"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

Christmas – it used to be my favorite season.

Having worked in retail many years throughout my life, I developed a jaundiced eye regarding Christmas. The mystery of Christmas was reduced by the everyday handling of all things red and green.  The trinkets identifying the miracle of the season came in cheap plastic from China.  The message of love intentioned for the season was clouded by the rudeness of the shoppers, whose lists of things to accomplish became the emphasis rather than the true reason for the season.

For a long time, Christmas was not all it could be for me and for those around me.

I found that I needed to re-look at Christmas.  I hope that my journey to Christmas might be of help to you, if you, too, are feeling the need to re-look at your celebration of Christmas.

After experiencing the worst that Christmas can offer, I asked myself some questions:

  • What would Christmas look like if Jesus was living my life right now?
  • How do I regain the message of the miracle of Christmas?
  • How can I recapture the message of love and giving without becoming a mind-numbed zombie?
  • How can I replace the madness for the simplicity of gathering with family and friends?

I believed I needed to start with Advent.  Advent is a bit like Lent, in that it is a period of time associated with anticipation.  In the Celtic traditions, Advent actually starts earlier than we start in the United States.  It is a 40-day period, again, much like Lent.  The emphasis is on waiting.  There is an expectation of arrival. During this time, we are preparing for the birth of Christ, similar to how the Jewish people of the Old Testament waited for the coming of the Messiah.  Advent reminds us that we, too, are waiting, but not only for the birth of Jesus.  In our time period, we are looking forward to Jesus’ return – His second coming.

More questions popped up:  What is there about Advent that I would like to incorporate in my life?  How could I nurture the feelings of anticipation or expectation that go along with this season?  Possibilities:

  • An Advent devotional
  • Telling the stories of the Bible with the help of Jesse Tree with my family
  • An Advent wreath
  • An Advent calendar
  • Memorizing some of the verses of the Bible which tell of Jesus coming

These were all options that ran through my mind.  What I chose in the end was making the time of Advent special.  My husband and I decided to incorporate some of the things we have always talked about, but never did.  So one year we went to a local college concert of Handel’s Messiah.  It was truly wonderful.  It brought back memories of my mother playing her Messiah records right after Thanksgiving.  For me, it was not only a time of fond reminiscence, but it helped to place the season in terms of Christ’s mission on the earth.

Another time, we visited a local garden where they have an amazing Christmas display.  It was full of lights, fountains, and music.  With every turn, we caught our breath at the beauty before us.  The tour brought back wonder and surprise as we slowly made our way through the paths of the gardens.  It reminded me of the mystery of God, full of beauty and awe.

This year I will be using an Advent devotional from one of my favorite websites with the hope that the devotionals will also bring to heart some of those feelings of anticipation and expectation I so desire at Christmas.

My next decisions were on Christmas preparations from gift buying to decorating to the baking.

Simplicity seemed to be the answer to the questions I was asking.

Simpler baking.

Reduced decorations.

I looked at gift giving in a new way.

Gift giving has always been a pleasure for me, but I realized as my kids left and started their own families that I was no longer the CPG (chief present giver).  My children and grandchildren’s gifts became more appropriate for this stage of our lives.  I’ve also re-found that one of my greatest joys comes from giving to my loved ones items I have handcrafted.  I’m quite skilled at sewing, knitting, and all sorts of crafting.  In the past, I often gave presents I made, but I fell out of step with that some time ago.  Now there is a renewal of great satisfaction in making things for people I care for.  And I’ve found that there is a bit of anticipation in seeing the reaction to the gifts I made for them…good or bad…it makes a memory.

Rather than let the season drag me along in the raging river of what I thought was expected of me, I now approach the season with more thought and purpose.  The funny thing is, I’m happier.  My husband is happier.  And no one seems to care that I make less cookies, or I don’t put lights and boughs on my stairway or that the gifts are not extravagant.

Christmas is a special time of year.  It doesn’t have to be a time of craziness driven by consumerist expectations, rather it can be just another path on our journey of Spiritual formation.  We can be as intentional about this season as we are about anything in our Spiritual life.  And along the way, we can discover all the joy, hope, and love of the Christmas season with our focus on developing our relationship with God and His son.

