Genuine Spirituality Never Thinks of Itself as “Spiritual”

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In this world, some laws never change. Gravity always wins. We don’t fall up; we fall down. And this law is almost as trustworthy: It’s the “spiritual” folks you better not turn your back on. (Note the quotation marks. The real thing is beautiful and rich, but the cut-rate version that centers almost completely on itself is a shame and a sham.) Be they religiously “spiritual” or religious about not being religiously spiritual, folks who consider themselves a cut above in the spirituality department can be brutal and feel holy about it.

Of course, “spiritual” in our culture is one of those quivery “Jell-O” words that’s hard to nail down. About all anyone has to do in our culture to be dubbed a very “spiritual” person is feel warm and fuzzy looking at sunsets, pat a dog occasionally, and be “tolerant” of anything at all except anything that seems at all intolerant. Do the above, and prove that you recycle, and you’ll be well on your way to secular sainthood in our society. You’ll seal the deal if you’ll also adopt a condescending attitude toward anyone who thinks spirituality could conceivably include church attendance and the sort of mind-boggling commitment that might issue in writing a check.

“Spiritual” in our culture is a foggy, wispy, vaporous, and vapid thing indeed. Practically, this kind of “spirituality,” almost completely centered on self, doesn’t do much, but it does one thing very efficiently: it confirms its adherents’ already high opinion of themselves as being “good people.”

And what about “good” religious people? Jesus himself warned us about “spirituality” that comes from that direction. The most religious  (“spiritual”) folks of his day had little hesitance in hanging God’s Son from a cross. Take it to the bank: the most religious folks of any time and place would have done exactly the same thing.

I don’t think that truth argues for sleeping in on Sundays and feeling self-righteous about not being self-righteous. Despite massive weaknesses, huge blind spots, and frustrating foibles, God’s people worshiping and working together have always accomplished, by utterly amazing grace, vastly more lasting good than their critics. The real value of worship can’t be charted. Prayers are difficult to weigh or quantify. But the fact remains that skeptics rarely if ever build hospitals. It’s no accident that at scenes of terrible tragedy and pain it’s trucks painted with a red cross that show up and not trucks painted with a red question mark. Besides that, I’ve never been convinced that hypocrisy inside the church is more prevalent than hypocrisy outside the church.

That said, our Lord’s life and the cross itself are strong evidence that we should never be less trustful of our own motives than when we’re feeling most “spiritual” and “religious.” Not only does real spirituality not split churches over styles of music or whether it’s feeling adequately served with all its many needs being met, it is centered on a Lord who went to a cross rather than have his own way. Real spirituality never thinks of itself as being spiritual.

The real thing, as evidenced in the life of Christ, doesn’t think of itself at all.


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Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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