When I was in high school, I wasn’t very athletic. And by “very,” I mean not at all. I could run. I was fast enough. So, I ran track for several years. When I left high school and started college, I decided to hit the gym. If I couldn’t be good at playing sports, perhaps I could be good at throwing weights around. That’s what I did. Over the past 26 years, I’ve been working out at the gym. I started out just doing whatever I wanted to do on machines and with free weights. Then, I graduated to reading books on weight training. Eventually I started following lifting routines and regimens. At one point, I began to incorporate better eating habits and watching my food in-take. With the help of those habits and practices I’ve seen growth, understanding, and health improve.
You could use the word formation. Formation is an important part of our lives. Our faith journey is no different. Jesus was God incarnate and he displayed our need for formation to his disciples and us. Jesus often embraced solitude as a habit to withdraw from others and the busyness of life to hear from his Father. Jesus prayed regularly. He submitted to his Father through prayer and asked his Father’s will for his own life. Jesus practiced fasting to focus his dependence on the Father just as Jewish people had fasted for generations. In these things, Jesus modeled habits of discipleship.
Spiritual formation is a critical piece of our discipleship. How are you being formed? The Spirit lives inside every believer forming our hearts more like Jesus’s. The Spirit grows our faith and moves us closer to God’s heart. In formation, we learn to listen to God’s voice. In formation we learn to seek him and to be vulnerable before him. In formation, we surrender comforts and what’s known for the uncomfortable and unknown. God uses spiritual disciplines, or put another way, practices, in order to form us to be the men and women he created us to be.
In solitude, prayer, fasting, service, and the like, we find and learn new avenues to quiet our loud lives and hear the Father’s voice; We sense his movement; We bend our desires to his.
Richard Foster says it like this, “And so I urge you to still every motion that is not rooted in the Kingdom. Become quiet, hushed, motionless until you are finally centered. Strip away all excess baggage and nonessential trappings until you have come into the stark reality of the Kingdom of God. Let go of all distractions until you are driven into the Core. Allow God to reshuffle your priorities and eliminate unnecessary froth. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, 'Pray for me that I not loosen my grip on the hands of Jesus even under the guise of ministering to the poor.' That is our first task: to grip the hands of Jesus with such tenacity that we are obliged to follow his lead, to seek first his Kingdom.” ― Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World.
Jesus says this in Luke 8:14-15, 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
Peter talks about formation like this in 2 Peter 3:18, 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
Over the past several weeks myself and our elders at White Oak have engaged in spiritual practices of formation. We’ve been asking God to draw us closer to Jesus, to amplify our prayers; to grow us in holiness; and to give us a vision for White Oak’s future and obedience toward it. In that time, I’ve learned that I have only tapped into such a small amount of formation in my years of following Jesus. I stuck with what is comfortable, known, and easier. I neglected the practices and habits that required self-denial and sacrifice. I am amazed at the ways in which God is awakening parts of my body, mind, and heart. I am more aware now than ever how far I must go in my journey with the Lord. I am humbled. I am eager.
I invite you to consider and ask how God may want to form you. What habits and practices might you explore that your heart and life might be bent more and more to the heart of Jesus? What could the Lord ask you to deny yourself and surrender to his will? Spiritual formation is a journey requiring patience and commitment and it’s guided by the grace and love of a good Heavenly Father.
White Oak Christian Church