Thursday, June 5, 2014

Getting Rid of Spiritual Legalism

“Two things we don’t do enough of are read our Bibles and pray.”
This is the sort of statement a spiritual legalist would say. He or she would say, “You must read your Bible daily, remember your Bible verses, and practice memorisation until you get it right. And you should pray continuously, as the Scripture says in 1 Thessalonians.”
The spiritual realist would say, “Studying the Word of God and engaging in prayer are highly commendable activities for all disciples of Jesus.”
Do you pick the nuances?
For the legalist there is the use of the words “must” and “should” and the specification of tangible measures “daily” and “continuously” that lock everyone in; even those people who are not gifted or passionate readers or contemplative persons.
But the realist sees what is useful – the Word of God and prayer – and they leave the details for the outworking of these two activities to the gifting, heart, ability, personality, and experience of the person engaging in same.
Spiritual Discipleship that is Most Helpful
The worst thing to do in our spiritual life is quench the fire of the Holy Spirit, but the best thing is to fan those flames.
The flame of the Spirit is kindled when we find our unique way(s) of connecting with the Presence of God. With God we are in relationship. When people say Jesus is their friend, they mean it. How can we experience a relationship with Jesus unless we know him? Our task is to explore him by connecting with God in whatever manner we can.
When I first married my wife I was astounded that she didn’t seem to read the Bible much or pray aloud. I used to say, “You must read your Bible and pray – every day!” It fell on deaf ears. Then months after I was challenged by the Holy Spirit: “Look, Steve, see how Sarah connects with me through nature, through her photography, and through people.”
That was a wake-up call. No longer do I judge another person’s devotional life; it’s between them and God, but if someone asks (perhaps if I’m in the role of mentor) I will advise them that there are myriad ways to journey with God into the realm of deep relationship.
***
When we tell people they “must” read their Bible and they “should” pray we fall into the trap of spiritual legalism and God becomes “duty.” But when we encourage people to investigate the living God via his Word and to talk with him and listen in honesty, God becomes “devotion.”
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

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