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WHAT ARE SOUL ATTITUDES?
Soul attitudes are responses to facts. When our Gods demand certain soul attitudes from us, They’re really telling us to respond to Their revelations in a particular way. The soul attitude of reverence is the correct response to the revelation that our Gods are infinitely more powerful than we are. Submission is the correct response to the fact that Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the Supreme Authorities. Trust is a response to the fact that our Creators are good in Character, and dependency is a response to the fact that we can do absolutely nothing apart from Them.
CRITICAL SOUL ATTITUDES
There are many soul attitudes which please our Gods, but some are more critical than others. To understand why, imagine that you want to grow some apples in your backyard. What’s the first step? You need to plant an apple seed in the ground. The seed is not an apple, but without the seed, you’ll never have a tree, and without a tree, you won’t have any apples. When we talk about critical soul attitudes, we’re talking about “apple tree” attitudes—the ones that must be developed to some extent before other attitudes can even happen. For example, you have to develop the soul attitude of dependency before you’ll ever acquire the soul attitude of humility because humility is a product of dependency.
In the Bible, there are many soul attitudes which our Gods describe as being ideal, but many of those attitudes are like the fruits on our apple tree: they are things which can only be developed after the critical soul attitudes have been established. Examples of secondary attitudes are things like humility, compassion, mercy, love, and devotion. These things all sound fabulous, but you won’t have any hope of developing them in the way that God wants until your critical soul attitudes have had time to mature.
So what are the critical soul attitudes? There are four that you need to be aware of: reverence, submission, dependency and trust. If you focus on these four, all others will develop naturally. Now of course the Church and the New Testament apostles teach this all backwards. They demand that you produce a harvest of apples before you’ve even planted a tree. When you find yourself feeling discouraged by how unloving, ungracious, and pompous you are, it’s because you’re trying to develop secondary attitudes before you’ve developed the critical ones. It doesn’t work like this. If you focus on watering and nurturing the tree that is growing in your backyard, do you have to do anything about fruit development? No. If you take good care of the tree, the tree will develop the fruit all on its own. In the same way, if you focus on being receptive to God developing the four critical soul attitudes within you, you’ll find the secondary attitudes developing all on their own. Humility is a product of dependency. Love for God is a product of trust. Love and mercy towards other humans are products of dependency and submission. Do you want to be more faithful to God? Faithfulness is a secondary soul attitude which is a natural result of you developing submission, reverence, and trust. So you see, everything comes back to the four critical soul attitudes. They are the tree from which all other attitudes are produced. What makes this so fabulous is that it greatly simplifies your life. Instead of running yourself into the ground trying to chase down the apostle Paul’s list of spiritual fruits in Galatians 5:22-23, you can realize that the apostle Paul was a dingdong who is telling you to produce apples before you even have a tree. Then you can turn your focus onto the tree growing attitudes of reverence, submission, dependency and trust, and look for opportunities to practice these attitudes in your own life.
DEVELOPING CRITICAL SOUL ATTITUDES
Developing critical soul attitudes is like learning to hit a baseball with a bat. You don’t have any opportunity to improve your swing until someone starts pitching balls to you. Here’s a critical point to understand: God never expects you to develop right soul attitudes all on your own. Spiritual growth is a process that He leads, and He will keep changing what He’s focusing on with you. Sometimes He’ll really be pushing you to practice trust. Then He might switch to dependency. Often He’ll be working on multiple attitudes at the same time. But the key for you to understand is that there’s no chance for you to practice anything until God starts pitching.
So how does God give you opportunities to practice right soul attitudes? His primary method is to bring trials into your life. Trials come in a wide range of intensities. You don’t have to have your whole life falling apart in order to be growing spiritually. God can turn anything into a spiritual lesson—even the most trivial things. And since He is controlling the pace at which you can learn by controlling the pitches, should you be stressing over not growing fast enough? No, this is a waste of time. Of course the Church will pound you with guilt and those New Testament apostles will heap on the criticisms. Among humans, you’ll always have folks who are demanding that you touch some bar that is impossibly out of reach. Other humans often act like the jerky coach who yells at the kid who keeps missing the balls that the coach pitches until the kid is crying and feeling like a hopeless failure. But what is God’s coaching style?
