Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas: An Invitation to Stillness

“Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright.”

Silent, attentive and still, the world waited to receive its savior. Into the tranquil night hours, God the Father spoke his Word, Jesus, to humanity. The Father sent his one and only Son to be Emmanuel—God with us. “The Word became flesh and tabernacled a little while among us” (John 1:14).

Christmas is an invitation to stillness. It is a call to quiet our hearts and focus our minds on God’s Word to us. The antithesis of pop culture’s hectic “holiday season,” the true season of Christmas is about quietness and receptivity.

While Christmas celebrates Jesus’ coming into the Roman-ruled world of Caesar Augustus some 2000 years ago, it goes beyond a mere remembrance. Christmas welcomes us to receive Jesus anew into our own situation, with whatever joys and sorrows face us today. Each of our worlds is very different than Caesar’s—but just as much in need of Emmanuel. Our life situation may even be very different this year than it was a year ago. The observance of Christmas calls us to invite Jesus afresh into our world—with its new challenges, new losses and new opportunities.

How can we, like Mary and Joseph, receive him amidst all our quests and concerns for the future? How can we, like the shepherds, realize God’s glory as it breaks into our everyday life?

In order to be attentive and receptive to the Lord, we need to set aside space for stillness in our lives. Isaiah 30:15 calls us to return and rest in the Lord if we desire to see his deliverance. It invites us into quietness and trust so that we can have our inner strength renewed:

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and trust shall be your strength.” (RSV)

One of the most beautiful reflections on Christmas I have ever read comes from the fourteenth-century preacher, Johannes Tauler:

“In this midnight silence, in which all things remain in
deepest stillness and where perfect peace reigns,
there we will truly hear God’s word. For if God
is to speak, we must be silent; if God is to enter in,
all other things must make room for him.”

What things are crowding him out of your life right now? Where are your thoughts so loud and hectic that you have no space to listen to him? Tauler continues:

“We should often cultivate this deep silence within
us and allow it to become the habit of our life, so
that through habit it takes firm root in us.”[1]

Let us set aside time for stillness each day this Christmas season to pull back from our frenetic activity in order to nurture quiet space in our hearts. Let us cultivate calm and receptivity. In that midnight silence, let us welcome Jesus into our world, our situation as it is right now, and into the inner sanctuary of our being.
1. Johannes Tauler, Sermon 1. Although not well-known today, Tauler’s sermons profoundly impacted believers in his generation, Martin Luther during the Reformation, and thirsty souls over the centuries. The translation is my own from Johannes Tauler Predigten: Vollständige Ausgabe. Edited by Georg Hofmann. Freiburg: Herder, 1961.

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent: Season of Watching, Waiting and Transformation

“Come, thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee!”

Advent is a season for waiting. Since the early church, Christians have set aside the four weeks leading up to Christmas as a time of watching, waiting, and preparing our hearts to celebrate Christ’s birth.

Much spiritual growth takes place when we set aside a time intentionally to wait on God. We listen with fresh awareness of what he might want to address in our hearts. We watch for what he might be initiating in our lives. We attend to the still, small voice through which he often speaks in our souls.

Sometimes that spiritual growth is remarkable and immediate. Other times it is less noticeable, yet nonetheless real. He addresses a bad attitude that we have been harboring. He gives us a fresh glimpse of his Father’s love for us as a son or daughter. God plants a seed of hope in our hearts—a seed that may take months of years to grow and bear fruit.

Waiting Comes Hard to Us
Contemporary culture is one of the quick fix and immediate resolution. We satisfy our hunger at the drive through rather than take the time to enjoy a healthier, better meal. Even though the quality of food is lacking, we content ourselves far too easily with its convenience. We have lost the art—indeed the fruit of the Spirit—of waiting in patience.

In the same way, we settle for fluff in our spiritual lives. We allow ourselves to be satisfied with superficial change rather than pursuing a more profound encounter with the Living God. Charles Wesley’s advent hymn is an appropriate prayer during this season: “from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee!” We all harbor fears—although we often deny it. Most of us fear what others think about us. Some fear loneliness; others fear intimacy. We fear the future, and we fear failure. In short, we live fearful lives, even though as Christians we know we do not need to fear. Advent is a season to actively wait on God and ask him to silence the voice of fear within.

Advent is a time to invite God to refine our character and transform our hearts. To experience lasting, substantive change in our lives, we need to watch and pray. This is a season for active, whole-hearted waiting on God, looking to him to change what we cannot on our own power.

Waiting necessitates tension. If I am waiting for someone or something, I have positive expectation, on the one hand, and unmet expectation, on the other. This creates an inner tension within me. Until the wait is over, I have two opposing dynamics working inside of me.

Waiting is an integral part of much spiritual growth. We experience tension—and feel emptiness—that are a part of waiting. If we settle for an immediate resolution, opting for a quick, easy answer to our inner hunger, we forfeit the deeper fulfillment that comes only when a long-awaited desire is finally fulfilled.

Creative tension leads to genuine growth. God works in our hearts during this such times of discomfort—uncovering fear, exposing wrong priorities, and revealing disordered affections. He also works in positive ways—affirming his call in our lives, kindling genuine passion for his purposes and developing much-needed endurance.

The Psalms are replete with accounts of those who had to wait years—even decades—as the Lord worked in their lives. David describes his waiting on God: “For you I wait all the day.” Such waiting comes with confidence, however: “Indeed, none of those who wait for you will be ashamed.” (Psalm 25:3, 5 NASB). David exhorts us to do likewise:

“Wait for the Lord;
Be strong, and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14 NASB)

Genuine waiting demands focus and emotional energy. When we are waiting for something we want, or waiting for our plans to work out, we become exhausted. However, when we are waiting on God we are renewed!

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength;
The will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tiered,
They will walk and not become weary.” (Isaiah 40:31 NASB)

This Advent
Advent is the season for waiting afresh on the Lord. Let us not lose this opportunity amid all the hustle and bustle. Instead, let us take the time and energy to wait on God. It will transform us. It will give us new focus and fresh strength that comes only from the Lord!

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

Monday, November 29, 2010

Soaking in Scripture: Spiritual Formation through Lectio Divina, part 5

The goal of lectio divina is that we would become saturated with God’s Word. We want our minds, our attitudes and our actions to be steeped in Scripture. As we do so, our lives will be transformed from the inside out.

The Whole Person

While lectio divina is not the only way to spend time in the Bible, it is a great way to integrate Scripture with our lives. If you are acquainted with the categories of the Myers-Briggs Temperament Inventory, you will recognize how lectio divina utilizes four different faculties. Reading/hearing Scripture engages our sensory (S) powers of seeing and hearing. Meditation involves our thinking (T). Prayer opens our feelings (F). Contemplation engages our intuitive side (N).

For each person, one or two of these activities comes easily, and one or two is usually difficult. Some of us are good at thinking but not so comfortable with our intuition. Lectio divina invites us to keep these in balance. We enjoy the rhythms that come naturally, and we work at the ones that come harder. By doing so, we keep our heart and our heads together, engaging both in our walk with the Lord.

Preparation: Silencio
In the daily practice of lectio divina, it is helpful to prepare ourselves to center on God’s Word. Often we need to quiet our minds and turn off the incessant “to do” list. We need to still our souls and intentionally create some inner silence if we want to hear God’s still, small voice speaking to us.

In his book, Invitation to a Journey, Robert Mulholland refers to this preparatory step as silencio (pp. 112-113). As well as quieting our noisy thoughts, silencio entails cultivating an attitude of submission. I am not in control of the passage; rather, I am going to let God’s Word control me. Therefore I approach his Word in humility and submissiveness, open to hear what he wants to say to me and ready to obey, no matter the cost.

The words “silent” and “listen” have the same six letters in them. The reality is that they are two sides of the same coin. On the one side, I become silent. On the other side, I am then ready to listen.

Finally, after our time in lectio divina, we need to live out—to flesh out—what God has spoken to us. Mulholland aptly calls this step of application Incarnatio. Here we incarnate—put into flesh--what the Lord has directed us through his Word. “The whole focus of spiritual reading is to encounter God in ways that enable God to transform our being and doing in the world,” affirms Mulholland (p. 115).

Fleshing out our Bible reading can mean many different things. It may entail doing something that we have failed to do, or it may mean that we stop an action that is hurtful. Incarnatio might entail a change of attitude or nurturing very different thoughts in our heads. If for years we have felt neglected by God, Incarnatio might entail nurturing thoughts of God’s loving embrace and never-failing presence. Such application is the fruit borne from soaking in God’s Word.

Just Do It
My prayer is that you would be spending time in God’s Word. If you are not really soaking in Scripture—or if your Bible reading seems to be disconnected from your life as a whole—I’d encourage you to try the rhythms of lectio divina so that your life, your thoughts, your attitudes and your actions can be saturated in God’s Word.

I pray that you would soak in God’s Word and allow it to permeate your heart and mind throughout the day. May you treasure your time with the Lord and be renewed by his presence as you are “being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Further Reading
Here are some good books on lectio divina. There are many more works available on the subject, but these are a good place to begin.

