Synchronizing spiritual, church lives
It has celebrated church stories featuring growth and exemplary works of faith. The column has shared stories about states, counties and cities that needed a dynamic church to share the love of God. Columns that gave me the greatest pleasure were those that acknowledged heroes of faith who deserve recognition and celebration.
Through the years, I have shared insights about marriage, children, grandchildren and many subjects growing from my life. I have been transparent about personal weaknesses and life challenges like prostate cancer, angst about leadership in churches and fears over spiritual infidelity of churchgoers.
So I think I can be candid about the polarity of my faith.
When in high school, I loved Sunday: Life had that single focus on God, other believers and an amazing relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. School days were hard because my attention was diverted from God as I hung out with friends who seemed more interested in being clever, cultured, social or over the edge. All that influence made it hard to stay focused on God even though I read the Bible nightly, prayed regularly and journaled about my spiritual thoughts and struggles. As I grew up, my desire was to make my life single — like on Sunday. Maturity and time helped me develop some balance and a sense of unity.
Now I am confessing that I have a difficult time keeping my church life and my spiritual life synchronized. At times, I am going to church and enjoying every minute of it. I am thrilled by my Bible class, all the fellowship, the truths I am learning and the intentional direction that it inspires. Worship is amazing. From singing to preaching, the sense of being in God’s presence fills my heart and mind. Sometimes when my church life is so totally engaging, it seems totally disconnected from my soul and spirit.
At other times, I am just as involved in church, but it feels like I am only going through the motions and enjoying it less. I take meticulous notes of Bible teaching and preaching. I sing with attention to the words and meaning. I listen to the prayers, but church simply does not move my spirit. Occasionally, my spirit seems out of energy and I feel really disconnected from God and other believers. Those are times of great distress and frustration.
Sometimes, the flatness of my church life is counteracted by my spirit’s abounding growth and vitality. My prayers are richly varied, focusing on the needs of others and the mission of the church around the world. My study is more concentrated and my search for God more fervent. My spirit seems powerfully enlivened by God’s Spirit. The sense of God’s presence is awesome, filling my mind and heart with joy and peace.
My intention in life is to keep my church life and my spiritual life synchronized. It is only when the two aspects of life (church life with other believers and my spirit-fueling mind and heart) are moving in tandem and rhythmically that I am whole and wholly devoted to God. I pray that God will bring that unity and harmony to the lives of all his people throughout our churches.
When I sense that my spirit is flagging, I usually try to take stock of my life to better understand what is happening. Spiritual inventory for me begins with some sort of retreat from the ordinary routine of my life, if that is possible. If not, I can fast, devote an hour or two to serious meditations of my emotional and psychological sides alternated with prayers over what I am seeing about myself. Fasting deepens the experience of soul-searching, often revealing problems or sins that are destructive to true spiritual life. A spiritual inventory is important to growth, but it is often hard to face the soul-searching.
I find much inspiration in music. I have a large collection of religious music that I turn to when I am trying to rouse myself to closer relations with God. Because words are powerful for me, I have passages of Scripture that touch me. Ephesians thrills my heart as I study that complex, multiplying description of the blessings for the Kingdom through Jesus. Romans 6, 7, 8 and 9 challenge my mind but fill me with the story of grace and redemption. John’s gospel touches me with the spiritual reality of Jesus — man, God, savior, humble lamb, crucified God.
Synchronizing spiritual life and church life produces a harmony that matures the fruits of the Spirit.