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Archive for November 25th, 2009

Spirituality: The Vital Component of True Religious Expression

By Jorge Madrid Sr.  (Posted with author’s permission)

Then Jesus said to him , “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Matt. 32:27)

Scripture tells us that true spirituality begins in man’s “heart”  or what we call  “spirit”.  It is our “inner man” from which the actions of our “outer man are derived. That is why the Lord’s command to LOVE Him begins with our hearts or spirit. Religious expression is the part our outer man (that is, our soul and mind)  plays in responding to the demands of our heart. True spirituality happens only when all of us, our heart, soul and mind,  is in harmony or in communion with the Spirit of the Holy One of Israel. That is why true worship can only be realized in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

My words are spirit and they are truth

My words are spirit and they are truth

Our lack of understanding as to what is spiritual and what is religious hinders us from growing spiritually because without this understanding we tend to attempt to grow spiritually by becoming more religious. In fact it is our spirituality that gives validity and vitality to  our religious expression not the reverse. For you see, true religious expression must flow out of our spirituality, not vice versa. Religious expressions that are performed merely out of compliance to a sense of obligation or tradition can hinder us in enhancing our relationship with the Lord because He desires something else from us than mere religious performance.

What he desires is that we love Him and Him alone and that we express that love from the very inner center of our being, namely, our spirit. When we do religious things out of routine observance (at our mental or emotional level) we are not bringing our spirits into play and this detracts from the relationship our creator desires with us. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well that what the Father desires are worshippers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth[1]. That kind of worship must come out of our spirits (the very center of our being) and must be true worship in the sense that our expression of that worship must truly reflect the nature of the Father as revealed through the Son and His Word.

In order to illustrate this concept, I resort to what one might consider a simplistically weak   analogy.  When a young man is courting the lady he loves, all of the actions he takes in her presence are intended as demonstrations of his love. For example, when he opens the door of the automobile that she is entering he does it because he wishes to demonstrate his love and personal concern for her. When a butler or chauffeur opens a door for her their actions are not motivated by a personal love for her person but merely out of respect and obligation. The lady recognizes the difference not because their action is any different from that of the young man courting her but because of the underlying motive behind the actions. Similarly, the Father who created us, loves us, and knows our deepest motives desires that our response to His love come from our hearts and not merely out of a sense of obligation or duty.

One way we express our love for the Lord, which flows from our spirits, is through actions that we sometimes call religious actions. These actions may be expressed through our personal piety, public worship, communal prayers, or through our concern and love for our fellow man. But to be truly pleasing to the Lord these must flow from our loving relationship with our creator. If they do not, then the words of  Jesus regarding the Pharisees are as applicable to us as to them. Citing the words of Isaiah, Jesus said of them, “these people do indeed honor me with  their lips but their hearts are far from me”[2]. The Pharisees Jesus rebuked, you see, were religious people but their religious actions were not the product of their loving relationship to God but rather the result of a sense of obligation to tradition. And what is worse, using that religious tradition to exalt their own egos.

In order to come before the Lord with heartfelt worship that worship must flow out of a personal relationship with the Lord. If we seek to grow spiritually and draw closer to Him we must first examine the nature and state of our relationship. Where is our relationship with Him?  Do we have one?  Or having had one has it cooled off somewhat? If by asking ourselves these questions we come to the realization that our religious actions are not flowing from such relationship then we must, like the church at Ephesus[3], repent and return to our first love, Jesus! For you see, the only way we can come to a personal relationship with the Father is through the Son[4].  And the only way our religious practice can be meaningful is through a continuing and growing personal relationship with our Savior.

Most of us have come through a “cooling off” period with religious practice when we transition from childhood to adulthood. This is a necessary phase and one should not entertain any self-guilt about it. As children and adolescents who loved our parents, we faithfully followed their guidance and example as they passed on their religious traditions to us. At that stage in our development, our hearts (spirits) were pretty open and we did not question them or the religious culture in which we were brought up. In essence, our spiritual sensitivity was pretty much in accord with our rational and emotional perception of what was happening in our lives and we took these things for granted. We may have had other problems in understanding our parents but not necessarily with the family traditions and religious environment that was basically becoming part of our personal identity.

