Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines (part2)

seedling1.jpg   In the first post of this basic discussion of spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines, you may have noticed that I failed to define my terms. That’s because the minute I try to put down on paper a complete definition someone -and if not someone else, I myself- will say, “Yeah, but what about ________?” And they’ll be right. 

To illustrate the futility of my attempting anything like a complete definition/listing of spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines, here is a list of disciplines, in no particular order, taken from just three books on my shelf (By the way, one of the next posts will be a resource list of books, articles and websites I’ve found to be helpful, so look for that soon):

Silence, solitude, prayer, fasting, study, worship, Eucharist/Communion, sabbath, meditation, contemplation, frugality, simplicity, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice, celebration, service, confession, submission, fellowship, guidance/spiritual direction, spiritual reading, lectio divina, thanksgiving, singing, praise, work/labor, hospitality, retreat, humility, forgiveness, journaling, tithing/giving, stewardship, witness, memorization.

That’s 36 of them, if you’re counting. Lots of overlap in that list, some pretty broad, some very narrow in scope, most affect multiple areas in our lives, all are means that God has used, and continues to use to shape us into the image of Jesus. So instead of “full” definitions, here are short, general, working ones.

Spiritual Formation is the process of becoming more like Jesus.

Spiritual Disciplines are practices/exercises we do, that God uses to shape us into that image of Christ.

Scripture talks a lot about spiritual formation. Stories and metaphors of growing, farming, building, maturing, wisdom gaining, sojourning, waiting and exile are recorded for us to read and re-read. The whole idea of story itself serves as a reminder of process that is so important to our understanding of becoming like Jesus. It’s not an instant kind of thing. In each of our stories there is a beginning, a plot, characters, conflict, struggle, failure, hope, heroes, villains, and ultimately resolution.

Much of that scripture talks about growth. After “Creator of the Universe”,  God’s next job title could easily be listed “Master Gardener”. “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden….” (Genesis 2). The first job description of man is that of “Assistant Gardener”, (also Genesis 2).

I think we’re supposed to pay close attention to that idea of gardening, and the way things grow. If we do, we begin to see parallels all around us. Not quite like Chauncey Gardiner, in Being There , but we still ought to pay attention.

Here’s one of my favorites. “He [a righteous man]”, the psalmist says, “is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season.”  Man,  like a fruit tree, is planted, grows and matures, yielding fruit in season. A process of growth and maturity.

Peter Leithart says this about maturing into Christ-likeness, and its place in scripture;

“Maturation is not only a major focus in individual stories but a major theme of the Bible as a whole. As Paul describes the story of the Bible, it moves from the “minority” of Israel to the “maturity” of the church. Under the Old Covenant, Israel was under tutors, guardians, and managers (Galatians 3-4), but now that Jesus has come we have come to mature manhood. Through Jesus, many sons have been brought to glory. This does not mean that they have been brought into heaven. It means that sons have been glorified, brought to full humanity. This is as much the goal of the work of Jesus as our deliverance from sin.”

One more thing I’d like to touch on in that definition of spiritual formation. Like the process of growing anything, be it a garden or a child into an adult, it can be painfully slow and sometimes even look counter-productive.

 Enough for now, I’ve got to go pick up the kids from school. More later.


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