I am over lamenting the reality that participation in religious institutions is in decline, because guess what? Spirituality is on the rise! People are finding ways to connect with God, pray, and live out their faith in a diverse number of ways as much as ever, and I think that’s great!
There is a tremendous opportunity for the Church to tap into this hunger for spirituality and to form communities that help each of us develop an everyday, transformative spirituality. We’ve already got the tools, the language, and the community. We simply need to continue to translate these things into contemporary versions that speak to our everyday lived experience.
However, while the Church has a responsibility to proclaim the Word and administer the sacraments, the responsibility of developing a spirituality – of nurturing our life of faith – falls squarely on us. We can’t expect the Church to provide all the answers or do all the work. In worship, we hear the Good News proclaimed. How we respond – how we digest that Good News and live it out takes a lifetime of practice. I think it’s worth the effort. So here are three things I think you should be doing to develop a strong, healthy, balanced spirituality.
1. Attend Worship. Regularly.
Let’s just get this one out of the way, because I know you don’t want to hear it, and I know you definitely don’t want to do it. We usually have better, more pressing things to do on Sunday morning (and for many of us, sleeping in is a tempting option). And if we’re honest, we know that some of our worship services are painstakingly dull and boring.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Worship isn’t supposed to be fun. It’s not a question of what you get out of it, or how entertained you are. While ideally worship shouldn’t be terrible, (hopefully you are being challenged by the messages you hear there and have some kind of experience that impacts you in some way), just being there is more than half the battle. We need to hear forgiveness, we need to hear grace, we need to participate, we need to be welcomed, we need to be fed with spiritual food again, and again, and again. We need to prioritize worship. It is regularly scheduled maintenance for your spiritual life. Without worship, that spiritual life falls into disrepair.
2. Dedicate Yourself to a Spiritual Practice. Daily.
Look, we all pray in different ways. Some of our practices that help us feel connected to God barely resemble traditional “talking with God” kind of pre-scripted prayers we normally think of. There is no one prescribed way or routine of daily spiritual practice. I have enough stacks of different vetted varieties of “Daily Christian Prayer” books that have collected so much dust that I might as well throw them in the garbage because they do nothing for me.
But we all need to have a daily prayer/spiritual practice. And we need to find one that works for us. My advice? Be creative. Find something outside the box, maybe even outside your comfort zone (at Zen Church I’m particularly fond of meditation). But make sure you stick with it for awhile. It takes months for this kind of thing to take root and really start to make a noticeable difference. But you’ll know if it’s working for you or not.
The kind of discipline it takes to develop a daily spiritual practice is hard. Most days you probably won’t feel like doing it. But the discipline is exactly why it works. We can literally train ourselves to be more faith/spiritually minded. This really falls into the category of taking care of ourselves. You wouldn’t skip your workout, or your medication (and if you do, you regret it!) so why would you skip your daily spiritual care? To be honest, most of my days begin with the thought “ugh, I don’t want to meditate.” But I sit my butt down on that cushion anyway, and I never regret it.
3. Give. As Often as you Can.
If words like charity, service, compassion, selflessness, generosity, sacrifice, etc are not part of our religious lingo, we need to go back and read our Bibles again. Sadly, I have to admit that the institutional Church doesn’t very obviously prioritize caring for the poor or those otherwise in need. But we find Christ again and again in “the least of these.” Volunteering and serving can have a profound effect on us, and does wonders in helping us develop our spirituality and growing in our relationship with God.
Similarly, generosity in our finances also has an impact on our spirituality. Since its inception the Church has taken up an offering of resources to care for the poor and needy. We need to stop thinking of our financial offerings to the Church as “paying our dues” or funding a budget. We give because giving impacts us. We give “til it feels good.” Actually, parting with our hard earned money hurts a little bit. But it’s good for us, I promise. Like a shot at the doctor, it stings, but it’s good for us.
Church: Maintaining our Life in Christ
Hopefully you belong to a congregation that can help you with all three of these things. If not, start something! Or move on. Either way, the Church is only as effective as it is in helping people develop and live out a life of faith in the everyday. Our self-preservation efforts will only prolong the demise of an institution that no longer works. But a Church that exists to help people respond to the Good News of what God has done for us and continues to do among us? That is where it’s no longer our work, but the work of Christ in us. That is where we find an everyday spirituality.