Spiritual Formation


You’ve heard it before. Perhaps you know someone who says it way too much—“God told me….” You find their certainty somewhat irritating. You’re left feeling cynical. Yet, you know that God does speak and somehow you’ve even heard him. Jesus’ sheep do hear his voice, but sometimes you feel awfully tentative about how well. If you have sentiments like these, I can empathize. Failure to perceive God’s communication despite my best efforts to do so left me feeling frustrated. As a result, I spent less time in prayer which in turn led to a life lived under a subtle current of condemnation.

A turning point arrived when I digested Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline. In it I perceived another path which I eagerly investigated. Foster emphasized the value of learning from those who have gone before. As I delved into the devotional masters I discovered the ancient practice of Lectio Divina, a method of scripture meditation.

I have found that quieting myself to slowly ponder God’s word has yielded more profit than any other spiritual discipline. Stillness not only opens our ears to hear God’s voice, it also readies us to obey what we hear. Quieting ourselves long enough to step back and view the motions of our inner lives is the first step in not being dominated by those currents. We can become proactive and decide which desires and emotions we should foster and which should be ignored

Celebration of Discipline, along with Foster’s other writings, also stresses the importance of training in the Christian life. I had come to always expect the miracle moment when my life would be changed forever, when “revival” would come. I spent an incredible amount of energy trying to climb this spiritual mountain and I just wasn’t getting any higher. It was time to come back down and try another way up. For me that way has been the slow, relentless training of meditation and prayer and it feels good. There is no pressure to perform or need to try to be a spiritual giant, only the constant challenge to be aware of God’s presence. Though I fail so often, every time I remember to turn to him present with me, I train my spiritual muscles just a little bit more. And sometimes I sense him!

One further discovery, the most important of all, has come clear as I’ve persevered. It has to do with recognizing heavenly communication. Virtually all Christians long to know God’s voice better. We know he has spoken in the Bible, but we crave more intimate communion with him. As I worked on this daunting subject of hearing the invisible God, the revelation gradually dawned—the goodness of God is an interpretive key for understanding his voice. His whispers delight us for if we hear them, we hear a message of hope and encouragement. Even when his voice creates disturbance within, that disturbance usually arises from a self-centered resistance to his love. Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is the great Encourager. God is like the inspiring teacher to whom students send letters thirty years later. He is the coach that the kid from the inner city says saved him from a life of crime. He is the loving dad we want to please more than anyone else in the world.