I Was Saved But I Lost My Soul


Jesus said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Mark 8:36 (NIV)

I’ve always thought of this passage as Jesus speaking of what saves our souls in the next world. In other words, become my disciple by converting, and you will save your soul with eternal life.

Having taken a trip down “Romans Road” and praying the Sinner’s Prayer, I thought I had my soul covered. Perhaps not.

I’m not going to say that “eternal security” is the wrong way to read this passage, but I think I’ve been missing the fuller meaning of Jesus’ teaching. There are depths here that I have yet to explore.

The contrast in this conversation is between a disciple and someone who gains the whole world instead. One has chosen to follow Jesus with the promise of a cross to bear and the safety of his/her soul, while the other gains notoriety, respect, and comfort while losing his/her soul.

My soul isn’t just the part of me that goes to heaven when I die. It’s also a place where I commune with God today. Those who follow Jesus keep in touch, so to speak, with their souls, while those who gain the whole world will lose touch with their souls.

Think of John Wesley’s question: “How is it with your soul?”

Those who have learned to abide in Jesus can answer that question.

Those who do not may well respond with a list of their accomplishments.

Although I have very much considered myself a follow of Jesus for most of my life, I have lost touch with my soul over the years. I’ve pursued financial stability, a career that makes sense based on my talents, and some measure of popularity and acclaim as a writer. Each time I’ve let go of a particular desire or goal, I’ve found that a barrier has been removed between myself and God.

I’ve freed myself to find God a little bit more each time as I’ve let go of my false self and my misplaced priorities.

Jesus is speaking in extremes when he mentions gaining the whole world vs. saving your soul. This isn’t an all or nothing proposition.

I have given up my soul in pursuit of a tiny little piece of the world, nothing close to “gaining the whole world.”

It doesn’t matter if I can point to someone who has sacrificed more of herself or gained more of the world. We can lose ourselves and our connections with God over the smallest distractions and shifts in direction.

I have no interest in saying who is in and who is out when it comes to saving souls for the next life. Jesus warned us specifically against playing the role of judge in such matters. I do know, however, that I have considered my soul safe and sound when, in actuality, I had no clue where it was or how to find it.

My soul had no anchor in the presence of God. I was blown about by my anxieties, the wisdom of others, and my shifting, endless, fruitless goals.

My primary job is to seek the presence of God, making my soul a place for the Spirit of God to rest. Anything else that follows isn’t for me to determine.

In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of the spiritual life as a matter of abiding, becoming like a vine that connects to a branch. When I lost my soul to the pursuit of my own desires, I had cut myself off from the branch, hoping to be spiritually fruitful without the “work” of simply abiding.

It’s so hard to fathom how abiding is both work and not work. The work of abiding is the stillness, the surrender, and the desperation that comes from opening ourselves up to God and trusting God to provide everything that follows.

The work of abiding opens our lives up to God so that God can point at our souls and say, “There you are. See how you are loved and how my peace rests on you? Here is who you really have been all of this time and how I will always see you.”


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Why Don’t Protestants Talk about Dark Nights of the Soul

Have you ever felt like there are times when prayer doesn’t work, or God seems distant?

In my own Protestant tradition there isn’t a whole lot written about the times we fail to find God or struggle with doubts. In fact, our focus on being saved or unsaved may even create a dynamic where we see faith as a switch that’s either on or off, and if things aren’t working, we fear that somehow we’ve lost our salvation or God isn’t real after all. We don’t have much of a grid for seasons of struggle, depression, and loneliness. Some have been told that God is either real and capable of showing up when we pray or God’s fake and will not show up when we pray, but there’s a third option. God can be both real and not present for a season.

I won’t even begin to speculate about the potential causes for a dark night of the soul. However, I want you to know that you’re in good company if you’re going through one. In her personal letters, Mother Teresa wrote about living in a perpetual season where she didn’t hear from God. She persevered in faith as she served the poor even if she couldn’t get a direct confirmation from God for long stretches of time.[i]

A Saint Living in Darkness

Mother Teresa set out to serve the poor after having several mystical encounters with Jesus in 1946. She wrote in those days about her encounters with “the Voice” who asked her to serve the poorest of the poor and about her passionate love for Jesus. However, once she began serving the poor in Calcutta, she entered a prolonged season of spiritual darkness and loneliness:

In a letter estimated to be from 1961, Teresa wrote: “Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God. . . . The torture and pain I can’t explain.”

I have sensed the joy of the Lord when I do certain things. I’m well aware of God’s guidance for specific things in my life. However, there are many days when I don’t get a clear sense of God’s direction. Some days are lonelier than others when I pray. I’m stuck with persevering by faith based on what God showed me.

Some traditions see this season of alienation and darkness as a bad thing. It certainly can be that. I don’t think anyone should feel alienated from God . However, these situations are not without precedent. We’re in good company if we have a season of darkness or emptiness. If we’re always praying for spiritual breakthroughs and come up empty, we need to stop and ask what God is teaching us in this season of loneliness and silence.

Sometimes a time of waiting and anticipation can be just the thing we need even if it’s not what we want. Oftentimes the seasons of my greatest needs, doubts, and struggles have made me more reliant on God than any other and have strengthened my faith in ways that I never anticipated.

That isn’t to say that we should crave a dark night of the soul or downplay how difficult one can be. Rather, we fail to see that God can even use these seasons for good. All is not lost if God seems distant.

Today’s post was adapted from the chapter on prayer from A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth.


A Christian Survival Guide



[i] Daniel Trotta, “Letters Reveal Mother Teresa’s Doubt about Faith,” Reuters, http://in.reuters.com/article/2007/08/24/idINIndia-29140020070824 (accessed July 31, 2013).

[ii] Shona Crabtree, “Book Uncovers a Lonely, Spiritually Desolate Mother Teresa,” Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/augustweb-only/135-43.0.html (accessed July 31, 2013). See also Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta, ed. Brian Kolodiejchuk (New York: Doubleday, 2007).