What comes to mind when you hear the term “spiritual formation”? Perhaps you think of discipleship, spiritual disciplines, or spending days in a monastery in silence. While these things may be included in spiritual formation, they only represent a small part of the picture. As an introduction to the theme of spiritual formation, I would like to step back and give you a bigger vision of what spiritual formation is about by using the analogy of building a house. I hope to create a picture of what God is inviting us to do with him.
When a builder constructs a house he needs to have a plan or vision of what the house will look like. I will call our house “Life with God”, a restored relationship to God through the finished work of Christ: a loving, intimate, interactive relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So that’s the house. The process of building the house, the work or labor, is spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is not the goal itself, but it is the process or journey we engage in to build our life with God.
Every building project needs materials and tools to complete the job. The building process of spiritual formation does not happen through the disciplines alone, for example, rather God uses various tools to deepen our relationship to Him. In practical terms, some of the tools God uses are the spiritual disciplines, our jobs, family, hardships, the sacraments of the church, community, etc. Additionally, just as a building project needs materials for building, there is also the need for some kind of funding or financial support, or a fuel to sustain the project. A life of restored relationship and growing intimacy will not happen without the fuel of the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, what is our part in this building process? What is our status as laborers in the project? I find the image of an apprentice to be very helpful here. Jesus invites us to come and follow him, to do life with him, much like the medieval apprenticeship program in England. According to Gary Moon, we are invited to “an apprenticeship centered on immersion in the culture of the master, experientially learning to do what he did through hands-on training.” We are active participants, not passive recipients in this process of growing intimacy with God.
The wonderful truth is that we are not alone in this process. As Richard Foster states in his article Becoming Like Christ, Jesus “who is the Way shows us the way to live so that we increasingly come to share his love, hope, feelings, and habits. He agrees to be yoked to us, as we are yoked to him, and to train us in how to live our lives as he would live them if he were in our place”. This is the journey of spiritual formation, living all of life with God, in a deepening immersion in his will and ways.
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19-22 NRSV
As you reflect on your journey, which tools have been especially helpful for you in building your life with God? I’m always encouraged by stories of Jesus’ work in the lives of my fellow travelers. I'd love to hear from you!
- Becoming Like Christ – Richard Foster http://cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/401
- Apprenticeship with Jesus – Gary Moon