"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

Managing Thoughts and Emotions

– 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.

My Two Cents on Spiritual Formation

– Rebecca Preston, MA, Spiritual Director

Spiritual Formation has become a buzzword in the Christian Church.  Churches are now sitting up and taking notice, and in some cases, bringing it in as a curriculum to the church.  The idea may seem like a new one, but it is really an ancient concept with deep roots in the New Testament.

I’m often asked, what is Spiritual Formation?  My answers can go from the profound to the lame depending on the day or the audience.  While the premise is actually quite simple, there are many nuances that make it seem complicated, and maybe a little mystical.  But the basis behind Spiritual Formation is sound and, even, compelling.

We are all being formed in one way or another.  Sometimes our formation is unconscious through the way we are raised, the influences of peers, and/or our education.  Other times we are intentional in how we are becoming formed.  Look at the popular magazines and listen to the TED talks.  We are bombarded with better ways to live our lives.  We can learn beneficial eating habits, incorporating exercise into our routine, and/or bringing into our lives healthier ways to cope.  This is all a part of how we are formed into who we are and who we want to become.

But before any changes can be made in our lives, we often have to sense a need.  We desire to become healthier whether it be in our bodies or our relationships.  We have an inner compass telling us that something is out of kilter, and we want to address it.

Our being is composed of body, soul, and spirit.  We are whole persons, not meant to be broken into parts.  You can address the body issues, but sooner or later the spirit and the soul will cry out for attention, because the body issues often run deeper than simply the outward appearance.  The same runs true when we emphasize the soul over the body or the spirit over the soul.

We long for wholeness.  We know something is lacking.  We instinctively know we were made for more.

Spiritual Formation meets those needs of the body, soul, and spirit which seek wholeness or completeness.  Spiritual Formation can take us from the place where we have recognized the deficiencies of our life to the place where we make the choice to live as God has intended for us- in constant relationship with Him and recognizing His continual presence in our life.

Consequently, the idea of Spiritual Formation is a conscious decision to be deliberate in who we are to become.  And really, down deep, we desire to become more like Christ.  Actually, this is the goal in Spiritual Formation – to live our lives as if Jesus were living it in our place.

None of this occurs without some action on our part, just as a new diet or exercise regime requires our active participation and attention.  Dallas Willard says: “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to works.”  Spiritual Formation is not an exercise of works, although there are practices associated with becoming formed into Christlikeness.  We need to understand from the onset that the practices we incorporate into our life are not to gain some kind of advantage from God – He does the saving through grace, not on anything we can do.  The objective in the practices is always to train ourselves to acknowledge God – His presence and His help through His Spirit in anything we do.  More and more we learn to rely on Him for our spiritual growth.  The byproduct of the practices produces the characteristics of Christlikeness that we have longed for in our lives.

For example, I decided one year for Lent to practice fasting.  In my case, I decided to fast from desserts and sweets.  It is a long period of time, and in my life, there are several birthdays in the spring months which encompass the Lenten period.  I gave myself grace, knowing that there might need to be exceptions for the birthdays, including my own.  What I found was that I didn’t need desserts or really want them.  In fact, my needs were extended to many things.  I found that I didn’t need quite as much food as I thought, or my need for ‘things’ diminished.  I found, I could in fact, lead a simpler life.  I came to realize fasting also led to a kind of patience in delaying my needs.  This practice of fasting became much more than simply not eating certain foods, but an identification with the words of Christ:

 “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24.)

Just one more comment, I see Spiritual Formation as the journey a Christian makes into maturity.  A lifelong journey.  So, it requires a bit of patience and grace towards ourselves.  We are becoming, it is not a quick process.

And this concept of Spiritual Formation is found throughout the New Testament.  Paul talks about it as the method of transformation in Romans 12: 1-2.  In Colossians 3, he refers to the process of being renewed day by day.  Spiritual Formation is the activity involved in training ourselves to be able to ‘run the race’ as Paul encourages in Philippians 3.  This is for our benefit, and makes us strong in body, soul, and spirit to live well in this world.  But it isn’t only for us, it is for living well with our neighbors, and for the strangers who come into our lives.  Living well means we become the bright lights which attract others to the One we follow.

Spiritual Formation takes us from bystanders in our faith to participants – apprentices – disciples – who follow Jesus into the world as He called for us to be.

In subsequent blogs, I hope to focus on my experience of Spiritual Formation.