Soul-ish Travel: Recognizing Invitations to Push Beyond Your Borders

I’m sorry to say it, but his beard was far more homeless than hipster. I remember sitting there as he scratched at a two-foot long monstrosity of human hair sprouting all over his face, thinking a nest of rats could make a very nice home in it. He tossed long locks over his shoulder and put his arm around his well-styled, Christian girlfriend.

Then, he said God told him to take the Nazirite vow. You know, like Samson, who got Superman-like powers in exchange for perpetually flowing locks. I’d never heard of the modern version before, but apparently this vow was all the rage amongst the super-spiritual where he came from. A bunch of hairy, young men had promised God neither scissors nor razor would come near their bodies for an entire year.

I asked him the deeper meaning behind it all. I can’t recall his specific words, but my ears heard a string of Holy Spirit jargon, making me wonder if HE didn’t even know why he was doing it.

If it’s not obvious already… I’ll admit it now: I judged him.
And, I was wrong.

You see, I’ve been in ministry nearly 20 years, and I’ve picked up the splinters of dozens of spiritual lives and visions after they’ve cracked to pieces, mine included. It’s a painful thing when our expectations for God, our growth, and our calling don’t pan out… when a faith-filled declaration of “God said!” becomes a tearful, exhausted question, “God, but didn’t you say?”

I definitely have my own crazy, super-spiritual list because “God told me to:”

  • A thirty-day fast,
  • Giving away a car when it meant my family now had to walk,
  • Tithing every month when we didn’t have enough to pay our bills,
  • Buying a house because I’d seen it in a vision-filled, prayer time… a year earlier.

I’ve done things that have garnered me more than just my parents’ puzzled stares, things that defy wisdom and normal human limitations…. because Jesus said. And the truth is, even though I had great spiritual answers to give the “nay-sayers” and skeptics out there, in hindsight, I can honestly tell you, I didn’t know WHY I did those things. My best answer is that I felt compelled by a combination of Holy Spirit, a holy discontent with where I was at, and an even greater expectation.

I can also tell you that NONE of those things panned out as anticipated: I did not become a spiritual giant, I watched someone drive my car for months when my family needed it, I could not afford to keep the house, and I still struggle to pay my bills.

But I’d not change a thing… because what I gained is so great it has taken me 42 years to be able to behold it in all its facets and depth:

Transformation.

Transformation is only something you recognize when you look back. You only notice it once you’ve scrambled over the final precipice, dragged yourself to the top, and feel safe enough to turn around and reflect on the treacherous path it took to get there. The view is shockingly beautiful, the location is entirely unexpected, and the air is so fresh and divine, you know it’s impossible to breath all the life in, all of God in.

Look at where my soul has traveled!

God is constantly inviting people into transformational space.

We can see this in Jesus with the rich young ruler, who came to the end of his faith box:

“But, I’ve truly loved God and my neighbor, and yet I feel eternal life still eludes me!”
“So, sell all your stuff, and come follow me.”
In other words, “It’s time to try a different way of existence.”

Jesus invited Pharisees to dine with sinners and tax collectors to dine with God. He led his pure disciples into unclean Samaria and the woman who bounced from lover to lover to look into the face of Divine Love.

I think Mark Twain’s words have a great spiritual application when he said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

God is forever calling his people to soul-ish travel… where the borders of ourselves, our understanding, our hearing and perceiving, are widened. The soul-ish meaning is that your entire self, body, emotions, pre-set thoughts, past triumphs, and present pains come along on a journey that stretches you from the inside out and ultimately carving out larger space within… where you meet God.

Twenty years of ministry later, I understand soul-ish travel often comes with invitations that defy common sense. You see, transformation is rarely found on your couch, in your routine, or with your comfortable people. Transformation requires discomfort. It also requires belief (even if it’s just a flicker) that there is more out there. More of Jesus. A larger version of life. True authenticity. An abundance. That taste of eternity that may elude us if we stay as we are now.

God has always invited his children to follow him into the space of soul-ish travel. I’m not saying all Christians should do missions, not at all. The Bible is filled with spaces of soul-ish travel, which take place over dinners and while fishing. It’s filled with a diversity of commands that just don’t make any sense: Go. Come. Eat. Don’t eat. Fast. Drink. Feast. Give. Leave. Marry. Surrender. Die. Often, the invitations into soul-ish travel don’t even make sense to those of us who intend to take the journey.

But what the Gospels are making clear is that no two paths of transformation look alike, which is why she might feel compelled to fast, and I might feel compelled to feast. She might feel inclined to sell her business, while he may feel impressed to start one. She might yearn to leave her country, while he might sense his next great adventure is being a more involved father and found right in his own home. And, yes, a certain young man might grow a massive, fuzzy, hygienically, questionable beard.

So, it’s not the mode of transport that is the real issue, but rather, will we go on the journey… no matter what form it comes in?

 

Please Note: There is no travel insurance nor guarantees when you venture into the space of soul-ish travel. I can’t promise a fast will yield healing or a ministry will not fail. Soul-ish travel is at your peril: You will most likely die in some form or another… but you will also be resurrected to live transformed.

About the author

Tonya Stanfield
Tonya Stanfield

Tonya Stanfield has been in full time ministry for 18 years and has served as a youth pastor, writer, speaker, YWAMer, and founder of Justice ACTs. She has a B.A. in Communications/Bible from Moody Bible Institute and is currently working toward her Master's in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship with the University of the Nations while juggling ministry, two kids, one husband, and three furry creatures... without dropping any one of them thus far.

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