Understanding religion and spirituality
Let's explore the dynamics and practicality of following God. Faith in God is expressed in two basic ways. There is the private life that we have as we seek to follow God. This private expression of faith guides our action when no one else sees us. We all have a personal experience and secret history with God.
A private spirituality is where we meet Jesus on an emotional level. If we do not connect emotionally then our relationship with God will be shallow and impossible to sustain. Our pursuit of spiritual things will be lifeless until we experience a mystical encounter with the living God.
Every human has a primal desire for the supernatural and to touch eternity. We may experience this as part of corporate worship but these ecstatic experiences are always deeply personal and private. This personal encounter with God stands in deep contrast to the institutional and organization faith that captures so much of our attention.
Spirituality operates at the emotional level rather than the intellectual one. In fact our spiritual experience requires us to offend the mind in order to listen to the heart. I find that my heart and head often are opposing each other for my allegiance.
The mind is typically controlled by ego and naturally against the things of the Spirit of God. I believe the journey of transformation occurs in the emotions and then flows to the understanding as an outcome. The primary battleground of faith is therefore the heart, not the head.
There are several aspects of our personal experience of God. True spirituality addresses many different issues in our lives. Without covering all of these, our spirituality remains shallow and undeveloped. When spirituality is lacking religion naturally fills the gap. In other words, when we have no real experience of God, our lives are filled concepts about God. The mind takes the lead when the heart is unwilling to.
Some people believe that faith is only a private matter, just between me and God. The bible teaches us that our faith is not real unless it changes our relationships with others. How we interact with others both demonstrates and develops our spiritual transformation. True faith must have both a private and a public expression.
The fruit of the Spirit (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control) are certainly personal characteristics, but they are demonstrated in relationships. God has placed us in relationships for the purpose of walking out our faith with others.
Family and church form the core relationships for followers of Christ. Every other relationship flows from these. Family would include blood relatives but also those people that I intend to spend the rest of my life with. True family relationships may form with those beyond my to include those that I have a deep commitment to. These people are a part of my life story for better or worse over the long-run.
Church relationships involve people that God has put in my life to help me discover his plan and purpose. These people may be scattered across the globe and may be in my life for just a time. Many of my church relationships may not attend the same church organization to which I belong. It is important to have deep church relationships with people that think very different from me.
Deep relationships cannot form without spending time together. Belonging to the same church for a very long does not make people close. Interacting in meaningful ways is what makes people close. The most accurate metric to measure closeness in church relationships is how many minutes have I spent with someone in deep conversation of personal matters over the last year.
Most people that I know are satisfied with shallow relationships, and are unwilling to devote the time required to move beyond that. I have had very few meaningful conversations with church people. Others often seem too busy with their own lives to allow access to others. This leads me to wonder if it is even possible to have meaningful relationships in the church. Our very notions of church seem to go against true and deep personal connection.