The Grove: Spiritual Formation

I’ve been a model spiritual discipline practitioner. No, really. One of those crazy women who get up at zero dark thirty to study and memorize and journal. In fact, if there was such a thing, I probably could have been a professional.  Just sayin’.

That is, until the day I couldn’t even muster the energy to lift up my Bible, much less read it. That’s a whole ‘nother story.

My point is a subtle danger lurks behind thinking it is our own efforts and our commitment to spiritual disciplines which primarily define and shape our spiritual formation.  

Spiritual practices are undoubtedly important but simply because they are pathways. The pathways themselves are not the source of our transformation. They just get us to a place to behold Him, to experience God’s goodness and beauty. These exercises of the soul create space and expand our capacity for being with God. But spiritual formation itself is the work of God.

Which is really good news in a season when fruitfulness in our disciplines has withered. When we walk through brokenness, difficult relationships, messy situations, or weighty grief that crush our strength to pursue God.

Thank God, He pursues us.

In seasons of refining and pruning, our spiritual formation is far from dormant.   Though it may seem growth is stagnant, we can absolutely trust God is actively at work in us. In fact, sometimes when it seems like He is most uninterested in working through us, He is bent on working in us.

If spiritual formation is about shaping us to look and act and think more like Jesus, wilderness times may be when we are most “formed”.

If spiritual formation is about deepening and enriching our love and knowledge of God, then it is here that what we have studied and memorized and meditated upon becomes substantial and transformational.

What we know in our head becomes deeply formed in our spirit. We echo Job, “I’d heard of You, but now I see You with my own eyes.”

We can read God is our Provider, even memorize passages that tell us so. But it is when we have a lack we cannot fix ourselves that we really know Him as Provider.

How will we know Him as Protector if we’re never in danger? As Counselor if we’re never confused? As the God of all Comfort if we’ve never been swallowed up by sorrow?

In the dark is the time to hike down those familiar pathways to the feet of Jesus and remind yourself of what you know is true.

A weighty praise is birthed in you in the valley. A hope infused in you. A confidence in your God that comes only by walking through brokenness with Him. Hard won truths are so deeply formed in you they become a part of you.

Your worship is richer. Your praise is deeper. Your song is sweeter. How does this happen? God weaves an aspect of His character and beauty into your being in the wilderness.

Spiritual formation is not about making you a better person. It’s about bringing you to a place of knowing and loving Jesus more fully than you did yesterday.

We become like Him not by striving but by gazing. By dismissing all other distractions and affections so we can be with our Beloved.

Ultimately, spiritual formation is all about being connected to the Vine, experiencing His life as we live in Him and He lives in us.

What does spiritual formation look like for you?

We want to hear how you stay connected to the Vine.

 

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25 Comments

  1. Lauren Pinkston September 11, 2014

    “But spiritual formation itself is the work of God.”

    So much of what you wrote speaks volumes, but this sentence really stood out to me. We can be present and study and Sabbath all we want, trying to sanctify ourselves. But in the end, only God can make us whole through His Spirit.

    Thank you for your words. There’s such beauty in them.

    1. Patty Stallings September 12, 2014

      Thank you, Lauren.  Isn’t it a relief to know God is the Gardener, watching over our growth, knowing when to plant, water, prune, fertilize?  Our part is to just stay connected to the Vine.

  2. Danielle Wheeler September 12, 2014

    “We become like Him not by striving but by gazing. By dismissing all other distractions and affections so we can be with our Beloved.”

    Love this line. Ok, I love all of it, but especially this line.  And I am reminded that the “other distractions and affections” are often very good things, but often they too must be dismissed so we can be with our Beloved.

    This is a place that I love to go to be connected to the Vine: http://www.pray-as-you-go.org/home/

    It provides a daily song, Scripture reading and meditation.  A beautiful and life-giving place for God to come and do the work of spiritual formation.

