What are the bare bones essentials of your faith?
“Are you going to cut the handles off your toothbrushes and the edges off all of your maps?”
This was the sort of burning question friends and family had for us as my wife and I planned to hike the 2,150-mile Appalachian Trail. There were also questions about bears and snakes, but very often the questions concerned how we would pare down our pack weight to a bare minimum.
And that concern for the essentials is the wonderful thing about long distance backpacking—you are forced to cut back to the minimum. Life becomes about the basics of water, food and shelter. Even the decision about what to do each day is settled. The only question which remains is how far the weather and terrain will allow you to get in a day while still enjoying the hike. For six months, the two of us lived the simplest of lives as we successfully hiked from Georgia to Maine. That hike gives me an appreciation for what is essential and what is not.
Now as a pastor my job is to assist people with their spiritual journeys. There are the questions I do get asked like what our church believes (Jesus is Lord is the short answer to that one) or what the Bible teaches about this or that. Then there are the questions I wish I would get asked but seldom do. These are the questions that take a look at our faith as being just as essential as water, food and shelter.
So I’ll pose the question: What about your relationship with God provides you with the spiritual nourishment and the protection you have to have? It’s a way of asking what is essential about your life of faith. This is not a question about belief, but practice. For if your spirituality is only a vague agreement to the existence of God or even to Jesus being his son, then there is not a lot of substance to your faith. The way to get the substance is through nourishment.
For you, the essentials may be a little different, but here are my three equal in importance to water, food and shelter—prayer, scripture and worship. If I had to get my practices of faith down to the most basic cut-the-corners-off-the-maps level, this would be it for me. I could have included tithing, which I do and it matters to me as an outward sign that I know that all I have is a gift from God. I could have included service to others, but that also is an outgrowth of these three basics. So my desert-island list of essentials of faith practice is this core group of three— prayer, scripture and worship.
Prayer—Through times of prayer I pour out the desires of my heart even as I ask God to conform my will to God’s will. Prayer is then how I stay directly connected to God. Prayer is as essential to life as water.
Scripture—By way of a regular pattern of reading the Bible I am nourished by the whole story of God’s love. If I didn’t have a pattern that allows me to continually read through the Bible, I would probably just re-read some sections like John’s Gospel while never getting to others like the Book of Habakkuk (yes, it is in there). This is why our church follows a pattern common to many churches in which we read through the Bible in worship every three years by reading portions of the Old and New Testaments each week. No matter how you go about reading the Bible, it is to be your daily bread and as vital as the food you eat.
Worship—I know plenty of good people who feel they can be a Christian without attending a church. Well, of course you can in theory, but why would you want to? Going it alone makes a life of faith so much more difficult, as being complacent is easier than entering in to the ongoing conversion which a real faith walk requires.
A community of faith is where you can get regularly fed and challenged to live your life more closely in line with God’s will. Your church home should be that place where you bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys. This is most true if you get involved in the church, get to know others and take part in more than the worship services so that you know those with whom you worship God on Sunday. This makes the worship experience more meaningful and lets your church provide the shelter you need when life gets difficult even as you help shelter others in their times of need.
Still wondering what we did on the A.T. about toothbrushes and maps? We used small travel toothbrushes and didn’t carry maps. The trail is well marked and we never got lost. If you stick with the nourishment of prayer, scripture and worship I am confident you will be able to say the same of your spiritual journey as well.
(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church.)
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526