Friday, July 5, 2013

Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life: Spiritual Growth for All

Minnesota Arboretum

“Do you not know that in a race the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)

One of the great spiritual classics of all times in the Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales. Welcoming believers of all ages and levels of growth to move forward in their walk with the Lord, de Sales’ work breathes a breath of fresh air and candid invitation. It describes what a genuine believer’s spiritual or devotional (devout) life can look like. Above all, it offers encouragement in our relationship with Jesus and a gentle challenge to move toward Christian maturity.

Spiritual Maturity for All Christians
De Sales is down to earth about spiritual progress. Rather than seeing spiritual formation as something set aside for those who are “spiritual,” he encourages everyone to nurture a deeper walk with the Lord. He recognizes that spiritual rhythms will look different for people in different callings in life—a pastor and a mother with small children have very different demands on their time.

Nevertheless, we can all cultivate our spiritual life. God “bids Christians—the living tress of His Church—to bring forth fruits of devotion, each on according to his kind and vocation,” writes de Sales. “A different exercise of devotion is required of each . . . the artisan, the servant, . . . the wife; and furthermore such practice must be modified according to the strength, the calling, and the duties of each individual.”

Work with Peace in Your Hearts
De Sales is one of the first major spiritual writers to highlight everyday spirituality. Christians can grow through their daily activities, as well as through their consistent devotional life.

How do we live in the active work-a-day world and still maintain our sense of connection with God? De Sale observes that “we must attend to the business of life carefully, but without eagerness or over-anxiety.” When Jesus rebuked Martha, it was not for her serving “but giving way to disquiet and anxiety.”

He goes on to paint a picture for us of what anxiety of the much-ness and many-ness of life is like: “Flies harass us less by what they do than by reason of their multitude, and so great matters give us less disturbance than a multitude of small affairs. Accept the duties which some upon you quietly, and try to fulfill them methodically, one after another. If you attempt to do everything at once, or with confusion, you will only comber yourself with your own exertions, and by dint of perplexing your mind you will probably be overwhelmed and accomplish nothing.”

Our devotional times need to influence our daily life and work. If we have truly connected with our loving Lord during our time of Scripture reading and prayer, we need to actively bring that peace into all our activities. Summing it up de Sales exhorts: “In all your affairs lean solely on God’s Providence, by means of which alone your plans can succeed. Meanwhile, on your part work on in quiet cooperation with Him, and then rest satisfied.”

Deep Devotion and Service to Others
Genuine spiritual maturity consists of both a fervent pursuit of our personal relationship with God and a self-emptying service of those around us. No matter our place in life—whether young or old, student or parent, in Christian work or a secular job or retired—we all need to put our roots down as well as stretch our branches out toward others. The devout life is both vertical and horizontal. Our spiritual formation will be lopsided without both dimensions.

“Ponder Jacob’s ladder,” recommends de Sales, “it is a true picture of the devout life.” Just as we can go both directions on a ladder, we need to be “ascending by contemplation to a loving union with God,” as well as “descending by good deeds on behalf of our neighbor.” What a great invitation that is to us follow the two great commandments: loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Mk 12:29-31).

*All quotes are taken from the online free edition of Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life,

© 2013 Glenn E. Myers

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