    1. Patty Stallings September 12, 2014

      Danielle, thank you for sharing this resource!  I hope others will share places and books and resources that help create those pathways to our Beloved.

  3. Morielle September 12, 2014

    Patty, this is all so good I want to write it all down somewhere I will read it often. Or memorize it. Or something. The part that jumped out and grabbed me most was this:

    “We can read God is our Provider, even memorize passages that tell us so. But it is when we have a lack we cannot fix ourselves that we really know Him as Provider.

    How will we know Him as Protector if we’re never in danger? As Counselor if we’re never confused? As the God of all Comfort if we’ve never been swallowed up by sorrow?”

    I have literally been living in the wilderness the past year. But the figurative desert of lacks, dangers, confusions, and sorrows…. It has made so much Scripture I had read before, loved before, even memorized before, so alive and vital to me that my reading has become less “daily words” to me and more “daily bread”.

     

    1. Patty Stallings September 12, 2014

      Morielle, knowing that what God wants most is to capture more of my heart through wilderness experiences causes me to look for Him there.  He often can be found in the most unusual places!  I love that He is becoming your Manna more and more this year!

  4. Malia September 12, 2014

    This post speaks such beautiful truth–thank you. These two lines caught me:

    “[S]ometimes when it seems like He is most uninterested in working through us, He is bent on working in us.”

    “We become like Him not by striving but by gazing.”

    How foolish of us to think we can become more spiritual by doing ministry! We’ve got things turned around, and that leaves us with pride instead of gratitude and doubts instead of peace.

    1. Patty Stallings September 12, 2014

      Malia, those two concepts grab me, too.

      And you are exactly right that we end up drained of gratitude and peace when we think our Life comes from anywhere but the Vine.

      Thanks for sharing!

  5. Jennifer September 12, 2014

    Patti,

    So much of what you have said deeply resonates with me. I can recognize how much the deep, deep challenges of my journey of the last couple of years have been working to shape me. On the one hand I have never been able to deny that, and at times very deeply aware of it, even as at times it seemed overwhelming and difficult to do more than just hold on. Sometimes it looks like a spiral, gradually moving just that little bit closer to the centre. Gradually, very slowly building up good disciplines, not just for doing them, but because they simply seem to sometimes just flow out of the relationship with God. Learning the deep value of the gift of simply spending time in silence in his presence. Sometimes taking time to simply and deliberately turning off all noise, all technology and taking a time of space away from it. I can remember how challenging and yet how powerful it was the first time that I did this, in response to a challenge in a sermon I heard in a service I watch streamed each week from the US,,, which encouraged taking 3 days without any technology (except for unavoidable work)… so no internet, no radio, no TV. Interestingly it has continued to be one of the things which even in small amounts of time can more than anything draw me closer to God. So actually has been what seems like quite the opposite and listening to much Christian radio, music and other good input. Being conscious of what I let in, and what I think about. I recognized eventually that one challenge I had been having was simply not getting “good input” in the context I was in. Since I have deliberately at times sought to do that, it really has had a significant impact, especially in the midst of the challenging times I have been in on so many levels.

    1. Patty Stallings September 12, 2014

      The discipline of silence does have a unique way of centering us and drawing us in – and as you said, even in small amounts of time.  Thank you for the reminder, Jennifer!

      Do you have any favorite places you go to for “good input”?

      1. Jennifer September 14, 2014

        Patti,

        One of the most significant ones to me in my challenging journey of the last couple of years has been listening both live and through podcast to Moody Radio from Chicago. I actually first found it accidently after searching for something just over 2 years ago, found a podcast relevant to an issue I faced at the time. Within a week or so I had actually found the station itself and began listening to it a lot of time. It has challenged, inspired and taught me in so many ways. God has continued to use it to speak directly to what I have faced at different points of time. I could draw out particular shows or speakers… yet over time it has honestly been many of them. It was only later in time that I really came to recognize just how much one thing I really did not have living where I do in China was that good input… and I can now recognize how finding a way to get that has been an important part of my recent journey… not so much for the learning but in what it speaks to me of God and the way in which it draws me closer to him. I think part of it does come simply from the fact that our relationship with God should engage all of us, including our mind, and part of building that is being conscious of and making choices about the input which we put into our mind, and what we think and reflect about.

  6. Kelly September 12, 2014

    Thank you for your words. They resonate deeply!  the discipline of gratitude is one that has really drawn me to His heart.  and it so simply puts everything in perspective.  journaling is also a means of daily grace in my life.  My favorite “tool” is the Prayer Notebook app for iphone.  You can categorize people you pray for, put them on a weekly or monthly rotation, have your phone alert you when someone has a scheduled request (like surgery)… it has made me so much more faithful in intercession.  And to go with that the book Ministry of Intercessory Prayer by Andrew Murray is a must.

    1. Patty Stallings September 13, 2014

      Kelly, thanks for sharing the app.  I’m definitely going to check it out.

      And thanks for mentioning the discipline of gratitude.  Few things shape our soul in such enriching and nourishing ways as cultivating gratitude.  Thanks for the reminder!

  7. Kristina Krauss September 12, 2014

    Beautiful Patty!  “Hard won truths are so deeply formed in you they become a part of you.” So true. As the weeks, months and years go by, I find truths being made deeper and deeper in my heart. God is asking me to take more rest this season. Its hard to do. I work in an office 9-6, mon-fri, and it impacts everyone when I don’t show. Its not like there are a lot of laborers on this harvest field. But there are times when the need and work can get so heavy and so exhausting. It was beautiful to read this post of yours on this day I’m taking off to just rest and be with Him. God knows exactly what we need for each season. He knows what He is working on in each of our lives. Its beautiful when God’s truths become a part of us, even if it means pain when they are “hard-won”. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Patty Stallings September 13, 2014

      Don’t you love when He gives us what we need when we need it?!

      It takes discipline to obey His invitation to rest, so I am shouting “kudos” to you today, Kristina!  May this entire weekend be restorative and refreshing for you.

  8. Elizabeth Pflederer September 12, 2014

    I so appreciate your words, Patty, that spiritual formation is the work of God himself. I’ve been thinking on this one recently.

    My husband and I have just finished a lecture series by Dr. John Coe, a professor at Biola (see links below).  I’ve appreciated how he deals with the complexity of formation. It’s not as simple as just performing disciplines out of my fleshly desire to be good and acceptable to God.  It’s not as simple as doing a and b and receiving c. The point is God himself. For me, for whom this faith journey began young, I wonder how I’ve missed this.  When did my goal become to complete disciplines instead of growing in my knowledge and love of Him who is my Father?  Spiritual practices are so good as tools to help me learn to walk with Him, but they are only something I do with the Spirit and through His help.  He guides the process, and it’s His grace to me.

    So then how to be attentive to the work of God’s Spirit in me? How to lean into the truth that He is the one to accomplish spiritual growth and, in some mystery, to participate with Him through spiritual disciplines/practices? What does it look like to do all of life with Jesus and allow all things, even the everyday ones, to be something that draws me close to Him?  And the answers, they don’t come easy, but maybe there’s a beginning in asking the questions.

    1. Patty Stallings September 13, 2014

      Thank you so much for sharing this resource, Elizabeth!  (The moderator of the site has to approve the links, so if anyone is searching for them, check back in the next day or two.)

      And thank you for sharing your journey and the questions you posted.  Attentiveness, leaning into truth, participating with Him, doing life with Jesus, allowing all things to draw us to Him – such rich concepts to ponder!

       

  9. Elizabeth Pflederer September 12, 2014

    I so appreciate your words, Patty, that spiritual formation is the work of God himself. I’ve been thinking on this one recently.

