Welcome back to the final five sacred pathways according to Gary Thomas, styles for personal worship/quiet time that help us draw closer to God. The first four can be found in this post, and I won’t spend too much time here rehashing.
Gary’s main premise is that everyone has one or two styles of personal worship where they feel the closest to God and see the most spiritual growth. There’s a complete, simple list at the bottom of this post, but these ways range from loving to be outdoors with God to being alone with God to celebrating God. Each brings a slightly different perspective to life with God, and understanding how each of us differs can lead to growth and unity among Christians. Anything that brings us together is a good thing.
So, here are the final five types of worshipers.
I will tell you right now, anxious friends, that I almost skipped over this chapter. An activist I am not. Confrontation? Changing the world? Um, no. But I didn’t, since some who read this are better than me at dealing compassionately with the world.
First, the Bible introduces us to several activists, those who, according to Thomas, feed on righteous confrontation. They work harder than most to rid the world of evil and to warn people of faith when they are looking the other way in the midst of an evil world. The three he lists are Moses, Elijah, and Elisha.
We think of activists in terms of social reform, and that’s true. But Thomas points out that it is much broader than that. Anyone who stands up for truth in his or her little part of the world is being an activist.
Activists are often tied to prayer. These are the great intercessors, calling to God on behalf of a lost world. They also can be confrontational, whether personal, in public speaking, or writing. When they are defending their faith to the world, they feel connected to God.
The cons of the activist include being judgmental and self-righteous. Also, they can become elitist, not understanding that where confrontation feeds them, it kills some of us, so they believe they are much more spiritual than their timid spiritual siblings. Thomas suggested that ambitious activists are prone to fall into sexual sins. Finally, an activist may look at the sin of the world and not pay attention to personal piety.
The pros of the activist include keeping the rest of us on track. We need people to point out sin to the world, but also to the church. They are often ostracized by the church, but they play an important, if uncomfortable role in the kingdom.
I always wished I was a better caretaker. As a mom of four I was good at caring for my family, but the world at large… This is where anxiety tells me I won’t do it right or won’t be enough or people will be mean or… Right. All those negative thoughts.
Obvious, there are many, many Biblical passages about caregiving, and the definition is broad. Thomas lists a few including: caring for the sick, lending money, helping someone with substance abuse, doing repairs, even computer help to a computer illiterate.
The caregiver feels closest to God when he or she helps someone in any realm, and as we all have different skills and different social circles, there are a lot of realms where we can help.
Caregivers can fall to temptations like anyone else. They can judge. Jesus told Martha there is a time to serve and a time to sit and learn. We can do it to earn human affection and not as an act of compassion toward God and man. It is also easy to focus on helping those far away—say by volunteering many hours outside the home—while neglecting those closer to home.
The pros of this one are pretty obvious. We preach that God rescues and saves the lost, and to put actions to those words—how much more can we show the world God than emulating his compassion in physical and emotional ways? But for some this is easier and more fulfilling than others, where caregiving is a special gift and calling.
Thomas says enthusiasts are driven by two things: mystery and celebration. Enthusiasts delight in spiritual manifestations, what some consider the more charismatic Christian practices. They pay attention to dreams, hope to hear God in mystical, new, unique ways, and listen for God to speak explicitly into their lives. As far as celebration, they like group gatherings, more celebratory worship styles, and, Thomas said, creating–making new things for the glory of God.
Some of the pitfalls the enthusiast can encounter is experience for experience’s sake. Both mystical experiences and celebratory worship can be a high that a person wants to repeat for the sake of the high and not the spiritual aspect. Another problem can be independence, the idea that every encounter with God needs to be fresh and new while ignoring the Bible and the history of God’s dealings with people. They can slide off center more than some of these groups.
But the Bible is filled with celebration. David the King was known for his long praise songs. Jesus was okay with his followers being loud and excited when he entered Jerusalem the last time.
And as for mystical experiences—the Bible is filled with those, too. The enthusiast is fed by these things more than others, although they must do so with caution, just as all of these nine groups must use caution. Anything good, especially anything that can draw us closer to God, can also be used by the Enemy to pull us away from God.
I admit I have a hard time explaining this one, and yet it is the one my heart yearns for the most. The contemplative feels God’s love and compassion more than most, and he seeks it out. This group practices adoration for God, and it is very emotional. David uses many terms that fit the contemplatives, like saying his soul thirsts and yearns for God. They also wish to perceive God’s presence. Not in mystical way, exactly, but as an awareness of God acting in their lives.
Prayers of many types fill the hearts of the contemplative. Have you heard of centering prayer? The Jesus prayer? Breath prayers? Meditative prayer? All of these are methods by which the contemplative gets closer to God in a more emotional way. Here’s a great article about contemplative prayer, including some warnings.
The cons here include an addiction to spiritual experience, thinking nearness to God means distance from relationships with people, and forgetting virtue, or adoring God without obeying and acting for God. Also, in an era when New Age self-divine concepts are prevalent, we have to make sure we are worshiping God and not self. Many have slid from godly spirituality to other forms of seeming spirituality, so this is always a concern.
The biggest pro, according to Thomas, is that my adoration to God is different from anyone else’s. This is a very personal, private relationship. Someone else can bring about justice or burn incense, but the only person who can have a Jill Penrod relationship with God is Jill Penrod, and He made me just for that exact relationship.
Again, I don’t think I explained this one well. I am more comfortable in the concrete, although I am working to incorporate more contemplation into my life. It calls to me, and yet I can’t quite let go of my concrete thinking to embrace it.
That brings us to the final pathway, and this is my pathway. The intellectual wants to think about God. This person has a bookshelf of spiritual books. He studies the Scriptures to find new things and new connections, increasing knowledge of God. We are told in the Bible many times to learn and study and know Scripture, and the intellectual takes that to heart.
This one is easy to see in personal worship. It takes no fancy supplies or location to open the Bible and pull out every detail for absorption. The intellectual is interested in theology, church history, and Bible training and finds patterns and lessons in the details of the Bible.
The cons here are obvious. Learning isn’t the same as doing, and I can fall flat here. I can tell you everything there is to know about anxiety and trusting God. But sometimes I don’t put that knowledge to use. Knowing isn’t enough, and piling knowledge on knowledge doesn’t equal a close, obedient, fruitful walk with God. Thomas also suggested they like controversy. Um, not me, but I can see where the desire to debate would be a temptation, especially small details.
The pros include the ability to see the truth. An intellectual can steer the church clear of certain heresies that others might not see. We all need to learn the Bible and know more about God through it, but for the intellectual that calling is a little easier because we love to connect the dots and make sense of things.
A look at all nine
That’s the nine pathways, according to Gary Thomas. Here’s a list of each of them and the main way each relates to God, in case you’ve forgotten some along the way.
- Naturalist: Let me be outdoors
- Sensate: Let me experience
- Traditionalist: Let me remember
- Ascetic: Let me be alone
- Activist: Let me conquer
- Caregiver: Let me care
- Enthusiast: Let me celebrate
- Contemplative: Let me feel
- Intellectual: Let me think
I would love to participate in a Bible study where people determined what works for them. I think there would be laughter, some surprise, a little debate, and a lot of understanding. Knowing how I think and how other people think is always enlightening and leads to greater unity. When I feel more connected and unified with my spiritual people, I have an easier time walking away from anxious thoughts. Maybe that is the same for you.
Feel free to comment about which of these seem to describe you, and let us know how you live that out. I’m always looking to expand how I relate to God in the hope that more and more of my life becomes surrendered to Him. I think Gary’s list gives us a great starting point to acknowledge and worship God in every aspect of life.