David connected with God when he was a shepherd out in a field with his sheep, long before he became king. His son Solomon drew closer to God through wisdom and knowledge. Years later, when the Messiah descended from David’s line came, a woman named Mary would show her faith by caring for God’s Son as a mother. Our relationships with God are not one size fits all.
Author Gary Thomas asserts that there are multiple ways we feel close to God and that each of us has one or two preferred “pathways.” In his book Sacred Pathways, he says:
Expecting all Christians to have a certain type of quiet time can wreak havoc on a church or small group. Excited about meaningful (to us) approaches to Christian life, we sometimes assume that if others do not experience the same thing, something must be wrong with their faith. Please don’t be intimidated by others’ expectations. God wants to know the real you, not a caricature of what somebody else wants you to be. He created you with a certain personality and temperament. God wants your worship, according to the way he made you.5
As he’s looked into how people connect with God, Thomas has identified nine common pathways (the titles are his, the descriptions are mine):
- Naturalists—“I feel closer to God when I’m outside engaging with his creation.”
- Sensates—“I feel closer to God when I’m worshiping with all five of my senses, such as being in a service that includes music, candles, and communion.”
- Traditionalists—“I feel closer to God through meaningful rituals and a disciplined life of faith that includes certain traditions.”
- Ascetics—“I feel closer to God through solitude and a simple life.”
- Activists—“I feel closer to God by pursuing justice and confronting what’s wrong in our world.”
- Caregivers—“I feel closer to God by meeting the needs of others.”
- Enthusiasts—“I feel closer to God through outward expressions of emotion and celebration.”
- Contemplatives—“I feel closer to God by having time to focus exclusively on him and pursuing an intimate relationship with him.”
- Intellectuals—“I feel closer to God when I’m learning and actively pursuing growth in my life and relationship with him.”
Our church small group recently explored our sacred pathways together. The results surprised us. Almost all of the men leaned strongly toward Naturalists/Caregivers pathways (yes, you can have more than one) and most of the women scored highest on the Intellectual pathway. Knowing that gave us new insight into how we relate to God as well as to each other and made our group stronger.
If none of the pathways above resonates with you, add your own. Gary Thomas’s whole point is that we each have different ways of connecting with God. Yes, there are practices that are essential for every Christian, like prayer, Bible reading, and fellowship. But even those are lived out differently. For example, my Naturalist/Caregiver husband enjoyed a men’s mountain biking group that did a devotional together at the end of the ride. As an Intellectual, I would rather skip the ride completely to stay curled up indoors on the couch with a new book that helped me grow. Both are valid ways to connect with God.
Yes, Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). But the ways we can connect with the one who is the Way are as unique as we are. Be careful of anyone who tells you that his or her way of worshiping is the only right one. And enjoy finding out more about how God created you to connect with him.
You can find out more about Sacred Pathways at www.garythomas.com.
Gerth, Holley. 2015. You’re Loved No Matter What: Freeing Your Heart from the Need to Be Perfect. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell.