"Formation…from which our outer existence flows, is an inescapable human problem. Spiritual formation, without regard to any specifically religious context or tradition, is the process by which the human spirit or will is given a definite “form” or character. It is a process that happens to everyone. The most despicable as well as the most admirable of persons have had a spiritual formation. Terrorists as well as saints are the outcome of spiritual formation. Their spirits or hearts have been formed." (Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ)

Spiritual Beings – we are all being shaped and formed by what we engage with – intentionally or unintentionally. What we behold we reflect. This simple principle is at the heart of the Spiritual Formation Movement. Christian Spiritual Formation is the process by which one intentionally organizes one’s life to be present with God in order to be shaped and formed into the image of Jesus.

Throughout the generations of the faithful, many have forged a path of proven practices that we are blessed to inherit. “The Disciplines” are activities that in and of themselves are practices of self-control. “The Disciplines” when engaged with the purpose of pursuing the presence of God in order to be formed by him into the image of Jesus Christ.

Harvest House is thrilled to finally be offering Spiritual Formation Direction either individually or as a group. In person or over video chat, the process can fit your hectic life. If you have interest in either individual or group, please contact theressa@harvesthousecounseling.com


I'd love to hear from you. Contact me at theressa@harvesthousecounseling.com

Resources

Recommended Books

Apprenticeship with Jesus: Learning to Live Like the Master
by Gary Moon

Celebration of the Disciplines: The Path to Spiritual Growth
by Richard Foster

The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God
by Dallas Willard

The Great Omission: Rediscovering Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship
by Dallas Willard

Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God
by Dallas Willard

Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence
by Ruth Haley Barton

Life with God
by Richard Foster

Renew Your Life: Discovering the Wellspring of God's Energy
by Kai Mark Nilsen

Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ
by Dallas Willard

The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives
by Dallas Willard

Spiritual Disciplines Companion: Bible Studies and Practices to Transform Your Soul
by Jan Johnson

Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit
by Henri Nouwen

A Year with God: Living Out the Spiritual Disciplines
by Julia L. Roller and Richard Foster

Organizational Links

Renovaré
(https://www.renovare.org)

Transforming Center
(https://www.transformingcenter.org/)

Leadership Transformations Inc.
(http://www.leadershiptransformations.org/)

Blog Posts

– Rebecca Preston, MA, Spiritual Director

Over the past couple of months, I’ve observed an interesting phenomenon.  I have been in situations recently where I’ve scratched my head in wonder.  Each of these incidents have occurred at different times, but when I heard about them, I was immediately struck at the irony of them.

First, I was talking with a woman who was describing the newest treatment plan for her troubled adopted child.  The counselor was using a new technique.  She asked the child to begin a practice of journaling.  Every day the child was to answer two questions and then write down her responses to them.  The questions are: ‘What brought you great joy today?’ and ‘What during your day took away your joy?’

Wait.  What she described to me is The Examen, a spiritual practice I often use with people in group settings or in Spiritual Direction sessions.  It is used as a discernment tool, and helps people to understand themselves more fully.  And here it is being used in a secular setting to help this child come into touch with her inward self.

Recently, I was talking with my doctor.  He was happy to see that while I am still overweight, my weight has stabilized over the last year or so.  This was good, but perhaps I might want to try and slowly reduce in any way that I could.  He went on to tell me about a study done in Europe.  The study focused on the eating habits of Europeans and how they avoid obesity.  He said the study found that many who participated in this study tend to eat normally 6 days of the week, but one day in the week, they eat less than 500 calories.  It has been quite successful in maintaining healthy weight.

Huh?  That sounds like the spiritual practice of fasting to me.  The Bible, and particularly Jesus, often talk about fasting as a normal practice of faith.  Fasting was being recommended here in a secular setting as being a mechanism for weight control.

Another doctor’s visit and I was asked about my activity level.  I mentioned yoga.  I enjoy yoga because it is helpful not only for my flexibility, but also for strengthening my muscles and helping me with balance.  This doctor applauded my participation in it, because yoga can be a form of meditation.  And it has been found that meditation is incredibly healing in our stressful society.

Meditation? Again, a spiritual practice used throughout the centuries by Christians.  Jesus often went up into the mountains to be alone for prayer and meditation.  Study after study is being released about the benefits of meditative exercises in bringing about a sense of well-being in the busy lifestyles many of us are living.

Finally, I was with a study group, and I opened with a time of Lectio Divina.  One of the women was new to the group, and it was her first encounter with Lectio.  Afterwards, as we were discussing their reaction to this spiritual practice, she was the first to jump in and offer her experience.  When she was finished, she, a teacher, sheepishly said, “We do this in the classroom, but we call it “close reading”.  It’s a tool we use for helping the kids to focus, and to help them understand what they are reading.”

The educational system has incorporated a spiritual practice into their programs to aid students in learning.  Albeit, they have renamed it, but it is, in essence, the same.  Lectio Divina is an ancient practice of the Church.  Many in the early church did not read or have access to a Bible, so listening was an integral part of contact with the scriptures.  Ignatius of Loyola often used a type of Lectio to help people in their imagination. He believed that if we could imagine ourselves in a gospel story, we would have a more intimate sense of being with Jesus.

So, where is the irony?

I found it to be significant that while the Church is rediscovering the Spiritual Practices as worthy to integrate into their daily lives, the secular word is embracing them.  The world is seeing these practices as being helpful in the well-being of the person as a way to promote wholeness by encompassing the entire person: body, soul and spirit.

My reaction to each of these situations was to first feel somewhat validated that the practices are scientifically worthwhile.  There is time being taken to investigate these ancient disciplines, and see significant advantage in their use.  Studies, such as this one, have shown this to be true:  http://fullyawaremind.com/what-fasting-does-to-your-brain/

Additionally, my thoughts went on to wonder if the world feels the lack of spiritual connection, and in turn, is seeking these tried and true practices to aid in areas where other things have been tried and were found to be lacking.  What an opportunity for the Church to reach out to the world, and with discernment, use the Spiritual Practices to help bring about healing.

My conclusion to these separate situations was to take heart.  Truly, practicing the Spiritual Disciplines are good for you!

– Rebecca Preston, MA, Spiritual Director

It’s been one of those seasons of life.  You know the kind, when reality rears its ugly head and many of our dreams and expectations have been dashed against the rocks of life. I have spent many a day during this season, mourning the choices I’ve made, and wondered how I fell so short of discerning God’s calling in my life.

As often happens in this season, I have gained some insight.  What I’ve noticed is there has been a casualty of this place I’ve been stuck in.  My thought life has become a victim.  Why?  Because I have allowed my thoughts to run free.  Rather than experiencing a sense of freedom, my emotions have gone on a rollercoaster ride – a stomach dropping feeling that I just don’t like! The good thing about this whole experience is my attention has been drawn to the relationship between my thought life and my emotions.  Somehow there seems to be a connection between the two.

I read a quote recently by Ken Boa which he posted on Facebook:

“Our mind holds the key, and Romans 12:2 reminds us that we are transformed by its renewing. Ironically, though, almost every sermon I hear says, “This is what you ought to do. . . .” We hear that we ought to live out the faith of Old Testament heroes or we should do the things that Jesus told us to; our churches ought to be organized a certain way, and we ought to adhere to certain practices. But we don’t hear very much about how we ought to think, how we should manage our own will or allow our minds to focus on—the life that is lived inside our heads and hearts.” (italics mine)

Dallas Willard has quite a bit to say about our thought life in his book Renovation of the Heart.  On page 96, he makes this statement: “Interestingly, you can’t evoke thoughts by feeling a certain way, but you can evoke and to some degree control feelings by directing your thoughts.”

Between the two of them, an intriguing way of living is suggested.  They both agree there is this link between our thought life and our emotions.  They seem to say we are not helpless in the mix.  We can live in such a way that by managing our thought life, we can also, in some sense, manage our emotions and feelings.

Of course, this begs the question: How do we manage our thoughts?

Well, I can only share with you what I have learned this past couple of months in this season of transition from dreams to reality.  I have been using several practices to bring the discipline of managing my thoughts into my daily rhythm.

Just a caveat:  None of this can be done without the help of the Holy Spirit guiding, leading, and comforting me through these practices.

Scripture:

I’ve known for some time how scripture works on me.  It calms me, and I believe, it re-routes my thoughts.  Lately, I have used 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV) to help me move my thoughts to a better place:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Recently, I read a blog from a woman I’ve been following for some time.  She spoke of the patterns in her life that she has intentionally cultivated.  Much of what she writes about is based on a Rhythm of Life that works for her.  In this blog, she wrote about her practice of saying Psalm 23 every day.  It grounds her and helps to set the mood for her day.  I liked the idea of it.  So I began reciting the 23rd Psalm anytime I felt my thoughts were running out of control.

Viola!   My anxious thoughts drifted away.  My attention was diverted from whatever fearful or worrisome emotion I had been experiencing to a place of calmness.

Now I’m not saying the use of the 23rd Psalm is some magical key that brought my thought life into discipline, but there is something about the use of scripture in our life that has a healing, almost defensive, quality to it.  I do think the practice of memorizing scripture and using it at strategic moments in our lives is much like what Jesus did when he was being tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).  Jesus quoted scripture to deflect the temptations away from him.  He put on the “Armor of God” just like how Paul, in Ephesians 6, describes scripture as a defensive strategy.

Many of us have been taught that scripture is useful, but how many of us turn to is at these times and use it effectively.  Scripture is more powerful than we often give it credit.

Centering Prayer:

Another practice that I find helpful in trying to manage thoughts is prayer.  I try to incorporate Centering Prayer into the beginning of each day.  Centering prayer is a prayer practice which is being with God, but without using words.  There is something about being silent, inviting God to come into our minds, and allowing our spirit to be ministered by His Spirit.  We are actually training our thought life in this practice.  I believe this prayer fosters the discipline of quieting our thoughts, and as a result, has a restorative quality to it.

I envision Jesus heading to the hills for prayer.  It seems like much of the time might have been spent in simple, quiet communion with His father.  Out of this time he returned to his ministry refreshed and focused.  Jesus knew that this time with God was precious and gave him the power he needed to minister to the people.

Spiritual Friends:

One other helpful practice, is talking with someone I trust about the issues of my life.  Whether it be a wise spiritual friend, a counselor, or a Spiritual Director, there is something about being able to voice the thoughts and emotions happening in my life that help to put everything into perspective.  Being heard and receiving counsel from someone who knows us and has our best interest in mind is an incredible gift.

These practices, the use of scripture to quiet my mind, centering prayer to quiet my spirit, and spiritual friendship which has a physical component, meet the needs of my whole personhood.  I find them to be incredibly helpful as I attempt to discipline my thought life.  In turn, they aid in refusing to even get on the rollercoaster of emotions.

I’m not out of this season yet, but I have found these practices to be helpful in monitoring my thought life, and I have found my emotions have become far more balanced.

I pray they are as useful for you.