Do you ever feel guilty because the traditional quiet time just doesn’t cut it for you? Are you increasingly frustrated by a “one size fits all spirituality” that most definitely does not fit you? Don’t despair; scripture and the history of Christian tradition reveal a remarkable diversity of personal devotional styles that allow us to connect with God.
This week we’re celebrating a new release of Sacred Pathways: Nine Ways to Connect with God. It has a new cover and a new section that explores the pathways in light of the increasing focus on the Enneagram. This post will briefly summarize the nine spiritual pathways as you seek to learn to love God according to the way He designed you.
9 Ways to Connect With God
1. The Naturalist
Naturalists are those believers whose hearts best soar toward God when they get outside and are surrounded by all that He has made. There’s something about being surrounded by God’s creation, the beauty of nature, that bends them toward worship and adoration. Trying to pray inside a room, with their heads bowed and eyes closed, would be one of the least effective prayer styles for them.
In Psalm 19:1, David extols nature’s ability to awaken our cold hearts to God’s warm presence: “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork.” The apostle Paul spoke of a similar reality in Romans 1:20 when he wrote, “For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” Both writers testify to the reality experienced by naturalists—being out of doors does something to awaken our hearts to God.
Most of God’s appearances in Scripture occurred in the out of doors—Hagar in the desert, Jacob beside a river, and Moses on a mountain. In fact, the very picture of heaven on earth was the Garden of Eden—not a cathedral! Not a Starbucks. And certainly not a shopping mall. Adam and Eve enjoyed a close walk with God in a garden.
If you find that you can’t sit still at your desk without falling asleep; or that you’re bored by trying to comb through devotional books while lying on your bed, consider getting outside and using nature to awaken your heart.
2. The Sensate
The best avenues for some believers to commune with God are the five senses: taste, touch, hearing, seeing, and even smelling. Just as naturalists are spiritually awakened while walking through a forest, so sensates become spiritually attuned when their senses are brought into play. Majestic music, symbolic architecture, outstanding art, or the sensory experience of communion are dear friends and powerful spiritual aids.
We’re not angels or ethereal beings, floating around in the air. God created us with bodies, and it shouldn’t surprise us that He can use those bodies to awaken our souls to His presence. This is especially true for those believers we can call “sensates.”
The books of Ezekiel and Revelation reveal a God who comes in a very sense-oriented way: there are loud sounds, flashing lights, even sweet tastes. Eastern Orthodox worship, with its bright colors, intense smells, and frequent touching (even occasional kissing!) recognizes the importance of bringing our senses into play.
3. The Traditionalist
For traditionalists, religion is not a dirty word—it is an outgrowth of their relationship with God. These believers appreciate the role of ritual, which builds on the power of reinforced behavior. There is something profound to them in worshipping God according to set patterns—their own, or history’s. They may organize their life around scheduled times of prayer and may even choose to carefully observe the Christian calendar, aligning themselves with centuries of faith. According to Acts, both Peter and John had set times for prayer. And Paul followed the custom of praying by the riverside on the Sabbath.
In addition to establishing rituals, traditionalists often make good use of Christian symbols. We tend to quickly forget even convicting insights and soul-searing truth. Carefully chosen symbols help to remind us of those truths we want to live by.
Routine can be boring to some and spiritually soporific for others, but for the traditionalist, familiar patterns of worship can function like a high-powered battery ushering them into a delightful sense of God’s presence.
4. The Ascetic
When you think of an ascetic, think of a monk or nun. Ascetics meet God internally—they don’t want the distractions of a museum or a group meeting, as they prefer to shut out the world and meet God in solitude and austerity. For them, the best environment for personal worship is silence, without any noisy or colorful stimulants.
Accordingly, ascetics usually need to get alone on a regular basis. They may prefer solitary retreats, or at least a quiet place with a rather orderly environment. They are often advocates of all night prayer vigils and many of the classical disciplines, such as fasting and meditation.