"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

To Lent or not to Lent?

Growing up as I did in the Lutheran Church, Lent was part of my yearly experience. We started the season with a service on Ash Wednesday and proceeded to attend church on Wednesday evenings until Holy Week. Our practice of Lent did not include ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday, neither did we focus on the practice of fasting. (However, since Wednesday evenings was the only time Batman was on TV, and back then you didn’t have anything like a DVR, I unwillingly participated in a type of fasting!) My mother was not one to promote spiritual practices, and often quoted the verses from Ephesians 2:8-9:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (NIV)

Fasting was too close to ‘works’ and she would have none of that. So Lent was more of a recognition of the time before Easter with an additional church service thrown in.

When I began to attend churches with a more evangelical bent, Lent was hardly mentioned. The focus was entirely on Easter. While some of the churches may have celebrated Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, the season of Lent came and went without too much notice. Over time, I found I missed Lent.

As I became more involved with Spiritual Formation/Direction, the idea of taking notice of the Liturgical Calendar became more intriguing to me. I wanted to mark the traditional observances with some relevance to my spiritual journey. How could I make the Lenten season significant?

I thought the first thing I needed was to understand Lent, it’s history and purpose, and subsequently, began a little research. I found the practices of Lent have evolved since the first century. It appears that early Christians celebrated Easter with some sort of fasting beforehand, but not the 40 days we attribute to the season of Lent. The canons of Nicaea in 325 A.D. make mention of the practice of fasting for 40 days before Easter in preparation of one being baptized on Easter. Over the centuries it developed into what is now called Lent (Old English word for “spring”) which incorporated a time of fasting and confession. During the Reformation period, the rules became relaxed, but the 20th century saw an increase in participation.[i] The choice of 40 days reflects the use of the number 40 in the Bible – the rain came down for 40 days and 40 nights to cause the Flood in Genesis; the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt; and the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness before he began his ministry.[ii]

Lent and Advent have a similar emphasis. Each sees preparation as the focus. Advent is a time to prepare for the coming Christ; Lent a time of personal preparation for Easter. Again, in the Bible the 40 days is a time of preparation, the Israelites were being cleansed and prepared for the entrance into the Promised Land. Jesus was being prepared in the wilderness for the work he would do in his final three years of life on this earth. Each of these circumstances pointed to something in the future which would lead to something good.

The good for us is resurrection. Not only the resurrection of Jesus, but our future resurrection. By Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection, Easter becomes a celebration of Jesus defeating death and releasing the power it had over us, which makes it possible for our own resurrection, and the future of everlasting life. Therefore, Lent gives us an opportunity to pause. To think about this gift of the Kingdom of God throughout eternity, and the cost of this gift, i.e. Jesus’ suffering and death. As a result, we are naturally led towards reflection and self-examination.

The next step in answering the question “How can I make Lent significant in my spiritual journey?” becomes “What can I incorporate in my life as I prepare for Easter that uses reflection and self-examination?”

For example, to practice reflection, we can integrate a daily routine of looking at the Old and New Testaments for those things related to Jesus life, including his death and resurrection. There are many devotionals out there which can help with this. Or simply research online for scriptures that are related to the Holy Week, especially the ones which show the prophecy in the Old Testament and the fulfillment of them in the New Testament. (i.e. Isaiah 53 and corresponding New Testament scriptures[iii])

Another way for reflection might be looking at the things Jesus told us about death in the New Testament and meditating on them, such as:

  • Seeds dying before they can create life (John 12:24)
  • The willingness to die so that we can find life (Matt 16:25)
  • The idea that he died, so we could live (John 10:10 and look at 2 Corinthians 5:15)

As to self-examination, when you are meditating in the above scriptures you can ask yourself: What might God want me to learn through what Jesus said? How am I practicing Jesus’ desires for me? How am I not? Certainly, this kind of questioning can lead to confession and forgiveness.

There is also room for the practice called The Examen. Each evening looking back on our day and asking ourselves two specific questions relating to Lent: What about my day helped me to realize what Jesus did for me? What from my day took away from me any thought of Jesus work? We can then journal our responses, and eventually things about ourselves will become apparent. Our strengths and weaknesses can be exposed, places we need to work on through prayer and other practices.

Other practices which may be helpful:

Fasting is the historical standard for Lent. The are many creative ways to use fasting. I know people who give up chocolate every year, but for someone like me, who doesn’t eat a lot of chocolate, there might not be a great deal to learn. Fasting is a personal challenge – find something that will be meaningful for you, from certain foods to social media. It isn’t so much what you give up than about what is happening to you as you practice fasting. For example, you can experience grace if you fail a day. If it is especially difficult, you will see how the thing you are fasting from has domination on your life. Perhaps in the giving up you will realize how much you need to depend on God’s strength rather than on your own.

Purple is the color of Lent. Purple is the color of royalty and can be used as a reminder of who Jesus is: King of this Universe and the Son of God. Purple can also be a color of repentance, again a reminder of self-examination leading us to confession, and ultimately – forgiveness. Perhaps the color can be used in creative ways to keep our mind focused on the decision to participate in Lent.