-Casey, Michael. Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina. Liguori, MO: Ligouri/Triumph, 2001.
-Davis, Ellen F. and Richard B. Hays, eds. The Art of Reading Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.
-Dyck, Elmer, ed. The Act of Bible Reading: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Biblical Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
-Hall, Thelma. Too Deep for Words: Rediscovering Lectio Divina. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1988.
-Mulholland, M. Robert. Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation. Revised Edition. Nashville: The Upper Room, 2000.
-Pennington, M. Basil. Lectio Divina: Renewing the Ancient Practice of Praying the Scriptures. New York: Crossroad, 1998.
-Resseguie, James L. Spiritual Landscape: Images of the Spiritual Life in the Gospel of Luke. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004.

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

Monday, November 22, 2010

Soaking in Scripture: Spiritual Formation through Lectio Divina, part 4

After we read Scripture, meditate on it and respond in prayer, the fourth rhythm of lectio divina is contemplatio. Here we contemplate—focus on—God with us. Rather than rushing directly into the day’s activities, we linger for awhile in his presence. We might remain seated where we are, enjoying God’s company, or we might take a walk with the Lord outdoors.

4. Savoring God’s Presence
Contemplatio is attending to God’s presence. Here we behold the beauty of the Lord. We bask in the brilliance of his light. Like taking in a spectacular view from the top of a mountain, we savor a bit of God’s splendor.

During this fourth rhythm of lectio divina, we are not analyzing anything or necessarily saying anything; rather, we fix our gaze on the Lord. David describes such attentiveness to the Lord in Psalm 27:4,

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I my dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple. (NASB)

David wants to “behold” or “gaze upon” (NIV) the Lord. In the same way, we can dedicate the last part of lectio divina to center on God’s presence. The Latin translation of “behold” or “gaze upon” is the verb contemplatio, hence the name of this fourth rhythm.

Resting and Relationship
In contemplatio, we delight in God’s divine presence. Like holding the hand of someone we love, we simply appreciate his nearness. Like two lovers sitting on a swing together, we relish God’s friendship. We experience Jesus’ closeness to us—we absorb his love. As we do so, we come to know how deeply we are cherished.

Contemplatio is not the time for mulling things over in our minds; rather, it is an opportunity to seek God’s face. David continues in Psalm 27:8,

When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You,
“Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.” (NASB)

Our culture is one of activity and analysis. We like to “do” something to make ourselves useful. Likewise, we like to analyze and critique. Contemplatio is about neither doing nor critiquing. Instead, it is about relationship and resting. That makes this final rhythm of lectio divina more difficult to grasp—and much more difficult to do—for most modern Christians.

During this time we are not trying to be productive. Rather, like a relaxed Sunday afternoon with close family and friends, we want to waste time, as it were, with God. Of course, intimate time with God is anything but a “waste.” Yet, that is often how it feels to us because in the back of our minds we want to get on with our “to do” list for the day.

Therefore, learning contemplatio takes commitment and practice for most of us. We need to determine that we will not cut our time with God short in order to move on to the “important things” of the day. Instead we remind ourselves that our close connection with the Lord is by far the most significant event of the day, and we are not going to skimp on it.

Should Christians Practice Contemplation?

Some believers question whether or not contemplation is legitimate for Christians to practice. Having been told that it is “emptying one’s mind”—a form of transcendental meditation—they avoid it.

While they raise a legitimate concern, this objection comes from a misunderstanding of Christian contemplation. Far from emptying our minds, contemplatio engages our hearts and minds—but not in an analytical way.

In fact, we all participate in contemplation at various times: viewing a sunset, enjoying a beautiful painting or piece of music, gazing into the eyes of someone we love. Contemplation engages our faculties in an aesthetic/relational way. In none of these situations have we emptied our minds to enter some state of nirvana. If we were blanking out our minds, we would miss the sunset or painting or person across from us. Instead of analyzing, however, we are soaking it all in at once, as it were.

In the same way, during contemplatio we actively attend to God’s presence. We soak in his love and glory all at once rather than analyzing any particular attribute of the divine. We enjoy his presence. Such adoration and enjoyment is what David calls us to in Psalm 27 as he describes his longing to gaze up/behold/contemplate the Lord.

Finally, in this fourth rhythm of lectio divina we take time to adore the Lord for his splendor and majesty. We stand in awe of the Almighty. Like soaking in a magnificent sunset, we still ourselves in silent adoration of our God. We bask in his glory.

Many of us have experienced contemplatio from time to time at the end of Sunday worship. For example, after singing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” the congregation remains for a few moments in silence. This is not a dead silence by any means—to the contrary, it is pregnant with the Lord’s manifest presence. We touch God’s grandeur and awesome holiness.

Such times of silent awe are priceless. Our theological belief in God’s holiness is changed into a live encounter with that holiness. The more we experience God’s righteousness and utter divinity, the more we will be transformed by it. As 2 Corinthians 3:18 states, “we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory” (TNIV).

Adoration in God’s presence does not need to be limited to singing our favorite hymns or worship choruses. It can become part of our regular devotion to the Lord as we take time for contemplatio. We must remember, though, that we are not seeking an emotional high or spiritual experience. Rather, we are attending to God’s presence and adoring him—simply because he is worthy of our attention and worship! Experiences, per se, will come and go. Emotions ride up and down. Our focus, however, remains fixed on the Lord. That is what contemplatio is all about.

Try it this week. After your Scripture reading, meditation and prayer, “hang around” for awhile in God’s presence. You may be able to focus for only a few minutes at first—that is okay. A short time may be all that you are ready to encounter.

Like looking into the eyes of someone you love, this interaction can be deeply intimate and very intense. As a result, you may not always be able to maintain your focus for very long. Your mind might begin to wander. That is normal. Rather than become discouraged or upset with yourself, gently gather your attention back on the Lord. You might do so by reviewing your Scripture passage, or you might refocus by softly speaking the name “Jesus” or “Abba,” centering your thoughts back on the One you love.

Also, you may not be able to practice this fourth rhythm of lectio divina every day. Take time for contemplatio as you are able. The more you experience it and enjoy it, the more you will look forward to those uninterrupted moments alone with God!

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

Monday, November 15, 2010

Soaking in Scripture: Spiritual Formation through Lectio Divina, part 3

Meditation on Scripture leads naturally into the third rhythm of lectio divina: “oratio”--prayer.

3. Praying Scripture
As our hearts and minds become saturated with God’s Word we spontaneously begin to pray that passage back to our heavenly Father. “Lord, give me the tenacity of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment.” “Develop that kind of daring faith in me.” “Show me what obstacles I need to press through in order to get closer to Jesus.” “Please heal the places where I am bleeding inside.”

In prayer our hearts become fully engaged in God’s Word. Often when we simply read a portion of Scripture, we remain rather detached. But as we meditate on it—and particularly as we pray it back to the Lord—our hearts engage in the process.

The prayer portion of lectio divina should remain focused on the verses at hand. This is not the time for going through our prayer list or interceding for others. While petition and intercession are valuable forms of prayer, they can be done at a separate time. Instead, during the time of lectio divina, our prayer centers on what God is speaking to us through his Word and what he wants to do in our lives. We submit ourselves to the Creator of the universe and give him our undivided attention.

Too often when we read the Bible we know the Lord is addressing things in our lives, but we run off before we have taken God’s message to heart. However, when we make the effort to meditate on what God is saying and then take time to pray about it, God’s Word sticks in our minds, sinks into our hearts, and bears fruit in our attitudes and actions.

By praying God’s Word back to him, we pull together 1) our Bible reading, 2) our prayer and 3) our daily existence. So often we keep these three facets of life quite compartmentalized from each other. Lectio divina is a gentle structure that integrates all aspects of our lives. It is holistic.

Various Prayer Responses

When I honestly open myself to God through his Word, I am time and again convicted of sin in my life—ways I have hurt others, bad attitudes I have harbored, hurtful words I have said, good words and actions I have failed to do. I have trespassed against God in “thought, word and deed; by what I have done and what I have left undone.” When Scripture shines light on a hidden sin in my life, I need to respond with a prayer of confession. In addition, I’ll ask the Lord to fully reveal my fallen actions or attitudes. Then I pray that he would pull it out of my life by the roots—no matter how painful that process might be or how long it may take.

Other mornings, Scripture causes me to see God’s blessings in my life as never before. My prayer time then focuses on expressing thanks. It might turn into a time of worship and praise for God’s goodness to me and faithfulness in my life.

At other times God’s Word sheds new light on his love for me and I begin to realize how cherished I am. As well as thanking the Lord for his lovingkindness, my prayer might flow right into a time of basking in God’s goodness and love for me, which is contemplation, the fourth step of lectio divina.

There is a logical progression through the rhythms of lectio divina. We begin by reading a passage of Scripture several times to get it into our minds. Then we meditate on it, reflecting on it from different angles. This naturally leads into praying the passage back to the Lord.

