–March of 2003
In last year’s winter issue I shared my list of New Year’s Resolutions and pledged to write an article on each one. The second of those resolutions was a commitment to enlarge my understanding of spirituality. My findings are offered to you in this article. So that you can understand what I mean by spirituality, let me offer you a working definition that Klaus Isslar gives in his book, Wasting Time with God.
Christian spirituality involves a deepening trust and friendship with God for those who are in Christ Jesus. More specifically, it is an ever growing, experientially dynamic relationship with our Trinitarian God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–through the agency of the indwelling spirit of God.
The Bible assumes it to be self-evident that we can know God intimately.
Leaping out from almost every page of scripture is a God who affects us and is affected by us. The Old Testament reveals a God that speaks, pleads, loves, works and manifests himself to His people. He walks with Adam and Eve in the garden, eats with Abraham by his tent, and argues with Moses on the mountaintop. The gospels give us a front row seat as the eternal Son wraps the garments of human flesh about him, steps onto the stage of life and interacts with man. Yet, to many, the idea of being intimate with God is still mystical and illusive. A certain distance remains in their relationship.
How can we develop spirituality?
Dallas Willard in his book, Renovation of the Heart, says, “The perceived distance and difficulty of entering fully into the divine world and its life is due entirely to our failure to understand that “the way in” is the way of pervasive inner transformation and to our failure to take the small steps that quietly and certainly lead to it.” The following is what I perceive to be those essential steps.
Spiritual formation is a deliberate choice.
Like any friendship, you must work at developing friendship with God. It has to be a priority in your life. The psalmist David passionately wanted to know God above all else. He described his pursuit of God with worlds like: longing, yearning, thirsting and hungering. Jacob’s passion for God kept him wrestling with God all through the night. To the Apostle Paul nothing mattered more; it was the first priority, total focus and ultimate goal of his life. (Matt. 5:6, Phil. 3:10, James 4:8)
Spiritual formation is a team effort.
Spiritual development happens experientially as we walk with Jesus Christ. He invites us to step into the “yoke of training” with Him. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me…” (Matt. 11:28-30)
Furthermore, we need not be limited by our own experiences to deepen our knowledge of God. Much can be learned through the stories and experiences of other believers. Thus, to know God more fully can only come about within a growing and God-knowing community of saints. (Heb. 10:24-25)
Spiritual formation takes time.
Holy character is developed in a crock-pot not a microwave. Most of my readers will have to have a change in lifestyle before they ever know God more deeply. To spend time in reflection, meditation and solitude is a waste of time to most American Christians and in our Western culture wasting time is a sin. But if we want to model the public life of Jesus then we must follow the pattern of his private life (Luke 5:15-16).
Spiritual formation requires authenticity.
The Saints of Scripture were honest with God about their feelings. Abraham was allowed to question and challenge God over the destruction of Sodom. David made accusations to God of unfairness, betrayal and abandonment. Jeremiah confronted God with the charge of being tricked. God can handle that kind of honesty and in fact encourages it. True intimacy is built on disclosure and openness.
Spiritual formation engages the mind.
One of the freedoms we have as human beings is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell upon. A mind that is filled with holy influences will be a mind that is strong in retaining the knowledge of God. Read good books! Discuss and debate what you’ve learned. Keep your mind on the stretch for spiritual development. There have been many great saints who had no formal education, but there were and are no great saints who have not educated their minds in the deep things of God. (Romans 12:1)
Spiritual formation needs our emotions.
J.I. Packer wrote, “ We must not lose sight of the fact that knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one, and could not indeed be a deep relation between persons were it no so.”
Spiritual formation uses all the means of grace.
The capacity to remember and abide in God’s presence comes only through steady training. The classic spiritual disciplines provide that training. Saints through the ages have used the following disciplines to develop spirituality in their lives: meditation, communication, fasting, journaling/reflection, prayer, accountability, and practicing the presence of God.
How do we know if we are making progress?
Successful spiritual formation in Christ will be evidenced in our lives. We will be enabled to walk increasingly in the wholeness, holiness, and power of the Kingdom of God. Yet a vital part, maybe the most vital part, of spiritual formation is not seen but sensed. Sensed not in our successes but in the keen awareness of what is yet to be done. A man who is being spiritually transformed is like a man carrying a lantern before him on a long, or not so long, pole: the light is in front of him, always lighting up fresh ground and always encouraging him to walk further.
Developing spiritual intimacy with God is a lifelong and eternity-long adventure. One that is well worth the journey!