Path to Spiritual Health

Nothing can be more exciting than jumping in the car and taking off for a trip.  Even planning for the trip can be exciting as you map out where you want to go.  Maybe you have a bucket list destination or maybe it is time to visit family or maybe you just want to follow the wandering roads that crisscross the country.  

A wooden table

Description automatically generatedGrowing up on the farm, road trips were far and few between.  I remember four, to be honest:  two to Minnesota, one to Colorado, and one to Albuquerque by way of Colorado.  And making those trips meant following a map.  I am not sure when I became fascinated with maps but check out the map pockets in our vehicles or this map basket and you will see I still depend on them. 

Now we have the maps on our phones and even built into the dash of our cars, but I want a paper map to hold in my hands.  I need to see the big picture.  I want to see the point on the map to which we are heading, and I want to see all the ways to get there.  The map puts me into an interactive relationship with the final destination. 

Our faith journey needs to be mapped out, too.  We need the Bible, we need advice, we need worship, and we need prayer to stay in close relationship with God.  Please join me in a prayer:

Open our minds, Lord, so we may learn to walk in relationship with you by walking with one another.  –Amen

Everybody has lots of advice when they discover you are planning a trip:  Go see this.  Make sure you do that.  Don’t forget to eat at that restaurant.  Take this road for spectacular views.  The advice is abundant and difficult to ignore.  The same thing happens along our spiritual journey.

Spiritual journeys are not always well planned; sometimes they seem to just happen.  Life comes at us and we just go with the flow.  Such unplanned journeys do not always go smoothly and may end up in disasters; spiritual journeys that follow a road map to God’s kingdom equip us with the skills to manage the wrong turns and roadblocks. 

The first map for our spiritual journey was provided by word of mouth and is available to us through scripture, our Bibles.  Today we can find those same words in a wide range of formats.  We can even download an app on our phone, or we can click on a website on our laptops.  The words are easy to find, but sadly, we do not even think about reading them.

Why is it so hard for us to acknowledge that we need to read scripture?  Just like our own children, we can be told over and over what to do or how to do something, but we ignore the advice our parents gave us and just drive on.  Jesus read scripture.  He knew it so well that when his family left Jerusalem after Jerusalem after Passover, he remained at the temple talking to the other learned scholars:

45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

As much as I like using road maps when we are on a journey, I admit that reading scripture was not always a daily practice for me.  Stepping into the pulpit came with the unwritten expectation that I knew the scripture.  I knew it casually, not formally; therefore, as I began preparing sermons or taking the courses, I began reading more formally.

When my spiritual journey took another turn and was advised to take a year off to rest, I suddenly found myself at a loss.  I had no structure during those first few months and I felt lost.  I still followed my daily devotional practice, but the practice of reading lectionary and studying the scripture to prepare for Sunday service was gone.  I was missing something and just could not find the direction I needed.

Then as the year closed, I heard God’s nudge.  I do not have a formal bucket list, but I always wanted to read the Bible cover to cover in one year.  I almost felt a sense of guilt that I had never done that even though I had read the lectionary for several years.  (The lectionary is designed to read through the Bible every three years.) Starting with Genesis and reading straight through Revelations was not a route I had taken.  But during the transition from 2018 to 2019, I was presented with the possibility.

A picture containing text, table

Description automatically generatedI picked up the one-page list of readings designed to read the entire Bible in one year. I looked it over and was surprised to find that it paired an Old Testament reading with a New Testament reading.  I needed that map in order to check off one goal from my bucket list.

Reading scripture is a practice that is like following a road map. There are so many options today to make reading scripture easy to add into one’s daily schedule.  There are devotionals like Upper Room, Guideposts, or The Daily Word which include scripture references to read.  One can even subscribe to a devotional that is delivered to your email’s inbox daily.  

Of course, you can turn to your favorite translation of the Bible itself and simply pick it up and read a few verses or a few chapters.  I used to randomly open the Bible and just read a bit–a practice sometimes called Bible Roulette.  No real plan, just something said to pick it up and read (another God nudge). 

A close up of a book shelf filled with books

Description automatically generatedNow I have quite a selection of Bibles that I turn to for deeper insight. They include study Bibles, different translations, and one is even a chronological Bible.  The Bible is our road map for living faithful lives.  We must include them along the path to spiritual health.

No trip planning is complete without consulting others (i.e. small groups).  Even if you decide to make a trip completely on your own, it is wise to ask others for suggestions.  Where did they go?  What roads did they take?  Which stops should be included?  Do you know good places to stay and to eat?  

If the journey includes others, you talk among yourselves to lay out a plan.  Your itinerary includes choices for all those going along.  Decisions are made that involve give and take, compromise, putting others’ wishes ahead of your own.  The journey is mapped out carefully to meet the wishes of all involved often providing unexpected experiences and memories.

