I do a lot of work with organizations and individuals around the importance of knowing your Why. When you can boil down the most basic purpose for something you’re wanting to do, it helps bring clarity to the Hows that get you to where you want to go. The Hows are negotiable and dynamic. The Why is solid. And it’s the Why that inspires us the most.
I realized last week that this same principle should be applied to the spiritual life, too.
I was talking with one of my clients about this issue relative to her interest in developing a more meaningful devotional life for her spiritual journey. She was wondering what kinds of practices were most effective. Were some better than others? Were some more “right” than others like a few people had told her? Are there only a few that truly serve that goal?
So I asked her what in her mind was the whole point of having a devotional life? What’s the endgame here, the Why?
She said, “Experiencing a loving relationship with God.”
I asked, “So what’s the point of that?”
She said, “To become more Godlike.”
I said, “Okay, so if that’s the endgame, the whole point and Why of engaging in spiritual practices, the only question that matters is, What kinds of practices would help you achieve that goal of becoming more Godlike? What activities could you engage in that would help produce the qualities of Godlikeness in you (the divine qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control)?”
With the Why more clearly in mind, suddenly a whole menu of ideas were opened up to her. Beyond some of the traditional practices that people typically suggest–like reading the Bible, nature, church attendance, spiritual conversations with others–she became more creative and I would say more individualized. She began to look at what things are most meaningful to her with her particular temperament and her specific learning style.
For example, with her primary learning style being auditory, I asked her how that would apply to her going out in nature. She immediately observed, “Well, when I’m out in nature, what’s especially meaningful to me is to stand or sit there and close my eyes and listen. I listen to all the sounds I hear–I identify them, notice their individual qualities, and savor each of them.”
I probed her about how this auditory sensory style might influence how she would approach bible reading. “Are there more auditory focused stories and passages that would particularly speak to you?”
She replied, “I suppose those sections that describe God’s voice, God speaking to people? Turns out, I’ve always been drawn to the text in the New Testament that describes us as sheep who know and hear the Shepherd’s voice and follow him.”
“And what about the story of the blind man who hears Jesus’ voice and asks to be healed?” I asked her. “Jesus speaks to him, touches him, heals him. How would an auditory person relate to that story and apply individualized meaning to it? How would you put yourself into that story?”
I was impressed with the creative and effective list of spiritual practices that she began identifying that would help her embrace, embody, and embed the qualities of God more deeply into her life.
It started with knowing the Why, the whole point of what she was wanting to do.
Three Steps To Identify Your Most Effective Path Forward
1. Begin with Why. Next time you’re wanting to figure out the How for something, begin with the Why, the endgame. What is it that you’re really wanting to accomplish? Why is it important to you? What’s the whole point of it?
2. Identify the Hows That Fit You. Once you’ve identified that Why, then ask the How. How can I achieve that purpose? What are specific actions, practices, activities, behaviors that will get me there? And the most effective Hows will be based upon who you are as a unique human being–your gender, temperament, learning style, top strengths. So tailor your Hows to who you are and what works best for you.
3. Evaluate the Effectiveness of Your Hows. Are your chosen practices or actions contributing to your Why, your endgame? In other words, are they working for you in bringing about the change you’re looking for? Why or why not? Change the Hows if You need to in order to get a better match with who you are. After all, it’s the Why you’re after, right?
Your goal is to embrace practices that work for you not vice versa. I’m reminded that Jesus had something so say about that principle when he commented about one of the Jews’ sacred spiritual practices: “The Sabbath was made for human beings, not human beings for the Sabbath.” Your practices are to serve you in your movement toward your Why.
So work backwards. Begin with the Why. And then develop your Hows. And evaluate your Hows to make sure they’re working for you. And see if your journey takes on renewed meaning and effectiveness.