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What is Spirituality?

The scriptures teach us that “pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:17). In other words, pure religion is charity. Religion isn’t just a belief in a higher, divine power but also the expression of that belief. Spirituality, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, is “spiritual character, quality, or nature” and “religious devotion.” Romans 8:6 says, “To be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Our spiritual character is a function of how we practice our religion, or our belief in God.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church, I have been taught the value of serving others. Pure religion isn’t a belief, it is action based on belief. In an April 1998 address titled “Search Me, O God, and Know My Heart,” President James E. Faust, then second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ, quoted a story from a newspaper that illustrates this:

love Bible God Quote testimony lfA group of religion instructors [were] taking a summer course on the life of the Savior and focusing particularly on the parables. When the final exam time came, … the students arrived at the classroom to find a note that the exam would be given in another building across campus. Moreover, the note said, it must be finished within the two-hour time period that was starting almost at that moment. The students hurried across campus. On the way they passed a little girl crying over a flat tire on her new bike. An old man hobbled painfully toward the library with a cane in one hand, spilling books from a stack he was trying to manage with the other. On a bench by the union building sat a shabbily dressed, bearded man [in obvious distress].

“Rushing into the other classroom, the students were met by the professor, who announced they had all flunked the final exam. The only true test of whether they understood the Savior’s life and teaching, he said, was how they treated people in need. Their weeks of study at the feet of a capable professor had taught them a great deal of what Christ had said and done” (“Viewpoint: Too Hurried to Serve?” [LDS] Church News, 1 Oct. 1988, 16).

President Faust continued:

In their haste to finish the technicalities of the course, … they failed to recognize the application represented by the three scenes that had been deliberately staged. They learned the letter but not the spirit [of the law]. Their neglect of the little girl and the two men showed that the profound message of the course had not entered into their inward parts.”

I can relate to the religion students who were so focused on finishing their test on time that they missed—or figured someone else would help— those in need around them. It probably would not have taken that long to stop and help either the little girl or the men. How often do I get so caught up in what I’m doing that I miss opportunities for little acts of service all around me?

Service makes us spiritual

Several years ago, I was in a store parking lot and a man came up to my car and asked for money, saying he had run out of gas. My first thought was, “Yeah, right.” So I told him no. But immediately the thought came to me that I should help him. I tried to go back and help him, but he was long gone. I have always felt bad about that. I had some cash in my wallet, but I didn’t listen to the prompting from the Holy Spirit to help. I did not practice pure religion, and spiritually I suffered, because I knew I should have helped.

A few weeks ago, I drove to the gas station about 11 at night. As I was filling up, a woman approached me and asked where a certain hotel was. I live in a small town, but there are several hotels, and I wasn’t sure where this particular hotel was. So I looked it up and told her the address. I asked if she wanted a ride because it was cold outside and she wasn’t wearing a coat. She declined. I finished pumping my gas and then left. As I drove down the street, I saw her walking, and she looked cold. I called my husband and asked where the hotel was. He told me, and it was a lot further than I thought. So I turned around and stopped and asked the woman again if she wanted a ride. I told her the hotel was further down the road than I had thought, and I was headed that direction. This time, she accepted the invitation. We chatted during the few-minute drive, and then I dropped her off at the hotel. I don’t know why she was out alone so late at night with no coat, but I felt good knowing that this time, I didn’t ignore the prompting to help. That is the essence of pure religion—helping people when they need it, not when it’s convenient for us.

President Faust said:

“We must at times search our own souls and discover what we really are. Our real character, much as we would wish, cannot be hidden. It shines from within us transparently. Attempts to deceive others only deceive ourselves. We are often like the emperor in the fairy tale who thought he was arrayed in beautiful garments when he was in fact unclothed.”

I love the title of President Faust’s address: Search me, O God, and know my heart. For those who are true followers of Christ, who want to practice pure religion with the right spirit, that is the litmus test. Honest, true seekers of Jesus Christ will want the sweet assurance that God has seen their hearts and knows their intents are sincere.

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