our advantage. If somewhere along the line we have picked up some limiting or untrue beliefs in this area, now would be a good time to clear the air with Him and clear up any misunderstanding that might have broken your fellowship with Him in this area.
The second area where we can experience limiting beliefs is the area of work. God has generously provided principles that anyone can learn to apply to live a fulfilled life, why then are we not doing it? Apart from a lack of understanding and application of principles, the second reason for a lack of progress has to do with attitudes and beliefs about work. Principles require work to understand and work to apply.
We live in a society and a culture today where work has mainly negative connotations. We only need to look at how our culture defines the opposite of work to see this. Rest, vacation, relaxation, recreation. Work is the opposite of these things. It is something we are not meant to enjoy. Where people do enjoy their work, it is looked at as the exception and not the norm. This is why the dream of so many of us is to get to a place where we have sufficient money that we never have to work again. We can have a life of leisure, doing what we want, free from the daily grind.
This is not just the case in the world around us, but even in many of our churches. Let’s take as an example a very common theological argument about grace that if you have been a Christian for any length of time you will have come across. On the one hand, there are churches who hold that God requires holiness, and holiness requires sacrifice and effort, hard work. Christianity is about doing your duty, doing what is right, and this is done out of good character. These types of churches often slip into the mistaken belief that we can somehow earn credit with God through working hard. On the other hand are churches that teach that God has done all the work for us and all we need to do is receive it and enjoy it. It is all by grace. What I would like you to notice is that In both cases there is the presence of a limiting belief that work is fundamentally unpleasant - to use the biblical word “toil”.
The truth is that work is actually designed as a wonderful thing - a gift. It was designed fundamentally to be both enjoyable, and fulfilling. Our Father designed us to build, develop, create and discover things and to get tremendous pleasure and satisfaction from doing so. So much so that when we stop working we inevitably become unhappy. The problem is that with the fall of Adam, work came under a curse. In Gen 3:17 God said to Adam “Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life”. I would encourage you earnestly, that if you still experience work as “toil”, that you talk to God earnestly about this promise of His that has been given directly to you to set you free from this curse. It is part of our Christian birthright.
Gal 3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us”
When God set Humankind on the earth He said to them both - here is a blueprint (the garden), here are some principles, go out and transform the rest of the planet according to this this blueprint. That mission still stands today. In essence what He said was “Go and enjoy the challenge and work that I have given you because it will fulfil you and make you very happy, and I will get great pleasure from your happiness”. (Gen 1:28 - God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”) What He did not say is “Here is a garden in paradise, a chaise-longue, perfect weather, and an endless supply of tasty food - relax and enjoy”. We were fundamentally designed for challenge, designed to produce and to experience an overwhelming satisfaction and fulfilment in doing that. We are not designed for a life of ease. When human beings live a life of ease, we deteriorate and the consequence is a rottenness that sets into our souls and bodies. The easy life is contrary to our DNA and our design.
In summary, it is really important for us to turn away from any limiting beliefs we have had about work, to ask God’s forgiveness, and to embrace His original design of work and to know that work is a great thing. Only then can we really lean into the work that is involved in developing our spiritual potential and enjoy the process as much as the rewards or outcome of that process. I am absolutely not saying that it is going to be easy, or always pleasant. What I am saying is that it will be challenging, exciting, and extremely satisfying. What will be really satisfying will be when we have developed our potential to the point where we can move beyond just working on ourselves, to doing the works of God in the world for the benefit of others. We can follow Jesus’ example
John 5:17 - My Father is always working, and so am I (NLT)
Consumers versus Producers
The third area where we can experience limiting beliefs is around consumerism. The world has undergone a lot of change over the last 50 years, and one of the key areas is the emergence of consumerism. Oddly enough, this trend comes as a direct response to the problem of work. Consumerism offers us an easy life where items that make life easier and that automate work are mass produced so all we need to do is acquire them. Somebody else does the producing, we just buy what we need when we need it. The limiting belief here is that somebody else will do the producing, it is not our job.
The consumerism mindset is so pervasive that it has unfortunately leaked into mainstream Christian culture. In a lot of churches there is no expectation of us having to “produce” anything. The producing is done by experts, and we simply consume their output. I would ask how many times you have heard a teaching on how God designed each and every one of us to work, to be successful in that work, and to contribute more into the world than we take out? Instead there seems to be an expectation that there are religious professionals who are paid to produce religious “products” (do all the work), and all we need to do is go the “store” and collect the finished products to meet our required needs. When this doesn’t work as we expect we become unhappy “customers”, angry at God, at the church, and we lose faith.
Consumerism is just simply not how God works. It is not that what we are doing is not working, it cannot work because it violates God’s principles. God’s design is not for a small group of professionals to do the producing for a much larger group of consumers. Instead he has designed each and every one of us to be a producer and called out a small group to step back and take up a support role coaching and helping the rest to be successful. Being called into fulltime ministry truly is a step down and a sacrifice rather than an elevated position. We are all designed to take raw materials, learn some principles, and apply these to our raw materials to produce the kind of wonderful life-giving things that He made each of us to uniquely produce. That is living life to the full.
The question is, how do we eliminate any limiting beliefs in this area? Being a consumer is addictive. It requires a significant change of mindset to start thinking about the raw materials that we have and what we can produce out of them to contribute to the greater good. It requires that we stop looking for the ease of somebody else creating finished products for us. Instead, it is about developing an attitude that seeks out raw materials and looks to understand principles in order to build and develop unique products that contribute to the greater good. It is about asking God to open our eyes to the wealth of raw materials that He has given each of us to transform into the kind of products that the world around us needs. If we can learn to stop looking to others for a finished product and start working on the raw materials and principles that God has provided us then the rewards can be staggering. This is how single individuals like you and me can have an impact on the world around us that is vastly disproportionate to our abilities.
To summarise I am going to paint a picture of how all of these factors play out in practice. I am going to paint a picture of two Christians, both living in the same city, going to the same church, and in similar stages of life. Both are equally sincere in their faith, and both are giving God everything they have. Christian number one is very happy, things just seem to work for them, they live a full life, their business prospers, their family, and their impact on the world around them is significant. Christian number two is having an awful time, in fact life seems to be going worse for them than the non-Christians around them; things just don’t seem to work out for them, they are always struggling in their business and family, and barely seem to be getting by; they feel depressed, frustrated and have resigned themselves to doing their best while they wait for God to rescue them. In the first case, this person has recognised the raw materials around them, either intentionally or accidentally applied the principles of God to them, and produced an abundance. In the second case, this person has not seen the raw materials right in front of their eyes, not paid attention to principles, and has constantly looked to others to produce for them. The question I would like to ask is which one if these two people would we like to be?
4. Why Work on Your Spirit?
The human spirit has received very little attention in Christianity. It has been written about a lot over the centuries but it has rarely been taught in its own right. The Church historically has not invested in developing a mature theology of the human spirit. That is going to make this journey challenging because it will mean that there is going to be no safe, well-developed body of teaching we can refer to. In other words, nobody has done the producing on this yet. But, what we do have is an an abundance of raw materials. There are also vast resources that will only become available (i.e. begin to make sense to us) once we have gone a little way on the journey. The Bible is one of these.
When we start to engage our spirit I can guarantee that the experience will seem new and unfamiliar to many people. That will be because we will not have previously paid much attention to our spirit. Our souls either have no idea that our spirit exists or if they do, they do not really believe it. The result is that when our spirit makes itself known it can come as quite a surprise which can cause us to experience some doubts and fears. It can cause us to start to question what we are doing and why. To prepare for this it is quite important to set out some of the motivating reasons on why we want to develop our spiritual potential, so that these can help us to keep going and press on through any initial disorientation.
