Finding your Spiritual Pathways 2

How do you approach God? What do you find helpful in prayer and devotion and holiness?

We introduced this topic last week and we saw that which spiritual pathways help us and which do not will very often depend on the kind of personality we have.

Extroverts enjoy corporate worship, fellowship, prayer groups. On the other hand,
introverts often prefer meditation, contemplation, solitude
People for whom thinking is very important enjoy Bible studies. But people for whom their feelings are very important come to God through their relationships with other people
Intuitive people enjoy contemplation. On the other hand, people for whom their senses are very important enjoy music and chanting and incense, and expressive arts.
Some people need order and control in their lives and they will enjoy structures and patterns in their worship and devotion. But other people who are generally laid back in life are happy with spontaneity and surprises.

Last week we introduced nine spiritual pathways, taken from the book Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas. Those nine pathways are these

Naturalists – loving God out of doors
Enthusiasts – loving God in mystery and spiritual experiences
Contemplatives – loving God in adoration and intimacy
Activists – loving God through confrontation
Traditionalists – loving God through ritual and symbol
Caregivers – loving God by loving others
Intellectuals – loving God with the mind
Sensates – loving God with all the senses
Ascetics – loving God in solitude and simplicity

These nine spiritual pathways are not the only ways people draw close to God but they are the major ways. The likelihood is that each of us may find real blessing in three or four of these spiritual pathways. On the other hand two or three of these pathways may leave us cold or even make it harder for us to meet with God! But which pathways help us and which pathways do nothing for us will be different for each of us!
Last week we looked in detail at just one of these Spiritual pathways: the Naturalists, people who meet God in the wonders of His Creation. Remember that Jesus told his stories outdoors. Think of the parables of nature: the sower, the wheat and the weeds, the seed growing secretly, the vine. So for the Naturalist, the beauty and abundance and variety of creation point us to God the Master-Artist. The Natural World gives us peace and rest. The Spiritual Pathway of the naturalist. This week I want to introduce us to four more ways of meeting with God. The Enthusiasts, the Contemplatives, the Activists and the Traditionalists.
Enthusiasts – loving God in mystery and spiritual experiences
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. (1 Corinthians 14:26-29)

Enthusiasts seek God in mystery, dreams, supernatural experiences, prophecy and spiritual gifts. They thrive on excitement in being creative, bold prayer, spiritual risk-taking and expecting great things from God
HELPS: Acts of celebration, lively worship, exercising spiritual gifts.
DANGERS – seeking experiences for experience’s sake, equating “good feelings” with “good worship”, being independent and individualistic
TRY: developing your spiritual gifts – e.g. in Home Groups or especially in One-to-One

I am sure that it is true that many of the differences between Pentecostal Christians and mainstream Christians are actually down to personalities. Pentecostal and charismatic worship probably suits extroverts more than introverts and people who are led by their feelings more than people who are led by their thinking. But I am also sure that God wants all of His children to be “enthusiasts” if by that we mean being open to the gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit. The spiritual gifts of prophecy and discernment and speaking in tongues are just as much for quiet people as for noisy people. Indeed, the more introverted people who are comfortable with silence and solitude may even be better at listening to the still small voice of God’s Holy Spirit than people who surround themselves with noise all the time.

But this is why we have started our new midweek prayer gathering, “Draw Near To God” on Tuesday evenings from 8 until 9.30. So that we can come together to listen to God in prayer and experience more of the gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit. Because although Enthusiasts may find it easier than others of us to meet God in supernatural experiences and spiritual gifts, in fact God wants every one of us to experience more and more of His Holy Spirit at work in our lives.

PAUSE – are you an Enthusiast?
Contemplatives – loving God in adoration and intimacy
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:1-2)

Contemplatives value “Holding hands with God” and “resting with God”, intimacy with God.
HELPS: Practising the Presence of God, “Breath Prayers”, meditations, stations of the cross
DANGERS – becoming inward-looking, forgetting holy living and Christian service
TRY: a few days of silent Retreat at a Retreat Centre

Some Christians find it easy to be quiet and rest in God’s presence. Some others find that almost impossible. But I have spoken before about the enormous value of silence and even solitude if we are serious about meeting with God and hearing His voice.

Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
If Jesus needed to search out solitude for prayer in the midst of the busyness of life, how much more do we need to do so. Through the ages there have been monks and mystics who have retreated into deserts in order to meet with God. We need solitude.
And in that solitude we can practice silence.
Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10) Not just shutting out all the noises which so easily distract us. But stilling ourselves, becoming quiet and still and motionless, letting go of all the thoughts and pressures and worries which so easily take our minds away from God.

Francois Fenelon wrote, “We must silence every creature, we must silence ourselves, to hear in the deep hush of the whole soul the ineffable voice of God. We must bend the ear, because it is a gentle and delicate voice, only heard by those who no longer hear anything else.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote
“Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God …. But everybody knows that this is something that needs to be practised and learned, in these days when talkativeness prevails.”
“Real silence, real stillness, really holding one’s tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual stillness ….” “The silence of the Christian is listening silence, humble stillness.”
Even if the spiritual pathway of the Contemplative does not come easily to us, it can bring us blessings which none of the other ways of meeting with God can.

