There are many people who have no real idea what is meant by discipleship or spiritual formation. Others reduce the meaning to religious practices like prayer, corporate worship, and reading the Bible. While such practices are important tools in our discipleship and spiritual maturity, they are not in and of themselves discipleship nor spiritual formation.
So, what are discipleship and spiritual formation? They are different terms for the same lifelong process of deepening our relationship with God in a way that transforms us. To deepen a relationship requires growing in understanding of ourselves, others, and of our interactions. Spiritual formation is about learning who God is, who we are, and what we are to become; how we are to relate to God and others. Spiritual disciplines definitely help. Reading the Bible reveals exactly these things. Praying connects us to the Holy Spirit who guides and empowers us. Corporate worship connects us to other followers of Jesus in God’s presence.
But spiritual practices are not enough. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ means to submit our small story to God’s larger story, to have our lives serve God’s purposes rather than our own. I don’t recall who said it, but I love this quote: “God is always inviting us to play a small role in the greatest film ever made, but we regularly demand to be the star in a B movie no one will ever remember.” A grand purpose of our spiritual formation is to realize our full potential in serving God and his kingdom. And God is the leader in that process.
Read through the book of Luke and watch Jesus disciple his disciples. He reveals who he and the Father really are. He prods the disciples out of their small stories and into the Father’s greater story. At each point, there is a critical decision to be made. Will Peter the fisherman let a carpenter tell him how to fish? How will the disciples respond to Jesus’ comfort with their discomfort during a life-threatening storm? Will they forfeit their traditional ways of interacting with God in order to find the intimacy Jesus has with his Father? Will they accept the cost of following Jesus when the reward is for the lost rather than them? Will they continue to follow Jesus through amazing mountaintops and dark valleys that threaten their very lives? Will they remain in spiritually forming community (as the Twelve) despite their differences and disagreements?
While the context of our spiritual formation is different, Jesus presents the same basic opportunities and questions to us. Will we submit our small stories to God’s greater story, follow Jesus where he leads, and do so in authentic community?
Identify where God is saying to you as he did to Peter in Luke 5, “Put out a little further . . . come follow me.” Ask him to help you respond, “Because you say so, I will do it.”
One fruitful way of praying is call a “show me” prayer, asking God to reveal certain things to us. If this is a new concept of asking for God to speak and then listening for the Holy Spirit, try the following exercise. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in your favorite place (beach, mountains, wherever) on a perfect day. As you relax and enjoy this time, imagine Jesus is now sitting next to you, simply enjoying what you are enjoying. Imagine this for two to five minutes. Then without speaking, ask Jesus what he would like to say. How does he respond?
Do you hunger for more—more from life, more from yourself, more from God? So many people in our churches have not regularly experienced good news, comfort, wholeness, freedom, joyous energy, or beauty. So many have stalled in becoming who God intends them to be. Perhaps you, those you love, or those you lead feel this way. The Experience: Breaking Through the Barriers That Block Spiritual Growth is a short tool that provides a clear map of the abundant living journey, the obstacles that prevent progress, and offers fresh fuel for moving forward once again. Get it from our store here.
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