Todd Tilghman grew up in Meridian, Mississippi. He and Brooke, his high school sweetheart, were married in 1998. He eventually became pastor of his home church.
Todd and Brooke had three children, then adopted a daughter from South Korea and her biological sister. The couple then had three more children for a total of eight.
Todd never sang outside of church services. However, his wife urged him to wait in line for hours at an open audition for the singing competition, The Voice. “I am really thankful that she believed in me in a place in my life where I didn’t even realize that I had sort of stopped believing in myself,” he said later.
As the competition progressed, whether viewers were Christians or not, they could tell that there was something different about him. His peace, serenity, humility, and humor came through all season long.
This week, he sang I Can Only Imagine during the show’s final competition. The next night, he became the oldest person ever to win The Voice.
Why we should love God with all our “soul”
This week, we’re discussing ways to love our neighbor during this pandemic by loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30–31). We’ve seen that when we love God with our strength through practical commitment, we will love others in the same way. If we love him with our minds through biblical study and submission to his Spirit, we will love him with our strength and our neighbors as well.
Today, let’s think about what it means to love the Lord with “all your soul.” The word soul (psyche in the Greek) occurs about one hundred times in the New Testament. It points to the inner life, often with reference to the emotions.
Across Scripture, the psyche is associated with pleasure (Matthew 12:18), happiness (Luke 12:19), and sorrow (Mark 14:34; Luke 2:35). In contrast with our heart, mind, and strength, to love God with our soul is to love him emotionally and intuitively.
Such an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus will empower us to spend time in Scripture and to think biblically. It will move us to serve the One we love in practical ways. And it will motivate us to love others as we are loved.
This kind of deep relationship with Jesus will be obvious to others. As with Todd Tilghman, people will see the passionate joy in our lives, and they will want what we have.
Research shows the power of prayer
Loving God with our souls is especially urgent in this difficult season.
Participants in a recent study were eight times more likely to screen positive for serious mental illness as compared to those who participated in such a survey two years ago. Quarantines, forced homeschooling, job losses, and the constant threat of infection coupled with the mounting death rate have made this an emotional perfect storm for many.
Unsurprisingly, according to the Wall Street Journal, the number of Google searches for prayer skyrocketed in March. This is a wise decision, as secular research shows that prayer can calm our nervous system, making us less reactive to negative emotions and less angry.
Spiritual meditation has been found to be more calming than secular meditation. Prayer can foster a sense of connection with God and with other people who are praying. And studies show that praying for the well-being of our spouse when we feel negative emotions in our marriage leads to greater relationship satisfaction.
A key to such outcomes, however, is relating to our Father in a loving way. A study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that people who approach God as a partner or collaborator had better mental and physical health outcomes, while people who feel punished or abandoned by God had worse outcomes.
Two ways to experience God’s empowering presence
How can you and I love God with “all our souls” more fully today than ever before? As with any relationship, spending time together is vital. This works on two levels.
One is private: making time to focus on our Lord by practicing his presence through intentional solitude.
Jesus began the day with his Father (Mark 1:35), ended the day with him (Matthew 14:23), and prayed to him throughout the day (cf. Matthew 14:19). The Jewish people typically prayed three times a day (Psalm 55:17; cf. Acts 3:1). Like them, we each need regular appointments with our Lord, a time when we can read his word, listen to his Spirit, pray about our hopes and needs, and grow closer to him.
The other is public: walking at his side as we experience the events of the day.
When we face a challenge, we pray about it. When we experience a blessing, we thank our Father for it. When we have a decision to make, we seek his guidance. We keep a conversation going with our Lord, going through the day in his presence and power.
A hand in the chair
No matter what you face today, your Father is as close as your next prayer.
A bedridden man grew despondent at his circumstances and felt his relationship with God begin to grow cold. He asked his longtime pastor for advice. The minister encouraged his friend to place an empty chair beside his bed and talk with Jesus as if he were sitting in that chair. The man began to do so and found himself drawn closer to his Lord.
Late one night, the pastor’s phone rang. It was the elderly man’s daughter calling to say that her father had just passed away. “I don’t understand something,” she said. “I went in to check on him and he was fine. I came back a few minutes later and he was gone. But when I came back, his hand was in the chair. I don’t understand why.”
The pastor said, “I do.”
Is your hand in that chair today?