After all, isn’t that the reason for the season?

What do you long for as you approach Christmas?  What could you do to make your Christmas celebration more enjoyable, and at the same time, worshipful?

Merry Christmas!

– Rebecca Preston, MA, Spiritual Director

Several years ago, my husband and I were presented with an opportunity to foster two children which would lead to adoption.  It would be quite a change in our lives as we had been empty nesters for some time, but we felt it was a calling which we could embrace.  We prepared mentally and physically for these children to come into our home and family.  As it worked out, our approval was not given in time and the children went with another couple.

That period of my life was a time of intense praying, often in the form of begging and bargaining with God.  I seriously examined the promises in the Bible, and claimed them for our circumstances. But to no avail.  The children were adopted with this family a year later.

I was left with quite a few questions.

My prayer life has not been the same since.

In the intervening years, I have experimented with different forms of prayer, like centering prayer, the Examen, or contemplative prayer.   I’ve practiced meditating on God’s word.  But specific praying, and prayers of supplication…well…I had honestly stepped away from them.  Asking for something from God became almost painful as my prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears, or seemingly ignored.  (I’m not saying God was not hearing me or ignoring me, I’m saying it felt that way to me.  Look up the Dark Night of the Soul)

Lately, as I’ve been studying the stages of the Christian journey through the book Critical Journey, I realized that I am in a stage which might be considered a transition stage or a stage of questioning.  I was relieved to learn that my feelings about prayer and my other questions are actually a fairly normal part of this time.  Many people have entered this period through a crisis in their lives or due to burnout.  It is simply a part of the journey of faith, and we must move through this stage to be able to go on to the next.

All of this was quite reassuring to me, and it led me to take another look at prayer.

Prayer is so important in the Christian life.  Prayer is a vital part of being a Christ follower.  When it is broken, there is a piece within us that is left wanting.

I looked to Jesus who prayed often, and he encouraged his followers to pray.

When Jesus prayed, I don’t think he spent all night on the mountain asking God to do this or that.  Some of the time, yes, but the rest of the time may have been in simple communion…listening to what God wanted him to know or sitting quietly in his presence.   But he probably did ask God for things in prayer as we see in John 17.  I thought that if Jesus prayed this way, perhaps I could re-do my prayer life.

I knew I needed to incorporate supplicating prayer into my life again.  Not as an arrow prayer, but as something tangible where I could learn to trust God with those things that were important in my life.  What I decided was to take some time and follow the way of the monastics.  Their life is one of order and routine.  They set times for eating, sleeping, working and praying.  I tried to set aside a time of prayer throughout the day.

So I set the alarm on my phone for 9, 12, 3, 6, and 9.  When the alarm went off, I stopped and asked the Lord for the same five things throughout the day.  Things I had settled on in my early morning practice of contemplation. Nothing fancy.  I presented my concerns.  I didn’t offer suggestions on how he might fix it.

Several things happened as a result of this purposeful practice of re-aligning myself into prayer.  What I found was by the next day I didn’t need the timer on my phone. Instinctively, I knew when it was time.

Soon my prayers began to expand, as they had so long ago when my practice of prayer was lifegiving to me.  I began to see the places I needed to bring to the Lord: a friend’s illness, my church, my husband’s work issues, safety for another friend.  Prayer became a ministry again.  Almost a joy.  And my focus changed from the need for answers of prayers to prayer for prayer’s sake.  I was lifting things to God, and then letting them go.

When our prayer life is in working order, our lives are richer and more fulfilling. I believe it was the work of the Holy Spirit giving me a new outlook on prayer: He knows my heart, he took my desire, and he gave me fruit through the practice.

It seems that sometimes we need to have a re-boot of sorts in our faith journey.  What works for me may not work for you, but it is a matter of finding the way to be in God’s presence that is life giving to you.  And being able to let go of old habits that are not working anymore.

What practices are life giving to you?  What practices are no longer helping you in your journey?  Can you risk letting go of what is no longer working, and taking on new practices?  Can you trust the Holy Spirit to help you in this journey?