Messy Spirituality

About ready to crumble under the (in many ways self-imposed) pressure of living by all the Do’s and Don’ts we often mistake for Christianity, I was desperately seeking a messy (incarnational*) spirituality, though I didn’t have the words for it at the time.

I read Mike Yaconelli’s Messy Spirituality in college; it was part of an onslaught of Holy Spirit two-by-fours the Lord used to dislodge my legalistic blinders so I could see that I am the prodigal and the one who has been forgiven much.

Messy Spirituality is about exactly that. It’s a humble, unassuming story of and guide to rightly rejecting neat, sanitized spirituality, breaking out of the plastic shrinkwrap of systematized religion, and embracing abundant life with all it’s messes, failures, complexities, questions, joys, triumphs, tensions, and paradoxes. A messy spirituality truly embraces our constant need of God’s grace, which turns us into people of Grace, people of God.

Romans 12:2 warns against allowing the world to squeeze us into a particular pattern, a box that doesn’t let the Light in and keeps us from real living. Yaconelli recognizes we aren’t only in danger of the world trying to make us into what the world wants us to be, but that all too often our various Christian subcultures try, often with good intentions, to squeeze us into one-size-fits-all patterns of spirituality. This small book says big things about what it means to simply walk with God. No formulas, no four-year plans. Just one foot in front of the other. One step at a time.

While a messy spirituality rejects the boxed-in legalism found in certain churches, it does not reject the Church. Messy spirituality is not a lone wolf spirituality. It is a life lived together. The more the messier! (Well, okay, not necessarily—I just couldn’t resist.) Incarnational spirituality does not reject the Body of Christ (though it might shake the dust from a particular church off it’s sandals).

Yaconelli helps us look at life as a rich and enriching sort of muddling in the middle—the narrow path between legalism and libertinism that leads toward wholeness and freedom. He does so with pastoral patience and humility, humor and earthiness, wisdom… and grace.

If you find yourself struggling with I’m not good enough at x, y, z spiritual discipline. If you find the Gospel truncated and irrelevant to your friends, neighbors, coworkers, or in your own life. If you could use a reminder, an affirmation in the midst of the seemingly constant struggle against our culture’s/human nature’s pharisaical spirituality.

This book is for you.


* “Incarnational theology [affirms] Jesus Christ as the human expression of [God,] the second person of the Trinity. Incarnational theology can also refer to the belief that Christians are to function as Jesus Christ to humanity and represent the incarnated [embodied] Word of God to all people.” We are His hands and feet. We are His messengers. (Source:

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