Releasing Our Attachment to the Familiar (Avoiding Superficial Spirituality Part 6)


Last time I concluded with a promise to share some of the human factors involved for us to live more deeply in Jesus. I propose these neither as some sort of sure-fire formula or a bullet-point list in the order of importance. They’re just some of my own observations and aspirations about how to have a deeper walk with God.

I begin with a profound Thomas Merton quote:

“Contemplation does not simply “find” a clear idea of God and confine Him within the limits of that idea, and hold Him there as a prisoner to Whom it can always return. On the contrary, contemplation is being carried away by Him into His own realism, His own mystery and His own freedom. It is a pure and a virginal knowledge, poor in concepts, poorer still in reasoning, but able, by its very poverty and purity, to follow the Word “wherever He may go.”

How many of us hold God prisoner to our ideas of him rather than being carried away by him into profounder revelations? Do we come to him daily as little children with “virginal knowledge,” a knowledge not wedged in the past or addicted to reasoning, but content only to go wherever he goes?

On the Damascus road Jesus called Paul to share his encounter with the world: “the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you.” (Acts 26:16 ESV) As profound as was his initial revelation of Jesus that day, it was only the beginning! There would be much more to come. Jesus would show more of himself than he’d already revealed in his initial glorious encounter.

There’s a huge difference between knowing what God has done and what he is in the process of doing. The former requires only a minimum of biblical education, while the latter takes an ever-deepening spiritual revelation.

Consider this as a step in the right direction to acquire such revelation:

To go deeper we have to overcome our fierce attachment to the familiar.

Sometimes what we already know and have experienced in God gets in the way of what we could know and experience. Not that what we already know is wrong (though that may also be the case), it’s just not enough. Is it possible that it is just a shell of what God intends for us to peel back in order to discover the hidden fruit inside?

Jesus said the Spirit would teach us “all things.” (John 14:26) I’m sure you would agree that, even though we have the Spirit, we haven’t yet learned all things, and that so far we only understand some things. So we would be wise to posture ourselves to receive the next things the Spirit intends to teach us. It’s that receptive posture, that eyes-wide-open mien of expectation that connects us to increasingly deeper revelations of Jesus.

Has your mind ever dimmed when reading the Bible or while listening to your pastor’s sermon? “I’ve heard this before. There’s nothing new here,” and we check out. When that happens we might be missing what the Spirit is saying in the moment because we’re stuck on what we already knew or thought we knew. We miss out on something fresh the Spirit has in store for us because we don’t expect to know or experience anything beyond what we’ve already known or experienced.

It’s at that ill-fated point that we obstruct the revelation process. We thought we already “knew” all there was to know about that truth and experienced all there was to experience, so we close up shop to any further business on the matter. When we default to the familiar we tend to shut down the Spirit’s revelation process. He’s trying to take us deeper than our pedestrian piety but we can’t seem to venture past familiar territory.

Again, it’s not that what we already believed is necessarily faulty. It simply doesn’t represent all the riches to be mined from that particular repository.

Speaking of mining God’s riches, I wonder how much of what we know or think we know is what someone else mined for us. Paul’s metaphor of “milk” versus “meat” is about what has been predigested by someone else versus what we kill, cook, and chew for ourselves.

It might be your denominational or political party line, a Christian pop-culture trend, your pastor’s sermons, or your cultural predisposition that you feed on exclusively. God bless your pastor or favorite preacher but s/he can’t give you everything you need to enter the depths of God. That’s on you. Meat-eating Christians maintain a receptive posture and cultivate a direct interaction with the Spirit of revelation, the Spirit who constantly invites us to venture outside familiar territory.

Jesus said, “Consider carefully how you listen.” (Luke 8:18) He didn’t say, “Pray more,” or “Read the Bible more,” or “Serve more.” He said: Listen up, and listen carefully.

Those of us who have, for decades, practiced a static, shallow spirituality, especially need to heed Jesus’ counsel. We’ve experimented with any number of trends over the years that have promised to keep our faith in peak condition. Some have accomplished more to fill our shelves with more books and binders than to actually deepen our walk with Jesus. Having seen so many of these fads come and go we are suspicious of another “Try Harder” approach––and right so.

“Consider carefully how you listen.” Now doesn’t that have a different sound than some of those trends that guaranteed to mature us and make us good Christians? This isn’t another fad, another sweaty spiritual activity. It’s just, “Listen more carefully.”

Regarding careful listening, Jesus also said:

“You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.” (Matthew 13:14-15)

If we want to understand deeper spiritual realities we have to deal with the calluses on our hearts. Callouses on the skin come from repeated friction or pressure on a particular area (fingers and feet, for instance). The pressure causes the skin to die and form a hard surface. Heart calluses occur when we come into contact with a spiritual reality over and over again and fail to apply it to our lifestyles. They develop when we assume that we already possess exhaustive knowledge of a divine truth and have experienced it to the fullest. If we aren’t “careful” we become insensitive to the Spirit’s invitations to deeper places.

So a deeper walk with Jesus takes a will to overcome our fierce attachment to the familiar even when what is familiar accurately represents the truth––just not all the truth.

We tend to want to claim expertise and forget we’re just children. Merton again:

“We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners.”


Next time I’ll propose another thought or two on how we might counter spiritual insensitivity in order to mine deeper into God.

In the meantime, please share with us how you go about it.

2 Replies to “Releasing Our Attachment to the Familiar (Avoiding Superficial Spirituality Part 6)”

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