August 20, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (1 Corinthians 14)

Submitted by Sarah K. from Gracepoint San Diego Church

1 Corinthians 14:1-25

“Prophecy is understandable to the mind (unlike speaking in tongues). Like Old Testament prophecy, New Testament prophecy was intended to challenge and strengthen the church.  People see various expressions of prophecy in preaching, teaching and spontaneous exhortations, among others.” [Quest Study Bible, notes on v.1 (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1994) 1585.]

In what ways have I shown eagerness in pursuing the gift of prophesy?

To be honest, the gift of prophesy has not been something that I thought to eagerly pursue in the past, as it sounds like something for those who are truly spiritually mature.  Being overly self-conscious, speaking in front of people and delivering a message was something I wouldn’t have naturally desired.  Knowing that people often don’t like to receive the message of God, and that it makes people uncomfortable especially when it has to do with sin or something about their lives that is not pleasing to God also has made me reluctant to be that prophetic voice.  However, I believe that God has changed my heart over the years, especially as I grow to appreciate more and more deeply the validity of the message of the gospel, and that God’s words and His ways not only explain life as it was meant to be, but also have the power to transform anyone.  As I see over time the brokenness and pain caused by sin and this fallen world, I desire to share with people what I have experienced and seen, and for them to also experience God’s grace and the ordering of life according to His leading and His intentions.  I have also seen how impossibly sinful I am at the core, and the many ways I fall short in being a deliverer of God’s message.  The combination of growing realization of who I am, and the brokenness of people who have an incomplete understanding of God, and the deepening amazement at how the gospel addresses us at so many levels, has caused me to grow in eagerness in pursuing the gift of prophesy—to be able to teach, exhort and properly build up the church through words that are beneficial to others rather than having mostly random or unhelpful words come from me, and to not let my self-consciousness or other sins or shortcomings prevent people from receiving God’s word.  Especially in my position as one who leads others, my prayer for wisdom, guidance, insight that could help people has grown a lot over the years, and this has helped me to take the focus off of myself and how I may come off or sound, or at how others might be uncomfortable with the message from God, and become more focused on how I can help others to see God’s heart more clearly and really take advantage of all the wisdom and training I’ve received over the years.  Seeing the message of the gospel really click with people is like no other experience in life, and this has also increased my desire to grow in the gift of prophesying, even though that role might not be an easy one.

Why might the Corinthian Christians have preferred the gift of speaking in tongues over the gift of prophecy?  Assess the degree to which I desire to stand out in some way, and find affirmation for my ego through the expression of spiritual gifts. 

The Corinthian Christians may have preferred the gift of speaking in tongues over the gift of prophecy because the gift of speaking in tongues might have felt more “spiritual” and given them a sense of grandiosity, feeling special because they were doing something that not everyone could do, and that felt supernatural.  It was probably more showy than the gift of prophecy, and more effortless, and as such, an easy way to give someone a sense of authority.  This was probably why Apostle Paul said that the one who speaks in a tongue builds himself up.  The gift of prophecy probably entailed speaking words that were not always pleasant to hear, and also involved using the mind, which implies more effort and struggle, which can be difficult.  The gift of prophecy is inherently other-centered, as he says that it builds up the church, and it means saying things that would be beneficial to others to hear, rather than what you might personally prefer to say.  It involves more self-denial than the gift of tongues.

I can relate with the Corinthians and their preference for the gift of speaking in tongues over the gift of prophecy, in seeking shortcuts that would feed their ego without having to expend much effort, and avoiding the path of greater effort and discomfort.  It is ugly to think about the ways that I desire affirmation for myself even within the realm of spiritual gifts or serving God.  I do desire affirmation and approval from people in that I want people to think of me as a good spiritual leader, as someone who is wise, knows the right thing to say and do, who is competent and well-liked.  I can see this especially when I feel anxious at the thought that I will make a lot of mistakes or majorly mess up in something that I’m in charge of, and then that people will look at me as some failure of a leader.  Rather than being OK with being a mess-up in many ways and accepting that’s me and that I need to learn and grow, I want spiritual leadership to seem effortless, smooth and to gain people’s admiration.  I balk at the role of a prophet, who needs to be constantly thinking, not able to rest mentally but someone who must be so concerned for others that I am always engaging myself to try to benefit others, to bring some word of exhortation or challenge or even encouragement or hope.  In this way, I see the ugly way in which I desire spiritual gifts for my own benefit rather than to build up the church, and how this does nothing for myself or anyone else.  How much more beautiful it is to strive to excel in building up the church, and to this end I need to continually kill the desire in me to build up myself.

