WHAT IS VITALIZED SPIRITUALITY?
Growing up, I heard about an ancestral family member accepting the Sabbath and becoming one of the early Seventh-day Adventists in Europe. I never heard of any struggle over the Sabbath, but I did learn about his struggle with tithing. He was a farmer, and there were few funds left at the end of the month, let alone 10 percent to pay tithe. The other farmers resisted, convinced that adopting such a practice would bring financial disaster. He responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, however, joined the church, began paying his tithe, and saw the windows of heaven open wide for him. Where previously he had been able to cut the grass in the fields used to feed his cows twice, with God’s blessings he was able to cut the same fields three times. This enabled him to not only pay his tithe, but also to increase the size of his herd. As a result, he became one of the most successful farmers in the region. His story always encouraged me. But part of the story was sobering: he became less faithful in paying tithe as he became more prosperous, and eventually the miracle of God diminished to where he was able to cut his fields only twice each summer instead of three times. Fortunately, he recognized his error and became faithful again, but the initial heaven-sent blessings never returned in quite the same way.
I share this story to highlight the dynamic nature of stewardship, seen in God’s willingness and ability to bring the promised blessings of Malachi 3:10 to His children in response to their faithfulness—if it is for their good and His glory. It also reminds us that blessings can be withdrawn. Finally, it exemplifies the all-too-common tendency for giving to drop off as financial resources accumulate. Ellen White states, “If riches increase, men, even those professing godliness, set their hearts upon them; and the more they have, the less they give to the treasury of the Lord. Thus riches make men selfish, and hoarding feeds covetousness; and these evils strengthen by activ exercise.”1
In this article, the first of a series of articles on spirituality and liberality, I will define spirituality in practical terms, consider what constitutes vitalized2 spirituality, provide brief thoughts on the relationship between vitalized spirituality and liberality, and make suggestions on helping members grow in spirituality and liberality.
My extensive research on the topic of practical spirituality led me to prepare for this article by focusing on spirituality and liberality in the Bible and the writings of Ellen White, especially where the themes overlap. My studies confirm that spirituality plays a foundational role in promoting liberality. What I did not realize was the great degree to which liberality plays an underappreciated role in fostering spirituality. Put another way, spirituality promotes liberality; ongoing liberality maintains spirituality. Without ongoing liberality, spiritualitydeclines and lethargy often sets in.
What Is Spirituality?
In the early centuries, spirituality referred to the spiritual experience of Christian believers, with particular reference to the presence and activity of the Spirit.3 Over the centuries, however, the meaning of the word broadened to include mystical forms of spirituality, and later, secular forms.4 Three primary forms of spirituality are recognized today: biblical spirituality (the form Ellen White wrote about), mystical spirituality (which is highly subjective and looks to discover God in the interior depths of the self)5; and secular spirituality (a spirituality that is nonbiblical and based on nature and culture).6
Because the word “spirituality” is used for all three categories, some Seventh-day Adventists avoid using it. In Ellen White’s writings, however, the word “spirituality” is an instructive, frequently used word—we find about 1,500 hits for it when searching the E. G. White writings database (including duplicates)—and accordingly warrants our attention.
From the divine side, biblical spirituality refers to the Bible-based religious experience of the believer, with particular reference to the animating presence and activity of God in the person’s life through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit—hence spirituality. References to the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity are found throughout the Scriptures, though sometimes in veiled language, particularly in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Christ spoke of the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in no uncertain terms. Paul also made numerous references to the Spirit-directed and empowered life.7
From the human side, biblical spirituality refers to the many factors that affect the believer’s desire and ability to have a relationship with God, including but not limited to knowledge—study of the Bible, Spirit of Prophecy, and other sources of information; devotions—prayer, devotional reading of the Bible, and communion with God; relationships—past and present relationships; sensory information—our senses are constantly bombarded with information that affects our spiritual perceptions and ability to have a relationship with God; environmental—the things going on around us deeply impact our spiritual inclinations; desires—both positive and negative; distractions—cares of life and other time- and emotion-consuming factors; liberality—little recognized, but a strong factor just the same; and physical health—diet, amount of sleep, etc.
What Is Vitalized Spirituality?
Ellen White used additional words such as “vitalized” and “vivify” in connection with the word “spirituality.” Defined as “to give life” in Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, the word “vitalize” suggests an external lifeand experience-changing power that enlivens one’s spiritual condition, akin to the life that is enabled as a result of the sap flowing from the vine into the branch. Including some duplicates, “vitalized” appears more than 200 times in Ellen White’s writings. The same dictionary defines “vivify” as “to endue with life; to animate; to make to be living.” Among the factors that vitalize one’s relationship with God, we especially find the work of the Holy Spirit—believers are animated and vitalized by the Holy Spirit but also the study of the Scriptures, communion with God, the knowledge of last-day truth, the grace of Christ, heavenly principles, Christ’s divine nature, divine power, and blessings derived in the course of witnessing.
The Spirit-empowered and infused vitalized experience can be strengthened or weakened. When looking at the word “spirituality” in the writings of Ellen White, you will notice that she is frequently admonishing for or against behaviors that impact spirituality. There is, accordingly, a continuum of meaning that goes from vitalized spirituality on the positive side, to backslidden and even spiritually dead on the other side. Notice the verbs used in the following partial lists: on a positive note, she speaks of factors that “advance,” “cultivate,” “elevate,” “grow,” “increase,” “maintain,” and “preserve” spirituality. On a negative note, she speaks of factors that “curse,” “deaden,” “destroy,” “dwarf,” “hinder,” “injure,” “kill,” “lose,” “rob,” “ruin,” “sap,” and “weaken” spirituality. Her thinking in this regard is consistent with other writers of her era, such as J. C. Ryle in his highly regarded volume Holiness, George Müller in his Narratives, and Hudson Taylor in referring to the work of God in China. What is less obvious is the impact these vitalizing factors have on overall spirituality. We tend to focus on the more significant factors—surrender, justification, sanctification, etc. —but it becomes apparent in studying our topic that the lesser factors—liberality, reading habits, health, etc. —play a significant, though less recognized, role.
Validation of biblically sound spirituality comes as it is evaluated on the basis of the Scriptures and other divinely inspired sources of information: God’s leading in the past, coherence with last-day truth, the practical fruit, Holy Spirit-given impressions, and reason.
Because authentic spirituality is progressive and complementary, biblical spirituality necessarily looks at the past with an awareness that truth is provided on a progressive basis and therefore can result in “present truth” for one era being more complete than the “present truth” of an earlier era. It is complementary because though truth is progressive, it buildson prior truth.
What About Vitalized Spirituality and Liberality?
In looking briefly at the interplay of covetousness and liberality, the first great fact is God’s promise of blessings if we are faithful in our giving: Malachi 3:10 (NKJV) says, “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and tr y Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.'" This is a fact, and my family member in the 1800s and countless others have discovered God’s faithfulness when they have faithfully returned God’s portion.
The second great fact is the danger of loving money! In 1 Timothy 6:10, Paul declared that the “love of money is the root of all evil.” He went on to say that it is an evil that is both coveted and that brings piercing sorrows. In Luke 12:15, Jesus, warning against the danger of covetousness and the vulnerability to deeming material goods as life’s great purpose, stated, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Jesus illustrated His concern by relating the story of the rich man whose crops had yielded beyond his personal ability to store and use. The rich man decided to tear down his old barns and build new ones to store his crops and his goods, stating with smug self-satisfaction, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” To those listening to what sounded like a recital of good fortune and apparent abundant blessings from God, Jesus warned that the man’s soul was going to be required that night and that all his supposed gain would be lost to others. He concluded that those who lay up treasure for themselves “are not rich towards God” (Luke 12:21). Commenting on this, Ellen White stated, “When the selfish love of the world enters the heart, spirituality dies.”8 She also spoke of covetousness being one of the most common and popular spirituality-paralyzing sins of the last days.9 She even said that as “riches increase, men, even those professing godliness, set their hearts upon them; and the more they have the less they give.”
The antithesis of—and antidote to—covetousness is iberality. The wise man said, “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself” (Prov. 11:24, 25, KJV). Ellen White made the following comment in this regard: Constant, self-denying benevolence is God’s remedy for the cankering sins of selfishness and covetousness. God has arranged systematic benevolence to sustain His cause and relieve the necessities of the suffering and needy. He has ordained that giving should become a habit, that it may counteract the dangerous and deceitful sin of covetousness. Continual giving starves covetousness to death.”10
I trust you see how the love of money easily turns into covetousness, which in turn decimates spirituality. I hope you also noticed God’s plan to overcome covetousness: liberality! And how liberality starves covetousness. Now notice a story that shows how God blesses when previous failure is overturned with liberality.
