Favorite reads on spiritual formation

410Rraa1pPL._SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU01_SL160_If you had to pick just one resource on spiritual formation, what would it be?  If you're stumped, you're not alone. I asked the amazing women of the Redbud Writer's Guild the same question, and my sisters struggled to narrow it down. Here's to the amazing ladies who managed this great feat. And here are their picks, in alphabetical order by title:

(click on their names to visit their blogs)

One last note: one of our own, Kelli Trujillo, wrote a book on disciplines, The Busy Mom's Guide to Spiritual Survival.

Your turn: if you had to pick just one resource on spiritual formation, what would it be? And why?

"The Lord is here" and other consolations

About a month ago or so, I joined the Dallas Willard is My Homeboy facebook group. (Yes, this group actually exists.) I share this to let you know that I am in love with the man, spiritually speaking, as I've stated in the past on the blog. Unlike his other fans on the facebook group, however, I have yet to read all his materials. I want to read them slowly, and over and over, so I can digest the truth and wrestle with it and be formed more deeply into the image of Jesus. So, just to clarify, with a bit of tongue in cheek, I'm in love with Jesus. And I respect the writing of DW because he points me to Jesus and his Kingdom so winsomely.   

That said, I stumbled on to a video of Dallas last weekend. In it, some youngish folks, maybe some really hip millennials or something, were asking Dallas about his daily spiritual practices. Sort of a spiritual "day in the life of DW" kind of thing. If you're interested, you can watch the video here:

Here's what struck me from the video, something so small and obvious that it might just be revolutionary:

"The Lord is here."

Before his death earlier this year, Dallas would say this before rising out of bed each morning. It was a way of training himself to be mindful of the Lord's presence, that God is always with us. We are not alone in this life. And the reason that this small thing feels revolutionary is because when I'm discouraged, as I have felt lately, I forget this one true thing.

It feels like Satan is winning on a lot of fronts lately, and I feel powerless to change things, and I get lonely and discouraged. But since hearing this from Dallas, I've been practicing it each morning before I rise. "The Lord is here!"—because he is here. It is impossible for me to be truly alone, no matter what comes.

If it's good upon rising, it's good at other times, too. "The Lord is here" I remind myself when someone forgets we're supposed to meet, or I feel dejected about my childlessness, or I wonder if I'll ever find my way back into leadership in a church I love. "The Lord is here."

There is a constancy to this sentence, an understanding that God of all people will not run away from me. He is here, abiding with me, loving me, caring for me, pursuing me. Right here. I pray that no matter what you face today you'll be able to return to this one simple but true thing.

He is here. He is for you. He will never leave your nor forsake you.

Listening

(Congratulations to commenter Monica Brand, who won an autographed copy of the book Refuse to Do Nothing.) Formation Fridays are for you, dear one: explore old and new ways to be beautifully formed into the image of Jesus. Because He calls you Beloved, the One that He loves, the One that he delights in.

"There is much I can do for you, Lord!" I say, tapping my foot, to-do list in hand, type-A personality in tow.

The response: absolute silence, deafening.

"Remember the high D & high S I scored on the DISC profile, Father?? I'm thinking a leadership position filled with about 50% people interaction would be perfect for ME, don't you agree?"

*Crickets.* The heavens are silent. Circumstances close in. Future uncertain. 

Perhaps I should try listening. That "be still and know that I am..." stuff. Why does it take a life so-outside-of-my-control to bring me to a place of sitting at his feet? 

"Few things are needed—or indeed only one," Jesus said. "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:42 NIV)

The Savior of the world inverted the social order to praise Mary of Bethany for in essence, being a female disciple—and I cannot come to him, sit at his feet, and listen? I cannot take him up on his lavish invitation? I cannot hear his voice because my own is so loud and insistent?

Where is the duct tape when I need it?

***

A few months ago at a spiritual retreat, one of the directors shared her journey into the spiritual disciplines. She talked of her meeting with a spiritual director, and how this person encouraged her that she had done everything "right" in working for God, but that she now needed to celebrate with God, to enjoy him. When praying, to literally sit in God's presence and bask in his love.