1 Corinthians 14:6-12

In what ways might modern day Christians be using unintelligible words to communicate God’s truth? 

Modern day Christians may be using unintelligible words to communicate God’s truth by speaking in jargon, or a bunch of words that are repeated but never explained, and which they themselves can’t really understand.  I can relate to this because I grew up in the church, but did not know how to intelligibly relate the gospel, or describe what it meant to be saved, although I had always heard about God, forgiveness, the cross and love.  Since I myself never paid attention at church or tried to study the Bible on my own, I didn’t have a clear understanding of what it meant or what salvation entailed.  Another way in which modern day Christians may be using unintelligible words to communicate God’s truth is when we say one thing while our lives reflect another reality.  I believe that this makes Christianity unintelligible to people, and I can relate to this as well as I grew up seeing examples of Christians who lived no differently from non-Christians, so that I could not tell how the Christian message really made any difference to a person.  In fact, this made the Christian message seem contradictory, because if this God was real, then why didn’t it affect the way people actually made decisions, or their goals and aspirations, or their dependence on money?  Thinking about these examples is sobering as I realize that I am subject to doing the very same things now that I am a Christian.

What can I do to “try to excel in building up the church” (v. 12)?

I can try to excel in building up the church by being other-centered.  Rather than unthinkingly following my own desires and preferences, or seeking spiritual experiences merely for my own benefit and to feel good about myself, I can think about how to bring greater clarity to the gospel message to others.  That means critically examining myself and my own life to see where there are areas where my life does not match up to what I profess.  It means that when I speak, I need to be thinking about how the hearer will receive what I’m saying and whether I myself believe and am speaking what I know and understand.  The picture of people speaking unintelligible words because they want the novelty and admiration of others for speaking in tongues is a very self-centered and narcissistic picture, and the way I can excel in building up the church is to continually put to death the self-centeredness and narcissism I see in me, and seek to benefit others instead.

1 Corinthians 14:13-17

“The expression ‘my mind is unfruitful’ means that the mind does not intelligently share in the blessing of the man’s spirit. The mind (the nous) is that faculty involved in conscious, meaningful reasoning and understanding of the thinking, reasoning person.” [Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for 1 Corinthians 14:13-14.]

“There is a proper place for the intellect in Christianity. In praying and singing, both the mind and the spirit are to be fully engaged. When we sing, we should also think about the meaning of the words. When we pour out our feelings to God in prayer, we should not turn off our capacity to think. True Christianity is neither barren intellectualism nor thoughtless emotionalism. See also Ephes. 1:17-18; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9.” [Life Application Study Bible, study notes (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers and Zondervan, 1991) 2084.]

Give examples of the mind being “unfruitful” in the midst of spiritual activities.  What is the danger of this?  Is there evidence of this kind of mindless involvement in spiritual activities in my life?

It is so easy for the mind to be unfruitful in the midst of spiritual activities.  While singing hymns and praises to God, it’s easy to get caught up in the music and emotions created by the mood, and not think at all about the gravity of the lyrics, and the often life-shattering truths that we sing in songs to God.  While praying, the words can become like a chant where we are unthinkingly repeating things or listing off a bunch of requests without actually trying to connect with God, or to just zone out and start daydreaming about something else.  During messages, we can drift off, tune out and purposely disengage, especially if we’ve become practiced in doing the same thing in school or at work.  In the midst of serving at church, we can mindlessly go through the tasks and even do them eagerly and diligently, but never connect them back to God or think about why we are doing these things, and then suddenly realize that our heart isn’t in it.

