Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Spirituality or Religion?

Today is day three of our sixteenth week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  1 Samuel 1-2; Acts 5; Psalm 120.

She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord
The common thread that I see that runs between the 1 Samuel passage and the Acts passage is this:  True believers have got to choose real spirituality over perceptions of religiosity.

In 1 Samuel, Hannah goes to pray in the house of God.  We don't have a vivid description of her demeanor when she prayed.  All we have is verse 10 (ESV), which says, "She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly."  Then verses 12-16 say:

12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”

Whatever her demeanor was, it's clear that the priest, who observe people praying every day and who set an example for them by the way that he himself prayed, did not recognize what she was doing as prayer.  He thought she was drunk.  Ephesians 5:8 hints that being filled with the Spirit can be much like the stupor of alcohol--only it's God-centered instead of drink-centered.  "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit."  To be drunk with wine is to be controlled by it.  To be controlled by the Spirit means that you are no longer controlled by social custom or decorum, but that God has His way with your soul.  Hannah didn't care that her expression of spirituality didn't mesh with the opinion of her religious leaders.  She simply followed God's Spirit as she poured her heart out to Him.

Likewise, the disciples chose to follow God rather than the commands of the sectarian authorities.  Acts 5:27-29 (ESV) says:

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men."

As you move through your life of faith, undoubtably if you are following God then you'll have religious leaders telling you that you're doing it all wrong.   Most likely, they're well-meaning, and who knows--they just might be right!  But sometimes they're not right, and that's when you've got a choice to make.  Do you choose the spirituality that God has placed in your heart, or do you obey the institutions of human religion?  When religious leaders tell you to stop doing something that God has directed you to do, I hope that you'll listen to God.  It's only when we walk in obedience that the Lord's blessings will follow.

No comments: