Proverbs 4:23 Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.
Proverbs 27:19 As in water face reflects face, So a man's heart reveals the man.
Spirit of Man
We have discussed how important the condition of our heart is to life, especially life in the Lord. Now we must look at the relationship between heart (soul) and spirit. The purpose for healing and cleansing our hearts is not so our heart will exercise a healthier form of control. Rather, that restoring our heart is a pivotal work on the way to releasing our spirit to be in union with the Spirit of God. Indeed, Scripture seems to indicate that our whole heart needs to join with our spirit and be able to believe and respond to God freely, if we are to know true recovery.
Vine’s addresses the difference between soul and spirit, using the scriptural reference to them in Hebrews 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.
He says that Heb. 4:12 identifies the extreme difficulty of distinguishing between soul and spirit, but observes that "spirit is the higher, the soul the lower element." He calls spirit the "life principle bestowed on man by God," and says that the soul is the observable life of the individual that results in each person uniquely. There is a very close relationship between spirit and soul, and they cannot be separated; only the distinction between them can be clarified. Here is how he sums it up: body and spirit can be separated; spirit and soul cannot: they can be distinguished but not separated.
The Scripture says that spirit gives life to soul and body. When Jesus goes to the ruler of the synagogue’s house to raise his daughter from the dead, the report of what happened reflects the influence of spirit:
But he put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, "Little girl, arise." Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately. And He commanded that she be given something to eat.
When her spirit returned, her body was restored to life, and her personality, soul returned also. This function of spirit should not be surprising to us, as it is the life breath the Lord breathed into us in the first place:
Genesis 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
"Breath" is the Hebrew word ruah, which Wilson defines as: "the breath by which animal life is supported, but used only of man; soul or spirit of man…" The King James Version of the Bible renders Gen. 2:7, "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Our spirit is the life force for our soul, and the source of spirit is God!
We tend to take our spirit for granted without much understanding of the function and purpose it serves and the kind of influence it is designed to have. In this chapter I am suggesting that in fact, because of the more extensive link it provides with God, our spirit is actually designed to exert quite a bit of influence, more in fact than our heart. Why is that? The definition of spirit (pneuma) given in Colin Brown’s Dictionary of New Testament Theology (DNTT), clarifies why.
"1. The Human Spirit. At one end of pneuma ’s spectrum of meaning it denotes the human spirit, or perhaps better, man in so far as he belongs to the spiritual realm and interacts with the spiritual realm. In this sense pneuma occurs in the NT nearly 40 times.
Thus the spirit of man is that aspect of man through which God most immediately encounters him (Rom. 8:16; Gal. 6:18; Phil. 4:23; 2 Tim. 4:22; Phlm. 25; Heb 4:12; Jas. 4:5), that dimension of the whole man wherein and whereby he is most immediately open and responsive to God (Matt. 5:3; Lk. 1:47; Rom. 1:9; 1 Pet. 3:4), that area of human awareness most sensitive to matters of the spiritual realm (Mk. 2:8; 8:12; Jn. 11:33; 13:21; Acts 17:16; 2 Cor. 2:13; 7:13)….
Whereas, in Paul’s terms, the danger confronting man in the world is that he lives solely on the level of the world of sense and soul ("according to the flesh") and not also and predominantly on the level of the spirit ("according to the Spirit")…."
Personal Experience of Accessing My Spirit
I have had a number of personal experiences that illustrate this definition. I was first looking at these Scriptures about the spirit of man in the early 90’s. At one point, realizing that I was not actually in touch with my spirit, as important as Scripture defined it to be, I asked: "Where is my spirit, and what condition is it in, Lord?" Then I waited on the Lord, fully expecting that He would show me something of how His word applied to me. In a few minutes I could "see" (my eyes closed), my spirit, standing before the Lord, hands raised in profound worship and indescribable willingness, unaware of anything but Him. Whether that was a vision the Lord gave me, or an awareness of my own spirit, I don’t know. But I said: "Wow, Lord. Look at that!" The simplicity of devotion and the certainty of choice was quite a marvel. As I write this now, I think of what Paul said about being afraid that we would be deceived out of simplicity with God. It is interesting that he says that it is our minds that are led astray (not our spirit).
2 Cor. 11:3 But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (NAS).
My mind wanted to ask my spirit some questions, so I began to do that. I don’t remember now what the questions were, but my spirit said: "I am not concerned with such complexities; I only want to know what He wants." Double wow! It was the first time I began to realize that the part of my being that could take that kind of stand and be so clear and simple and unmovable in it needed to have much more influence than the reasoning of my mind. How I needed that kind of clarity and focus on the Lord!