God is Spirit
The first motivation is that it is a key part of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus said “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (reality)…” (John 4:24). This is a striking verse and a very stark statement of how things are. God is a Spirit, and therefore the essence of who He is is spiritual. If we are going to have fellowship with Him, we are not going to be able to do this with our minds and bodies alone. We are going to need to connect with Him by means of our spirit. It therefore follows that the more we develop our spirit, the better our relationship with our Father will be. In fact, the Bible refers to God’s Fatherhood primarily in spiritual ways, firstly as the “Father of Lights”
Jas: 1:17 - ..every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights”
and secondly as the Father of our spirits
Heb 12:9 - Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live?
Taking this further, we know that God has revealed Himself by means of his Word. This is a fundamental Christian truth. Studying His Word is one of the primary was we can get to know Him. This is the basis for preaching, bible study, theological training and ministry. At the same time, even in this area both Jesus and Paul hint that God’s revelation of Himself through His Word is aimed at our spirit rather than our soul. Jesus says “The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). It follows logically that spiritual words are intended for our spirit. Paul says something similar in 1 Cor 2:13 “which also we speak, not in words taught of human wisdom, but in those taught of the Spirit, communicating spiritual things by spiritual means.” This seems to imply that without developing our spirit, our appreciation of God’s Word will be limited, as well our ability to apprehend Him through His Word.
The challenge that we will encounter here will be that mainstream Christian culture is not geared towards engaging God in a spiritual way. This is not intentional, rather it stems from a lack of knowledge and investment in this area. It is quite simply not a priority. With so little investment and teaching there can be little surprise about this. As a result, the dominant focus of Christian worship has become engaging our senses, our mind, our emotions, and our bodies, in a best effort to stimulate spiritual growth and maturity. The challenge is that each of our natures, body, soul and spirit, functions in a very specific way, and while there is undoubtedly some indirect benefit to our spirits and people undoubtedly do grow spiritually in some churches, I do not believe that we achieve anything near the potential that is available to us in terms of a spiritual connection with our Father nor the spiritual growth that is possible through worship.
To recap, the first motivation to engage our spirit is because God is Spirit, His word is spiritual, and if we want to experience the fullness of a rich and rewarding relationship with Him, we are never going to do that with our soul. In order to know God and engage Him with our spirit that implies we need to know what our spirit is, how it works, and how it is different from the other parts of us, and how to intentionally develop it.
The second motivation to develop our spirit is that we cannot be fulfilled otherwise. Most of the lack of fulfilment we as Christians and as human beings experience in life is rooted in our spirit. Our spirits have a desire to be recognised, to be engaged, and to be a vital part of our daily existence. They have a desire to develop, to grow, to contribute to the world and to do what it is they were designed to do.
The desires of our spirit are specific to the nature of our spirit. This means that they cannot be satisfied with things of the soul or body such as wealth, position, family, learning, prestige, achievement, food, shallow relationships, etc. Our spirit desires to do what it was designed to do above all things. And in order to do those things, it needs to be acknowledged, developed, and made strong - and this takes commitment, understanding principles, and practice.
It is vital to understand this. Our spirit is the biggest part of who we are which means we cannot live a meaningful, fulfilled and effective life - the kind of life God designed us to live - if we ignore it and do not take time to develop it and allow it to be free to do what God designed it to do. When our spirit is doing what it is designed to do then life flows to us and life flows from us into the world around us, and we become life-giving and fulfilled - and God gains great pleasure from this and rejoices with us.
The next motivation is a bit deeper and has to do with freedom from circumstance. The world is an unfair place. Some are born rich, some poor, some disabled, some not, some into loving families, some orphaned, some into places where their skin or gender are hated, some into great privilege. On the surface of it there is not much we can do about the circumstances we were born into. The only choice we seem to have in life is to make the best of what we have and work to improve it. As the saying goes - we all need to play the hand we were dealt. And so we generally accept the constraints around us and do the best we can. This is the widely accepted status quo.
And yet none of the constraints that we have listed apply to the biggest part of us, our spirit. Our spirit is not constrained by the circumstances of our birth or even for that matter the world around us. Our spirit is not the product of our environment but a product of the Light of God. Each and every one of our spirits was designed personally by Him and is magnificent Not only that, but our spirits have so much potential inside of them that they are able to complete transform our circumstances. History has proved time and again that people with well developed spirits are able to rise above any circumstance and achieve remarkable and full lives regardless of any disadvantages they might have experienced in life.
This is great news because it means that there is a great hope for each of us. There is a fantastic opportunity for us to change our circumstance, and not one single one of us is disadvantaged in this area. Due to the fact that our spirit is not subject to circumstances every single one of us gets exactly the same opportunity to develop it. Nobody starts off in life with a spiritual advantage. It is just as easy or hard for each of us to develop our spirit as for the next person - regardless. Practically, this means that there are no barriers - each and every one of us is able to develop our spirit equally.
In summary, the next motivation to develop our spirit is that it frees us from the circumstances and constraints we were born into and opens up a whole new world of possibility for us. This gives us a very different perspective on the unfairness in the world around us. Once our spirit starts to develop, the spell of the rat race around us will be broken, and we will begin to see the world in a new and fresh way. That opens us up to experience a wonderful new freedom to enjoy the world around us.
Your Spiritual Talents
The next motivation is that we will miss out on the excitement and satisfaction that comes from discovering and unpacking our unique spiritual talents and using those talents to contribute to making the world around us a better place. During our life, we invest a huge amount of time and effort to develop our natural abilities. We go to school, we study, we go to university or take an apprenticeship. We build a network of relationships, and we get a job, or engage in some kind of business to sustain us. We also develop our bodies through exercise, training, sports, outdoor pursuits, diet and nutrition. And yet we fail to make any investment in identifying and developing our spiritual abilities.
If we do not invest in this area, we will miss out on one of the greatest joys given to us as human beings to discover and develop the astonishing special abilities that God has designed into our spirit. These abilities are designed to impact the world around us and it is a great loss when they are not developed. God has given each one of us unique spiritual powers to enjoy and for the benefit of all. And yet, even when we understand this, we can forget the principle that these abilities are just like our natural abilities, they need to be discovered and developed. And developing our spiritual powers takes time, study, effort, and practice, just the same as developing our natural abilities; except the returns for the effort we put in are far greater. It is a tragedy for us to live our whole life ignorant of our true power and impact, leaving us poorer and unfulfilled, the world around us a darker place, and God saddened that we have not discovered the gifts He has placed in us to discover and use.
The final reason to engage our spirit is that a vital and healthy spirit gives us the ability to live an outward focused, effective and transformational life. There is a lot of inward focus at the moment in society and the Church. Somehow, with all the changes happening around us, new technologies, the breakdown of marriage and society, massive population explosion, global environmental crises, bio-technology, communities and groups are turning more and more inward to find safety from the uncertainty and unpredictability of the world outside. In theological circles this has been called ghetto Christianity - where we retreat into Christian ghettos to be together with similar-minded folks and build an insurmountable barrier between ourselves and the outside world. While getting together is very important, this is not our Father’s great mission to establish His Kingdom on Earth.
There are however good reasons for this, and one of these is a poverty mentality where we look at the very limited resources of our soul and realise that they are just not nearly sufficient for the mission we are called to. We see this as a numbers game. There are lots more of “them” out there in the world than “us”, which leads to an unhealthy reliance and expectation that either we need better and more effective programs and the financial resources to implement them, or that the Holy Spirit must do it all supernaturally. But what if the reason we are having so little impact is because we have failed to develop the vast resources that God has placed in our spirit? What if developing our spirit could allow each one of us to have a phenomenal impact on the world around us - impacting things such as political climate, corruption, economic upturns, crime statistics, urban renewal, education, social change? What if numbers are irrelevant because one individual with a developed spirit is able to have a massively disproportionate influence on the world?
My hope is that once we as Christians begin to develop our spiritual potential that this will change our ghetto mentality and create an earnest desire to be transformational and start seeing the Kingdom of Heaven established on earth. Think about this. What kind of change could you effect in the world around you if you were a billionaire? You could set up institutes, charities, hospitals, feeding hundreds of thousands of starving people, and accomplish a huge variety of things. If only we had those kind of resources! But what if we do have the resources, resources that are far more powerful and weighty than money, resources which are powerful enough to produce money, and all that we need to do is to develop them.
The reasons we have just looked at are in no way a complete list - they are just the tip of the iceberg to get you thinking. The purpose of this section has been to outline some of the key reasons to engage our spirit so that we can stay motivated. This should be enough to help us decide if the journey is something we are ready for, that it is worthwhile, and most importantly, help to motivate us in getting through any discomfort in the first stages.
Engaging your spirit is a journey and before getting started on any journey it is good to understand what you are getting yourself into and taking some time to prepare. That is especially true when it is a big journey, a journey to somewhere unknown. The journey we are talking about is not like a journey to the shops, or to see friends in the next town. For a big journey we tend to take a bit more time to prepare to make sure we bring all the right things with us, know where we are going, and have some contingency plans. All of this greatly improves the chances of it being a successful and enjoyable journey.
It is the same with the process of developing our spirit. Without some basic preparation, we could easily get lost, become unnecessarily disheartened, not recognise the landmarks, and not recognise the great progress we are making and give up just as we are starting to build enough momentum to transform. Quite apart from this, there are also forces out there that are actively against us developing our spirit and they will not be pleased with us setting out in this direction and will likely try to interfere. The good news is, with a bit of preparation and planning, we can have a much more successful journey than if we set off hoping we can figure it out as we go.
Separating Spirit & Soul
The first preparation to make, and probably the most important, is to get really straight in our minds that our spirit and our soul are two completely different kinds of being. I cannot emphasise this enough. I would go so far to say that it is not worth starting if we haven’t got this straight because we will find ourselves in all sorts of unnecessary trouble and will struggle to make any sense of what is happening to us.
Let me be clear, I am not talking about understanding how spirit and soul are different, but only accepting that they are different. The Bible puts a lot of importance on dividing spirit and soul. The key reference is in the Book of Hebrews and states
Heb 4:12 - For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart
There are some very good books written on this, I am thinking in particular here about the work by Watchman Nee. Wonderful as it is to philosophise about this, in terms of getting prepared our primary purpose is to practice making a difference between spirit and soul and not confusing them. In my experience this is the area that people really struggle with, and most of the trouble people get into is as a result of not keeping this distinction clear and getting confused between spirit and soul. This for me, is like forgetting to bring a compass. Without this distinction, we will quickly become lost, give up, and go back home.
This might sound hard to do, but it’s actually really simple. Firstly, all we need to do is drill into our heads the following four points:
- we have a spirit,
- we have a soul,
- they are both fundamentally different, and
- they both have emotions and thoughts
The last point is vital, because it means that every thought and emotion you have is originating from either the spirit or the soul. One thing it might be worthwhile doing is writing it down on the bathroom mirror or somewhere prominent so that you can constantly remind yourself of it, because I can guarantee that it is something that you will very easily forget once things start happening. I am astonished by how easy it is to forget one or more of these points once we are in motion.
Once you train yourself to think this way, it is quite easy with very little practice to step back from any decision or reaction and ask yourself “is this feeling coming from my spirit or my soul”, “is this my spirit or soul guiding this decision”, “is it my spirit or my soul that’s uncomfortable here”, or “what does my spirit think of this crisis”. With a little bit of practice it will become easier and easier to spot the difference. Once you start to pay attention to it and start looking for it, it is actually quite easy. What isn’t so easy, once we get started is facing up to just how much of what we do that is so-called ‘spiritual’ is actually all about our soul and not our spirit.
So the preparation we need to do is accept the difference between spirit and soul and commit ourselves to maintaining that difference and training ourselves not to confuse them. Remember, our soul is the product of our birth, circumstances, family, gender, race, and it is linked to our physical hardware, i.e. our brain, physiology, gender, genetics. It is what we have been brought up to be. Your spirit is independent of these and functions at a completely different level, free from these concerns, and it probably isn’t going to be that easy to recognise at first, because it hasn’t been given a lot of attention or opportunity to express itself.
The next preparatory step is to have realistic expectations, especially regarding where we are starting from. When we start out most of us will be very weak in our spirit and very strong in our soul because we will have developed the one and neglected the development of the other. That can be difficult to accept. Especially as we get more aware of our spirit. Unfortunately, because of the way things are, many people will also start this journey with a spirit that is damaged, malnourished, and weak from constant neglect, lack of exercise, hostility from the world around us, and sometimes even deliberate damage by others. This is normal, and no reason to be disheartened. Our spirit is amazingly resilient and responsive. It is also extremely powerful and able to quickly get onto a road of recovery with a little support.
It is important to be OK with the fact that when we begin, we are probably going to find that our spirit is not in great condition. It simply isn’t going to be a matter of paying attention to our spirit and experiencing an amazing transformation overnight. In fact, we are probably going to encounter some obstacles along the way that we will need to push through. In practice, that means that when we start, we will probably go through times of doubt, conflicting thoughts about what we are doing, outright hostility towards the spirit, and we may even be tempted to give up and stop rocking the boat. But, and this is a big but, your spirit, even in its malnourished state, is still immensely powerful, and even just paying a little attention to it can produce astonishing results.
Two Different Levels
The next step is to come to terms with the fact that our soul and spirit speak two different languages, because they are two different levels of being. An area I often see people struggling with is coming to terms with the fact that their spirit is so much bigger and more capable than their souls. Let me use an analogy. Think of your soul as being like a dog or cat, a pet, and think of your spirit as being like a person. Your dog or cat has a very limited understanding of how a person thinks, feels, and acts. People can do things that animals just can’t do. They can do scientific research, build things, discover things, etc. Animals can’t do any of these things. You simply cannot have a meaningful conversation with your dog or cat about how you hate your boss, or how a combustion engine works. Although we can love our pets, it will always be a one-sided relationship because we are at two different levels of being.
This is the case with our spirit and our soul. Our soul is like the animal in our analogy, and our spirit is like the person, a different class of being. Our soul just simply doesn’t have the ability to understand the things our spirit can understand, just like a dog doesn’t have the capacity to understand how a combustion engine works, no matter how many times you explain it. Because our soul has no idea of the world of our spirit, there is no language our spirit can use to describe the things it can do, or sense or feel. What does this mean for us? One thing it meas is that the things our spirit talks about and cares about are often going to appear nonsense to the soul - just like conversation about a combustion engine workings will appear as nonsense to our dog.
One of the challenges I come across a lot is dealing with people whose souls demand to understand everything that is happening to them. I myself was probably one of the worst offenders. I spent days and months trying to make sense of it all, until my spirit became strong again, and my soul acclimatised to the change. Our tiny and limited souls do not have the capacity to grasp the enormity of our spirit and the things that it is capable of, no matter how important they think they are. That is why I said earlier, God is too big for our minds to grasp - but He is not too big for our spirit!
In order to complete this preparation, we need to find a way to get comfortable with the fact that our soul is never going to understand the things that start to happen to us when our spirit begins to engage. Some people are really good at accepting this, but most often, our soul will find it very uncomfortable and dig in and demand to know more before continuing. This is something that should not be indulged in as it is just not possible for our soul to comprehend the things of our spirit, and this should not stand in the way of our development.
Markers and Landmarks
When you prepare for a journey, one of the most important steps is to know roughly which direction you are going in, and how to tell if you are going in the right direction. You need a map, and some way of recognising the things on the map so you know you are making progress and not going round in circles. In the journey of developing your spirit, this step is vitally important. You need to know where you are going, and how to understand the markers or landmarks that will tell you if you are on the right track. Basically, we will need some way of telling us if we are going in the right direction.
