In the past, I have spent much digital ink discussing the Christian life and also Christian doctrine in light of trends both in the church and in society at large. I have even gone so far as to discuss what Christianity is not, where current trends in the church depart from orthodox teaching.
But one topic I have not touched upon (except perhaps indirectly) is that of Christian spirituality.
By Christian spirituality, I mean a few things all at once (and for this dear reader I do apologize). It isn’t that Christian spirituality is many things; rather, we seem to lack the proper words (or at least, I seem to lack the ability to find the proper words at the moment) to describe it simply. So here goes a few definitions.
If we start with Merriam-Webster, we find the following definition, which serves as a good starting point: “The quality or state of being spiritual,” which according to MW again is: 1) “of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit”, 2) “of or relating to sacred matters,” and finally, 3) “of or relating to supernatural beings or phenomena”. Putting them altogether, we get a somewhat cobbled but comprehensive definition: Christian spirituality has to do with our spirit, the sacred, and the supernatural, as Christian doctrine understands it.
If you are a “one definition” kind of person, then you can just say Christian spirituality has to do with our spirit, or better put, the Christian soul. In other words, it has to do with understanding what is going on inside of us and how our souls relate to God, in light of what the Bible has to say.
And if this sounds like a somewhat strange topic to discuss, and you are wondering how in the grand scheme of things such a topic is even relevant, this is exactly why we need to discuss it. For what is killing the modern-day church is its lack of emphasis on, even ignorance of, the Christian soul.
We who live in the modern era have almost completely lost touch with the spiritual, and sadly this is true for the church as it is for society as a whole. We have become a society far more focused on and concerned with what is taking place on the outside of us than what is taking place on the inside of us.
Worse still, we think it does not matter. A great impatience pervades our current church culture whereby if we are not actually about the business of doing something for Jesus, or getting Jesus to do something for us, we believe we are wasting our time. If we care about the Christian soul at all, it is only as a means to an end. We will pay attention to our feelings and thoughts so long as doing so produces the right result.
The problem is, it is all about the Christian soul. I would like to propose that what is going on inside of us is not merely a means to an end; it is the end. All that transpires in our lives, on the other hand, is the means. That is to say, God who has rescued us from eternal separation is now liberating us from spiritual separation. He is, in other words, perfecting the soul. His goal is to liberate us from everything within us that separates us from Him. And everything in our lives works together toward that good alone.
Many of us are familiar with this verse from the Bible:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose.
But what follow emphasizes the point we are making:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son
This is the good that God has in mind. He desires that we become like His Son. And this is no superficial transformation. God does not desire that we simply act like His Son, or do the things His Son did, or possess the powers His Son possessed. No, His goal is that we become like Him from the inside out, and this is why Christian spirituality is so important. God’s real work is on the inside. Our circumstances are the supporting actors in the drama unfolding inside us.
The reason we might be tempted to think that Christian Spirituality — that is, understanding what is going on within our souls and how that works — is a strange topic and not that important is because we have got the Christian life upside down. God is not after our constant busyness. And I hate to break it to my fellow faith-based charismatics, but He is not as interested in “blessing us” — in the way we have defined blessing — as we think. Liberation and perfection of our souls is His ultimate aim, and from God’s perspective, the greatest good.
And as we shall explore in coming posts, this good is so, so much better than whatever good we may otherwise have in mind.
photo courtesy of: Aaron Burden