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What is Spiritual Formation?
Dallas Willard wrote that, “WE CAN SAY, IN a preliminary manner, that spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.”[1]
[1] Dallas Willard,.
Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ (p.
The Navigators.
Kindle Edition.
Spiritual Formation is an active process of becoming more Christ-like.
Where the saints are growing in maturity (connecting them to Jesus through the disciplines—spiritual formation)[1].
This will enable an integrated and holistic deepening of one’s love for God and neighbor, expressed in mission and service.[2]
Dave Earley states that “The goal of spiritual transformation is becoming more like Jesus.
If you are not changing and growing, you are not experiencing spiritual formation.”.[3]
Spiritual Formation brings together the practices of discipline and the growing personal connection with Christ.
The process of spiritual formation and discipleship show the same growth curve whereby the believer grows in conformity to Christ as well as in complete surrender to His lordship in all areas of life.
To anyone that hopes to deepen their understanding of being formed spiritually will need to develop their understanding of their own capability and the role they play as well as the work of the Lord in that process.
However, this author would echo Earley when he states, “ We believe spiritual formation is a personal, individual obligation.
No one else can grow for you.”[4]
Three Areas Related to Spiritual Growth
The three areas related to spiritual growth are “Loving God (relating to God), loving one another (nurturing relationships), and loving our neighbors”.[5]
Each of the three play a major role in the process of spiritual formation.
Each one marks a unique aspect of growth in discipleship.
1. Loving God is first in importance to those that desire to grow in the fullness of Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “If I continue to ask how can I recognize what my heart clings to, again there is a clear and simple answer: everything which keeps you from loving God above all things.”[6]
This statement reveals a method by which one can gauge your heart for God and also evaluate the obstacles to continued growth.
Not unlike the rich young ruler from scripture, often the thing a disciple is asked to give up is the very thing they are struggling most to surrender.
This reveals an object that has higher place in the heart or life than God.
So, how then does one grow in his love of the Lord?
According to Wilson Teo, “The Bible provides the biblical content and source for spiritual formation to take place in the lives of believers (Averbeck, 2010).
It reveals the nature of who God is and enables believers to become like Christ in their values, behaviors, and lifestyles”.[7]
With that in mind,
The believer needs to be in the Word to grow in love.
Also, prayer and a quiet time with God is necessary to grow in love for Him, and thereby, grow in spiritual formation.
Prayer is the body of Christ humbling itself before God, worshiping God, listening to the Holy Spirit, and submitting in obedience to the will and purpose of God.[8]
In so doing, the love of the Lord will increase.
2. The aspect of loving one another is the next step in spiritual formation.
The idea here “pertains to loving our brothers and sisters in the family of God”.[9]
Sometimes believers forget that they do not just have God as father but other believers as brothers and sisters upon conversion.
Jim Putnam put it this way, “ Scripture tells us that when we are born again, we become part of the family of God and have a spiritual Father as well as brothers and sisters in Christ.”[10]
He further states that,
“ It can be easy for us to accept the good news that we have a Father who loves us, yet fail to relate to other believers as brothers and sisters, but the two are connected.”[11]
To grow, a person must develop in their love for the siblings they now share.
Spiritual formation ignites in the believer a fire for learning to love God the way He desires and learning to love one another like Jesus loves us.
The love of one believer for another holds such credibility in the world that Jesus said in , “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
3. Loving our neighbors is a directive to love the entirety of the world around us.
Rod Dempsey wrote, “Our love for God and for one another should be a major apologetic to the unbelieving world”.[12]
The way a believer treats the world should exhibit Christ for them.
Believers are a walking, talking apologetic.
It is like the life of a believer is a billboard advertising something and that something should be Christ.
When the believer lives yielded to the Spirit, something miraculous happens.
The Bible states that “fruits of the Spirit” begin to grow that include such things as peace, joy, love, faithfulness, and goodness, among other things ( ESV).
With this fruit present in the life of the believer, loving your neighbor becomes more and more possible.
Each of the three aspects discussed here, bring spiritual formation and meaningful discipleship pathway.
Personal Growth Assessment
As I began this writing assignment, I thought, I will fly through this and have little to no surprises.
That turned out not to be true.
I was surprised about how the assessment turned out.
I am a senior pastor at a medium sized church.
I tend to be a very active person and I have always loved reading and listening to audiobooks.
I am a prayer.
I love to serve others.
I am good at helping strangers to feel more comfortable.
That is how I would have answered this writing before the assessment.
The fact is, I have a tendency to burn the candle at both ends.
I am the single pastor of a church too large for that.
I am a full-time student working on my M.Div.
and want to eventually obtain my D.Min.
However, this assessment showed me a couple things that I must remedy.
It reminded me that, “Spiritual formation is a communal activity, not an individual journey.
Our formational journey is never a completely solo endeavor.
We need the encouragement, strength, love, and relationship of others as we walk the pathway of formation”.[13]
Too often, I have shouldered a burden not meant for me alone to the determent of my spiritual growth.
The area of “Love for One Another” was the area I scored highest on.
I began in ministry teaching and leading small groups.
I have always enjoyed caring for others.
I have viewed my church as my family almost from the start of my spiritual life in 2004.
I believe that when Jesus prays for us in to “be of one mind” and to “be unified” it was to be taken seriously.
He is sure of the credibility this love will display when He further states “so that the world may believe that you have sent me”.
I am more aware than ever of the importance of being with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Too often during this season of life with school and the church demands, I have let that slide.
This was my strongest area but, still, I need to reengage.
I will begin to make an effort to connect beyond the church walls.
I love to do so, I just let work get in the way work, so to speak.
The area of “Love for God” was my next strongest area in the assessment.
I have always loved reading the Word.
I am not a chapter and verse guy on most scripture but, I can tell you where it is and what it says at least in paraphrase.
I recently have gotten better at remembering verses word for word.
My wife bought me the book Why You Really Can Memorize Scripture by Dr. Daniel Morris.
Dr. Morris points out several reasons why memorizing scripture is important.
He stated that, “God offers promises and prosperity to those who have His words in their mind and heart and meditate upon them”.[14]
I pray I continue to grow in this area.
Speaking of praying, my second area that needs to improve is the way I note my prayers.
I do not currently write down my prayers.
Nor do I number them.
I have two prayer journals on my shelf that have not been opened once.
I plan to begin using them immediately.
The area of “Love for Our Neighbors” is the area that I scored the lowest in on this assessment.
This fact is extremely convicting for me.
I have always been one to engage people almost anywhere I encounter them.
However, during this busy season, I have let it go too much.
We used to prayer walk our neighbor each week.
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