The danger of this is that while we are not actually engaging with God, we fool ourselves into thinking that we are because we are performing “spiritual” or “Christian” acts.  This is not readily apparent because whether our minds are engaged is something that only we and God know, and is sometimes not detectable on the outside.  If this continues for a while, then we become strangers to ourselves as our outward behavior does not match to our inward conviction, and while we are doing things “for God,” we are actually not connecting with God at all, and then God is no longer in the picture.  We don’t know ourselves and when life gets harder, or our activities and responsibilities increase, we suddenly find that we are “dry” or unable to sustain what we are doing, we don’t know what we believe and we even start to feel bitter and angry that we are engaging in these things without knowing why.  The irony of all of this is that all along, there was always opportunity to engage the mind, and for fruitful development of conviction and deepening in personally relating with God. All along, everything we were doing was meant to help us see the bigger picture of God’s salvation and our place in His story, in His church.  Unlike what many people think Christians do, we are not meant to blindly perform religious acts without actively engaging our minds.

Even in my capacity as a leader at our church, there are times that I can mindlessly carry out spiritual activities in my life, and it’s especially sad because my position gives me greater opportunity to really engage myself and understand God in deeper ways.  When I’m distracted while doing DT or listening to messages, and thinking about to-do lists, or things I forgot, or something I need to take care later, I’m mindless.  This is one of the greatest temptations for me because I find that I’m constantly behind or haven’t thought about different things that I should’ve done, and my own drive to do a “good job” with ministry tasks causes me to be distracted.  Another way that I do this is when I think I “already know” something—either about a message I’m hearing, or an idea that someone is presenting to me, or in a conversation with someone, and so I tune out thinking that I already know what they are going to say instead of having the hunger to hear it again, to understand it better, to find another angle in which this applies to me.  Another example I can think of is when I think that something is difficult to think about or struggle with, I have an amazing capacity to just check out because I don’t want to think about uncomfortable truths that will cause serious inner struggle or turmoil.  This is a matter of raw rebelliousness and pride that does not want to be disturbed.

Are there some steps I need to take to more actively engage my mind in my prayer and in my praise?  

I need to make sure that I am alert during times of prayer and praise, starting with my physical posture, down to sitting up straight or standing if I feel tired or inattentive.  I need to be committed to keeping distracting thoughts of to-dos for later and focusing on the words or the prayers or ideas being spoken of during messages.  I can share with people in my life, whether my leaders, peers, staff or husband the things that I got out of times of prayer, praise or messages, and make the most of sharing times and conversations to help myself to be engaged.  Growing in interest for others, getting into their lives and seeing their needs and learning to be in their shoes, also helps me to engage my mind so that I can help them to grow.  The words of the songs come alive as I think about different people and how these words address their situation so perfectly, and my prayers grow in intensity as I learn to see people from God’s perspective, feel compassion for them and cry out for them.  Having more people in my heart helps me to be engaged, so another step I can take is to intentionally grow in my relationships with people, finding out about them and taking time to relate with them.  As today’s DT starts out in verse 1 with the exhortation to “pursue love,” as I do this, then I can see that eagerly desiring the gift of prophecy, building up the church and engaging my mind will naturally follow.

Submitted by Steve P. from Gracepoint San Diego Church

1 Corinthians 14:1-25

“Prophecy is understandable to the mind (unlike speaking in tongues). Like Old Testament prophecy, New Testament prophecy was intended to challenge and strengthen the church.  People see various expressions of prophecy in preaching, teaching and spontaneous exhortations, among others.” [Quest Study Bible, notes on v.1 (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1994) 1585.]

Why might the Corinthian Christians have preferred the gift of speaking in tongues over the gift of prophecy?  Assess the degree to which I desire to stand out in some way, and find affirmation for my ego through the expression of spiritual gifts. 

The Corinthians were a very self-conscious church, worried about their image and about what others thought of them. We already saw this in how they wanted to align themselves with whichever leader they thought was more “in” or more trendy at the time. So here they probably preferred the gift of speaking in tongues over the gift of prophecy because it made them seem more spiritual. If someone has the gift of prophecy, they’re still speaking in the same language and the words they use are still understandable. In other words, it may not be clear that they are actually prophesying because it sounds the same. But if someone is speaking in tongues, anyone who hears them will know that they are speaking in tongues and that they must have a special spiritual gift. In this way, having the gift of speaking in tongues is more obvious and stands out more than the gift of prophecy. And so they preferred the gift of speaking in tongues because they wanted the attention and they wanted to stand out and be known as spiritual because that was the currency in their church.

