What do the ancient practices of Israel have to do with 21st century soul care?

“Remember, practice makes perfect” – echoes in my head. Whether it was playing the piano, riding a bike, hitting the tennis ball against the garage wall just one more time or driving a car, I knew repetition was my ally. Finding time to practice was the biggest challenge for the 3 of our granddaughters who are now driving – a car.

God created us to respond to repetitive forming, modeled in how He formed the soul of the children of Israel. When God called Abraham to be His people and created a nation out of them, they were unformed. They did not have a church to disciple them or sermons to listen to on their ipads. All they had were the pagan religions of the nations around them.

God gave them a Law through Moses on Mount Sinai, and He gave them daily, weekly, monthly, yearly rhythms in the form of prayers, the weekly Sabbath, festivals, sacrifices to teach them about Himself, give them access to Himself and to give them a way to educate their children about Yaweh – the One True God.

Deuteronomy 6: 4-9 was key in the Jewish formation – “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. …”. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

Jesus validated what God had instituted in Luke 10:27 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and Love your neighbor as yourself” adding “love your neighbor as your self.” Jesus also modeled participation in the soul forming rhythms of prayer, silence and solitude, scripture reading.

Soul forming rhythms are still valid today.

Some recent findings in neuro science and the brain offer insight from a medical perspective on the value of repetition in soul formation. Curt Thompson M.D., Christian Psychiatrist, in Anatomy of the Soul, 2010 discusses the structuring of the neuropathways, the plasticity of the brain and the connection to ritual, repetitive activities that influence the formation of our souls. Soul includes emotion, cognition, spirit, behavior, and will.

 “New findings in the fields of neuroscience and attachment offer a fresh
means…these new discoveries about how the brain and interpersonal
relationships shape each other are a reflection of what has been passed down in
the oral tradition; written in the stories, poetry, and instruction of the Scriptures;
and experienced by the people of God for nearly four thousand years.”
Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul, (4-5).

Before any of this medical research was done, Saint Paul in Romans 12:1-2 offered a biblical method for soul transformation – “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is”. Renewing your mind through learning scripture and adopting Jesus model of saturating ourselves in the soul forming rhythms of being in His Presence and learning from His Word will be transforming, thus creating space for Him to do His work.

He invites us –  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30.

And He offers to be our shepherd…Psalm 23:1-3 “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me besides quiet waters, he restores my soul.” His unforced soul forming rhythms put new meaning to “Practice Makes Perfect.”

Gail Seidel served as Mentor Advisor for Spiritual Formation in the Department of Spiritual Formation and Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and as an Adjunct Professor in the D Min in Spiritual Formation in the D Min Department at Dallas Theological Seminary. She has a BA in English from the University of Texas, a Masters in Christian Education from Dallas Seminary and a D Min in Spiritual Formation from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is a contributor to the textbook, Foundations of Spiritual Formation, Kregel Academic. She served as co-director for Christian Women in Partnership Russia with Entrust, an international church leadership-training mission. She and her husband Andy live in Fredericksburg, Texas. They have 2 married children and 6 wonderful grandchildren--Kami, Kourtney, Katie, Mallory, Grayson, and Avery.


  • judym

    soul forming rhythms

    What an important reminder to all of us! It is unfortunate that many evangelical churches have dispensed with the liturgy and rituals of the church calendar such as that found in the Book of Common Prayer or as practised in the Orthodox or other traditions. Thompson's research/writing validates the importance of repetition and we intuitively know it to be true. I am so fortunate to have a mother who encouraged memory of Scripture and also to have learned many verses through song and daily Bible reading. These verses and principles have encouraged me through many dark nights of the soul. How can we develop habits which will help to form our souls and encourage such practises in our own children and grandchildren?

  • Gail Seidel

    Great question

    I ask the same question and the consistent thing I keep getting is to pray for them and ask God to work in their lives and invite them to join you in some of these soul nourishing rhythms.