Last week our entire White Oak Christian Church staff had our annual All Staff Retreat. We spent a day together laughing, learning, sharing, worshipping, fishing, hiking, and eating great food! Our administrative, housekeeping, and operations staff were together with our ministry coordinators and pastoral staff for an incredible day.
This year our focus was on the heart and soul of our staff team members. We wanted to care for our staff and pay attention to our heart’s connection to the heart of our Heavenly Father. A few weeks ago, I wrote an article talking about spiritual formation. This was and will be a theme and focus for our staff for the next year. What is spiritual formation?
Formation is so much more than reading your Bible, prayer, and making sure you have a dedicated quiet time with God. Formation isn’t about religious duties or earning religious merit badges showing that we’ve put in our time to specific practices. Instead, spiritual formation is about habit formation. Almost all that we do, think, and how we respond to people is habit. We have habits formed in every area of our lives. A habit is learning to see through a new lens so that the stuff that comes out of us is genuinely different.
“God is not interested in something called your spiritual life; he’s interested in your life.” -John Ortberg
There are habits and practices that, when we engage with them, will lead us to like our lives better once we do. There will be life that won’t feel quite right when we don’t engage in these things. It’s like losing health because you didn’t take your vitamins. Formation isn’t about adding something to your schedule and feeling guilty if you don’t. It’s about replacing something. It’s about stopping something so that you can fill the space with something else. The practice and habits help us make space for God… disrupting the automatic flow, the busyness, and the noise of life.
Our staff team heard from three friends of WOCC who taught us on three practices for formation during our retreat. Scripture reading, sabbath, and fasting.
With the habit of Scripture reading, we talked about wanting to fall in love with God’s Word because it reveals who he is and his character. It’s not God’s prescription for my problems. God’s Word is about his heart and how that shapes me. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” We want to approach our Bible reading for formation with no agenda and no timeline. We want to ask God: Lord, what do you want to say to me? Let God reveal his Word to our hearts in his timing. Ultimately, we want to let God speak and control the conversation.
With the habit of fasting, we talked about Exodus 20. God’s command to Israel to do no work on the sabbath. It’s a blessed day to remain sacred and holy. After creation, God rested on his throne. Sabbath is about his invitation for you to join him there. Throughout the Old Testament sabbath rest is connected to release and freedom as when Israel was brought out of slavery in Egypt. Sabbath is connected to knowing the Lord. It is described as not following my own way or my own desires or pleasures, but instead taking delight in the Lord. Those who keep the sabbath are brought into God’s presence (Isaiah 56). When Jesus came, he didn’t take the Law to a new level, he just taught it the way it was always supposed to be! It’s in Jesus that we find rest! We are commanded to rest in the Lord from our work so that we can delight in being with him.
We also learned about fasting. To apprentice under Jesus is to adopt his lifestyle; to be formed like him to be like him. In Matthew 16 Jesus assumes his disciples will fast and says that the Father will reward us for this practice. Why do we fast? To offer ourselves to Jesus. In fasting from food for a period of time we are participating in the sufferings of Christ. We offer our bodies to have a burning desire and hunger for Jesus. We awaken ourselves to a hunger for God. We learn not just to offer our minds, hearts, or intellect to God, but to offer our physical bodies as well. Fasting is a rhythm for these things. It is also a response to sin in repentance and a response to a movement of God. Romans 12:1 reminds us that when we fast from food, we are offering our whole selves to God as an act of worship!
Our staff was deeply challenged with these things. We hope that God develops in us a new lens for us. We cannot measure our connection to God’s heart by the spiritual disciples alone or else we’ll be no different than the Pharisees. Our heart’s connection to the Father is more measured in our ability to love God, love others, and experience the fruit of the Spirit flowing out of us.
May you, too, be formed in practices by his power for his glory.
White Oak Christian Church