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Breaking the Religion Ritual

Is your spiritual life just a game of pretend?

Say the word "religion" and watch people bristle. There’s just something about it that causes resistance, and not just among nonbelievers—Jesus-following people who don’t want to be associated with things that seem cold or contrived don’t like it either.

What we really want is spiritual vibrancy of a lasting kind, and we have become increasingly skeptical that religion can fit in that space. Religion itself is not to blame; our religious attempt to impress others or make ourselves feel close to God is responsible. But as a person who has lived the experiences of both playing church and having a new life of spiritual vibrancy, I do not find it contradictory that I consider myself to be in spiritual recovery, and yet I passionately love the Church. Both states are possible, no matter how much at odds they may seem to be.

The Pursuit of Spiritual Vibrancy

The presence of God—not how well we can perform duties of religion—is what creates within us a spiritual vibrancy. This distinction is referenced by Paul: “They will act as if they are religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (2 Timothy 3:5). Vibrancy doesn’t come to us through our religious efforts, although discipline, growth and knowledge may. But vibrancy—life within our soul—is the effective work of Jesus.

We can’t pretend our way into a powerful prayer life. Knowledge won’t give us impact. We won’t authentically display something we don’t feel from within. It’s not that we should discount religion; it’s that we should recognize it as being less important than Jesus. The presence of God in our life will produce a thriving spiritual existence that nothing else can generate—creating a genuine passion and concern for those things that once did not compel us.

It’s a metamorphosis I have watched develop in my own life. Out of all the ugly things I have ever admitted out loud, the acknowledgment of being apathetic to people and things around me has been the hardest, as if in my admission, I confess to not having a soul. Who is cold enough to say they just don’t care? Who is honest enough to admit something so blatantly at odds with the gospel? Like other believers who allow the gospel to become largely self-serving, I was most concerned with things that directly benefited me and focused on those aspects, things like the ability of God to help me through tough times and the promises of His faithful love. When religion was primary, those things served me well. It never asked me to go beyond and reach further.

It is a helpless, empty feeling to know that we do not have the depth required to care for these things, only to try to manufacture those feelings on our own and watch ourselves fall short. This happens because our flesh does not naturally crave service or selflessness. Instead, it desires things that directly benefit us: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18).

But when we become whole in our religion, the Gospel becomes far less about what we can gain and much more about what we can give. We become inspired by the life of Jesus Christ, and we want to emulate His extravagant love. Our hearts break over what breaks His. Our spirits become fully alive and our spiritual senses awaken. A natural and deep care develops, sensitizing our soul ... compelling our actions. When that happens, we will know that our religion has been made whole. Simply put, we feel differently about things and it flows out of us. Our service becomes grittier, getting our hands dirtier as we become more radical in our faith. We care about all aspects of the Gospel.

Resisting Formulaic Faith

Something else that happens when our religion is made whole is that we develop a solid faith that’s less susceptible to the shifting tides of worldly beliefs. It is the principle from Matthew 7, of the house built on the solid foundation of Jesus rather than the variable sands of religion. Our deep spiritual connection grounds us with Jesus, and there’s nothing more we need in this day to see us through.

I can admit there have been moments in my life when I have wished for a way in the back door—​a way that satisfies my need for the easy and concrete. If I can only learn one more formula, maybe that will be it. If I can only read one more book, maybe it will unlock that one elusive truth that will change my life. If I go to just one more Bible study or attend one more worship experience, maybe it will connect me to God. The truth is, it never will. While we depend on those things to make us spiritual, God seeks our dependence upon Him to make us whole.

The outpouring of Jesus from our life that happens when we become spiritually vibrant is sweeping. We watch Him use us in ways our religious rigors would never have made possible, which gives us a taste of what being a representative of Jesus really means, and in turn, we crave to be used by God again. I believe this is one of the core reasons Jesus made the distinction between religion and godliness in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.” He knew that though we would be drawn toward religion, our influence would be found in godliness. Having lived many years with a manufactured faith manifested in rules and rituals but without real depth, I now know nothing could feel more fulfilling.

As I write this today, I don’t know what your life mantra is or where your spiritual journey has taken you so far. You may be heavily in the throes of spiritual recovery or on a wellness journey that is helping you learn how to truly love the Church. Maybe you desire to care about the entire Gospel or you want to build your life on a faith that is solid. These things, as with the power to represent Jesus well, are only possible through a religion made whole. To know you have been a part of showing someone the great benefits of God is a place your addiction to spiritual things will never take you—​a place that helps strengthen your faith in the power of the presence of God. It bolsters your desire to stay present in a place of spiritual vibrancy, where holes are not allowed to develop into limiting factors in your spiritual life. It makes your commitment to authenticity worth it, even in those moments when you are faced with the choice of seeing your own hard truth. This is a promise, my friend, I can passionately make. It is the promise of wholeness.

There is no shortcut to becoming an accurate representative of a beautiful, loving God. At the same time, it is not a complicated process—it’s so simple, in fact, that people often overlook it. The key to being real is readying your heart for the outflow of His Spirit. That means getting into the Word and reading it for yourself. It means dedicated, honest, earnest prayer that aggressively pursues knowing God. It means a commitment to focusing on what is real, pursuing spiritual recovery, desiring the vibrancy of God, and positioning yourself to represent Him well. The byproduct of those things is you, made whole, and your beautiful ability to influence others by your life. There is no higher calling or greater fulfillment.

