The Number 1 Practice of Spiritual Formation

Do you remember the old saying that goes, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink?”  Yeah, not sure how far back it goes but its application fits in a lot of different environments and situations.  I’ve not ever owned a horse but I’ve owned both cats and dogs...ever tried to give them pills or liquid meds?  Yeah, it may be good for them but they don’t know nor do they care.  Cats will just as soon rip your face off.

Like so many things in our day and age, we want everything to be easy or at least palatable.  If it takes too much work, is too complex or takes too much time, we don’t want much to do with it.  In a few recent Facebook exchanges, many I didn’t engage in and one I did, the challenge to practice active listening (or active reading in this case), seemed too daunting a task for some.  It was far more convenient to label another and then tear down the straw man because no attempt was actually made to empathize (saying you “empathize” is not actually empathizing).  

This is only an example of one of the ways we, as a society, refuse to do the more difficult work of relationships.  And, it doesn’t end there.  It is something which is rolled right into our physical health and our spiritual lives.  Now, I’m not an expert in physical health so I won’t try to tackle that one but the spiritual life is where I have spent my time, effort and writing.
In one of the most popular posts on the subject of spiritual formation, John R. Throop writes, “Spiritual formation cannot be found in a ‘Five Minutes to Improved Spirituality" product. Be prepared to change the pattern of your life to practice the purposes of God.’ (5 Facets in Spiritual Formation, Christianity Today). Simply put, there is no shortcut for nurturing our spiritual growth.  Not only that, there are numerous behaviors and attitudes in ourselves and in others, that act like weeds to choke off your growth.  

I am amazed at times to see how those in other faith traditions actively practice and take on practices in their lives to seek a more fulfilling relationship with the Divine.  Muslims are steadfast and faithful in their prayers and practices.  Those who practice yoga are most often aligned with a religious tradition of Buddhism, Hinduism or Jainism and are resolute in practicing mindfulness and meditation.  Yet, in the Christian tradition, we often scoff at taking seriously those various practices which Jesus, the very Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity, taught and lived.  This goes not only for prayer but for fasting, and caregiving, and serving others.

As you can tell, I like to tackle the topic from a modern view through referencing the neutral but VERY spiritual elements from the Star Wars saga.  That isn’t easy for some to take.  It comes across as “too worldly.”  If you do a Google search of the phrase “Spiritual Formation,” you’ll find a number of sites and videos from Christian teachers being, shall we say, “over-the-top,” regarding the term because it isn’t “Biblical” enough.  They will gladly use phrases like Biblical practices, prayer practices, devotional practices, devotional habits, etc...yet these have no Biblical basis either, these phrases are simply not found anywhere in the Bible.

Right now, I am taking time to refocus my writing and ministry in this area.  It came through my life and struggles of faith and I think, it comes through loud and clear in the title of my book, “Life Sucks Seek God,” because it reflects, on one hand, the reality of our world and life, which, in all honesty, is hard and does suck many days.  And yet, there is before us the opportunity for you and me to experience the life-giving, soul-renewing, the experience of coming into a real “face-to-face” connection with God.  

It is time for us to take Paul’s words to heart more readily when he writes, “Rather,  speaking the truth in love, we are to  grow up in every way into him who is  the head, into Christ, (Ephesians 4:15)”  What we call spiritual formation, IS growing up into Christ, but we more often than not, seem to only speak the “love” aspect without speaking the “truth” part of the equation.  The truth is spiritual formation is going to deal with YOUR life CHANGING.  Your nationalism or party affiliation does not give you bonus or credit toward forwarding your relationship with God and you becoming more like Jesus.  

Luke Skywalker noted in the Empire Strikes Back, that he wasn’t afraid of the training needed to become a Jedi.  The little Jedi master, Yoda, quickly shot back, “You will be!  You. Will. Be!”  It is time to stop playing games with your faith and you forcing your small group leader, your Sunday School teacher or your pastor, to make you drink.  Just stop.  Spiritual formations number one practice, at its core, is listening to God’s Spirit.  Try the other old adage: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Since Jesus said when you do something to the least of the people, you’ve done it to God, then know this - sometimes the doing is listening.  When you listen to others, there is a good chance you’re going to hear God.  

So in love, shut up and give up, God is right now showing up and it is time for you to listen up.

MAY I ASK?  Are you having a hard time hearing from God?  Are people around you noting that you aren't really listening to them?  When is the last time you listened to God?  What did you hear?  What could you do differently?


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