Saturday, October 01, 2005

Who Wants to Please God?

By Alexander Samuels

In a Barna Group study released this past week titled "New Survey Shows Areas of Spiritual Life People Feel Most Confident About - and Those They Want Help With Most," seven specific dimensions of spirituality were evaluated. I found the results of this survey interesting and thought provoking.

Here's an excerpt from the report: . . .

The Barna survey explored seven dimensions of spiritual development, asking survey respondents to rate themselves on a five-point scale that included being "completely developed" in the specified area of spirituality, "highly developed," saying they were "about average" in their development in that area, or that they are "not too developed," or "not at all developed" in the area in question.

Americans rated themselves most positively in the area of "maintaining healthy relationships." Close to half of all self-identified Christian adults (48%) said they are "completely" or "highly" developed in that aspect, with 46% saying they are "about average" in this dimension, and just 6% claimed to be below average. An above average rating (i.e., either "completely developed" or "highly developed") was more likely among people in the South and Midwest than among people living along the east or west coasts.

The second-most favorable rating was for serving other people. About four out of every ten self-described Christian adults (41%) said they are "completely" or "highly" developed in that aspect of their spiritual life, while half said they are about average in this area, and 8% said they are below average. Hispanics and people who attend a house church were the groups most likely to say they are above average (53% and 57%, respectively) when it comes to serving others.

Next came "consistently living out your faith principles," for which 37% said they do an above average job, 55% claimed to be average, and only 8% admitted to being below average.

Similar scores emerged related to worshiping God and leading their family spiritually. About one-third (36%) said they were above average, half said they were average, and 13% rated themselves below average in terms of worship. Nearly identical statistics were gleaned regarding the spiritual leadership of the family by the individuals who have children under age 18 in their home (35% said they are above average, 51% average, and 14% below the norm).

The most keenly felt spiritual needs were to increase their commitment to the Christian faith (identified by 13%) and to increase their Bible knowledge (12%). No other factors reached double figures.

Among the other needs expressed by respondents were a desire to improve their prayer life (7%), becoming a better servant to others (4%), developing better relationships (4%), understanding the Christian life better (4%), doing a better job of sharing their faith (4%), developing better character (3%), improving at forgiving others (3%), and becoming more spiritually mature overall (3%). . . .

Barna said, "The fact that so few people have thought about how they could intentionally and strategically enhance their spiritual life reminds us that spiritual growth is not a priority to most people. Americans are generally satisfied with being 'average' in their spiritual maturity. That betrays the fact that we do not serve an 'average' God, or one who is honored by people who are lukewarm about their faith."

I am not really surprised to see that "maintaining healthy relationships" was at the top of the priorities committed to by Christians. Christianity is meant to be worked out in our lives in terms of relationships with others. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that "serving others" rated second. The only concern I have is that many people join churches purely for the purpose of establishing relationships. There is that "join the civic club (church) mentality and do good deeds for the community" that is not at all the call to Christ's church. Some churches do seem to be governed by a "club mentality," which is absolutely unchristian.

On the whole, however, healthy relationships and serving others are evidence of a healthy Christian life. The third characteristic is interesting because it is about "consistently living out your faith principles." The reason this is interesting to me is that it is listed as the third-highest area of confidence. It is also interesting because the people desiring "to increase their Bible knowledge" were only 12 percent of the sample. Now this is the only time "Bible knowledge" is mentioned in the article so it had to be one of the areas that people were least confident about in the survey, but there were only 12 percent who wanted to do anything about it.

The question has to be asked, "How do you know that you are 'consistently living out your faith principles' if one of your weakest areas is Bible knowledge?" I believe that the faith principles many of these people feel so good about are of their own making and assumptions. We live in a culture of people who love to assume they know something about the Bible. And most of what they know are assumptions.

I also believe that if the third category were really "living out Christian faith principles," there would be a much larger percentage who wanted "to increase their Bible knowledge." Gaining knowledge of God's Word is one of the most important principles in the entire Bible.

As Barna said in the report, "Spiritual growth is not a priority to most people." Could this be because there is a tremendous difference between "cultural" Christians and real Christians? I believe Barna's and other surveys of this sort are inaccurate because they are handicapped by respondents who say they are Christians but in reality do not meet the Biblical definition of "Christian." Cultural Christians attend church, participate in good works, enjoy the pastor's speaking ability and the choir's songs, but they mostly believe only the things in the Bible (or what someone told them was in the Bible) that make them feel good about themselves and demand very little self-discipline and spiritual growth. Spiritual maturity is truly a concept they do not understand at all.

If one is truly a Christian, the Holy Spirit creates in him or her the desire to know more about Jesus. The Christian never reaches a stage of saying, "This is enough. I do not need to learn anything else about God or how to be a better Christian." A Christian can never hear enough or read enough of the Word of God. All his desires will be guided by the love of pleasing God. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:16-17).

Alexander Samuels is a regular contributor to Carolina Christian Conservative.

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