My younger self would judge my present spiritual life a complete failure.
I can read about Christ’s sufferings, watch The Passion of the Christ, hear sermon after sermon about the height, length, width, and depth of God’s love for me, and remain completely unaffected and unchanged. Like my husband saying to me, “I love you”, the words don’t warm my heart the way they used to. I despise Dayspring e-cards, Christian t-shirts and photo frames, crosses and doves.
If salvation depends at all on spiritual maturity, I’m screwed.
Perhaps I gravitate toward events like “Church on the Beach” and mountaintop retreats because they help me feel more spiritual than I really am. Perhaps it is because I am un-spiritual that I enjoy churches that try hard to offer me a true spiritual experience. I welcome all the props—from traditional maple pews, elevated pulpits, and stained glass, to acoustic music, couches, candlelight, and coffee. For about ninety minutes, I get to feel “connected” to God and His people.
The upshot of spiritual deficiency is the opportunity to experience the beauty of objectively true religion: Spiritual experience is optional. Sometimes I “feel” God, most times I don’t. Sometimes I “hear” God, most times I don’t. Big deal. No part of my salvation (justification) depends on my prayer life, my devotional life, my church life, my worship, my sanctification. I am free to lead a boring, hum-drum life that doesn’t want to travel, try new foods, or meet new people. Clothed in Christ’s righteousness, God accepts my unspirituality—overdue prayers, broken worship, damaged faith. The efficacy of Jesus’ life and death in saving me is secured in history; nothing that happens today—to anybody, anywhere—can change the facts.
Those of us who don’t have a lot to show in the area of sanctification, who aren’t “spiritual” enough to experience God’s activity in extraordinary ways, find assurance of His presence through ordinary, old fashioned means—in good preaching, in baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper. God’s grace for unspiritual people is as real as the Word we hear, the water we touch, the bread and wine we taste. When we partake of these, we are assured: He is our God, we are His people—no matter how we happen to feel today.
Every once in a while, I do crave “intimacy” with God and won’t settle for the kind of meaningful moment that can be manufactured with Hillsongs, a journal, and a latte. Someone once told me, “When you want to chop a piece of wood in half, you don’t aim the blade of the ax at the wood; you aim for the chopping block underneath the wood.” Don’t aim for experience; aim for understanding—understanding what Christianity actually is.
Contrary to the belief that theological understanding kills spiritual experience, when I actually comprehend what transpired at the cross and believe that in Christ my guilt was exchanged for His righteousness, I experience the Holy Spirit applying the work of Christ to me. Theological understanding is spiritual experience.
The value of Christianity is not determined by its emotional impact; it is determined by its truthfulness. After experience and emotions are consumed, only truth remains.