Lent is not a mandate from the Bible, you do not have to recognize the season. But it can be another opportunity to experience the spiritual life in a deeper sense. We can do Lenten practices at any time during the year, but by practicing during the time before Easter, not only does it carry a greater meaning for us as we look towards Easter, but we are able to practice it at the same time with the community of believers throughout the world.

I liked this quote by Sarah Phillips from Crosswalk.com:

“Those who journey through the Lenten season will enter the Easter season with an increased appreciation for who God is and what He has done for us. And the joy of Resurrection, as well as the promises of eternity, will not be soon forgotten.”[iv]

I pray for blessings on your chosen practice for Lent. May you find in this season a new joy in your life with Christ.

(For more references on the meaning of Lent please refer to these articles in the footnotes.[v])

[i] http://ecumenical-catholic-communion.org/eccpdf/lent.pdf

[ii] https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/193181.pdf

[iii] https://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/isaiah-53-faq.htm

[iv] www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/lent-101-honoring-the-sacrifice-of-jesus-1382259.html

[v] https://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/how-lent-can-make-a-difference-in-your-relationship-with-god/

The Choice of Intentional or Forced Resting

Always with the New Year there is a sense of starting over, of new beginnings, hope for the coming year, and examining the past with an eye to the future. I don’t make resolutions any more, and I’ve not really stuck with the “One Word” practice for the year. Still, within me is a desire to re-evaluate and forge ahead with intentions to clean up the slack from the previous year.

Over Christmas I got a cold. Two weeks later, I’m still sick. Hopefully, by the time you read this I will be done with it all and back into my routines.

I try to look at sickness as a message to slow down. To take the time to rest. But being sick at this time of the year, takes away all my good intentions! When I’m sick, I unconsciously think I have all this time to catch up on my reading or any other practice I’ve been too busy to do. But I’m so medicated that I can’t concentrate enough to actually read with any kind of comprehension, practice extended times of prayer without falling asleep, or even try to memorize anything. I forget it as soon as I read it. My motivation is simply limited to breathing and swallowing without pain.

Now, I can choose to feel guilty about this or I can view this time of rest as a blessing and an opportunity to learn something. I was well into my second week of being sick before I recognized this was a time of forced resting.

The definition of rest is: cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength.

The first two parts of this definition can be completely voluntary. We can choose to place ourselves in a position of relaxing and refreshing ourselves. However, the last one, recovering strength, is not voluntary. We become subject to an injury or sickness that we did not choose.

What if choosing to periodically relax and refresh alleviates the need of forced resting?

Dallas Willard wrote about rest in The Great Omission:

“Among the practices that can help us attend to soul care at a basic level are solitude and silence. We practice these by finding ways to be alone and away from talk and noise. We rest, we observe, we “smell the roses”—dare we say it?—we do nothing. This discipline can be used of God as a means of grace. In it we may even find another reminder of grace—that we are saved, justified by His redeeming power—not by our strivings and achievements.”

Doing nothing. Sometimes I can’t wrap my head around this. We live in this world where what you do is who you are. We feel this pressure to constantly produce. We go, go, go. And then we get sick.

There is so much resistance with the idea of rest. Resting is counter to our culture. Sure, we take vacations, but often they are filled with running to this or that. We’re more tired when we get back then when we left.

What would it look like for us to intentionally schedule rest and value that rest time?

I used to attend a church where several people I respected, practiced Sabbath. They didn’t shop on that day. They visited with friends and family. They took naps in the afternoon. They were not legalistic about it, but it was their choice to live this way. I decided to experiment with Sabbath for a bit. Took a nap. Didn’t make plans. I learned to love it. It was relaxing, and I entered Monday with refreshment rather than dread.

And looking back, I didn’t get sick as often.

How do you practice rest in an age of productivity?

First, we need a different mindset. I would like it taught more often that we are loved by God, not for what we do, but for who we are. Certainly, we are each called by God for some task for his glory, but even he took a day off to rest! Practicing a Sabbath is one of the commandments. Perhaps, we could look at resting as a part of our journey of faith.

Next, we need to determine what is rest for us. What does rest look like for you? Is it a nap? Can tending the garden as a respite from our regular tasks be restful? What about a hike or walk in the woods? Is sitting and reading a book for sheer enjoyment a rest? Jesus said:

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 ESV

It sounds like there is an openness to how we practice rest, with the permission to not accomplish anything.

Finally, this practice needs to be intentional. We cannot hope it will happen. We can’t just wait and see. Let me say this again. Rest is counter-cultural. We have been programmed to produce. Rest is not gonna just happen. There must be a push back on the societal mores we have grown used to. We need to schedule and put a value on it. Don’t misunderstand me, sometimes we also need to practice grace. Things happen, and we have to be flexible, but we can pray and put this time before God as our desire. Often things work out in ways we could never imagine.

We can go into this dragging our feet with angst and dread. Or we can view this as an experiment in our faith journey. Putting something into practice and paying attention to the results. Journal your experience. It will help you tweak what works and what doesn’t work.

As I find myself in this place of sickness once again, perhaps I must take my own advice. Being proactive in my practice of rest cannot but help in avoiding this forced resting. I’m grateful for it, in that I have come to the realization of my need for more intentional resting.

How could you intentionally practice rest? What happens inside of you when you view rest as an experiment in your faith journey?