"I think people use the Holy Spirit the way they would a prostitute."
It was kind of a shocking statement my friend made in our Sunday morning study. He knew it would be, and he apologized before making it, but still he had a point he wanted to make.
"Christians use God just to feel better," he said. We're not quite so interested in actually doing what God says; we're not really interested in being like Christ. We want to feel a certain way. God is there to make us feel good, to make us feel satisfied.
I'd been about to say something myself--about how Christians react rather than act, and so we have this tendency to live unbalanced lives--but I was, first of all, caught up in what he was saying and, secondly, not willing to push the study into worship-service time (I'm not the study leader, after all). My friend had just made an important point worth mulling over: The average Christian values a certain kind of experience over and above actual obedience to God. Christians use God.
It put me in mind of something the late Chuck Colson had written in one of his books--that he'd been studying then-current "successful Christian living" books and had a problem with them. "They were all telling me how to get more out of my faith, while I wanted to know how to put more into it." (Roughly remembered paraphrase here; you get the gist of it.)
The heart of the matter is simple: Does God exist for me, or do I exist for him? I can't think of any Christian of any stripe who would say: "God exists for me, of course!" But I can think of plenty of times when I've acted as if God exists for me. God is supposed to make me feel better about myself, comfort me when I'm sorrowful, and make repentance simple and easy. He's supposed to accept my excuses for sin and forgive me and understand that I'm only human and might just go back and do the same thing all over again.
In the United States at least, people tend to think of "spiritual" experiences as "emotional" experiences. They don't need to involve any lasting change of character or personality. They are like one-night stands. It's all about the pleasure they give; no commitment is required.