Chapter OneThe Spiritual Life
of a "Good" Christian
As the pace of lifestyles quickens, the demand for
tips on how to fit prayer into a busy life grows. A
cottage industry of new books, Websites, and
spiritual aids offers quick and easy devotions.
-Susan Hogan-Albach, quoted in Religion Watch,
June 2001, p. 3
Each week, all over America-and much of the rest of the world-people
are looking for spiritual nourishment. They go to big churches
and little churches. They attend on Saturday, or maybe Sunday.
Many read books, some listen to the radio, others watch religious
programming on television. A few do all of the above, and others
Who is right? Who is wrong?
For many years, I was sure I was wrong. I did not do any of the
things that people say you are supposed to do. I heard it from the pulpit,
I heard it from speakers, I heard it from friends, and I even heard
it from my father: there are set things one must do to be a "good"
The two biggies are to read your Bible through (cover-to-cover
in a year), and to spend an hour a day, preferably in the morning,
in "quiet time" or "devotions"-even better yet, in written prayer.
I know people who do this. I have one friend who is celebrating her
fortieth year of reading the Bible through each year and is inviting
people to join her in an online discussion as she reads through it.
Wow! That surely sounds spiritual.
For the last ten or fifteen years of his life, my father embraced
the idea of writing out your prayers. He hardly ever missed a day.
After he died, we found notebook after notebook of his prayers. In
more recent years, he used a computer. He traveled all over the
country with a small laptop used exclusively for his prayers. What
a great heritage I have, right? No wonder-right?-that I am writing
a book on strengthening your relationship with God. Wrong.
Yes, my friend who reads through the Bible every year and my
father with his diligent written prayers are both wonderful examples
of godly people. They inspire me. Over and over I've made
a commitment that I am going to follow their lead ("This is the
year I am really going to make it from Genesis all the way to Revelation").
I bought the Bibles that divided the Scriptures into 365
daily reading segments. I bought special notebooks to help me in
my written prayers. I promised God I was not going to leave the
house each day until I completed the prescribed program.
I had great intentions, but I failed. Not only had I not done
these things, I was consumed with guilt over my lack of discipline.
I felt like a second-class citizen of the Christian world. Yet I was
also sure that I had an active and vital spiritual life. I pray to God-in
my head, not on paper-and my prayers get answered. I feel
God's definite guidance and direction for my life, but I do not read
the Bible every day.
Edy felt much the same way. She told me that the church she
attends is one where they "seem to do everything right." To fit into
their "Bible time" she has bought many Bibles, just hoping "this
one" would make it easier for her to understand-but, Edy
reported, she still couldn't get it. She tried so hard to remember
Scriptures but would find the next day that she had forgotten them.
She even tried sitting in her room, blocking out the world and
reading. But her mind kept drifting to the things she needed tomorrow,
or the laundry, or something else. Her response was to avoid
talking about the Bible because she didn't feel she had a right to
discuss something she knew so little about. Although Edy's Bible
reading was not successful for her, she still felt sure that God was
always there with her and for her. Edy told me: "I have always
prayed to God and He has kept me under His wing through my
very difficult life and many times of despair. I could always feel God
in my heart and I just knew I had a special relationship with Him-but
I did not seem to fit in."
Is it possible that there is no one right way to develop one's
As I speak to various groups around the country on this topic,
including virtually every denomination, I find many people have
tried the prescribed plans and failed. Not only do they not feel
closer to God; they actually feel farther away. After hearing testimony
after testimony of how a specific devotional system has been
effective for others, those of us for whom these systems do not seem
to work feel that the failure is not the system, but a personal deficiency
on our part. This is not to say that these tried and true systems
are wrong; they are just not right for everyone. What I hope
to do in this book is help each person understand his or her own
spiritual personality, and to develop the tools and techniques thatdo work for each of us.