Her response: "Does that count?" Does that count for what? she said at the retreat session. Or to put it a different way: who is counting anyway? You? God?

The retreat director, Pastor and author Sharon Garlough Brown gave us a suggestion on how we might listen to our heavenly Father.

She suggested we sit quietly with God and ask this question: "Lord, what do you think of when you think of me?"

I dare you to try it. Be quiet for as long as it takes to actually hear something. (Most likely not an audible voice, of course, but a quiet nudge.)

If the voice is condemning and harsh and critical, you are not hearing from Jesus. He is redemptive, loving, kind, and insistent on you knowing you are His Beloved. But if the voice speaks with challenging truth and love and quiets you and reminds you of your value in the eyes of Almighty God, you might be hearing from the God of the universe.

I am still working on doing this regularly, because when I do, inevitably I begin to believe that He loves me unreservedly, and pursues me passionately, and cares for me tenderly. Life recenters, horrible disappointment coming into focus, into balance with all the good gifts I have received.

But the hardest part of this whole darn thing is just learning to be quiet. Once I am quiet, I want to listen. Abba, I say in a small, childlike voice, I want to know: What do you think of when you think of me?

Your turn: What keeps you from listening to God's voice? What fruit emerges when you hear from him?

What's up with spiritual formation?

Formation Fridays are for you, dear one: explore old and new ways to be beautifully formed into the image of Jesus. Because He calls you Beloved, the One that He loves, the One that he delights in. Growing up as a Baptist pastor's kid, I didn't know what spiritual formation was. I only knew I went to the combined church and Christian school at least eight times a week. I knew that I was required to memorize Bible verses. And I was given the impression that Godly people maintained their godliness through a daily "quiet time."

Specifically, these little workbooks required you to read Scripture, write down what it said, and write down how to apply it. Nothing wrong with that, it can be a valuable exercise. But if we're not careful, these kinds of exercises can become rote, mundane, and lifeless. They can puff us up, leading us into knowledge instead of relationship with a revolutionary, living and acting God.

***

"Becoming like Christ," says Dallas Willard, "is about effort but not earning."

***

What if it is possible to ask Jesus in prayer "how do you feel about me?" and to wait expectantly for his answer?

What if the Bible transforms into sweet manna for one whose stomach is grumbling, loudly...

And the Lord's Prayer, instead of being perfunctory, becomes the cry of a heart about to burst with assent: "Yes, Yes, Father! May your Kingdom come today on earth as it is in heaven. How can I bring your Kingdom to earth today?"

And get this: what if, whenever you fasted, you realized you were so filled with the Spirit that your stomach was hungry no more?

(The fasting thing would not be me. But before he died this year, 77-year-old professor and ordained minister Dallas Willard shared that after years of walking with Christ, he no longer hungers during a fast. This explains why I fell in love with him, spiritually speaking. Oh, to be filled and content, mind quieted, resting in your Savior with abandon.)

***

There are two things God seems bent on etching on my mind regarding the spiritual disciplines:

1. They are get-tos, not have-tos.

2. We follow Jesus into the disciplines. 

But the Bible doesn't speak to spiritual disciplines! some cry. Which is a sad testament to our biblical illiteracy. For good Jews prayed three times a day, and the Jewish carpenter named  Jesus seemed to regularly exceed the quota. "Where is he now??" I imagine Peter asking, exasperated. "Oh, you know," John would reply. "He's probably retreated to some lonely place to pray. Just check out the nearest mountaintop."

You see, Jesus was praying and studying and memorizing and fasting and serving and giving and listening and obeying. This is what he did, and this is what his disciples would have done, too. So ordinary, so necessary, so life-giving, that the spiritual disciplines made up the warp and woof of living the Jesus-way.

What is life? To be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, the one who died for you.

How do you get this life? By effort, but never earning. By following him into his life-giving ways. By pursuing the disciplines, and in so doing, becoming truly free.

Your turn. Describe your experience with spiritual disciplines. What comes easy or hard? How are you being formed into the image of Jesus?