On several occasions during my years as a pastor, people have told me that they want to get more serious about their “spiritual life.” Sometimes it comes in the form a new year’s resolution to “work on” their spiritual life. One time a guy actually told me that he had a three year plan: Year 1 he would work on his “physical life.” Year 2 he would work on his “social life.” Year 3 he would work on his “spiritual life.” He came to see me as he was about to start Year 3. Because that is what pastors do. We help you with your “spiritual life.”
I understand what people are getting at, I think, when they talk about wanting a better spiritual life. They usually mean they want to engage in more habits or practices that help them to connect better with God, things like reading the Bible, praying, worshipping more regularly, and so on. All of this is great. I’m all for regular prayer and Scripture reading. Meditation, prayer, and spiritual reading are very important parts of the rhythm of my life. At least much of the time. Sometimes, however, I get to a point where I realize I really need to “work on” that.
While using the phrase “spiritual life” might be a helpful way to talk about our religious habits or devotional practices, it often brings with it a very dangerously mistaken idea that you can separate your “spirituality” from your actual day-to-day life.
I remember how my New Testament professor, Jouette Bassler, once described the main difference between Christianity and the other Greco-Roman “religions” in the first century. She said that whereas the other religions were a matter of adhesion, Christianity was about conversion. What she meant was that it was normally understood that it was ok to add on religions in your life, because religions were not about a way of life so much as a transaction of some kind (usually a sacrifice) that gave your a specific benefit. So you made sacrifices to the god of fertility, god of war, god of travel, etc., and in exchange you would get a good crop, a victory, safety, and so on. Christianity, though, was not about adding another compartment to your life. Christianity was about reorienting the center of your life around the God whose heart was embodied in Jesus.
This is why the earliest followers of Christ could say things like this:
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Collosians 3:17)
In the ancient world, a person’s name signified their identity in a very deep and profound way. It represented their character. (Hence the name changes in the Bible when a life changes). To do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus means to do everything in a Christ-like way. Everything. How you treat your body, how you act towards other people, what you do with your money, energy, talents, time, words, thoughts… it all matters deeply to God.
God doesn’t want us to just have a good spiritual life. God wants us to have a life that is spiritual.
Your work, your studies, your play, your relationships… it can all become spiritual when done with gratitude and Christ-like devotion and humility.
As important as spiritual disciplines can be, perhaps what most of us need the most is not to do more spiritual things, but to start doing everything more spiritually.
This Fall during our Thursday evening study, we are basing our discussions on Brian McLaren’s book Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in Twelve Simple Words. I will be blogging each week on that week’s topic.