What Is Spiritual Formation and How Do I Practice It?

My desire from the beginning of the year has been to explore the disciplines. I introduced the plan of a series with a post on the What and Why of Spiritual Disciplines. Then my sister, Kandy Chimento followed up with a post on the ‘How’ using the Bonsia tree as an illustration.

About that time, my family received a surprise announcement that we had two months to move out of our home. And the disciplines were set on the back burner. I continued reading, all the while these things have been simmering in my mind. Now that life returns to “normal”, I am ready to jump into writing.

I shared my plans with Patty Scott and she offered to write an introductory post to get us going again. So here we go…

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 Spiritual Formation

by Patty H Scott 

spiritual formations
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I came back to my walk with Jesus in my early 20s after having wandered away during some very painful and trying experiences in adolescence. I hadn’t planned to return to Christianity, but Jesus, relentless in His love for me, made an unexpected way. Then I found myself in a small group with a bunch of relative strangers after a friend had invited me to her church. The leader of this small group was immersed in Spiritual Formation as he attended Talbot School of Theology. He invited me to attend lectures at Biola (the University that houses Talbot). And that is where my foundation in Spiritual Formation began. 

At that time, I had some distorted ideas about God. My faith had started in childhood. And had been strengthened through the influence of some families around me in my elementary and high school years. I had voluntarily read through the Bible five times. So I was well aware of the stories and many of the principles of our faith. While I had some meaningful personal experiences with God, much of my approach to my relationship with Him felt distant. I viewed God as being a lot like other authority figures in my life who were perfectionistic, demanding, and critical. Even though my head knew God was loving, I held doubts and hidden beliefs about His love and true forgiveness of me.  

though my head knew God was loving, I held doubts… #spiritualformation #thedisciplines Click To Tweet

Finding a Mentor

It was at this time in my walk with Jesus that I met Dallas Willard. Much like another famous Christian philosopher, C. S. Lewis, Dallas had a way of bringing Jesus into every situation. And reflecting the depth of his own walk with such thoughtfulness and intelligence. He was the man who introduced me to the Spiritual Disciplines. He also introduced me to my mentor who became like a mother in the faith to me.  

Dallas taught that Spiritual Formation is the process of being formed in our spirit. This is the purpose of God. He made each of us unique. And He never intends to delete or override the special qualities He so carefully wove into each one of our personalities. He does, however, want to form us to be increasingly like Christ.

Just as a concrete worker sets out a mold before he pours the liquid into it, God has a mold for us to be conformed into – and that mold is Christlikeness. While we will maintain our own individuality, we also will become more and more like Jesus. As we practice the disciplines, we deepen our trust-follow relationship with God.  

What are Spiritual Disciplines?

The Spiritual Disciplines are instrumental in this process. We often think of a few basic and common practices as we go about practicing our faith. It is usual to talk about quiet time, reading the Word, prayer, and fellowship. Those are all wonderful things we can do to deepen our faith and help us grow. What I want us to really look at here is how we sometimes misuse those practices. Then I want us to see how we can best apply Spiritual Disciplines to help achieve God’s aims…

  • to make us more like Jesus,
  • and to draw us into greater intimacy with the Triune God.  

Being a “Good Christian”

As I said, my view of God when I returned to the faith was tainted with my misperceptions of His character. When I sat in quiet time, for example, I felt this pressing need to 

being a good christan; spiritual formation
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  • use the “best” books,
  • do the most I could,
  • and show up daily for a specific period of time.

The time I set apart to be with God looked more like someone doing homework for a course than someone spending quality time with a good friend. I checked off the boxes, made sure I did things “right,”. And yet, I missed some of the benefits of sitting with God in His Word and prayer. I was doing it all to earn something from Him. I figured I was not worthy of His love. Therefore, I was going to work and work (serving in church, doing all the requirements of the faith) and show Him He hadn’t made a mistake in offering me His love.  

What the Disciplines Do For Us Spiritually

Dallas said something that turned my life around.

“Faith isn’t opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” #spiritualdisciplines #spiritualformation Click To Tweet

Here I was trying to build my spiritual resume when God already accepted and loved me fully. I knew that in my head. It took a while for it to settle in the places that really mattered.

