"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

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.

-by Rebecca Preston

Grace:  One of my favorite words.  Grace has such a vast array of meanings to people.  To some grace is involved in the gift of salvation.  To others, it is a way of being, how one moves or interacts with others.  Grace is often viewed as the prayer offered before a meal.   As I meditated on the word ‘grace’, I was drawn to the experiential.  What would the experience of grace look like in my life?  Thus I began a month long practice of noticing grace in my everyday world.

The month passed with a greater awareness of the presence of Grace in my life.

One day I was driving home down one of the back roads of Pennsylvania that I love to take.  Suddenly I took in a whiff of freshly mowed grass.  Immediately, I slowed down and looked for the source of the scent.  The hayfields were still intact and there were no homes in the vicinity.  Not finding what it was that I sought, my attention went forward to the road I was driving on.  I was surrounded by woods, a drive I’ve taken hundreds of times before.  But this time I was looking with fresh eyes.  The woods were beautiful.  Welcoming.  Stunning.  A sense of tranquility, peace, and newness came over me.  I needed to remember to breath.  At that moment, I had an encounter with the One who created beauty.  It was a moment of grace.

Once during the month a discussion with friends turned to a particular Spiritual Practice.  As a Spiritual Director, Spiritual Practices are close to my heart.  I gave my spiel on the purposes of this practice, and some ideas on how to incorporate this into our lives.  One person began to object to some of the things I was saying.  Later, I realized it was a simple moment of misunderstanding, but at the time the conversation was becoming tense.   I sensed an invisible hand on my shoulder and a feeling of “stop talking” come over me.  There is a time to talk, and a time to keep silent.  This realization was not from me, but an action of grace.

My husband wanted to take a Saturday and just do something other than yard work.  I wanted to start working on a water feature in our yard.  Something we both wanted to do, but now that he works from home he really needed some time away from the house.  We decide to visit a nearby historical site that we had always wanted to see, but never took the time.  My husband had a chance to relax and learn about William Penn.   I learned about flax.  Really, I didn’t know how linen came from flax.  This was a gift of grace to me.

There are other examples throughout the month that caused me to recognize the presence of Grace.  Simple moments like:

Using my over-abundant cucumbers to make pickles gave me great joy and a sense of accomplishment.

Walking with a friend and finding that we were like-minded on a controversial subject.

Unaware of the severity of the approaching storm, I was not hit by lightning while cutting the grass.

These are not huge events, but they were moments of grace I wouldn’t necessarily have recognized if I had not been intentional in looking for grace in my daily life.

This practice of identifying grace in the course of a day brought me to a practical understanding of how involved God is in my life.  His presence is everywhere and all I have to do is open my eyes and see.  Even in the tough things of life, He is there.

Psalm 139: 7-12 (NIV) took on a personal meaning for me:

 

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10 even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

 

If you would like to try this practice, all you need is a notebook.  Plan to review your day and see where Grace has made Itself known to you.  Sometimes you will recognize Grace immediately.  Other times, you may need to look back and realize, and say yes, that really was Grace.  But do write it down, it is such a delight to go over your notes and see where Grace has appeared.

Enjoy the journey with Grace.