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?