‘I am Not Spiritual’ by William MacKinnon

I Am Not Spiritual
You who are spiritual….explain yourselves.
by William MacKinnon

I had an epiphany of sorts a few days ago while in my car. I was on the way to the hospital to see a church member who was sick. My revelation struck me so forcefully that I believe I said it out loud. “I’m not spiritual.” Then I proceeded to try to figure out what that meant.

I am a Christian. I am a follower of Christ and a believer in the bible. You might point out that to also say “I’m not spiritual” seems to be a contradiction. I agree. I’m somewhat bothered by it. You see there are so many things that seem to go with Christian spirituality that I’m missing that it is difficult to come to any other conclusion.

Let me preface things by saying that I believe I have a spirit, whatever that means. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the attitudes and feelings that should go along with being a Christian that I’m quite obviously deficient in. I’m going to list them here and articulate them as best I can. Perhaps some of you will relate to these. Perhaps you will conclude that a) I’m a horrible Christian, or b) I’m not a Christian at all.

Prayer is hard for me: It shouldn’t be, should it? It’s hard for me to discipline myself to do it, hard to focus on what I should pray for and hard to remember to do it as often as I think I should.

I don’t lose myself in worship: I should, shouldn’t I? I don’t. My mind wanders, I sometimes get sleepy. I’m aware of people coughing and babies crying. I pick up on mistakes I think the preacher makes and miss the point of the sermon. During the singing, often my main thought is “are we ever going to be allowed to sit?”

I’m embarrassed by public displays of piety: Isn’t that what it’s all about? I’m not just talking about FALSE piety, but sincere also. I don’t say things like “Praise the Lord” and cringe a little when other people say it around me. “Thank God” doesn’t bother me but anything stronger makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like to pray in public. I don’t always pray before I eat.

I don’t like witness-wear: In fact, I’m more than a little ashamed of it. Does this mean Christ is ashamed of me? Shouldn’t I be loading up on Tommy Hellfighter tee shirts and Got Jesus? sweaters? Who am I to criticize the sincere efforts of others to share their faith?

I’m not humble: Don’t Christians have to be? This is a constant struggle with me. I teach two adult classes, and love to do so. But I also like to hear the sound of my own voice and almost always think I’m right. Doesn’t that disqualify me?

I’m not burdened: Not much anyway. Aren’t real Christians always burdened? For the lost, the poor, the sick, etc? I share my faith, and my resources, and I pray. But shouldn’t I be spending more time in holy anguish over these things?

I don’t read my bible every day: Shouldn’t I want to? I read it and have read it quite a bit, but I don’t make it every day. Am I in the minority here?

I sometimes have doubts: About God, my faith, etc. Other Christians don’t, do they? I’m not saying I’m wracked with doubts, but sometimes they are there. I’m not always 100% sure of my faith. Is anything less acceptable?

I don’t feel God: This is a big one. What’s wrong with me? I’m not even sure I know what that means. I’ve been happy, joyful, contemplative, serious, reverent, etc. It that God? What does God feel like? I believe in His presence because the bible assures me of His presence. Is that enough? I don’t have a lot of “experiences” that many other Christians seem to have. What do I do about that? When the worship leader or preacher stands up and says “if you can’t sense the Spirit after that song (or message), you’ve got something wrong with you!”, I’m the one who shrinks back in his seat amid all the amens and head bobbing.

I’m sure I could come up with more, but I think you get the idea. Pretty bad eh? So what is the solution? Spend more time with God? Well, I believe God is with me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so squeezing more time in there is going to be tricky. Read my bible more often? Several years ago I spent weeks reading my bible for hours a day, every day. While tremendously beneficial in many ways, it didn’t really address the things listed above. Pray more? See #1 listed above.

Or perhaps the easiest conclusion for you to reach is that I need to really get saved, and “all these things will be added unto me.” Don’t think I haven’t thought of it. There’s a snag however. I really am saved, that is, if the bible really is true. Trust me, I’ve been through the “are you sure that you’re sure” wringer. I’ve had preachers from all over the country make me doubt my salvation. And believe me; some of them are very good at what they do.