For several years following that experience, I would be reminded of it by the Lord, by His word, by my own remembrance, and so return at moments. Then I got to the place of realizing that I needed to pray with my spirit and the challenge was to have my heart agree with what I saw and heard there with the Lord. More recently, the experience of unity between spirit and heart has been deepening. As it has, my appreciation for the role my spirit is to play is registering profoundly! That, of course, is rather humbling for my mind, scary for my heart, and a potential relief for my will. It opens the door to a whole-hearted agreement with the Lord, wherein my will in choosing and acting would experience less enmity between spirit and flesh. Amazing! Looking back on this progression, I see how differently I experience this scriptural material now than I did in the 90’s, a testimony to the way the Lord works to restore our knowledge of Him. It goes along piece-by-piece, line upon line until the working of God accumulates and falls into place as a whole understanding, bringing the power to revive and free.
Nor am I the only one with such experience. I want to share something that was shared with me by someone I ministered to several years ago.
"One time, probably almost a year ago I talked about this (place of spirit in our life with God) in a prayer session. I asked my spirit something. The answer ended up being that when I was dead in what seemed like every way possible, a walking zombie was I, that my spirit was still hanging onto the knowledge that He is Lord. My spirit did not let go of that or forget the earlier closeness. My heart did, my heart died."
Scriptural Reflections of Life with our Spirit
To continue with the Scriptures, I want to look more closely at one that Brown referenced in his discussion of spirit—Acts 17:16. It gives us a clear picture of the influence our spirit is to have on our heart and on initiating and carrying out our response to God. The Scripture reads:
"Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked (or stirred) within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols."
The word "stirred" or "provoked" is paroxuno, to sharpen alongside, provoke, stir. It is a two-part word: para means near or beside, and oxus means keen, sharp, swift. So is there someone near or beside Paul, (the kingdom of God has drawn near, or is at hand), sharpening and stirring him, making him keen and swift to respond? This verse gives us a picture of what complete recovery looks like, and reflects kingdom life flowing through Paul.
Paul’s whole heart is apparently in full agreement (prepared during those years in the desert?), because no heart arguments prevail, such as: "It’s no use; they won’t hear anyway," or "It could get me into a lot of trouble," or "It might make them angry enough to throw me in jail again." Obviously, his flesh is not running things. It is more his spirit responding to God, and his whole heart follows and lends its resources to the moments God ordains. It would appear that there is great power and fruitfulness in our heart deferring to and joining our spirit in the things of God.
Relationship Between Spirit and Heart
Psalm 77 records the role spirit played in Asaph examining his heart and the effect that had on lifting him out of a bout of discouragement and depression. This Psalm was written during a very troubled time. Asaph, who is referred to as a prophet and poet, was one of David’s three musicians, but he was not praising or rejoicing at the beginning of this Psalm.
77:2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
My hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing;
My soul refused to be comforted.
I remembered God, and was troubled;
I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah
Selah, means pause and think about this, so let us pause and reflect. It was a time of great trouble for Asaph. He stretched his hand out in the night incessantly, but his soul (heart) refused to be comforted. Often what we want is not comfort and sustaining and strengthening from God, but for the circumstances that are pressing us (seemingly to death) to STOP! But they didn’t stop for Asaph. At that point in the Psalm he was focused on the trouble, was meditating on it, and complaining about it. The result of that was that his spirit was overwhelmed (to shroud, faint, hide self, to be covered, muffled up with sorrow). There are a number of Proverbs that speak of the effect of a sorrowful heart upon our spirit.
Prov. 15:13 A merry (glad, rejoicing) heart makes a cheerful countenance,
But by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken (smitten, afflicted, wounded).
Prov. 17:22 A merry heart does good, like medicine,
But a broken spirit dries the bones.
Figuratively, "bones" refers to the strongest part—when our spirit is broken, even the strongest part dries up.
Prov. 18:14 The spirit of a man will sustain (furnish with means of living)
him in sickness,
But who can bear a broken spirit?
Asaph actually knew these things, and does apply them in the Psalm, but at this point he was still overwhelmed: "I am so troubled that I cannot speak" (verse 4). We, too, are in and out of focus, experience our spirit being overwhelmed by challenges, losing heart for the things of God. The question is, do we know how to get back? In verse 6 he began to move toward recovery:
I call to remembrance my song in the night;
I meditate within my heart,
And my spirit makes diligent search.
