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Invitation to a Journey - part 3

This is part three of some excerpts and reflections from "Invitation to a Journey: a road map for spiritual formation" by M. Robert Mulholland Jr.

His proposed definition of Christian spiritual formation is:
"Spiritual formation is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others".   All elements of this definition are significant.  Part two looked at 'the process' and 'of being conformed'.  This part looks at the last to elements

Often people have the idea that the image of Christ is something alien to human beings, something strange that God wants to add on to our life, something imposed upon us from the outside that doesn't really fit us.  In reality however, the image of Christ is the fulfillment of the deepest hungers of the human heart for wholeness. (p34)

But Paul indicates that God didn't just purpose us into being.  God purposes us into a particular kind of being - that we might be holy and blameless before God in love.  We were created to be whole (holy) in the nature of our being and to be persons of complete integrity (blameless) in our doing.  (p36)

The process of being conformed to the image of Christ takes place primarily at the points of our unlikeness to Christ's image. ..... But this can be uncomfortable.  We would much rather have our spiritual formation focus on those places where we are pretty well along the way.  How much of our devotional life and our worship are designed simply to affirm, for ourselves, others and perhaps even God, those areas of our lives that we think are already well along the way?  (p37)

Since the formation takes place at the points of unlikeness there are two dynamics at work.  The first is confrontation (sometimes gentle, always in grace) - through the bible, preacher, friend, enemy etc, God probes us in areas where we are not like Christ.  We usually find that this is not just an outer garment but tied up with who we are.  It is where we are called to take up our cross.

Our cross is not that cantankerous person we have to deal with ... our employer...neighbour or work colleague.  Nor is our cross the difficulties and infirmities that the flow of life brings to us beyond our control.  Our cross is the point of our unlikeness to the image of Christ, where we must die to self in order to be raised by God into wholeness of life in teh image of Christ right there at that point.

The second dynamic in holistic spiritual formation is consecration.  We must come to the point of saying yes to God at each point of unlikeness.  We must give God permission to do the work God wants to do with us right there because, transformation will not be forced on us. (p38)

Spiritual disciplines are a way that we release ourselves to God and open ourselves to Him to allow His transforming work in our lives.

The fourth element in our definition of spiritual formation, for the sake of others, is the one we must never forget.  Everything that God has done, is doing and ever will do in our lives to conform us to the image of Christ is not so that we may someday be set in a display case in heaven as trophies of grace.  All of God's work to conform us to the image of Christ has as its sole purpose that we might become what God created us to be in relationship with God and with others. (p40)

After all, Jesus is one who gave himself totally for others - it is central to who He is!  If we don't have this:
What we have is some kind of pathological formation that is very privatized and individualized, a spiritualized form of self-actualization.  Although such forms of spirituality may be very appealing to look at on the outside, quite comfortable in their easy conformity to the values and dynamics of our culture, they are like a whitewashed tomb that has deadness on the inside if they are not life-giving, healing and redemptive for others (p41)

If you want a good litmus test of your spiritual growth, simply examine the nature and quality of your relationships with others.  Are you more loving, more compassionate, more patient, more understanding, more caring, more giving, more forgiving that you were a year ago?

Jesus inseparably joined loving God with loving others.

Our relationships with others are not only the testing ground of our spiritual life but also the places where our growth toward wholeness happens.  There is a temptation to think that our spiritual growth takes place in the privacy of oru personal relationship with God and then, once it is sufficiently developed, we can export it into our relationships with others and 'be Christian' with them.  But holistic spirituality, the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, takes place in the midst of our relationships with others, not apart from them.

We tend to focus on God and ourselves.  But our primary focus must be trinitarian - God, self, others.  And we need to see every relationship as having the potential of becoming a place of transformation with God.


David Wanstall, 26/02/2009