Saturday, February 13, 2016

Seminary PM3: We each experience God best in different ways.

The Seminary in a Nutshell series so far:

Chapter 1: The Calling of a Minister

Chapter 2: The Person of a Minister
Ministers have different personalities and strengths

1. Just as we have different personalities with different strengths and weaknesses, so also we encounter God most easily in different ways. This is a great insight both in relation to yourself and others.

There is a tendency sometimes to assume that spirituality looks the same no matter who you are. If you are spiritual, you have devotions every day early in the morning. Spiritual people like to go on retreats, or spiritual people find it easy to invite others to church. But just as we have different personalities with different strengths and weakness, we more naturally encounter God and express our devotion to God in different ways.

2. A great resource in this regard is Gary Thomas' Sacred Pathways. He identifies nine different "pathways" through which different personalities primarily experience God. Some of them, of course, look familiar. For example, the "contemplative is the person who likes to retreat, fast, meditate, and pray. Because they look so familiar, we might mistakenly think that they love God more than the naturalist, the person who most easily experiences God in nature. They might seem more spiritual than the activists who show their love for God by working for the cause of good and right.

But if the love of God is the fundamental criterion of spirituality, then the same amount of love will express itself in varying ways. The traditionalist might express that love by participating in time-honored liturgies, while intellectuals might express it by pursuing truth about God. The "sensate" might experience God through art, creation, and the senses, while the caregiver shows his or her love for God by helping others.

Thomas' eight pathways are as follows:
  • naturalist - experiences God outside in the creation
  • sensate - experiences God through sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell
  • traditionalist - experiences God through liturgy and symbol
  • ascetic - experiences God in simplicity and solitude
  • activist - experiences God by working for good causes and justice
  • caregiver - experiences God by helping others
  • enthusiast - experiences God through signs and wonders
  • contemplative - experiences God through reflection and contemplation
  • intellectual - experiences God in the pursuit of truth
3. It is important to recognize that having a dominant path of spirituality does not excuse us from the core elements of Christian faith. Just because we experience God more easily outdoors does not excuse us from gathering together for corporate worship. Just because we experience God best with our senses does not mean we are excused from reflection, and just because we are predisposed to dramatic encounters with God does not mean that we need never be silent.

If God lurks in all these pathways, then we should visit them all over time. We must love our neighbor outwardly and be witnesses to the good news even if we would be delighted to spend the rest of our lives at a monastery. Recognizing the different pathways should not excuse us from a well-rounded life of worship.

What it does, however, is help us to appreciate others who are different from us. Satan would so easily get us to condescend over others who are not like us. "They do not spend as much time in prayer retreat as I do, so they must not be as spiritual as I am." Perhaps in fact their service to others is a prayer to God more potent than your time alone.

4. Thomas would also have us know that there are predominant weaknesses that go along with these strengths. Those strengths that focus on us as individuals might push us away from others when the Christian life is a life we live together. We are ever prone to self-deception. Those with more demonstrable activities or experiences may be prone to think themselves superior to those who favor quietness or solitude.

Those who experience God and nature can come almost to worship nature rather than God. All the paths can lead us to idolize the instrument rather than the God the instrument is meant to bring us toward. The liturgy can take precedence over the One we are worshiping. We can use the Bible to try to master God rather than let ourselves by mastered by God through the text.

5. But the fundamental insights remain. Christians should probably take walks on all the sacred pathways, especially those that have historically stood at the center of Christian spirituality. But we are all different, and we should not be proud. We should not judge. We should not boast because we have a different spiritual personality than others. Finally, we should be careful not to let our spiritual personality deteriorate into idolatry or excess.

Next Week: Person of the Minister 4: There are certain classic spiritual disciplines for individuals.

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