Every person, at some point in life, must decide whether or not to receive Jesus Christ as his or her personal Lord and Savior. But that is just the starting point of a lifelong journey in discipleship as a follower of Jesus. As the apostle Paul says, we are to grow mature in Christ. We grow up into the head of the Body, who is Christ (Eph. 4:15). Such "growing up" is the process of spiritual formation.
To be formed spiritually means to engage in specific practices and disciplines with one clear goal: to draw nearer to God in Christ and so focus less and less on self. Richard of Chichester, a 13th-century English bishop, once reflected on such practices. "Day by day," he said, "three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, to love thee more dearly, and to follow thee more nearly." Spiritual formation is a process that sharpens our attentiveness to God and helps us to be more and more like Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. These practices are shaped by our temperament and personality type.
Finally, in all spiritual formation and development, it is important to remember that spiritual formation does not propel us on a journey. A journey is an exploration without a destination. The joy of the journey is in the exploration and discovery along the way. That really is a secular and postmodern understanding of "spirituality." In spiritual formation, we are on a pilgrimage with a clear destination. As Jesus defines his ministry, we are destined for the kingdom of God. We are "in rehearsal" for life in eternity, in the very presence of God. On this earth, we engage in this earthly pilgrimage day by day.
The five facets of spiritual formation, then, are: reflective reading, active repentance, total stewardship, penetrating prayer, and community accountability. As we consider specific practices that aid in formation, it is essential to be prepared to surrender time. 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.
Reflective reading. For new believers and experienced disciples, Bible reading is a key part of daily activity. There are different approaches to engaging with the Scriptures for spiritual formation and growth. A more "left-brained," factual method is what we traditionally call Bible study. With a reverent approach to the Word of God, we reflect on the factual dimensions of a passage: its context, original language, and links to other scriptural passages. Often Bible study guides or books can help us gain a greater understanding of the setting of the text and ways to apply its teachings today.
A more "right-brained" approach is to read a text to hear how it "resonates" with our inner life and personal experience. There are inductive study and reflection tools that ask questions to help us open up to experience the Spirit of God in the words of Scripture. Many tools are available, in different denominational and non-denominational perspectives, usually in booklet form. The daily devotions are provocative and emotional in tone, and usually offer questions for reflection following the meditation.
As an example of the two methods, consider Matthew 19:24. Jesus said, "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." A more deductive study will point out the context: the parable of the rich young man seeking after God but consumed by his wealth. (Note: The "eye of the needle" might refer to a narrow opening in the wall around Jerusalem that hardly anything or anyone, including a camel, could squeeze through.) The meditative or reflective approach asks questions: What is the eye of the needle like in today's world? What is hardest about selling all that I have and giving to the poor? Daily meditative reading feeds the spiritual life and helps us to get inside Bible passages so they become a part of us.