To understand the formation of the whole person and how we can become more like Jesus we need to understand each functional dimension of our personality from the inside out.
The Psalms of the Bible help us with this. It is by praying the Psalms that we learn to come alive love the Lord and our neighbor with our whole self -– in any circumstance. The Psalms are the Bible’s book of soul. What is the soul? In short it’s the deepest and at the same time the most encompassing dimension of the person and it integrates all the aspects of the person into one functioning whole.
The Formation of the Whole Person in Psalm 63
Psalm 63 is a great example of the formation of the whole person in God. David involves each of the six essential dynamics of his person in prayer and worship. He connects with God in his heart (spirit/will), thoughts, feelings, body, social connections, and soul. (These are the dimensions of the person identified by Dallas Willard in Renovation of the Heart. Rather than thinking of them as “component parts” we’ll focus on understanding their functions as part of transforming the whole person to be more like Christ.)
Let’s go through Psalm 63 together verse-by-verse to learn how we too can be soul-full in our relationship with God and one another. This material comes from a class that I have taught for soul care counselors.
“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you…” (Verse 1)
David has chosen to yield to God as his Lord and to seek him earnestly – from his heart (or spirit), which is his will or freedom of choice that is the center of his being (note that the biblical “heart” is not our feelings!). This is the first and most important prayer we can pray!
“My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you…” (Verse 1)
With his soul (the integration and flow of his whole being) and his body (his physical strength and natural abilities) he yearns (a feeling/emotion) for God. Our world is a spiritual desert that leaves us longing for God – far more than we realize.
“In a dry and weary land where there is no water…” (verse 1)
Here David is talking about his feelings – he’s thirsty and exhausted from running for his life in the hot desert. He’s trying to escape King Saul who is on the hunt to kill him, although David has only blessed him – serving in his army, protecting him from enemies, and playing the harp for him.
“I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory…” (verse 2)
In the midst of his suffering David is remembering (in thoughts) how in the past he’s been blessed to encounter God and has “beheld” (with his feelings) God’s power and glory while worshiping him in community with other believers (social). Repeatedly, we’re urged in the Bible to remember our experiences with God and his people.
“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you…” (verse 3)
Oh, I love this line! If you know me well you’ve heard me recite it many times. David’s heart rejoices (a feeling) in God’s love and his lips (part of his body) expresses this by glorifying God with his words. Can you, like David, say from your heart that God’s love is more precious to you than anything else in life? Do you want to be with God and serve him above all things and in all things?
“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands…” (verse 4)
More body language. David lifts up his hands to help him express his worship of the Lord. Try it next time you’re singing praise to God in church. Worship God freely by using your body to show your love for God and it’ll engage your mind (thoughts and emotions) and heart (the core of your being) in your worship. Raising your hands reverently to the Lord can help you to think and feel on God’s presence and invite other people to join you and worship God with adoration. (You’ll have to disconnect from worrying about the possibility that other people might judge you and instead live for the audience of One!)
“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods…” (verse 5)
David’s soul (his whole self flowing out from deep inside him) is satisfied with God (that’s a wonderful feeling!).
“With singing lips my mouth will praise you…” (verse 5)
Again, he’s using his body to praise God.
“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night…” (verse 6)
Again, David speaks of how he uses his thoughts (this is where healing and growth usually begin) to direct himself to worship God. Hiding in the desert to stay alive and trying to sleep on a rock he had lots of time to think! Especially when it was his turn to stay alert and keep watch for the enemy in the middle of the night. What do you think about when you can’t sleep? Waiting in line? Driving in traffic? Doing routine work? Think on the Lord who is actually with you all the time and you’ll learn to “practice the presence of God.”
“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me…” (verses 7-8)
What a precious picture of David’s reliance upon the Lord! Imagine this for yourself. David’s soul (his innermost being that’s flowing outward) sings joyfully (more feeling) as he cuddles under the Lord’s wing and clings to him! You’d think he’d be trembling in fear of an attack from his enemies, frustrated that he can’t sleep, angry that he’s being mistreated by Saul, depressed that he hasn’t been home in months. Instead, David’s soul is held up straight, tall, and strong by the Lord and he’s content and happy in the Lord’s care.
“They who seek my life will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals…” (verses 9-10)
Here David is back in his social context, this time referring to his enemies. The strong language may cause you to wince as it seems “not nice,” but remember his life is in danger and he’s done nothing wrong and actually he never seeks revenge on Saul and his armies. David is entrusting his anger (the implied feeling behind this part of his prayer) to God, relying upon God’s just response to his enemies. David isn’t making things happen for himself in his life and he’s not trying to get God to do what he wants – he’s trusting God and waiting on him.
In my life in one situation after another I’ve learned to pray a simple prayer of submission: “Lord, your will, in your way, at your time.”
“But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God’s name will praise him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced.” (verse 11)
King David closes his psalm by feeling the joy of God’s presence as in prayer he entrusts to God himself, God’s people, and his enemies who have lied about him (social connections). May you and I also rejoice in God as we yield our whole embodied self and the functioning of our total personality to him!