A ‘private faith’?

This week I was asked a question I haven’t been asked in quite a while. I wonder when you have last been asked something similar. It was a simple question, but it was meant seriously.

It went something like this (and I can’t remember the precise words),

‘Patrick, how are you doing spiritually? How would you describe where you are in your relationship with God?’

The question in other words was asking something well beyond mere recounting of all the Christian activities that go with evangelical activism – busyness of active church life on top of a ‘Christian job’ in a Bible College.

It’s a question that refuses to take things at face value and accept that activism = spiritual health. What a crazy assumption that is but we make it all the time. So and so is coming regularly to church, doing this and doing that = all is OK etc

It is a question of the heart. And I suspect it is a question that is asked more rarely than in the past, but I have no way of proving that hunch. And perhaps this is because it is a question that takes courage to ask.

I use the word ‘courage’ because the asking is itself a counter-cultural act. In an intensely privatised world, where everyone’s business is their own, such a question is seriously out-of-step. The question assumes that I, the individual, have a responsibility and an accountability to others within the body of Christ for the state of my own heart – my ‘inner life’ of both my mind and my subsequent actions beyond the public sphere.

That’s a radical notion. And it’s all over the New Testament.

But there was something else behind this question that I’ve been trying to put a finger on ever since it was asked. It was something deeply good. It was a loving question asked by someone who really cared about the answer. It was asking about how I really am – not just about what I am ‘producing’ or ‘doing’ or ‘achieving’.

I struggled to answer that question because it is a searching one. But that’s OK. Most of all I felt thankful and (for me 😉 ) rather surprisingly emotional that it had been asked. It also challenged me to ask how much have I had the courage and love to ask others the same question.

So, if you are a Christian, is there someone to whom you are spiritually accountable? Is this organised or ad hoc or not happening at all? Have you only been asked such questions if things are going wrong? Would you like / accept such accountability? If not, why not? And do you think that within evangelicalism, activism is taken as a sign of spiritual health with few other questions being asked? If you are in Christian ministry, are there support structures in place that care for you as a person or are no questions asked as long as you are ‘producing the goods’?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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8 thoughts on “A ‘private faith’?

  1. Well, that hits the nail on the head Patrick!

    is there someone to whom you are spiritually accountable?
    No

    Is this organised or ad hoc or not happening at all?
    Aspirational – after reading Richard Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul some months ago, I’ve started to discuss this with a couple of people I trust and respect.

    Have you only been asked such questions if things are going wrong?
    A former mentor Mr. John Frost, asked 20 years ago “Is everything under control, Timothy”.
    A searching question at that time in my life, because it wasn’t. The question lingers.

    Would you like / accept such accountability?
    Yes.

    And do you think that within evangelicalism, activism is taken as a sign of spiritual health with few other questions being asked?
    Probably yes.

    In my life now, I experience, and require of others, accountability in the workplace – about objectives achieved, or not – ‘producing the goods’ as you say.

    Within our Methodist church home group, we recently considered moving beyond regular sharing of our struggles – empathising with each other – to supporting/challenging each other in our faith life…. “to kindly help each other on” in Wesley’s words. http://www.ccel.org/w/wesley/hymn/jwg05/jwg0510.html

    Something else feels related to this.

    Because of too many unspent ‘Audible’ credits, I splurged on Foster’s recommended reading list, including audio book of AW Tozer’s The Pursuit of God.

    For me, a common theme between your post and Tozer’s thinking is getting under the surface of an activity-driven and self-orientated life.

    In Tozer’s words…
    “The instant cure of most of our religious ills would be to enter the Presence in spiritual experience, to become suddenly aware that we are in God and that God is in us. This would lift us out of our pitiful narrowness and cause our hearts to be enlarged. This would burn away the impurities from our lives as the bugs and fungi were burned away by the fire that dwelt in the bush.”
    http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/tozer/5f00.0888/5f00.0888.03.htm

    In a recent discussion with Inderjit Bhogal, Corrymeela’s Leader, Inderjit said to me “Live well.”

    Your post has clarified for me that ‘living well’ does indeed involve practising the presence – both silent time with God, and regular time with trusted spiritual friend/s and, optionally, quality coffee.

  2. Hi Tim,
    we need to have that coffee again!
    Great stuff, thanks. Like the idea of the homegroup

    ‘And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds’ comes to mind.

    If the workplace can be a pretty harsh and/or unrelenting place of objectives and bell curves and people as units of production, is the mark of authentic Christian community that little word ‘love’? And without it the church or organisation becomes just another place of production where the individual is just there to get the job done?

  3. Great post ..and much needed to be heeded? I think its something to do with our polluted view/experience of leadership in general that makes us shrink from asking these questions. Alongside an ugly Christian leadership mindset which wont yield to the upside downness of authentic Christ led ministry ? I mean c,mon ..it would take a certain amount “chutzpah” to ask your Christian lecturer / Church elder how they were doing spiritually whilst they were in the throes of Christian service and expending lots of energy? But ..whats it all about if we cant? Its time to end the game playing in this regard and …<.Get on the soul train …….its leavin!!{Quincy Jones:Theres a Train Leavin, circa seventy four]

  4. welcome Brian, thanks. There is a radical equality within the body of Christ. It’s interesting how the vast majority of the NT letters don’t speak to any special group of leaders. They are for everyone (Corinthians for example) – the commands and teaching apply equally. Everyone is responsible and has the same basis for being there (grace) and the same calling (to love God, love others, walk by the Spirit). Corinthians – we don’t follow Paul or Apollos or Peter, we are all to follow Jesus. And I think this all links in to your point about asking the ‘leader’. As Christians we should have a fairly realistic view of human nature – we are imperfect and broken – all of us!

    • Cheers Patrick ..and thanks for that ! The reason I poke a bit of fun in and around this topic is the built in status anxiety we all feel due to our fallenness.We are prone to think more highly or lower of ourselves than is actually sane? I guess we[those called to lead and guide and the latrine cleaners,and flower arrangers] all have to work harder in order to bring about the new order? Exercising our gifts with humility and actively pursuing accountability ? Do we need a fresh look an Luthers ideas around not separating the secular from the sacred maybe.?

  5. Patrick, this is the second time I am writing my comment because somehow there was a problem with my account, so sorry if you receive this twice!

    The question is a very good one and very important. Brave person who asked it!
    I would differ a bit on the wording. How are you doing spiritually implies that our lives are divided, there is my everyday life, which I manage and control and the Spiritual one (my quiet time, etc.) that I allow God to be part of. We are very Greek in our thinking, we believe in Jesus as: My Saviour, My personal Saviour! The bible deals with the whole human being, so what I believe about God, is life itself, from that centre comes my doing, The heart is what matters to God, Jesus was very clear about this in the Sermon in the Mount.
    Robert Mulholland Jr. In his book, Invitation to a journey says, We can spend our lives desiring God’s will and never have hearts changed. For me this is sobering thought.

    The other thing is, that sometimes when people ask us that question we might not even know ourselves how we are. We need take time to listen to our lives, as Parker Palmer would say. Am I tired, angry, frustrated, hurt? Am I bringing that to Jesus so He can shape me into His likeness. Spiritual Formation happens in the ordinariness of life as we work with God.
    To be accountable to somebody is much more than to have somebody checking if we are reading our Bible and praying, these spiritual exercises should be the result of my relationship with God, so the most important question is: what do I think about Him? It is a relationship, so honesty is crucial, if I am hesitating about telling Him how I am, then there is something wrong in my understanding of who He is.
    To be accountable to somebody is to have somebody in my life, who lovingly and gently nudges my heart, disturbs the ground, so beauty can grow under the work of the Holy Spirit.

    • thanks Ana. I resonate with what you say on not necessarily knowing how we are. When people ask me generally how I am, I often say ‘I’m not sure, haven’t thought about it for a while’. Is it a question of ‘A time for everything? There are times for specific personal reflection, alone and with others, times when a lot of things just have to be done. And so the importance of a regular ‘way of life’, a discipline of ‘being Christian’ in and through the varying demands of a pretty manic culture..

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