In day-to-day practice, however, we may not always proceed from one step to the next in such a linear fashion. As we meditate on the passage, we often go back to reread it in order to clarify what it says. After we have prayed in response, we might go back to meditation to see how God’s Word further applies to us. Then we return to prayer, asking the Lord to work that into our lives.

Thus we glide back and forth among the various rhythms of lectio divina. That is good because lectio divina is not a formula or method; rather it is a willingness to be teachable and an attitude of receptivity. It is an integrative approach to soaking in God’s Word and God’s presence. Lectio divina is a mindset of allowing God’s Word to address whatever he desires in our lives and to shape us as he pleases. So long as we are becoming steeped in Scripture, and transformed by it, our time is a success!

In my own practice of soaking in God’s Word, these three steps of reading, meditation and prayer often take place with the aid of pen and journal. As part of my lectio/reading, I’ll write out the verse or verses that I’m focusing on. Like reading aloud, the process of writing slows me down and helps me to see each word in my passage. Writing out the verses is also helpful if I’m going to memorize a portion of Scripture. Next, I record some reflections on the passage. Sometimes this is in paragraph form; other times it is simply bullet points. Such meditation on God’s Word often flows seamlessly into prayer. Finally, I often write out my prayer response to the Lord. Here I commit my situation to him, ask for help, and surrender my will to his plan.

Personal Practice
As you read and meditate on God’s Word this week, try praying the Scripture back to God. Some might realize that they have been doing this all along. Others will find this a bit awkward—or a bit intimidating. As you make prayer a natural part of your time in God’s Word, however, it will become more and more spontaneous for you.

Because lectio divina takes longer than many Christians are used to spending in their daily devotions, you may find that you need to set more time aside for the Lord. On a practical level, you may decide to do lectio divina one or two days each week and on the other days keep the Bible reading plan that you are already on. Find what works for you. The goal is not fitting our lives into a new method; rather, it is soaking in Scripture so that our heads, hearts and hands become saturated with God’s Word.

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

Monday, November 8, 2010

Soaking in Scripture: Spiritual Formation through Lectio Divina, part 2

Lectio divina is a fourfold rhythm of soaking in God’s Word that weaves together 1) our Scripture reading,2) our meditation on Scripture, 3) our prayer and 4) our quiet enjoyment of the Lord’s presence.

Over the past number of years as I have taught on lectio divina in various classes, retreats and seminars, many believers have expressed that they already practice various steps of lectio divina in their devotional time. In one sense none of this is new, which is good—it is simply part of our common practice as Christians, spending time in God’s Word and prayer. However, they also tell me that seeing the whole picture of lectio divina is really helpful to them. It gives words to what they have been doing; it encourages them to intentionally soak in God’s Word and his presence; and it helps them to see how the various rhythms fit together.

2. Scripture Meditation
After we have read a passage several times and put down our Bible, our time in God’s Word is not finished. Rather, it is just getting started! The second rhythm of Lectio divina is “meditatio”—meditation on the Scripture we have read. Here we ponder the passage and approach it from many different angles. We reflect on key words in the passage. We picture the events in our mind or even place ourselves in that setting. In short, we steep ourselves in God’s Word and allow it to saturate our minds, our hearts and our lives.

The Hebrew word for meditate relates to animals chewing the cud. After a cow eats grass and swallows it, it goes into the first stomach to begin digestion. Later the grass comes back up for the cow to chew the cud some more before it goes into the second stomach. So goes the digestion process throughout the day until the grass reaches the fourth stomach for final integration into the cow’s system. When we meditate on God’s Word throughout the day we do the same thing. We read it in the morning, chewing on it for awhile. Later that morning it comes to mind and we gnaw on it some more. Again in the afternoon, we reflect upon the passage and review it in our minds. As we continue to meditate on the Scripture throughout the day, it works its way into our whole being.

In meditation we also ponder how the passage applies to our lives. Asking questions such as, “How does this relate to me personally?” and “What do I need to change?” we seek to apply what we are learning. As the Lord commands in Joshua 1:8, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.”

Placing Ourselves in the Passage
A fruitful way of meditating on Scripture is to imagine it in our minds. Take for example the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years who comes to Jesus to be healed in Luke 8:43-48. To bring this account alive, we can picture the multitude of people pressing one another in an attempt to get close to Jesus. We smell the crowd. Then we see the woman who had bled for twelve years attempt to work her way closer to Jesus. Is she slipping in between others? Is she elbowing people to get past them? Those who recognize her pull back in surprise because she is unclean and not supposed to be out in public—they do not want to become contaminated! We hear their condescending comments but see her continue on, ignoring the humiliation. Finally she sees Jesus, and we watch as she rivets her attention on the hem of his robe. With one final thrust of her hand her finger tips touch it. Jesus reels around as power flows out of him and she is healed!

Meditation continues by asking questions that apply the passage to our own lives. How can I press closer to Jesus? What obstacles must I press past in order to reach him? What is it that I need healing for in my life? Do I want that healing as badly as this woman? Am I willing to ignore opposition and words of shame hurled at me in order to reach the Lord?

Another way to flesh out this passage is putting yourself right into the scene. Picture yourself as that woman. Feel her desperation! Feel her uncompromising drive! If you do so, you will learn this passage as you never have before—you will live our Scripture in ways you never thought possible.

A similar way of personalizing a passage of Scripture is by putting our name in. For the past three years, a verse I have meditated on again and again is Isaiah 43:1, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” (NASB). In this passage, God is addressing his covenant people; therefore, as part of God’s people today, it applies directly to me. So when I review this passage, I place my name right in the verse: “I have called you by name, Glenn; you are Mine!” Every time I hear my name there it comes alive to me —even after doing so dozens of times over the past several years.

Listening to the Holy Spirit
We should pay particular attention to portions of Scripture that catch our attention. Robert Mulholland suggests that after you have finished your Bible reading, you should “return to those places where you experienced harmony or dissonance. . . . What is God saying to you in that experience of harmony? . . . Is the Word addressing you at some unrealized point of your life where you are hungering and thirsting for wholeness and life? . . . Is the Word calling to some deep emptiness that longs to be filled?”

Likewise we need to focus on the phrases that disturb us. The Holy Spirit gets our attention by making us feel uncomfortable when we hear his Word. Mulholland continues, “What is God saying to you in the experience of dissonance? Does the dissonance reveal something in your being or doing that is in rebellion against God? . . . Is God addressing some habit, some attitude, some deeply ingrained perspective that is inconsistent with God’s purposes for your wholeness? Is the Word probing some relationship that is not healthy?” [1]

The process of meditation becomes turbocharged when we make the effort to memorize a passage of Scripture where God is really speaking to us. The practice of memorizing invites us to reflect on the verses on a whole new level. It causes us to recognize what specific words are used and see what comes first, what comes after that and how they are connected. We pick up on repetition or cadence in the passage.

In addition, memorizing Scripture enables us to take the passage with us all day long. We review it again and again, reminding ourselves of what the Lord is speaking to us. In this way, God’s thoughts toward us wash over our heart and mind all day long and often into the night as we fall asleep.

One colleague of mine spent one and a half years soaking in John chapter 1. He would read a verse and steep his thoughts in that one verse for his devotional time. Then he would write the verse out on a card and put it in his pocket to review throughout the day. He and his wife memorized John 1 together and would quiz each other. In this way he committed the whole chapter to memory and reviewed it constantly.

Often I memorize passages that stand out to me during my Bible reading. I don’t do this so that I can be good a Bible quizzer; rather I memorize verses where God is speaking to me so that I can take with me throughout the day. Far more than I need food and water each day, I need God’s Word. It encourages me when I’m down and discouraged; it instructs me how I should walk; it corrects me where I am in sin; it renews my mind; and it constantly pours God’s love and acceptance and grace into every part of my life.

When I’ve memorized a meaningful passage, I find myself thinking about again and again during the day. As I lie down to sleep at night, the words come echoing back through my memory. I find myself feeding on the passage continually. As Joshua 1:8 commands, I begin to “meditate on it day and night.”

Putting it into Practice
Try it this week! After you have read a passage several times, stay sitting in a chair and meditate on the passage. Picture it in your mind. Place yourself into the story. Let God’s Word address you personally. Or, you may want to take a walk while you reflect on the passage. Let your mind approach the verses from different angles. Ask questions of the passage. Let it become alive to you.

Then, take one or more verses with you throughout the day. Try memorizing a key verse and review it throughout the week. As you do so, I pray that God’s Word would saturate your thoughts, your attitudes, your actions and the whole of your life. I pray that his Living Word spoken to you would indeed become the very air that you breathe!

[1] M. Robert Mulholland, Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation. Revised Edition (Nashville: The Upper Room, 2000) pp. 151-52.

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

Monday, November 1, 2010

Soaking in Scripture: Spiritual Formation through Lectio Divina, part 1

Central to Christian spiritual formation is God’s Word. As we give Scripture our undivided attention, we invite the Living Word to saturate our minds and hearts. We allow Scripture to change us from the inside out.

God’s Word is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12).

