Spirituality” is a popular word used by people who would prefer an unstructured relationship with God outside of the boundaries of religion.
People like to say, “I’m not religious, but I am a spiritual person.” Spirituality speaks to a lifestyle that makes no demands on the person other than the ability to mentally ascend above the mundane grind of life. That’s not a biblical approach to God, nor is it what Yeshua wanted from his disciples.
Today’s popular spirituality is closer to the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. The Gnostics were a heretical group in the days of the early church who believed that true spirituality could be obtained only by a total detachment from the physical world and the more detached a person became from the “flesh,” the more enlightened he became. In other words, this was the ancient world’s “New Age” movement.
Is this the type of spirituality for which we should strive? The God of the Bible walked in the physical world with Adam in the garden, got himself stuck in a bush to speak with Moses. He came down onto the mountain to give his law; God demanded concrete action from people. He commanded Israel to offer prescribed sacrifices, perform certain rituals at certain times, give charity to the poor, and keep track of time so that the prescribed holy days are guarded. When Israel obeyed the commandments, God did not reward them with nirvana and spiritual enlightenment but with rain, grain, cattle, and grapes for wine. In short, the God of the Bible shows no interest in a spirituality devoid of ritual, structure, and physicality.
Look through the pages of the Bible and you will not find a single place where humanity could experience spirituality outside of interaction with the physical world. When God desired to dwell with the children of Israel he instructed them to build a structure:
And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and all its furniture, so you shall make it. (Exodus 25:8-9)
The Torah then goes on for three chapters to lay out in painstaking detail the exact measurements and design for the structure of the Tabernacle. Every nail, hook, and curtain was required to be in an exact position. There was no room for error, and they simply could not choose to construct the Tabernacle however they liked so as to express themselves or suit their own creative whims. Once the children of Israel finished the Tabernacle the presence of God fell on it in a powerful way:
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34-35)
The Tabernacle is perhaps one of the most meticulously constructed buildings in the Bible, yet this rigorous process did not quench the Spirit of God or prevent him from dwelling with the people. Instead, the presence of God fell upon the Tabernacle in such a powerful way that Moses was unable to enter.
This, to me, is a perfect example of the Bible’s vision of our relationship with God: a highly structured life where every detail is infused with the presence of God. Judaism teaches that God shows love for his people by giving them commandments through which they can bring the realization of God into the physical world.
God desires to be known in this world; he wants to transform the chaos of this life into a structured tabernacle that points to him. Yeshua does not exempt us from a life of disciplined and ordered spirituality. When our Master was asked how to pray he did not reply by telling his disciples to simply say whatever came to mind, nor did he tell them to throw off all liturgical forms; he commanded them to pray a prescribed prayer: “Our Father in Heaven…” Church tradition shows that the disciples took this commandment from Yeshua seriously and prayed it three times a day.
We must nurture spirituality in the form of real, dynamic relationship with God. However, the biblical model shows that a life of spirituality cannot be separated from physicality, structure, and form. God desires to dwell with his people. For that reason, the truly spiritual person orders the chaos of life to transform it into something holy that can be infused with the powerful presence of God.