There is a true home to the soul and a way to go about finding it so that we grow into people who are genuinely at home in God’s world. The way we go about it is found in our everyday ordinary lives. When lived this way and in view of the Kingdom of God, our routines are rich with opportunity, the mundane is meaningful, and our lives turn from ordinary to extraordinary. The everyday-ness of living into our spiritual practices leads us into “union with God – glorifying God and enjoying God forever, fulfilling the ultimate purpose for which we were created,” as Simon Chan put it. I have a broadened view of spiritual formation and a rekindled passion for my work in the world.
Less At Home
My view of the way we follow Christ and become like him has broadened over the last several years. Five years ago, I realized the tried-and-true methods I learned in my youth made me feel less at home with God. My frantic church activity, diligent study, and loyalty to small groups crowded out any purposeful time with God. I did not know at the time that the choice to step away from the Church temporarily was the beginning of deep transformation. It was a necessary practice, its own kind of spiritual formation, a coming home to God. This God-given independent power, or agency, to choose is how we cooperate with God in our own transformation and his work in the world. We can read more about this idea in most of Dallas Willard’s work.
To Move Or Not To Move
Our spiritual formation is as unique to each of us as our personalities and life experiences are. It also includes how we navigate the stages of our faith. I relish the idea that our formation should consider the seasons of life and stage of faith, and the activities and hobbies we naturally drift toward. I spend a lot of time outdoors and now realize how it has deeply formed me since childhood. Simon Chan’s thoughts about appreciating creation and Richard Foster’s story about Dorothy Day’s experience of deep peace within it are uplifting to me. Chan talked about having a new habit of movement when appreciating creation.
This reminds me of a term I read years ago from Mark Buchanan in his book The Rest of God. The term soul-speed has been part of my vocabulary since. It is the speed at which I need to move to find the rest of God. We are the ones who choose to move toward God. “God is always in the room,” writes Gregg A. Ten Elshof. “He stands ready to be in relationship with us. We are free to move into greater and greater depths of relationship with him – or not to.”
Our Work Matters
A more robust understanding of spiritual formation rekindled the passion for the work God has given me. Richard Foster’s note about “how much God values the work of our hands” reminded me of a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. I fell in love with years ago: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well. ‘” A person doing honest work with remarkable care can cause the hosts of heaven to stop and take notice of the work. Our work matters.
My work in the world not only includes that within the Church but everywhere I find myself using my hands, talents, gifts, and passions. Connecting and collaborating with others is one of my core values and some of the work in which I delight. Part of my work inside and outside the church is helping others navigate stages of faith and understand their stories in order to know themselves better through my counsel, writing, and teaching. Willard asked then answered, “Do we really need to know so much about our own nature before we understand how that nature can change through salvation? Yes, we do. What ‘salvation’ is depends upon what is being saved.”
It’s On Purpose
Stephen Seamands refers to it as gracious self-acceptance in his book Ministry in the Image of God. “To be a person is to be uniquely who we are and distinct from others. It is our glory—not an unfortunate accident or a temporary arrangement—that we are other, each unique and different.” It seems odd to me now that evangelicals would need to defend the idea of knowing ourselves, but to many it is a selfish, unnecessary endeavor that has no place in following Jesus. Our unique personhood is on purpose and to ignore it, dismiss it, or worse, tell us we should not explore it is to ours and the world’s detriment. It seems a strange paradox that more self-awareness leads us into a healthy self-forgetfulness…….the kind Chan and Willard speak of. That is exactly what happens when we seek to know ourselves, when we ask God to help us sort out the stories of our lives, and allow Him to bring goodness to us and others through them, no matter how beautiful or tragic. When we know ourselves, we know something of the One who created us.
Buchanan, Mark. The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. Nashville, Tenn: W Pub. Group, 2006.
Chan, Simon. Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
Foster, Richard J. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith. 1st ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.
Lewis, C. S. The Great Divorce: A Dream. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.
Seamands, Stephen A. Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2005.
Ten Elshof, Gregg. I Told Me so: Self-Deception and the Christian Life. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2009.
Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. 1st ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.
———. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990.
Photo by Lisa Fotios: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photography-of-person-wearing-pink-house-slippers-1444417/