Do you know the spiritual “pathways” people have used over the centuries to grow closer to God? Do you know your own personal way to most naturally express yourself in your relationship with God? The way that best fits your temperament designed by the Creator who knew what he was doing when he made you according to his own unique intentions?
Briefly describe the concept of Sacred Pathways and why it’s important for Christians.
Gary Thomas: Many Christians have been hindered in developing intimacy with God largely because they try to fit into a “one-size-fits-all” devotional practice. God has created us with different spiritual temperaments, and we all relate to God in different ways according to those temperaments. The Sacred Pathways draws on Scripture, church history, and the Christian classics to describe the nine “pathways” through which believers can draw near to God with new freedom, enthusiasm, and joy.
In Psalm 63, David describes his hunger for God. If someone is not experiencing this same kind of desire, might they be trying to relate to God is a way less than natural for them?
Gary Thomas: Absolutely. That’s the need that Sacred Pathways seeks to address. We’re created to be in a relationship with God. He’s the most loving, fulfilling, and perfect being that our souls should long to spend time with. If we struggle in our walk with him, the problem isn’t the “who,” it’s the “how”—how we’re trying to relate to him. I love my wife, but I wouldn’t want to sit and knit with her. However, there are dozens of other activities that make me enjoy her presence. The fact that I’d prefer not to knit with her isn’t a reflection of my love for her, but on that one activity. The same principle holds true in our relationship with God.
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Did Jesus model any one pathway?
Gary Thomas: He models all of them. You can see him as the activist, when he clears the temple. You can see him as the naturalist when he so frequently retires to the Garden of Gethsemane. You can see him as the caregiver, when he selflessly heals and comforts. You can see him as the intellectual when, even as a 12-year-old, he was discussing biblical truths in God’s temple. As the only perfect and complete person who ever lived, Jesus exhibits every single pathway, which is crucial to understanding the sacredness and acceptability of each one.
How might the different pathways change the way people experience Scripture?
Gary Thomas: It’s important for all of us to encounter and interact with God’s Word on a daily basis, and the pathways help us discern how best to make that happen. An enthusiast might prefer to study God’s word in a group setting where she or he can discuss the truths with others who are present. An intellectual is likely to get into original word definitions, commentaries, and cultural understandings. His or her intensity in seeking new understanding may be the single most effective way for them to open up their heart to worship. The sensate may prefer to listen to Scripture as they drive to work. The contemplative may interact with fewer Scriptures but think meditatively about each one, pondering and contemplating the depth of its meaning. An activist may treat Scripture reading like rocket fuel; motivation to get busy. A traditionalist will likely have a reading plan, a schedule, and perhaps even a routine place and time where they read Scripture. They all interact with Scripture, but in their own way.
You say “in a healthy Christian life, prayer and ministry go hand in hand.” Explain what you mean.
Gary Thomas: Ministry is an essential aspect of faith. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The whole point of the Sacred Pathways is to open our hearts and minds to the overwhelming love of God so that we’re motivated to pour out that love onto others. Too much of “receiving love” but not pouring it out makes us spiritually lethargic. But too much ministry without prayer and we can start ministering for the wrong reasons with the wrong attitude, and on our own strength.
In a healthy Christian life, prayer motivates us toward ministry. Ministry reminds us of our need to depend on God’s Holy Spirit. So, prayer moves us toward ministry, which moves us toward more frequent prayer, which keeps us motivated for more ministry. Together they build each other up. Pull either one out of the picture, however, and we slump into some dangerous places.
What are some of the dangers of a one-size-fits-all approach to spending time with Jesus?
Gary Thomas: Our devotional times become a duty rather than a “delight.” They can become something we check off a list rather than something we deeply enjoy. I believe discipline is important, but delight is equally important. If we delight in spending time with God, discipline will take care of itself.
A second danger is judgmentalism: we start to think our way is the only way, or at the very least, the best way, and we miss the beauty of God’s wider community. Contemplatives need to learn from and be inspired by activists, just as enthusiasts could learn something from traditionalists, and so on.
Finally, variety serves all relationships. I really enjoy taking walks with my wife, but I’m glad we do a lot more than just take walks. If you only relate to God according to one pathway, you may eventually become a little bored or at least lethargic in your devotional time. Knowing your pathway is a healthy remedy for when you’re especially “spiritually hungry” and need to be filled, but knowing the other pathways is very helpful in order to add occasional spice to your relationship with God.
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What is your objective for viewers in teaching these lessons about Sacred Pathways?
Gary Thomas: Joy, freedom, and understanding.
Joy in discovering new friendship with God, increased adoration of God, and experienced intimacy.
Freedom in realizing that we most honor God when we worship him according to the way he made us. We’re not “cookie-cutter” Christians and we shouldn’t feel guilty if one particular pathway doesn’t do much for us.
Understanding that others may relate to God differently than we do but we can learn from them instead of judging them, increasing our experience of God as a church rather than limiting it as individuals.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Gary Thomas: Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you as well.” This verse sets the agenda for me every day—how can I use whatever time and resources God has given me to build his kingdom rather than mine, and how I can continually seek to grow in righteousness rather than focusing on prospering financially, reputationally, or in popularity. Matthew 6:33 is the motivator and compass of my life—setting my agenda and keeping me from getting distracted.
Sacred Pathways is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Gary Thomas is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct faculty member teaching on spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, and Houston Theological Seminary in Houston, Texas. He is the author of 19 books, including When to Walk Away, Sacred Pathways, Cherish, and Sacred Marriage—over one million copies sold. He has a master’s degree from Regent College and was awarded an honorary doctorate in divinity from Western Seminary. Gary has spoken in 49 states and 10 different countries.
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