Loren Seibold, Senior Pastor, Worthington SDA Church, Worthington, Ohio
Summary: There is more to a strong spiritual life than a set of personal spiritual disciplines. Our relationship to God is lived in the context of a bigger world. Read about this greater spiritual world and reflect on the four circles of spiritual life.
1. The intimate circle. Ask any Christian and he will tell you he is seeking a strong and well-rounded spiritual life. What many don’t realize however, is that there is more to a strong spiritual life than a set of personal spiritual disciplines. Our relationship to God is lived in the context of a bigger world. I picture this as a target-shaped diagram I call ?The Four Circles of Your Spiritual Life.?
The first circle is the most personal one. It represents the part of your life where you have a personal relationship with God. In this circle are your needs and your prayers about them, your love for God as you respond to His love for you, temptations and your response to them, attitudes, spiritual disciplines, your communication with God and His with you. In short, it is the most private and intimate part of your spiritual life. Your beliefs make up part of that picture, as they relate to your relationship to God. Your behavior and choices go into this circle. This is what Jesus was talking about when He prayed this prayer for His followers: ?And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent? (Jn 17:3).
This part of your spiritual life is an individual experience. When you lay on your deathbed, as your heart slows and your thinking goes dark, this is the circle you inhabit alone with God. At that point, God is not going to say, ?Was your family faithful to me? Was your church faithful to me?? He will ask, ?Do you know me?? His saving relationship is with you, personally.
?God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him will not perish, but have eternal life? (Jn 3:16). That pronoun ?whosoever? is singular and individual. You have the same chance for a saving relationship with God as the man or woman next to you. But you will arrive at the final judgment on your own track and yours alone, and nothing your pastor can do or the church can do is going to make something happen to you that you haven’t taken personal responsibility for.
2. A godly family. The second circle is just a little larger than the first one. It is that part of your spiritual life that encompasses your family. I represent this sphere with the advice of St. Paul in Ephesians 5 and 6. A godly family, says Paul, is one in which wives and husbands love one another, in which children obey their parents, and their parents don’t diminish and belittle them to the point of anger. The first verse in the passage summarizes the right attitude: ?Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.? The members of a Christian family should be, as Christ was, humble and willing to defer to one another, and of course that happens best among people who have a personal connection with God.
We want our children to know God, and we try to help them to. We want our marriages to reflect the Lord’s love. Yet this circle differs from the first. No matter what you do, you can only lend your influence to your family. Your children are going to have to face God on their own, just as you do.
Sadly, this is too frequently a troubled circle of our lives. As years pass, as this old world becomes more troubled, so do our families. Our families, too, need a strengthening context.
3. Together as congregation. That’s the reason for the third circle: our life together in a congregation. Jesus told His disciples (Jn 13:35) ?By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.? A church is not a church just because we have doctrines in common, but because the people in the church have learned to love one another. And I’ll go so far as to say that churches that are consumed by politics and backbiting and infighting don’t have the right to bear the title of ?church.?
This circle actually has two levels. Part of our energy is directed to nurturing those already in the church, those who are part of us and whom we love. The other part of this circle is demonstrated when we stand at the door and beckon others to come in—or when we go out and get them and walk them in beside us. Remember this description of the church in Acts, chapter 2: ?And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.? What can we do to add to our number day by day those who are being saved?
4. A Christian in the world. This leads naturally to the final circle of your spiritual life: your being a Christian in the world. Remember some of Jesus’ final instruction before He returned to heaven: ?You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth? (Ac 1:8).
Please notice, He didn’t ask, ?Would you be so kind as to take the assignment to be my witnesses?? There was no choice. If they said something about Him, they witnessed of Him; if they said nothing, that was a witness too. Their actions, whether directly religious or not, were a witness of Him. Whatever the world thought of them, it thought of Him. And whatever it thought of Him, it thought of His church.
Ironically, we who work for the church may be the ones who have the least exposure to the world outside of it. Most laypeople know more people outside their church than the pastor does. Those you relate to your friends and relatives and neighbors—those you know from clubs and organizations—on all of these people you, as a Christian and a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, have some influence for good or ill.
You can choose (and I hope you do) to speak openly of your faith, to tell people that you are a Seventh-day Adventist Christian and be proud of it. I’ve come to realize, however, that some people are a little ashamed of their faith, as though it’s something you do privately, and other people don’t need to know the details. It was never intended to be that. Ideally, your church should be as natural to talk about and be proud of as your favorite football team, and you ought to feel as comfortable inviting someone to church as you would to a game.
But whether you witness openly or not, you do witness. Who you are, what you do, how you act, how you speak, how you do business—that’s your witness. That being the case, I ask with Peter, ?What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?? (2P 3:11)
I had a church member once who managed to ?vaccinate? an entire small town against the church. He went around witnessing and at the same time ripping people off, not paying bills, and coming on to every woman he met. It was a remarkably effective inoculation technique. When we went ingathering, people said, ?If you would have that guy for a member, I won’t have anything to do with you.? I’ve had more positive examples since, praise God—people who show up at church and say, ?We wanted to come by and worship with you because we have so much admiration for one of your church members.?
Inside out and outside in. So one way or another, God’s reputation is on the line with each of us, and as it turns out, so is our salvation. For Jesus said, ?Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven? (Mt 10:32).
All of us live in each of these circles. They’re nested within one another. Influence, it turns out, flows both ways: from the center out, as well as from the outside in. I heard recently of a medical technique where doctors implant the medicine you need in a tiny capsule inside your skin, and little by little it radiates out into your whole body, allowing healing to occur. So it is with Christ. You draw near to Jesus, He infuses you with spiritual power, and that radiates outward to your family, to your church, and to your world.
It flows the other way too. Strong influences for good in the world around us protect and strengthen our relationship with God. The right kind of friends nurtures your interest in church. A good church exerts a strong influence on the happiness of the family that attends it. A family that loves God exerts a strong hold on each individual within it—even those with spiritual struggles.
To have a strong hold on God, you must nurture your heart relationship with Him; but you must also place yourself in a context (such as regular attendance at church, nurtured by positive Christian friendships) that will strengthen you. What is your influence in all of the circles of your spiritual life?