The light of God’s Word exposes the dark places in our lives—secret sins, toxic attitudes, hidden addictions, unattended wounds, and deep shame. The revealing power of God’s Word brings conviction where we are not right with God and others. The remedial power of God’s Word heals the broken places of our hearts and lives. Ultimately God’s Word transforms us.

While various “spiritualities” circulate in today’s pluralistic society, genuine Christian spiritual formation emerges from Scripture. We would know nothing of God except that he has revealed himself. Rather than creating a god of its own choosing, Christian devotion is the response to God’s self-revelation in the Bible. We cling to Scripture because it is God’s heartbeat expressed to us.

In today’s information revolution, words convey a lot of mere information. We become accustomed to skimming vast amounts of data as we look things up online. Unfortunately, we often use the same approach when we come to Scripture. We look for new information. If we don’t find anything new, we quickly become bored and move on to something else. Therefore, for those who have read the Bible for years, it is easy to adopt the attitude of “been there, done that.” Because we know some of the basic information in the Bible, we assume that we “have it down,” and our minds move elsewhere, seeking new stimulus and novel information.

Instead we need to approach God’s Word relationally. Scripture is personal communication from the all-loving Father to us. It is much more akin to a hand-written letter to us than a Google search on a given topic.

Words are the primary means by which we connect, person-to-person. They express our thoughts to the other person and ultimately communicate our love for them. Although we connect with others by touch, eye-to-eye contact, and other means, words are probably the greatest way that we share our hearts with others. This is especially true in our relationship with the Lord. Because we cannot see him or touch him physically, it is through his Words to us and our words to him that we cultivate our relationship.

God’s Word is his self-expression to us. Love is essentially self-giving and self-revealing. Because God is love, he pours out through his Word. That Word is the Logos—the Son, the second Person of the Trinity—who fully expresses who God is. That Word is also the Scripture, comprised of various messages of love, acceptance, warning, instruction and discipline that express his thoughts toward us.

Lectio Divina
One substantive way of soaking in God’s Word and savoring his presence is known as lectio divina. The standard method of spending time in Scripture for nearly fifteen hundred years of Christianity, lectio divina is Latin for “sacred reading,” “spiritual reading” or “devotional reading.” It is an approach to our “quiet time” that makes space for us to saturate ourselves in God’s Word.

Lectio divina is an approach to God’s Word that opens our minds for him to speak to us and opens our hearts to experience intimate relationship with him. It entails a fourfold rhythm for our devotion: 1) reading Scripture, 2) meditating on that passage, 3) praying it back to the Lord, and then 4) simply enjoying God’s presence.

1. Reading & Hearing Scripture
The first rhythm is reading God’s Word. Here we take a passage and read it through several times. When we repeat the passage more than once we notice small but important items that we missed the first time through.

Reading it out loud is best because it slows us down and highlights words that we would otherwise skip over. Speaking God’s Word aloud allows us to hear God’s message with our ears, as well as see it on the page. It enables us to taste the words with our mouth, as it were, when we pronounce each syllable. As Psalm 19 states, his words are “sweeter than honey” to those who are willing to enjoy them!

Many mornings, I also write out the passage in my journal. The process of writing forces me to notice each word. It gives me space to see how various ideas are connected to each other in the sentence or paragraph or that I’m centering on for the day. The motion of writing engages me in active learning, plus it helps me remember the passage.

In order to give adequate attention to our day’s portion of Scripture, it is often best to choose a shorter section. Lectio divina takes a brief passage of Scripture—usually one to a dozen verses—and focuses our attention on this passage. Instead of trying to keep up with a Bible reading plan, we concentrate on a few verses of God’s Word and soak in them. Rather than racing through a quick chapter of the Bible before rushing out the door, as so many contemporary Christians are wont to do, lectio divina helps us to decelerate and savor Scripture—not trying to inhale it as we would fast food at the drive through.

The aim of the Christian life is not to “get through the Bible” in a given amount to time. Rather, our goal is to allow God’s Word to “get through us” thoroughly and repeatedly so that we are transformed into the image of Christ.

The rhythms of lectio divina welcome us to step off the merry-go-round of our fast-paced lives in order to slow down and enjoy some unhurried moments with the Lord. In my coming blogs I will explore some dynamics of meditating on Scripture, praying the passage, and then relishing God’s profound presence. These rhythms invite us to soak in Scripture and appreciate it for what it is—God’s very Word spoken to us!

If your current method of Bible reading is bearing fruit in your life, stick with it. But, if your current method is not bearing fruit—or if you are not really spending time in God’s Word—I’d encourage you to try something different. Several days this week take a few verses and try reading them aloud several times through. Then just savor God’s thoughts to you throughout the day.

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bernard of Clairvaux: Passionate Faith

One of my favorite figures in church history is Bernard of Clairvaux. He had such a desire to know Jesus more and passion to enter into deeper intimacy with the Lord. A key figure of the Middle Ages, Bernard helped to redirect the whole focus of the church, centering in on a personal relationship with Christ.

Here is the URL to my recent article on Bernard on

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Choosing Light: A Morning Prayer

Photograph by Drew Collins

A number of years ago I began to write out morning prayers for my daily time with the Lord. These prayers emerged from the needs in my life and the things for which I was sporadically praying. Because God was working on these areas in my life, I realized that I ought to be giving them more intentionality. One way to do that was to pray them each morning as I began my day.

While some Christians have been taught to avoid written prayer, Scripture itself is replete with written prayers. The Bible records Moses’ prayers, the judges’ prayers and a host of David’s prayers. We read Jonah’s prayers and those of the prophets and kings of Israel. The New Testament provides several of Jesus’ prayers and quite a few of Paul’s for his fellow believers. Many hymns and worship choruses are simply prayers set to music. Written prayers are a vital part of our inheritance of the faith.

As the dark days of winter approach, one prayer that has been helpful to me is “Choosing Light.” If you struggle with discouragement or darkness of any kind, I pray that the words of this prayer come alive in your life.

Choosing Light

This morning, O Lord, I choose light, for you are a God of light and in you is no darkness. (1 John 1:5; James 1:17; 1 Tim 6:16)

As I meditate on your goodness and love for me, I embrace encouragement and I renounce the darkness of discouragement, for our God is the God of all encouragement. (2 Thess 2:16)

Trusting in you, I will choose hope and anchor my soul in hope, as I refuse the darkness of despair. (Heb 6:19)

Today I will run toward what I tend to avoid, and I reject the darkness of fear, for God has not given us the spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7)

Fixing my eyes on you, O Lord, I will reach out toward family and friends—encouraging them and letting them know that they are valued and taken care of. I refuse the darkness of division and rejection, and instead I choose light, life and love.

All day long I will embrace challenges at work and home, and I renounce the darkness of defeat, for I have the victory in Jesus and in him I am more than a conqueror. (Rom 8:37)


-Glenn E. Myers

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Recommended Classic: Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales

A breath of fresh air, Francis de Sales’ classic, Introduction to the Devout Life, invites all believers to enter the deeper life in Christ. Not reserved for just a few spiritual people, the life of genuine devotion to Jesus is available to all believers.

Describing the inner life of faith, De Sales welcomes his readers to engage in a deeper walk with the Lord than they have known before. With profound insight, he exposes our self-focus and the spiritual games that we often play instead of allowing Christ to transform our thoughts, attitudes and actions. Appreciated by believers with a sincere desire to grow—evangelicals and Roman Catholics alike—this work is down to earth.

De Sales opens the book with several guided reflections on Scripture. It addresses the pragmatic issues of Christian growth including purity, patience, humility and anxiety, and it deals with the situations of everyday life, how they can be sanctified, and how we can be truly sanctified in the process.

With penetrating insight, de Sales challenges us to practice spiritual disciplines that we need most—not necessarily the ones we like the best. “In practicing any virtue, it is well to choose that which is most according to our duty,” he states, “rather than most according to our taste” (86). Fasting may come easily to some, but what they need to work on are gentleness and patience. Others may prefer solitude, but confessing sin is more valuable. Still others like small group sharing and activity, but their greatest need—and opportunity for most profound growth—comes as they cultivate solitude and their own personal walk with Jesus.

De Sales offers helpful tools for honestly examining our lives, our attitudes, our obedience and our spiritual formation. In the final section of the book he suggests ways to take a yearly retreat to review our growth and gain new focus for the coming year.

Introduction to the Devout Life is a practical manual on how to live the deeper life. It challenges us not to be satisfied with the status quo of our spiritual growth, yet encourages us to be gentle with ourselves and others during that maturation process. It breathes with creativity, wisdom and hope. Although not as well known as some other classics, this book is one of the true gems of Christian spiritual formation!

Francis de Sales. Introduction to the Devout Life. Vintage Spiritual Classics. New York: Random House, 2002. ISBN: 0-375-72562-8.

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

Monday, September 20, 2010

Recommended Reading: The Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God, by James M. Houston

A modern day classic, The Prayer welcomes readers into profound spiritual formation. For James Houston, “prayer” is not simply the act of “praying,” rather it describes the whole of our walk with the Lord. Prayer is not a spiritual discipline—it is the sum of our relationship with the God of all love.

“I used to think that prayer was a spiritual exercise—something that needed to be worked at, like running or vaulting. But I was never any good at sports, and perhaps I would never be any good at prayer either” writes the author. “After years of feeling useless and guilty, I began to realize the truth of a comment made by one of the early fathers of the church, Clement of Alexandria. He said that ‘prayer is keeping company with God.’ This began to give me a new focus on prayer. I began to see prayer more as a friendship than a rigorous discipline. It started to become more of a relationship and less a performance (9)”.

Houston’s thesis is that we experience genuine transformation through healthy relationship with God and with others. In fact, the book was originally published under the title, Transforming Friendship. Friendship with God and friendship with others are inextricably interwoven. “It is precisely the wounds in our relationships that keep many of us from experiencing the life of prayer (52)”. As we experience healing, accepting friendships in our lives, we learn to open up to God. Conversely, the more we encounter the Lord’s unconditional love for us, the more we allow other people to get close.

A leitmotif running throughout the book is “that God calls us to use our Achilles heel, where we limp most, to lead us through our natural weakness or woundedness of personality, to grow spiritually strong (9-10)”. As fallen beings, we all have flaws and we all become wounded in one way or another in life. Instead of trying to cover these imperfections or simply cope with them, God wants to use them. Such vulnerable places inside us are actually the key to profound transformation in our lives, according to the author. In addition, once our woundedness has been healed, it will become the centerpiece of our ministry to others. It is where we have experienced the greatest grace that God extends his lovingkindness to those around us.

Houston brilliantly weaves together our friendship with God, our relationship with others, our prayer for those we are in relationship with, and the eternal relationship among the three Persons of the Trinity. Many gems will be gleaned from the first reading of this book. However, it will likely be the third or fourth time through that the reader begins to grasp the larger tapestry with its many interrelated strands of insight, challenge, theology and practical application. Few books today warrant multiple readings; however, The Prayer offers life-transforming insight each time one returns to study and reflect upon its pages.

James Houston. The Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2007. ISBN: 07814-44268.

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

Monday, September 13, 2010

What is Spiritual Theology?

Perhaps the strongest term for Christian spirituality is “spiritual theology.” Our lived faith can never be separated from our understanding of God as revealed in his Word. This is what separates true Christian Spirituality from the many other “spiritualities” in circulation today. The term “spiritual theology” is valuable because it seeks to keep together the content of our faith as Christians and the outworking of that faith in our lives.

Traditional Use of the Term

Classically, spiritual theology has been the academic study of Christian formation. It has been divided into two fields: ascetic theology and mystical theology.

Ascetic theology focuses upon much of what we term “discipleship” today. It looks at our training (askēsis), especially in terms of practicing various spiritual disciplines, as practical steps in putting to death our old nature of sin so that we can walk in the freedom of the Spirit.

Building upon that foundation of discipleship, mystical theology looks upon our intimate encounter with God. What we call “experiencing God’s presence in prayer” or “feeling God in worship,” is what Christian mysticism is about. While the word “mystic” has developed a negative connotation in its contemporary usage, in its classical usage it simply emphasizes the heart-felt love for God and the experiential relationship with the Lord to which all believers are called.

Although the term spiritual theology has maintained this traditional, narrower definition since the nineteenth century—and though it was often seen as a subset of systematic theology—the term today often carries a broader connotation. In particular, spiritual theology seeks to integrate our faith with our practice, especially emphasizing the Trinitarian foundation of our Christian faith.

God is a Trinity of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Christian Spirituality, by definition, needs to be Trinitarian. Orthodox Christianity has always worshiped a God who exists eternally as three Persons. God is love (1 John 4:8), and love is of necessity relational. From all eternity the Father and the Son share intimate communion with each other, as seen especially throughout the Gospel of John. By the Holy Spirit, the Godhead invites us to participate in that love relationship.

Our Trinitarian faith shapes our relationship with the Lord. Spiritual formation is essentially relational. God is personal. That personal God invites us into the same love relationship that the Father and Son share (see John 17). For a valuable discussion of Trinitarian theology and spirituality, see Philip Sheldrake’s Spirituality and Theology: Christian Living and the Doctrine of God.

Spiritual theology keeps our Christian formation from becoming simply one more self-improvement program on the market. It ties our practice with our personal relationship with God. Moreover, it emphasizes that relational character of our lives—spiritual growth is lived out in friendships with others and friendship with God.

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

Selected Bibliography Spiritual Theology and Theological Anthropology
Allen, Diogenes. Spiritual Theology: The Theology of Yesterday for Spiritual help Today. Cambridge/Boston: Cowley Publications, 1997.
Chan, Simon. Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
Grenz, Stanley J. The Social God and the Relational Self. Knoxville: Westminster John Knox, 2001.
Houston, James M. The Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2007. ISBN: 07814-44268.
McIntosh, Mark A. Mystical Theology: The Integrity of Spirituality and Theology. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998. ISBN: 1-55786-907-3.
Sheldrake, Philip. Spirituality and Theology: Christian Living and the Doctrine of God. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998. ISBN: 1-5707-5224-9.
Torrance, Alan J. Persons in Communion: Trinitarian Description and Human Participation. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996.
Zizioulas, John. Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985, 1997. ISBN: 0-8814-10292.
__________. Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church. Edited by Paul McPartlan. New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-56703-1488.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Selected Bibliography on the New Monasticism of the Middle Ages

Here are some great works focused on the New Monasticism of the Middle Ages. A great place to begin would be Southern’s paperback, which includes several good chapters on the developments of this time period. Lawrence would be the best single volume on the topic of monasticism, especially the new monasticism. Leclercq helps contemporary Christians appreciate the wonderful spiritual vitality of the men and women in the monasteries, and Grundmann provides an excellent overview of the spiritual renewal movements of the Late Middle Ages.

New Monasticism & Spiritual Movements in the Middle Ages
Bouyer, Louis. The Cistercian Heritage. Translated by Elizabeth Livingstone. Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1958.
Casey, Michael. Athirst for God: Spiritual Desire in Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1988. ISBN: 0-8790-7877-4.
Constable, Giles. The Reformation of the Twelfth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN: 0-521-63871-2 or 0-521-30514-4 (1996 hardcover).
Grundmann, Herbert. Religious Movements of the Middle Ages: The Historical Links between Heresy, the Mendicant Orders, and the Women’s Religious Movement in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Century, with the Historical Foundations of German Mysticism. Translated by Steven Rowan. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1961/1995. ISBN: 0-268-01649-6.
Lawrence, C. H. Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. 3rd ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education, 2001. ISBN: 0-582-40427-4.
Leclercq, Jean. The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture. Translated by Catharine Misrahi. New York: Fordham University Press, 1982. ISBN: 0-8232-0407-3.
Lekai, Louis J. The Cistercians: Ideals and Reality. Kent State University Press, 1977. ISBN: 0-87338-201-3.
Leyser, Henrietta. Hermits and the New Monasticism: A Study of Religious Communities in Western Europe 1000-1150. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984. ISBN: 0-312-36999-9.
McGinn, Bernard. The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism – 1200-1350. Volume 3 in The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism. New York: Crossroad, 1998. ISBN: 0-8245-1743-1.
Pazzelli, Raffaele. St. Francis and the Third Order: The Franciscan and pre-Franciscan Penitential Movement. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1989. ISBN: 0-8199-0953-X.
Thoman, Bret. The Road to Peace in Assisi: Following Francis and Clare in the Footsteps of the Lesser Christ. N.p.: Lulu, 2010.

A Few Primary Sources
Francis and Clare: The Complete Works. Translated by Regis Armstrong. In The Classics of Western Spirituality. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982. ISBN: 0-8091-2446-7.
The Love of God and Spiritual Friendship. Translated and edited by James M. Houston. Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1983. ISBN: 0-88070-017-3.

A Few Reference Books
Jones, Cheslyn, Geoffrey Wainwright and Edward Yarnold, eds. The Study of Spirituality. New York, NY: Oxford, 1986. ISBN: 019-504170-4.
Leclercq, Jean, Francois Vandenbroucke and Louis Bouyer. The Spirituality of the Middle Ages. Volume 2 in A History of Christian Spirituality. New York: Seabury Press, 1968. ISBN: 0-8164-0326-0.
Sheldrake, Philip, ed. The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. Second edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003. ISBN: 0-664-23003-2.
Southern, R. W. Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages. Pelican History of the Church. London: Penguin, 1970.

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

Monday, August 30, 2010

Laypeople Join Francis of Assisi and his Revival: Third Order Franciscans

As multitudes heard the preaching of Francis and the Little Brothers, young and old, men and women, married and single, came to Christ. Single and widowed men were free to join the Friars Minor—the “Little Brothers.” Single and widowed women joined the Poor Clares, although their houses were fewer and less accessible to women across Europe.

But what was to be done with those who were married? They wanted to remain committed husbands and wives, and they wanted to provide for their children.

