It’s easy to ridicule people who are “hyper-spiritual.” Perhaps, like me, you’ve known someone who considers herself “holier than thou”—but loses her composure when her toddler spills juice on the carpet.
As a person who grew up in what you’d call a religious environment, I’m horrified at the prospect of being ridiculed as hyper-spiritual. Because of my background, it would be easy for me to fall into the trap of observing the outward forms of spirituality and unconsciously pressuring people around me to do the same, while at the same time having a glaring character defect or blind spot that’s obvious to everyone except me.
That’s why I’ve spent many years trying to discover an authentic, practical spirituality—by which I mean building a lifestyle in which my day-to-day actions are grounded, genuine, and more than just skin-deep. Along the way, I’ve found a few tips and tricks that I think are worth sharing.
I’ll begin by asking, What does spirituality mean? YouTube comedian J. P. Sears expresses a commonly held view that “no-one knows what that actually is.” However, I’m brave enough to hazard a definition: Spirituality describes how a person puts their beliefs about supernatural things into practice. You may, for example, have beliefs about the existence of karma, angels, God, honoring the dead, or an afterlife, but it’s only when your beliefs about these things are put into action that spirituality emerges.
Beliefs about supernatural things emerge because, at the most basic level, humans face two problems that exceed the boundaries of the natural world. The first problem is death. Throughout history, humans have believed that there must be some supernatural loophole to cheat death and get to an ideal afterlife.
The second problem is that humans across space and time experience a persistent and deep-seated sense of unease, a need to be “at peace” or “in harmony” with God or self or nature or the universe. Consequently, spiritual practices in general—meditation, saying prayers, pilgrimages, fasting—are expressions of the desire to be in harmony with the supernatural.
So if all spirituality addresses the same basic problems, are they all equally valid? My answer is no. If the supernatural is real, then obviously some things won’t work to bring a person into harmony, the same as there are some diets that won’t work to make a person healthy.
So which spirituality is the right one? For me, it’s important that my spirituality is grounded on reality, not on a set of traditions or on a vague feeling in my spleen. For example, if I sincerely believed that the earth rested on the back of a turtle and it was turtles all the way down, my sincerity would not make my belief true. That’s why it’s important to weigh the evidence.
Consequently, I have grounded my spirituality on a real, historical event, for which there is ample evidence: that around 2,000 years ago in the Middle East, a Man by the name Jesus of Nazareth was executed and came back to life just as He said He would, and He showed Himself to hundreds of people.
As the saying goes, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” If Jesus cheated death and found that loophole into the afterlife, then I’m willing to trust His explanations about supernatural realities that are recorded in the Bible. Furthermore, I continue to find the spirituality of Jesus Christ refreshing, authentic, and pleasantly very far from the lame “hyper-spiritual” stereotype.
I will share with you four tips that help me to recognize Jesus as the spiritual model I should follow.
Tip 1: be free and creative!
At the heart of Jesus’ explanation of spirituality is the concept of freedom. The New Testament writer Paul explained that Jesus’ death and resurrection were intentional, that their purpose was to offer humans freedom, and that the purpose of freedom is freedom itself. As Paul said, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).
So while Jesus didn’t speak in terms of harmony and disharmony, He did speak in terms of slavery and freedom. He described a spiritual person as being free like the wind: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Putting freedom at the center of spirituality is both exciting and liberating.
A person who is free has a will that isn’t bound by any physical and chemical process but that has the power to make a change in the natural world. This is the essence of God-given creativity, to “make things up” that have never been before. Thus, creativity is tied up with authentic spirituality and extends to such things as building a bridge over a creek, writing a song, organizing a birthday party, or coding a computer app.
Tip 2: “do it all to the glory of God”
But surely, nerding up some computer code is as far from spiritual as you can get, isn’t it? Not according to the Bible. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10), or, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This perspective shows that there need be no gap between the “spiritual” and the “mundane” but that even everyday things can be elevated to the spiritual.
This means it’s possible for me in my work to teach to glorify God or to ride my bike to glorify God or to clean the kitchen to glorify God. Eric Liddell, the Scottish sprinter who competed in the 1924 Olympics, summed it up in his famous quote: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
This idea of living to the glory of God goes beyond mindfulness and gratitude. It captures the idea of living life as a response, in harmony with the Creator Himself. As I’m growing in this, I’m coming to the realization that living to the glory of God is eclipsing my drive for money and recognition and even security.
Tip 3: serve other people
Obviously, there are some things that you can’t do to the glory of God. There are things that are the opposite of spiritual and are described in the Bible as “carnal” or “works of the flesh.” Jesus said, for example, “It is the thought-life that pollutes. For from within, out of a men’s hearts, come evil thoughts of lust, theft, murder, adultery, wanting what belongs to others, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, pride, and all other folly” (Mark 7:20–22, TLB).*
The common thread here is selfishness, and the purpose of freedom is not selfishness but service. As the apostle Paul said, “Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Galatians 5:13, 14).
Tip 4: “right place, right time”
A close reading of the biblical accounts will show that Jesus’ approach to life often seemed haphazard, yet He was regularly and remarkably “in the right place at the right time” for unique encounters that made it possible for Him to serve others. These serendipitous meetings bear witness that Jesus lived in harmony with God moment by moment. The key to Jesus’ successful method seems to be that He regularly spent time alone in prayer, often outdoors, and that during this prayer time the communication went two ways. This focused prayer time put Him in deep harmony with God.
Here’s an example: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’
“Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come’ ” (Mark 1:35–38).
To Jesus’ followers, this sudden decision to abandon His admirers in that town and move on to another town must have seemed haphazard—illogical even. But the momentum of Jesus’ life was driven by the Spirit-wind He’d talked about—a wind that could not yet be seen or heard by His followers.
I’ve discovered that the hardest thing about learning to be “in the right place at the right time” is dealing with the sense of panic when events seem to go awry. For example, I lose my keys and spend an extra six minutes looking for them, but this delay places me in the right position to meet an acquaintance who needs support hours later.
In this context, Jesus’ warning against worrying snaps into focus: “Do not worry about your life.” “But seek first [God’s] kingdom” (Matthew 6:25, 33). In other words, instead of panicking, take a moment to be curious and ask, What is God doing in this situation? For me, learning to be in the right place at the right time is gradually displacing a sense of busyness and restlessness.
Over to you
For me, “right place, right time” is the sweet spot that is the culmination of my beliefs about the supernatural world. It lies at the intersection of human freedom, serving other people, and “doing all to the glory of God.” There’s nothing “hyper-spiritual” about it, and I’ve found over the years that continuing to seek out the right place at the right time through a prayer connection with God results in God putting me into situations that give Him an opportunity to heal the blind spots in my soul. It’s fast becoming the foundation cornerstone of my lifestyle.
There is, of course, more to an authentic spirituality than we can cover in this short article, and “right place, right time” is certainly not the end of the spiritual journey. But it’s a practice that is unique, is authentic, brings peace, and is highly satisfying.
* Bible verses marked TLB are from The Living Bible copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Indiana
Jotham Kingston is a high-school teacher who lives with his family near Kempsey, on Australia’s east coast.