The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. - Acts 2:42
Sometimes, we talk about "spiritual practices" in the church.
The phrase usually conjures up the image of people who spend hours in meditation or prayer. I used to always feel something between inadequacy and guilt when those conversations came up because I just didn't find meaning in extended motionless silence. Was I not well suited to ministry because I didn't have an hour set aside each day for meditation?
At core, spiritual practices are the repeated actions that nourish our faith. The Bible gives us all kinds of examples of spiritual practices: prayer, giving, worship, fasting, learning, and meditation, to name a few. The book of Acts describes the core components of the Church: teaching, community, breaking bread together, and prayer.
Sometimes, in a well-intentioned effort to develop mature Christians, people have tried to create a prescription for spiritual practices. You know the type: read your Bible an hour every day if you really want to hear God’s word. Memorize the catechism in order to be ready for whatever life throws at you. Spend thirty minutes in silent prayer right when you wake up.
There are a lot of different ways to be spiritual. I've come to realize that the best spiritual practice is the one that connects me most deeply to God - and that what connects me will be different from what connects other people - and it might even change from day to day!
I’ve also come to realize that God intends for prayer, worship, and all the other spiritual practices to be life-giving reflections of God’s love for me, not an additional burden that makes me feel like an inadequate Christian. If spending an hour in silent prayer when you wake up does that for you, I’m glad for you! If it doesn’t, don’t worry. God didn’t make any rule telling us how long to pray or exactly how we should do it.
For me, spiritual practices look more like two minutes in the morning with a cup of still-hot coffee and the daily reminder to pray and breathe from the app Everyday Sanctuary. Or it’s sharing a meal with someone as we also share our joys and sorrows. Or it’s the walk from the front to the back of the sanctuary during the sending hymn when so many voices join together.
We need spiritual practices because they connect us to God and strengthen us to face life’s challenges. What we don’t need is a cookie-cutter approach to spiritual practices that assumes we’re all the same. God wants us to be devoted, like the early Christians, to community and breaking bread and prayer and teaching. But God doesn’t prefer the prayers spoken in a sanctuary over the prayers whispered behind a steering wheel or over a text message. God prefers the prayers we mean, whenever and wherever we pray them.
What are your spiritual practices? And before you say, “I don’t think I have any,” remember that a spiritual practice connects you with God and increases your maturity as a follower of Jesus. Do you give in support of your congregation and other ministries of the wider church? That’s a spiritual practice. Do you pray before you eat a meal? That’s a spiritual practice. Do you participate in Sunday School or Adult Education? That’s a spiritual practice. All these and more are gifts from God to strengthen and sustain us, and to show us God’s connection to us.
God, you call us to relationship with you. Deepen our connection to you through spiritual practices that nourish our souls. Amen.