Spiritual formation

From a biblical perspective Christian spiritual formation engages our head, our heart, and our hands. It is a process that is rooted in thought and experience, in theory and practice. To know God is to understand and to experience God; understanding and experience inform each other.

Being formed in Christ
  1. The concept of Christian formation is rooted deep in the substrata of biblical thought. In the divine-human relationship formation occurs by God's initiative and power and our active response and cooperation.

  2. In Christian formation Jesus Christ is the touchstone. Formation occurs as God through Christ is in us (John 17:23) and we are in God (John 17:21).¹ This language of communion and union is the essence of being Christian. This is the means of our conversion and transformation - Christ in us and we in Christ. This is the foundation of Christian spiritual formation.

    "Being in" means that we are invited to participate in the life of the triune God, i.e., God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, who lives in love and communion which brings a deep and abiding union. So at the very core God is a relational being who lives in deep communion and invites us into this communion and union of the trinity. God seeks to make a covenant with us so that we come to live in fidelity with this love and communion and union and with the heartbeat and work of the triune God.

  3. We are formed spiritually only in relationship with God. Spiritual formation is not something we can create,
    attain or possess in ourselves.2 Like in a deep friendship or a marriage relationship, spiritual formation exists and thrives only in relationship with the other. Christian spiritual formation occurs and exists only within the divine-human relationship, which is always a work in progress. It holds the potential for agony and ecstasy of any covenantal relationship that is driven toward communion, friendship, intimacy and union.

    Any one in a vital relationship has hopes and dreams. There is the desire to be accepted, to know and be known, the hunger to be valued and loved, the need to find satisfying meaningful ways to be and to do together. In the divine-human relationship God's dream and intention is that we are being transformed into the image of God from one degree of glory to another 
    (2 Cor 3:18). Our formation and transformation is God's deepest desire, highest priority and greatest joy in his relationship with us.

  4. Covenant, communion, and solidarity with God's mission are essential elements of our lifelong journey into the heart of God. The formation-transformation language of scripture3 substantiates that on this journey God initiates and we are to respond, to cooperate with the divine initiatives. As God works in us and we cooperate "Christ being formed in" us (Gal 4:19), we are being "conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29), and are "being transformed into the same image (as God) from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor 3:18).

    We are to be in communion with God and with one another. Our call to covenant is to be faithful to the Great Commandment, to love God with our whole being, to love neighbor as self, and to be true to God's mission in the world. Communion, covenant, and solidarity with God's mission are inextricably intertwined; they cannot be separated.

The function of spiritual disciplines in spiritual formation
  1. Spiritual disciplines are practices we pursue for engagement and interaction with God. Such disciplines are essential to spiritual formation. In the practice of these disciplines we keep opening ourselves to God and giving ourselves to relationship with the triune God.

  2. On the spiritual journey it is crucial to recognize that these practices are not a means by which we make ourselves more spiritual. But our fidelity and persistence in spiritual practices may well give evidence of being devoted in our relationship with God.

  3. When choosing spiritual disciplines we need prayerfully consider that which is relevant in our present journey and fits our personality. We need to ask God to lead us in the pursuit of these practices.

  4. In the pursuit of spiritual practices we need to adopt a "rule" life for a period of time. A "rule" refers to a set of practices to which we devote ourselves for a time to allow the discipline to become integrated into our being and by that rule to allow our life to be formed spiritually.

    This stands in contrast to seeking novelty through a smorgasbord of exercises or the approach of a consumer who seeks to experience all in order to enhance his or her own ego. Fidelity to God is to shun the "fast-food" attitude but rather with humility, patience, and continuity present oneself to God through a rule of life over a period of for the formation of the soul.

  5. Such a rule might include "spiritual disciplines engagement patterns" by which several basic "resources" or "means of engagement" with God are selected by the mentor. For example these might include scripture, prayer, reflection, and application or mission. Such engagement patterns would provide the framework within which the individual would select exercises for engagement with God. This could provide a focus exploration of disciplines that are fitting and relevant.

    For example, if one were to choose regular encounter with Scripture as a means of engagement then the person would need further to select from among a number of possible ways to encounter scripture for his or her rule of life. This could be the following: reading through the bible, memorizing scripture, some form of Lectio Divina (meditation on scripture), living the scripture through imaging or imagination, study of scripture, etc. For a rule of life one would choose one of these for a period of time while also exploring others as a parallel activity.

    Similarly with prayer one would choose a practice of prayer for a rule over a period of time from among various possibilities such as simple prayer, praise, intercession, the prayer of relinquishment, the prayer of the heart (centering prayer), the prayer of examen, etc.
    Marcus G. Smucker, August 2000

¹ Jesus prayed saying, "I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one." Formation also occurs as we are in Christ. Again in John 17:21 Jesus prayed saying, "as you father are in me and I in you, may they also be in us.

2 Many who seek spiritual formation today are like the prodigal who want to take to themselves the capital that is meant to be used in community with the Father and use it in service of their own ego oriented self.

³ Such references include the following: "Christ being formed in you" (Gal 4:19), "being conformed to the death of Christ" (Phil. 3:10) being "conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29), being transformed "by the renewal of the mind" (Rom 12:2) and "being transformed into the same image (as God) from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor 3: 18).