"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

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.

The Practice of Going to Church

It’s happened again. The recurring theme in my life – the disappointment with the Church. This time the church I was working for decided they did not have the funds to keep my position, and so the position was eliminated. Not that it was unexpected, as the position had always been a bit fuzzy in description, and the Pastor who truly understood it, took a call to a different church. So not only did I lose a job, I lost a church.

To be honest, I’m a little tired of church.

Church has been a struggle for me for a long time. There have been church splits, disagreements in how the finances are being used, displeasure on how discipleship has been lacking, and frustration over my age and sex being a hindrance in ministry. All has led to a general dissatisfaction with how the Church on earth conducts itself. I keep asking myself: “Is this how God wanted it to be?”

Maybe, maybe not.

After leaving this church, my husband and I took a few Sunday’s off. We just didn’t have it in us to look for another church, again. For anyone who has gone through this, you know It. Is. Exhausting. First you need to pick a church, and then, actually go there and participate as a stranger in a new setting. It’s very awkward and usually discouraging.

I’ve often quoted this, which is attributed to Dorothy Day:

“As to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.”

Yes, sometimes the Church on earth feels a bit fickle.

Let me say that I know I am not innocent in this, and will take responsibility for myself in most instances. What have I supported in the mishandling of the churches I’ve attended? What seeds of disruption have I planted? Have I left too soon? Left too late? Said too much? Said too little?

And I understand about the Church being on a sinful planet with sinful people attending it.

But I still long for better. There is this hope inside of me that believes there is a place where community and worship go together in harmony. But I think my longing is really a desire for the restoration of the Church as the true children of God, which to be honest, can only be fulfilled in heaven.

In Eugene Peterson’s book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, there is a surprise in the fourth chapter. He describes going to church as a discipline, a spiritual practice, if you will. With any discipline we choose to partake in, there is some sacrifice, and dare I say, an aspect of suffering involved. We often have to give up something in order to gain something else. Where have I heard that before? Sounds a little like Jesus’ teaching in Mark 8:34-37…’whoever wants to save their live, will lose it.’

I found as I read this chapter in Peterson’s book a yearning to be in church. This chapter opened my eyes to my church going habits. I’ve always attended church with the eye to how I can serve, and how I can build relationships with the other attendees. What if I attended with the only motive being my relationship with God, and how it can be strengthen by being in his house? Worship for worships sake, and no other agenda.

“The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons with God himself at the center of this community as its prime Sustainer and most glorious Inhabitant.”                     - Dallas Willard

Perhaps being in a church and not focusing so much on how I can serve (I know that service is an important part of our Christian life, but for me-and maybe for you- there may be a need for a bit of fasting and denying myself for a period of time.), but rather, immersing myself in a gathering of people who acknowledge the God who created and sustains us. To focus on the truth of God’s word as a re-set to the influences of the world around us. To be with people who remind me who I am and whose I am.

It is a goal worthy of pursuing.

As it happens, a pastor we know and liked from another church has decided to start a church plant near us. We have joined on, and although it hasn’t had a service yet, we are involved to the extent that we are attending initial get togethers. My husband and I are skeptics to be sure, but we are trying to be obedient with our eyes wide open.

The question is: can I be in a church and love it warts and all?

My expectations have been too high, and unrealistic for a fallen world. I start over again with the realization that no place will be everything I want it to be, and that’s actually a good thing. This new church may not be the answer to the longings of my heart for true worship, but it is another step towards that direction. My prayer is for a community of believers who wish to follow God and worship Him as best we can. Amen.