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When a Soul Lacks a Center

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:7-8, NIV)

The New Testament book of James uses a fascinating word to describe this condition. It’s often translated “double-minded,” but the Greek word is dipsuchos — we might think of as double-souled, or split-souled, or the un-centered soul. Here are a few of the indicators when a soul lacks a center.

A soul without a center has difficulty making a decision. One of the pictures James uses of this condition is that the double-souled person is like a wave on the sea, driven forward one moment and backwards the next. People whose souls are rooted in a center find it brings clarity to their decisions. A classic counter to this in Scripture is the character of Pontius Pilate. He struggles with the decision of what to do with Jesus. He tries to talk Jesus into saying what will allow Pilate to free him. He pesters the religious leaders without making the decision that his authority would have allowed. He asks the crowd to let him off the hook but they opt for Barabbas. When the soul is not centered, one is never sure what temptations are worth resisting or what sacrifices are worth making.

A soul without a center feels constantly vulnerable to people or circumstances. 1 Kings 19 tells of Elijah’s soul that grows terrified under the threat of Jezebel. He runs and hides. Meanwhile God treats all his “parts.” God gives his body a rest and some food; he allows Elijah’s mind to hear his still small voice; he appeals to Elijah’s will to return to the battle. Eventually Elijah’s soul is restored, but only because he found his Center. The disconnected soul lives in vulnerability.
A soul without a center lacks patience.
In the book of Numbers, when the people grew impatient with God’s long journey through the wilderness, the text says that “their souls grew short.” The same usage occurs in the book of Judges; Samson’s soul has no center because he simply rambles from the pursuit of power to pleasure to women to revenge; the nagging of one single woman is enough to make this powerful man “grow short in soul.” On the other hand, the character of the proverbially patient Job is said to be “long-souled.” King Saul was a big man with a short soul. When he was to lead Israel against their enemies the Philistines, he grew impatient waiting for the prophet Samuel to show up at Gilgal to offer sacrifices. His solution was to take matters into his own hands and offer the sacrifice himself. The result was a shattered covenant with God and a giant step in the disintegration of his soul. 

The soul without a center finds its identity in externals. My temptation when my soul is not centered in God is to try to control my life. In the Bible this is spoken of in terms of the lifting up of one’s soul. The prophet Habakkuk said that the opposite of living in faithful dependence on God is to lift your soul up in pride. When my soul is not centered in God, I define myself by my accomplishments, or my physical appearance, or my title, or my important friends. When I lose these, I lose my identity.

A soul without a center is like a house built over a sinkhole. On the other hand, the soul comes alive when it is centered on God. When we reach out to God, we are lifting our souls up to be nurtured and healed. A soul centered in God always knows it has a Heavenly Father who will hold its pain, its fear, its anxiety. This is spiritual life: to place the soul each moment in the presence and care of God. We hold on tightly, but often to the wrong things. But staying centered on God — his word, his ways — is the essence of life for the soul.

© 2014 by Zondervan. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Visit JohnOrtberg.com for more about John Ortberg's work and ministry.

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