PAUSE – are you a Contemplative?
Activists – loving God through confrontation
Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Habbakuk, Psalms 7, 68, 140, Ezekiel 33
Activists have a passion for righteousness, social justice and prophetic proclamation.
HELPS: Prayer walking, processions, times of intercession and courageous confrontation
DANGERS – Becoming judgmental, preoccupation with activity neglecting personal devotion or holiness
TRY: ask God to show you which issue He wants you to become especially committed to, and work for it wholeheartedly

I’m not going to say any more about the spiritual path of the activist because ….

PAUSE – are you an Activist?
Traditionalists – loving God through ritual and symbol
Old Testament Worship: Tabernacle, Temple, Priesthood, system of sacrifices,
Valuing history and roots: Rituals, symbols (cross, fish, dove), Rituals brings order;
HELPS: Set prayers and patterns of prayer, fasting, sacrifice, acts of obedience. The Christian calendar, pattern of the church year especially Advent, Lent leading up to Holy Week and Easter
DANGERS: serving God without knowing God, repeating mechanically, deifying rites, Neglecting social obligations, judging others
TRY: buying a prayer book for your own personal prayer times

Baptists tend not to be Traditionalists. Roman Catholic and Church of England churches use set prayers and liturgies and rituals. When the reformation came along in the 16th and 17th centuries our Baptist ancestors tended to reject those forms of worship because of the flawed theologies they expressed. But over the last 20 years or so Baptists and other free churches have rediscovered the value of tradition, not least in the Celtic Traditions expressed in groups such as the Northumbria Community. And even if we are not by personality and temperament Traditionalists, I believe that most Christians can benefit from rediscovering the great value of praying using set prayers.
We belong to a spiritual tradition which values extemporary prayer. We value the freedom we have to come to God just as we are and pray whenever we want using whatever words come to mind at the time. Such prayer is like a conversation we could have with a loving parent or a dear friend, a conversation with God. It is spontaneous and free.

But remember, the vast majority of Christians through the centuries, and the Jews before them, did not generally pray the way we do. Many today do not. Other traditions very happily use set prayers – prayers written by other people, prayers often passed down through generations. They often use the prayers found in Scripture in the Psalms. Most make much more use than we do of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, which we call the Lord’s Prayer but is really a pattern for our prayers as disciples. I believe that the Lord’s Prayer is so helpful to every Christian that we will explore the Lord’s Prayer together in our morning sermons in February and March.

Set prayers have their dangers. They can become “vain repetitions” where we don’t think about what we are saying. But that same objection can apply to the songs we sing.
I read this the other day. “In our worship God would rather that our heart ran out of words than that our words had no heart.” There is always the risk that we just sing empty words without meaning them. But most Christians are very happy to use hymns and songs and choruses which other people have written. We don’t feel we need to make up a brand new song every time we praise and worship God. The precise advantage of using words somebody else has written is that we can devote ourselves to thinking about the meaning of what we are singing, instead of having to use most of our concentration on thinking of the right things to say.

And the same can be true of our prayers. Sometimes using words which another believer has written can help us to express our deepest feelings better than we are able to do ourselves. It is good sometimes to be able to focus purely on God instead of having to search for the best words. It is a good thing to add our voices sometimes to the voices of countless saints in many places over many generations by using the very same prayers they used. And praying the same words as other believers have also prayed helps deliver us from that temptation of individualism which is gripping this generation. It does our soul good to admit sometimes that there are other Christians who have expressed themselves in prayer better than we ever can. So we humble ourselves and borrow their words to make their prayer our own. And when it comes to repentance and confession, prayers which other Christians have written can be especially helpful to all of us!

If we were going to meet the Queen or the Prime Minister, or any important person, we would give some thought in advance to what we would say. We might well follow conventional forms of greeting and address, rather than just make it all up on the spot. How much more should we prepare ourselves to meet with Almighty God, and use words which acknowledge the glory and majesty of God. Here again, set prayers can deliver us from a dangerous over-familiarity with the all-powerful all-knowing omnipresent Creator and Ruler of the Universe.

Our spiritual traditions as Baptists, evangelicals and charismatics undervalue set prayers and liturgy. If we want to learn more about prayer that it shouldn’t be a question of either spontaneous prayers or set prayers. It should be both and. If we want to learn more about prayer we should never look down condescendingly on the rites and rituals and liturgies and set prayers of other traditions. All Christians can benefit from liturgy and sacrament and written prayers AND intimacy and informality and spontaneous prayers.
We can begin to explore the spiritual pathway of the Traditionalist by exploring the Psalms. Try an Anglican prayer book, or one of the many books of prayers from Christian book shops. In recent years many people have found prayers in the Celtic Tradition and from the Northumbria Community very helpful. Then, next time you don’t feel like praying, or you don’t know what to pray, use prayers written by another person, quite probably somebody who knew more about prayer than any of us ever will. Take their prayer and make it your own personal prayer. Many more of us are traditionalists than probably realize it.
Enthusiasts, Contemplatives, Activists, Traditionalists. Not forgetting last week, the Naturalists. You may have recognised yourself in one or more of these descriptions. Or you may feel than none of these describe your spiritual journey. You may fit in one of the other groups we will be talking about next week.

“Do not covet your neighbour’s spiritual walk”
Don’t think that you will meet with God in exactly the same way as your friends, or as your Deacons, or as I do. We are all different people. Our spiritual pathways will be different. Ask God to show you the ways which suit you best. And then search for God along those pathways! Draw near to God and He WILL draw near to you!!

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