The “Lone Ranger” Spiritual Life – is it possible?

One essential element of living a thriving spiritual life is being part of a spiritual community. Being an independent-thinking kind of guy, I can’t say I really like this reality. When I was young, I was just part of a good community (which was composed of people from many, many churches) and didn’t think about things. When left home and went out on my own at college, I continued to go on autopilot – I attended a church regularly. Only when things went sour, after I had left college and started attending a bad church near where I worked, did I start to question the need for one. Can a person get along without a community of other spiritual people? Can a person live a thriving spiritual life by himself/herself?

I decided to experiment and find out. Not for the sake of an intellectual exercise, but because I was very, very angry. So I began a period in my walk I’ve heard called “Lone Ranger” Christianity. I was answerable to no one – it was just me and God. The hell with the Church – I reasoned. It is hopelessly corrupt with people playing religious games.

But as the months went by, it seemed like something was wrong. I decided to read the sections of the Bible that talked about spiritual communities. So, according to Paul… living a spiritual life all by yourself has some drawbacks:

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:23-25.

Apparently, as human beings, and more so as spiritual beings, we are not cut out to live our lives alone – or to keep our spiritual life completely private. It seems that by doing so, we will no longer be encouraged by others like us to keep fighting – to continue to love and to do what is right. It’s hard enough to do these things at all, and it seems much harder to do only by ourselves.

Do you guys remember the diagram I drew a while back and published in an earlier post? I talked about the the reality that the inner self is made up of two primary influences, the self-destructive nature, and the conscience. I mentioned there that the two natures are not equal in influence. I think that the diagram below more accurately illustrates the reality of our influences. If this diagram is roughly correct (which I think it is because it rings true to my own real life), this means that our selfish nature has an unfair advantage over our moral nature. It is bigger and more influential.


When seeing things this way a year or two ago, my immediate question was… why? This seems unfair. Why did God allow this sad state to exist? It came down to two answers: 1.) We were deliberately designed to live a successful spiritual and moral life by influences outside our inner self. Our selfish nature was designed to be too powerful when pitted against our weaker moral one and thus forces us, by design, to seek spiritual community. By ourselves, we will slowly, and usually subconsciously, be drawn towards a selfishly lived life. 2.) Something went wrong. This unbalanced inner self was never meant to exist. We are left with relying on something or someone to help us from our own self-centered inner nature that inevitably plagues us.

At first, I wasn’t worried, regardless which answer was correct. After leaving the church behind, I believed that God Himself was the equation balancer – the 3rd influence that bolstered the moral nature of a spiritual person to enable them to live successfully. So I set off living the “Lone Ranger” spiritual life thinking that the diagram below represented a makeup that worked:

God influenced life


But as I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t doing too well walking this road.  God really touched me in those times- there were times of intense healing and laying internal struggles to rest.   But before too long, I realized I was living a spiritual life in a desert and subsisting on very little food – just enough to keep me alive. Was this what the spiritual life was meant to be? The kingdom of God that Jesus talked so enthusiastically about? It couldn’t be. Something was wrong. The above passage I quoted above helped me.  I pondered these further words of Paul – where he discusses this in his letter to the Corinthian church:

7Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[d]? Do all interpret? 31But eagerly desire[e] the greater gifts.
And now I will show you the most excellent way… (goes onto to the infamous love chapter)

So, details about the specific spiritual gifts aside, there seems to be a strangely designed arrangement for living the spiritual life. For some reason (I don’t know why) you do not have all you need to thrive by yourself, you need to be with others trying to live the spiritual life too. Why? Because for some strange reason that I am still trying to understand, God gave specific gifts to different people to help others in their specific needs – in places where they are struggling in their spiritual life. Encouragement, healing, wisdom, these are the things our spiritual beings need that we can’t always provide for ourselves. So it appears that quite often, there is someone God works though to help us rather than reaching out to us directly.

Some may not believe Paul is a final authority, and I can understand why, but what he said, even though I don’t like it, was true based on my life’s experiences. I tried to do it all alone, but it didn’t work. As fun as it is to do it “my way” – the mantra of independence and self-sustaining from our cultural morality (which in this case is tinged with selfishness as well as good), it doesn’t work well. When I took an honest look at myself, I saw my heart under siege – my moral nature was shrinking and my selfish nature was growing in influence. So in reality, it appears that the diagram below is more accurate to reality for a person who wants to live a thriving spiritual life, not an impoverished one:

Outer influences

After I came to this sad conclusion (because I still was disgusted with the church at the time), I decided to return to a church and keep trying find a place to fit in. I had to try, even if it meant trying my whole life unsuccessfully – I now knew it was the way the spiritual life must be lived. Even if I went from oasis to oasis in the desert (the spiritual equivalent of going from church to church), at least I would find some nourishment that was better than what I could scrape up in the desert.

