Religious practice void of the Holy Spirit is more like a funeral service than a worship service. God is alive. Deadness is not in His nature. Jesus came so that we could have life and have it more abundantly. That’s how the Church is supposed to exist and that’s how we’re supposed to live: absolutely abundantly alive.
Living with the intentional awareness of the Holy Spirit must be the goal of anyone serious about following Jesus. Staleness sets in when we make our spiritual journey a routine that we squeeze into our schedule alongside countless other items. Jesus doesn’t want to be one of many things biding for our attention. He desires to be the only One with whom we are captivated.
The life Jesus calls us to is not to be engaged sparingly. It’s an all-or-nothing kind of life. Anything else leaves us lacking and depleted. Jesus calls us to a degree of intimacy that cannot be sustained outside of continually abiding in His Presence. Stale spirituality occurs when we fail to recognize the Presence of the Holy Spirit working all around us.
Many people remain spiritually destitute because they dwell in the past. They long for the good ol’ days. They crave that old-time religion so badly that they fight to preserve something that no longer exists. The cloud has left, the fire has burned out, yet they sit in the same place, doing the same thing, wondering where everyone went. God has moved on while they continue meandering in the desert hoping to restore something that’s long departed. Sadly, these people settle for the residue of what was.
Then you have those who want to make God relevant. They assume God needs their help in His ability to relate. Thus, they attempt to align Him with modern-day culture. In their quest for importance, they do nothing more than fashion the Church after the world. What they fail to realize is that Jesus is always relevant. In fact, Jesus is more relevant than anything else going on anywhere in the universe. The idea that the God who is omni-now could possibly become irrelevant is insane. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is perpetual relevance.
Relevance chasers often fail to understand that they’ll never achieve the significance they desire by mirroring culture. In fact, it’ll have the opposite effect because they’re chasing the wrong thing. Striving to keep up with the most up-to-date trends is a sure way to grow spiritually stale. Some congregations may lose their significance, but God never will. He is forever current, infinitely present, and eternally significant.
Dead religious formalism also has the tendency to produce stale spirituality. Notice the adjective “dead.” This often occurs when people place intellectualism on a pedestal above relationality. Jesus is a Person to be encountered, not merely a doctrine to be understood. While preparation, education, and engaging the mind is vitally important, intellectualism alone has the propensity to kill the moving of the Holy Spirit and rob people of an authentic, life-changing, powerful experience with Jesus.
Interestingly, the religious sages of the age don’t seem very concerned with the manifest Presence of the Holy Spirit. They scoff at the mention of revival, calling it nothing more than worked up emotionalism. They’ve become satisfied with religious theory, and unfortunately, they raise up generations far more interested in academic exercise than they are experiential faith.
Formalistic approaches to faith tend to emphasize symbolism over experience. Personally, I have a high appreciation for symbolism (e.g. cross, chalice, trinity symbol). I also value the beauty of liturgical practices (e.g. communion, baptism, creeds). Anyone who appreciates the sacred history of the Church must keep a place in his or her heart for symbolism. However, I must also conclude that ritualistic approaches to faith, even when grounded in good theology, do not regularly leave room for the moving of the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, many pastors, educators, and church leaders not only devalue an encounter with the Holy Spirit, they outright reject it. They call experiences such as altar calls, revivals, corporate prayer, etc. “dangerous and manipulative.” I’m unsure what Bible they’re reading? If you follow Jesus through the Gospels and trace the Apostles through the Book of Acts you witness multitudes of people extemporaneously encountering the Holy Spirit. Those that make worship gatherings nothing more than religious routine are starving their parishioners. They obviously lack the faith to believe that God can move in the same ways He did in the New Testament.
Beyond these issues, prayer is a lost art in many congregations. It’s difficult to get people to focus on prayer for more than a few minutes in our worship gatherings. Have you noticed how people get fidgety as the service nears the sixty-minute mark? I’ve watched people walk out while serving communion because they don’t want to miss the beginning of an NFL game that’s going to last the rest of the evening. No wonder drive-thru, quick fix ritualistic services are so en vogue. We essentially advertise, “Lose your guilt, feel good about your life, and be on your way.” My friends, the anointing has left the building. We lack prayer, we lack power, and most of all we lack His Presence.
Now for the good news: With all of this distraction, God is doing something new. There is a generation on the horizon that’s desperate for an encounter. They are seeking God like never before. Revival is coming and is already here! The grassroots of this revival movement is longing for a return to an experiential faith. They desire something that brings transformation to individuals, churches, and spills over into entire communities.
Jesus and the Apostles didn’t institute a ritual; they unleashed the power of His Presence. They didn’t follow a one-year liturgical plan. In fact, they didn’t even have a one-hour plan. If what you think you know about practicing faith cannot be found in the life of Jesus and the Acts of the Apostles, then you have reason to doubt it. Jesus’s life is absolute perfect theology. The Apostles lived out of the direct anointing of His ministry and we should too. What Jesus and the Apostles did as described in the Bible is what we should be doing by faith, through the power of the Holy Spirit, right here, right now.
So, what did Jesus do? He prayed with people everywhere He went. He fasted intensely for days at a time. He accepted people wherever they were in life, but never left them where He found them. He made disciples persistently. He healed people openly. He gave to people freely. He wasn’t ashamed to preach the Kingdom boldly. His life is the standard. Are the things Jesus and the Apostles did happening in your church, ministry, university, school, home, life?
Stale spirituality sets in when we engage the head and neglect the spirit. Stale spirituality sets in when we gather to learn and suppress the notion to encounter. Stale spirituality sets in when we live in what was, or dream about what will be, yet neglect what is. Stale spirituality becomes a reality when we live with a form of godliness, but deny the power of Jesus. The Bible says to avoid such… (2 Timothy 3:5).