But I keep coming back to the same question. Is the bible true? I hope it is, because I’m placing my trust in what it says, and not how I feel. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I have confessed Him with my mouth. I believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead. Should I trust the bible; or an experience (or lack thereof)?

So let’s take the “he’s not really a Christian” option off the table for a moment. Where does that leave me? Well, there’s still the “he’s just a lousy Christian” alternative. While that may be true, I don’t think it serves our purpose for this discussion.

Is it possible; just possible, that I (and others) might be wrong about what it means to be spiritual? Could it be that daily bible reading, public piety, long prayers and religious clothing aren’t a true measure of spirituality? I recall that the Pharisees had all these things and that Jesus wasn’t impressed with them.

Let’s take a step back and start with the word itself. The word “spiritual” as used in the New Testament is the Greek word pneumatikos, and the lexical definition is: one who is filled with and governed by the Spirit of God. Well, like most lexical definitions, that’s not terribly helpful, but if we can look at the word in its context, perhaps we’ll get a feel for the true meaning. The New Testament actually only uses the word a few times as a personal descriptor, so we don’t have to do an exhaustive study. In fact, 1st Corinthians contains the greatest number of references. In Chapter 2:14,15, Paul uses the word Spiritual as a contrast to Natural, i.e.: Christian versus non-Christian, so that’s not much help. In Chapter 3 he uses it as a contrast to Carnal or babes in Christ. The remainder of the references carry the same general meaning as the verses in Chapter 3: mature. To be spiritual as a Christian is to be mature in your faith. Not a babe. Not a novice. Not carried about with every wind of doctrine and new idea that comes out. To be mature is to have a measure of wisdom. To be mature (spiritual) is to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit in a recognizable way. And guess what? None of the above (or rather, their converse) appear in the list of Spiritual fruits in Galatians 5:22. A person may exhibit any or all of the characteristics I listed above, and still have a measure of maturity. A person may exhibit the opposite of any or all of the qualities listed above and still not be spiritual.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not patting myself on the back because I’ve concluded the things above don’t matter. Far from it. Prayer, scripture reading, humility, etc are all good things! (Except witness-wear. Sorry) I haven’t concluded that I really am spiritual. Just that the things I listed aren’t true indicators. I haven’t decided to stop striving. Just to change my focus.

So where does that leave me? Do I fit the biblical definition of Spirituality? I don’t know. I’d prefer to leave that judgment to someone else. I may not be humble but I’m smart enough to know that I should try to be. Back to square one? No, not really. You see, I can look back, and see where God has brought me from. I may not sense the Spirit, but I can see the fruit of His presence. I may not feel led, but I can see where I have been led. I may be growing slowly but I know I’m growing. So I’ll keep on. What else can I do? Maybe these other things will come to me in time. Maybe they won’t. I don’t really care all that much. I have faith, and He is faithful. I am satisfied with that.

                                                       – William MacKinnon

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15 Responses

  1. I think we are spiritual beings who live in a body and has a soul. I do not think that we are physical beings who have spirit/soul.

    I am a born again Christian (who is spiritually alive to God), but that doesn’t mean that I am in a spiritual ‘nirvana’ state all the time. I don’t ‘feel’ spiritual all the time. Regardless of how I feel, from God’s vantage point, I am a spiritual being, who has been made alive by the Life of Christ.

    My spiritual state is NOT defined by what I ‘do’ (pray, bible study etc), it is defined by birth, the second birth – born from above.

  2. Bino,

    How does that second birth manifest itself in a way that you know it has happened?

    Is it felt, is it perceived somehow?

    Does your spirituality show up in tangible ways?

  3. It manifests through the fruits produced in us by Him. He produces the fruits, we bear them.

    How do I perceive that I am loved, accepted and forgiven?