The spiritual journey is no different.  We do not travel the path alone, we travel together.  Jesus selected twelve disciples to join him along his journey.  Certainly, he was there to teach them, but he laid out the path for their spiritual health and that model continues to serve us today.  We do not take our journey alone, and when we come to a roadblock or hit a chughole, we need others.

For some, the family is the small group that supports each other along the spiritual journey–going to church together, saying grace at meals, and joining in mission together.  For some, the small group may be neighbors who watch after each other–greeting each other over the fence, walking their dogs together, or picking up the mail when needed.   For some, working partners become a small group that help each other through challenges–they gather in the workers’ lounge, go to lunch together, and sometimes include each other’s family in special events.

Yet, in today’s society, these traditional groups are ever shifting.  Families do not necessarily live in close proximity or attend the same church.  Neighbors often do not know each other’s names especially in mobile communities like ours near a military base as well as a university.  Today, thriving churches serve as the hub for small groups who meet together and grow in spiritual health. 

Being in a small group of fellow believers is a practice that leads to 20/20 spiritual health.  Jesus modeled the importance of being in relationship with other believers.  It is where we learn.  It is where we are held accountable for our decisions.  It is where we find support for the wrong turns, the potholes, and the roadblocks in our lives.  The small group is where we grow and enrich our spiritual health.

The path to spiritual health takes us to the church.  We read scripture, we join in small groups, and we meet one another at worship each Sunday.  Think a bit about Jesus’ ministry.  The Jewish faithful were expected to participate in Sabbath practices each week.  The rules were clearly laid out–and followed.  The spiritual journey was defined, and all were kept to that path.  To not follow the law lead to negative consequences, even banning from the community.  

Moses assembled all the congregation of the Israelites and said to them: These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do:  Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire in all your dwellings on the sabbath day.  –Exodus 35:1-4 (NRSV)

Jesus changed the rules.  Love one another.  Pure and simple, even when judging one another use love as the filter which leads to forgiveness.  Jesus’ message spread through the region by word of mouth.  Those that heard, joined the crowds sitting and listening to his sermons.  They were in worship with one another.  The path to spiritual health was paved by the message of loving one another.

Joining with one another in worship strengthens us for the week in a world filled with challenges.  When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment, we find his answer in Matthew 22:37-38: 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (NRSV)

Worship is the practice of publicly loving God.  Certainly, it is easy to stay home when the weather is bad, or we feel exhausted from a stressful work week, or family decides to visit, or . . . the list of excuses multiplies.  Maintaining our spiritual health needs to include attending worship.

Worship is where we join together in fellowship.  We sing, we pray, and we learn–it is a rest stop each week along our journey.  No one requires us to attend; no one is going to punish us for not being in church on Sunday morning.  But God knows whether we are there or not.  No journey can be enjoyed if we fail to take care of our health–spiritual and physical.

Attending worship each week is a practice that assures us that our spiritual health is strong enough for the journey we are on.  Preparing for a journey, one checks the fluids, the tire pressure, and other details before loading the car and climbing in.  Attending worship is that same type of preparation for our spiritual journey.

Today, you are here worshipping God and preparing for the week’s journey ahead.  The path to spiritual health takes effort on our part, but the work we do provides us the successful journey to reach God’s kingdom.  

One more essential in the path to spiritual health is prayer.  Prayer is our personal conversation with God.  As we get into our vehicles and begin our journeys, a simple thought prayer may be “God, protect us and guide us.”  God is with us always and he hears our words whether uttered aloud or simply formed in our minds.

The thoughts we form while reading scripture is a conversation or prayer with God.  The discussions we have in our small groups are heard, too.  The table graces we speak, the bedtime prayers we say our children, the final thoughts that we share as we fall to sleep, the words of joy as we watch a morning sunrise or an evening sunset. 

Prayer is the glue that pulls all our pieces together into a relationship with God.  We find ourselves struggling through a day and we call out to God for help.  Our bodies ache and are racked by fever, and we plead with God for healing.   Good news such as the birth of a child or grandchild arrives, and we thank God for the gift of life.  We hear the songs of the spring robins and thrill with God’s gift of the new season.

The path to spiritual health is not always easy, but if we discipline ourselves to follow the maps God has given us, the journey is amazing.  We must read scripture, we must be in relationship with one another, we must join together in worship, and we must pray.

Without these, the path to spiritual health becomes unclear.  We falter and take wrong turns.  Thankfully, God remains steadfast even handing us the very tool to use when lost, The Lord’s Prayer.  As we close our morning together, let us join in the timeless words Jesus taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven,

     hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done

      on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

     as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, 

     but deliver us from evil.

     for thine is the kingdom, the power,  

   and the glory forever.        –Amen

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