This is an area that people really struggle with because of wrong expectations. It is important therefore to get an idea of what the landscape looks like when you start to move and engage your spirit. Some things will be very noticeable and easier to spot, others will be more difficult. In order to prepare properly, you will need to know what to look for so that you can recognise progress and know that it is working. Basically, there are two types of markers, local markers and landmarks. Local markers are usually small and right in front of you, landmarks are usually things like mountains or rivers that are easy to miss unless you step back and take a big picture view.
Looking at local markers, there will be times when remarkable things happen. Our spirit will occasionally jump into the driving seat and do things that will make us go “Wow!!! What was that!! That was amazing!!”. There will be times when we will find ourselves knowing things about situations and people that seem impossible and that are the opposite of what we see on the surface; times when our spirit will jump in and make a decision before our soul even has time to think about it; times when we experience an amazing connection with another person with our spirit without any need for words; times where we experience God in ways we couldn’t have imagined before we started. There will even be times when we experience God in ways we never dreamed of. These are the indicators that our spirit is engaging, and it is wonderful and exciting. These are the things that are easy to recognise, because they are the small things we can see with our soul.
The bigger landmarks however, are not so easy to spot. These are the really big things that will be happening on a much deeper level, that we will need to step back to see. These are the landmarks that we will not recognise unless we have prepared and know what to look for. To some extent, even though it is amazing, people expect the smaller markers, and recognise these as positive signs of progress. What they don’t expect is the biggest landmark indicator that our spirit is engaging, which is change. When our spirit begins to engage, the world around us will start to change. That means family, job, church, even our physical body - basically the fabric of everyday life will start to change in a big way. We will start to find things such as unexpected changes at work, changes in the family, changes in our body, and changes in the way we normally react and the things that we used to be comfortable with. A problem that I come across is that people find this degree of change uncomfortable and start to panic. They don’t recognise that this is their spirit starting the work of transforming them and the world around them according to how God designed them. In other words, they were thinking too small. That brings us nicely to the next area of preparation.
The final area of preparing for the journey is recognising the type of journey that this is. It is not a short casual trip or a day out. It is an epic journey, and epic journeys take a long time and are full of risk and danger. If we are about to undertake an epic journey, we prepare differently. The risks are higher, but so are the rewards! This is especially true with regards to the journey of spiritual development.
It is important to understand that we will not get there in a day, or a week, or a month, or a year. In fact, there is no telling how long it will take. Which means firstly, that there is no hurry. We will need to pace ourselves, take it slowly. We will need to rest and step aside every now and then. Also, when the going gets a bit tough, it will be important to persevere. There will be times when our spirit will need time to make big adjustments that won’t be obvious to our soul, and it will feel like we have stalled. There will be times when life will be extremely intense and we will need urgency and speed, so it will be important to be rested for those. And, unfortunately, there will be times where we just need to push through a difficult patch to get into the sunlight on the other side.
Having looked at some of the things we can do to prepare, we can finally get down to the exciting part - getting started. Preparing is always a bit frustrating for me, my spirit is of the kind that likes to go at a hundred miles an hour and skip any preliminaries. Every little bit of preparation we do, however, will pay great dividends. I would therefore encourage you to spend some time on preparing and not try and rush over it. On the other hand, if your spirit is very cautious, I would advise against over-preparing. Preparing is, in this case, a step we can come back to at various stages and revisit.
6. Getting Started
It is time now to address the big question ‘How do I start?’. At this point it will be necessary to shift gears and slow down, to move from information processing mode to practical application or practice mode. This is an important part of what I am trying to accomplish with this book. Before we do start, I first want to make it very clear that this is not a method or a step by step guide. The process of engaging our spirit is something highly individual and very sacred, by which I mean it is a very personal matter between each one of us and God. At the same time because everything is governed by principles, we can apply these principles in order to create exercises which will produce consistent results across a large majority of people.
These exercises require a complete change of pace. Up until now you have been reading to consume information in order to better understand this topic to decide if it is something you want to get involved with or not. You are evaluating and investigating and forming opinions. At this point I am going to invite you to put the book or device down and engage in some exercises. I am going to encourage you to “camp out” with these exercises until you have had at least a decent number of tries and have begun to experience the reality of your spirit. The exercises are sequential, meaning that if you skip any, you will have very limited success with the exercises that follow. Everything I am going to say from here on will build on the foundation of this. I’m not saying don’t read on, but I am saying it is worth taking some time to stop and try it and to continue to practice. Development requires practice.
Exercise 1: Acknowledging our Spirit
The first exercise is to find a quiet spot, read the instructions, then put the book down and simply begin to acknowledge your spirit. It is very simple, all that is required is to start to turn your attention towards your spirit, and allowing yourself to notice it. This will give your spirit some space to stir and respond. As you start to notice it, try and get a sense of where it is and what it is doing. It doesn’t sound like a big thing, but it is most likely that we will never have deliberately engaged our spirit before, and therefore the results can be unexpected - especially if we are a little sceptical. When you do it, and your spirit starts to stir, you will quite likely begin to experience some strange sensations that can be a little uncomfortable for some people. You will begin to have a dialogue with yourself and ask yourself questions such as “am I imagining this?”, “Is this real?”, or you might automatically reject or filter out some of what you start to experience This is just because a vast part of you that has been neglected for years has begun to stir - and it is quite likely that it will take us by surprise, because few of us when we start really believe it is even there. And perhaps the biggest surprise will be how strongly it responds when you pay just the slightest bit of attention.
The results will vary from person to person. At one end of the spectrum, a person’s spirit will already be fairly healthy, active and close to the surface, and this simple exercise will produce an immediate reaction. At the other end of the spectrum a person’s spirit will have gone “underground” and will have become disengaged, so that it will take a little patience for it to re-engage again. This is especially true of a spirit that has experienced trauma and which has turned its face away from the world. If that is the case, with a little patience and persistence, a person will start to experience a feeling of something stirring or coming back from far away, or from the bottom of a deep dark hole. The good news is, that with a little work, a tiny bit of patience, and some perseverance, even highly a disengaged spirit can become responsive and the results can be quite amazing.
It is hard to explain how powerful the simple act of paying our spirit some attention can be. Our spirit is so used to being starved that even the tiniest bit of genuine attention will produce a result that is vastly disproportionate to the effort involved. If we continue to consistently pay attention as a regular practice, we will find that our spirit will begin to grow stronger and more confident, and will start to engage little by little in our everyday life, and we will know about it. In practice, I would build five to ten minutes a day minimum into your schedule to do this. The length of time is not important, the consistency of doing it day in and day out is the key.
Exercise 2: Making Time
While the first exercise was about politely acknowledging our spirit, this exercise is about taking the next step to deliberately allow our spirit some freedom to start interacting. The exercise is pretty simple: in order to develop our spirit, we will need to make some time for it, time to give it an opportunity to surface and interact with the world around us. Once again, this exercise requires you to slow down and work a little to understand what I am talking about, because it is not as simple as it sounds. It will require a bit of practice and determination.
What then do I mean by making time for our spirit? What I am absolutely not talking about is the traditional Christian “quiet time”, prayer time or any other devotional activity. Your spirit is not just the religious part of you, it is a vital and real everyday part of you that is able to participate in every kind of everyday activity.
There are two reasons for this. Firstly, making time for God and making time for our spirit are two very different and separate activities that we should not confuse. One is not a substitute for the other. Making time for God is not necessarily making time for your spirit, and making time for your spirit is not necessarily making time for God; we need both. If we think about our soul, we make time for God, and for other things. We continue to develop it outside of our formal time with God. Why should our spirit be any different? If we are going to develop our spirit and reap the rewards of developing it, we should be thinking about getting to a stage that we make significant time for it, just as we do for our soul or body and approach this with the same rigour.
