Tag Archives: spirituality

A Spirituality of Depth and Fruitfulness (Part Two)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” John 15:5

Practically speaking, how do we abide (i.e. remain) in Christ?  In their book Resilient Ministry, authors Burns, Guthrie, and Chapman identity five characteristics that help pastors build and maintain a spirituality of depth and fruitfulness.  Although their research focused specifically on pastors, I believe all Christians can learn from their findings.

  1. They build rituals. Rituals are highly intentional habits. Instead of relying on sheer willpower to grow, wise Christians will strategically build rituals into their days, weeks, and months that keep them connected to Jesus. 
  1. They practice spiritual disciplines. To abide in Christ requires us to not simply form rituals, but rituals that strengthen us in the Lord and in his calling for our lives. From engaging the Bible, prayer, serving, fasting, giving, etc., the Bible holds our specific habits that will deepen our walk with Christ when done with a surrendered heart and a view to love God and serve one’s neighbour.  Integration of these spiritual disciplines takes time, so patience is required.  Like toddlers learning to walk, we should expect the process of learning to walk with God to be clunky, awkward, and full of missteps.  But over time, slowly and steadily, practicing core spiritual disciplines will create spiritual momentum. 
  1. They maintain accountability. Learning to abide in Christ is an individual and communal calling. Those who are sustain depth and fruitfulness in their Christian walk regularly invest in Christian community where they are supported, encouraged, challenged, and held accountable in their desire to combat spiritual drift.
  1. They grow through hardships. To remain in Christ and connected to him, we need to learn to suffer well. Pain, suffering, and hardship often present a spiritual crossroads.  Will I allow my suffering to harden me towards God and others?  Or will I seek to glorify God by learning to suffer well?  Those who choose the second path are those who remain in Christ and allow the pruning of God to be a process of refinement and not hardening.
  1. They establish all activity in the gospel of grace. You cannot learn to abide in Christ through clench-fisted striving. Successfully and fruitfully abiding in Jesus often comes from a foundation of grace-filled surrender.  The gospel is not “if you religiously perform, God will love and accept you.”  The gospel is “you are loved and accepted in Christ.  From that place of security and grace, learn to walk in a way that honours God and loves others well.”  The gospel of Jesus frees you from the anxiety that a transactional/karmic conception of religious obedience creates.  Those growing in depth and fruitfulness will live from a place of gospel grace and security.

 

Note: This reflection first appeared in the January 12th edition of the Nelson Star News.

 

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A Spirituality of Depth and Fruitfulness (Part One)

 

“I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”  John 15:5

For those who humbly embrace him as Saviour and Lord, Jesus offers a life-transforming spirituality characterized by two things: depth of intimacy and fruitfulness.  However, many people find the experience of both to be out of reach.  As a result some resolve to try harder, but quickly arrive at spiritual burn-out.  Others simply give up, believing themselves to be insufficiently spiritual to “take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19).  Then there are those whose hearts grow cold having believed the lie that the abundant life Jesus offers was never meant for them.

Sometimes the root of this disconnect lies in the fact that people expect the fruit without being connected to the Vine.  Many who call themselves Christians have never personally surrendered their lives to Jesus.  They understand Christianity as civic religion, a moral framework, or perhaps even as short-hand for “Western values.”  They attend church, serve the poor, and are genuinely good people.  Jesus, however, makes it clear that the term Christian (i.e. “little Christ”) is only for those in him through faith.

In John 15 Jesus talks a lot about abiding (i.e. remaining) in him, and the fruitfulness that comes as a result.  However, the first condition of remaining in Christ is to place yourself in Him.  No one is automatically “in Christ.”  Jesus refers to himself as the true vine (John 15:1), and we are branches that have been cut off from God due to sin’s power.  However, through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus opened up a way by which we could be saved out of this separation from God and into a unique relationship with God.  Like branches that are grafted into a strong and life-giving vine, by placing our trust in Christ we are reconnected to the source of life, hope, love, and truth.  Then Jesus’ life begins to flow through ours in surprising and powerful ways.

A person is not a Christian if they are not connected to the Vine.  And a person cannot experience the promises Jesus declares for those in him, while they choose to remain outside of his redeeming love.