Middle Way
Several years before he died, Francis made provision for those who were not able to join the Little Brothers (referred to as the First Order) or the Poor Clares (Second Order). This Third Order was for laypeople who wanted to maintain their lives in the world—holding jobs and raising families—while following a spiritual life as much as possible.

Such a middle way between the religious life of monks/nuns/friars and the secular life of ordinary people is part of the genius of the New Monasticism of the Middle Ages. The Beguines of northern Europe provided opportunity for laywomen, initially including married housewives as well as the single maids and widows. In the Alpine regions of southern France and northern Italy, the Waldensian movement sought to include whole families as well as the men who traveled about preaching two-by-two.

Above all the Humiliati in the regions of northern Italy around Milan provided three opportunities for people to join their spiritual renewal movement. For those going into “full-time ministry,” as it were, they could take vows and become an Augustinian canon. Or one could live in a single sisters’ household or a single brothers’ household, remaining laypeople. Or, the third option—especially for married men and women—was to remain as part of the family and live out one’s spiritual growth while living at home and maintaining a job. This option was referred to at the “Third Order” and was confirmed by papal rule in 1201. Undoubtedly Francis and Cardinal Ugolino, who helped provide structure and protection for the Franciscans, knew of these developments taking place several hundred miles to the north. It is likely that Francis fashioned his rule for the Third Order with this model in the back of his mind.

Movement of Laypeople
Thus, Francis’ Third Order was not the first of its kind; however, it soon became the most popular and most influential movement of laypeople seen since the Early Church.

The Third Order commitment was similar to what we have today as “accountability groups” or other small groups for spiritual formation. They dedicated themselves to prayer, some fasting, and meeting together each month.

Just a few of the best known figures who sought spiritual growth by becoming part of the Third Order Franciscans are: the writers Dante and Petrarch, the artist Giotto who painted the scenes of Francis’ life in the Basilica of St. Francis, explorers Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama. A number of the popes, as well as King Louis IX (St. Louis) of France and Elizabeth of Hungary and Thomas More of England were significant political figures who led spiritual lives as Franciscan tertieries.

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Recommended Reading: The Road to Peace in Assisi by Bret Thoman

Bret Thoman brings Francis and Clare of Assisi to life. In his little book, The Road to Peace in Assisi, he introduces these two towering Christian figures as he portrays the major events of their lives. In an easy-to-read fashion, he presents their simple lives and profound spirituality.

Each chapter explores a key location in or around Assisi, describing the events that took place there and fleshing out the spiritual principles that we can learn from it. The book provides photos of these significant sites, offering a fresh approach to Francis and Clare’s lives and making their lives memorable.

The Road to Peace in Assisi
is not simply another biography. It takes the reader on a pilgrimage. Whether the reader is traveling in Italy or seating in a comfortable chair at home, he or she will be led on a fascinating exploration—both of Assisi and the spiritual renewal that Francis and Clare began in Europe.

This work also provides excellent background of the social hierarchy and political struggles in Italy during the time of Francis and Clare. As readers understand the class structure of the Assisi, they gain a fresh appreciation of Francis and Clare's radical call to return to the gospel. Such a call included service to the poor, the lower class and especially the sick and leprous. As readers grasp the horrible reality of leprosy in the thirteenth century, they cannot help but admire the work of Francis among those considered highly contagious.

Having lived with his family for a year in Assisi, the author is intimately acquainted with the city and the Italian culture. Mr. Thoman has led scores of pilgrimages in Assisi and surrounding cities. In addition, he and his wife are members of the Secular Franciscan Order, living out the spiritual principles presented in his book.

I highly recommend The Road to Peace in Assisi. It is a wonderful read for newcomers to Francis and Clare, as well as those who are well acquainted with these two significant reformers in the church.

Thoman, Bret. The Road to Peace in Assisi: Following Francis and Clare in the Footsteps of the Lesser Christ. Phoenix, AZ: Tau-Publishing, 2010.

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Clare of Assisi and the Beguines: Solidarity with the Poor and Needy

Little- known Beguinage

Outside Assisi Italy

Now privately owned

Clare’s stay at the Benedictine convent was short—perhaps only several weeks. While she appreciated the committed life of the nuns, she wanted to follow Francis’ pattern rather than that of the Old Monasticism. Traditional monasticism in the Middle Ages maintained the class distinctions of the world. Daughters of nobility lived lives of relative leisure in the Benedictine convents. They came in with sizeable dowries from their families—along with a maid or two to wait on them—which situated them with a lifestyle they were used to. Maintaining their own room, or suite of rooms, they would never need to work a day of their lives; instead, they dedicated their time to corporate worship, study, reading and personal prayer.

It was a comfortable existence, especially pleasing to those who desired to ready and study, learn Scripture and pursue a life of contemplative prayer. However, their maids, coming from the lower classes, would spend their days cooking, cleaning and doing all the manual work for them. Likewise the convent’s fields were cultivated by the sweat of the peasants who worked the land.

No Special Privileges
Clare had problems with this inequity. Perhaps her stay at the convent of San Paolo delle Abbadesse opened her eyes to the reality of the worldly stratification that had edged into the Church because she entered not as nobility but as a commoner. Because she took vows against her parents’ desire, Clare came into the convent with no dowry. Without her inheritance to finance her stay, she was assigned to manual work with the women of lower status.

Like Francis and others in the New Monasticism, Clare envisioned a community of believers who lived life on a level playing field. She wanted to set aside the stratification of the world in order to relate to other women, sister-to-sister, instead of mistress-to-servant.

In addition, Clare disliked the total enclosure from the outside world that the Benedictine convent entailed. She wanted to be involved in hands-on ministry like Francis. Again, the movements of the New Monasticism engaged in active ministry—the evangelical life—rather than simply pulling apart from the world. While Clare deeply desired to maintain a life of prayer, she also hoped to invest her time in ministry to the poor and needy.

Thus, after a brief abode in the convent, Clare transferred to a household of Beguines living just outside the town of Assisi. Like the Beguines of northern Europe (see Deep Wells blogs on the Beguines), these laywomen had formed their own small community where they could grow together spiritually.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, “Beguine” was a generic term used for laywomen who formed their own Christian communities. Rather than a large, centralized movement, the Beguines were simply dedicated women who formed independent households all over Europe. They came mostly from the growing middle class in the emerging cities of the Later Middle Ages. Although we do not know specifics about the Beguine community where Clare stayed, most Beguines engaged in active ministry to the poor, sick and especially the lepers.

Visiting the Beguine House
The Beguine house where Clare went in 1212 still stands today just above the town of Assisi. For some years it was inhabited by Beguines and then passed into the hands of the nuns. Since around 1500, however, it has been owned privately. While much of the house has been rebuilt over the centuries, two rooms—pictured above—have the original walls intact.

On our pilgrimage to Assisi in April, we had the phenomenal opportunity of visiting the very house where Clare stayed. Bret Thoman, the leader of our pilgrimage, lived with his wife and family for some time in Assisi and discovered many out-of-the-way places like this. (See link to During our visit he took our group to the house, and the family who currently own the estate graciously allowed us to tour the parts of the manor house that were original to Clare’s day.

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Recommended Classic: Sacrament of the Present Moment by Jean-Pierre de Caussade

God is hidden in the mundane and painful of daily life, as well as the Holy Spirit’s leading in the present moment. Such is the theme of Jean-Pierre de Caussade in his classic, Sacrament of the Present Moment. The author invites us to “recognize God in the most trivial, the most grievous and the most mortifying things that happen” and to embrace “everything equally with delight and rejoicing, and welcome with open arms what others dread and avoid” (63).

De Caussade encourages us not to seek God in phenomenal spiritual experiences or acclaimed Christian ministry because the Almighty is found in the most ordinary events of our lives, “in the peace of solitude, in prayer, in submission, is suffering, in succor given to another, and in flight from idle talk and worldly affairs” (19). Spiritual formation is not about the spectacular or the heroic, rather “God reveals himself to the humble in small things” (3).

Because the Lord works in our lives through the challenges of everyday life—of the present moment, no matter what it looks like—spiritual maturity is available to all believers. In order to grow, we “have only to carry out faithfully the simple duties of a Christian and of [our] condition, humbly to accept the suffering involved and to submit without question to the demands of Providence in everything that is to be done and suffered” (4).

“Sanctification consists of enduring moment by moment all the trials and tribulations it brings, as though they were clouds behind which God lay concealed,” writes de Caussade. “The only condition necessary for this state of self-surrender is the present moment in which the soul, light as a feather, fluid as water, innocent as a child, responds to every movement of grace like a floating balloon” (21-22).

This masterpiece by de Caussade is actually a collection of his sermon notes that were later compiled and published after his death in 1751. It comes into English with a variety of titles, including The Abandonment to Divine Providence and The Joy of Full Surrender. It is the same book—although rendered somewhat differently. I love the translation cited here by Kitty Muggeridge.

Works Cited
Sacrament of the Present Moment, translated by Kitty Muggeridge (New York: HarperCollins, 1982), ISBN: 978-0-06-061811-7.

