"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

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.

Spiritual Formation: Caution and Encouragement

My small group has been focused on the principles and practices of Spiritual Formation. We have read through several books on the subject and I believe everyone has benefited from the experience, each in their own way. Sometimes the concepts are embraced with tears of joy, other times I’ve noticed figurative scratching of the heads as they wrestle with understanding and application.

Spiritual formation is for every believer. I believe this. And I want people to embrace intentional Spiritual Formation, because we are all being spiritually formed all the time, even unintentionally.

The one thing I’ve come to understand about teaching Spiritual Formation is that you can’t make someone follow practices or disciplines. It is all on the person, and how they see what God wants to do in their life.

For example, I’ve gone through Fire of the Word by Chris Webb with several groups of people. Some have found the information invaluable and life changing, but others have had trouble warming to the material. What is the difference? I believe it is readiness.

As part of an assignment in Fire of the Word, one must read through the Song of Songs. It’s a tough read with our American, middle class, puritan influenced culture. While some can override their queasiness with the text, others cannot. This time, being my 5th or 6th reading of this book and its section on Song of Songs, I read it differently. I noticed a phrase, which is repeated several times. (Song of Songs 2:7b, 3: 5b, 8:4b)

Do not arouse or awaken love

until it so desires. (NIV)

Before I had attributed this to sexuality: We want to take care how our sexuality is expressed until it is the appropriate time to do so, i.e. marriage. But looking at it in a spiritual sense, I wonder if it might mean that we cannot stir up someone’s spirituality, until it is the right time. Perhaps a time, which is stirred by God.

We are each individual, and some of us progress fast, others of us progress at a steadier pace, and some of us go three steps forward and two steps back. There can be no judgement on this progression, because it is how God made us.

Often, I have talked with women who feel frustration at their husband’s lack of spiritually motivated practices. I thought of this verse and cautioned them against demanding too much of a person, reminding them that it is God who initiates, encourages, and places desires within us towards the maturation process. Certainly, God can use us as models, but pushing someone towards a path of Spiritual Formation often leads to legalism.

I’ve attended churches where they put into place a program where they want everybody to go through a “foundation” study. I suppose there is some merit to this. There are people who need this type of study. But what I often see is there are those who will faithfully do it, but really need something more to stretch their faith. There are those who will join the group because it is a requirement, and they half- heartedly participate, if they participate at all. There are also those who just won’t do it.

It’s like the old adage: You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

Reality is that we are all in different places in our walk, and we all need something different to help us grow towards the goal of becoming like Christ.

As a teacher of Spiritual Formation, I don’t want to make people do certain practices, because I don’t want to perpetuate legalism. I do want to provide options and encouragement for people wherever they are in their spiritual journey. It’s a delight to challenge people who are ready to be challenged. I love introducing practices to people who didn’t know they desire these practices. And I want to have the patience to give those who are reticent, time to discover what God is showing them to do in their faith.

Spiritual Formation is for every believer who has a relationship with Jesus Christ. There is nothing wrong with introducing the concept to people. However, discernment is necessary. Give to those who desire to eat. Whet the appetites of those who are unaware of their hunger. Come alongside those who are hungry but are unable to feed themselves just yet.

May God bless you as you journey with the people God has put in your path. And blessings on your own personal journey as you sense the desires God has placed within you, and are able to proceed in the manner that best fits those desires.