"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

Living for Today

-Rebecca Preston, MA, Spiritual Director

I had an epiphany last week.  I do not live in the today.

Quite a revelation to someone who desires to live daily in the presence of God.  Someone who strives to be present to people, and the situations that come up in each new day.

But in reality, I find that I often live in the future.  Always looking ahead to the “someday.”  Trying to patiently make it through the current day’s issues by planning for something the next day that gives me something to look forward to.

When I was a young girl, I was rather sickly, and often went to the doctor’s office for “shots.”.  My mother, helping me to get over the fear, would dangle a treat in front of me.  “After the doctor, we will stop and get…”  Ice cream, a toy, shopping excursion.  This tactic is beneficial in curtailing the dread of something painful by looking forward to something pleasant.  It is a practice I continue to this day.   I taught this to my children, and it is very effective.

Not a bad plan, but is it for the best?

For the last month or so, I have been using the God Soaked Life by Chris Webb as a devotional.  At the end of each chapter he includes a list of verses that we can use as a daily mediation.  How I came to this epiphany was from Hebrews 4:1-7, and with it the questions from the book: “Do you find it easy or difficult to live in today, in the present moment?  What helps you, and what prevents you?” (p. 125)

This brought me to the point of acknowledging my difficulty with the present.

Thus, I began a path of wondering, what does the Bible teach on Today?  Much of our Christian life is looking towards the future, i.e. living with God in heaven for all eternity.  It’s how we get through the rigors of living on this planet: the hope of heaven, living with God always.  And yet, we are constantly being reminded of living in the present.

James warns about not making plans, because we don’t know what will happen tomorrow.

Matthew says don’t worry about tomorrow, because today has enough trouble of its own.

Hebrews talks about encouraging each other to live in “today”, because sin is so prevalent in our “today,” we need to be alert.  And earlier in this book, the author says, don’t harden your hearts, but listen to God “today.”

It seems that living in the present is encouraged as being able to live fully in the life that God has given us.  Life in the present is His gift to us.

Since this discovery, I wondered how can I learn to live for today?  There must be practices that would inadvertently help me in this quest.  What would remind me that today is the day God has given me?

One of the first things I’ve begun doing in the morning, as I’m waking and deciding if I want to get out of bed, is saying the following verse:

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24 ESV)

Somehow this re-sets my mind.  My day becomes an intentional acknowledgement of God’s gift.  I am refocused on the present day, and not looking ahead to some vague future.

I’ve also decided to add a practice to the end of my day called the Examen.  The Examen is quite simple and requires a purposeful questioning at the end of each day.  There are actually only two questions, and they help us examine our day and bring to light what in our day created emotional reactions.  The questions may be something like this: What in my day brought me great joy?  What in my day took away my joy?  You may use variations of these questions, but the essence of the questions are:  what in our day gave us consolation, and what part of the day brought on desolation.

The uses of the Examen are many, but for my purposes it helps me look at my day, to review it, and allows me to acknowledge my day as being “Today.”

These two practices are really effortless but help to “re-boot” my mind towards present living instead of future living.  My hope is that in doing these practices over time, I will find myself living in the present, and in turn, will dissuade my escapism and my unrealistic imaginings of an undisturbed future.

I wonder how you would answer the questions that Chris Webb posed?  Do you find yourself living mainly in the past or future rather than in the gift of the present?

If you are like me and dwell somewhere other than in the present, may you find a way for yourself to help in living for “Today.”

What Encouragement Can Do?

-Rebecca Preston, MA, Spiritual Director

Yesterday, I read a blog from a woman who is a teacher to teenagers.  Her purpose in the blog was to help others to see how vital their role can be in helping people (teens in particular) to address the uncertainty within their lives.  I came away from the article thinking: What a gift this woman is to those teens!  She recognizes the areas of uncertainty in their lives, and then speaks to those places with words of encouragement.

This blog started me on a path of wondering: What would the world look like if we intentionally practiced encouraging one another?

It seems to me, at least in my life experience, that it is rare to find those who are willing to build others up.

I am from stoic German stock.  My upbringing did not include a great deal of encouragement, and therefore, I did not learn how to encourage others.  It has only come from experience and a sense of letting go of myself that I’ve learned that to encourage others does not take anything away from me.  Rather the ability to encourage others is a gift of incredible worth.  Encouragement is not a natural part of me, but I’ve noticed that when I do give unwarranted (albeit clumsy) encouragement, I am amazed at the change that comes over the other person, almost immediately.  I can predict the reaction.  These people often respond in a surprised way, and then begin to soften and move to a confidence that wasn’t previously visible.

When I think of encouragement, I’m reminded of the story of Paul and Barnabas:

“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’  Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.  They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.  He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” Acts 15:36-41 NIV

If you remember, John Mark had gone with Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey.  But somewhere along the way, John Mark left them to return to Jerusalem.  (Acts 13:13) Nothing is said about his reasons for leaving, but it wasn’t that far along in the journey when he went home.  Amongst scholar’s there is quite a bit of speculation, but no one really knows.

So fast forward to the time when Paul and Barnabas are planning their next missionary journey.  Barnabas wants to take John Mark again, but Paul says, “Nope.”  They split, and the rest is history.  Barnabas goes into obscurity, and Paul is used by God to evangelize the western world.

But it really isn’t the end of the story.  We know about John Mark from sporadic New Testament accounts.  His life is an illustration of reconciliation and restoration.  For instance, at the end of Paul’s life, he views John Mark as one of his faithful companions. (2 Timothy 4:11)

What happened?

Barnabas is often credited with the gift of encouragement.  Sometime after Paul’s conversion, Barnabas sought out Paul (who had tried to work with the disciples in Jerusalem but was rejected) for help with the congregation at Antioch. (Acts 11:25) Barnabas recognized in Paul his ability for leadership, evangelism, and a real zeal for the Lord.  He gave Paul an opportunity, and Paul blossomed into the evangelist he was and as the writer of a great deal of the New Testament.

The same thing happens with John Mark.  Barnabas gives him a chance.  He comes alongside of John Mark, and it allows John Mark to flourish.  Later in John Mark’s life, he worked in Rome with Peter for a time.  Their relationship became so close and beneficial that Peter actually calls him, son. (1 Peter 5:13) Many feel that while the Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark, he wrote it from Peter’s viewpoint on the time Jesus spent on the earth.  In the end, John Mark’s ministry became far reaching and beneficial to the kingdom of God.

What would John Mark’s life have been like if Barnabas had not followed his discernment in encouraging John Mark?  Obviously, we don’t know, but isn’t John Mark’s life an incredible example of what someone can do who was encouraged?

I don’t know about you, but this story inspires me.  What would happen if I became more intentional about encouraging others?  Even if it isn’t necessarily my gift.  Even if it doesn’t come natural to me.  What an unbelievable offering to give to the Kingdom of God.

For me, it becomes a prayer to be made aware of and seek out opportunities for encouraging.

Who might you encounter today who needs encouragement?  What would it look like for you to be intentional in becoming an encouragement to someone?