The Spirituality of Jesus, Part 1: “How We Search”
You can’t see the truth because you don’t know the Scriptures well and because you don’t really believe that God is powerful.
Mark 12:24 (The Voice)
Kwai Chang Caine was the first person to make spirituality attractive to me. He was portrayed by David Carradine in the fictional television series Kung Fu. Trained from a young age by Master Po to become a Shaolin Monk, Caine exhibited mystery and mastery. The mystery was where he gained his power, while the mastery was accessing that power. Sad though this might be to some, Kung Fu was a more important spiritual influence on my early life than anything Christian.
Finding Your Burning Bush
Caine lived an adventurous life, mastering the difficult and dangerous through the mystery of spirituality. This inspired me. It made me want to understand and know more. You might say the television series Kung Fu was my “burning bush”, that sight which makes us begin to ask spiritual questions.
2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
Exodus 3:2–3 (NIV)
Looking back, what I find interesting is that while living in the midst of a Midwest city saturated with churches, it was the Buddhism of a Shaolin Monastery that made spirituality attractive.
There was a power I saw in Caine’s faith that I did not see in the faith of Christians. This conflicted with my observation that if there was a sacred text that was true, then it was the Bible not the Buddhist Sutras. How could Christians have the most intellectually honest and consistent sacred text, and yet those who believed it lack the spirituality I saw in other religions?
These conflicting thoughts made me choose the religious designation of agnostic, a label expressing a faith that there was probably something, but nothing clear, convincing, or real.
My experience and choice is not unusual, something that will address later, but for now it is important for Christians to understand those who choose not to attend church often have valid spiritual and intellectual reasons.
The Problem with Organized Religion
5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:5 (NIV)
Upon becoming a Christian, I have often reflected on my journey to faith, as well as those similar to myself. The question I have pondered is “Why Christianity?”, with the intellectual consistency and honesty of the Bible seems to come up short in the minds of people searching for spirituality.
Looking back, my view of Christianity was always as the ultimate in organized religion, and I think this perspective is one shared by a great many people today. If you want to go to church, then choose Christianity, but if you want to experience the power of spirituality, then find another faith.
When reading Scripture, there is no shortage of profound spiritual mystery, interaction, and activity, so why is Christianity seen as more organized than spiritual? There are a tremendous number of spiritual people, writers, and leaders in the Christian faith, but why does it seem like people see us as more organized than spiritual?
The Scriptures actually address this question. II Timothy 3:5 speaks to one issue which is the fact that we can practice the Christian faith without tapping into the spiritual power. When we do this Christianity becomes a humanistic pursuit, reliant on human wisdom and effort.
Lived this way, the Christian faith becomes a humanistic pursuit of community, well organized, advocating morality and good, but devoid of God and his power. These conditions are described in Galatians 3:1-3.
1 Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. 2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3 How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?
Galatians 3:1–3 (NLT)
The result of this “Humanistic Christianity” is described in Galatians 3:4 (NIV84), where Scripture teaches us about the painful suffering that takes place when we depend on human effort instead of the power of God.
4 Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? 5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
Galatians 3:4–5 (NIV84)
This power from God is only accessible when we are spiritual. Without it, God’s church becomes just another human organization – which is what people hate and call “organized religion.” In this form, Christianity will only be attractive to those in attendance, because those seeking God are usually looking for something spiritual not humanistic.
How We Search
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV
What I have learned from my own journey to God, as well as the stories told me by others, is that God has placed “eternity in the human heart.” He has made us sense and desire the spiritual, the unseen, the eternal. It is in this “sacred space” that we find him.
This God made us in all our diversity from one original person, allowing each culture to have its own time to develop, giving each its own place to live and thrive in its distinct ways.  His purpose in all this was that people of every culture and religion would search for this ultimate God, grope for Him in the darkness, as it were, hoping to find Him. Yet, in truth, God is not far from any of us.
Acts 17:26-27 Voice
What we must remember about our own journey to God, and understand about the journey of our children and friends is that we begin life searching for the unknown and unanswered. We feel spiritual stirrings, a curiosity about the unseen. This is why we like movies about magic, aliens, and even horror (think Harry Potter or Stranger Things). Somehow, we innately know God is spiritual, so we look for him in the “sacred space of spirituality”.
23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
John 4:23–24 (ESV)
We know there is something beyond human out there, and our soul yearns and searches for it. We sense and understand spirituality, though we don’t necessarily connect this to religion or churches.
Pew Research Center supports the idea of it being more instinctive for people to seek spirituality than church in its “Religious Landscape Study.” What their data shows is “the rise in spirituality has been happening among both highly religious people and the religiously unaffiliated.” Their surveys “find that the U.S. public overall appears to be growing a bit less religious – but also somewhat more spiritual.”
In truth, the Scriptures view those in search of the spiritual as religious, because the Bible associates faith with God first, and the organization second. Unless the organization has the spirituality to seek and know God, it cannot in fact be His church.
What does this mean for Christians and churches? It means, we have to evaluate ourselves on our level of spirituality – our ability to tap into God’s presence and power. This is how the unbeliever will know God is really among us.
24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
1 Corinthians 14:24–25 (NIV)
Rather than focusing on activities and events as the source of attraction to those seeking God, we must learn people first search spiritually for the experience of God, which is how they know they have found the truth. In short, it is the spiritual lives of the people, not the quality of the facility or programs, which most attracts those who search.
Asking the Right Questions
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.
John 6:63 NIV
Combining my youthful experience being attracted to the spirituality of Kwai Chang Caine with the current Pew Research made me ask three questions. First, what role did media have in my view of spirituality? Second, why are Americans choosing spirituality over church affiliation? Third, why do so few associate Christianity with the mystery and mastery of spirituality?
My answers to these questions have inspired me to develop a 5-part series of posts whose theme will be the “Spirituality of Jesus,” because I believe the spiritual depths of the Christian faith have been misrepresented by the uninformed, diminished by misinformation, and most importantly neglected through our unbelief.
I hope you will join me in asking these questions, finding the answers, and developing a personal spirituality that clarifies the confusion about the Christian faith – one which should be known for the deep spirituality found in Scripture not the humanism of organized religion.
Reflect on these questions to increase the spirituality of your thinking about how you and others search for God:
Why do you think we need “burning bush” moments? Do you need your first one, or perhaps a new one for a new stage of life? (Exodus 3:2-3)
Do you see Christianity as being more about the organizations or spirituality? How has this affected your view of God and church?
How do you see yourself practicing “humanistic Christianity,” and how can you be more spiritual in the way you live your faith? (II Timothy 3:5)
How would you define “the sacred space of spirituality,” and what do you need to do to enter this space more regularly? (John 4:23-24)
Identify ways in which your view of Christianity might be confused or diminished by misinformation or misrepresentations of the faith. How has this affected your faith? What can you do to refocus and refresh your view of Christianity to make it more accurate?
“The Spirituality of Jesus” – read the whole series