“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.