"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.
(https://www.leadershiptransformations.org/)

Blog Posts

Becoming More Thankful

Attitude of Gratitude

As a young mom I wanted to raise civilized children.  When my kids were small, I tried to instill politeness and perhaps a smidgeon of empathy.  I remember there was one occasion when somebody gave something to my son, and he toddled away, but I stopped him, and said to him, “Jared what do you say?”

He turned around and said, “Thank you.”

And I said, “Now say it like you mean it.”

“Thaaannnk yooou.” In a sing song kind of way.

Of course, he didn’t mean it anymore the second time then the first.  He just learned how to play the system.

November is often the time of year our minds and hearts turn towards gratitude.  The day we celebrate thankfulness in the United States is at the end of the month, and usually there is a build-up throughout the month with people being reminded to express their gratitude in way or another.

It’s the time of the year where I am reminded that I struggle with gratitude.

Certainly, I believe in being thankful, having a grateful heart.  It’s a major part of my faith tradition.

But I have to confess to you: I’m a glass half-empty person.  I am a card-carrying pessimist.

And really, it isn’t done, is it?  I’m a professing Christian, I’m a seminary graduate, and I’m meeting with people as a Chaplain …. and then, I say I have trouble with thankfulness?  There goes my reputation.

But really, in all honesty, I can’t believe I’m alone in this.  I’m sure there are plenty of us who struggle with gratitude…..but really, who says this out loud.

Please understand, I don’t think we’re ungrateful people.  We often recognize a blessing or an answer to prayer when we see it and we might follow with thanking God for it.  But it occurs to me we don’t often look for things to be grateful for, and I am certainly at fault with that.  We’re busy people, we have lots things on our minds…gratitude is often lost to the tyranny of the urgent.

One of my favorite philosophers and theologians is Dr. Dallas Willard who was a professor at USC and was one of the major proponents of the recent Spiritual Formation movement.  He states:

“You can’t make much progress without being thankful. Being up front with God and being thankful. This is going to take some effort, but God will help you. If you want to redeem your time and save your life, you start with being thankful for the next thing that’s up front.[i]

I think what he is saying is that gratitude isn’t natural for us.  Gratitude must be cultivated.  Maybe some of us were given the seeds of gratitude sown early in our lives and we were able to nurture it, and have it come to full bloom in our lives.  Others of us were not given the tools necessary to foster gratitude. 

Regardless, as with anything we want to grow and maintain, we must be intentional in our care, and gratitude is no exception.  If we want to have an attitude of gratitude, we must put an effort in creating and keeping gratitude as a part of our lives.

Because I recognized I was lacking in the thankfulness area of my life, I proactively started several practices which I incorporate periodically in my life.  If this is an area in which you might want to grow, I have a few suggestions.

First of all, I kept a Gratitude Journal for a short time.  Journaling is a wonderful practice in creating awareness and intentionality.  It focuses our minds on areas we want to improve. So journaling forced me to examine my life.  As a result, I became more aware of the blessings present in my world.  I was able to acknowledge them, and in turn, offer thanksgiving for them.

Another way for me to be intentional with gratitude, was to take a Psalm and use it as a template to express my thankfulness. 

I chose Psalm 136, because this Psalm is an expression of thanks which describes who God is, and what He has done specifically for his people.    One can almost picture a gathering at the Temple for celebration and the priest begins with, “Oh give thanks…” and the people respond, “For His steadfast love endures forever.”

I thought, why not use this as my blessing list, by making the Psalm personal for me. It went something like:

Oh, give thanks to the Lord for he is good,

His love endures forever,

Who blesses me with healthy grandchildren,

His love endures forever,

Who has healed my husband’s cancer,

His love endures forever,

Who gives me food and shelter,

His love endures forever,

And on it can go.  A recognition of Blessings, one after another. 

A final practice I used to help cultivate an attitude of gratitude, I went out of my way to look for blessings in a day.  Just one day, every now and then.  You make a game of it.  Look around at the world and where you are in it. 