The second reason why “quiet time” is sometimes not conducive to spiritual development is that many devotional activities are oriented towards our soul. It is a really common temptation in our Christianity to try to engage God, who we have seen is Spirit, at the level of our soul only. We stay at the level of the soul nature instead of starting with our soul and stepping up to engage God with our spirit as well. I see this as an attempt to negotiate God into dealing with us at the level we are most comfortable with. It is a very human thing to do.
I want to be clear here, I fully endorse the practice of setting time aside to be with God every day, and it is a key part of my daily practice. All that I am saying is that for the purpose of this exercise, this is not the kind of making time for the spirit that I am talking about. Ultimately, as our spirit begins to develop, our times with God will become a completely different affair as we begin to fellowship with Him spirit to Spirit.
What then are the instructions for this exercise? It is as simple as intentionally setting aside dedicated time just for our spirit to be, experimenting with various locations, times of day, and environments. Our souls have become conditioned to want attention all of the time. If we aren’t working, we are reading newspapers, watching television, going out for meals, playing games, fiddling with our electronic devices, going for a drink with friends, or even just having fun with the family. All of this is about making time for the soul. The reality is that for most of us, our souls consume almost every waking minute of the time we are given on earth. Therefore the first part of making time is to carve out time away from activities that stimulate our soul to begin to discover what gets our spirit excited.
Once we have found a time and space that works for us, the next part is to give permission to our spirit to come forward and engage the world around us. If you have been practising paying attention to your spirit, this will come quite easily. At this point it is very important to note that just as different people like different things, the same goes for our spirits. Every single one of our spirits is designed differently, which means that your spirit will like different things from my spirit. Because of this, it is really important when we are creating time for our spirit, that we engage in discovery and pay attention to the kinds of things our spirit likes and does not like. This is actually easier than it sounds.
One of my favourite ways to make time for my spirit is to drive my car on certain types of roads through certain types of countryside. How did I discover this? Well, as I started paying attention to my spirit, I began to notice that my spirit loves being in motion. Secondly, I noticed that when I was driving, I experienced a desire to drive a certain route and to avoid another. I noticed that my spirit reacted strongly to the land I was driving on and the types of road. In other words, as I paid attention and created time, my spirit began to let me know the kind of things it liked and disliked. As a result I now make driving through certain types of countryside a practice. When starting out on a journey, I tune into my spirit (pay attention) as I drive to find out if it has any preference on what route to take, and I take some time, at various stages of the journey, to turn off all distractions (music, radio), and I allow my spirit to come to the front and interact with the land, trees, and countryside I drive through.
I want to emphasise that this is my practice, and the reason it works for me is because my spirit has been designed this way. I am quite certain that it will not work for everyone or even the majority. This is my thing. Our spirits are all very different. Some of us will find our sweet spot in movement, some in being still, and some being in the middle of a busy crowd of people. Some will find it being near water. Some will like travelling in a certain direction, some will like certain times of day or night, some will especially like fragrance and quietness, some will be energised by noise. The good news, is that finding out what your spirit likes and making time for it is not hard. Our spirit will start to tell us what they like. It is also important to know that we are not on our own. We have the Spirit of our Father to guide and coach us - and He is VERY interested in us developing this area and very helpful when we get stuck.
Exercise 3: Affirming our Spirit
The next exercise builds on the previous one, in that we take it one step further and that is that we begin to deliberately affirm our spirit. Making time for our spirit is one part of affirming it, but what I am talking about here is going a bit further. This is a very important step because many of our spirits have become so disengaged. At this point we will be pushing out past many people’s comfort zones, because one of the mysteries about how we were designed is that our natures can communicate with each other, which means we can communicate with our spirit. You can speak to your spirit, and it can hear you and respond, although in a cryptic way in order to translate the realities of its world into human language. Because most of what happens around us is soulish, it is not very interesting to our spirit and it slowly become disengaged; there is nothing to stimulate it or keep it interested. When I talk about affirming our spirit, I am talking about taking steps to establish direct communication with your. The choice on how best to communicate with your spirit belongs to you. What I am going to focus on are the messages to communicate.
There are three key messages we want to affirm to our spirit. These themes are so crucial to our spiritual nature that we will continue to develop them for years and constantly build them, because the world outside of us will constantly seek to erode them.
Light from Light
The first key theme is that God, who is Light, made our spirit out of His own Light, and has designed our spirit with great precision and care. God designed our spirit for earth, not for heaven. It is His will that Heaven is established on earth, and our spirit was designed according to that will. When Jesus said “you are the light of the world” He meant it in a very literal sense. We are the Light of God born into this world to tend it and transform it into a Heavenly place. Earth is not an inconvenience we have to endure - it is a core part of our mission and purpose. Practically speaking, affirming our spirit is about taking time to communicate this theme to our spirit, in whatever fashion works best for us, and allowing our spirit to chew it over until it begins to take root.
The second key theme to affirm is that our Father has placed our spirit into this world at a very precise time. In fact, at exactly the right time for what He has designed it for. He has not, for example, designed a special forces assassin and put them into a time of peace and plenty. No. Rather, He designed us not only for earth, but for a specific time on earth, and we were injected into the earth precisely when it was planned that we should be, regardless of any of the circumstances of our birth and what we believe about it. What this means is, that God has carefully designed our spirit for exactly the time we are living in, when the gifts and talents of our spirit are of most benefit. That is good news for us, and good news for the world around us. Once again, the practice of affirming this is to communicate this to our spirit, and allow it to sink in, over and over.
The final theme to affirm to our spirit is that God has not left our spirit alone in this world and abandoned it to fend for itself to see who survives. That is the exact opposite of our Father’s Way. He is in a very real way the Father of our spirit, meaning that He is absolutely committed to providing for it and developing its potential. Developing our spirit is part of growing into a relationship with God - a spiritual friendship that goes deeper than family or earthly relationship could. What that means is, there is no true developing our spirit without Him - it is not a task that we need to do, but rather an activity that we can share with our Father to get to know Him and what He has fashioned us to be. A great way to think about this is the concept of “easter eggs”. Easter eggs are hidden presents and surprises that are left for us to search for and discover. And God has hidden many easter eggs in our spirit for us to discover and share the joy with Him.
Looking Ahead: Spiritual Design
This book is about getting started, it is something of a teaser. My intention is to deliberately refrain from talking about later stages of the journey simply because they will not make sense now. At the same time, I do want to take a little look at the next step on the journey and lay out some basic practices we can do that will help to prepare for that.
Once we have invested some time in diligently practising the exercises outlined in this chapter, and we know that our spirit is engaged and active, the logical next question will be ‘where do I go from here?’. The answer involves more detailed attention in order to discover more about your specific spiritual design. By this I mean two things. Firstly what type of spirit do I have, and secondly what are my spiritual talents? It is important to remember, that God did not make our spirit by saying “Hmmm, let’s make a blue one today - I’m in the mood for blue”. Rather, our Father as a Master of Design invested considerable effort into planning the design of our spirit. Only when He was absolutely satisfied with it, did He give birth to it, light from Light. Each and every individual spirit a masterpiece.
Perhaps an analogy will help. When we first attend preschool as young children, everyone is taught the same things. We we progress through the education systems of our world, we specialise more and more. This specialism is based on our “natural talent”. In the same way, if we are to fully develop the potential of our spirit, we need to discover our talents and begin to specialise. Let’s look at a few examples. Some people have a talent for mathematics, their brain is just wired that way. If they can discover this, they can develop it and become exceptional mathematicians. Other people have the talent and body shape for swimming. If they discover this, they can develop it and become an Olympic swimmer. If they don’t discover this and spend all their time trying to become something they have little talent for, they are not likely to very successful. A great example of this is musical talent - you either have it or you don’t, no matter how much effort you invest in developing this area, you will get poor results.