If you are not already aware of your basic personality or my teaching
on the general subject, you will find that Chapter Three gives you
a good overview of the concepts and how they relate to your spiritual
personality. Additionally, you will find a complete Personality Profile
in the Appendix. If you have never taken this profile, please take
some time to look at your own strengths and weaknesses before you
read Chapter Three. When you take the Personality Profile, I encourage
you to use the word definitions provided; they will help you
select the correct words as they are intended in this usage.
One day, my friend, speaker and author Betty Southard, and I
discussed the differences in personalities and how they affect one's
spiritual growth and approach to God. We found that we both had
the same basic experiences with the methods of spiritual growth
that are touted as imperative today. Yet we each had a vital relationship
with God. Until our conversation, we had felt ashamed,
afraid to mention this to others.
Both of us were steeped in the teaching of personality types,
and on the basis of our knowledge we developed the hypothesis
that our personalities shaped our spiritual lives. Our ideas were just
a theory; we needed to find out if our assumptions would prove to
be true. So for more than a year, every time either of us spoke we
surveyed the audiences. We posted a survey on my Website and
began to gather information. The responses of more than five hundred
people told us we were more right than we originally allowed
ourselves to believe. Much of this book is founded on that research.
You will learn from many of the survey responses as you read on.
From our questions, one respondent, Amy, told us that she had
a close relationship with God from the time she was just a little girl.
Having been taught "God loves you; God loves you; God loves
you," Amy felt comfortable talking to Him even as a young girl.
She believed God was with her on the playground, joining her on
However, Amy shared, when she was thirty-one she realized
that although she never questioned God, she had never really
invited Jesus into her heart as her Lord and Savior. She took that
step and for a year was on her own in her quest to deepen her relationship
with God. Then she joined a Bible study group, where she
was exposed to the Word in a whole new way. It was a small group
of well-meaning women who loved God and were committed to
teaching Amy how to be His disciple. Of that time, she says, "I was
in love with God and wanted so much to please Him. I lapped up
their teaching like a hungry kitten at a bowl of milk."
That was a wonderful time of spiritual nourishment in Amy's
life. Yet three years later she found things had changed-and not
for the better. In her journal she poured out her heart to God. She
told Him how she missed the times of "sitting at your feet and laying
my head on your lap." She remembered how she used cry to
Him because she hurt. She felt as though He put His warm, strong
hands on her head and stroked her hair while allowing her to cry.
He never told her to stop her tears; He was never too busy. It was
in these times that Amy felt closest to God, feeling He cared for
her and deeply loved her.
As Amy looked back over her journal pages, she saw she had
written to God: "Do you remember even further back, when I was
the skinniest kid in town-a tomboy with pigtails and scabbed
knees? Remember how I'd stop right in the middle of the playground
and ask you a question? Sometimes I'd wait for an answer,
and sometimes not. But I always knew you were there. I never even
considered you might not be. I just knew you were always delighted
in who I was."
Amy shared with us that back then it was easy to connect with
God. She didn't picture Him in a "throne room," as she was later
taught. She never imagined she would have to get herself ready to
talk to Him, never knew there was a proper way to approach Him.
In her journal, she wrote: "You were just my 'Daddy,' my 'Abba.' I
could curl up on your lap whenever I wanted to. I didn't realize
then that I should never start my day without talking to you first. I
hadn't heard that I should never cry to you because that would be
'murmuring and complaining.' You see, I never understood that
there were certain rules involved in speaking to you."
Because Amy felt such a love for God, she wanted to learn all
she could. She listened intently to those who taught the supposed
rules. She learned the procedures, and learned them well. She even
began to pass on her newfound knowledge to others, instructing
them that "This is what you need to do-try this; begin this way."
Our survey made Amy go back to her journal to review her
growth process. She shared another passage with us:
But do you know what Father? I miss you! I want to put my head on
your lap again and feel your hug. Yes, I know you're seated on a
beautiful throne, but couldn't I just burst into that throne room
when I want to share something exciting? All those rules have filled
my head with so much knowledge and made me proud. Now I can
impress people with how well I know the rulebook. But I don't want
that, I want you Father. I want you! I just want to be your daughter
again. I love you Abba!
