We need to remove the mystery of tracking our spiritual health and growth. For most elements in the Health and Integrity Pyramid there are readily available ways of discerning health.
For example, our physical health can be measured and tracked in many ways. Did our caloric consumption today consist of broccoli or Twinkies? Was our exercise on the treadmill or to the fridge and back? Did I lift weights or cheeseburgers?
We can track our heartbeats per minute, calories burned, weight gained or lost, body fat percentages, and waistlines. The doctor can check our vitals, run blood tests, and poke and prod our bodies to gain a fairly clear understanding of our overall health.
Similarly, our financial health can be measured. Look at the budget. Is it being met every month or are you consistently overspending on frivolous trinkets and treats?
Mental health can be gauged somewhat effectively too. Leaders are readers. What have you read lately? Are the thoughts challenging and reforming your thought process to go deeper and experience more? Are the podcasts stimulating your brain to make new connections? Have you recently visited a museum or cultural activity to deepen your understanding of a people or historical moment?
For most areas of our health, we can track our progress.
But that isn’t necessarily true of our spiritual health.
Regular time studying theology, journaling, reading Scripture, or prayer doesn’t guarantee spiritual health. Sure, it helps, but because of the pervasiveness of sin and brokenness in the world, it doesn’t mean growth is happening.
We can still religiously read our Bibles to check it off the list and be a jerk to those around us, cuss out the guy that cut us off in traffic (who cares if he can’t hear us – angry thoughts are the same as murder for Jesus), abuse our positions of power, and steal money from our businesses. I don’t need to point out the numerous examples of pastors in prestigious positions that have resigned for one reason on another, because we all know those are there as well.
Our religious devotion to the acts of spirituality doesn’t mean spiritual growth and transformation is happening.
So how do we know if our spiritual life is healthy, vital, and growing?
A few months ago, I heard one church define spiritual health as, “Not how much you know but how quickly you respond.”
My first thought: nice! What a great idea!
My second thought: ouch! I know numerous examples of times I haven’t been spiritually healthy.
It’s a provocative statement that keeps us growing. Spiritual health is not how many books we’ve read, classes we’ve taken, times we’ve read through the Bible, speeches we’ve written, or Passion songs we’ve memorized. Instead, spiritual health is how quickly we respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in our lives to address matters of sin, injustice, and brokenness in ourselves and the world.
As we trek towards holistic health, finding rhythms and disciplines in our lives is certainly an asset. We’ll cover more of that in the next installment of the series. But we also must never settle for the notion that simply engaging in religious acts serves as the purpose and function of what Jesus desires for us. Engaging in religious ceremonies as an end in itself was modeled by the Pharisees, a group that Jesus critiqued harshly.
Instead, what he wants from us is obedience. As the Spirit prompts, shapes, forms, and leads us, it should be to action. First, is the inner transformation and character shaping habits of ourselves. Second is engaging in a community and gathering of believers that process and discern together how God is calling them for mission. Finally are visible acts of justice and mercy for the sake of the world and the advancement of the Kingdom.
As a regular method of spiritual health and discernment, ask the one question test: How quickly am I responding to the prompts of the Holy Spirit?