As with our soul and body, the first first area to start looking for clues in is what kind of things our spirit is drawn towards. A way to do this is to pay attention to the kind of things that recharge or energise us. When life gets difficult, what kind of things are we drawn towards in order to get back on our feet? I am not talking here about the kind of pain-killing activities which our souls immediately seek out. The key here is that we are recharged. In my case, one the things that recharges me is spending time around mountains. Once we have started to identify the kinds of things our spirit likes, we have taken a first step towards discovering our spiritual abilities, and we can begin to look at how to develop them. If we find that our spirit likes certain things, this is a clue that we probably have some interesting spiritual abilities in that area that we should think about how to develop.
The second area is to look for clues about what kind of spirit we have. Even though God designed each spirit to be unique, there are a set number of different types of spirit. If we work with our design, i.e. recognise the type of spiritual design we have, then we will get great results, and vice versa. But how do we do this? The process is fairly similar to the one outlined above. The difference is, that instead of looking at the types of things our spirit enjoys, we start to look for clues in our personality. It is in this area that our spiritual type will show itself more than any other. This is not about what we like, but what kind of being we are. It is important here not to confuse personality with spiritual type. Our personality is part of our soul. What we are doing here is paying attention to our personality to look for clues of a spiritual design that goes deeper than our personality and underlies it.
Finally, for those of us who are parents, recognising design in our children at an early age can help us work with the design of our children to produce happy and fulfilled human beings that are able to go places and do things with their spirit that we may never get to. This is a big topic, and there are many resources in this area already.
This chapter has been a practical look at how to get a process started, how to take the first few steps. Once we take those first few steps, a whole new world will start to open up as our spirit engages and begins to guide us, under instruction by the Holy Spirit of our Father, who is committed to guiding and partnering with us on this journey to develop the full potential of our spirit.
Thus far, everything that we have been talking about has been from the perspective of you as an individual, about something we do on our own. In this section I want to look wider than this at the impact that developing our spirit will have on our connections to other people, and what to do about it. None of us is an island, we all exist as part of a web of relationships that began with family, no matter how good or bad that was for us. First, let’s make a distinction between relationships, community and organisation. Relationships are informal, unstructured, and person to person, or one to one. Community on the other hand is a collection of relationships, around some common interest. An organisation, is the most structured form of relationship, and implies some kind of leadership and firm boundaries or rules of membership. I am mainly going to focus here on relationships. However, instead of using the word “relationships” I am going to use the word “connections” as a matter of preference.
For this section I am going to come back frequently to the differences between spirit and soul. They are two different levels of being. What that means for us practically, is that there are a number of different types of connection to others that are possible. There are soul-to-soul connections, spirit-to-spirit connections, and then spirit-soul-spirit connections.
Let’s take a look at the connections our soul forms with the souls of other people. Before we start and during the early phases of this journey of spiritual development, soul connections will form the majority of the connections that exist in our life. I say the majority, because even though with many of us our spirit is disengaged, it can still guide us to make certain connections and friendships. However, even those spirit-initiated connections have probably eroded to become soulish over time as our spirit has not been developed much.
Soul connections are very seldom very deep, although they can be. Generally, no matter how good our friendships are with others, deep inside many of us know that they are not based on “the real me”. We simply do not expose the deepest parts of our self to other people - for good reason. What we do is put our best foot forward, as does the other person, and we build a connection that is based on that. Gradually we trust more and disclose more, and that soul connection can deliver some fulfilment.
At the same time, in comparison with spirit connections, I would call soul connections “surface connections” in that they are based on how our souls have been formed, on either our natural desire to be together with others, or on circumstances. Some people we like and form connections with because they are similar to us and they have similar values and interests. Other connections we form are based on proximity, sharing experiences together over a long period of time in a context like work, college, or nursery.
Please note that I am not knocking soul-to-soul connections. They are an essential part of life, and it is a great advantage in life to learn how to get along with other people on this level. The problem is that each of us has a deep spiritual desire for friendship - our spirit aches to form connections of its own - and very often, we are trying to fulfil this desire with our soul, which is basically incapable of that level of connectedness.
This brings us neatly to the kind of connections our spirit makes. One thing I can guarantee is that as we engage our spirit, we will start to experience a strong desire for a new kind of connection - a connection (or deep friendship) between our spirit and the spirits of others. Our spirits were designed for connection, and they will be restless and unfulfilled until they find it. Because of this, the more we engage our spirit the stronger this desire will become.
Spirit-to-spirit connections are as different from soul-to-soul connections as our spirit is different from our soul. Our spirits are free from the insecurity, posturing, and pretence that we struggle with at the level of our soul. That is because our spirit functions at a different level. It is not subject to the same restrictions that our soul is. It can see things as they really are and a spirit-to-spirit connection is totally transparent. There is no pretence or deceit. There are no fears that someone won’t like me, or any of that kind of insecurity. There is no worry that tomorrow that person might not like me the same as they do today, or wondering if I have said something to upset them. Instead, there is a complete openness because our spirits are not able to hide things from each other in the same way our souls can.
For all of this, spirit-to-spirit connections are not going to be very satisfying for our soul. They tend to transcend social niceties and be uncomfortably real and they can sometimes not fulfil some of the valid emotional needs of the soul; they do not scratch where our soul itches.
Rebalancing our Connections
Having had a brief look at the difference between the connections our soul makes and the connections our spirit makes, I want to look at the impact that engaging our spirit will have on our existing connections to family, friends, and acquaintances.
There are three possible things that will happen to our existing connections and friendships:
The first possibility is that our existing connections will get stronger and take on a spiritual character. This is a great outcome, and very satisfying when it happens. These connections will move into the spirit-soul-spirit category and will require special attention to develop, because some adjustment will take place. That adjustment will be extremely well worth the effort in terms of rewards.
The second possibility is that our existing soul connections will remain neutral, in other words we will continue to connect in much the same way as we always have. This will usually only be true for either very shallow connections where engaging our spirit won’t matter that much, or dysfunctional connections, such as broken family connections where we are connecting out of a sense of duty and obligation and our heart is not in it anymore.
The third possibility is that we will lose some of our existing connections because they will disintegrate as our spirit gains dominion. This is the hardest type of outcome to deal with, because it will cause our souls pain. There is no easy way around this, but the bottom line is that there is very little we can do about it, even if we try to hang on as long as we can with our soul.
I call this whole process rebalancing, because it rebalances all of our connections. It is vitally important, because in order to make room for spirit connections, some of our existing soul connections will have to go away. This is the same principle we discussed earlier about making time. Time is a finite resource, and we will either use it on our soul, or on our spirit, or if we are wise, we will learn to share it between both. This is what is commonly known as a zero-sum game. It is the same with our connections. There are a finite number of connections that we can sustain, and either our soul will take them all, or our spirit will take them all, or they will be shared.
Community of Practice
I want to end this chapter on a practical note. In the previous chapter we looked at a series of exercises that we could begin to practice in order to start engaging our spirit. In that chapter, it was assumed that these were things that you did by yourself without involving others. What I want to look at in this section, is the idea of a community of practice. In other words, building connections around a common interest; in this case, that interest being learning how to engage and develop our spirit.
If we revisit the process I outlined, it will probably occur to you at some point that while there are certain parts to the process that we need to do by ourselves, there is also a lot that can be gained by working together with others. One of the reasons for this is that we tend to learn and develop faster when we combine solo work with group work, than if we just work on our own. When we are working with others, we can share experiences, encourage, troubleshoot and help eachother to get through some of the adversity we will encounter a lot more easily. As a bonus, we will also begin to discover the diversity of gifts that God has put in the spirit of others, which will greatly encourage us. Finally, working together with others is a great way to form spiritual connections around a common interest that will satisfy our spirit’s need to connect.
How does this work in practice? You will recall that the first principle we looked at is noticing our spirit, or paying attention to our spirit. In a community of practice, one of the things we can do to extend this is to start paying attention to other people’s spirit. This can have a massive effect on our spirit, as getting attention from one source is good, but getting attention from two sources is ten times as good at negating the damage that it has been subject to.