Does that make you cry? Or if you are not the emotional type, does
it at least make you feel sad? It does me. It grieves me. If this fills
you with sorrow, then this book is for you! Throughout these pages
you will find many ways to strengthen your relationship with
God-ways that work for you.
As you were reading Amy's journal entry, if you said "Yes, yes;
she needs to know those rules" then this book is for you. You need
to hear the stories of others who love the Lord as much as you do
but express it in ways different from yours and different from each
other. I encourage you to expand your horizons, to allow these differences
to bring unity to the church, not division.
There are some who might think what I am suggesting is heretical.
Chances are they will not even get this far into these pages. But
I hope that on whichever side of the fence you sit, you will open
your heart and embrace my goal: to help my readers strengthen their
relationship with God, to have a real and vital relationship with our
God, who is alive and authentic.
So, this book is about your relationship with God. It is also about
understanding and accepting others-especially your loved ones.
My husband and I both love God, but our spiritual personalities
differ considerably. We attend a megachurch. The preaching is
wonderful (hence the "mega" church status), but I'd prefer to go to
a smaller church, one where someone notices if I am there or not,
someone who misses me and gushes with enthusiasm upon my
return. When I mentioned this to my husband, he was surprised.
The anonymous quality about the church-that I dislike-is one
of the main things he likes. He can slip in unnoticed, be taught
God's Word, and leave without ever having to talk to anyone.
Jan and her husband were in a similar situation. For them church
became a point of contention. She says that "we approached our spiritual
life so differently, we kept annoying each other." In hopes of
making their church attendance harmonious, Jan kept promising
herself that she would just stand there beside her husband and quietly
worship God. It never worked. During the worship time, Jan is quite
animated-sometimes joining others at the front to dance and sing.
When she returns to her seat (at the back of the church) her husband
gives her "one of those looks." He and their children silently
commiserate with each other about how happy they are that they are
not out of control-or making fools of themselves. When there is an
altar call, Jan is out of her seat and down at the front. Jan's husband
never responds because he "doesn't want to be pawed by the people
who pray for you."
Jan reports: "I used to get irritated with my family because I
thought they were missing out on all the blessings. My husband's approach
has always been practical, private, and sedate in comparison
to mine. I have always emoted, been vocal, and very exuberant."
These differences manifest themselves in church attendance
and expression of worship. But they also affect those on the other
side of the pew, those in ministry. Teresa is an example. Her husband
is a pastor, and they work together in ministry. Yet the understanding
she gained from the teaching in this book gave her fresh
insights that maybe she "is not so bad."
She shared her story with me. "I have been a pastor's wife for
nearly thirty years. In the early years, my husband pastored small
churches, and he and I were the only 'staff' that existed. We worked
together on many projects, from leading youth groups to summer
She is an organizer, and coordinating an event-though challenging-can
be a joy to her. As an organizer, Teresa likes to plan
ahead and have her ducks in a row. She and her husband would
become frustrated with each other because he thought her deadlines
were unreasonable-wanting things done days before they needed
to be. Likewise, Teresa felt as though she were giving freely of her
time and energy, but he would wait until the last minute and then
expect her to do a good job with something. It became clear that
their marriage relationship would be better if they didn't try to lead
church ministries together, and so they didn't-for many years.
Only after the couple learned of and understood "the personalities"
that I've written and taught about for years did they grasp
how their skills can complement each other. Today, Teresa says,
"I'm happy to say we are very much partners in ministry and lead
many ministries together in the life of our church."
Fortunately, Teresa and her husband learned about their differences
and how they have an impact on spiritual life and overall
ministry. Unfortunately, another respondent, Renee, did not have
the same results.