One of our perennial problems is that we mistake the behavioral tidiness and normalcy of our everyday routines for spiritual tidiness and normalcy. But this is a trap all too common in modern life. We have compartmentalized our spirituality.
What I mean is, too many of us have begun thinking of our spirituality as just one aspect of our lives, perhaps referred to as our Religious Self. On Monday through Friday, we live the life of our Vocational Self (what many of us think of simply as our Normal Self). On Saturday, then, we live the life of our Recreational Self. When Sunday comes, it’s time for us to become our Religious Self.
The Vocational Self goes to work, eats meals, pays bills, and does the regular mundane tasks thought necessary to well-adjusted adulthood. The Recreational Self is how we compensate for the stress of spending time as our Vocational Self. The Recreational Self is the reward we give ourselves for paying the dues of our Vocational Self. Then we become our Religious Self on the days or in the moments when we feel especially needful of a higher power or simply when we feel the need to access our “spirituality.”
Each version of our self resides in its own neat compartment. Each version of our self stays in its own lane. It’s rare for us to access multiple versions of ourselves at the same moment. It’s as if we think of our inner life like a board room table occupied by multiple employees—directors, if you will, of our multiple responsibilities or interests. Around the table we divvy up workloads and time commitments to our Normal Self, our Recreational Self, our Religious Self. We may even have slots assigned for Family and Friends and Education. It feels coherent and cohesive. But in fact, it is quite disjointed and divided.
I knew that someone in my church was trying to live a compartmentalized life when they would say things like, “I just don’t have much time for God these days.” Or when they’d say theologically confused things like, “I guess I just need to trust in my faith more” (which is basically like saying “I need to have trust in my trust”).
You know that someone is living a compartmentalized life when their social media bio includes a Bible verse but their photos display them unashamedly engaged in all kinds of things the Bible forbids or warns against.
The man secretly indulging in his porn addiction while constantly complaining about gay marriage is living a compartmentalized life. The woman who neglects her kids to spend hours and hours on the internet blogging about how to be a better mom is living a compartmentalized life. The unmarried couple who are unapologetically living together but regularly attending church on Sunday are living a compartmentalized life.
The “power problem” with this way of living should be somewhat obvious. If we assign God and his Word a portion of our lives, we are at the same time seeking to detach the other portions from his sovereign power. This is what the Bible calls “quenching the Spirit.”
The compartmentalized approach promises to make our lives easier, more manageable. But any time we try to put areas of our life “off-limits” to God’s authority or to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, we find the rest of our lives given to greater and greater messiness.
The most significant practical issue with compartmentalized living is that our Religious Self inevitably becomes our smallest self. Many Christians say they believe in the God of the Universe and have trusted in the Son of God as their Lord and Savior but then spend the bulk of their lives obeying other lords and trusting other saviors.
When we relegate our intentionality with God to a minute fraction of our time, it’s no wonder we feel distant from him during the times we happen to be thinking about him and lack power during all the other times. Whatever we focus most of our conscious time on will invariably dominate the way we think and feel.
It’s not good that our spiritual life is compartmentalized, fit into the larger order of our so-called “normal” lifestyle. Most of us have arranged things to be as convenient as possible, and even when we have the inclination to “do hard things,” we are usually too tired to do them. Some of us are not faced often with the opportunity to serve or help others, for the simple reason that we rarely make time to interact with others in substantive ways in the first place. We find it difficult to be generous with others because we are generally generous with ourselves and think of others as window dressing in our life. And over time, just doing the regular, ordinary, mundane, “easy” things of life seem to take more and more out of us, because we have cordoned them off from our only hope for minute-by-minute power.
Then, every message we consume only reinforces the problem as it promises to alleviate it. Our normal environments and their “gospel” messages keep sending us further into ourselves—which is where all our issues began in the first place.
This is not the way God has designed life to be lived.
So what’s the answer?
The first thing he ought to do is recognize that this sense of longing, this nagging sense of emptiness is itself a gift! It is in fact something God is doing. God is speaking to us. He has led us right into our own Ecclesiastes, where we will realize, like King Solomon did, that all the comings and goings and doings and earnings can never satisfy the eternity in our heart (Ecc. 3:11).
This realization of dissatisfaction is a severe mercy from God himself. It is a mercy because the worst thing that might happen to us is to be completely content and happy apart from experiencing the power of God. No, this nagging sense of dissatisfaction is a gift of the Spirit, a form in fact of the Spirit’s conviction of us over our sin. We all ought to beg the Spirit to make us dissatisfied when we are distracted from God and neglecting our worship of him.
In fact, any time any human being is dealing with utter emptiness and lack of fulfillment in life, it is the result of the God-embedded message in them that they need him. The Holy Spirit who separates order from chaos is warning them about life apart from his power.
And when we listen, that is the Spirit’s power working too.
Are you listening?
Perhaps it’s time for you to head to the boardroom of your interior life and fire all those other directors. You need to give every employee a pink slip. You need to let them know that their services are no longer required.
Then you need to go out into the office space of your life and knock down all the cubicle walls with extreme prejudice. You need to vanquish the compartments of your inner life.
If you have experienced the Spirit’s conviction, you have been primed to experience the Spirit’s power.
Maybe you need to wave the white flag.
While submitting to the Spirit’s conviction may seem to promise less control, less security, it is instead the way to maximize the power available to every square inch of your life. You will now be surrendering the eight-lane highway of your life to the free reign of the Spirit of the living God. His joy will now spill over into every compartment. And when you expose more and more of your inner life to the otherworldly message of God, so will his power spill over into your outer life too.
This power is in fact what Jesus Christ has promised you.
This is an edited excerpt from my brand new book, Supernatural Power for Everyday People: Experiencing God’s Extraordinary Spirit in Your Ordinary Life, now available from Thomas Nelson.