• Spiritual Formation

    Posted by Irena

    31 October, 2013

    Last week, Graeme Anderson, lead pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Crow’s Nest, came into the Micah office to speak at our quarterly intern input session. His subject matter: spiritual formation.

    I have to admit, I didn’t think that it would that beneficial to sit and talk about spiritual formation, as opposed to just allowing it to happen naturally. However, taking that step back and critically analysing the method and consequence of my own spiritual formation proved to be not just powerful, but vital to the existence of any positive formation within my own life, present or future.

    Graeme had us consider the three basic questions any human seeks to answer to form their personal philosophy: ‘Who am I?’— A question of identity; ‘Where am I?’— A question of location; and ‘Do I belong?’— A question of worth. The answers we accept to these three questions make up our most foundational belief system, our narrative.

    Every single person is receiving spiritual formation—though they may not necessarily call it that—the question is where they are getting it from? If we don’t consciously answer those questions for ourselves, we will subconsciously allow others to answer it for us, and basing foundational beliefs on an ever-changing culture is always risky business. 

    Lets look at the question, ‘Who am I?’ for instance. By what culture and society might say, today I am a successful person because I am pursuing the ‘proper’ goals for this stage of my life; my friends and family are still offering their love and support; and, at its most rudimentary level, I am able to meet my basic needs. Tomorrow, any one of those things can be taken away from me—which is not as implausible as I’d like to imagine—and my entire identity is shaken. 

    The alternative?

    The bible offers answers to those questions that provide for a solid foundation:

    Who am I? I am a created being, created for a specific purpose and with thoughtful intention.

    Where am I? I was placed in this time and space for a specific reason. I have an important mission to accomplish within my sphere of influence.

    Do I belong? I am unconditionally loved and pursued every moment of my life, regardless of my thoughts and decisions (the things that culture would use to define me conditionally).

    Jesus says ‘Come’ sixteen times in the Gospels. He doesn’t mean for us to just come to him once and we are saved. Salvation is something we work out for the rest of our lives (Philippians 2:12), asking Jesus to continually remind us of his truth. If we don’t do this daily, then our culture is more than happy to remind us daily what it thinks we should be defined by.

    Culture, even (or especially) church culture, often encourages me to focus on my behaviour and relationships in pursuit of positive spiritual formation. 

    Graeme drew for us a flowchart that pinpoints the error in that focus:

    Narrative => Ethic => Behaviour => Relationships

    If we base our narrative on society’s perception of our behaviour and relationships, the above flowchart actually becomes a cycle, in which we continually reassess our identity based on society’s feedback on our relationships. Because it is an inconsistent narrative, it causes inconsistent behaviour and success in relationships.

    Jesus, however, allows me to focus only on my narrative, to continually strengthen the foundation. The narrative he provides informs a selfless and loving ethic, which encourages generous and compassionate behaviour, which builds healthy and strong relationships. I don’t have to try to make myself more generous and compassionate. I don’t have to worry about my relationships succeeding. I only need to truly allow Jesus to answer those three questions for me, to believe in them fully, to meditate on them. The rest is sure to follow.

    Practical ways to ensure positive spiritual formation:

    Graeme insisted it was as elementary as studying my bible, prayer, confession, fasting—the soul-shaping habits. It all sounded too simple in the end. These were things I’d known to do since my youth days, but now I realised I should be doing them, not because church culture considered it positive behaviour, but because I knew it would strengthen my narrative and ethic, thereby allowing me to be free in the expression of my behaviour and in the confidence of my relationships.

    When I look at my work at Micah Challenge through this perspective, it enables me to see how far reaching my influence as a Christian has the potential to be. I become free to stop pursuing social justice for the sake of reflecting positive Christian behaviour and at the same time confident that my behaviour will reflect selfless and loving characteristics so long as I consciously feed my narrative with God-answers. One is fear-based changed, the other is freedom-based change. One is short-term, emotion-based advocacy, the other is the formation of a life-long advocate.


    Irena Sagan is the education and resources intern at Micah Challenge.