However, as we progressed to maturity some of us found ourselves becoming more and more uneasy with our religious practice and how our inner selves felt about what we were doing. Something in us told us that in order to be truly sincere in our religious practice we needed to be personally convinced of the validity of the spiritual truths that under-girded our religious practices. We became uncomfortable about doing things that didn’t jibe with what we felt or didn’t feel deep inside of us. We thought that in order to be truly sincere in what we were doing, our religious actions should flow out of what our hearts (spirits) were telling us. And we were right!  Our problem was that we didn’t know how to properly resolve our inner queasiness and as a result we usually ended up exacerbating the situation by opting out instead.

This questioning of our motives behind our religious practice is natural, it is merely our heart’s way of  telling us that there is something missing within us that needs to be filled to resolve this inquietude in our spirits. What most of us didn’t understand was that, our hearts needed some inner affirmation of what we intellectually believed that would allow us to bridge the gap between our head knowledge and our heart experience. What we also didn’t realize, was that all we needed to do to bridge that gap was to make a decision in faith, accepting the relationship with the Father that is available to us in Jesus. If we had, the  Lord would have provided us the inner affirmation we needed. This affirmation is a new awareness that suddenly tells our spirits that the Word of Faith we are professing is true even though we have no evidence to support it other than it is God’s Word! Through such a faith affirmation, the Lord enlivens our spirits in such a way that suddenly our religious practice is not only reconcilable with our inner selves but becomes desirable in order to maintain the spiritual sensitivity we were experiencing as we entered maturity. This is what a true conversion experience does and why everyone of us needs to undergo such a conversion experience.

Remember when Jesus asked the disciples, “who do men say that I am?”. The disciples repeated the variety of rumors that were going about as to who Jesus was. But Jesus then tested them further saying, “but who do YOU say that I am?”. When Peter responded with “you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God”, Jesus said to him, “blessed art you  Peter, son of John, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven”[5]. This affirmation of faith based on a personal revelation of who Jesus was, moved Peter from being an uncertain follower to a  committed believer. Similarly, when we encountered our uneasiness, if we had looked deeply into ourselves and made the decision to affirm the Jesus that was being revealed to us in our deepest center, then the clouds of doubt between our religious practice and our inner self would have been dissipated and we would have KNOWN, as probably we had never known before, the meaningfulness of our religious practice that was in consonance with the Word of God. But more than that we would have come to KNOW personally the reason behind all that we do……Jesus the Messiah! The Son of the Living God!

The reason I went so many years in my religious limbo was only because I based my knowledge of who Jesus was on what others said he was, rather than looking within myself to affirm the “Jesus” that the Father was revealing to me in my spirit. When the Lord finally worked in me to realize my own pitifully sinful state and I REALLY understood that the Good News of Salvation was for ME personally! The Good News that Jesus died for MY sins so that I could have a relationship with the Father through Him! Then I truly came to understand for MYSELF who Jesus was for ME and when I proclaimed Him as MY savior and MY Lord, everything I was taught from the Scriptures began to come into place. I no longer needed a theologian  to attempt to explain my doubts away. Now, I knew that I knew that I knew! Now whatever I do in worshipping my creator and savior truly comes out my expression of love for Him deep from my inner self and no longer something I have to force myself to perform out of ritual obedience. Praised Be His Holy Name!

For any of the readers of my reflections in whom my testimony has stirred something within and is sincerely desirous of a genuine conversion experience I would counsel to pray as I prayed (link to: Prayer of Dedication) and expect the Lord to respond. However, I will add that conversion experiences  vary from person to person. It is my belief that the lord tailors each person’s encounter with Him with regard to the person’s deepest needs and personality.  Some people who are already close to the Lord, may find their conversion experience takes place gradually without many “bells and whistles” although the first thing you will experience is that your prayer life will improve dramatically.  The people closest to you will probably notice the change in you before you do. For some hard-heads like myself, the Lord literally has to hit us over the head with a “two-by-four” to get our attention. In my case my conversion took place over a weekend retreat in 1975 that I will never forget. A retreat that advanced me spiritually into the arms of Jesus!

I pray that The Spirit of Truth will touch the hearts of all who read this testimony so that you can verify for yourselves through prayer and the scriptures the truth of what I am sharing with you and thus truly become the instruments of His Love in the world.  May His Kingdom come and may it come through you!

(excerpted with permission from “Thy Kingdom Come” by Jorge Madrid Sr.; © 2003 Madrid Family Trust, all rights reserved)


[1] John 4:23

 

[2] Matthew 15:8

[3] Revelation 2:4-5

[4] 1 John 2:23

[5] Matthew 16:17

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