In his inaugural address given over six decades ago, in January 1961, President John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” It was a striking exhortation that completely changed the outlook and attitude of a generation, and with just one small twist it could well do the same for the generation of spiritual seekers, students, and disciples living today.
Religion and spirituality in the 21st century is a very mixed bag, and while there are still pockets of ideological purity that can be found in that bag, there’s an awful lot of selfishness in there as well.
Spirituality has become something of a commercial commodity, and being able to sell a message – even an essentially spiritual message – often involves deliberately appealing to the selfish instincts of the intended audience.
Flick through the religious channels on your TV and it won’t be long before you’re offered a book or audio set that promises to help you change your life through prayer or meditation. “Get happy, get rich, get successful, and get right with God, all for a one-off love gift of just $39.99!”
Similarly, the new age seminar circuit is littered with events that will teach you to raise your consciousness, elevate your tone and open your chakras – all so that you can free yourself up to secure that promotion, manifest your dream car or attract your true soul mate.
When you sit down and look quite honestly at the religious and spiritual scene, what you’ll see are millions of people focusing on what they hope will be the benefits of their practice. We’re being conditioned – often by the people and companies who are trying to sell us something – to ask ourselves what our God (or our mantra, or our spiritual practice) can do for us as material beings. But what we should be doing, to borrow heavily from the wisdom of JFK, is asking ourselves what we can do for God.
There are certainly benefits to be experienced by following a spiritual path with devotion and diligence, but those are merely side effects. Our motivation as spiritual seekers should be to serve our God as selflessly as possible.
And how do we do that? By viewing ourselves as God’s representatives on Earth and going out of our way to shine a little light into the lives of the people we come into contact with.
When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment of all, he said:
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Living a spiritual life isn’t about chasing physical healing, reducing our stress levels, becoming financially abundant, or unlocking psychic powers. It’s about serving God by sanctifying ourselves so that we can more effectively help to ease the burdens of the people around us. You could do this by sharing a gift, a meal, a smile, an encouraging word, or whatever else you have available to share. Precisely how you can best express the love of God to your neighbor will depend on the situation. All that really matters is that you do.
Or, to paraphrase JFK once again: “Ask not what your God can do for you – ask what you can do for God.”
And when you get the answer, be sure to do it.