So in the diagram above, I’ve put all of our fellow spiritual relationships in the 2nd shell – the first one that influences us outside of our inner selves (which I’ve designated as the 1st shell). It seems that when a person lives a spiritual life that is similar to what this diagram tries to represent, then they will thrive.

You might be wondering, why does God seems to be everywhere? In my experience in a healthy community of spiritually alive people, I’ve been blessed by God working though others to help me, and in me to help them. In each relationship, I can see God working both directions. I know it is God working inside of others because I know who God is personally, so I recognize Him when He is heavily influencing others. This is how I am sure about God’s omnipresence – not just because the Bible says it, but because I have witnessed it, over and over again. It has been revealed to me in real life, in addition to it being recorded in the Bible. I need real life to back up what the Bible says to make it truly real to me.

So there are still many unanswered questions. What does this society of spiritual relationships look like? I will not look at the current church as a model because, well frankly, it sucks. I’m looking for what the ideal should look like based on my life experiences and what the Bible says on the matter. I want to trim away all the encrustations that religion has added to this mystical system of spiritual relationships that Paul referred to as “the body.” There is something magical and amazing going on here – all the people involved and God have important roles in the lives of each other. I’ve got a rough diagram, but what does this look like in real life? It is my desire to understand it better.


    9 Responses to “The “Lone Ranger” Spiritual Life – is it possible?”

    1. Elise

      Great post! Thanks for the time and thought put into the diagrams – you’ve given me a lot to think about.

      In the Corinthians verses above, when Paul says “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good,” is it either specifically stated or generally implied that he is only referring to believers? I ask because based on my own personal experiences, these gifts are given to more than just believers. When Paul says that we are all given one Spirit to drink – Jews or Greeks, slave or free – would it be fair to restate in today’s terms that we are all given one Spirit to drink – Christian or Muslim or Agnostic, poor or rich…..

      I don’t have access to the entire chapter now, so I’ll re-visit it in complete context at some later point. But the point I am driving (without the advantage of reading the whole sermon) at is that I feel that much of my spiritual community consists of people outside of the church. People that challenge and encourage me, build my character and faith, and directly or indirectly improve my spiritual life do not necessarily share my faith. My husband, for one example, several friends as others – people that I feel have offered spiritual encouragement, healing and wisdom whether they intended to or not but have either different or no faith in spiritual things at all.

      I think my question would be, are the members of the body all believers? What does the bible say about the importance of non-believesr? Is it possible that some members of the body, which are important and valuable and deserving of honor, are of many different walks of faith? “But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

      Christian or Muslim, religious or not, believing or not – I think all have the potential to contribute to spiritual community. In real life, I think that the spiritual community you describe does not always come in the form of a church or any organized group of religious followers. Part of my frustration with the church is that it typically does not recognize that spiritual community can and does successfully exist without the church. I feel something amazing going on in my body of friends – my spiritual network or body, so to speak – that consists of people seeking truth and growth and spiritual living. Although I experience and interpret those things through God and my Christian foundation, some of the people in my “body” experience and interpret them through humanist views, through nature, through science, or through other major faith (i.e. Muslim or Mormon or Catholic, etc). Although our experiences and interpretations are based on different foundations, I feel each impacts me and my spirituality in a positive way and in a way that fits very well with your last diagram above.

      I do appreciate members of my community that believe the same way I do – we can understand each other and I place a lot of importance in their encouragement and friendship. I seek them out because I value their support in our similar faiths. But they aren’t the only place I find spiritual enrichment and community.

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    2. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Thanks for your comment! You do bring up a great point: is a person’s spiritual community bounded by their church? I went to a church that said no. They told me that even meeting with Christians from other churches for a bible study was wrong, much less and inter-faith group.