God is a wonderful coach. He is gentle, kind, and incredibly patient. Not only that, but He’s super encouraging. While humans are going to nitpick your performance, God is all about heart. When He sees you trying, He’s thrilled. He doesn’t care if you keep missing every ball He pitches. What matters to Him is that you’re swinging that bat and trying to connect with the pitches He’s sending your way. You’re never going to get in trouble with God for being a slow learner or for not having enough skill. God loves coaching His little humans along, and to Him there are no failures. There are only the souls who are trying and the souls who are refusing to try.
The only time God is going to get mad at you is if you are refusing to even care about growing. When you sit down in the dirt with your arms crossed or when you turn your back on God and totally ignore Him as He’s calling you to get into your ready position—that’s when God is going to get irked with you. This is why we’re always telling you to ask God to help you learn what He wants to teach you whenever He creates trials in your life. Taking this kind of teachable attitude is how you swing at God’s pitches.
Problems don’t happen to you by accident. Problems are created in your life by God in order to give you an opportunity to practice critical soul attitudes. You should start viewing your problems like a series of pitches from God, and you want to keep swinging. For example, your kid becomes seriously ill. This is a fabulous opportunity to exercise the soul attitudes of trust, submission and dependency. Trust says, “I believe that You are good and that You’ve created this situation with our best interests in mind.” Submission says, “I’m going to accept Your will in this situation even if it’s not what I want because You’re the Boss.” Dependency says, “We all depend on you for everything. I know my child’s life is in Your hands and that nothing will happen to her that You don’t want to have happen.” Now as you see your kid suffering in front of you, are you going to find these three attitudes easy to embrace? No, it’s going to be very hard. You might even feel like it’s impossible. When God really steps up the pressure and starts pitching curves at us, sometimes we get so frustrated that we drop our bats and hide our faces in our hands for a good cry. What does God do in these moments? Does He yell at us? No. God is an extremely compassionate Being and He fully understands the human perspective. When we’re feeling scared and overwhelmed, He comes over to us and holds us for a while until we’re able to calm down. Then He picks up our bat, puts it back in our hands, and gently encourages us to start practicing again.
God is a very kind and gentle Coach. He doesn’t demand that we act like machines. He knows all about our limitations because He’s the One who gave them to us. Sometimes God is going to call for a break and have us sit down with Him on a bench for a rest. God is not some hard Taskmaster who we can never succeed with. He’s very positive and encouraging, and He cares about heart. As far as He is concerned, you stepping up to that plate and swinging that bat is as good as you hitting a homerun. All God wants is for you to be willing to engage with Him and have a teachable attitude. He’ll take care of the rest.
Now because critical soul attitudes are the ones from which all other attitudes flow, those are the ones God will be continually working on with you. You can pretty much take any trial in your life and boil it down to a lesson on one or more of the critical soul attitudes of reverence, submission, dependency and trust. All secondary attitudes build on these four pillars, which is why we focus so much on them in our material. As we said before, if you focus on taking care of your apple tree, the tree will naturally produce a harvest of fruit when it’s ready. In the same way, if you are willing to engage with God as He’s pitching opportunities at you to develop the four critical soul attitudes, you’ll find many secondary attitudes naturally welling up from within.
In real life, secondary soul attitudes end up feeling like the logical and obvious applications of critical soul attitudes. For example, humility is the natural fruit of dependency. The critical soul attitude of dependency says, “I can’t do anything apart from God.” Once you get a strong grip on this idea, it feels obnoxious and absurd for you to try and take the glory for anything. Humility is a soul attitude which says, “God alone deserves the glory.” Once you have strong dependency, humility comes naturally. It isn’t a strain. What’s a strain is when you try to develop humility all by itself. This is always a disaster, because your ego loves self-exaltation and it has no use for passing up on the applause of others. So when you preach that sermon and a bunch of souls come forward to receive salvation, your ego is going to want to bask in the compliments that your parishioners heap upon you. “Oh, Pastor, that sermon was so brilliantly written and so skillfully delivered. Oh, Pastor, you’re such an anointed man of God.” When your ego hears all of this, it’s going to want to say, “I am pretty spectacular, aren’t I?” Like the apostle Paul, your ego wants to believe that God depends on you to get His work done in this world. The apostle Paul was demonstrating his refusal to accept his own dependency on God when he made this self-exalting speech:
But before people can ask the Lord for help, they must believe in Him; and before they can believe in Him, they must hear about Him; and for them to hear about the Lord, someone must tell them; and before someone can go and tell them, that person must be sent. This is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of the one who comes to bring good news!” [Isa. 52:7] (Rom. 10:14-15)
According to pompous Paul, God depends on humans to tell other humans about who He is. In other words, He can’t work without us. We’re critical to His salvation plan. He’s rendered incapable without our help. And then Paul yanks a passage from Isaiah out of context to try and make us believe that Yahweh actually encourages us to embrace such a pompous attitude. You know, the same Yahweh who railed at people all throughout the Old Testament for trying to take glory that rightfully belonged to Him. But of course Paul is lying, for Yahweh has never taught us to believe He is so pathetically inept that He needs dots like us to assist Him in accomplishing His own Divine agenda.
