Before we begin to think about spiritual formation, we must all realize that each of us have a spirit within us. God made us in His image and in doing so provided us with a spirit. That spirit within each of us has been formed and possesses a specific character. Our spirit can be pure and Godly, or it can be mean and evil. The character of our spirit has been formed from the experiences and choices we have lived through. Our life and how we interact in the world now and in the future, is entirely a simple result of what we have become in the depths of our being; in our spirit, will, or heart. This spirit within us is what drives and organizes our lives. In other words, we “live” from our hearts.
Realizing that our heart is what drives us and operates as our “control center”, we must understand that it is vitally important to keep the heart in the right condition. In Proverbs 4:23 the wise Solomon tells us to, “watch over (keep) your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the issues of life.” Since it is our heart that drives us and from it flows the issues of our life, it is correct to say that the choices we make create our own personal troubles and disasters. A carefully cultivated and maintained heart, assisted by God“s wonderful grace, will foresee or transform most of the painful situations that enter our lives. We must therefore see that the greatest need we have both individually and collectively is the renewal of our heart.
We begin developing the character of our spirit, our spiritual dimension, from choices and actions in a world separated from God. Scripture tells us that all of us have been born into sin; therefore, the only hope for humanity lies in the fact that just as our spiritual dimension has been formed, it can also be transformed. The greatest question then becomes, what in our spirit needs to be changed and how can this change be brought about? The answer to these two points can be found in the relevance of Jesus Christ to human life.
Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus came to earth, gathered His small group of friends and disciples, trained them and then sent them out to “teach all nations”. Jesus” purpose was to bring all human life under the direction of His wisdom, goodness, and power. In sending out His disciples he began a perpetual world revolution. This revolution is still in process and will continue until God“s will is done on earth. As this revolution culminates, the forces of evil will be defeated and the grace of God will be seen, accepted, and joyfully conformed to every aspect of human life. This revolution is a continuous revolution of “the human heart”. Jesus” revolution is a revolution of the character of the human spirit by changing people from the inside through an ongoing relationship with Jesus. It is a revolution that changes a person”s beliefs, ideas, feelings, habits, and social relations. It is a revolution that penetrates to the deepest part of the human spirit.
Through the presence of Jesus” kingdom, we find the answers to the deepest needs of human personality for righteousness, provision, and purpose. If we set Jesus aside, we face the questions of what makes our lives go as they do?, and what could make them go as they should? Inability to find the answers to these questions leaves a person at the mercy of whatever forces and ideas come upon them. This basically is the human experience, which can be seen day by day all around us. Thoughtful people through the years have attempted to answer these questions and have found that what matters most for how life goes and should go for us is what we are on the “inside”. This “inside” is the arena of “spiritual formation” and later “transformation”. Inside us are our thoughts, feeling, and intentions along with their deepest sources. What is in our “heart” matters more than anything else for who we are as a person, and what becomes of us (what makes our lives go as they do?).
The author Oscar Wilde once remarked that by the age of forty everyone has the face they deserve. This statement is truly a profound and painful truth. It applies to the “spirit within us” that is expressed by the face. Right on the observable surface of our “spirit within” lie some of our thoughts, feeling, and intentions. These are the ones we are aware of, and are fairly obvious to others as well. These surface aspects are also a good indication of the general nature of the “spiritual depth” within. But these aspects we become aware of are only a small part of the spiritual aspects that are hidden deep within us. The hidden character of our spirit is not visible to others. It is also not fully grasped by ourselves. Only God knows our spiritual depths, who we are, and what we would do. This is why the Psalmist David cries out for God“s help in dealing with himself””Search me O God, Let the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you. Renew in me a new heart”. The “spiritual side” of us, although it is not perceivable by our senses and we cannot fully grasp it, is still never entirely out of our mind. It is always at the margin of our conscience, if not in the center of it.
Because we cannot fully grasp and understand our “spiritual depths” we need God“s help. Every human heart and spirit longs for something. Spiritual formation is often misunderstood as entirely human matters. The thought is that we have a human dimension or power that, if managed correctly, will transform our life into a divine life, or at least deliver us from the chaos and brokenness of human existence. It is fortunate, but rare, there are those who are able to find a path of life that will form their spirit and “inner being” in a way that is truly strong and good and directed Godward.
Christian “spiritual formation” is focused entirely on Jesus Christ. Spiritual formation depends upon obedience and conformity to Jesus that arises out of an inner transformation accomplished through purposive interaction with the grace of God in Christ. Obedience is the outcome of Christian spiritual formation. Christian spiritual formation therefore involves more than human efforts and actions which are under our control. Well-informed human effort is certainly positive, but Christlikeness of the inner being is not a human attainment. It is a gift of grace.
The resources for spiritual formation extend far beyond the human. They come from the interactive presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who place faith in God. They also come from the spiritual treasures; people, events,traditions, and teachings, which are stored in the body of Christ”s people.
If we are the people of Christ we need to enter Christ”s way of the heart. We then will find a sure path toward becoming the people we were meant to be; Godly people thoroughly purged of arrogance, insensitivity, and self-sufficiency. Spiritual formation, and renewal of the heart, is something we human beings can and must do continually. We must do it as individuals in fellowship with other Christians. If we truly keep our heart with all diligence, we will continually ask God as the Psalmist did, “Search our Hearts” daily. If we keep our heart in a continuous state of renewal we will be able to love others as Christ loved us and the world will definitely see Jesus in us.