What Is Spiritual?

Consider the following scenario:  A young lady goes to a campfire devotional.  As the Sun goes down, and the stars appear, she cannot help but notice the beauty of the night sky.  As the evening grows darker, a campfire is built and everyone circles the campfire.  One of the men present is selected to give a lesson, then he asks everyone to hold hands and sing a spiritual song.  Next to this young lady is a young man to which she’s been attracted for some time.  He takes her hand, and together they sing for the next fifteen minutes.  As this young lady returns home that evening, she concludes that she had one of the most spiritual experiences of her life.

Now, here’s my question:  “What made that the most spiritual experience of her life?”  Was it the lesson that was taught?  Was it the songs that were sung?  Was it the beautiful night sky?  Or was it the fact that she was holding hands with someone to whom she was attracted?”  What made that experience any more “spiritual” than any given Sunday morning when gathered together to worship God?

My guess in answering that question would be, “the emotions that were felt,” and that precisely brings me to the point of this article.  I’m not sure people understand what it means to be “spiritual.”  The terms “spiritual” and “emotional” are not synonymous.  Proof of this is seen in the fact that our emotions can equally be stirred by what is good as well as what is evil; by what is true as well as what is a lie.  That which is spiritual is not determined by the way something makes one feel, but is determined by what God said.

In other words, something is spiritual because God said it is.  It’s that simple.  For example, one may submerge themselves in water throughout the Summer months in one’s own backyard pool.  There’s nothing “spiritual” about that act.  However, to perform this act with a view toward reenacting the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus makes this event spiritual.  Not because of the way one feels while doing it, but because God declared the later to be spiritual.

Spirituality is not determined by how an event makes one “feel,” but rather is determined by what God “said” about that event.  Do you suppose the young lady in the scenario described may have arrived at the same conclusion if she was too immature to realize that the man who spoke taught false doctrine? Or do you suppose that her feelings might have been subdued a bit if the handsome young man next to her would not have held her hand?

Do not be deceived by things that are pawned off as spiritual, when in reality they’re only emotional.  Remember, that which is spiritual is spiritual because God said it is, not because of the emotions it may be able to stir.

Give it some thought and leave comments if you have them.

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Comments 21

  • Did you write this? It’s very good! I have followed a path of worship different than Christianity for the past ten years. It makes me feel good and feel close to God. I have a hard time with your way of worship because I don’t “feel” anything when I do things your way. So, how can that be? If it is so wrong, how can it feel so good? It is very spiritual to me. I no longer understand Christianity. When I have approached Christians for help, I get met with fear, hate, and anger. Wow, that sure makes me want to be one…Anyhow, it would be nice if Christians were more understanding of other religions, and if they believe theirs is the ONLY way, they could be nicer in their approach. lol All in all, a good article!

  • AMEN!!! Excellent article and right to the heart of the matter. There are so many today that need to read this. Sadly, many within the church are trying to replace the spiritual with the emotional. Thanks, Steve. I appreciate your work and pray that God continues to bless you as you use your talents to bring honor and glory to Him.

  • Hi Tammy. Thanks for your response. I can’t begin to reply to all you said, but I can encourage you not to judge Christianity by those who don’t practice it as they should. Not everyone’s like the people you described. I’d be interested in knowing what you’ve been doing for the past ten years. And while I believe Christianity is exclusive, I agree with you that there’s no place for being anything less than nice.

    I will briefly share one reason I believe Christianity is exclusive. If there’s another way to the Father apart from Jeses, then why would God send him to the cross? What would that say about the character of God? What kind of a person would sacrifice their son when it wasn’t necessary? Since I believe the cross is a reality, then I of necessity believe Christianity is exclusive.

    I’d be glad to talk more. Glad to have reconnected with you after all these years!

  • […] 2. Steve Higginbotham wrote a fantastic article this week that needs to be read and read again. The post tries to show that emotionalism does not necessarily equate to spirituality, as we are often told. Of course, there is a great amount of emotion in Christianity, but just because you “feel something,” does not necessarily mean it is the right thing. Take the time to read “What Is Spiritual?” […]

  • The hammer meets the head of the nail perfectly with this one Steve. Great job as always!

  • Thank you Steve for a wonderful article. Recently in Wednesday Bible class we were discussing the passage in Jude that talks about “praying in The Spirit” This article will fit in nicely in the follow up discussion later.

    Oh and Tammy, please let me echo Steves words to you. You must not judge the Lord’s Kingdom by the poor actions of some of those who claim to be His.
    Jesus Himself said that NO one comes to the Father but through Him. What about all of those “good feeling” spiritual Hindus, Muslims and Jewish people? I am certain that some of them “feel” spiritual. Was our Lord being Judgemental when he said that He was the only way? I think not.