Next, we talked about making time for our spirit to engage the world around us. This is mostly done by ourselves, because a lot of it is about learning what our spirit likes, but it can also be done with others. Then we talked about affirming our spirit. This is another activity that is accelerated when working with others. When we affirm another person’s spirit, our spirit grows, and their spirit does as well.
Finally, we talked about spiritual design. Here especially, working with others can yield tremendous benefit. We are often blind to things very close to us, that others can easily see. And if we allow spirit-to-spirit connection to take place, the spirit of another person can see things about my design that are extremely helpful to me as I will tend to be blind to them. The bottom line is that when we are looking for design clues, two or three eyes are much better than one!
In a perfect world, we start our journey, everything goes smoothly, and we arrive at our destination quickly and effortlessly. In the real world however, things are not always this way. In this chapter I want to talk about some of the obstacles we might face in the journey and some tactics to overcome them. Obstacles are a common part of any process, and the process of engaging our spirit is no exception. It is important, when we come across them, not to get discouraged. Experiencing obstacles happens to everybody, it is not just you, and it is not personal.
Below is a list of some of the common obstacles we will experience and what we can do about them. There are three main areas where we will experience obstacles: our soul, other people, and hostile spiritual entities.
The first area where we will experience resistance is with our soul. When we start out on this journey, our soul will either not be aware that our spirit exists, or if it is aware, it will be irrelevant because we never give it any space, in other words there is no conflict of interests. Until our spirit actually engages and our soul starts to experience its presence, then everything is fine. Our soul will be happy enough to talk about our spirit, study it and even become an expert in the theory of it - so long as we do not actually do anything. When our spirit starts to engage, however, our soul can very quickly become alarmed and take up a defensive posture. In some cases this is just mild alarm because the spirit is taking some of the soul’s time, but it can become a lot more unpleasant than that. An analogy might help to make this a little clearer. The situation is not like having one pet and a second one coming into the house; rather, it is more like when a pet has been the child of the house, and suddenly a real child comes along. The pet can become very insecure.
It is important to remind ourselves that our soul is the product of our environment, the beliefs and influences of the world we were born into; a combination of the influences of our family, teachers, friends, and cultural heroes. It follows therefore that if we were fashioned by a society that doesn’t place any value on the human spirit, then our soul is going to be prejudiced against our spirit. It will find the practice of intentionally developing your spirit offensive and uncomfortable, and it will find lots of “friends” in the culture and our environment to gather around it for moral support.
In practice, the obstacle looks like this. We will begin to experience lots of doubts and fears and even outright hostility. Thoughts like “why are we doing this”, “this is uncomfortable”, “this stuff is all just nonsense”, “this is just weird and scary”, “I know that something is happening, but I don’t understand it and I don’t feel safe, so let’s stop”, or simply “I just don’t have time for this”. What you will soon begin to learn is just how crafty your soul is and just how creative it can be in distracting you from this purpose.
How then do we deal with this? There are three strategies we can use. The first is to remind ourself of the distinction between spirit and soul. That can be hard when our feelings and thoughts are very strong. In this case it is best to wait for the storm to blow over and then take a step back and ask: “Were those thoughts and feelings coming from my spirit or my soul?” Or you could ask your spirit what it feels about it. The second strategy, is to remind ourself that our soul cannot function at a spiritual level, and it does not need to. If the presence of our spirit makes our soul uncomfortable, we should realise that it is just our soul that is uncomfortable, and it will with time and patience adjust. Finally, there is no substitute for patience and determination. If the adversity is very strong, then take some time out and agree not to make a judgement on it until the process has had a bit longer to run. This will buy some time for our spirit to recover from any bullying.
Another common area where we will experience obstacles is with other people. This is very understandable. As we begin to develop our spirit, we will start to transform. We will begin to behave differently, react differently and deal with situations differently to what we did before. In general, the people around us, like most people, will like things to stay the same. We all like a predictable world to live in that we can understand. So when we start to behave and react differently, the predictable world starts to become unpredictable, which can make even the people closest to us uncomfortable. There is another factor at work as well. It is impossible to hide from the souls and spirits of the people around us the presence of our spirit. They will sense it and know that something is up. Because they won’t have experienced their spirit before, it will be as disconcerting to their souls as it was to ours.
Probably one of the most challenging obstacles we may encounter will be in church. This is not always the case, but in some cases the people around us in our church will be very happy with a Christianity that is oriented towards the soul and not be ready for much more. We can find ourselves experiencing this obstacle when we start reacting differently to the things that we used to enjoy about church. This can cause us to stand out a bit and others to become uncomfortable, because they will see that our heart just is not in the same activities we used to be in to. This will be because our spirit is making its needs and wants felt, and it will start to let us know that it is not being fulfilled by the things of the soul and would like something more.
How then do we deal with the obstacles we encounter that involve other people? Fortunately, there is much guidance on this in the New Testament. The first and absolute principle is the Law of Love. Practically that means taking a generous attitude to those who are happy with where they are and who might be offended at you. This is not about being holy and pious, it is about staying on the journey. If we allow ourselves to be affected by other people, and get into that dangerous place that the Bible calls “strife”, then our spirit will begin to withdraw and recede, because our spirit is very gentle and also very communal - it is designed for community. The second strategy is covered in the previous chapter, specifically in the section on rebalancing relationships.
A final note on church. I have found that even a church that is very oriented towards the soul can be a very positive experience, but what will happen with time is that you will engage with what is going on at a different level. There are always very interesting spiritual dynamics at play in every service, especially when God makes Himself present, which impacts the spirits of all in the service and causes them to come to the surface. Church can be a very rewarding experience, but just in a different way. You can enjoy the parts of it that are oriented towards the soul, and at the same time find tremendous stimulation for your spirit by engaging at a very different level.
As much as I would prefer to avoid talking about it, there is no getting away from the fact that there are evil people in this world working either knowingly or unknowingly with diverse kinds of hostile spiritual entities to do all sorts of harm. I would be remiss not to spend a little time talking about this, although I would prefer not to dwell on it, as sometimes we can put too much focus on this area.
As we begin to develop our spirit to get our freedom, there is a good chance that we might encounter some of these hostile spirits along the way. I do not really want to focus on these forces, I just want you to be aware that you may come across them and that they may try to harass you, deceive you, or distract you either directly or by means of others using the tools of your environment. The good news is that they are generally quite straightforward to deal with and as you go further and deeper, you will develop ways to minimise their impact and ignore them. The other good news is that there is a lot of help available.
So, how to deal with these? There are lots of technical skills you can learn, but there are three particular strategies that can be very effective. Firstly, we can always go to God for help: this journey of spiritual freedom is not for us to figure out on our own. It is a partnership - and God is a lot more willing than we think to help us. Secondly, we can ask God to shine His light on what is going on: hostile spirits always works in darkness and shadow through misdirection, lies, and subtle deception. This is because they are a lot weaker than you and cannot survive any kind of direct conflict. If we cannot figure something out, and as we ask God to shine His light, situations can clear up almost immediately. Finally, we can use our rights of citizenship: when we became a Christian, we gained certain spiritual rights, just like we did by being born into the country we were born. That means, we are citizens under the protection of a spiritual government that we can call on any time to help us, in other words, we can invoke our rights as citizens. I would strongly advise that taking a little time to learn how this works is very worthwhile. We have a wealth of help at our disposal.
Eph 2:19 - So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God
As I mentioned a lot earlier, God has designed us for challenge. We can see this clearly in his mandate to Adam
Gen 1:28 - fill the earth, and subdue it
The core concept behind the word subdue is to overcome. I would therefore encourage you to think differently about the obstacles that you encounter on the journey. They are part of what makes the journey so rewarding as they are challenges to overcome, and overcoming challenge is what we were designed to do. It is supposed to be fun.
