Finding Your Pathway to Fulfilling Worship (Book Review of Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas)

Some Christians find themselves discontent with a one-size-fits-all way to worship and know God. We’re prescribed the same practices as everyone else: every Christian must wake up and read the Bible early in the morning or have some sort of devotional time. While this is not a bad practice, some Christians may find that this approach is not fulfilling to them. 

Gary Thomas, an author and speaker, relates to this problem in Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God. He says, “I’ve found that many people face the same dilemma in their walk with God. Their love for God has not dimmed; they’ve fallen into a soul numbing rut. Their devotions seem like nothing more than shadows of what they’ve been doing for years. They’ve been involved in the same ministry for so long they could practically do it in their sleep. It seems as if nobody in their small groups has had an original thought for three years. They finally wake up one morning and ask, ‘Is this really all there is to knowing God?’“ (15) 

Thomas says no. He goes on to explain that since God has made each of us unique, we should have a relationship with God that is as unique as we are. So it stands to reason that our individual ways of worshipping God can take many forms. 

“As I read the classics of Christian faith and shared my journey with others, I discovered various ways in which people find intimacy with God: by studying church history or theology, by singing or reading hymns, by dancing, by walking in the woods. Each practice awakened different people to a new sense of spiritual vitality, and something was touched in them that had never been touched before.” (18)  

Thomas took what he learned from those learning experiences and applied it to define nine spiritual temperaments that he explains in-depth in his book. 

The goal of Sacred Pathways 

To be clear, Thomas is not advocating we take this information for our own benefit to make ourselves feel good. The ultimate goal, he explains, is that we love God and love others effectively. 

“The goal here is not self-actualization or spiritual self-absorption, but to feed our souls so we can know God in a new way, love Him with every cell of our being, and express that love by reaching out to others.” (31) 

Thomas identifies nine ways that different personalities worship God. He recommends reading all of the descriptions and determining the top three that resonate with you. He shares tips to worship and supplies warnings not let the traits overshadow the greater purpose of worship. 

The Pathways

Naturalists: Loving God Outdoors 

Naturalists worship God the best in nature. Being in contact with His creation, away from the busyness of life, teaches them more than books or sermons. Are you a naturalist? 

Ways to worship: Believe the truth about God, see the beauty of creation by hiking or boating, and be ready to receive and learn lessons from nature. 

Warnings: Don’t spend so much time outside that you never go back to your normal life. Don’t fall under a spiritual delusion or make an idol out of nature. 

Sensates: Loving God with the Senses

Sensates are drawn to the beauty and majesty of God. These Christian worship God using their five senses. They feel closer to God when these senses are engaged with music and artwork. Are you a sensate?

Ways to Worship: Find ways to engage these senses, for example, listening to music, looking at artwork, etc. 

Warnings: Don’t worship without conviction and go through the motions. Don’t idolize beauty or worship the act of worshiping, such as focusing on the success of your art instead of asking whether it would be pleasing to God. 

Traditionalists: Loving God through Ritual and Symbol

Traditionalists worship by keeping rituals and observing the Christian calendar. Rituals remind them of the work that God has done. Are you a traditionalist? 

Ways to worship: Observe rituals, celebrations, observances, symbols, and sacrifice (like fasts) as important reminders of your faith. 

Warnings: Don’t serve God without knowing who He is. Don’t neglect or judge others. Don’t replace faith with rituals. 

Ascetics: Loving God in Solitude and Simplicity

Ascetics worship God the best in an environment that is quiet and free of distraction. They like to spend time praying and giving God their complete focus. Are you an ascetic?

Ways to worship: Try having a quiet time at night or early in the morning. Take time to be still. Try fasting. When you do good works, make sure you’re doing them in obedience to God. Take retreats. Endure hardship in life keeping your focus on God. 

Warnings: Don’t be prideful, masochistic, or seek to gain God’s favor through works. 

Activists: Loving God through Confrontation

Activists worship God by confronting evil. They serve God by speaking, writing or starting charities as ways to combat injustice. Are you an activist?

Ways to Worship: Go on a prayer walk around your city and pray for the people living there. Support causes and help people. 

