Spirituality is not the same thing as Discipleship

A couple of years ago I located a great site for writers and joined right away. The site is full of energetic and talented writers whom I admire very much. I learn a lot from them about the craft of writing. I have learned to be very careful about absorbing other ideas from them. I feel called by God to write and share what I learn about the Christian faith. I can learn things about the craft of writing from any good writer. I need to be more discriminating about learning anything else.

I have discovered that, like me, most writers feel that writing is an extension of their lives. To write is to engage in a conversation about the things that shape my life, or the actions that grow out of the shape of my life. Writing and living are tightly intertwined. Having grown up in rural communities and lived most of my life around people not considered sophisticated by urban dwellers, I found some of the life stories told on the writers’ site startling to say the least. I felt an inner warning to filter what I read before absorbing it as fact.

I soon discovered that many writers consider themselves to be spiritual. There are so many, in fact, that my well-loved writing site has a whole group of writers who gather together on the subject of spirituality. When I found the group, I was immediately attracted by its name. I clicked the “join” button and began to get acquainted.

It was a real shock. Not for the first time I was educated to understand that my perception of the definition of a term is not necessarily its actual meaning. Most importantly, my perception of the meaning of “spirituality” was completely different from the perceptions of 99% of the members of the group. I joined the group in the expectation that the other members shared my idea of growing in spirituality. I could not have been more wrong.

For most of my life, I have used the term “spiritual” to mean anything related to the Holy Spirit, or to my relationship with the Holy Spirit, or to my growth in the disciplines and practices of my faith in Christ. The writing group uses the term to mean whatever is not of the material world. Members belong to many different religions or to no religion at all, yet their common bond is a belief that the world we live in is not exclusively made up of physical matter. I share that understanding, but little else. Some members believe that “the universe” is a spiritual force they can relate to. Some believe in ancient gods I thought had been abandoned centuries ago. Some believe in something ephemeral and immaterial that they relate to in terms like hope and faith and luck. I encountered a couple of group members who were Christians, but like me, they felt no common bond with the majority of the members. I left the group after a few weeks, and I imagine they did, too.

This experience should not have shocked me that much. I should have been prepared for this. After I had made this mistake, I looked around and realized that the world is full of people teaching “spirituality” which is wrapped in more beautiful imagery than Halloween, but which is otherwise not a lot different from the masquerade of that October holiday. Spirituality is a popular theme on talk shows like “Oprah,” but it is nothing like what I mean when I talk about spirituality in the context of my Christian faith.

There are a lot of words floating around in our daily lives which are wrapped in spiritual imagery, and often those words delude us into believing that they are Christian words of inspiration, motivation and faith. Many, many of those words have nothing to do with Christianity, nothing to do with God, or Christ or the Holy Spirit. Many of the words and images lure us away from faith into behavior as pagan as Moloch or Baal ever was.

For example, you have no doubt received a “prayer” in your email inbox that concluded with a statement similar to this: “Forward this prayer to ten people, including me, and something magnificent will happen to you at 10PM this evening. Don’t break the chain, or you will be sorry.” The first time I received one of those prayers, I was upset. It reminded of chain letters I used to receive in snail mail, threatening me with being responsible for dire things happening to the person who sent it if I failed to forward it to ten more people. Those old letters made me angry, and these “chain” prayers make me angry, too. They are not prayers; a better word would be incantations. This kind of prayer is not so much a blessing as a curse. In fact, I feel that the sender has tried to enslave me as surely as he or she tried to enslave God, as if either or both of us might be a little genie in a bottle, compelled to do the bidding of the one who opened the lid.

Prayer to Almighty God in the name of Christ does not work the way those chain prayers allege to work. Prayer is not about compelling God to do anything, and it is not about calling down bad luck on people who do not participate.

There is a lot of “spirituality” in the world around us that could easily lure us away from the truth. We won’t find God’s truth in chain prayers on the internet. When we do get confused by chain prayers or any other “spiritual” words in the news or on television or in our inboxes, we must remember that we cannot listen to every spirit that competes for our attention. There is one who always speaks truth, and that One is the indwelling Holy Spirit. We need to study the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know how to distinguish truth from lies.

Many people who claim to be spiritual but not Christian are good people by humanist standards. They are kind. They don’t steal. They help others and pay their taxes and would not hurt a fly, let alone a human being. We can enjoy them as neigbors and friends. However, people who do not know Christ cannot guide us into all truth; only the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth can do that. We need to be careful who we listen to.

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