He began turning the corner from his spirit being overwhelmed, to it being revived and in a condition to help restore focus on God. It started with remembering his song in the night—the times he wrote his songs of praise to God and the lifting he experienced in those high moments. Then he began to meditate or commune (KJV) within his heart. Meditate or commune means to "talk with oneself" (Wilson), or "to ponder, i.e. converse with oneself and hence aloud." He was talking to himself within his heart, and stirred up his spirit to make "diligent search." Here we can see the definition of spirit functioning—the part of us that is most connected to God and His light, which our heart desperately needs in the midst of trials. Proverbs calls our spirit the lamp of the Lord for this very purpose.
Prov. 20:27 The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord,
Searching all the inner depths of his heart.
Why search the depths of our heart? Why not just ignore whatever is going on there—pay no attention to our feelings? Because it was the emotional turmoil going on in Asaph’s heart that was derailing him and separating him from the Lord! It began to change when he inquired into what was happening in his heart. The release is not found in ignoring it, but in searching it out diligently so it can be held up to the light of the Lord and reconciled, restored. His search turned up some very despairing questions about the Lord:
77:7-9 Will the Lord cast off forever?
And will He be favorable no more?
Has His mercy ceased forever?
Has His promise failed forevermore?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Selah
Most of us have these feelings, and they are very real and strong when they are happening. We can try to ignore and overcome them, or we can face them and replace them with greater truths. Our spirit is a lamp to search them out, and when they are stated clearly, we can begin to work through them. That is what Asaph did. He said:
77:10 This is my anguish (infirmity);
This is the problem: I am in anguish, and it is causing me great loss of light and joy. His spirit diligently searched and found it. On the heels of seeing and acknowledging that heart truth, he began to say:
BUT I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.
I will remember the works of the Lord
Surely I will remember Your works of old.
I will also meditate on Your work,
And talk of Your deeds.
He’s on his way back! His spirit, once invited in, helped rescue his heart from such intense discouragement. The Psalm ends: "You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron." Sounds like the Lord is leading him again, too!
David in Psalm 51, facing his sin with Bathsheba, goes through a similar transition, and the same factors are at work—his heart needed examining and cleansing, and his spirit needed to be revived to once again stand up and influence things for God.
Ps. 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast (to stand upright) spirit within me.
Heart and spirit need to be a united team with the Lord. Since spirit is more closely linked with God, it is critical that our spirit be active and influencing, not broken or overwhelmed, or even quenched by our fears. Many people come having had their spirit broken in a great many ways—by toil that drains without blessing or enriching, by grief over losses for which there was no comfort, by afflictions of heart brought about by neglect, abuse, absence of loving nurture—by a vast variety of means our spirit is broken. When that happens, our ability to see, relate to, believe, or receive from the Lord is greatly impaired. Generally speaking, healing or preparation of heart leads to reviving and release of spirit, and a spirit stirred by the Lord accomplishes much.
Haggai 1:14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel…and the spirit of Joshua…and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.
Lu. 1:80 And the child grew (John the Baptist) and waxed strong in spirit.
Acts 19:21 After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome.
Ex. 35:21 Then everyone came whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and they brought the Lord’s offering for the work of the tabernacle of meeting, for all its service, and for the Holy garments.
Ez. 1:1…the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia
Ez. 1:5 Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, with all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.
Acts 18:5 When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.
Compelled is also a two-part word. Sun, denotes union with, and echo, to hold. To be held in close union with the Spirit of God. In these Scriptures the spirit of man is not really a separate entity. It is joined with and responsive to God. Therein lies its freedom, power, and purpose for being.
The Silencing of our Spirit
Why is it that we are so little aware of our spirit, and that it can be so quenched and shrouded? Let us look at Genesis again to get a handle on this.
Gen. 2:15-17 Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
It sounds like the Lord knew he would eat of it: "in the day that you eat of it." Doing so accomplished the shift to our knowing, our faculties, and broke the spirit link with God as the source of union and responsiveness. Truly, there is a death in that of an indescribably profound nature, and the return is certainly not an easy trip! The Lord warned them that it would be very costly to go into that "chiefly in the mind" place, deadly, in fact. He knew we would go anyway, and He knew the whole process that would have to follow to redeem and restore us. Getting us to see and cooperate in the redeeming and restoration has certainly been, and continues to be, for many of the reasons we are addressing in this book, the great pilgrimage in life.
Questions People Have Asked
Question: There are times when I hear something or just know something, and I know I am supposed to speak it. The feeling is in my heart and it pounds loudly and wants release. Would that be an example of my spirit being stirred or do you think that is the Holy Spirit putting something on my heart?
