Not long after I started working as a campus pastor, a student walked into my office, sat down and said, "I want to grow deeper in my faith, but I don't know how. Can you help me?"
It's a common question, perhaps one that you've asked before. In my experience very few followers of Jesus are truly apathetic when it comes to their spiritual life. Most of us just don't know where to start.
I wish I could tell you that I had some life-changing advice for this student that put him on the path to sainthood, but the truth is that I learned more about what not to do from this experience. I responded to his request for help by drawing up an intense spiritual formation plan with lots of time spent meditating on scripture and praying. I thought it was a really good plan. He seemed excited as well. His eyes got wide (with excitement, I thought) and he promised to come back to see me. And then I never saw him again.
Since then I've learned a lot about how to help people grow in their faith and have come to the conclusion that one size definitely does not fit all. So now when a student comes in to my office and asks for help, I do something very different. I listen. And ask questions. The most basic questions are, "Who are you?" "What kind of person did God create you to be?" "Are you a contemplative soul who experiences God through quiet meditation, or are you the type of person who can't hold still?"
We're all wired differently, and if you're a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, you'll probably get frustrated long before you're successful.
Once you have some sense of who you are, you can begin to consider what types of spiritual practices might bring you closer to God.
Spiritual practices like reading scripture and praying have been important facets of the Christian life for centuries. But once again it's important to remember that one size does not fit all. Instead of looking at a list of spiritual practices and picking out a few, it's important to recognize that these aren't the only options. Spiritual practices are simply activities that make us available to God (from Finding our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices). That means that almost anything can be a spiritual practice, so choose things that fit your lifestyle and individual wiring. You're more likely to stick with things that you already do and enjoy.
Writer Brian McLaren puts it well when he says that instead of asking how we can "practice our faith" we ought to be asking how we can "faith our practice." So ask yourself, "What am I already doing?" Do you like to be outdoors, work in the garden or do yoga? Why couldn't those things be spiritual practices?
One of my most important spiritual practices is exercise. When I work out, I experience a sense of transcendence and release that brings me closer to God. It's easier for me to pray when working out than it is in a quiet room. I share things with God that I'm mulling over during these times, asking for God's guidance. And sometimes I just simply enjoy the sensation of physical activity while reminding myself of God's presence by repeating a phrase like "Come, Lord Jesus."
It's tempting to think that, in order to be spiritually vibrant, we have to do something radical. But you don't have to withdraw from the world by entering a monastery or convent to be a spiritual person. In fact cultivating an everyday spirituality in "the real world" has a greater potential to impact the world simply because of our proximity to others.
Of all people we Lutherans should know this. When Luther was a young man he entered a monastery to try and pursue God only to discover that withdrawing from the world isn't the only way to grow spiritually. God is at work in even the most mundane facets of our existence. And as you awaken to God's presence in your life you may be surprised to see others doing the same thing.
Share your thoughts. What spiritual practices have worked for you? What advice do you have for others who want to grow in their faith?