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Spiritual Formation – What Does It Really Mean?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30).  The Bible tells us that the human person is not just a physical mass of atoms joined together. Neither is the human person a soul that is stuck within a physical cage. We are whole beings – body-soul. To be formed as a Christian thus means a discipleship where transformation is from the inside-out.

What then is spiritual formation? It is fundamentally an effort to grow in maturity as a Christian so that the Christian becomes increasingly like Christ. If Christian maturity is a coin, spiritual formation is one side of the coin, and Christian education is the other side. While both have the same goal, spiritual formation tends to emphasize the affectional aspect of discipleship, whereas Christian education tends to lean toward the intellectual aspect. Both are equally necessary and good. We cannot properly love who we don’t know, and we cannot properly know who we don’t love.

Where does spiritual formation lead to? We may say it leads to a close fellowship and walk with God and other Christians so that we are faithful ambassadors of the Kingdom of God in this world. We work towards this by having our loves re-ordered so that we love as God loves. This involves understanding ourselves, and bringing ourselves into a true encounter with God.

What is involved in spiritual formation? Traditionally, spiritual formation tends to focus on certain practices. Prayer is a key practice, often coupled with fasting, meditation, silence and solitude, and various forms of retreats. Mentoring is another important practice, and a unique kind of mentoring that focuses on helping the Christian seek God is called “spiritual direction”. Various practices of reading the Bible such as lectio divina are also designed to help Christians read reflectively and contemplatively.

What is distinctive about Christian spiritual formation? It is true that on the surface, many religions and philosophies have similar practices such as prayer, meditation, and reading. What makes Christian spiritual formation distinctive is the centrality of Jesus Christ. For example, Christian meditation is not about emptying one’s mind to get in touch with one’s deep inner self, but about creating space to invite Jesus into our thoughts so that we think God’s thoughts after Him. All practices of Christian spirituality are foundationally rooted on Jesus as our intercessor and mediator before God.

Why should I be interested in spiritual formation? Firstly, it draws us into the presence of God to have deeper fellowship with Him who invites us in. Secondly, it transforms our hearts and desires in a way that shapes our outlook and actions to love as God does. Thirdly, as we grow unto maturity, we are better poised to help others enter also into fellowship with God. Those who see God, shall forever be changed.

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Daily Devo

Daily Devotional Journal

Scripture:
Jonah 1:4-16; Psalm 86:11
Tue, 25 January 2022

The Fearful Men

Observation:

How did the sailors’ fear change from verse 5 to verse 16?

Deeper Reflection
THE NARRATIVE OF THE STORM AND SAILORS IS FULL OF irony and comedy. Picture the drama. The seasoned mariners were scared out of their wits (v.5). In an utter frenzy, they dumped cargo, desperately trying to save themselves. In contrast, Jonah the rebellious prophet was oblivious to the danger, sleeping in the bowels of the ship. The mariners were frantically calling out to their gods. But the prophet of the LORD was asleep. And so the flabbergasted captain came to Jonah and commanded him, “Arise, call out to your god!” (v.6). This is a parody of the divine command that Jonah rejected: arise,…and call out against Nineveh (Jon 1:2).65 After an exercise of lot-casting to determine who is responsible for the disaster, the sailors discovered that it is Jonah, who then disclosed, “I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (v.9). Jonah’s talk about “fear” must have sounded incredibly hollow to the sailors who knew about his wilful rebellion!66 It was them, and not the LORD’s prophet, who understood the gravity of what Jonah had done (v.10). Another irony of the story is that because of Jonah’s irreverence, the sailors came to genuinely revere his God (v.16). How about us? Are we like Jonah, professing to fear God but treating God flippantly? Pastor Timothy Keller defines the fear of the Lord as being “overwhelmed with wonder before the greatness of God and His love”67. Let us ask the LORD for an undivided heart that truly fears His name (Psa 86:11).
65 D. J. Wiseman, T. D. Alexander, and B. K. Waltke, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries v. 26 66 Ibid., 116. 67 Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011), 68.
Application:

What does the fear of the Lord mean to me and how does it impact the way I live?

Prayer:
Write a prayer to God as your response from your meditation on and application of the Scriptures.
Prayer Pointers:
  • Give thanks and praise
  • Pray for pastors and staff: That they will have an undivided heart that fears the name of the LORD (Psa 86:11)
  • Pray for significant people
  • Pray for those in need
  • Pray for self

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