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

Friday, August 6, 2010

Clare of Assisi: Radical Pursuit of Christ

The year was 1212 and the young woman Clare was eighteen years old. In Italian her name was Chiara—“light”—and from childhood she had sought the true light of following Christ. Coming from a noble family situated atop the hill of Assisi, Clare had been promised in marriage to the son of nobility—a financially advantageous arrangements for both parties.

Clare, however, did not want to marry. Instead she wanted to dedicate her life to Christ and serve him with every moment of her day. In particular, she wanted to follow Francis’ model of tending the needy and living in community where social distinctions were discarded. Francis’ example of the Evangelical Life had been noticed by people from all strata of society. The poor and lepers received aid—and genuine love—from Francis and the other Little Brothers. Wealthy merchants were challenged to use their growing income to help those in need instead of simply satisfying their own comforts. Nobility likewise saw a model of humility and the willingness to lay down one’s station in life. Like Bernard of Quintavalle, other well-to-do nobles and merchants soon began to join Francis’ little movement.

Because Clare was from the upper class, she would not have had any regular interaction with Francis from the merchant stratus of the town, and she would not have been able to venture down to the marshlands where he and the brothers lived. However, all of Assisi had heard of his work among the lepers. Moreover, Clare had listened to the small, brown-robed friar preach upon a number of occasions as the cathedral of San Rufino.

Clare wanted to live the same kind of lifestyle—and she had a plan. On Palm Sunday of 1212 she and her maid snuck out of her parents’ wealthy home and stole their way down the hill below Assisi to the small chapel of the Portiuncula. There Francis shaved her head as a sign of her commitment to the life of a nun. (See above photo of the mural portraying Francis consecrating Clare.)

Several brothers then whisked the two women away to the Benedictine convent of San Paolo delle Abbadesse. There they would be safe from any family members who might want to retrieve the young noblewoman and force her into marriage.

Such hostile retrieval of women from becoming nuns was not uncommon in the Middle Ages. Especially if an advantageous marriage was already lined up for them, noble families often kept their daughters from pursuing a spiritual life. However, Clare was beyond their grasp at the convent of San Paolo because of the papal protection that it provided. She would spend the next several weeks there in safety.

Cost—and Reward—of Following Christ

Clare understood the cost of following Christ. She was willing to make the radical commitment of placing him before all human relationships. Such a dedication of one’s life is precisely what our Lord said it would take to follow him:

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:30, NIV).

As Clare left behind her most cherished treasures, she gave herself fully to Christ. In time, she also received the persecution spoken about in this passage. However, she also received the many blessings that our Lord promised—a new home, many sisters and a wonderful, abundant life in Jesus!

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

Saturday, July 31, 2010

What is the Role of Spiritual Disciplines in Spiritual Formation?

Spiritual growth is intentional. We have an active role to play in our progress in the faith—that is why much of the New Testament is addressed to believers. 2 Peter 1:5-7 calls us to make every effort in our growth as Christians, adding to our faith “goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.”

Our responsibility in spiritual formation includes our rhythms of prayer, Scripture, solitude, listening, fasting, service, worship, evangelism and other actions that align our head, hearts and hands with God’s will. Although these are “disciplines”—things we do in a consistent, disciplined fashion as disciples of Christ—many prefer the term “rhythm.” These activities are like breathing in and out—the regular rhythm of life for a believer.

Spiritual disciplines never earn salvation (Ephesians 2:5-11). Nevertheless, we are called to train ourselves in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). That word “train” is the Greek term askēsis, from which we derive the English words “ascetic” and “asceticism.” Ascetic practices, then, are the spiritual training exercises—the spiritual disciplines—that help us grow.

Rather than earning us anything, these activities are ways that we make time and place to cultivate our relationship with the Lord. As well as simply enjoying God’s presence during our time set apart for him, we allow him to work in our lives. We open our minds, our hearts and our wills to receive what the Lord has for us—whether to encourage us, direct us, confront us or conform us in ways of which we are not even aware.

As we spend time in Scripture—reading, studying, memorizing, meditating, praying a passage back to God, or doing a combination of the above via Lectio Divina—we are listening for God’s Word to address our lives. Simply keeping up with a reading program, and even memorizing Scripture, is not sufficient, as the Pharisees so clearly demonstrated. Mentally they knew the Bible inside and out, but they failed to allow God’s Word to impact their lives. We need to soak in Scripture and allow it to renew our minds (Rom 12:1-2) and refocus our hearts. Continually we ask the questions: What do I need to learn from this? How must I change? What does this passage say concerning my life? How do I see God’s love for me? Then, we must be ready to follow through on what it says to us. Scripture must be followed by action, as Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28).

Foundational to spiritual growth is solitude with the Lord. Personal relationship of any depth requires one-on-one communication where we are free to share from our hearts. Prayer is our personal time with God. Far from being an item to mark off on some checklist, it is intimate time with the One we love more than anyone else. It is something we look forward to—that “sweet hour of prayer” that draws us from a “world of care”! Uninterrupted solitude, then, gives us the space necessary to pray. As Henri Nouwen observes, “Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and place for God, and him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that he is actively present in our lives—healing, teaching, and guiding—we need to set aside a time and space to give him our undivided attention” (Making All Things New, p. 69).

While the exercise of spiritual disciplines is by no means the whole of the Christian life, it is a valuable dynamic of discipleship and lays a foundation for further growth in Christ. On page 158 of his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard groups spiritual exercises under two categories: disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement. The former group includes what we refrain from doing; the latter refers to what we take initiative to do.

Disciplines of Abstinence
Solitude, Silence, Fasting, Frugality, Chastity, Secrecy, Sacrifice

Disciplines of Engagement

Study, Worship, Celebration, Service, Prayer, Fellowship, Confession, Submission

When these practices become the rhythm of our lives, we place ourselves in a position where we are open and receptive to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s Spirit who changes us, put these practices help us to be attentive to all that he has for our lives.

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

Selected Bibliography on Spiritual Disciplines
Barton, Ruth Haley. Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004. ISBN: 0-8308-2386-7.
__________. Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006. ISBN: 0-8308-3333-1.
Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005. ISBN: 978-0-8308-3330-6.
Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. Rev. Ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988. ISBN: 9780060628390.
Harris, Mark. Companions for your Spiritual Journey: Discovering the Disciplines of the Saints. Vancouver: Regent College Publications, 2005.
Jones, Tony. The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. ISBN: 978-0-310-25810-0
Ortberg, John. The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People. Expanded Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. ISBN: 0-310-25074-9.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1981. ISBN: 0-06-066326-X.
Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991. ISBN: 1-57683-027-6.
Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. New York: HarperCollins, 1988.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How does Christian Spirituality fit with Evangelicalism?

While the concepts of the Christian growth and maturity have always been a part of biblical faith, the terminology of spiritual formation is rather new to evangelicalism. The year 1978 served as a watershed as Richard Foster published his first edition of Celebration of Discipline and James Houston assumed the Chair of Spiritual Theology at Regent College.

Although a few Evangelical publishers have been reluctant to broach the subject, most have recognized that spiritual formation is part of the mainstream of evangelical faith. A quick look at the bibliography below shows the tip of the iceberg of evangelical works on spiritual formation and the history of Christian spirituality.

As mentioned previously, there is good reason to be cautious about anything promoting “spirituality” in our day, since so much of what is written comes from a perspective of New Age or Eastern Religion. An alarming number of Protestant and Catholic writings—as well as retreat centers—have uncritically adopted New Age thought. Nevertheless, we do not need to abandon the concept of Christian growth simply because various writers and speakers have distorted it.

While soundly biblical and evangelical, the study of Christian spirituality or spiritual formation includes a much broader Christian discussion. Such a broader approach is absolutely necessary to save evangelical thought from its limited perspective. Because of this broader appreciation of the Christian faith, many fundamentalists will not subscribe to the developments in Christian spiritual formation. Nevertheless, the vast majority of evangelicalism recognizes its value.

Throughout the centuries, great figures have clearly articulated Jesus’ atonement and salvation by grace, especially Augustine of Hippo, Bernard of Clairvaux, Anselm of Canterbury, and lesser known figures such as the German preacher Johannes Tauler. Although many Protestants today do not realize it, Martin Luther and John Calvin deeply appreciated Augustine, building most of their theology on the foundation he laid. They also respected Bernard, with his unflagging commitment to Scripture, and Anselm, with his emphasis on Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross. Luther stated that next to the Bible itself, the Johannes Tauler had the greatest impact on his theology. Therefore, spiritual formation today seeks to bring the writings of such key figures to a contemporary audience.

Thus the best thinking on spiritual formation includes Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox perspectives—all Christians who recognize that faith must be lived out personally in a vital relationship with Christ and who receive salvation through Christ’s death and literal resurrection. Such an orthodox understanding of the faith has always been part of the historic Church and is perhaps summarized most clearly by the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed.

