A number of things have been causing me to reflect on what motivates us to be faithful followers of Jesus and spread His love and His kingdom in our world. Writing and reading about “worship” performance/spectacle in our churches was one recent thought provoker. Another was an acquaintance sharing about wanting to go forward at a charismatic worship service to receive one of those fall over blessings. They were excited about this opportunity, but it made me wonder why. What were they hoping to get from this? A new motivation to do God’s will? A sense of fulfillment and peace for themselves? A greater sense of the world’s needs?
These are not bad things to desire, but is a “slain in the Spirit” experience needed in order to go forth and be faithful in the work of building God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? Did Mother Teresa ever have a falling over blessing before committing her life to the poor of Calcutta? Did C. S. Lewis need to stand for 30 minutes singing, clapping and waving his hands around once a week in order to pen Mere Christianity? Did Paul ever need a modern praise band to motivate him to write the epistles? Must one speak in tongues or be knocked over by the Spirit before they can go reach out to their neighbor? Do followers of Jesus really need fun, or culturally hip, or self-centered emotional pep rallies or dramatic “experiences” in order to go forth and practice the great commission or care for the least of these?
If self-gratification or self-promotion is motivating our seeking after signs, wonders and emotional experiences, then we are probably wanting things outside of the Kingdom of God. If yearnings for experiences and manifestations is consuming us, we are probably flirting with idolatry. If our seeking of experiences and signs takes our focus off of imitating Jesus and loving the hurting world around us, we may be closer to the position of the Pharisees and teachers of the law referred to in St. Matthew’s gospel. Matthew 12:38-39 says,
“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
For many, years I, like the Pharisees, sought after emotional, self-validating spiritual experiences. This was particularly acute in the early years after I decided to be a Christian. I doubted my place in God’s kingdom because I did not have an emotionally dramatic, black to white born again “experience”. This bothered my self-centered nature.
Again, I want to say that seeking confirmation in God’s kingdom may not be all bad, but when it becomes a major priority, then I believe we are on dangerous ground. I still struggle with this kind of spiritual self-centeredness, but God continues to remind me that Kingdom living involves dying to all things selfish and focusing outward towards God and the needs of others.
Sometimes but not necessarily always, the selfless attitude and living brings some “experiences”. We may have moments of great joy, peace and refreshing, but even these things should not be the ends we seek. I believe God is now calling me to make the needs of others the priority rather than dramatic personal religious experiences. The kingdom will grow as we die to ourselves and our self-centeredness. Think about it. Peace and blessings.