|Spirituality For Life|
|Page: Christian Spirituality|
This article deals with the following three aspects of Christian spirituality:
· Nature of Christian spirituality
· Developing spirituality
· Reflecting spirituality in life
What Is Christian Spirituality?
Broadly, spirituality deals with core meaning and connectedness in life. It has to do with seeking purpose in life – and from that basis responding to life situations. The word “spirituality” came into vogue last century, and has no direct equivalent in Scripture. Yet, the idea is found in the teachings of the Bible, contained in such concepts as relationship with God, remaining or abiding in Christ, and living by or following the Spirit. (John 15:4-15; Galatians 5:16, 18, 25; Hebrews 8:8-13; 12:22-24.)
Because of the complexity and subjective nature of spiritual life, together with the varying understanding of spirituality among the different Christian traditions, a precise description is difficult. Nevertheless, essential elements of spirituality include: hope and beliefs; meaning and purpose of life; and the relationship between a person and God. For Christian spirituality, the Word of God forms the basis of one’s beliefs about the self, others, and God. The Scriptures address relating to God and fellow humans, individual and communal life of worship, as well as social involvement in the world.
In sum, spirituality involves the outworking of the grace of God in a believer’s life through the Holy Spirit. This may begin even before conversion and will end with death or the Lord’s second coming. It is a Spirit-led life reflecting growth and maturity in Christ-likeness. The reality of one’s spirituality is tested in community, because spirituality is not primarily a matter of special practices by an individual, but entails relationships and a whole lifestyle. (See Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 10:31-33.)
How Can Spirituality Be Developed in One’s Life?
Christian spirituality involves the interaction between the human spirit (or “spirit of man”) and God’s Spirit (or Holy Spirit) working in the heart. Spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, meditation, or spiritual reading, help develop and nurture spirituality. They provide focus and direction for developing a personal God-centered spirituality. Since spirituality is related to individual experience, there will be personal preferences and differences of opinion as to what constitutes the most meaningful approach toward developing a relationship with God. The following practices, however, have generally proven helpful in enhancing spirituality. (See Ecclesiastes 3:21; 12:7; Romans 8:13-17; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Galatians 5:18-26.)
Scriptural reading and study: Ultimately, without the Holy Scriptures, there can be no meaningful or sustainable Christian spirituality because God’s Word reveals the nature of spirituality. In addition, the study of devotional writings and spiritual autobiographies from history can help develop one’s view of God and oneself, and thus enhance one’s spirituality. (See Romans 10:17; Ephesians 6:17; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 2:14.)
Prayer and worship: It is through prayer, together with what has been learned from the Sacred Word, that a relationship with God forms and grows. Only God is worthy of worship, which can be individual or communal. Worship includes praise, adoration, prayer, the Word, and music. (See Luke 18:1; Acts 10:25-26; Romans 8:26-27; 12:12; Ephesians 6:18-20; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Philippians 4:6; 1 Peter 4:7; Revelation 19:10; 22:9.)
Relationships: Christian spirituality involves both a personal relationship with God and relationships with fellow humans. Therefore, building and developing relationships is vital, even though this understandably requires time and effort. Communication and sharing are integral aspects of viable relationships. Listening to neighbors and co-workers with respect and love; gently asking questions to discover their needs; and sharing with joy, confidence, and conviction how God has met one’s similar needs, are all part of a spiritual experience. (See Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 15:1-2; 1 Corinthians 10:24, 32; 13:4-5; Philippians 2:4.)
A balanced life: Finally, a sound spirituality will be reflected in a person’s balanced and wholesome life, empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. In following the promptings of the abiding Spirit, and in seeking to conform to God’s revealed will, one’s spirituality will continue to be fostered. (See Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:11-16; 2 Peter 3:18.)
How Does Spirituality Show Itself in a Believer’s Life?
Christian spirituality has three dimensions – upward, inward, and outward.
In relation to the upward aspect, the Holy Scriptures reveal a personal God who has decreed a divine purpose for humanity. This God is transcendent and sovereign over all that exists, as well as being immanent, near, and in everything that exists. Also, the Godhead is triune – comprising the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (See Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 17:24-28.)
With respect to the inward facet, the regenerated person experiences life in a new dimension – he or she is now made new “in Christ,” an expression often used by the apostle Paul to highlight the union Christians enjoy with their Lord through the Holy Spirit in their heart. The believer prays to the Father, with the Son and the Spirit helping and interceding. Prayer, worship, and the life of faith draw people ever more deeply into the life of the Trinity. (See Romans 6:4; 8:1, 26-27, 34; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:17-18; Hebrews 7:24-27.)
The focus of Christian spirituality needs to be outward, rather than into isolation and individuality which would limit the ability to love, forgive, and obey. The Spirit-filled life seeks to express itself in relation to others in the Christian community and in the world. Christians will manifest the fruit of the Spirit – a life of love toward others that is joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. They will seek to be continually “filled with the Spirit” and to neither grieve nor quench the Spirit. (See Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 4:30; 5:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:19.)
Christian spirituality can make a difference in a world alienated from its Creator. Jesus Christ came to the earth with a message and ministry of reconciliation – of reconciling the world to God. He came to liberate those deceived and oppressed by Satan the devil, the age-old enemy of God. He showed that all people, irrespective of nationality, gender, and occupation, are equally loved by God. In sum, he came not to be served, but rather to serve, to heal, and to set free. (See Matthew 9:9-13; 20:25-28; Luke 4:18-21; John 4:7-9; Revelation 12:9.)
Based on Jesus’ example, spirituality is socially directed to relieving oppression, injustice, and unnecessary suffering wherever possible. Flowing out of God’s grace, it is energizing and nurturing toward all creation. It would include responsible care for the environment. As the light and salt of the world, Christians should promote and work toward reconciliation between racial, ethnic, and religious groups. In short, treating people with respect, being tolerant of differences, and practicing mercy, justice, and fairness are all hallmarks of a lived Christian spirituality. (Genesis 2:15; Matthew 5:13-16; 43-48; 23:23; John 8:12; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:14-17; Revelation 11:18.)
Christian spirituality is not a new concept. In centuries past, Christians contemplated the inner life of the Spirit and sought to understand spiritual experiences. Today, their writings still have relevance for frenzied 21st century lifestyles where people long for inner peace and meaning.
However, in the past, spirituality was associated with a religious minority who chose a monastic lifestyle, isolated from the world and engaged predominantly in prayer and spiritual exercises. In many respects, God was understood as mainly transcendent and therefore not much involved in everyday life. Earthly life was largely seen as preparatory to the next life rather than a journey in its own right. Relationships were based on control and subordination rather than equality and mutuality.
Today, it is being recognized that spirituality can be attained not just by an elite few in a cloister, but by Christians from all walks of life. God is understood as both transcendent and immanent – being over all things, as well as present in all things and experiences. Therefore divine working and grace can be perceived in day-to-day events. Spirituality and grace belong to this life in the context of time, place, and culture, and involve the total human experience, not just spiritual activities.
Something to Think About
A test of authentic Christian spirituality lies in what Jesus told his disciples, “Everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Whatever help and service we render to other people, we render to Jesus. This is faith and spirituality in action. May we all pass this test and not be ashamed when Jesus Christ returns. (See Matthew 25:34-40; John 13:34-35; James 1:27; 2:14-17; 1 John 2:28.)
Photo credit: Intellimon Ltd.
© Alexander and Eva Peck, 2010