The first car my wife and I ever purchased was a 1988 Ford Escort. Not exactly the sleek chick-magnet I always envisioned as our first car, but it worked for us. At the time we thought it had it all: four wheels, windshield wipers, a cup holder, and an air conditioning system that shrieked like an alley cat whenever it was turned on.
Even though I had never been much of a handyman, I was fanatical about that car’s maintenance. I always made sure there was gas in the car and I checked the oil like clock-work, whenever the “check engine” light came on. One day as I was driving a massive plume of smoke consumed the cars behind me so I decided it was as good a time as any to check the oil. I pulled the car over, popped the hood and took the oil cap off. Brownish gunk was caked all over it, which the oil change guy later said was the dirty soot from my car’s engine. He said as the oil lubricates the engine it carries the engine soot back to the oil pan where it falls to the bottom and quietly stays there, until guys like me forget to put oil in their car. When that happens he said this sludge gushes to the top of the pan, races through the engine, and turns to smoke in my exhaust causing old ladies behind me to choke and tear up and swerve into light poles.
Ironically, I always think of that oil pan whenever I think about the inner workings of the soul. Let me explain.
Right before I rise, after a good night’s rest, I’ll just lie there. Those first few minutes tend to be the most spiritually fertile moments of my entire day. My soul is still and the night’s journey has stirred up emotions and feelings and memories that I’ve been out of touch with for a long time. I try to savor the power and beauty of these moments before they evaporate into the commotion of another day.
Sometimes, however, those moments can be dark, as if an intruder has agitated some sort of soul sludge from the underside of my spiritual oil pan. Fears, anxiety and previously forgiven and forgotten sins grip my heart. Faces of people I’ve hurt in years past flood my mind. Sometimes I’m taken to places I don’t want to go, to places of pain and ugliness and despair.
Do you ever have moments of soul sludge? If so, the Bible tells us in Philippians 4:6-7 how to deal with it. It says,
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I love that passage.
Notice how prayer guards the inner workings of our heart, quiets the things that cause anxiety, and brings peace to a troubled soul. Prayer is sort of a lubricant, if you will, that keeps soul sludge exactly where it belongs, forgiven and under God’s control.
In the 15th century a man named Thomas a’ Kempis wrote a book called The Imitation of Christ. In the 450+ years since its first publication it has become the best-selling book on spirituality, outside of the Bible, in the world.
I want to leave you with a prayer he wrote to teach people how to ask God for help with soul sludge. I always advocate praying your own prayers, so consider this a jump-start. Thomas entitled it, “A Prayer Against Evil Thoughts.”
My Lord and God, do not abandon me; remember my need, for many evil thoughts and horrid fears trouble my mind and terrify my soul. How shall I pass through them unhurt? How shall I break their power over me? You have said, ‘I will go before you, and will humble the proud upon the earth. I will open the gates of the prison, and reveal to you the hidden treasures and secrets of the ages.’ Do, O Lord, as You have said, and let Your coming put to flight all wicked thoughts. It is my hope and comfort that I can turn to You in all my troubles, put my trust in You, call upon You in my heart, and wait for Your comfort in patience.
The Imitation of Christ, Book 3, Chapter 23
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