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

Selected Bibliography on Christian Spirituality and Evangelicalism

Bloesch, Donald G. Spirituality Old and New: Recovering Authentic Spiritual Life. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-8308-2838-8.
Chan, Simon. Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
Foster, Richard J. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998. ISBN: 0-06-062822-7.
Foster, Richard and Gayle Beebe. Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005. ISBN: 978-0-8308-3514-0.
George, Timothy and Alister McGrath. For All the Saints: Evangelical Theology and Christian Spirituality. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003. ISBN: 06642-26655.
Gordon, James M. Evangelical Spirituality: From the Wesleys to John Stott. London: SPCK, 1991. ISBN: 0-2810-4542-9.
Richards, Lawrence O. A Practical Theology of Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987. ISBN: 0-310-39140-7.
McGrath, Alister. Beyond the Quiet Time: Practical Evangelical Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995. ISBN: 0-8010-5708-6.
__________. Spirituality in an Age of Change: Rediscovering the Spirit of the Reformers. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994. ISBN: 0-3104-2921-8.
Schmidt, Richard H. God Seekers: Twenty Centuries of Christian Spiritualities. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-8028-2840-8.
Scorgie, Glen, et al, eds. Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.
Sittser, Gerald. Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Recommended Classic: Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila

Many people today are discovering the goldmine of spiritual insight found in the Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila. Teresa describes seven stages we go through in our pursuit of intimacy with Christ. Packed with brilliant insights, Teresa’s portrayal of the Christian pilgrimage is one of the best works ever written on spiritual progress.

Describing the stages of spiritual formation, Teresa uses the imagery of a Castle with seven levels to it—much like seven concentric circles. We enter the Christian life on the outer circle and progress toward the innermost circle where Christ shines brightly. He resides in the innermost chamber of the believer’s heart. The process toward an ever-closer relationship with our Lord is long, though. Teresa is honest in her discussion of the various fleshy temptations (she calls them lizards!) that keep sneaking into the rooms of our life. If we persevere, however, we will enjoy an ever-deeper intimacy with him.

Teresa was a Carmelite nun in 16th century Spain. Through the heartaches of life—and ministry—she put her roots deep down into Christ. She became the head of a convent and eventually led a whole reform movement in the Carmelite Order. Teresa was radically in love with Jesus. A blessing to Christians ever since, Teresa recorded the principles of spiritual growth that she learned along the way. In a charming style, she presents those principles in her various writings, especially the Interior Castle.

Appreciated especially by believers open to spiritual gifts, the Interior Castle describes various spiritual gifts and spiritual experiences of breath-taking ecstasy that many encounter along the way. Yet, Teresa is so down to earth. She always points out our subtle self-focus and challenges us to truly understand ourselves (self-knowledge) and our propensity to pride and selfishness. Yet she provides unflagging hope—we can achieve the relationship with Christ we were meant to have.

Down-to-earth and practical—as well as soaring with spiritual heights and intimacy—Teresa’s classic is a must-read for anyone studying the process of Christian formation.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How do Discipleship and Spiritual Formation Relate?

The field of spiritual formation and what we call discipleship overlap substantially. Both pursue spiritual growth in Christ, and both emphasize the dynamic process of that growth. They explore what it means to follow Christ and live as his disciple. In a sense, the terms are synonymous—both can refer to the whole of our Christian life. However, as they are commonly used today they have somewhat different connotations. There are recognizable differences in how each approach the arena of Christian growth.

1. Foundational
Discipleship focuses on laying a foundation in the Christian life. It introduces new believers to the basic truths of Scripture—the authority of the Word, assurance of salvation, content of the Gospel, and the call to a sanctified life. Discipleship aims at establishing the basic rhythms of the Christian walk, especially a daily devotional time that cultivates Bible reading and prayer. Likewise, it seeks to institute the rhythms of corporate faith, especially worship, small group fellowship and commitment to a local body of Christ. Discipleship begins the process of character development and holy living, in particular confronting more blatant sins of the flesh. It also challenges believers to direct their attention toward others through service, evangelism, outreach and ministry of various kinds.

Because these foundational elements are necessary to all new believers, discipleship lends itself to being packaged as a program. Whether through a class, small group, or one-on-one, discipleship often maintains a basic curriculum upon which to build one’s life of faith.

2. Focused on Activity
Second, the term discipleship focuses on activity. It calls believers to action both in terms of their own spiritual practices and their service to others. By doing so, discipleship views spiritual growth primarily as a result—sometimes even a predictable, measurable outcome—of the various activities it purports. Its orientation toward activity emphasizes the need for discipline and the training of our mind, body, will and emotions.

3. Narrow in Scope
Finally, discipleship tends to be fairly narrow in its scope. It usually centers about the basics of private prayer and Scripture reading and memorization. Even within Bible study and prayer, modern discipleship emphasizes the cognitive and rational dynamics of these disciplines.

Spiritual Formation
1. Whole of the Christian Life
Spiritual formation includes the basic elements of faith but goes on to incorporate the whole of the Christian life. Instead of focusing primarily on the foundation—as does discipleship—spiritual formation provides a map for growth the whole of one’s life.

Since Origen in the third century after Christ, spiritual growth has often been seen in terms of three overarching periods or eras of the believer. These have been given different names over the ages, but very much refer to the same basic stages of growth:

1. Purgation Beginner Discipleship
2. Illumination Progressing Service/Ministry
3. Union Mature Christ-Life

Just as 1 John 2:12-14 refers to three stages in life—children, youth, fathers/mothers—to describe various believers, this threefold schema recognizes that there is going to be growth in Christ. If there is growth, then newcomers are beginners, by definition. Classically this stage was called purgation because one main focus of this season in life is being set free and cleansed—purged—of worldly ways and worldly thinking. Our contemporary concept of discipleship corresponds almost exactly with this traditional first season of Christian growth.

Unfortunately, many Christians in our day never move beyond the basics of discipleship. In fact, far too many never see their foundation laid well at all. However, there are those who press on in the Lord and move into a second season of life. These are the progressing, ones who are experiencing a victorious Christian life. They have general triumph over besetting sins in their lives. They have learned to persevere with Jesus day in and day out. They maintain a vital walk with him and make time to cultivate that personal relationship. They know God’s Word and share it with others. In fact, it is because the Scripture is bright and clear for believers in this stage that it was originally referred to as illumination.

Finally, we have those who are mature in the Lord. They share an intimate relationship with God that has been tested through the ups and downs of life. A. B. Simpson referred to this as the Christ Life. No longer seeking the blessings or even the power of God, these believers are simply in love with him. Christ has become their all-in-all. Repeatedly the New Testament calls us to move on to maturity.

These are three general eras of spiritual formation. Although this paradigm might not be perfect, it gives a nice overview of progress in the Christian life. That overview offers not only a map for our personal growth, it provides a challenge for many today who simply want to pray a little prayer and then hold on ‘til heaven. Such a concept of stagnant faith is found nowhere in the New Testament. Rather, we are called continually to press on, running the race “to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Cor 9:25) and growing up until we all “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

2. Beyond Activity
Spiritual formation moves beyond the activism of standard discipleship. While it recognizes the need for our engagement in the process of growth, it realizes that the deepest transformation that takes place in our lives comes about through hardship, trials and suffering. James 1:2-4 states, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials; knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be [perfect/mature], lacking in nothing” (NASB). Like our passive role in receiving radiation treatment, we embrace circumstances that God allows in order that he can burn out the cancer of self-focus that encircles the vital organs of our lives. Much maturity comes only through testing, trials and suffering.

Likewise, as we mature much more of our prayer becomes silence and surrender to the Lord. While we still bring big and little requests to our Heavenly Father, we learn to listen to him more and simply to rest in his presence. We cultivate stillness.

3. Broader in its Approach

Finally, spiritual formation has a broader approach than discipleship. It incorporates a much wider set of spiritual rhythms. In addition to Bible reading and memorization, it embraces the practice of lectio divina. It highlights the role of spiritual retreats and pilgrimages, as well as fasting and silence and solitude.

Spiritual formation is also broader is scope in the way that it appreciates a wider view of Christians found in other denominations and believers from the past 2000 years of the church. Discipleship is a popular evangelical term, and it often assumes one must become an evangelical in order to be saved. Spiritual formation recognizes believers in Roman Catholic settings, Orthodox churches and genuine Christians over the centuries. It has a great appreciation for the spiritual writings from the past 20 centuries of church history. One classic that beautifully describes the process of spiritual maturity is Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. Teresa describes the stages—and the struggles—of spiritual growth with insights I have never seen by other authors on the Christian life, past or present. Appreciating classics such as Teresa’s, the field of spiritual formation offers wonderful new horizons of the faith to contemporary Christians.

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

Selected Bibliography
Andrews, Alan, ed. The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2010. ISBN: 978-16000-6280-3.
Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001. 0-3102-2153-6.
Howard, Evan B. The Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2008. ISBN: 978-15874-30381.
Mulholland, M. Robert. Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993. ISBN: 0-8308-1386-1.
Smith, Gordon T. Beginning Well: Christian Conversion and Authentic Transformation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.
Teresa of Avila. Interior Castle. Translated by E. Allison Peers. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961. ISBN: 0-385-03643-4.