“Once we begin to realize that genuine spiritual growth is a continuous and sometimes difficult process, we may be tempted to think that it is an option we can take or leave.’
M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.
“One by one, they all began to make excuses.”
Clay, in its natural state, has little value. Yet, in a master’s hands, clay has nearly endless possibilities for both function and beauty. The difference is the master’s hand. God tells us in Jeremiah 18 that we are like clay. Each person has been created for useful service for God’s purposes. But until we have been molded and shaped by the hands of the Master we have little value in advancing God’s purposes here on earth. The Master I speak of, naturally, is God.
Spiritual formation is the process by which we participate in God’s molding and shaping us for God’s use. It is a shared activity: our willingness to place ourselves in God’s hands and God’s work in and upon us. Alone – apart from God – we cannot become all that God desires us to be. Without our willing participation in the shaping process, God will not create in us an instrument of useful service. Simply, spiritual formation is something we do with God.
So how do we participate in the spiritual formation process? In my study of the scriptures, I have observed three patterns of active participation:
- Time Alone with God in study and prayer.
- Time in Community of a small group for support, encouragement, accountability and care.
- Time Sharing our faith journey with another.
Through these three activities we consciously and willingly place our lives in the Master’s hands. What will come from all that activity is left to God. It is no different with clay. Soft, malleable clay in the hands of the master has no say what will become of it. The primary difference is that we know the Master – He is the One Who came to us in Jesus Christ and upon the cross gave His life for us. In such hands we have little worry about what will come of us. We have seen God’s intentions and it is good.
The tragedy is that many in the church are not experiencing transformation into useful instruments for God’s use. One by one, they all make excuses. The demands of marriage, raising children and advancing in a chosen career leave no time for genuine spiritual growth activity. No time for the study of scripture and prayer. No time for meeting weekly in a small group for spiritual nurture and growth. No time to share with other people about one’s personal journey of faith. Of course, if there is no time for intentional spiritual formation, there is no faith journey to speak of.
It seems to me that such thinking is really more of a confession than an excuse; confession that one is really not interested in giving-up control of their life to God. As M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. so brilliantly expresses it, spiritual formation is the great reversal: from being the subject who controls all other things to being a person who is shaped by the presence, purpose and power of God in all things. Churches are populated by members who make excuses. Fortunately, they are also populated by genuine disciples of Jesus who are being shaped by the Master’s hand.