Often we hear the psalmist speaking of “lifting his soul” to the Lord. Yet what does it mean to lift your soul? How do you actually do this?
Perhaps the closest sounding phrase we have to it in our modern parlance is when we speak of “lifting one’s spirits.” This idiom is used to describe trying to cheer someone up who is discouraged or depressed. Often you will see articles on ways to lift your spirits that encourage such things as reading inspiring quotes or changing your physical surroundings.
Yet this is not what is meant by the psalmist when he speaks of lifting his soul. The Hebrew word for lifting is nasa, and I recall as a student remembering it by thinking of NASA sending up a rocket. That picture of a rocket headed heavenward is helpful, for fundamentally to lift one’s soul means to deliberately come to the God of heaven in worship. By doing a simple study of the Hebrew poetic devise of parallelism used in the Psalms, we can identify more specifically what it means to lift our souls to the Lord.
Lift your soul to the Lord by trusting him to teach you how to walk in his ways. Psalm 25 says directly and simply, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust” (Ps 25:1-2a). After asking that the Lord would not let him suffer shame from others, through the remainder of this psalm David makes it clear that this trust in the Lord comes as he is taught the word of the Lord and shown how to walk according to it. “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths” (Ps 25:3); and “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (Ps. 25:8-9). One does not trust God unless he knows and obeys his word.
Lift your soul to the Lord by praying with anticipated joy in him. Psalm 86:4 shows us an expected result we should have as we lift our soul to the Lord. “Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.” Yet it is only in seeing the surrounding context that we understand how the psalmist was lifting his soul. In the verse before this one the psalmist exclaims, “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day” (Ps. 86:3). Then in the verse immediately after the fourth one we hear, “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you” (Ps. 86:5). Clearly the psalmist was lifting prayer to the Lord, like an offering of incense in the temple, and viewed that as lifting his soul to the Lord.
Lift your soul to the Lord by seeking righteousness and abhorring falsehood. We have an example of soul lifting being stated in the negative in the twenty-fourth psalm. As the psalmist asks who can ascend the holy hill of the Lord and stand before him in worship, he knows only those who are cleansed in Christ can make that journey. “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully” (Ps 24:4). If one turns his heart toward the falsehood of idols and makes vain promises (most likely about religious duties), he cannot then also truly raise his affections toward God. So guarding your heart from temptation so you can worship is one way to lift your soul to God.
Lift your soul to the Lord by looking to him for guidance. In Psalm 143, the psalmist is asking the Lord to answer him quickly. He needs direction from the Lord. He prays, “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” When you come seeking the Lord for guidance in life’s matters, as it were lifting up your heart compass to find God’s due north direction for your life, that is lifting your soul to him.
May your soul be ever lifted up to the Lord!