"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

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?

– 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!