Hi, church! I am so excited for the sermon series we will be doing over the next few weeks. We will be discussing Spiritual Formation and what that means for those who follow Jesus.
As an opportunity for you to learn more and to go deeper, each week I’ll add my comments here about the upcoming sermon, some scriptures to read, and some books for further reading or study, all of which are available in our church library. I may also add some spiritual formation exercises so that you have the opportunity to listen to the Spirit through the material given to you.
To hear the sermons in the series, you can click here: https://www.erbf.com/series/spiritual-formation.
What is Spiritual Formation? Glad you asked! At its most basic, Christian spiritual formation is when we allow God to shape and form us; it is the process by which we become more like Jesus. If you Google that phrase you will find many good (and not so good) expanded definitions. Here are two really great ones:
Dallas Willard: “Spiritual formation in the tradition of Jesus Christ is the process of transformation of the inmost dimension of the human being, the heart, which is the same as the spirit or will. It is being formed (really, transformed) in such a way that its natural expression comes to be the deeds of Christ done in the power of Christ.”
Renovaré: "Christian spiritual formation is the redemptive process of forming the inner human world so that it takes on the character of the inner being of Christ himself."
We’ll be unpacking this more on Sunday with our first guest speaker.
Books & Articles:
Read one of the following: Psalm 23, 2 Corinthians 4:6-10, 2 Corinthians 10:5. Read the scripture slowly three times. After each time ask yourself the following questions, in order, spending several minutes savouring each one:
What does the Holy Spirit have to do with Spiritual Formation? Everything!
If Spiritual Formation is how our hearts and wills are transformed to be like Jesus, and if it is God who transforms us, then it is the Holy Spirit who does the actual work. The role of the Holy Spirit is described many ways in the New Testament: Advocate, Empowerer, Truth-teller, Teacher, Comforter, Convicter, Pledge and Seal. Here are some verses that talk about the Spirit’s role:
Romans 8:6: "The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”
John 14:25, 26: ““All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
Romans 15:16 “I am a special messenger from Christ Jesus to you Gentiles. I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit.”
The early Anabaptists spoke about the “Inner Word” and the “Outer Word”. We call the Bible the Word of God, or what the Anabaptists (ie Hans Denck) referred to as the “Outer Word”. If Christ is the Word of God made flesh (John 1), then His Spirit is the Word of God set inside us, or the “Inner Word”. We are to read the scriptures and experience the world through the lens of this inner Word.
Conrad Au will be preaching more on this on May 29th.
Books to read:
1. Find a space that is quiet and still. Ask yourself the following questions and ask God to speak to you about what He thinks:
2. Listen to the song here. How does this move you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWDPJ5EslKo
As long as you are a follower of God, you can hear God's voice in a way that works best for you. Listening to God is not just for certain "holy" or "spiritual" people, but for every Christian.
John 10:27 says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." By definition, a Christian is a follower of Christ, and to follow Him, to follow our shepherd, listening to Him is essential.
What is some practical guidance? We can hear the voice of the Lord, but we also have other, competing voices in our lives as well. Negative self-talk, worldly temptations, other peoples’ opinions, Satan’s deception: all of these also try to shape us in their own ways. How do we know what we are listening to?
This is one of my passions, so you’re getting more than normal.
Go through scripture from Genesis to Revelation, and you will see humanity using singing, musical instruments, dancing and the arts for celebration and to praise God. It is not only present but commanded for our worship. The Psalms say “Let the godly sing for joy to the Lord; it is fitting for the pure to praise him.” (Psalm 33:1). The apostle Paul tells the church to “let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.” (Colossians 3:16).
What is unique about worship and the arts, and why is it such an integral part of our spiritual formation? There are more reasons than could fill this small space, but here are two you may not know.
“Music impacts brain function and human behaviour, including by reducing stress, pain and symptoms of depression as well as improving cognitive and motor skills, spatial-temporal learning and neurogenesis, which is the brain’s ability to produce neurons.” It heals us. People with advanced Alzheimers that are unresponsive will still sometimes move and even sing when you give them headphones to listen. It
This may be why words set to music are remembered far more easily than straight memorization. How amazing that God created us to be uniquely shaped to praise Him! We can be formed to be more like Him by singing truth that gets set in our hearts.
Carolyn Arends, in an article on this topic (see below), lists four ways that the Arts are necessary for our Spiritual Formation:
As I was preparing this sermon I wondered if talking about the importance and priority of church in our lives would be as potentially fraught with tension as talking to people about tithing. In our busy North American lives, our time is almost more precious than our money. The challenge to sacrifice something is not usually welcome in a society that reveres our individuality and right to decide for ourselves.
Yet the letters written to the churches make clear that our work together as a family of believers is critical to our formation into the likeness of Christ. The work itself is not the critical part of our transformation, though it is essential in order to proclaim the gospel around the world. Our relationships as we work together, our love and our humbleness and our gentleness and our forgiveness - our Christlike love- is what shapes us as a Potter shapes his clay. We are transformed as we yield our own rights, our own sense of entitlement. We yield them in love just as Jesus yielded his rights and privileges out of love for us.
When we practice being like Jesus we become like Him.
Service is a natural outflow of our topic last week, where we discussed the gifts (or graces) each person has been given by the Holy Spirit for the mutual growth and encouragement of the family of believers.
When we decide to serve in the church, we give up some of our time to give to God’s work. This alone transforms us as we change our priorities. Serving together builds community and creates relationships where we can be loving, gentle, patient and honest with each other. Serving together can also allow us to invite others to join us and makes a place for new members, causing us to look beyond ourselves. And, lastly, when we serve together in outreach to the city around us we show the world our love.
Sam also challenged us this week to be more holistic in our thinking about service. How can we serve wherever we find ourselves? How can we advance the kingdom of God as we are going through our daily lives? Building a business, pumping gas, going to school: each of these places are also an opportunity to serve God and spread the gospel.
I haven’t put in a spiritual exercise or more to read this week. In this area I suspect we need less thinking and more doing.
This topic is the counterpoint to our sermon on listening prayer. Just as the Spirit has been given to us as the “Inner Word" of God, speaking truth personally into our lives as needed, so is scripture the “Outer Word” of God.
Discussion of what the Bible (or “Scripture”) is, how the content was written, copied and curated is not the topic of this conversation. What matters for this moment is this: how does God, through His Spirit, use the written Word to transform us into the likeness of Jesus Christ?
Perhaps you are familiar with the study of scripture. This is a foundational way of getting to know the Trinity and their interaction with humankind from creation to Revelation. The discipline of memorization and meditation on scripture shapes our minds to be more like Christ’s, helps us to discern truth from error (2 Corinthians 10:5) and gives us guidance when we need it (Psalm 119:105). Travis spoke wonderfully on this topic.
The role of scripture to transform us also goes beyond study and memorization. Christian traditions over the centuries have interacted with scripture in a more meditative way that allows God to speak directly to the heart.
Lectio Divina is one way of allowing God to speak to us through scripture. We have already seen this practice in the spiritual exercise from the first week. Noticing how our hearts respond to the scripture we read allows us to sense God’s invitation to us.
Praying the scripture is another wonderful practice. The Psalms are both songs and prayers, and praying them for ourselves and for others is a wonderful gift (see resources below for some book suggestions).
Imaginative prayer is a contemplative practice that also allows us to engage our hearts with the Word. By immersing ourselves in a gospel story through our imagination, we allow God to speak to us through His Spirit (see resources).
The “Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). Try some of the more contemplative ways of connecting with scripture and see how God speaks to you, shaping you to be like Him.