Taken from Whole by Lisa Whittle. Copyright © 2011 by Lisa Whittle. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

11 Comments

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Lsnuggs commented…

I think this is a great article! It is a beautiful thing when your relationship with Christ goes from "I have to..." to "I want to..." I love the line about being inspired by His extravagant love. Our heart breaks for the things that break His. We get a taste of what it means to be His representative and the outpouring of the Spirit from us has an impact on those around us.

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Jo commented…

I love the focus on the role of the Holy Spirit grounded in Christ that this excerpt brings in. \o/
We need more of that.

And yes, the bible does warn about using rituals to replace Christ,and on the otherside of the coinit also mentions that rituals can be permissible when they are done to honor the Lord. So it doesn't replace his Life but in proper context it cancompliment it.

I'm no longer surprised (ormore rare now)by my lack of Spiritual energy in various scenarios. I am now aware that only God can give me his Heart and Energy there. Although it can still grieve me, but Ino longer give myself a hard time over it. What I look to do is acknowledge my lack and ask Him for it as He sees fit.

Anyway, I really appreciated seeing the role of the Holy Spirit in this one as I find that can be lacking in various progressive thinking atmospheres. I feel it has to do, at least in part, with how we haven't given enough credit to the role of walking out our humanity. In places I've come across that recognze more the role of the Holy Spirit they (not all but generally speaking) can stress waiting on the Holy Spirit to the point that it can seem like you aren't to make a move without Him (I'll elaborate more on what I mean by that because I feel there is validity there).

Meanwhile the other side can stress doing something to the point that they don't seem (generally speaking again) to consider the role of the Holy Spirit.

I like what the book of James says on this...if you see a need step up to the plate for faith without works is dead. And from other scriptures I know and what the Lord has personally revealed to me I feel that as we are going about life we will run across situations where our hearts are moved and as we step up to the plate with pure hearts the Lord will then bring in revelation and supply needs as He sees fit.

Of course there is the shorter route of God connecting us Spiritually without the "walking out our humanity" element, but overall, or in general, I feel He uses both for both can equip us for our roles as a royal priesthood.

I've also learned not to force the issue if there is no connection, or get ahead of the Lord there as I feel He has shown me how that produces things, likebabies, that are not his.

It truly is dependence on God and sometimes we need a thorn in the flesh to help us with that process, receiving his strength in our weaknesses through a foundation built on Christ and the outflow of his Holy Spirit.

I also liked the fact that you used the term "whole" as I find that Godcan makeappeals to us by sharing how life in Him benefits us personally, yet love matured looks beyond itself to loving God foremost, and others as ourselves even if it entails pain and suffering as it did with Jesus.

There were many years in my life when God seemed to cater towards my desires and what I wanted, (maybe it was more my hard work but overall I sensed his favor there) and overall I didn't see myself selfish in that pursuit in the sense that I looked to help others and sought security for myself, but there came a day when I decided that I wanted Him to equp me with just his desires and will so I can go about his Kingdom business.I prayed for it wholehartedly.My life then changed dramatically. I call it my boot camp experience. It was hard for what worked before no longer worked, but when I learned what I needed to learn and looked to submit to Him, I saw how wonderful and powerful his Spirit works...not that I always walk in it and not that I don't need to learn more, but it was an important milestone so to speak. At the end of that road i also had a dream that was very intense and felt the effects still upon waking. In it I had seen a root to a tree. The root had a hole. I just knew, how you just know in dreams at times, that the hole in that root held the key as to why I went through whatI went through during that season in my life and at that moment arms from above lifted me and placed me over the hole in the root. I knew it was about to drop me in that hole.

I am the Vine, ye are the branches. Reman in Me, and I in you for withoutMe ye can do nothing ~Jesus

And sometimes we need help with that process...and I sure had that. It was like the forces of hell had been unleashed on me...to a point as God will not give us more than we can bear but with each temptation show us a way out...that Way is Jesus. I think of how naive I was in my prayer at the beginning of that road. Heartfelt but naive, although I would do it all over again for surely it is a light affliction compared to what He gies us in return.

Thanks for sharing, and allowing me to share some of my journey.

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sherry commented…

Thank you, I needed this!

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Kerux commented…

No disagreements with the article. However, Jenny J, I think it is important to separate the man-made-religion label from gathering with God's community or group of folks. I don't go to a religious building every week. But I do gather every week with a community of Jesus followers in a community room of an apartment complex. We don't follow a particular set of rituals except to share a meal (along with the eucharist), discuss a biblical text, open sharing and prayer for each other, and to encourage each other to live out the life of Jesus daily. TIf "freedom" is something which liberates you from community it is not really freedom. To follow Jesus is to enter into relationship with other followers. (How can you practice unselfishness, patience, and forgiveness and all of the "one another passages" if you are by yourself?) The Hebrew writer was pretty explicit in his extended sermon that we need to regularly gather for encouragement--the freedom experienced by those first Christians in Acts 2 did not lead to less gathering but to daily gatherings. The end goal of all of the disciplines and practices is to put us into the environment to allow the Spirit to mold us into the image of Jesus (i.e., the mind of Christ). It is the Spirit's role, obviously, but we need to place ourselves into the environment just the same.

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Watson commented…

Hi Kerux....Sorry if you misunderstood what I wrote....I'm not alone on my journey, there's a bunch of us, many, that no longer do the institutional church thing, but yes we meet , have Barby's ,meet for coffee, in a park on the beach, and enjoy encouraging each other in our faith and enrich each others lives by sharing about God on our journey....It's all good... Enjoy your Freedom... :)

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