While it’s easy to dismiss the Corinthians and say that they were just being petty, this is exactly what I do myself. I may not have the gift of speaking in tongues or the gift of prophecy, but I’m constantly looking for some other way that I can make myself stand out more. It’s as if I turned church into another arena where I try to make a name for myself and earn respect from others. In the working world, I would do this through trying to appear competent and by earning the next big promotion, whatever that might be. In church, just like the Corinthians, I try to do this by appearing more spiritual and reliable. Concretely, this means that I want to appear like I have it all together. With planning events, it means that I want to seem like I’m responsible and good with logistics. With ministry, it means that I want to seem like I have a lot of ministry wisdom and special insight. With the Bible, it means that I want to seem like I have a lot more Bible knowledge than I really do. When we’re doing outreach, I want to take pride and boast about whatever I can do rather than seeing how this is a time that we all need to come together and work together. In these ways I have the same attitude that Apostle Paul is addressing in the Corinthians. God gives these gifts for the building up of the church, and yet the Corinthians were more interested in building up themselves with no mind towards the church. In the same way, I take the gifts and skills that he has given me and I try to make myself stand out rather than thinking about how I can use what I have been entrusted with to further advance and build up the church.

1 Corinthians 14:6-12

In what ways might modern day Christians be using unintelligible words to communicate God’s truth?

It’s less common to see people speaking in tongues today, but I think we are still guilty of using unintelligible words to communicate God’s truth in two instances. The first is when Christians try to communicate God’s truth to non-believers. The second is when Christians communicate to other believers in the church. As Apostle Paul talks about building up the church, it could be building up the church as the church continues to grow, as well as continuing to equip and mature those already in the church.

First, it’s more straight-forward how Christians can communicate God’s truth to non-believers using unintelligible words. If we’re not careful, there’s a lot of jargon we use that may sound like a foreign language to non-believers who don’t share the same vocabulary. We throw around words like ‘salvation’ or ‘sanctification’ or ‘born again,’ and when we talk with other Christians we understand each other. But non-Christians may have no idea what these words mean, and they won’t be able to understand or, worst case scenario, they become frustrated or weirded out. The end result is that if we’re trying to share the gospel with them, they may not understand how the truths of the gospel are applicable to them too. These words are a foreign language to them unless we explain them to them. I know this is something I know I am guilty of because I can make assumptions about others’ backgrounds and how much they understand. Whenever I’m talking with non-Christians and even those with some churched background I need to be careful of the words I use and try to avoid these jargon words as much as possible or at least define them and make sure they understand if I do use them.

On the other hand, if we’re not careful we can also be just as unintelligible when we’re communicating with other Christians. I think this happens the most when we have sharing times. I’ve been in sharing times where someone is sharing something and it’s not really clear what the person is trying to say. The words themselves are understandable but the sharing seems kind of rambled or only loosely related to the topic we’re sharing about. And I know that I have done this myself. We’re taking turns sharing so I say something when it’s my turn, but at the same time I’m not really engaging my mind and my mouth is just talking. In the end this comes down to mental laziness more than anything else, but the spirit is the same as that of the Corinthians: I’m more focused on myself than I am on God’s truth that I’m speaking or on building up the church. I’m thinking more about getting down with the sharing time and moving on to something else rather than how I can use that time to encourage my fellow brothers, whether that be by sharing some insight I received or encouraging them by trying to share honestly. The result is that whatever I’m saying is unintelligible, and no one is built up.

1 Corinthians 14:13-17

“The expression ‘my mind is unfruitful’ means that the mind does not intelligently share in the blessing of the man’s spirit. The mind (the nous) is that faculty involved in conscious, meaningful reasoning and understanding of the thinking, reasoning person.”  [Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for 1 Corinthians 14:13-14.]

“There is a proper place for the intellect in Christianity. In praying and singing, both the mind and the spirit are to be fully engaged. When we sing, we should also think about the meaning of the words. When we pour out our feelings to God in prayer, we should not turn off our capacity to think. True Christianity is neither barren intellectualism nor thoughtless emotionalism. See also Ephes. 1:17-18; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9.” [Life Application Study Bible, study notes (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers and Zondervan, 1991) 2084.]