  • I’m to confused about all of this stuff. I can’t even comment, sorry.:(

  • Steve, this is excellent and very timely! It is amazing that I was thinking about devotional experiences I had when around 12 or 13 years of age at “church camp” where being in proximity with a girl that I had just met and befriended seemed to make the experience so much more “spiritual” while the campfire songs were being sung (“Have seen Jesus my Lord; He’s here in plain view….Take a look, open your eyes…” YOU GET IT!). Anyway, I was then thinking about how people feel spiritual today in similar situations. My mind led me to also think about those singing sessions late at night in Clayton Chapel at FHU where they also sing those campfire songs and boys and girls sit together on the floor with the lights turned off. If you are sitting their holding hands with someone you have just fallen in love with (aka Amanda), then you can see how it all of a sudden becomes quite “spiritual,” even if you didn’t previously like the “campfire” songs and still don’t care much for them! Ha! Anyway, this is an excellent piece! It is also instructive for those who try to make a distinction between “religious” and “spiritual” that is not there. You also touched upon that recently in Bible class or a sermon. God bless you!

  • As usual Steve, right to the point and thought provoking. Surely no one will miss the implications of your point. If emotions or feelings are the main criterion for “spirituality” then anything in the realm of religion could be legitimate. The same is claimed in the moral realm as well, particularly with reference to sexual conduct. Debbie Boone made it clear in “You Light Up My Life” when she sang, “It can’t be wrong, when it feels so right”. I truly believe if people will stop for a moment and consider the implications (that is where such a phiosophy leads) most will reject it.

  • Steve,

    Another job well done. I will be saving this article for posterity.

  • This made me think of an interview I heard with the singer Dolly Parton just this weekend. She was asked to think back to the day and what it felt like to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She said, “It was a very spiritual moment for me.” Obviously, the world needs more teaching on what it is to be spiritual/religious/emotional, etc. Thanks, Steve.

  • Thanks for the illustration, Bart. This is precisely the type of thing I’m talking about. What may be emotional does is not necessarily spiritual. Hey, hope your work in Glasgow is going well. I’ve heard there are a lot of good people there.

  • Good post Steve. All too often we here individuals connecting God to things that he has nothing to do with. I have been thinking about this post and the comments for a few days.
    Is there a need to see Spiritual things as necessarily including but also going beyond truth? To be spiritual means that it is concerned with the spirit world, something beyond the flesh. Is that why when someone is in a situation where God’s creation is magnified (sitting under the stars) and our God reflected emotions (love, joy, gratitude) are magnified that we tend to feel such a connectedness with God?
    Jesus said that worship in Spirit and worship in truth were two seperate aspects of true worship. A neglect of either one of these things is why people are bored in worship or see it as meaningless. They may be doing everything right (truth) but they are not emotionally connected to God. To recognize that worship happens in our mind as surely as in what we do. When I finally got this it made the worst song leader and the dryest preacher a positive experience rather than a fight for staying awake.
    Spirit and Truth are both essential in our lives and our worship. Our worship is to be an emotional experience that is defined by God’s Will.
    Sorry for thinking out loud. What do you think?

  • Hi daddy! I was just checking out your wesite and thought I would write you a comment! Talk to ya later!BYE!!!! I ♥ you!

  • Very good article, Steve, and very much needed today. Mind if I reprint this in an upcoming issue of our monthly church bulletin?

    I will add one comment, though. I’m afraid some Christians are so afraid of being led by the emotional that they fail to see that God intended for what is truly spiritual to produce genuine emotion. If the heart (emotions) is stirred by what is not truly spiritual it brings no real benefit, even though the emotions are genuine. However, when we do what God says in the way God says do it, the heart (emotions) will be stirred just as genuinely and it will draw us truly closer to God.

  • Hi Kevin,
    Thanks for your feedback, and feel free to use it as you feel it will help.

  • I believe that God sets “the stage” of life in such a way to get our attention. God will use these settings……..our natural emotions (which God created), as well as other means to bring us closer to God and Gods Will for us.

  • Great article, Steve. I posted it on Facebook.

  • Hello Ben,
    Thanks for your comment. I will say though that in my article, I wasn’t denying that God could use anything he desires to cause people to change their ways or decide to draw close to His side. The point I was making was that these our emotions do not determine what is or is not spiritual.

  • this is very good article. Emotion and Spiritual is different. A denominational preacher may feel that his preaching is scriptural when he preaches wrong doctrine, a member of a denomination may feel that he/she is so blessed by the preaching of the false preacher.

    But what is dictates by our hearts is not always right. Obedience is better than sacrifice, right?

  • Steve, You continue to write great material. I appreciate your article on “What is Spiritual” I sometimes think that even in the church of our Lord that we have missed the point on what is spiritual. I remember reading how Pat Boone years ago talked about how much closer he felt to God when he went up into a mountain and “worshiped God.” Proximity does not determine our closeness to God. Closeness is determined by following the will or word of God. Thanks Steve

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