Why Is My Spiritual Devotion So Religious?

By Li Cheng

I went to the church through my friend’s introduction. I remember clearly that I asked the pastor a lot of questions after completing his sermon, and coming down from the pulpit; he answered my questions one by one. I felt I gained a lot from him that day, so I immediately told him that I was willing to believe in the Lord. Before I left the church, the pastor reminded me: “A Christian must have a spiritual life.” I asked: “What is spiritual life? What should I do?” He told me: “The spiritual life is reading scriptures, praying, and singing hymns to praise God every day. The Lord Jesus said: ‘God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24). So, as a believer in the Lord, we must practice according to the Lord’s word; only by doing this can we make Him pleased. When you pray to the Lord, you should pray for your families, the weak brothers and sisters in our church, God’s servants, and the national leaders. As long as you are able to devote yourself to spiritual devotion, then you will get keener in spirit and have a proper relationship with the Lord. Thus, you will please God.” From his words, I knew the importance of a spiritual life. Therefore, I started to practice according to the pastor’s teaching: After I got up at five o’clock in the morning every day, I first read two chapters of the Scriptures, sang hymns, and then prayed according to what the pastor said. I did so continuously regardless of whether it was spring or summer, fall or winter.

Before long, because I was very zealous in my pursuit and actively worked for the Lord, I became a co-worker. When preaching, I often encouraged believers to practice spiritual devotion as I did. I told them it was by relying on spiritual devotion that I became a co-worker, and that the Lord was pleased with such spiritual devotion. I often bragged about my spiritual devotion before my brothers and sisters, so they looked up to me with approval.

read and study the bible

One day, I went to a sister’s home to study the Bible. When we talked about what spiritual devotion was, she took out a book, and then found a passage of words from it, reading: “A normal spiritual life is not limited to prayer, song, church life, eating and drinking the words of God, and other such practices, but it means to live a spiritual life that is fresh and lively. It’s not about the method, but the result. Most people think that in order to have a normal spiritual life one must pray, sing, eat and drink the words of God, or try to figure out the words of God. No matter whether there is any result, or whether there is a true understanding, these people just focus on going through the motions on the outside, and do not focus on the result—they are people living within the rituals of religion, and are not people living within the church, and even less are they people of the kingdom. This kind of person’s prayers, songs, and eating and drinking of the words of God are all abiding by the rules, they are compelled to do them, and they are done in keeping with trends; they are not done willingly or done from the heart. No matter how much these people pray or sing, there will be no result at all, because all they practice are religious rules and rituals, and they are not practicing the word of God. By only focusing on the method, and taking the words of God as rules to keep, this kind of person is not practicing the word of God, but is satisfying the flesh, and is doing things to show off to others. This kind of religious ritual and rule comes from man, not from God. God does not keep rules, does not abide by any laws; He does new things every day and He does practical work. Like the people in the Three-Self Church who are limited to daily morning watch, evening prayers, giving thanks before meals, expressing thanks in everything, and other such practices, no matter how much these people do, or how long they practice, they will not have the work of the Holy Spirit. If people live within rules, with their hearts poured into practice, then the Holy Spirit has no way to work, because people’s hearts are taken up with rules, are taken up with human conceptions; therefore God has no way to do work; people will just always be living under control of the law, and this type of person will never be able to receive the praise of God” (“Regarding a Normal Spiritual Life”). This passage of words she read really shocked my heart. Although I graduated from seminary, and I had read many spiritual books of all times and all countries and listened to many recordings of preaching of famous preachers, I have never read or heard such words. Later, she fellowshiped a lot with me. Through these words and the sister’s fellowship, I understood that whether it is true spiritual life cannot be judged by how good our external actions are, or how well we follow ceremonies. It should be judged based on the effect, in other words, on what benefits or help it can bring to us. For example, singing hymns shouldn’t be for the sake of following a process. Rather, it should be for the sake of quieting our heart before God, giving our heart to God, and gaining the enlightenment and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Praying should not be repeating those outdated words day after day and year after year. Instead, we should reveal our innermost truth and practical difficulties to God. We ought to seek God’s will, understand God’s requirement, and then use God’s word to solve those practical difficulties in our life. When reading God’s word, we should not pursue to know letters and doctrines, but to gain a clearer knowledge of God and God’s work.

Thinking about my spiritual devotion, I have never focused on its effect; I just kept external actions. When singing hymns, I just sang casually and aimlessly. When praying, I always repeated my old prayers over and over again. When reading, I merely understood the letters of the Bible, but never pondered over God’s will or how to know God. In comparison with these words, I found my spiritual devotion was completely abiding by rules and performing religious ceremonies. It was actually not a true spiritual devotion. Over these years, I not only hadn’t gained anything, but also had cheated my brothers and sisters. I continued to ponder over these words. I saw they revealed the deviations of my spiritual life, and they also revealed the root of this problem and showed me the way of practice, so I borrowed this book from the sister.

When I returned home, I read another few pieces of words. I saw a passage of words that said: “People believe in God, love God, and satisfy God by touching the Spirit of God with their heart, thereby obtaining His satisfaction; when engaging with God’s words with their heart, they are therefore moved by the Spirit of God. If you wish to achieve a proper spiritual life and establish a proper relationship with God, you must first give your heart to Him, and quiet your heart before Him. Only after you have poured your whole heart into God can you gradually develop a proper spiritual life. … If your heart can be poured into God and keep quiet before Him, then you will have the opportunity and the qualifications to be used by the Holy Spirit, to receive the enlightenment and illumination of the Holy Spirit, and even more, you will have the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to make up for your shortcomings. When you give your heart to God, you can enter more deeply into the positive aspect and be on a higher plane of insight; in the negative aspect, you will have more understanding of your own faults and shortcomings, you will be more eager to seek to satisfy God’s will, and you will not be passive, and will actively enter in. This will mean that you are a correct person” (“Establishing a Proper Relationship With God Is Very Important”). Pondering over these words, I understood: If we want to have a normal spiritual life, we should first quiet our heart before God, and read God’s word with an honest heart. Only by doing so can we establish a normal relationship with God, gain the enlightenment and illumination of the Holy Spirit, and realize what we lack in our real life. Then, we should find a way to practice in God’s word and bring it into our life to solve our practical difficulties. Only by achieving such an effect can our spiritual life be true spiritual life. I felt these words communicated very clearly what true spiritual life was and how to achieve it.

I also learned some other truths from the book, such as what true spiritual life is, how to establish a proper relationship with God, and what true church life is, and so on. Thinking of those pieces of words I had read recently, I felt the more I read them, the more enlightened my heart was. Moreover, many scriptures I didn’t understand before, all suddenly seemed to become clear, as if I were stepping into the sun. I couldn’t help thinking of the Lord Jesus’ word: “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come” (John 16:12-13). Only God is the truth, the way, and the life, and only God Himself can reveal every hidden thing. This book illuminates all this so clearly, can it be the utterance of the Spirit of truth? When thinking of this, I couldn’t wait one more minute to go to the sister to make it clear. After praying to the Lord, I immediately took the book and rushed to the sister’s home …

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