Give examples of the mind being “unfruitful” in the midst of spiritual activities.  What is the danger of this?  Is there evidence of this kind of mindless involvement in spiritual activities in my life? Are there some steps I need to take to more actively engage my mind in my prayer and in my praise?

I think the biggest example of my mind being unfruitful in the midst of spiritual activities is during praise. If I don’t actively think about the meaning of the words I’m singing and affirm that these words are indeed true, I can get into the position where my mouth is singing the words and my hands are clapping but my mind is completely unengaged and I don’t even think about what I’m singing and declaring. I might be thinking about the music or the lights or the background being used, but I’m totally unengaged. To engage my mind would look exactly like the commentary suggests–praying before praise to dedicate that time to God and then really reading, thinking about, processing, and affirming the words while I sing. This is what praise is–it’s more than merely singing words along with music.

Another example is doing DT. I’ve become practiced enough doing DT that I can type out answers without engaging my mind. I know generally how I’m a sinner and it can be easy to rewrite the same answers regardless of what the passage is. The result is over generalized and shallow answers that I forget as soon as I finish my DT. On the flip side, to engage my mind would be to approach the text with a prayerful attitude, taking the time to reflect and see whether God is trying to address a new area, even if this is the nth time that I’ve done DT through this particular text.

The danger of having an unfruitful mind in the midst of spiritual activities is clear. My body is engaged in doing these physical actions of praise and devotion while my mind becomes increasingly unengaged. The result is that I will become practiced in going through the motions unthinkingly and I will become increasingly shallow and my spiritual life will become more and more empty and dry. Rather than being driven by any conviction, it will be a series of motions that I need to repeat each day and week. The first danger is that my heart will become disengaged as well. Going through these motions will become an annoyance and a duty. But perhaps more dangerous is that the whole while, because I’m still going through all the same motions, I’ll think that I’m being spiritual and that I’m a good Christian when in fact I’m not engaging or relating to God at all. We saw this with the Pharisees–they went through all the motions and they were considered the religious elite, and yet because they were so far away from God they had the hardest time hearing from and accepting Jesus. It’s easy to criticize the Pharisees and say that they were just too much, but as soon as my mind becomes idle I’m on the very same path.

This is why it is so critical that I be deliberate when it comes to spiritual activities. They can’t become dull. What I found the most helpful is taking time before praise or before DT to pray and dedicate that time to God and ask him to really open up my heart and eyes to things he might be addressing. Sure it’s another physical activity and it has the same risk of becoming just another motion, but I’ve found that, at least for me personally, taking time to pray really reminds me what praise and DT are all about–it’s not about me and it’s not about the motions themselves, but it ultimately comes down to really giving that time to God.

1 Corinthians 14:6-9, 16-17

Notice the recurring idea captured by the words: “how will I benefit you” (v. 6), “how will anyone know” (v. 7), “who will get ready” (v. 8), “how will anyone know” (v. 9), “how can anyone…say ‘Amen’” and “the other person is not being built up” (v. 17). 

Apostle Paul emphasizes that each of these sounds is not merely a noise, but it has a purpose: the flute is to make music, the bugle is to sound a warning, and the tongue is to speak words that are intelligible. And so if we are speaking in tongues, it will only fulfill its purpose if it is understandable or interpreted. The focus isn’t on the one with the gift at all, but it’s on the one who receives the words. It’s not about the person with the gift gaining any special recognition and it’s interesting that Apostle Paul doesn’t even talk about the person with the gift being built up, but the focus is so that the other person is built up.

Reflect on the intense focus on the other person in this passage.  If spirituality is a personal, subjective matter between me and God, why is it important that others understand or be able to say “amen”?