    My husband and I have just finished a lecture series by Dr. John Coe, a professor at Biola (see links below).  I’ve appreciated how he deals with the complexity of formation. It’s not as simple as just performing disciplines out of my fleshly desire to be good and acceptable to God.  It’s not as simple as doing a and b and receiving c. The point is God himself. For me, for whom this faith journey began young, I wonder how I’ve missed this.  When did my goal become to complete disciplines instead of growing in my knowledge and love of Him who is my Father?  Spiritual practices are so good as tools to help me learn to walk with Him, but they are only something I do with the Spirit and through His help.  He guides the process, and it’s His grace to me.

    So then how to be attentive to the work of God’s Spirit in me? How to lean into the truth that He is the one to accomplish spiritual growth and, in some mystery, to participate with Him through spiritual disciplines/practices? What does it look like to do all of life with Jesus and allow all things, even the everyday ones, to be something that draws me close to Him?  And the answers, they don’t come easy, but maybe there’s a beginning in asking the questions.

    Links:  There are two different series regarding the same information. Both are long and a little dense, but worth it. My husband and I have been listening to them for the last year and a half as we’ve traveled often and long. The first is a 10 part seminar given to church leaders and the second is a full term graduate level class he taught at Biola.

    http://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/spiritual-formation/john-coe

    http://open.biola.edu/collections/ttsf-501-introduction-to-spiritual-formation

     

  10. Keisa September 12, 2014

    Thanks for those words of reminder Patty, they come as a refreshing breeze.  I have read all the books, had a spiritual director for years and a few months ago I felt so dry and lacking in my relationship with God.  I tried everything,  then finally like with any other relationship I made it a priority to stop and take time to just hang out a be in His presence.  Little did I know he was there waiting to catch up with me. Each time I get busy with life or busy doing the ‘right thing’ I find myself getting centered again in that simple ordinary place of hanging out on the couch with the greatest friend of them all,  Jesus.  Who would have thought 45 minutes hanging out with a good friend would make such a difference to my day.

    1. Patty Stallings September 13, 2014

      Keisa, yes, yes, yes. Being with Him.  So glad you shared your experience.  I have no doubt it has encouraged someone to just stop and BE with Jesus today!

  11. Debbie September 13, 2014

    I find as I move through this journey that now more than ever I am living out my faith and God’s word is living out of me. Those words I memorized and passages I read over the last 20 something years are living. Alive. My struggles, challenges, daily discipleship, mentoring is God’s handy work…its His word alive in me. I am failing at some things but I see His power through situations and divine circumstances more powerful than I ever have. Others would judge me for unchurchy things but my relationship with Him is whole. More whole and peaceful because I now see all the things that I could, at a time in my walk, only believe in and trust for. His faithfulness, patience, grace and mercy are alive as I see the hearts of God’s creations change. Not because of how good I am or how much I attend church or the quantity of the word I consume each day but because of our relationship with Him and His goodness and mercy they see in our daily lives. Breaking bread with one another through the idiosyncrasies, immaturities and daily life. Doing the daily grind with people you dont necessarily like but love through God’s eyes and hold on for dear life for your sanity because you know it’s God’s divine appointment.

    1. Patty Stallings September 13, 2014

      Debbie, thank you so much for stopping by Velvet Ashes!  Someday you and I are going to sit together and I am going to get to hear about all the faithfulness and goodness of God in your life.  I hope we don’t have to wait until eternity, but if we do, let’s find each other early on!  🙂

      I like this thought:  the Word is living out of me.  That is what we all long for!

  12. Debbie September 13, 2014

    And thank you for edifying me all these years and your encouragement and confirmation today!

    “Spiritual formation is not about making you a better person. It’s about bringing you to a place of knowing and loving Jesus more fully than you did yesterday.”

    Love you Patty ♡

    1. Patty Stallings September 13, 2014

      I love you, too, Debbie! And I can’t tell you how much joy you bring my heart when you talk about Jesus!

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