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Do You Believe These 5 Lies About Your Spiritual Formation?

Christ-followers can’t escape spiritual formation.

Well, neither can anyone else since everything we do spiritually forms us, but for Christians the idea of “spiritual formation” is increasingly becoming the topic du jour.

That’s good and bad.

It’s wonderful people are taking spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation seriously. Enough of us dated other spiritual approaches – merely going to church, Bible study without heart commitment, worship without engagement, etc… – and discovered if we didn’t do something strong and strange and different, we’d look back wondering why we didn’t do more to practice the presence of God.

Yet in our all the newness  an conversation surrounding ancient practices, there are 5 lies we tend to believe:

1. Believing It’s Not Necessary. As ancient as the disciplines are so is the assumption that intentional spiritual formation isn’t essential. Daily engagement with the scriptures, routine prayer, pre-determined generosity, etc…are seen as activities in which we can partake “whenever we get around to it.” But William Paulsell reorients our sensibilities: “Athletes, musicians, writers, scientists, and others progress in their fields because  they are well-disciplined people. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to think that in matters of faith we should pray, meditate, and engage in other spiritual disciplines only when we feel like it.”

2. Believing It’s For Mystics and Spiritual Giants. It’s not! You don’t have to draw away to the desert or spend 30-days in silence to have a robust spiritual life. That’s just unrealistic for most of us. Spiritual disciplines are about predetermining certain actions you will take everyday, in the midst of life and doing them. The most spiritual people you know don’t wear monk’s or nun’s habits.

3. Believing You’re Too Busy. Here’s something you already know – you have time, energy, and resources to do everything you think is important. If you don’t have time, it’s because you’re not making time. If you’re not making time, it’s because you’re making time for something else. This week, add up the time you spend on Facebook, surfing the Internet, and watching television. I bet you’ve got time. Here’s a 15-minute activity you can do to get your feet wet.

4. Believing Grace Equals Growth. Some of us say, “We’re saved by grace not works.” Well, true…but entirely selfish. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if this is our approach, we are treating out relationship with God like we’re “friends with benefits.” Of course, practicing these disciplines don’t garner God’s love, approval, or acceptance. God has already promised that. What spiritual formation does it help us increase our practice of the presence of God. As Dallas Willard has written, “Grace is not opposed to effort. Grace is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action.”

5. Believing It’s Restrictive. When most of us think of spiritual disciplines, our minds come up with only three or four activities – prayer, fasting, Bible reading, and journaling are the most popular. Yet there are hosts of spiritually formative activities – secrecy, hospitality, celebration, fellowship, mediation, and others. Though these practices are different than they sound and are unfamiliar to our common understandings, spiritual disciplines are not as restrictive as we think. There’s a lot of room in spiritual disciplines.

 What practices and understandings help you with spiritual disciplines?

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  • Amy Palmer

    Sean, not real familiar with this subject, so I have a question. Recognizing what talent(s) we have been blessed with and building on that to benefit God’s kingdom, could that help us in our formation? For instance, if I recognize I have the gift of encouraging others and seek ways to use that gift then I build upon what I have been given and grow in that direction. You mentioned in a quote athletes, writers, scientist, etc. excel because of their discipline, which is true of course, but they also excel because they are gifted that way. I’ve wondered if sometimes we feel we must master everything and in doing so we neglect what He has uniquly imparted to us. Probably way off your subject, but just something I’ve thought about. Any thoughts?

    • Amy, this is actually a good question and one I suspect many others have.

      First of all, the use of your gifts is vital. We are more likely to impact our world through the expression of our gifts than the marginal betterment of our weaknesses. So, our strengths are always a good place to start. Tiger Woods is great golfer. A very good recreational golfer goes to the driving range once a week and hits 100 balls. Maybe. Woods goes everyday and hits over 100 balls with EACH club. Then plays a round or two or three. Of course, its his job, but he’s the #1 player in the world because other professional golfers rely on gifted. Woods counts on work and giftedness. I don’t know how clear I’m being. Sorry.

      Second, spiritual formation is about practicing the presence of God, encountering God, and developing within us something that is not yet present. That being the case, we need practices that aren’t in our wheelhouse. Plus, disciplines are designed to relieve anxiety, experience peace, enjoy God, etc….While some of us struggle more or less than others in those areas, we could all do more to develop. Jesus spends extended time with God because by doing so, He could be empowered to do something He would not otherwise be able to do.

      Third, don’t feel like you have to master everything. You can’t. You won’t. If we were having coffee, I’d ask where your present-day “pain points” were. Then I’d direct you toward practices that would hopefully help you experience God in that area. None of us can do everything at once. That’s why we all need a “Rule of Life” at different seasons in our life. We just did this at The Vine Church. We asked everyone to commit to practices of their choice over a certain period of time.

      Maybe I’ll do a post about making a “Rule….” Is any of this helpful?

      • Amy Palmer

        Yes Sean, it is very helpful. I think you have answered something here for me. More info on this subject would probably help to clarify my questions. Certainly agree with you that we grow and develop in our spiritual walk at different times, just like we do with everything else. Please write more on this, if you are willing, I would be interested. Amy

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