Things I found to be thankful for: 

  • Daffodils that announce to me that winter is over, and spring is on its way. 
  • The giggle of my grandson when I chase him. 
  • Reconnecting with a friend from long ago.

Those are very simple things, but even as I think about them, I want to smile and remember them as good things to be thankful for.

Certainly, the byproducts of being thankful are joy and delight.  I may never become an optimist, but I do want to be known as a grateful person.  And really isn’t gratitude, joy, and delight easily caught by those around us.  It’s one good thing we can spread to the place we take up in this world.

I’ve taken something Dallas Willard said and adapted it to make it into a blessing for you during this season of gratitude:

“(May) holy delight and joy be the great antidote to despair and be a wellspring of genuine gratitude—the kind that starts at your toes and blasts off from your loins and diaphragm through the top of your head, (so much so that you) fling your arms and your eyes and your voice upward towards your good God.”[ii]

 


[i] Willard, Dallas, (Westmont Chapel 2011)

[ii] Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (p. 179).

Avoiding Back to Nature

I was told I needed a project for my Spiritual Formation training. My initial idea was to write a Bible study. At the time, I was teaching a group on 1 John, and thought, I could kill two birds with one stone. 1 John relates well with the objectives of Spiritual Formation. It would be an ‘on the job’ kind of process.

Unfortunately, two things happened. First, one of my fellow students was also writing a study on 1 John as her project, and I didn’t want the comparison or to be redundant. Second, when I told the supervisor about my idea, he had little reaction. I had a sense of “been there, done that.”

In the back of my mind I had another idea, but wasn’t sure if it would fulfill the requirements of this project. Musings brought the image of a meditative path. We own a bit of woods behind our house and it seemed like a good spot for that kind of thing. In addition, it would be used by people seeking Spiritual Direction, either before or after a session with me.

As I sensed the reticence from the supervisor, I said “or…” Immediately, he re-acted. He loved the idea, especially because no one else had done anything like this before. A sense of anticipation sprung.

I am a gardener. I love planning new spaces and being a co-creator with God in developing lovely places in my yard. The thought of creating a meditative space fed my creative soul.

My husband and I worked hard, clearing paths, purchasing mulch and trinkets to place along the way, cutting up broken limbs and planting splashes of color to break from the woodsy hues of green and brown. When it was done it was magnificent, if I do say so myself.

Pictures were taken, notes written up and soon it was submitted. The supervisor loved it. Success!

As time went on, I offered it to people as a place to meditate, but it was never used as a I had hoped it would. Life got busy, and one year it never stopped raining…Every. Weekend. Care in the garden became haphazard and infrequent.

Nature being as she is, resumed control of the path. Trees have fallen, foliage has disregarded the “paths” we made, and many of the stone Ebenezer’s fell down. Some of the plantings have managed to thrive, but now there is a general feeling of disrepair. This after only a short period of time.

I see my path as a metaphor for our spiritual life. Once an oasis of beauty and purposeful in its intent. Neglect, for one reason or another, has caused it to go back to its natural state. No longer fit for the purpose it was designed.

Like my meditative path, our spiritual lives need to be tended to. Despite the outside influences of busyness, difficult climates, and encroaching nuisances, we must be vigilant, steady, and aware. Just as my path would have kept in shape with little but regular attention, so can our spiritual lives maintain shape during those unfavorable times of our lives by giving simple, consistent care. There are times when you can do little and times you can give more attention. But the key word is attention. Our spiritual lives must have attentiveness.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14 ESV

 

As Paul says in Philippians 3, we have a goal, purpose, and objective. Keeping this goal of spiritual maturity before us, helps us press on to achieve that objective.

I don’t know what it looks like for you. Perhaps you use frequent prayer. Maybe devotions are more appealing to you. Bible reading might be the thing you crave. Whatever draws you during times of stress or limited space, do something and be consistent. You can always do more when that period of life eases and you can devote more time and care to your spiritual life.

Please don’t be like my path and return to your natural state. Give your spiritual life some attention. It’s a lot easier to maintain where you are than to start over.

May you find the thing that feeds your soul and can easily maintain you during your demanding periods of life.