Do you long to experience a spirituality of depth and fruitfulness that touches every dimension of your life in joyous, restorative, hopeful, and redeeming ways?  Place yourself in Christ first, and then learn to abide in him.

Note: This reflection first appeared in Nelson Star News on January 5th, 2018.

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Who Defines Your Spirituality?

Spirituality is a buzzword that has settled comfortably within the cultural ether.  Many (most?) are comfortable using it, because the word has become highly customizable.  Once tethered to some formal religious tradition or ideology, “spirituality” (and what it means to be “spiritual”) has  morphed into an incredibly broad, and thoroughly personal concept.

Who defines your spirituality?  That is, whom do you empower to frame your understanding of one of the most important ideas within your life?  Our highest values and priorities are often connected to our ideas around what it means to live an authentic and vibrant spiritual life, and therefore it’s important to consider who we’ve given the keys to that kingdom over to.

A celebrity?  A spiritual guru?  Ourselves?

I believe that Jesus—because of who he is—should be the one defining what an authentic and healthy spirituality looks like.  And he does, but in a refreshing and challenging way.  One of the things that I’ve come to value about Jesus’ definition of spirituality is how much sharper it is when compared to contemporary definitions.  For Jesus, genuine spirituality is framed by the concept of discipleship; the process of learning how to align one’s life to what God values and prioritizes.

Jesus defined discipleship in its most basic form when he responded to a question posed by a religious scholar of the day:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

Jesus framed spirituality around two foundational principles: loving God thoroughly and intensely, and loving our neighbours as ourselves.  There are a few things I appreciate about this definition:

1. We are not the centre.  Most modern definitions of spirituality place us at the centre.  The self is understood to be the supreme source of truth, hope, and power.  There is a kernel of truth here.  Yes, human beings hold tremendous capacities due to the fact that they are image-bearers of God.  However, to localize the source of truth and hope within ourselves is, for Jesus, a magnificent error.   God and his kingdom are central to Jesus’ definition of spirituality.

2. One’spirituality has to find its place within a larger story.  By invoking the Shema (“Hear, O Israel…”), Jesus is implicitly teaching that spirituality that is healthy and hopeful must be grounded in a larger story.  The Bible reveals the larger story of Creation, Fall, Redemption to be the one that provides us with the cosmic narrative within which our individual expressions of spirituality can be located and established in meaning beyond, “this seems right/helpful to me.”

3. Scripture is our Foundation and Guide.  When asked, Jesus doesn’t turn the question around and ask the religious leader to search his own heart.  Instead, Jesus drives him back into Scripture.  It’s incredibly tempting to listen to spiritual gurus who would encourage us to look within and trust ourselves in the formation of a fulfilling and meaningful spirituality.  Jesus does the exact opposite.  He places our focus on the revealed Word of God, and challenges us to draw out its implications within our lives as individuals and communities.

4. There is/not a “one size fits all” spirituality that leads to life and wholeness.  To modern ears the idea that there could be one–and only one–valid expression of spirituality seems beyond ridiculous.  Could anything be more myopic and even irrational?

But Jesus consistently answers these questions the same way in the gospels, turning people’s attention back to this Great Commandment.  Why?  If it’s just one choice among many, why not switch it up once in a while and highlight some alternatives? But Jesus never does.  Whenever he’s asked what the priorities of one’s spirituality should be, his answer is always the same: Love God and love people.

Which seems incredibly restrictive and exclusive.  Until you realize just how vague that centre is.  Love God and people.  Ok, but how?  That is for us to experiment with and discover.  There are clearly boundaries to that exploration in the Bible (i.e. no need to experiment with whether loving your neighbour might include adultery), but Jesus’ definition of spirituality is (almost) alarmingly vague.  There is a dynamic and inexhaustible breadth and depth to one’s ability to express these two priorities.  These aren’t rules that you can easily check-off and complete.  They are principles and priorities that require continued practice, imagination, right intention, and humility before God and others.

The older I get the more I see the genius behind Jesus’ definition of–dare I say it–true spirituality.  It is accessible to everyone, and yet it rescues us from the self-centred (and therefore self-serving) definitions of spirituality that call out to us.

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