A friend has recently recommended a book to me that has since transformed and enriched my viewpoint on worshipping God, and I would like to impart some of the edifying lessons I’ve learned to you. The book, written by Gary Thomas, is brilliantly titled Sacred Pathways. Thomas explains that our “sacred pathways” are simply ways in which we relate to God as unique individuals. They are also oftentimes called “spiritual pathways” or “spiritual temperaments,” all of which point to the same conclusion— (I will quote from the author because he did an amazing job articulating this) “God wants to know the real you, not a caricature of what somebody else wants you to be. He created you with a certain personality and a certain spiritual temperament. God wants your worship, according to the way He made you” (16).
Now, why should all of this be of interest to you? What does this personality-quiz-like article have to do with your life? I am telling you these things because developing a healthier understanding of different spiritual temperaments will:
1) Allow you to understand and accept the amazing person He has made you to be
2) Give you a deeper and more accepting perspective of the people you disciple
3) Keep you from judging other theologies/churches/worshippers because they were created to worship differently than you.
Having walked with Christ for a few years now, one poignant thing I’ve seen rampant in the Church is the lack of acceptance of different worship styles. A Charismatic Christian might look at a liturgical worship service and deem it “lifeless” or “lacking the movement of the Holy Spirit.” A Reformed Christian might look at a Charismatic worship service and think that it is unacceptably emotional and lacks organic mental stimulation. Instead of taking a step back and saying, “This isn’t the way I was made to worship God,” many times, we think, “This isn’t the way anyone was made to worship God.” Hence, further division in the Church. If only we could acknowledge and appreciate the uniqueness of our brothers and sisters, such bitter divisions would be kept to a minimum.
This book teaches us to appreciate the beautiful plethora of personalities that God has created for His pleasure and enjoyment. Thomas uses the analogy of a father and his two different daughters to explain this phenomenon. One daughter might be outgoing and outspoken, while the other is shy and withdrawn. Both express their love for Dad in different ways, and their dad enjoys all of their unique expressions of affection. It would absolutely break his heart to see the shy daughter try to be more outspoken because she thinks that being more like her sister will make him love her more. He would be disheartened! He loves her just the same as the other, and it makes him happy when she expresses her love for him in her own beautiful, gentle ways. The same goes for our heavenly Father. We are his beloved children! He desires us to worship Him according to the unique ways that fit our own design. It would break His heart to see us criticizing each other for not expressing our love for Him in an identical, uniformed way.
The 9 Sacred Pathways:
· The Naturalist – You feel the closest to God when you spend time outdoors. The thought of having devotion beside a brook or in a luscious, green park appeals to you the most. You often find it moving to see God’s beauty in His creations. Spending time worshipping Him outdoors sounds like a much better plan to you than learning new theologies or participating in formal religious services.
· The Sensate – You feel the closest to God when a church service allows you to engage most or all of your senses. You love to see His majesty reflected in the beauty of the lighting or architecture. You would appreciate a church service that uses incense to get people into a prayerful mindset. You are vested in the beauty of worship—anything from gorgeous paintings to lighting to sound to architecture would move you deeply.
· The Traditionalist – You feel the closest to God worshipping Him through rituals and symbols. Traditions and rituals in your church are very appealing and important to you. You enjoy establishing a daily ritual of prayer. Participating in a formal liturgical service would bring you peace and would stir you deeply. You find comfort in showing reverence to God through rituals, symbols, and other traditional formalities because you believe that doing so would show Him the utmost respect that He rightfully deserves.
· The Ascetic – You feel the closest to God when you are alone. Worshipping God in a group setting isn’t bad, but you would prefer having intimate alone time with Him. Taking a short retreat by yourself at a nearby monastery to fast and pray sounds edifying and appealing to you. You would love to spend two hours or so in a simple room meditating on His word. Being alone with God refreshes you and gives you the life, encouragement, and joy that you need to be spiritually quenched.
· The Activist – You feel the closest to God when you are working alongside Him in standing up against an injustice (whether that means petitioning against abortion, encouraging people to vote, or even urging the world to become more environmentally friendly). You find it exhilarating to confront the evils that you see in the world. The thought of supprting a humanitarian nonprofit organization appeals to you. You experience the power of God the most when you are in the midst of battle or confrontation.
· The Caregiver – You feel closest to God when you are helping the poor, the needy, the sick, or the oppressed. It has always bothered you that people who often claim the name of Jesus never actually take the time to feed or clothe those who are in need. You experience God’s power at work when you counsel a friend who is going through a struggle. You would rather go feed the hungry than spend a weekend alone meditating or contemplating in a room.
· The Enthusiast – You feel the closest to God when you get to celebrate His love and shout out His awesome name. Celebrating your new identity in Him and the unshakable joy that He has given you makes you feel like you truly are a new creation. You believe that we should be excited about worshipping God, not treating church like it’s a lifeless, formal ritual. You would love to worship through dance or through making joyful noise. You always expect God to work in mysterious yet mighty ways.
· The Contemplative – You feel closest to God when you engage in acts of devotion to Him in solitude. Contemplatives are similar to Ascetics, but are less focused on simplicity and more focused on building intimacy with God through prayer and quality time with Him. If you are a Contemplative, you often feel like He is your closest friend after you spend your devotional time with Him. The most discouraging times in your faith are when you can no longer “feel” His presence.
· The Intellectual – You feel closest to God when you get to learn something new about Him that you didn’t quite understand before. You get the fullest worship experience out of well-researched sermons that stimulate your mind. You get frustrated when services are overwhelmingly emotional or spiritual. You enjoy absorbing new concepts and truths. Teaching these new truths also help you feel closer to Him because you get to participate in the enlightenment of your peers.
Of course, there are doctrinal boundaries that you should not cross when you express yourself during worship, like the accidental idolatry of nature, statues, and/or having an extreme imbalance of pathos and logos. I appreciate that the book also points out that there are vices to every one of the nine sacred pathways. It is crucial that you do not neglect the temptations of your strongest sacred pathways—all of which are carefully listed in the text. Remember that a wise person would seek to avoid all extremes.
I also believe that any Christian who is mature in his or her faith should aim to explore all the different sacred pathways besides his or her own—not to earn God’s love or favor, but to gain a better understanding of other worship practices so you can lessen your prejudice towards them. It would also be such an enriching way for you to deepen your worship experience. I never knew that there were so many beautiful dimensions to Christianity until I actually made the effort to explore my faith in depth! For this next week, I challenge you to discover your top 3 sacred pathways, and either combine them with each other or explore a pathway that is usually out of your comfort zone. If you’re a contemplative, you can try to do your devotion in a nearby cathedral and take in the beautiful architecture as a form of worship and reverence to God. If you’re a caregiver, take a friend on a beautiful hike and acknowledge the beauty of God’s creations together. I wish you all a wonderful time worshipping our amazing and worthy Father!