This entire chapter is about spiritual gifts and speaking in tongues, but more than that it’s about the church. The focus of having spiritual gifts isn’t for our own gain or advancement, but for the building up of the church. Our spirituality is personal to an extent–when my time comes I’ll have to stand before the judgment throne alone. But at the same time, when we are saved we are saved into a church. We were never meant to live Christian life alone. And so God gives us spiritual gifts not for our own benefit, though we do reap some benefit from having them. The goal and purpose of these spiritual gifts is so that the church can be built up and matured. This is why Apostle Paul repeatedly emphasizes the “other” person – i.e. the rest of the church. Unfortunately, I think this individualistic view of spirituality and Christian life that the Corinthians had is not unique at all – this pattern of thinking is still very common today.

This is important for a couple reasons. First, it is primarily through the church and the relationships in the church that God shapes us. We are encouraged, challenged, and taught by others, and in the same way we are to encourage and teach others. We are the recipients of others’ spiritual gifts, and we in turn can bless others with the gifts that we have received. And it’s also the relationships with others in the church that serve as a mirror for ourselves – as we pray or speak God’s truth, they are the ones that can confirm and say ‘amen’ or correct our beliefs. Our faith isn’t something subjective, but it can and should be tested and validated.

Submitted by Mike H. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

1 Corinthians 14:1-25

In what ways have I shown eagerness in pursuing the gift of prophesy?

The gift of prophesy is an area that many in the church are striving to cultivate, and it’s an area that I have sought to grow in the past few years doing ministry.  In the first few years of trying to minister to people, I wanted to appear knowledgeable, impressive, and competent.  Yet over time, I came to realize how fruitless and ego-driven I was, and I came to see more and more how people needed instruction and teaching.  Through many mistakes, I saw how failures to teach and exhort caused people to lack proper foundations for their spiritual lives.  People desperately need proper equipping, training, exhortations, and warnings to be built up against the storms of life and the lies of this world.  I have come to see that I am responsible for shaping such people that I minister to.  I have been more eager to learn from those more mature than me to properly instruct others.  I am averse to go into important conversations or times of teaching or preaching without consulting with another person first.  I know that a lot of my thoughts don’t make sense or lack wisdom.  I know that many others who are wiser and more mature than me can help me pursue the gift of prophesy so that I can minister to others, properly giving them warning and instruction.

Why might the Corinthian Christians have preferred the gift of speaking in tongues over the gift of prophecy?  Assess the degree to which I desire to stand out in some way, and find affirmation for my ego through the expression of spiritual gifts.

The Corinthian Christians may have preferred the gift of speaking in tongues over the gift of prophesy because the gift of speaking in tongues would enable them to stand out and outshine others in some way.  It represented a measurable and concrete way that they could outperform others and affirm their ego.  Very often, I want to find affirmation for my own ego through the expression of spiritual gifts.  For example, I am able to memorize very quickly and so I will be quick to show how much I can memorize.  I have unique knowledge in certain areas such as sports and will be quick to showcase such knowledge.  Whatever stupid human trick I have up my sleeve, I want to show so that I feel noticed and recognized.  Though I do this less often the older I get, I know my pattern is to continue to affirm my own ego through whatever spiritual gifts I have.

1 Corinthians 14:6-12

In what ways might modern day Christians be using unintelligible words to communicate God’s truth? 

What can I do to “try to excel in building up the church” (v. 12)?

Modern day Christians might be using unintelligible words to communicate God’s truth through Christian jargon, and over-emphasis on emotions and subjective experiences.  Churches can be unwelcoming to outsiders because they speak in unintelligible ways, for example by talking in language like the “Holy Spirit filling our souls” or “God speaking to us” without explaining what this means.  Testimonies are filled with subjective experiences and ambiguous expressions.  Worship time is filled with super-charged emotions and noise-making.  The words may not make much sense, but it all has the semblance of spirituality.  And people are blending Christianity with subjective experiences and new age spirituality that makes Christianity even more inaccessible to outsiders.

I can try to excel in building up the church by learning to serve others with whatever gifts, experiences, or training that I do possess.  With the fall outreach, there are many ways I can help build up the church.  I can teach and train others in various ministry responsibilities that I’ve received to actively engage seekers. I can share my knowledge and expertise in technical areas so that others may be useful.  I can serve others by laboring wherever there is need.  Rather than be caught up in my own world, I can be help build the church by focusing on serving wherever there is need, regardless of whether such service enables me to shine or not.

