Christian Spiritual Formation is about becoming like Jesus.
That’s the aim of Christian discipleship, after all. Not to know more about Jesus (although that’s not a bad thing) but to be more like Jesus.
Humans are spiritual beings. We have physical bodies, of course, but our lives are largely driven by an unseen part of us. At our core, there is something which shapes the way we view the world, directs the choices we make, and guides our actions.
It’s that part of our lives that spiritual formation seeks to address. We spend a lot of time in gyms working on our physical bodies, but how much time do we spend exercising and developing our inner life?
2 Corinthians 3:18
Spiritual Formation is a journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God. It is what some Christians have termed ‘heart work’. John Flavel, a seventeenth-century English Christian wrote that the “greatest difficulty in conversion, is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart with God… Heart work is hard work indeed.”
Spiritual formation is active. We have to work at this stuff. We are not bystanders in our spiritual lives, we don’t have to wait around for something spiritual to happen to us out of the blue – there are things we can do which will help to form spiritually. We are active participants with God, who is ever inviting us into relationship with him.
Spiritual formation is fuelled by prayer. It is intimacy with God in prayer which transforms us. Many find it hard to enter into deeper prayer – often because our lives and attention are so fragmented and distracted. But increasingly our training in spiritual formation enables us to enter into a real, intimate, interactive communion with God. More and more we will experience what the monk Brother Lawrence called ‘the practice of the presence of God’.
Spiritual formation is not a quick fix. We live in age of instant gratification, next-day delivery and 24 hour helplines. But the work of spiritual formation simply does not occur in a hurry. It is never a quick-fix deal. Patient, time-consuming care is always the hallmark of spiritual formation work. We learn from our mistakes rather than be discouraged by our failures. It is training, not trying.
Spiritual formation is intensely personal. The most important, most real, most lasting work is accomplished in the depths of our heart. This work is solitary and interior. It cannot be seen by anyone, not even ourselves. It is a work known only to God. It is the work of heart purity, of soul conversion, of inward transformation, of life formation.
Spiritual formation is about real life. Spiritual Formation is not something reserved for monks or hermits. It doesn’t separate us from everyday life, but it transforms the way we live. Being committed apprentices of Jesus helps us to better love not only God, but our spouse, our children, friends, neighbours, – even our enemies. We will learn how to face diversity. We will develop patience and kindness and self control. We will be better workers, craftsmen, better human beings. And we will be able to share these things with others and build up the body of Christ.
Above all, spiritual formation is an act of grace. It is an intentional, disciplined activity achieved by the grace of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not transformed by the exercises and disciplines themselves, but by the Holy Spirit working in us through them.