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Discipleship or spiritual formation?


Just had an interesting conversation with an old friend just as she was about to depart from where I am staying.  When she asked me what kind of training my wife and I do, I told her that my area was spiritual formation and/or spiritual direction.  “Do you mean discipleship?”, she asked, as in the training the Navs give.   How do you answer such a question in a few minutes? This is not the first time I have had this conversation.  Here is what I started to say plus, plus.

The assumption for most of us growing up in the evangelical church is that if we just read our Bible and pray every day, we will grow, grow, grow. Right?   Well, I think for a lot of people, reading the Bible is just not getting it done in terms of leading to a spiritual intimacy with God.  I think that I could summarize what I am trying to do is to walk with people in their journey with God and to help them enjoy their relationship with God.

Perhaps using the metaphor of journey for the spiritual life changes the way we view things.  We never arrive–yet we are always arriving?  We recognize that we all journey differently and so we should consider personality types as we journey with God.  We are on a journey with God but also with other pilgrims.  As our life and environment change, we may need to travel differently and growth will not always look the same.

One thing that we always need is input from the Word but the best way to get that will be different for each one of us.  I personally love the traditional discipleship model of quiet, reflective reading and study of the Word, combined with Scripture memory and prayer.  But, is it possible that may not be the best way for everyone?  That is why I tend to avoid the use of “quiet time” or “devotional time” to describe my time alone with God.  Perhaps there is an awareness that God is present in all of my life and I am to be aware of his presence and to enjoy it 24/7 not just during an hour in the morning. That is not to say that people ever said that we were not to live our life as an integrated whole under the Lordship of Christ.  But, for many of us it just didn’t work out that way.

I suppose the biggest change in my thinking has been in the area of seeking to help people enjoy their relationship with God.  Maybe this reflects a narcissistic tendency in me?  But, have we not been invited to enjoy (in some way, at some level) the fellowship between Father, Son and Spirit?  Perhaps that is why I enjoyed reading The Shack so much.  Although flawed from the moment anytime someone tries to depict relationships within the Trinity, I think William Young is onto something as he describes the comfortable and genuine relationships that Mack observes and participates in during the book.

That is not to say that there will always be felt enjoyment or consolations in our enjoyment with God.  God may have taught me far more in the times when I only experienced the seeming absence of God or desolations.  Sometimes, we the main thing is to keep on the journey when the way around us is dark.  Well, many have written on this eloquently and I won’t even attempt to do so here.  The point I am trying to make is that we are always on a grace-filled journey with God.

I have learned and grown so much over recent years and am grateful for the many spiritual friends and mentors and yes, spiritual directors that have helped me in my journey with the Lord Jesus.  As I try to honestly reflect on what is happening in my ruach journey, may this blog encourage a few others fellow-sojourners!

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  1. May 23, 2009 at 1:15 am

    Thanks, interesting.

  2. wayne
    May 27, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Deb and spent last Thursday evening and Friday with Ruth Barton. Very enlightening time. Validates what you are thinking about the distinction between discipleship and spiritual formation as it relates to role f the Bible.

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