It is popular these days to hear people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”
Many observe the stale, lackluster faith of those simply going through the motions. Or they see religion as a box too small to contain their worldview. Organized religion is often perceived as corrupt, outdated, or harmful. And we’ve all encountered a person who is both intensely religious and intensely a jerk at the exact same time.
So plenty shy away from the label and baggage of “religion.” I get that.
Even churches tend to resist the term “religious.” I regularly hear (and have probably said), “Christianity is not about religion but relationship.” When we say that we are trying to point people to something dynamic and impactful rather than something that becomes empty and heartless. We believe that checking the right number of religious boxes isn’t the thing that matters most. And the Bible certainly speaks to that repeatedly.
But here is the thing: I need religion.
The truth is sometimes I’m religious but not spiritual. Sometimes I don’t “feel” it. Sometimes I wonder what in the world I am doing. Sometimes I have doubt, anger, frustration, or failure in my spiritual life.
If I can only show up when the fire is hot, I will be in trouble. If I was to rely on just my feelings, I’d have quit a long time ago.
There are times I may not feel like attending worship or loving a person who is difficult to love. There are times I am not up for singing “It is well with my soul.” There are times my prayers get caught in my throat.
When those times come, religion keeps me going. The structure built around my faith comes to my aid. The things that have been practiced and rehearsed week after week and century after century minister to my dry spirit.
When I participate in religion I eventually find the things I have been lacking. I find hope and joy and rest. I find substance and sustenance in the bread and the cup of communion. I find peace in the reading of Scripture and support as I gather weekly with my church family for corporate worship.
Even after I’ve already believed and committed. Even when I already obey and follow. Religion and its prayers and rituals and movements bring me rescue and relief. When I go through the motions of religion, I am renewed.
Though I strive to avoid an empty faith or passionless belief, though I desire to always have my heart stirred, the truth is sometimes it doesn’t go the way I want. For whatever reason, sometimes I need a push, a jump-start, a nudge.
I find the help I need in religion.
I wonder if our reluctance to call ourselves religious has been to our detriment. I wonder if we rob ourselves of the very tools we need when we turn our nose up at ritual and habit. I wonder if we’ve damaged the relationship because we have neglected the practices of religion while looking for a purely spiritual faith.
Religion can certainly be misused, but it is a gift from God and I’m thankful for the ways it has brought newness to my faith. It need not be stale and lifeless, but the very place where grace is found over and over and over again.
So gather with God’s people, even when it’s easier to avoid them.
And say your prayers, even when the words sound hollow.
Sing the songs, even if you aren’t sure you believe them.
Read the Scriptures, even when the message seems distant.
Take and eat, even when you don’t feel hungry.
Go through the motions, especially when the motions are all you have.
And then, may God show up. May your soul find rest and encouragement. May living water quench your thirst. May emptiness give way to satisfaction. May you be formed into the fullness and likeness of Christ Jesus. And may the spiritless become Spirit filled.