      That was the bad church I talked about that I eventually left. For the longest time, my spiritual relationships have always been within the church community, not outside. I believe I had a mild belief in Calvinism which states that anyone outside the Christian church is hopelessly evil in all they do (including loving their children believe it or not), so I was a little hesitant to listen to religious ideas from non-Christians. I didn’t get this from my parents, so I don’t know how I came to believe it. However, I have worked very hard to remove that type of thinking, based on many bible verses, but most specifically this one:

      “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.”)
      Romans 2:13

      I have met many non-Christians who have impressed me with their ability to love and be very moral people. They love their wives and family very well, they show kindness to their neighbors, they help the needy in charitable causes, work so hard at trying to find the truth about life, fight selfishness in all areas of their life, and in many other ways surpass me in their godly qualities. They may not believe in God, or they may believe in another god, but nonetheless, they have found and held on to these principles – ones that are dear to me because they are dear to God. These are the people that inspire me to be more godly myself. It is my guess that they have found a facet of the divine when they do these things. People that do not dabble, but fully commit their lives to such principles are wonderful to find. I would say that Socrates and Thoreau are two thinkers that have influenced me greatly in this last category. Neither believed in God, but were greatly moral men that seemed to have devoted their lives to finding truth at the expense of normal, comfortable self-centered living. The search for truth really consumed them. I am very grateful to them and to the others in that category I have encountered.

      I agree with you that even though there are great people outside of our belief systems, it’s really essential to be with ones that are within it. Unfortunately for me, they are sometimes hard to find. I have been around more that are critical and believe really crazy stuff then those that are supportive and mature. That is one reason why I wanted to return home where there is a strong, intelligent Christian community because there is an amazing seminary here that heavily influences the whole region which is for the most part identical to my outlooks and beliefs. I want to badly to be in such a place, and if possible, to continue to be a part of the positive influence.

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    3. jANICE cASH

      I know someone that I feel is like that a lone ranger, and I feel that this person thinks that’s right to be that way, but I’m sure she wouldn’t think that this was the way she is, I hope I’m not judging her the wrong way, but she had mentioned that she prays for herself….Thanks, Comment if you like…

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    4. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It’s hard to say why people become lone-ranger Christians. I know my reason, but I realize that a bad church experience is not the only cause. I read a good book by Philip Yancy entitled “Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived The Church.” that really helped me. It reminded me that there are incredibly good people that cared deeply for God and made a difference in the world, despite a corrupt religious community and culture.

      For the lone ranger Christian, I think a clinging to God is their only hope of spiritual life. Otherwise the world has a lot to offer as a substitute. Staying close to God will allow Him to draw that person down the right path of healing, and ultimately to once again find a community of good people. We aren’t meant to be alone – but to love and be loved and to share our life and joy with others.

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    5. matt

      I wanted to comment on Elise’s post. Regarding your spiritual community being made up of people with all kinds of various beliefs, I think I can agree ad relate that God has given everyone some measure of grace and wisdom which is in line with the Truth. In other words, God desires that we help our neighbor and have joy in sacrifice. Many non-believers do this of their own consciences, and I also have seen many of them that put me to shame as far as human righteousness goes. I also believe that God speaks to us sometimes through things that people say during the day, sometimes at the most unexpected times, in fact God even spoke through a donkey in the Bible!

      However when it comes to the idea that “spiritual community does exist outside the church” you need to realize that, yes there are many spirits in the world, and all of us are spiritual beings, but there is one Truth that cannot be reconciled with all the different belief systems, that is, that faith in Christ is our only hope. To conclude the thought that you quoted from Romans, Paul writes :
      Rom 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it–
      Rom 3:22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
      Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
      Rom 3:24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

      If morality and good works were the substance of our salvation, then anyone who “did good” would be OK. However God clearly lets us know that indeed it is important WHAT you believe, and ultimately not what you do. The perfect example is the thief on the cross next to Jesus,who could not turn his life around, but only believed right before his death. Jesus said that he would be with him in paradise. God is the righteous judge, and that’s why we don’t need to fear that others will go to hell unfairly, but he is clear on what he requires of us. Hope that helps

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    6. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Thank you for your thoughts and welcome! I apologize that I don’t write as often as I should and respond to comments sooner. Morality is something the Christian and the non-Christian can sometimes have in common, but it is ultimately a small part of what being Christian is all about. The rest of what it is about – an intimate relationship with God and a million other things, well – they just can’t be understood by a spiritual community whose members don’t believe in God or believe in a different one altogether. The Christian will be comfortable in a spiritual mixed group, but will probably desire to be in one that encompasses their entire spiritual lives…

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      I don’t know who you wrote this for but you helped a brother out.

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    8. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      You’re welcome! I wrote it for anyone who found themselves in a similar situation as me. I’ve since found a wonderful church, and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be involved.

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    9. Sharon A Palmer-Hillman

      Thank you so much for sharing. It is the enemy tattics to decieve the mind of the christians to think that they can live a spiritual life away from the body of Christ. He is a lier and killer. i have do speak at a women’s conference and this helps.

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