“Never try to make your experience a principle for others, but allow God to be as creative and original with others as He is with you.” -Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
One of the opportunities/challenges of young adulthood is determining how we will connect with God personally. While we may have been exposed to a variety of teachings and models during our childhood and teenage years, ultimately each of us will have to answer the question, “How will I connect with God? I began navigating this challenge myself with a fairly strong rejection of some traditional conventions.
The idea of a “quiet time” or “daily devotions” just didn’t work for me. I wasn’t good in the morning, yet everywhere I looked I heard some teaching which conflicted with my experience.
If I didn’t spend extended time in Bible reading, a devotional guide and prayer in the morning, it seemed like I was a failure. At times, I wondered if I was the only one who felt this way.
This cookie-cutter approach to personal spirituality didn’t sit well with me. I can remember the first time I heard pastor and author John Ortberg talk about some of his unconventional perspectives in this area. I literally laughed out loud when he noted, “Jesus didn’t journal and neither do I.” (I share this because Ortberg was telling the truth and 99% of the time I type LOL, I’m not really laughing out loud. It’s nice to actually mean what I type!)
Which Pathways Reflect You?
I’m not the only person who has struggled with this narrow approach to personal spirituality in the church. In his book, Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God, Gary Thomas suggests that each of us have a unique way of relating to God, which corresponds to our wiring and personality. He outlines nine temperaments through which we connect with God. This list includes naturalists, senates, traditionalists, ascetics, activists, caregivers, enthusiasts, contemplatives and intellectuals.
Naturalists seek to leave formal, indoor spiritual environments for the divinely-constructed “cathedral” of nature. Using all five of their senses, Sensates experience God in the visible, the tangible, and palpable. Traditionalists leverage rituals, symbols, and self-discipline to connect with God. According to Thomas, “Ascetics gravitate toward solitude, austerity, simplicity, and deep commitment.” Activists express their love for God by standing against injustice, fighting for righteousness and justice.
Caregivers love God by loving others. Enthusiasts encounter God through moments of awe, excitement, wonder and worship. Contemplatives adore God through silence, privacy, and intense reflection. Intellectuals embrace the words of Jesus who called us to “love God with our minds”, challenging themselves with a cognitive pursuit of greater knowledge.
Thomas notes that most of us are a combination of two or three temperaments. While his writing has no scientific research to back it up, his simple acknowledgement of nuance and texture to this previously over-simplified conversation gave me the freedom to begin experimenting to find what worked for me.
Seeking to Understand God’s Creativity
If you resonated with what I shared so far, then I want to give you the same permission Thomas’ book and Chambers’ quote gave me.
You are uniquely made by God, so why should it be surprising your connection with Him would look unique too? Consider what we know from the Scriptures. According to Genesis 1, you were made in the image of God. According to Psalm 139, your creation included intricate detail overseen by God. And in Paul’s words found in Ephesians 2, you are God’s masterpiece, created with purpose on purpose.
If this is all true, then we should experiment with our paths, while remaining focused on the outcome of connection with God. (It probably should go without saying, but I’m not arguing for an “all paths lead to God” conversation. As a Christian pastor, I embrace Jesus’ words in John 14 about Him being the way to God. But in our personal relationship with Jesus, I think there’s more freedom than we realize).
We know this principle from developing the leaders around us. We cannot micromanage them, but we must instead allow them to determine how they want to accomplish the tasks we’ve entrusted to them. Our focus in leading and coaching them must remain on ensuring they get to the precise outcome, not take a precise path to it. This allows for innovation, creativity, and increased efficiency.
In the same way, we must focus on the outcome of connecting with God, instead of replicating someone else’s spiritual experience and connection with Jesus.
Finding Your Best Ways to Connect
The question at the heart of this article is “How Do You Connect with God” Maybe it should be put more clearly, “How Do You Best Connect with God?” If you’re struggling to answer that question, then I’d like to recommend some next steps.
First, interview people you admire and trust, people who you want to become like one day. This list could include people you both know personally or from afar. Ask them this same question – “how do you best connect with God?” Take notes on their answers. If allowed, plunge deeper with them into the details of what those habits and practices look like.
If you were to ask me, I would share about my affinity for some non-traditional spiritual disciplines. (At least “nontraditional” for someone who grew up in a traditional evangelical Christian home). I engage these disciplines on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.
I regularly walk labyrinths, as they help quiet the noise in heart, facilitate my surrender of unnecessary burdens I’m carrying, and lead me to hear Jesus speak in new and fresh ways. I practice prayer discipleship, where I pray five days a week with a friend. Our time on the phone ranges from 5 to 30 minutes and includes confession, encouragement, and prayer. I engage Lectio Divina, an ancient blending of meditation and Scripture reading which helps me remain aware of Jesus’s voice all day long. My goal is to take at least one personal retreat per year, where I disconnect from technology, read Scripture, journal and seek Jesus’s direction on a specific subject or issue. I also try to memorize at least one Scripture at all times. This may seem very traditional, but in an age where many of us don’t even know our best friends or significant other’s phone numbers, memorization seems counter-cultural.
Second, after your research is developing, begin experimenting. Almost like going to the store and trying on new clothes, put on these new practices and see what fits. There is no need to commit to do any of them permanently in this phase, but don’t allow your initial experience to determine your permanent judgment. Remember, how you answer this question about connecting with Jesus may change over time. Having a bag of options to explore will serve you well in the future.
Third, once you find a few practices which fit for you, begin practicing them consistently and patiently. From my perspective, it matters less how you connect with God and more how consistent you are in what you do. Creating space for God to speak to you and for you to share honestly in return is a subversive and counter-cultural act today. Our world woos us to greater distraction and less presence. Becoming present in a moment and experiencing Jesus will take intention and perseverance. Give yourself time for your practices to become habits and increase in effectiveness.
While I’ve experimented with a number of practices and habits, those practices which I’ve engaged with consistently are the ones which have shaped me most. I think you’d probably agree the same is true for you.
I cannot think of anything more important than exploring the habits which will shape you. In our pursuit of connecting with God through Jesus, who we are will be transformed.