Spiritual formation not all relationally oriented. We are personally responsible for our own growth and nurture. 

We have to take care of ourselves, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Nobody else can or will do that for us. It is our personal responsibility. If we don’t do it, we will not be able to help other people or pursue our unique, personal contribution, as we otherwise could.

Let’s begin with what does not work well in the area of spiritual formation.

We cannot be taught into spiritual maturity. So, all of the classes and programs in the world, will have limited, short-term results. They may inspire. They may expose us to new information. We might add a new notebook to our bookshelf, full of “new and exciting principles,” but the effects of such things tend to be short-lived.

The nasty underbelly of gaining new knowledge about the Bible and the Christian life is that it tends to make us arrogant, so we feel pretty special about having the knowledge, and look down on others who do not.

Some segments of Christianity substitute knowledge for spiritual formation. Others confuse experiences with true growth. In the Charismatic wing of the faith, people seek personal, supernatural manifestations from the Spirit of God, like speaking in tongues, being slain in the spirit, or some word of knowledge or wisdom. I understand these things not only to be bogus, but also, dangerous. Just like the knowledge seekers, a person who has special manifestation from God, is something of a superstar. There are no superstars in Christ’s kingdom, that’s a human phenomenon.

How many times have your heard a program or retreat described as ‘life-changing’? People are hungry and desperate, so “life-changing” sounds pretty good. Of course, the life change is short lived. So, it really didn’t change your life. But some people are longing for something to fix their life or give them a deeper, more meaningful experience with God; so they will run to these things.

Spiritual formation is not knowledge and it is not power or experience. Spiritual formation is changing the way we think, and the way we live our lives. And that is not easy. As a matter of fact, it much easier to gain some new knowledge or to a have thrilling experience, but they don’t change our lives.

One more thing, the Christian life is not about self-reformation, though a lot of people think it is. So many Christians are trying to stop sinning, or least, sin less. They are struggling with something that repeatedly catches them in the same old trap. That’s called addiction, and it comes in more flavors than drugs, alcohol, and sex. We all have at least one.

So, that’s their goal in life, to sin less, and it is illusive. People confuse being more like Jesus with sinning less. They start at the wrong place. They are trying to fix their life, the stuff they hate about themselves; but they can’t.

It would be better if they started with Jesus, how he loves them, even when they fail for gazziliionth time. It would be better if they focused on how Jesus loved misfits, like us. Then we could learn how to love other misfits and people with “issues.” Over time, desires will slowly change. We learn a little more about how to love others and our self. We don’t go nuts when we fail; we confess it and stay the course. Our desire for prostitutions of God’s good gifts diminishes, because we are focused on something so much better.

What does this life change look like? It looks like love, grasping how God loves me, loving him back, and loving the people I encounter in life in tangible, meaningful ways.

Image Credit: File:LittleMix14.jpg. Permission: Wikimedia Commons.

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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