Warnings: Don’t let your hate for sin and evil become a hate for people. Don’t become overly ambitious or elitist. Don’t become too preoccupied by statistics. Make sure you “remove the log from your eye before pointing out the splinter in your friend’s.” (Matthew 7:3) 

Caregivers: Loving God by Loving Others

Caregivers worship by God by loving and serving other people. They are often involved in charities or church organizations to help people in need. Are you a caregiver?

Ways to Worship: There are many ways to serve others! Donating money, food, or clothing to charities, volunteering your time, or helping friends are a few examples. 

Warnings: Don’t judge people. Don’t use acts of service as a way to validate yourself or hold narrow definitions. Don’t neglect your friends or family while serving others. 

Enthusiasts: Loving God with Mystery and Celebration

Enthusiasts worship God by celebrating with songs and dance. They especially love to worship with a group of people and feel the enthusiasm of others. They want to feel moved by the mystery of God’s presence. Are you an enthusiast? 

Ways to Worship: Worship with enthusiasm by being creative or getting together with others. 

Warnings: Don’t become a thrill-seeker, drift away from church, or equate “good feelings” with “good worship.” 

Contemplatives: Loving God through Adoration

Contemplatives are marked by an emotional attachment and surrender to God. They worship God by showing their love for Him. They love to spend time in God’s presence and pray. Are you a contemplative? 

Ways to Worship: This book lists several different types of prayer you can try. Secret acts of kindness, like anonymous donations or friendly letters. 

Warnings: Don’t limit the ways God can reveal His love. Don’t follow meditation practices that speak of emptying your mind; instead, fill it with goodness and truth. Don’t forget about works or use worship as a way to make yourself feel good.  

Intellectuals: Loving God with the Mind

Intellectuals worship God by learning about Him. They love to study books and grasp new concepts. Are you an intellectual? 

Ways to Worship: There are many things an intellectual can study, such as the Bible, church history, theology, ethics, apologetics, or creeds. 

Warnings: Don’t love controversy, think knowing something is the same as doing something about it, or be proud. 

Benefits to Knowing Your Worship Style 

Tending the Spiritual Garden

We need to cultivate the garden of our faith. We can’t just believe and expect that that alone will create a fulfilling life in Christ. 

“A classical spiritual movement in the Middle Ages encouraged Christians to think of their soul as a garden. I hope this book can build on that imagery, helping us tend the garden of our souls by understanding our spiritual temperaments. The first question we should ask ourselves, then, is “How am I doing in this regard?” Have I truly tended my garden, or did I just plant it?” (232) 

Thomas encourages us to apply what this book has told you into a daily devotional time. Take a walk outside, pray, or read a Bible commentary. Use your spiritual temperament to guide your worship. 

Understanding others 

“We must be careful not to invalidate another’s expression of faith simply because it differs from our own.” (238) 

What does the Bible say about judging other believers? 

Bible verses 

  • Jesus and his disciples went on their way. Jesus came to a village where a woman named Martha lived. She welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was busy with all the things that had to be done. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, my sister has left me to do the work by myself. Don’t you care? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered. “You are worried and upset about many things. But few things are needed. Really, only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better. And it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, NIV) 
  • My brothers and sisters, don’t speak against one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister speaks against the law. And anyone who judges another believer judges the law. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it. Instead, you are acting as if you were its judge. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge. He is the God who is able to save life or destroy it. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12, NIRV) 
  • “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1, NIV) 
  • “Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.” (Romans 14:4, NLT) (I would recommend reading all of Romans 14 because it’s a great chapter!) 

The Bible shows that even between a united body of believers there are differences in the ways we worship and serve God. For the church is one body with many parts (1 Corinthians 12). We are made unique and so our worship should be unique. 

Don’t read this book just to learn about yourself and skip the chapters you don’t feel apply to you. When I read it, I gained the most from the sections I felt didn’t apply to me because I got a better understanding of why other Christians think the way they do. 

With this understanding, we can strengthen our relationship with our community of believers and at the same time have a more intimate spiritual walk with God. Thomas explains the rewards of having such a relationship. 

“The almost unbelievable joy is that you can enjoy a relationship with God that He will have with no one else.” (240) 

Takeaway

What do you think? Which of the spiritual temperaments did you relate to the most? How can you apply what you learned about it? 


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