Finally, if you look at developing any part of yourself, resistance is a key part of development. There is no way to develop your bodily muscle without resistance - overcoming that resistance is what produces growth, and growth is exactly what we are aiming towards. As we persevere, our spirit will grow and become stronger, and we will become more complete.
9. The Engaged Life
This final chapter is about the kind of transformation we can expect as our spirit begins to get stronger and starts to become active in our daily life. The key theme of this book has been on how to engage or activate our spiritual nature and develop it. As we do so, the dynamic that next comes into play will be how to integrate our spirit into our daily routines so that it becomes part of who we are and we become fully integrated. The ultimate goal of this integration is for our spirits to take their place as the dominant guiding force in our life, partnering in close fellowship with our Father, and bringing the enormous benefits of the resources of Heaven to both our soul and body. Only by means of our spirit will we be able to appropriate the things of Heaven and bring them into being on the earth in real and tangible ways.
Engaging the Body
One of the most exciting results of developing our spirit for me is seeing the kind of transformation that can happen in our physical body. As I mentioned above, there is an order that God has established, spirit, soul, and body. I do not see this as a linear hierarchy, with our spirit at the top, our soul in the middle, and our body at the bottom of the pile. Rather, I believe the connection is more like a triangle with our spirit at the top and our soul and body at each of the remaining two corners. The reason I mention this is that our spirit does not need to go through the soul in order to interact with our body. In fact, all my experience, as well as the evidence from Jesus’ miracles, points to the fact that our spirit is able to directly interact and affect our body without our soul even being aware of it. Instead of a stacked hierarchy, the triangle model shows that each of the three natures is able to connect directly to the other.
The reason why this area is so interesting is that it impacts something we care about deeply, the whole area of health, healing, and physical well-being. The health industry is one of the biggest and most powerful industries in the world. With that in mind, the first thing to note is that as we engage our spirit we may experience, as a consequence, some accidental healing in our body. In almost all the reference cases that I know about both personally and anecdotally, the people involved were not actively doing anything to achieve or target health or healing, they were just practising engaging their spirit. The cases range from complete restoration of function, even when part of an organ was missing, through numerous cases of accelerated healing through major surgery.
Personally, I don’t understand many of the intricacies of healing, but it makes sense to me that if our spirit is made out of the same substance as our Father and the Lord Jesus, then our spirit has huge undiscovered healing abilities just as the Spirit of our Father has. I believe that we can partner with Him to develop these abilities. In fact, I believe that this is why John G Lake was so successful, because his spirit was powerfully engaged with the Spirit of God and knew how to tap into healing intentionally.
Engaging the Soul
Next I want to talk about the journey that our spirit and soul take together. You will probably be tempted to think that during the course of this book the soul has been painted as the villain. The risk here is that we will start to think of our spirit as the hero, and come to the mistaken conclusion that our spirit is wholly good and our soul wholly bad. That is absolutely not the case.
All that I am aiming for is to correct an excessive focus on the importance of the soul, to the detriment of the spirit. The soul has a an extremely valid function, and is an equally important part of our being. We cease to exist without it. Otherwise we could throw it overboard and forge ahead with only spirit and body. The problem is not with the soul, but with the soul occupying a position that it was not designed for, and being asked to carry a load that it is neither strong enough for, nor designed to carry. This is bad for us, it produces pain and unhappiness, and it is especially bad for the soul, which is stretched beyond its capacity and becomes stressed. This then has a knock-on effect on our body, and the whole person suffers. The bottom line is that although we have three parts to our being, one of them needs to be in the lead position. And that is what our spirit was designed for and has the abilities for. Our society has placed the soul in the lead position and demands that we function only according to those rules.It does not know better.
The journey that the spirit and soul walk together is in my mind a precious one. The soul starts off in the position of leadership, and gradually concedes ground to the spirit, but it always keeps the majority ownership, the deciding vote. The bible puts it this way “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit, the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5). It is only at a key point in the journey that our spirit becomes able and will be allowed to take over the leadership. This the soul will never allow to happen without a tussle, no matter how much it is in it’s best interests. This is the crisis towards which every one of our journeys is heading. But, the good news is that once the spirit has successfully gained the leadership, then the soul will begin to prosper as it discovers its true purpose, potential and function. It will gain a freedom to flourish in ways it was previously unable to. That makes for a very happy person indeed. This process does not happen overnight. It is a gradual process, and one that cannot be rushed. It is also one that cannot be controlled, because our spirit will take the lead when it is ready, and not before.
In practical terms, the way that it works is as follows. As we care for, feed, and exercise our spirit, it will become stronger and more healthy. Our spirit will start to have more influence in our daily life and start having more of a say in our decisions. We will start to experience two different states of mind, when our soul is “in front” or leading, and when our spirit is “in front”. We will find ourselves doing things and making decisions without thinking about it and afterwards saying “wow, what just happened?”. These times when our spirit is in front will become longer and more intense. Then, at the right time, if we persist, when our spirit is strong enough, it will take it’s rightful place. When this happens, our soul will find a great peace, as all the stress it has had to bear from carrying a weight it was not designed to handle will disappear. We will become as Paul when he wrote
Phil 4:11 - I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.
Engaging the World Around Us
As our spirit begins to grow strong, and as we begin to invest in developing it, it will begin to bring transformation into the world around us. There are so many areas this shows up and so many ways. The point here is to give a few examples to give some hints on what to notice.
Firstly, our family situation. If you are a parent with young children or babies in particular, you will begin to notice an amazing ability to communicate with your children’s spirit. When we are born, our spirit is highly engaged, and it tends to become gradually disengaged as it is systematically ignored and given the consistent message year after year “you are not valued here”. So, as parents, when our spirit becomes engaged, we will find an ability developing that allows us to communicate with our children, because our spirit will reach out to theirs. We may not be aware of all the communication that takes place, but we will begin to see the results. Spiritually engaged children are amazing to raise.
The next area is our work, school, college or career. As our spirit comes to the front more and more, we will begin to become aware of the spiritual character of the organisations that we belong to and the spiritual context that we are operating in. This is a massive area, and the subject for a whole book, but for now, it is enough to point out that our spirit will begin to bring things to our attention, and do things in our work situation that will have a transformational effect on ourselves and how we function within the organisation. Many of the organisations we belong to are sick, and our spirit is able to do small but significant things, that can bring healing, provided of course that we also take time to develop our spiritual connection to God. What I can say, is that this will transform our “daily grind” into a spiritually fulfilling and challenging experience.
The final area concerns the environment, or nature. It is a tragedy that so much of Christianity is hostile towards nature. It is important to remember here that God designed our spirit for the earth, and He created the earth for us. This means we are designed to have a special relationship with nature and to gain great joy from it, as well as to put something back into it. There is so much of God’s life deposited in the world around us, in the trees, in special places of land, in bodies of water, that we do not see. These deposits are invitations to transform our environment - and our spirit has a huge amount of ability in this area. Because it was designed for the earth, its abilities are oriented towards transforming the earth. Also, when Jesus taught us to pray ‘Your will be done on earth as in Heaven’, He was not just talking about people. There is a very specific verse that speaks to this
Rom 8:20-21 - For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will, but because of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God
While this is the end of this short book, it is only the beginning of a great journey into the mystery of God. And how far we want to go is completely up to us as individuals. Some people will always want to go further than others, and my message to those people is that there are literally no limits to how far you can go - the only limit is you. History is full of people who have developed their spirit to the extent where single individuals have transformed entire provinces and sometimes nations for centuries. At the same time, that will not be for everybody, not everyone is that driven or designed that way. That is totally OK. It is my experience that any work we do in this area delivers vast returns. And it is not a race or a competition.
All that remains is to wish on you every blessing on this journey to unlock and develop the potential that God has put in your amazing spirit.