Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spirituality is Not the Same for Everyone (Part 2)

Have you ever been to a marriage enrichment conference? Renae and I have been to three. I always thought we had a good marriage until I started reading books and going to conferences designed to tell us how to have a great one. We have always gotten along very well, love hanging out together, and enjoy each others company. Taking into consideration the normal ebbs and flows of marriage life, we have always felt very connected to each other. But the books and conferences informed us we were not eating enough meals together, the TV was on too much, our date nights were far too rare, we didn’t have enough family time together, and our prayer time as a couple was sorely lacking. Huh?

The message was clear: The fact that we had a strong marriage didn’t matter; how we got there was what mattered most. And apparently we had gotten there the wrong way. On their scale, we didn’t measure up.

When the Mold Doesn't Fit

When it comes to having a relationship with God, the same thing often happens. Books on the inner life end up presenting a cookie-cutter approach to spirituality that focuses more on the steps we take than the actual quality of our walk with God. Churches do the same thing too – they use a canned approach. It’s a one-sized-fits-all approach to spirituality: “Follow our rules, fulfill our rituals, and God will be pleased.”

Does God play favorites? Apparently some people think so because the conventional path to pleasing God seems heavily tilted in the direction of certain personality types. For instance, almost all the books on spirituality, the inner life, and getting deep in God are written by introverts – smart ones at that. If you read enough of those books you will soon get the distinct impression that God is more partial to reflective type personalities with high IQs, impressive vocabularies, and lots of self-discipline. Well, that leaves a lot of us regular folk on the outside looking in.

Do good readers make better Christians? Often we are told that if you want to know God, you must read your Bible regularly. No argument here. And if you want to go REALLY DEEP, you must also read the time-honored classics written by the saints of old; most of whom have been dead for hundreds of years. But if mining the depths of ancient scholars is the key to knowing God and being truly spiritual, I wonder how regular folks got there before Gutenberg invented the printing press? Even more to the point, if reading skills are so vital to spirituality, then how does a dyslexic person ever hope to know God?

But didn’t Jesus say something about the kingdom of heaven belonging to those whose faith is like that of little children? Yes, He did (Matthew 18:3; 19:14; Luke 18:16). If He really meant it, how does our insistence on understanding deep theology as being essential to pleasing God fit in with a child’s theological naiveté?

Anyone who has ever been around a children’s Sunday School class knows that kids have some pretty messed-up theology. They haven’t got a clue about propitiation, the Trinity, sanctification, or any of the other important doctrines of Scripture. But as Jesus pointed out, many of them can and do have a great relationship with God – and often, a relationship that is worth imitating.

The fact is, the mold simply does not fit all of us. Each of us are wired differently and respond to different tools better than others. For instance, have you ever wondered why so many godly people feel like failures? No matter how good a Christian they are, they still feel like they have fallen short. In most cases, these people feel like spiritual failures not because they are far from God, but because they are unable to live up to standards of conventional wisdom that we measure spirituality by.

They stalled out in the book of Leviticus each time they tried to read their Bible through. Or they found extended prayer meetings unfulfilling and torturous. Or they were extroverts who bought one of those fancy leather journals, but never got around to writing anything in it. Mostly, they were regular folk, common people, who for whatever reason didn’t fit the mold very well.

There’s nothing wrong with conventional wisdom when it’s right. And most of the time it is. But when it’s not, someone has to speak up and tell people it's okay to break the mold.

It’s the end result that matters, not the path we take to get there. God wants a relationship with all of us, but it can’t be found in a one-size-fits-all approach. If something produces a great walk with God for you, it’s a good path to take. If not, it’s probably a waste of time, even if lots of other folks insist you do it that way.


John Belew said...

Good reading Ron

Ron said...

Thanks John!