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Thursday, 25 August 2016

What is the Best Shortcut to Spirituality?

I’ve mentioned before that a few months ago I began working as a volunteer for an organisation called Groundwire. We chat online to people all around the world about Christianity and answer their questions. Most of the people that I have chatted with, on being asked, say that they are Christians. They are usually struggling with serious life issues, hence the need to talk to someone anonymously. The interesting thing for me is that although most people claim to be Christians, a lot of them cannot explain the basics of the Christian faith. But I have already commented extensively on this in my previous post about Easy Believism.
Today I want to talk about those who say that they are Christians and can explain the basics of what they believe. They know at least intellectually who Jesus is and what He has done for them. They appear to be Christians, having trusted Jesus for salvation from their sins, and they say that they are also following Him as Lord (see prior post.) I have spoken to a lot of people like this in recent weeks. Why, you might wonder, are they frequenting Christian chat rooms and struggling with serious life issues? What are some of the issues they are struggling with? The issues can be wide ranging; financial problems, marriage problems, lust, drugs, alcohol. But there is nothing particularly unusual in this list--these are the things that you might expect believers and non-believers alike to be struggling with. 

The surprising thing is that the vast majority of people that I speak to are not seeking advice about vices, sin or temptations and how to overcome them. They want to know: How can I get closer to God? Why do I feel far from God? Why is God not listening to or answering my prayers? How can I become more holy, more spiritual, more sanctified? Where is God in my crisis? Why is God allowing this to happen to me? Why did God abandon me? Is God even there? Does God care about me? How can I feel God’s presence and know that He is there? Where is God when things go wrong?

A large number of professing Christians have become convinced that they need to have some type of emotional experience or feel some type of supernatural power to know that God is there. They doubt God’s presence because they cannot “feel” Him or because they believe they have felt Him in the past and they no longer do so because something has changed. They long for God’s presence and are desperate for Him to minister to their thirsty souls believing that He has abandoned them.  They have lost confidence in the Bible to guide them and are seeking other methods instead.

You might think that helping people with these types of questions and issues would be very tricky. Clearly, they are already serious about God and are likely doing everything they can to get His attention and to find a way out of their spiritual wilderness. So their problems must be complex and hard to resolve.  But, I’ve often found, after asking a few questions, that my assumptions were incorrect. I usually end up giving the same advice to those people as I would to a child or someone new to the faith. On the whole people who are feeling far from God or wondering where He is are not doing even basic things to cultivate their spiritual life. It makes me wonder whether new believers are even being taught basic spiritual disciplines in their churches. 

Having established that someone at least intellectually understands the Gospel and can explain what Jesus has done for them (only God knows their heart), we can then move into areas of spiritual growth. True Christians will grow in faith and should become more like their Saviour, Jesus. We may grow at different rates but there will be steady progress over time. So, how can we grow closer to God? What should we be doing to ensure we stay on track?

I might ask the person, “Are you reading your Bible and praying each day?” Surprisingly, I often receive “no,” or “sometimes,” or even, “I don’t have time,” in response to this question. Then I ask them, “Are you attending a church or meeting with other believers?” Again the answers range from a blatant “no” to “sometimes” to “I was but then I stopped,” or “I don’t get on with the pastor.” I might then ask, “Do you have Christian friends or relatives that you spend time with?” They might say “not really” or “some.” I don’t usually get as far as asking them if they are sharing their faith with others which would be another question to check for spiritual maturity. I hesitate to encourage them to do that wondering what they will end up sharing with others if they are not feeding themselves spiritually through prayer and Bible reading.

It’s incredible that so many Christians are not doing fundamental things to ensure they stay on track. It’s hardly surprising then that they “feel” far from God (although I usually point out that feelings are unreliable as they vary day to day). This is not about methods of sanctification or of trying to earn our place in heaven by doing certain things as a ritual. It is not about a “Purpose Driven” approach, it is much simpler than that. I’m speaking of the response of a grateful believer who has been saved from eternal punishment for their sins. We know that we are saved by grace through faith. We know that Jesus paid the whole price and that His death and resurrection for our salvation was a free gift. But how can we expect to grow spiritually if we don’t spend time with Him in reading His word and in prayer daily? How will we grow If we don’t gather together with other believers to share fellowship, to confess our sins, to learn, to encourage each other, and to hold each other accountable? 

Most of the people lining up to ask how they can get closer to God or where God is in their crisis are looking for shortcuts to spirituality. But they are not willing to submit to the discipline of a personal devotional time or to the authority of a local church fellowship. They want the benefits of Christianity without the cost of discipleship. But the truth is that there are no short-cuts.

To demonstrate how confused some Christians seem to be, I spoke to someone recently who was diligently fasting about an issue. However, he was not reading his Bible regularly. The issue that he was fasting about--which non-Christian girl to pursue--was something that God has already spoken clearly about in His Word. The man seemed surprised to learn that he shouldn’t be fasting about doing something unbiblical. Maybe if he had been reading his Bible he would’ve realised this himself. The Holy Spirit could have brought relevant passages to his attention. Fasting, tithing, participating in the Lord’s Supper, baptism and other Biblical instructions should of course be considered by Christians, but we need to start with the daily basics.

As Christians, we should all recognise that our personal devotional time is the first thing that the enemy attacks and undermines. He might distract us directly or indirectly so that we end up prioritising something else. He might even use prominent evangelical leaders to tell us that we don’t need to have a personal quiet time (I was present when such a leader received a standing ovation from a several thousand-strong congregation after making such a statement. The fact is he had just given all of those people licence to neglect their walk with God and do something else with the time.)

Gathering with fellow believers will be Satan’s second target especially, if we have fallen into sin. The last thing we want to do then is to spend time with believers whose presence makes us feel guiltier. But the enemy wants to isolate us from the body of Christ and to pick us off one by one, keeping sin in the dark where it can fester. Jesus is the light of the world and brings light into these situations. We need our church family if we are to thrive as Christians. We cannot go it alone.

Those who are walking most closely with God are those who:

1.       Spend regular daily time with Him in prayer and reading the Bible.
2.       Are likely to be actively participating in their churches or Christians gatherings seeking to worship God, to serve, to encourage others and to grow spiritually through corporate fellowship.
3.       Are longing to see others saved, praying for them and reaching out to share the Gospel with them whenever there is opportunity.

It’s thankfully not complicated. There are no mystical methods or easy recipes for holiness and sanctification. Let’s simply get back to basics. It’s the same path for all true believers. There are no shortcuts to spirituality!

Psalm 1 vs 1-3

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

James 4 vs 8

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

Matthew 6 vs 6

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Mark 1 vs 35

“And (Jesus,) rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”

Hebrews 10 vs 24-25

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

2 Timothy 3 vs 16-17

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”