So if this passage from Romans is such a bad model of God-honoring attitudes, why is it so popular among Christians? We love this passage in the Church, and we’re constantly quoting it as a way of exalting our own importance. Why? Because we’re refusing to be teachable and embrace the attitude of dependency. And as long as you’re denying how dependent you are on God, are you ever going to acquire the attitude of true humility? No. At best, you’ll just try and fake humility by pretending not to love the compliments people are heaping upon you while you inwardly bask in the moment. This is what happens when you try to create fruit without a tree—it doesn’t work. The best you can do is paint a plastic ball to look like an apple, but it won’t actually be an apple. To get real humility, you have to first acquire dependency. It’s only when you do things in the right order that humility flows out of you without you even trying. Once you’re accepting your dependency on God and someone starts trying to gush over how wonderful you are, you don’t have to try and pretend to be repulsed—you are repulsed. You’re going to automatically think, “Are you kidding me? You think I did this on my own? Wow, you really don’t understand how the universe works. If anything edifying came out of my mouth just now, that was entirely God’s doing.”
Focus on nurturing the tree, and the fruit will come naturally. But here’s where you need to not fall into the trap of expecting an instant harvest. Many trees take years to grow before they are ready to produce any fruit at all. And for many trees, the first season’s harvest isn’t very big. Maturity takes time. When you start obsessing over secondary soul attitudes, you’re like the farmer who grouses because his apricot tree isn’t bearing fruit yet. He gets so frustrated that he picks up an axe and says he’s going to chop the whole thing down because there’s obviously something wrong. Well, how is cutting down the whole tree going to help him get a harvest of fruit? It’s not. And in the same way, you giving up on spiritual maturity and going off in some rebellious huff is not going to help you progress. The key here is to not compare yourself to other Christians. Okay, so some woman in your home group is grace personified. So what? God isn’t comparing you to her. She’s not the golden standard which we all must measure up to. You’re on your own walk with God, and that’s where you need to keep your focus. If your brother in the Lord wants to share about some moment of victory when he was able to really forgive someone who did him wrong, then let him enjoy his success. Don’t be raining on his parade just because you’re stuck in grudge holding land. But don’t start despairing about your own growth, either. If you’re swinging at God’s pitches, then it’s guaranteed that you’re making progress. Maybe forgiveness just isn’t one of God’s priorities for you right now. If it’s not, you’re going to find it impossible to conjure up a gracious attitude towards that jerk who ripped you off five years ago, or that neighbor who broke your lawnmower, or that coworker who stole your promotion, or whatever it is that’s eating at you. Rather than try and tell God what He ought to be working on with you, you need to let Him lead. He’s the Coach. He’s the One with all of the wisdom. Let Him control your practice schedule and let Him decide what it is you should work on in each session.
Sometimes God will talk to you about secondary soul attitudes, but He’s always going to be running you through the paces of practicing one or more of the critical soul attitudes. Like any skill, soul attitudes can always be refined and improved upon. Spiritual growth is an ongoing process, not something we do once and then check off of a list. But while we’re swinging at God’s pitches, we’re focusing on Him and getting to know Him better. It is in the midst of maturing that we end up developing rich soul communion with God. For every soul, that communion develops in a different way. Maybe you know someone who seems to be a lot tighter with God than you are. Well, your day is coming. God tells us that He is a generous Rewarder of all who seek Him. You might be dissatisfied today with how little of Him you feel like you have, but that dissatisfaction will only be temporary. When your day comes, you’re no longer going to care about what anyone else has. You’re just going to be so glad that you chose to keep swinging at those pitches.
The Mechanics of Spiritual Growth: Four Essential Attitudes
Four Ways to Identify False Teaching in the Church
It’s Personal: Understanding the Divine Perspective of Trials
Yearning for More Spiritual Fruits: Wrong Focus, Wrong Priorities