Answer: The way I am seeing things at this point, I would call that your spirit being quickened and prompted. Because of the close link between heart and spirit, your heart feels the implications of acting on that prompting, and starts experiencing the questioning that may go with it: self-preservation concerns, embarrassment about standing out, fear of judgment or not being understood, "what if" ponderings, all of which we experience as conflict within. Our spirit tends to be more simple and peaceful about responding to God, not so much "pounding" comes from our spirit. If we go ahead and do or say what the Lord has prompted, it is probably our spirit prevailing, our heart wrestling through to agreement. If we find a way around responding, and don’t act on the Lord’s prompting, probably the fear in our heart is ruling. Often that kind of wrestling goes on for some time before heart and spirit are freed to respond to God in consistent union.
Question: HOW does our heart defer to and join spirit in the things of God?
Answer: Really we are talking about the conflict between the flesh and the spirit. Jesus said, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41). I find, repeatedly, when I can get in touch with the difference in perspective of my spirit and my flesh, that my spirit is excited about the things the Lord says, and promises, and wants to do. My heart/flesh usually starts out fearful and concerned about the cost, the potential outcomes, and whether or not I can actually "get away with" doing what the Lord is prompting.
Question: On a day to day basis, can you describe how heart is to defer to spirit?
Answer: In order to do that, I need to describe the progression of interaction that leads there. There are first encounters, where there is an increased awareness of the nature and priorities that our spirit exercises. That develops quite a regard in our heart for our spirit. It gradually turns into the realization that our heart is in no condition to operate on its own, needing the influence and perspective that our spirit can more easily have with God. Then it is not so much the labor of deferring to spirit, but the sense that if I don’t include my spirit, I will have a very incomplete picture, much more tied to the flesh and view of man than the purposes of God, which is what our spirit longs to know.
A personal example of this happened recently. I wanted to pray about something that I so needed the Lord’s perspective on and for my heart not to be in the way or adding anything. So, I appealed to my spirit to help me pray. In fact, for my spirit to pray and ask the Lord, and my heart would listen in and see. As I moved in that direction it felt like my heart needed to leap into the arms of my spirit and have all that influence and help in hearing the Lord. As that happened I became aware of how much larger my spirit was than my heart—larger spiritually, more solid, trustworthy. The image was like a toddler in the arms of its parent. My prayer continued from there—my spirit with arms raised to God in worship, my heart held in front of my spirit, between my spirit and the Lord, and imitating my spirit, arms raised in worship and trust as well. The answer came, clear, simple, cutting through all the confusing complexities with which I had been wrestling. My heart gratefully said to my spirit: "I love praying with you, spirit!." The response of my spirit was a simple, indescribably warm smile, sharing the joy of union with God.
A couple of years ago, I added an exercise to one of the classes that encouraged people to spend some time inquiring about their spirit. One of the people the following week, shared that she had success in getting in touch with her spirit, but said that her spirit scared her to death because there was such willingness and abandon toward God. So in the transition back to spiritual oneness with God we can expect our heart to be afraid, to start out disagreeing, and to resist at times the light and way of God that our spirit can more easily embrace. Thus, in great detail we describe a prepared heart—it is pivotal in the bridge to kingdom life. If our heart remains afraid and protected and continues to balk at the freedom our spirit longs for in the Lord, it will be a rather frustrating and confusing trip, which I often hear people say. How to get through to the whole promise seems a very confusing and frustrating venture.
Lord, You are the One who knows how complicated our heart is, and yet simple to You. You are the One who heals and releases our heart. Our struggle is to know how to cooperate with You, and be willing to, as Your realm is so different from the realm of the world in which we live. It often seems that we cannot be that "radical" and survive, that there is a huge struggle over accepting spiritual things as being valid in the way rational things are. All these things we raise up to You afresh, to the One who knows how to get us all the way through and can strengthen and sustain us in each step. Thank You, Lord, that You are so committed to our restoration that You persist even when we fail to, and that Your mercy and grace is such that we can risk pouring out our heart to You, as we move toward reviving and embracing our spirit.
Personal Application Questions
Lord, I see that I need a closer link with and awareness of my spirit. How can I begin to restore that awareness? What can You show me about my spirit that will apply what You are saying in Your word to me?
Where is my spirit?
How do I relate to and communicate with my spirit? What do I need to see to proceed, Lord?
Are there any fears that are blocking my awareness, or coming up as I begin to have a sense of my spirit?
Lord, what do I need to see of Your perspective and provision for me as I push through the doubt and fear in my heart to connect with and release my spirit?
Lord, show me how to continue to seek union between my heart and my spirit.
Connecting Hearts to God