    By faith.

  4. Thanks, Bino.

  5. When people tell me they are spiritual I always wonder “but of what spirit.” The sense being that being spiritual is good or something. Only if it is of the Spirit that sanctified us in Holy Baptism as water was poured over us. That is the only Spirit I want making me spiritual, and I don’t know that that means burdened like so many Christian out there. MacKinnon doesn’t need to feel guilty for not being burdened like that. Isn’t it Christ who says “come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

  6. Bror,

    I guess you are right. The Bible clearly tells us that there are spirits out there other than the Spirit of the Living God.

    But can’t we easily tell them apart?

    Doesn’t the Spirit of God feel right, and good, and peaceful…and the spirits of the evil one make us all jumpy and agitated, and fill us with evil thoughts?

  7. You can easily tell them apart. The Holy Spirit comes to us through God’s word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The others have other origins, and they calm you on the road to hell, encouraging you to just be good.

  8. I resonate with William MacKinnon’s likes, dislikes and self perceptions (except I don’t like to hear myself).

    I am spiritual to the degree that Christ has made me that way and what He declares to be so. Everything God requires of me, He gives to me.

    Piety that thinks itself pious… isn’t.
    Bonhoeffer said it something like this: “If I seek to know my own goodness and love, it ceases to be good or loving.”
    If I do or behave in a way that someone else regards as pious or spiritual (in a good way), may I never know it.

  9. Steve
    When did you snap that picture of me in my meditation position?

  10. Thanks, Bror.

    Thanks, Patrick.

    Good thoughts regarding our spirituality.

    I got that shot of you Patrick, right before you received the 6th annointing of the Holy Spirit. Or maybe it was during (?)

  11. A very interesting post, and so close to something that occurred to me today, walking home from work (thinking similar thoughts as I viewed the splendor of the view of Dartmoor in the sunlight), that I was thinking about blogging on it! I’d been reading Lewis on the bus today, and I always find that ‘spiritual’ considerations “naturally” become foremost when I do. Nice to know that other friends, even on the other side of the world, are pondering in a similar fashion :)

  12. I think it is perfectly normal that some Christians are more “spiritual” than others, and those who are more “spiritual” are not necessarily “better”. One need only look at the spiritual aridity that Mother Theresa reported to know that continual grand mystical union with God is not a requirement to be a good Christian,

  13. “I had always viewed Christianity as a bundle of beliefs and behaviors and had never understood sin to be the dominant theme. I had come very close to assuming that righteous behavior was prerequisite to faith an inclusion within the church. I thought in terms of sacrificing missionaries, soup kitchens and, as my brother used to say kind people being instructed in being kinder. My church in a subtle way shunned non-conforming types and the remainder has a kind of uniformity and cleanliness. In short, I thought the church was the last place for a serious sinner. I did not know a profound truth which had already been well articulated: the primary bond of understanding among Christians is sin.”
    The Useful Sinner: An Every man’s Guide to Understanding Grace

    Read more about it here:

    http://mockingbirdnyc.blogspot.com/2009/06/useful-sinner-everymans-guide-to.html

  14. I was thinking about this along similar lines as Howard’s quote above. The church is THE place for non-conformists.

    We here are all so different as people and we accept that. The only thing we really all know very well about ourselves and each other that we are sinners, no matter how much we try and pretend. We also know about ourselves and each other that forgiveness of sins in Christ for beggars like ourselves is our treasure, our lifeline. There we are stuck together like the grape cluster to the vine.

    As individuals we are not similar. And that is so totally, wonderfully alright.

    We used to sing a song that went: “Jesus schafft Persoenlichkeiten, die das Salz der Erde sind.” which is “Jesus creates personalities, which are the salt of the earth.” He creates them all individually. We can look around and get inspired and helped, but we don’t need to measure and compare.

    Now, to bring that attitude to the people in my daily life. :) It’s easier on-line, maybe.

  15. Be still and know that Jesus died for you!

    Jon

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