What is spiritual formation? It’s a simple question that nobody really knows how to answer. Or maybe the problem is that we have too many answers –
- Spiritual formation is meditation and inner peace
- Spiritual formation is being in tune with the earth’s energy
- Spiritual formation is about spreading love and kindness to others
- Spiritual formation is about living within harmonious relationships
- Spiritual formation is accomplished through rhythmic disciplines of solitude and community, contemplation and service
- Spiritual formation is New Age humanism at best, a cultic ritual at worst
- Spiritual formation uses a lot of candles and chanting
Let’s be honest – we’ve heard all of these responses before, haven’t we? And for most Christians, we have a vague sense that none of these are adequate descriptions of spiritual formation, though we’re often not sure why. At the same time, “spiritual formation” is one of those high and holy phrases, and it sounds like something we’re supposed to be doing – so we keep talking about it, keep reading books about it and keep searching for meaningful ways to wrap our heads around it. Still, at the end of the day, most of us don’t have any clear understanding of what spiritual formation really means.
So what is it?
Here’s my answer – at least the first part of it. Spiritual formation is not something you do. It’s not something you accomplish or possess, either. In fact, spiritual formation isn’t really about you at all.
Before I go any further, I need to point out that spiritual formation is not a Christian concept; in fact, it’s not even really a religious concept, either. Spiritual formation is what happens to us every day of our lives, whether we’re Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, or whatever. Our everyday choices, relationships, routines and environments constantly shape who we are and who we are becoming. In other words, spiritual formation is really a process of person-making. It impacts every area of your life, at every moment of your life. You can’t escape from it, and you can’t contain it to one small area of your life. Everyone gets a spiritual formation – it comes down to a question of what kind of formation we get.
As Christians, we believe God has a special kind of spiritual formation in mind because God wants us to be a special kind of people. The gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ calls individuals together and forms them into the People of God. In later posts, I’ll start to describe what this process of calling and forming looks like, but for now I challenge you to consider ‘why’ – Why is God calling and forming His people? For what purpose? What is God up to in our world? Why does God take an interest in what kind of people we become?