Over time my practice of the disciplines took a different approach. One teacher at Biola said,

“It’s not so much the form that matters as the function.”

He went on to say that some of us aren’t morning people. If we are forcing ourselves to have quiet time in the morning because we believe that is what “good Christians” do, but we are half awake and unable to focus, we have put the form (making sure quiet time is in the morning), ahead of the function (the purpose of quiet time is to draw us near to God and let Him reach into our lives and hearts to help us grow).  

There are Varied Spiritual Disciplines

Over the years I have learned how many varied Spiritual Disciplines exist. For example, when I have been on Facebook and Instagram too much and those social media sites are starting to have a pull on me, I can fast from them for a while and my self-control is restored, as well as my sense of what matters most. Fasting is a great discipline to teach us how to be sweet when we aren’t getting our way. It also teaches us to say no to our urges and wait patiently.  

Dallas often “prescribed” various disciplines as each one might suit a specific area of growth for an individual in a given season. If you are feeling prideful and constantly having to make your point, you can practice the discipline of NOT having the last word. While you may not find that particular practice in the Bible, it is a helpful thing to undertake with the Holy Spirit.

As we seek Him to show us areas where He wants us to grow, He will provide the means towards that growth. In any Spiritual Discipline, we do the thing we can do (abstaining from Facebook, for example) so that God can do in us what we couldn’t do before (cultivate self-control).  

AS we seek Him, He provides the means toward that growth. #spiritualformation #spiritualdisciplines Click To Tweet

Is Your Heart in the Right Place?

The most important aspect of Spiritual Formation through the use of the Disciplines is that our heart is in the right place. As we look at the Pharisees, we see that Jesus acknowledged…

  • their prayer life,
  • their careful tithing, 
  • and their adherence to all sorts of religious practices.

Yet, their hearts were far from God.

We need to approach all Spiritual Formation knowing that we are already fully loved as is, wanted by God, and included in His eternal life. There is nothing to be earned. We are invited into eternal abundance and internal growth as we engage in practices such as…

  • scripture memory,
  • solitude,
  • silence,
  • prayer,
  • meditation upon God’s Word and character,
  • worship with music,
  • or any other number of exercises.

I hope you can pick one or two practices and enter them with the sole purpose of drawing near to the God who formed you, loves you, and longs to help you grow to be more and more like Jesus.  

Patty H Scott

It’s Your Turn…

legacy link-ups

It’s legacy Link-up time. What spiritual discipline are you working on? Share a post about your own spiritual formation or a book review of the book that is helping you grow.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


6 thoughts on “What Is Spiritual Formation and How Do I Practice It?

  1. Barbara Harper says:

    It’s so helpful to remember the reason for what we do–to get to know God better and grow in Him, not check off lists. I struggled with the same thing for years.

    • Patty Scott says:

      Thank you, Barbara. I guess it’s partly how our flesh is wired, but also how our churches often unwittingly preach action without remembering the motives we need to cultivate. Thank you for coming and sharing here.

  2. Lisa notes... says:

    I have loved Dallas Willard’s writings so much. They have deeply influenced my spiritual walk. Thanks for sharing more about the spiritual disciplines here. They are so important! Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline was my first introduction to the disciplines years ago. It rocked my world.

    Thanks for linking up at Grace & Truth!

    • Mandy Farmer says:

      I’m taking Celebration of Discipline to heart this time around. It was required reading in college when it was first released. I wasn’t too keen on it then. I wish I had been. Thanks for coming by!

  3. Bettie G says:

    Thanks for this great introduction, here,Patsy and Mandy. We spent some time in the Spiritual Disciplines with a Bible Study Group we were part of several years ago. But there is always so much more to press into with the Lord.

    • Mandy Farmer says:

      There is always more to learn or further in deep to get. I want to keep growing deeper and deeper. Just like the hymn

      Deeper, deeper in the love of Jesus
      Daily let me go;
      Higher, higher in the school of wisdom,
      More of grace to know.
      Refrain:
      Oh, deeper yet, I pray,
      And higher every day,
      And wiser, blessed Lord,
      In Thy precious, holy Word.

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