I've been asked lately to explain what I mean by Spiritual Formation. This has been difficult challenge at times. Sometimes I feel misunderstood. In an attempt to understand why this happens and in asking for help to communicate more clearly, I have realized a few things. One realization is that I fail to communicate because I try to give sound bite answers from a journey that has not been a sound bite life.
Today, I want to attempt to say what I mean when I use the words "to be spiritually formed".
I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I believe that The Holy Spirit, in what is a great mystery, has come to live inside of me. I have been invited to live life with God. From the first day, as a nine year old girl, there has been a part of me that loves to be with God. But there are other parts of me that don't want to be with God. When I turn my back on God, the part of me that desires God is grieved or is troubled by my turning away, but none the less I often turn away. Thank goodness I'm not the only one in the relationship. In spite of my turning, God who loves me and knows me seems to set about inviting me back to Him. At times, it seems that He watches and waits and at other times actively orchestrates circumstances that help me to know I need Him. Eventually, I realize that I want to be with Him more than whatever my heart was more drawn to in a rebellious or independent moment. When I repent and I turn back, He is there waiting for me. He has not been unfaithful to me even though I have been unfaithful to Him. The recognition of his faithfulness and other realities of his character discovered along the way have helped me to trust Him more and more. I also learn again that I was not worthy to be trusted. He alone is worthy. This new increased trust is evidence that I have been spiritually formed into the likeness of Christ. Christ loved, trusted and submitted His life to the Father. When I turn back, I make the same choice as Christ.
One gradual but huge shift has been this. I used to primarily turn back out of fear. But with the mounting evidence of God's personal love and care for me, I have changed to turning back because of love. Before when I turned back because of fear, there was no lasting change in my mind and heart. But now, when I am motivated by love and faith and trust there is lasting change in me. Love has changed me. Love is changing me.
Sound bite version from my experience:
I try to do something on my own because of pride, doubt or fear.
I choose a rebellious or independent of God path.
Jesus offers a different path. He says follow me and persuades me that He knows better and is worthy to be trusted.
I believe Him and trust Him.
I choose to love Him so I submit my life to Him and follow Him.
What He promises is experienced.
Trust grows and my mind and heart are at least partially transformed to His perspective.
The cycle repeats.
A reason I often fail to see this as a simple thing to communicate about is that there have been countless moments of turning away from The Lord. I have been very driven by fear. There are to many moments to name and in to many areas of my life. I am a complex and layered soul with a very independent and rebellious heart.
There have not been simple solutions in the areas of my heart that are most prone to reject God's rightful place. I have needed the scripture, people who love me and can help me see my blind spots, worship, prayer times (that include both listening and talking with The Lord) alone and with others, practices that teach me through experience the truth and sometimes something as simple as a random comment from a friend that turns into a long discovery process with The Lord.
I have been a strange combination of truly tenderhearted towards The Lord and as stubborn and independent as they come. (If you don't believe me just ask my parents or Dave and watch their facial expression.) Frankly, I am a bit embarrassed by all that the Lord has had to invest in me to persuade me that He is worthy to live my life with Him.
What I know for sure is that my relationship with the Father, Jesus and The Holy Spirit is real. God is spiritually transforming me into the likeness of Christ. I will have areas of my life that need that kind of changing until the day I die. I also know that in the areas and moments where I know change and live united with Christ I experience love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control as well as courage.
This courage from God gives me what I need to share my story. My story testifies to folly of my rebellion and testifies to Scriptures being true. This is glorifying to God. Thank goodness. I want people to know there is an answer to all their rebellion and independence too. It's not just an answer it is the most beautiful and vibrant and alive relationships we can have this side of heaven.
When I talk about how God has worked with me, people have assumed that I believe there is one way for God to go about this in our lives. I don't believe that or see it that way. My story about spiritual transformation or formation is just that. It is simply my story. The fact is this, I believe quite the opposite of what some assume.
Here is how I think of all this in relationship to others. Fundamentally, I believe that being changed by God takes time with God and His people. One of my greatest joys is to spend time with people getting to know their redemption stories. How is God going about changing them? I marvel at God's creativity in inviting us to spend time with Him and with other believers. He knows what each soul needs to be persuaded. He knows how we are specifically prone to resist Him. And beyond that, I love hearing how time with God and others ignites the spread of Christ love both in and beyond our community. This glorifies God brilliantly. Lives that are changed to look like Christ are persuasive lives of love.
I had coffee with Pastor Mike yesterday. At the end of that coffee, I realized that I desire to be a better communicator than I am on this topic. Maybe working through this today and prayerfully rereading it a few times (this is already version 4) will help me. May the focus be on God the Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus the author and prefector of each persons faith.