The Flow of Spiritual Formation
There is a powerful process at work as our inner lives, shaped and sculpted by God, overflow into all of our other relationships. In fact, it is a serious mistake to think of spiritual formation simply and only as time alone with God. It is true that our culture seriously underestimates the value of silence and solitude. The world around us will not help us to slow down and will not teach us to contemplate, meditate, ponder, or even think. But still, these solitary experiences are not the end. They are the prelude to movement, to relationship and to service. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his classic work, Life Together:
Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray … Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray.
And so, there is movement in spiritual formation. There is flow from our inner lives. This is why when Jesus was asked to name the single greatest commandment, he in essence said, “You have asked me one question, but I cannot give you just one answer. I must give you two.” And he responded with two commandments because he knew that loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength would unavoidably impact every other relationship. Passion for God will overflow into compassion for people. Reaching up is the power, the energy and the very fuel for reaching in and out.
Scripture is full of examples of the flow of spiritual formation:
We Are Forgiven … So We Forgive
“Forgive as the Lord forgave you”
— Colossians 3:13
We Receive Comfort … So We Give Comfort
“Praise be to … the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort”
— 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
We Are Taught … So We Teach
“You welcomed the message … The Lord’s message rang out from you”
— 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8
We Are Reconciled … So We Reconcile
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
— 2 Corinthians 5:18
We Receive Grace … So We Extend Grace
“Faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms”
— 1 Peter 4:10
We Are Served … So We Serve
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”
— John 13:14
And so, to ask about the value of spiritual formation is like asking if our bodies need food or if our cars need fuel. Relationships, family, fellowship, service, generosity, justice, ministry, sacrifice — they all need fuel. And the purest, most powerful fuel is generated through the presence of God in our lives. God heals and cares for our souls so that we can extend his love and compassion to those around us.