The Life of the Soul

by Lance Olimb

As 2016 begins, it is easy to imagine a world of productivity and fruitfulness. We all long for that. We long for the up-town world. New vehicle or home or job. But what I really want is more of a far-down life. That is what Spurgeon called it. The far-down life. A kind of genuine depth wrought by sincere stillness of the soul.

Let me explain.

When I was around 20 years old, I lived in a barn. Ate in a chicken coop. This might sound like a passage from Charlotte’s Web but it isn’t. I spent a few years living as a missionary at a training base developed from a converted farm in Northwest Arkansas. From that home base we would train groups of young people in a kind of discipleship course and then ship off for months at a time to a myriad of places around the world.

In the times we were "home" we had afternoon jobs to keep the base running. Those afternoons I was a pseudo-librarian. Each day I would spend three hours cataloguing books donated in order to build a library for the students. Over and over, again and again.

  • Find ISBN number.
  • Type it into computer.
  • Search.
  • Print label.
  • Repeat.

It was right there, in the faux-librarians cubicle, where I was most transformed. The street preaching and Bible smuggling and prayer walking were hugely influential, of course, but it was there in the cubicle where I was introduced to the authors that would transform my life. I fought with Edwards. Snuck glimpses of Luther. Cherished the sermons of Spurgeon.

To be sure, it was a theological awakening. My mind was challenged and I began to devour my Bible in a new way. You might think the most impressive thing about these authors was their intellect. Honestly, that is what drew me to them initially. I felt smarter having read them and got a bit of a rush from diving into these old dead guy books. Pride can make anything a playground, and I liked to drop quotes from these guys in conversations to show how serious and quirky and surprising I could be. They were a counter-cultural statement in a world of anti-intellectualism. My doctrinal man-bun.

However, it wasn’t the intellect that stuck with me. It was the life of the soul. These dusty old theologians longed for God. Not the pretend sort of religious experience of God. The real, living cry from the depths of your being kind of experience of God. Consider this passage from Spurgeon in Lectures to My Students, a book I’ve kept on my desk consistently for 15 years.

Time spent in quiet prostration of soul before the Lord is most invigorating. David "sat before the Lord;" it is a great thing to hold these sacred sittings; the mind being receptive, like an open flower drinking in the sunbeams, or the sensitive photographic plate accepting the image before it. Quietude, which some men cannot abide, because it reveals their inward poverty, is as a palace of cedar to the wise, for along its hallowed courts the King in his beauty deigns to walk.

Invigorating quiet. Doesn’t that sound fantastic? He continues…

Quiet contemplation, still worship, unuttered rapture, these are mine when my best jewels are before me. Brethren, rob not your heart of the deep sea joys; miss not the far-down life, by forever babbling among the broken shells and foaming surges of the shore.

Sacred sittings. Still worship. Unuttered rapture. Ask yourself, do I have room in my life for this kind of thing? Be honest. If not, why do we neglect it?

One of my biggest weaknesses can be to neglect this tranquility. I want to be productive and I want to see our church engage in more and more gospel saturated work. But let us not run too quickly. Four Oaks, here’s to the far-down life in 2016. Here’s to committed quietude.