I am fascinated by technology and gadgets. I am amazed by the complexity and the capability of the latest cell phones, tablets -heck, all of it! I look at all these apps and gadgets and imagine all the time saving I could achieve with these new toys ( um... I mean tools). As cool as all the features are, and even after deciphering the instructions, I soon discard the do-dad or app because I find that the thing that promised to simplify my life, inevitably complicates it.
I don't know about you, but I tend to gravitate towards a paradigm where I evaluate value based upon monetary cost or complexity. The more something costs, the more value I ascribe to it. Likewise, the more complex something is, the more faith I tend to have in it. Sadly, and quite mistakenly this also tends to be true for some with respect to spirituality.
Mistakenly because God often packs profound depth into small, simple and seemingly insignificant packages. Consider Jesus - born in a nowhere town, conceived to an unknown family and born where livestock eat. There are many examples of this throughout the scriptures, but I find the story of Naaman and his visit to Elijah (2 Kings) to be an acute, relatable example.
You may recall that Naaman was a successful guy. He had several military victories under his belt, and as such he has garnered the favor of his King. As it happened, Naaman was afflicted with leprosy, and it was suggested that he should go see the Prophet Elijah to be healed. So, Naaman and his entourage packed up and set off to see the prophet of God.
Upon his arrival, he was greeted by Elijah's assistant with instructions to wash himself in the Jordan River to be healed from his leprosy. Naaman was greatly offended. Not only did the prophet not meet him, the great hero, directly, but he also offered a very simple procedure for his cure. In his offense, Naaman stormed off.
One of Naaman's entourage ran to him and reasoned that if Elijah had tasked him with something extravagant and complicated, Naaman would have done so. So what did he to lose to do this simple thing that he might be healed?
The story tells us that Naaman did as he was instructed and washed in the Jordan, and behold, he was cured!
"Often our ego based spirituality needs some courageous, celebrity, expensive, complicated act to be somehow acceptable or effective."
This illustrates a very basic truth that is often lost on many of us in the West. Often our ego based spirituality needs some courageous, celebrity, expensive, complicated act to be somehow acceptable or effective to get what we want from God. The challenge is, in the Kingdom of God things are very seldom complicated and are available for free, and yet, it seems we overlook or are offended by such scandal. In many ways free, lack of hype and fanfare - simple is an affront to our ego.
We often miss the deeper things because they come in simple, unassuming forms; a still small voice, a mustard seed, some yeast, a child born in a stable or a failed Messiah hung on a cross. A first glance these things are unassuming and certainly unimpressive. The dysfunction of the religious-industrial complex has propagated many books, ministries, complex theologies and strategies promising everything from healing, to wealth and deliverance. Extracting billions each year from people who are looking to be set free. Some of these resources are genuinely helpful, but we need to try to separate ourselves from the idea that the more expensive and complex something is, the better it is. In truth, this cultural condition can be counter productive to that which we are truly looking for, that which will really satisfy us.
Often some of the most transformative practices are those that are simple, and quite frankly those that need to be practiced regularly. Simple is often very effective because it is accessible to most people and can be practiced simply without getting mired down in rigid rules or steps. The simpler they are to practice, the easier it is to keep these practices as a means to an end instead of an end unto itself.
The practice in and of itself is not an anchor but as means in which we anchor to that which is the true anchor. Spiritual practices can serve as a gate to connect us to that which is real and life-giving.
That being said, spiritual practices are not magic spells that necessarily provides a quick fix. While many experience a refreshing and a sense of peace during and after a particular spiritual practice, the effects of spiritual practices have a more cumulative effect. In many ways, it is the gentle renewal of our whole being. In this way we need to learn to look and think deeper, and coincidentally, healthy spiritual disciplines practiced regularly will do just that!
The degree of strenuous effort, and complexity doesn't necessarily impress God, but faithfulness does. Faithfulness being a long obedience in the same direction or as I prefer resting into the perfect, sustaining life-giving love of God. A healthy spirituality is sustainable and life-giving over the long-run -- simple but not cheap or easy. As I sign off, I am reminded that it is not by power or might but by the Spirit.