1 Corinthians 14:13-17

Give examples of the mind being “unfruitful” in the midst of spiritual activities.  What is the danger of this?  Is there evidence of this kind of mindless involvement in spiritual activities in my life?

Some examples of the mind being unfruitful in the midst of spiritual activities include prayer, praise, messages, devotion times, reflections, outreach, serving, and studying.  It’s so easy to turn off our faculty of thinking and go through the motions of Christian life.  We merely show up to events like prayer meeting and Bible study without engaging the mind.  We continue to serve without connecting anything back to God.  The danger of this is that we entirely miss out on the purpose of such times and miss God entirely, thereby missing opportunities to know ourselves better.  As a result, we end up hollowing ourselves out and don’t see why we do anything that we’re doing.  If we’re just running on emotions and youthful energy, then we’ll run out of gas eventually.  For me, I can see evidence of this when I am at prayer meeting and Sunday service.  I simply show up and try to connect with God, but I am either easily distracted or lost in a stream of consciousness.  A lot of the events that I find the most routine, I end up going through them with mindless involvement.  And if I continue to take such spiritual activities as routine, then I am only practicing myself in disobedience and ignoring God’s Word in my life while hollowing myself out.

Are there some steps I need to take to more actively engage my mind in my prayer and in my praise?  

In order to actively engage my mind during prayer meetings and prayer times, I need to deliberately prepare my heart.  It takes work and effort to be diligent about preparing for those times, so that they are not just empty words I mouth over the course of an hour.  I need to spend some time pausing and reflecting before prayer times so that I know what I am going to come to God with.  I should write out my prayers so that they are structured and thoughtful, rather than random and haphazard.  During times of praise, I can pause and pray through the words I am singing.  It’s easy to thoughtlessly go through the songs without thinking of the words, but I have to deliberately meditate on the words during the songs or in between songs.

1 Corinthians 14:6-9, 16-17

Notice the recurring idea captured by the words: “how will I benefit you” (v. 6), “how will anyone know” (v. 7), “who will get ready” (v. 8), “how will anyone know” (v. 9), “how can anyone…say ‘Amen’” and “the other person is not being built up” (v. 17). 

Reflect on the intense focus on the other person in this passage.  If spirituality is a personal, subjective matter between me and God, why is it important that others understand or be able to say “amen”?

If worship and spirituality had nothing to do with other people, then it really wouldn’t be worship anymore.  The kind of God we would be worshiping wouldn’t be a God of all creation, but a God of our own imagination and ego.  If worship and spirituality were just about personal, subjective emotions, then we would be missing the point of it all.  Apostle Paul recognizes that we need to be mindful and cognizant of others so that we would praise a worthy God not of our own liking, but a God who is interested in the entire world.  When we do this, we will end up loving others and enabling them to join us in worship.  We would be able to worship God in community and harmony, rather than in isolated individualistic spirituality.  Apostle Paul ultimately desires that our spirituality and worship be tied to community.

What are the dangers and limits of a personal mystical spirituality ungrounded in God’s word, and not subject to other believers in the church?

The danger of a personal, mystical spirituality ungrounded in God’s word is that we lose touch with reality.  We deceive ourselves into thinking that we are spiritual and that we are connected with God, but we are utterly lost and we don’t know it.  In fact, we are in danger of losing faith very easily because once the personal, mystical experiences of God diminish, we lose confidence in God altogether.  If that is all our faith is based on, then we would quickly abandon God when things don’t go our way.  Faith can be paper thin.  That’s why we need God’s Word to establish a firm foundation for our faith.  And that’s why others must be able to verify our faith based on something objective, rather than not being able to verify anything because our faith is only subjective experiences of God.

Personal Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

I acknowledge that I have been blessed with many gifts and resources, and I recognize that you deeply want me to use what I have to build others up.  Rather than use my gifts to shine, help me to use what I have been blessed with to build others up, especially during our busy days of outreach.  There are so many people that need encouragement and help, and I pray that I would focus my efforts on meeting the needs of others.  Don’t allow me to go through these times as merely going through the motions, but help me to carefully think through everything, including times of prayer and praise.   And help me to not base worship on merely personal, subjective experiences, but on bringing people into community as worship unto you.  Amen.

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