I posted a photo to Twitter this morning and there was a big reason behind it.
I have several friends right now that are suffering in what I think of as “Soul Deserts.” So what is a Soul Desert?
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (ESV)
People talk about fresh food deserts. Where the only way a person can get fresh, healthy food, is to travel beyond their ability. I understand this concept and think it’s horrible. But worse is the idea of a Soul Desert.
I would define a Soul Desert as an area with few if any healthy churches. And by churches I don’t mean buildings. I mean communities of faith that are actively living out said faith for Jesus, in their broader social community, with a mission towards bringing the gospel. The Soul Desert is a real thing.
I moved because of one.
Some of the most “churched” areas in America are devoid of these healthy churches. They have masses of buildings, some of which are so crowded they have to add more opportunities for people to get in. A food desert doesn’t mean people are starving to death: it means the food they get isn’t good for them. A Soul Desert is the same way. There are loads of soul junk food that will kill the people who consume it sooner or later.
I moved out of one of those because I am coming to see that the condition of my soul, of my family’s souls, is the most important thing to me. It is beyond my my ability to reasonably justify anything that might harm it. I live from a healthy church now.
So what does that mean?
I believe that all people live:
- From something – a pivot point from which all their life turns.
- For something – a defining goal agnostic of geographic, social, or economic factors.
For too long, some in the church have said that the for is greater than the from. I have heard it said that if you take care of the church, everything else will take care of itself. But this isn’t biblical. That particular line usually is said to people serving in ministry. The idea is that what you live for is what defines everything else. And that’s a super idea, but one that cannot stand alone. We must live from something in addition to it. I live for Jesus from Immanuel Church, in Nashville, TN. When I was in Montgomery I lived for Jesus from pretty much nowhere. I tried, repeatedly, to connect with a healthy body there.
It’s far harder than you might imagine. And so my from was cracked, splintered. It wasn’t healthy and I was beginning to wither. As was my family.
When I tell people that we moved from Montgomery to Nashville specifically because of a church, I get funny looks. I’m expecting my sixth child so, yeah, funny looks are pretty normal for me.
Most people think I moved because my job relocated me. People ask if I moved because I needed to be near family. And those are two froms that people often have. They say, “My job dictates where I live.” Why? In a sense, that’s slavery. Servitude, at the very least. It says, “Money dictates how I live my life.” Is any Christian called to live that way?
“But Gabe, what if your company fires you?” So they fire me. In my last post I said that my condition is determined by God, not by things done to me. Could my current employer fire me? Yes, definitely. They have, in fact, indicated how displeased they are with me for making the move I made. I explained it to them, and assured them I could do the same work from Nashville that I did from Montgomery. And I have. I have proven it to be true. But I can’t worry about them firing me or keeping me around twenty more years. My from is where my soul thrives and it thrives, right now, at Immanuel Church in Nashville.
What if we lived in a way that said the health of our souls mattered? What if we sacrificed money, nearness to family, even our love of a place, because we listened to and earnestly sought the leading of the Holy Spirit? What would that look like?
For me? Right now? It’s hard. Nashville is more expensive than Montgomery. It’s also bigger. It’s also stranger. But I am seeing my soul grow again. I am seeing old wounds being bound up. It hurts, but I can feel the perceived distance from God shrinking. I am seeing real freedom.
So what about you? What’s your from? And why is it that?