Chapter OneWhat Is True Spirituality?
Reading by John Ortberg
Let's call him Hank. He had attended church since he
was a boy, and now he was in his sixties. He was
known by everyone-but no one really knew him.
He had difficulty loving his wife. His children could not
speak freely with him and felt no affection from him. He
was not concerned for the poor, had little tolerance for
those outside the church, and tended to judge harshly
those who were inside.
One day an elder in the church asked him, "Hank, are
Without smiling, he responded, "Yes."
"Well, then," replied the elder, "tell your face."
Hank's outside demeanor mirrored a deeper and much
more tragic reality: Hank was not changing. He was not
being transformed. But here's what is most remarkable:
Nobody in the church was surprised by this. No one
called an emergency meeting of the board of elders to consider
this strange case of a person who wasn't changing.
No one really expected Hank to change, so no one was
surprised when it didn't happen.
There were other expectations in the church. People
expected that Hank would attend services, would read
the Bible, would affirm the right beliefs, would give
money and do church work.
But people did not expect that day by day, month by
month, decade by decade, Hank would be more transformed
into the likeness of Jesus. People did not expect
he would become a progressively more loving, joyful,
winsome person. So they were not shocked when it did
How Is Spirituality Wrongly Understood?
How many people are radically and permanently
repelled from The Way by Christians who are unfeeling, stiff, unapproachable, boringly lifeless, obsessive, and dissatisfied? Yet such Christians are everywhere, and what they are missing is the wholesome liveliness
springing from a balanced vitality within the
freedom of God's loving rule "Spirituality"
wrongly understood or pursued is a major source of
human misery and rebellion against God. -Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines
Think of the irony: spiritual life leading to lifelessness.
Spiritual growth producing misery. A life supposedly
yielded to God rebelling against him! Obviously it's
not supposed to be this way, yet for many, it's the sad
When people are not being authentically transformed-when
they are not becoming more loving, joyful,
Christlike persons-they often settle for what might
be called "pseudo-transformation."
We know that somehow we are supposed to be different
than those outside the church. But if our heart isn't
changing, we will look for more superficial and visible
ways of demonstrating that we are "spiritual." We might:
think spiritual maturity is simply about how much
biblical or theological information we have acquired;
think we should rigidly immerse ourselves in a host of
spiritual practices or disciplines that will prove how
spiritual we are;
find ourselves looking down on people who are not
working at their spiritual lives as hard as we are-so
all of our efforts end up making us more judgmental
and competitive rather than more loving; or
focus solely on outward behaviors, making them the
litmus test of godliness, while ignoring deeper-and
more destructive-sins of the heart.
We need only to hear Jesus' words to the religious leaders
of his day to know that pseudo-spirituality is a deadly
disease-and a common and contagious one at that.
What Is a Right Understanding of Spiritual Life?
When someone asks you, "How is your spiritual life
going?" what comes to mind? How do you define spirituality?
How do you assess spiritual progress?
Amidst all the confusing and distorted notions, Scripture
speaks with brilliant clarity. "Whoever claims to live
in him must walk as Jesus did" (1 John 2:6). To pursue
spiritual life means simply this: To know Jesus more intimately
and to live as if he were in your place. It is to order
your life in such a way that you stay connected to Christ,
thinking as he thought, speaking as he spoke, and walking
as he walked.
Certainly, this imitation of Christ will look different for
each person, expressing itself through that person's
unique temperament, abilities, and circumstances. But
there is a common denominator. At the core of Jesus'
teaching is the command to love God with all your heart,
soul, mind, and strength, and to love other people as you
love yourself (Mark 12:30-31).
When someone asks you how your spiritual life is
going, the real question is, "Are you becoming more loving
toward God and people?" Regardless of anything else
you measure, how you stand up against that statement
will reveal your true spiritual stature. This measurement
is the supreme spiritual diagnostic for Christ-followers
who want to please him.
Doing Life in Jesus' Name
What would this kind of life look like if you actually
lived it out? Let's face it-you could chalk up this concept
as another idea that sounds good but isn't really
practical. Yet God is inviting you to make each moment
of every day a chance to learn from him how to master
the art of life.
The apostle Paul put it like this: "Whatever you do,
whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord
Jesus" (Col.3:17). In the Bible, names often reflect a person's
character. So to do something in Jesus' name means
to do it in a way consistent with his character-to do it
the way Jesus himself would.
Paul's teaching is very comprehensive on this matter.
He says, "Whatever you do" And in case anyone misses
his point, he adds, ". whether in word or deed" And
in case anyone misses that he says, ". do it all in the
name of the Lord Jesus" (italics added for emphasis).
Your spiritual life is simply your whole life-every
minute and detail of it-from God's perspective. In other
words, God isn't interested in your spiritual life. God is
simply interested in your life. And every moment is an
opportunity to do life in Jesus' name.
One fully devoted follower, Brother Lawrence, put it
. (W)hat makes you think that God is absent from
the maintenance shop but present in the chapel? .
Holiness doesn't depend on changing our jobs, but in
doing for God's sake what we have been used to doing
for our own.
Seriously-repair the equipment for God, answer the
abusive phone calls for God, concentrate fully on the
job you're doing for God. He isn't obsessed with religion
-he's the God of the whole of life. But we need
to give it to him, consciously turning it over into his
hands. Then whatever we're doing-provided it is
not against his will-becomes an act of Christian
service. -David Winter, Closer Than a Brother (on the life of Brother Lawrence)
All of the everyday stuff of life can be filled with his
presence-if you are. You can do what you're doing right
now as Jesus would do it in your place. And if you do,
you too will know the joy of true spiritual life.
Here is an experiment for putting Colossians 3:17 into practice.
Memorize Paul's words in Colossians 3:17: "And whatever
you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the
Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
Think about what it would mean for you to live the ordinary
moments of your life as if Jesus were in your place. How would
you do each of the following activities in Jesus' name?
Greeting those you see first in the morning
Working outside the home or caring for children while at home
Doing household tasks
Reading the paper
Going to sleep
Try it out. Focus on Jesus' presence with you as you go through
the seemingly inconsequential moments of your day. Keep it simple;
continually direct your thoughts back to him: ask for his help
or his guidance, or simply share your heart with him.
Keep track of how the experiment goes. (If you don't already
have a journal, we strongly recommend you start one so that you
can keep a running list of observations throughout the duration of
this study.) You will share your insights and experiences with the
group when you meet.
1. Describe the picture Jesus paints in John 10:10 of what should
happen in the life of all who follow him.
What has prevented you or other Christians you know from
having that quality of life?
2. Read Matthew 23:1-28. In this passage, Jesus has some harsh
words for the religious leaders of his day. These scribes and
Pharisees were well versed in Scripture and considered to be
spiritually "in the know." If anyone understood what it meant
to be spiritually mature, it was them-or so they (and those
around them) thought. Yet Jesus was extremely frustrated by
their spiritual shallowness and obsession with externals.
What specific behaviors does Jesus confront?