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Soul Care: Warning Signs for the Dying Soul

By David Olshine | Director, Youth Ministry, Family and Culture, Columbia International University, South Carolina. | February 2 2012

Our family frequently takes long road trips. Whenever we pass a deer sign, my son taps me on the shoulder and says, "There's a deer." I explain to him that it is only a drawing of a deer, and the sign is cautioning us because deer have been spotted nearby in the past.

This driving scenario with Andrew happens all the time, and we've never seen a deer by these signs—until yesterday. Andrew said, "Deer," and he was right. The only problem was that it was not alive. The deer had become roadkill. There is a price to pay for not being attuned to the signs.

Warning Signs Are Everywhere

"Keep out!" "No trespassing!"

These are external boundaries, but how do we spot internal warnings for our souls? The soul is the deepest part of our being. Deuteronomy commands us to love and serve the Lord with "all our soul." Psalms 23 declares the Lord our Shepherd "restores our soul." Jesus asks in Matthew 26:16, "What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?"

Signs also can instruct, teach and warn. How do you know when your soul is in trouble? Are there signs that can alert us to imminent danger and steer us from going down the slippery slope?

The standard signs of a dying soul include: declining interest in reading Scripture, lack of a prayer life, little passion for ministry, boredom with life, lack of involvement with people, zero evangelistic zeal; but other warning signs seem to fly under the radar?

Warning Sign #1: Unresolved Hurt

Our souls are vulnerable, so when (not if) someone hurts us, we become disappointed, which leads to discouragement. A staff member says something or is silent and the hurt swells. This leads to irritation.

For any paid or volunteer youth worker, camping out in the land of unresolved hurt for any length of time creates a broken, angry and discontented soul. Before you know it, your soul is bruised and wounded.

Sign #2: Ongoing Cynicism

Andrew Byers in Faith Without Illusions says cynicism is an "embittered disposition of distrust born out of painful disillusionment." Honestly, what painful disillusionment in your life has created distrust?

My spouse left me. A friend betrayed me. My pastor embarrassed me in front of other staff members.

Byers says, "to be cynical is to be spiritually ill; but it is not terminal." When our soul becomes embittered and cynical, we begin to distrust God, staff members, volunteers and the church; our soul is in trouble.

Sign #3: Entitlement Issues

It begins with: "I have spiritual gifts and they need to be utilized for God's glory." It can continue with: "Don't they realize who I am and what they are missing by not having me in the limelight?"

Maybe you have expressed your sense of entitlement by asking these questions: "Why does she get paid more?" "Why does he get more vacation than I do?" "Why does that staff member get..?"

The Israelites were stuck in the wilderness, and the meltdown was coming, "Give us meat to eat" (Numbers 11:13)! Can't you hear them say, "We are the chosen people, and You are going to let us die out here? You owe us food, God!" Entitlement will lead to a restless soul.

Responding to the Warnings

Watch for the signs: Just as my son watches for deer appearances, stay alert. In Genesis, we read of Jacob dreaming; when he rises from his sleep, he replies in a profound moment, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it" (Genesis 28:16). God was present, and Jacob missed the marker; he was not aware of the sign.

Take action: This could lead to tears, fasting, confession or journaling. Perhaps it will take you on a prayer retreat or have a sabbatical. It might involve finding a group of people with whom you can be brutally authentic about your soul issues. What you and I cannot afford to do is pretend the signs are there just for show. The signs are to keep us from a collision.

Maybe that is why King David prayed, "Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God'' (Ps. 42:5-6).

David Olshine is the author of a number of books, including the best-selling Studies on the Go and co-founder of Youth Ministry Coaches.

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