Was This God?
Years ago, in the course of revival meetings on a South Pacific island, my wife and I stayed at a home situated on the ocean, literally at the edge of the water. Our room was no more than 25 yards away from where the waves would crash, and meals were often eaten in an area where we could have spit watermelon seeds into the water. Needless to say, it was an amazing place to stay, and we rejoiced and praised God for the kindness extended to us through the couple who owned the home. To all appearances, God was greatly blessing their businesses and personal lives, and we were enjoying unanticipated blessings. Our host owned an autobody shop; our hostess engaged in a small retail business. There was also a church across the street from their home.
It was toward the end of our stay with them that we heard the details of their story. He spoke of 16 years of frustration with his autobody business and fishing. Because God wasn’t at the center of his life, everything he tried failed.
When starting the business, he had put God first, faithfully paid his tithe, and saw abundant blessings from God. But when he began making more money and therefore having to pay more tithe, he resisted. He did not feel the pastors were worthy of so much of his money, so he stopped giving. The result was a diminishing of blessings on the part of God that continued for 16 years.
He was married to a godly wife, however, and she kept encouraging him to trust God, to put God back into the center of his life and start going to church again. His ongoing response was “No!” He had struggled for many years; God wasn’t helping him. Why bother going to church? Others encouraged him as well, and eventually, to please a friend, he attended meetings and was soon baptized with 111 other people.
Eventually, he started a new walk with God, recommitted to making God first in His life, and became faithful with his tithe. Our host told God how his life had hit rock bottom, and that he was badly in debt. He asked God for help, and placed all His challenges into God’s hands.
Two days later the couple received a notice from their bank, demanding that the debt be paid in three days or they would face forfeiture of their beautiful ocean-side property. They responded with prayer and fasting.
The first day our host sought help from relatives, but they were not interested in helping him. The next day God brought the needed funds through an amazing miracle that greatly encouraged His faith. A man driving by had a blowout right in front of our host’s autobody shop. While making the repair, it was noticed that the obviously new tube had erupted without any seeming tire or road hazard damage. While waiting for the repair, the customer noticed an unrepaired vehicle that was identical to a vehicle he had unsuccessfully tried to buy earlier in the day. Dejected at not being able to buy that vehicle, he had decided to drive around the island to lift his spirits. Noticing that the vehicle was identical, he asked to buy it. Our host deferred, explaining that the car would be much more valuable after it was repaired and that he planned to repair it first. The customer was insistent, so our host tried to dissuade the customer by offering to sell the vehicle for four times the normal price of the vehicle repaired. The man surprisingly agreed, went out to his vehicle for the cash—he still had the money in hand for the vehicle he had tried to buy earlier— and returned and paid for the vehicle. While counting out the money the customer asked, “Was this God?”
These miraculously acquired funds met the bank’s demands in full. Needless to say, there was rejoicing in that family. Soon the business was prospering again; the blessings were returning. In gratitude, they contributed to the building of a church across the street from their home as a very public “Thank you” for what God had done.
Lack of paying tithe—a symptom of covetousness— had brought disaster; but returning to God and liberality in paying tithe—a symptom of Holy Spirit-animated, vitalized benevolence—had once again opened the windows of heaven, and their situation was turned around. As a result, they were enjoying abundant blessings from God.
I believe many members and member-owned businesse will be blessed and prosper as they faithfully return God’s tithe, and if necessary, restore the tithe that should have been paid in the past.
1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 548.
2 “Vitalized” spirituality refers to a Spirit-empowered and infused spirituality. I explain more later in the article.
3 John Barton, “The Old Testament,” Study of Spirituality, ed. Chesylyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, Edward Yarnold, SJ , (New York, Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 48.
4 There is little agreement on a definition of spirituality, and little overlap between definitions. Accordingly, discussions of spirituality vary greatly between authors. In this article I am discussing practical biblical spirituality as revealed in the Scriptures and the writings of Ellen White.
5 Donald G. Bloesch, Spirituality Old & New (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2007), p. 37.
6 Bloesch, p. 18.
7 In Romans, for example, the following verses speak to the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit: Rom. 5:5; 8:1, 4, 5, 9, 10, 13, 14,16, 23, 26; 9:1; 14:17; 15:13,16,19, 30.
8 Ellen G. White, The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 3, p. 284.
9 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 547.
10 Ibid., p. 548.