Spiritual Formation. For anyone who calls themselves a follower of Jesus, the topic of spiritual formation will come up at one point in time or another. We all have our ideas and thoughts about what it is, how to do it, and, of course, why it’s important.
Simply put, to me, spiritual formation is one of the primary ways that we as created people seek to connect with God. As the title suggests, the idea behind it is to be formed, spiritually, by God.
How that plays out, though, in terms of every day life can take a lot of different forms. Usually what we hear in church today on the topic has two elements: reading Scripture & prayer.
While these are great places to start, I am beginning to recognize that they are far from a comprehensive list, nor are they overly helpful, even to an earnest Christian.
For one thing, how can we, as 21st century followers of Jesus, or even regular ordinary people read Scripture appropriately? It can be easy to see something in Scripture, and automatically read our 21st Century context into it, with little to no regard to ancient culture, or ancient philosophy, or tradition.
In turn, what I think has happened is that most Christians have decided to stick with what I have come to call the “feel good” texts in Scripture- you know, the ones that make you feel better about yourself, or talk about God’s unwavering grace or love for us (i.e. John 3:16, Romans 5:20, Revelation 3:20, etc.).
Please understand, I’m not suggesting that these texts can’t be helpful, or encouraging to some, but when there is not an engagement with the larger context of Scripture as a whole, it becomes difficult to develop any kind of depth to one’s relationship with God.
It’s like buying a brand new TV at the store, getting it home and out of the box, only to use the default settings it was set to when it was built in the factory.
Simply put, my point is this: you’ll never get the most out of it if you aren’t willing to put any time into it.
The same is true with prayer. I learned many years ago in youth group, and have read in several books (and heard many sermons given) that simply describe prayer as “talking to God.” I don’t like that, at all, for the simple fact that the focus is on us, and that then prayer becomes a one way conversation with a God who we treat as more of a vending machine than anything else.
Instead, in my time at seminary, and through digging deeper, though it takes more work, and time (sometimes more than I am willing or able to give, I’ll admit!), I have come to understand prayer as a conversational relationship, especially one that is ongoing throughout my day, (Leighton Ford’s The Attentive Life has been especially helpful to me in terms of helping to re-frame my thinking in that aspect of my life as of late).
But, as I mentioned earlier, there should be more to the spiritual life than simple Scripture & prayer. It’s a big, beautiful, diverse world out there, and I’d like to think that we can find God anywhere and in anything if we are willing to look hard enough. Contemplation, Meditation, heck, even listening to music can be a spiritual exercise, if we let it help us focus more on God.
Now, in closing, I’d like to say this: I’m still a student. Always will be. I don’t have all the answers. But, I am in the midst of learning more about Spiritual Formation, and I am hoping to share more on the topic in the future.
In the meantime, here’s to the wilderness, knowing that God will always meet us wherever we are.