As a part of an ongoing research interest, I’ve been surveying congregations to get a picture of member participation in practices, e.g. prayer, sharing possessions, meeting in small groups for encouragement and support. My sample size is still fairly small and so any definitive statements are still a long ways off, but the initial results are intriguing.
One of the questions I ask toward the end of the survey is related to satisfaction with a respondent’s spiritual life. While I am learning several interesting things about this, a few are worth a quick mention. First, those who report being mostly or very satisfied with their spiritual life are much more likely to report spending quiet time with God on a regular basis than those who report being unsatisfied or slightly satisfied. Now, in general, those who report being more satisfied practice their faith more regularly across the board than those that don’t. But the gap between the more satisfied and the less satisfied is widest related to spending quiet time with God by a whopping 30%.
(No one fasts. Period. Well, only a very tiny minority do).
Those who report being less satisfied with their spiritual lives are also more likely to be disciplined in their practice. Very few respondents report doing anything regularly as a discipline. We seem to be occasional in our everyday faith practices. That is, we do them as occasion arises. Most who are more dissatisfied practice less than the more satisfied across the board. But those who do have disciplined practice are more likely to be unsatisfied or only slightly satisfied with their spiritual lives than those that don’t.
The surveys don’t indicate why this is the case. But I have a few hunches. Maybe people who take their faith seriously enough to be disciplined in their practice know there is always more to God than what they’ve experienced, and so they are modest in their reporting. In fact, given that most report a fairly low level of regular practice in their everyday lives may indicate that higher satisfaction is related to lower standards and vice versa.
Or, perhaps some who are rigorous in discipline are more likely to have a performance based notion of spirituality where the practice is an end in itself, leaving them bereft spiritually speaking.
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I recently heard a sermon from a Church of Christ pulpit whose basic idea was that “Jesus is not your fishing buddy.” Well, with that kind of an intimacy non-starter, why would anybody want to spend regular time in the Word? I find we often have unaddressed obstacles to our having a safe and meaningful relationship with the Godhead. If you don’t feel safe, you’ll run from quiet time, and you won’t feel spiritually satisfied. At least that has been my experience for myself. Once I started inviting Jesus to address some of the underlying issues blocking my desire for him, and repented and let go of highlighted sins in my life, and handed him pain and trauma I’d experienced over time, a relationship of trust began to build, and it’s a lot easier and more satisfied to operate from that perspective rather than from wariness, weariness, and duty.