This is what I know about spiritual formation (so far)

by Elizabeth

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An Anglican priest ruined it for me. He ruined the phrase “enter the presence of God.”

I was at a Lenten prayer service last year when he said, “Let us become present to the Lord, for He is always present to us.” I knew what he was saying was true, for I’d learned it in other areas of my life (Psalm 139 anyone?). So what he said was more a vocabulary lesson than a course correction.

God is always present and available to us, and I can no longer say with integrity that we “enter the Lord’s presence” during a worship service. In fact, now when I hear that phrase from others, I start to tune out. What I can say with integrity is that we can choose to become present to the Lord.

So with that in mind, here’s everything I know about becoming present to the Lord. In other words, here’s everything I know about spiritual formation (so far).

 

1. Regular, private devotional times with God.

I’ve talked about this a lot before and how it’s changed my life, so I won’t rehash it here. I’ll just summarize my low-pressure method for cultivating intimacy with God:

  • Don’t feel guilty for short times with God
  • Don’t feel guilty if you can’t keep up with a fast-paced Bible-reading plan
  • Don’t feel guilty for deviating from your plans
  • Don’t feel guilty about skipping times.

 

2. Meeting with other believers for corporate worship.

The Church has been key to my spiritual growth. I go into a worship service expecting God to speak to me through songs, sermons, and prayers. And He does.

I’d like to quote Misty Edwards here on the mystery of corporate worship: “Musical worship involves a physical voice, physical sound waves that actually move through the air and strike your ear, go into your mind, into your emotions and spirit.” She also noted that “Musical worship is how the Body becomes One.”

I cannot downplay the importance of the Church in my spiritual life; neither can I downplay the importance of my private devotional life. I need both.

 

3. Small group Bible studies and other intimate forms of community.

I’ve talked about this before, but for years in the States I was part of a small ladies’ Bible study. I learned so much about life and faith from those (mostly older) women. They empathized with my struggles and prayed me through some of my darkest days. Most of what I know about Grace, I learned with them.

These days my teammates function as my small group. We share sorrows and joys together and pray for and support each other. I’m so thankful for people who listen to, accept, pray for, and advise the “real me.”

 

4. Getting counseling.

Sometimes personal devotionals, corporate worship, and talking with trusted people are enough to work through my issues; sometimes they are not. I’ve had several key breakthroughs in my life because of counselors (both licensed professional counselors and pastoral counselors), and I cannot overstate the importance of sometimes getting outside help. I would not be where I am today in my relationship with God and my relationship with others without the help and intervention of those counselors.

 

Well there you have it, everything I know about spiritual formation (so far). What would you add to my list?

How a Night Owl Woke Up to Mornings

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by Elizabeth

I have NEVER been a morning person. I have therefore never had a morning quiet time. I’ve tried afternoon, evening, and not-at-all, none of which worked long-term. About 6 months ago, something stirred inside me and I wanted more time with God.

My husband was already getting up an hour before everyone else while I stayed in bed, sometimes not even getting up in enough time to eat breakfast with the kids. (I told you I wasn’t a morning person!)

I knew I had to start small. I started with 10 minutes. Yes you read that right. 10 minutes before the kids are allowed out of bed. (Yes there is a rule about their wake time, and thankfully my kids are old enough to understand and obey it.) Even that was hard. I kept pushing back the alarm 5 or 10 minutes, and eventually got to 30 minutes with God. Yes, I would like more, and no, I haven’t been able to move it back any earlier. Yet.

Something that really helped me stick with an earlier wake time was not beating myself up if I missed a day. (That’s Grace, applied to time with God.) I know I can start again the next day. So I don’t let myself feel guilty if I miss a day. But if I miss a few days, I know I have to evaluate, because something’s off that needs tending.

And before, when I’ve tried Bible reading plans, if I missed a day, I would try to double up in order to catch up. I decided that wasn’t going to work long-term, so I don’t do catch up days. I either let myself skip, or stay behind. And I don’t let myself feel guilty if I land somewhere else in Scripture and detour from The Plan. Why should I? I’m still in God’s Word! (Yes, I used to feel guilty about detours — oh, the perfectionism that kills.)

Getting up earlier requires discipline in going to bed earlier, and let me tell you, I am STILL not great at this. I still stay up too late sometimes and have a hard time getting out of bed. My introvert self really needs quiet time with God in the morning. Ironically, when my introvert self has been “socialed out,” I’m too exhausted to get up in the morning, thereby thwarting the very healing I need. Too much social interaction interferes with my ability to hear from God, and I just have to accept that fact.

I think the surprising thing has been what has happened inside me since I made this commitment. Sometimes it doesn’t feel fruitful. But if I look back over the last several months, the fruit of peace and intimacy with God is clear to me. I’ve had lots of spiritual breakthroughs. I’ve fallen more in love with God and His Word. I’ve discovered I like reading it; it’s not just a duty anymore.

I remember taking teenagers in America to Acquire the Fire conference several years ago. Phil Joel, former bass player for the band Newsboys, was talking about dedicating his mornings to time with God. After several months of this, he remembers sitting across the breakfast table from his wife, realizing the changes God had made in him, his marriage, and his parenting, and saying, “It’s working, isn’t?”

I think that’s how I feel about my morning times with God. I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I skip and stay in bed. Sometimes I don’t get much out of it. Sometimes I read more than I pray. Sometimes I pray more than I read. Sometimes I sit and stew and worry. Other times I receive visions from God that impart deep, deep healing. All I know is that after several months of this, I have been changed, and getting up early is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

And then, recently, I came across these tips for night owls like me. I had implemented several of them myself in attempting to get up earlier and was excited to know other people thought they worked too. And I LOVE the title “Hello Mornings.” For someone who’s not a morning person, it’s hopeful and helpful to look at mornings through such a warm and friendly lens. I especially like tips #3, #4, #10, #11, and #13. I’m sharing the link in the hope it can help someone who’s struggling to get up in the morning with God.

*photo credit