ADVICE ON THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

So I pick up with my “advice” themed blog posts.  I’ve got about four or five more in mind before I move on completely.

What exactly do we call what I am about to give advice on?  Years ago people in my faith tradition would have called it ‘holiness,’ but that whole concept I think was misguided.  Only the Lord is holy, and our holiness flows from him as an act of grace, therefore holiness is not something I can generate or nurture.  It can only be received.  The trendy phrase today is ‘spiritual formations.’  I like that phrase quite a bit but most people sitting in pews don’t understand what it means–it almost sounds like science fiction or maybe Scientology.celtic-cross-high-pictures-1la

So, I’ve decided to call it the spiritual life–the things I think each of us can do to make certain we are growing spiritually and balancing out the growing impact of materialism and power games that have taken over a great deal of what we call ‘church.’  Before you go any further, know that these are Christian spiritual concepts and the beginning and end of all genuine spirituality is Jesus Christ.

1.  Pick a community of faith and stick with it.  The greatest detriment to many people’s spiritual health is that they church hop.  We were made to live in community and we must have that in order to be healthy.  It takes time to do it right and doesn’t always come quickly.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed how hard it is for us to simply ‘spend time’ together as human beings.  We are losing a lot of our social interaction skills, and this is hurting us spiritually.

2.  Submit to spiritual authority.  I am a Baptist and Baptists generally come out of the womb rejecting authority and fighting against leadership.  That is why we have earned such a reputation for ‘church splits.’  This is sinful.  Submission is the expected norm in the spiritual life and those who refuse to do so are stunting their eternal perspective.  There is one caveat to this and that is when the spiritual leader is doing something evil or heretical.  Changing what time the small group starts or the type of music in a worship service is neither evil or heretical.

3.  Make prayer a personal endeavor.  Everyone can pray, and no one doesn’t know how.  Simply set aside time to speak with the Lord.  You were made for this, and Jesus died on the cross for you to experience deeper intimacy with him.  Although there is no bad way to pray, three things will help you as you do pray.

A)  Set aside a specific time when you are alone.
B)  Use both free prayers (what’s on your heart) and written prayers (the Lord’s prayer, for example).
C)  Spend time listening.  Shut your mouth and just listen.  This will take time to develop because most of us have been trained through our church experiences to babble on mindlessly during our prayers.

4.  Read the Bible at least once a day, preferably twice or more, in a translation you comprehend.  One verse doesn’t count.  Read entire chapters or sections (you know, from heading to heading) so that you can get a feel for the context.  When you finish reading it, make certain you understand what you read.  If you don’t read it again.  If that doesn’t help, maybe consult a commentary or talk to a friend or pastor.

5.  Fast.

6.  You need two relationships to spiritually grow.  One relationship is with a mentor–someone who is guiding you into maturity.  The second one is someone you are being a mentor to.  Without both of these, you are spiritually lacking.  These relationships may not happen at the same time, but there will likely be some temporal overlapping.

7.  Accountability is vital to spiritual health.  This is especially true of leadership, but it is generally true for all of us.  There must be someone whom we speak to about the darkness in our heart, the struggles in our soul, and the pain of our longings.  We need these people to speak discipline and forgiveness into our lives.

8.  Learn to ask yourself one question:  What is God teaching me in this situation?  The more often you learn to ask this question and then seek to find an answer the deeper and more meaningful your spiritual life will become.

9.  Confess.  We need the daily ritual of bringing our sins before the Lord in an act of confession.  If you can’t remember your sins, ask him to show you and he will.  As these evil thoughts, mean words, hateful actions and so forth come to your mind and heart, confess them as wrong and ask the Lord’s forgiveness.  Know that he does forgive; and receive the strength that comes from purity.

10.  Take corporate worship seriously.  Embrace the elements of communion, the beauty of baptism, the weight of the spoken and read word as well as the necessity for giving.  Anyone who tries to be a spiritual person without worshiping with other people regularly (weekly) is an arrogant fool engaged in folly.

What I have tried to give you here are some basic pointers.  This is by no means exhaustive.  I will leave you with one final bit, though.  Stay away from mystics.  Mystics may mean well, but usually they only practice an odd form of works righteousness that breeds smugness.  Do not confuse the spiritual life with mysticism.

photo:  www.gaelicmatters.com

ACCOUNTABILTY—A KEY TO SUCCESS

Last night Pastor Greenbean met with his accountability partners at a local burger joint.  I have two men who partner with me in this and we meet somewhat regularly.  Now, I can’t tell you what we talk about because that is confidential—confidentiality is necessary for honest dialogue among people—but I can share with you the basic aspects of accountability that make it necessary for me, and I believe for everyone who takes following Christ seriously.

  • Spiritual growth check-up:  The most baseline that an accountability partner or group does is provide a check-up for spiritual growth.  I am asked questions like, “What are you reading in the Bible?” and “Who are you praying for?”  For my group the questions are a little more pointed and the men ask me questions like, “What in your life has changed because you’ve read he Bible?”  I know that it sounds so simple but just having people I know and trust ask me these questions keeps me honest and helps keep me spiritually vibrant.
  • Speak truth into your life:  To my knowledge there is no living human being who is perfect.  Christ already broke the mold on that one.  Everyone knows that, but we all live our lives as if we were perfect—at least we don’t want anyone to tell us where we err or what our shortcomings are.  But in accountability people are given permission to speak truth into our lives—those things we need to hear and face up to in order to become better Christ-followers.  I know that my accountability partners love me and my defensive shielding comes off so that I can hear the truth they speak.
  • Someone to confess to:  The Bible speaks often of confession, and preachers talk about it a lot too.  A passage that has always bothered me is James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.”  I’m okay with confessing to God, but it is the one another part that troubles me.  I’m just Baptist enough to generally believe my sins are no one else’s business.  But I need to confess to others; I know it.  In my accountability group I am able to confess my sins without fear of judgment.  It is nice how much healing emerges from that simple, obedient act.

Perhaps the most important thing about my accountability group is that we pray for each other.  Over time I’ve found that I am emotionally invested in their spiritual needs and I pray for them not because of a list but because my heart is aligned with theirs.  I believe they pray for me in the same way.  There is also the benefit of availability.  If ever I struggle; I know I can call one of these men, or they me; and we would help each other.  That is the beauty of accountability.