An Introduction to Christian Spiritual Practices: conforming to the image of Christ
Do you ever feel like something is missing in your walk with God?
Have you ever had the longing to go deeper in your faith, but you just don’t know where to begin?
If you answered yes to either of those questions, you, my friend, are not alone!
I’ve been in that place many times, where I found myself just going through the motions – going to Church, having my quiet time, trying to concentrate on prayer – but on the inside, I felt weary and empty.
Those dry seasons in our faith, when the ache for more of God feels impossible to fill, can feel incredibly discouraging and lonely.
The truth that God’s presence goes with us wherever we go can be hard to hold onto when we feel stuck.
And in today’s world, with its anxieties and distractions, and unknowns, it can be so difficult to live day by day with an awareness of God’s presence with us.
The Invitation to Abide
But despite the chaos of today and the uncertainties that wait for us tomorrow, Jesus’ invitation to abide in Him – to remain rooted in relationship – is constant, no matter what season of life we find ourselves in.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”John 15:4-5 (ESV)
The word abide means to follow, hold onto, observe, and obey.
Jesus isn’t just asking us to fix our eyes on Him on Sundays or in the mornings when we have our quiet time. He doesn’t just want our attention when life is great and easy, or on the opposite end of that – when life feels heavy and hard.
He extends the invitation to remain in Him, to abide in Him, throughout each moment of the day and every season of life.
To accept this invitation means to let Him lead. It means trusting Him in the face of our fears and choosing the gift of His grace when we feel like being critical of ourselves and others.
To abide means to open ourselves up to a constant, moment by moment, relationship with our Creator. It’s living with an awareness that no matter where we go, no matter what we do, His presence follows after us while at the same time going before us.
As I said earlier though, with the world we live in today, with all the different things and people that pull at us continuously, it can be easy to lose that connection with our Creator.
The God who saw our unformed bodies and created us using the very breath in His divine lungs understands the temptation to get caught up in the rat race of life. One of the many beautiful mysteries of God is that He knows what it’s like to be human.
And because God knows what it’s like to be human, He also knows what it feels like to be weary and worn out – to wander through wilderness seasons, hungry and hollowed out.
The invitation to abide isn’t meant to add to the weight of our already overwhelmed souls. The invitation to abide is meant to lift that weariness and make our souls lighter as we learn to walk to the rhythm of God’s grace.
I believe that God knew we would have a hard time remembering to look for Him throughout each day. And I also believe He provides ways for us to commune with Him that are both simple and powerful.
An Introduction to Christian Spiritual Practices
Spiritual practices or spiritual rhythms can be extremely life-giving and helpful if you are longing for something more in your relationship with God. If you are looking for ways to deepen and enrichen your connection with your Creator, then spiritual practices can act as the stepping stones you need to get your heart and soul postured towards more of God.
Spiritual practices, or Christian spiritual practices, are specific activities you engage in to deepen your relationship with God. Spiritual practices bring inner awareness to the status of your soul as you search your heart and invite God to do the same.
They’re a way of naming your longings and your desires in God’s presence as you uncover more and more of yourself as God made you to be.
Spiritual Practices Point Toward Spiritual Formation
Spiritual practices point us toward spiritual formation, which is the constant, messy, non-linear process of becoming more like God. God longs to transform all of who we are; body, mind, and soul, and that’s the goal of Christian spiritual formation.
Portland Seminary defines Christian spiritual formation as,
“The process of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ for the glory of God and for the sake of others (II Corinthians 3:17-18). The focus of spiritual formation is the Holy Spirit, who guides the ongoing journey towards union with God. The response is submission. Formation is an organic, life-long, and holistic process involving right thinking (orthodoxy), right behaviors (orthopraxy), and right feelings (orthopathy) of individuals and communities.”Portland Seminary
Matthew 16:24-26 tells us that this is Christ’s will for us, to look more like Him and less like our fleshly selves,
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (ESV)
He longs to get underneath our skin and into our souls so all that’s broken can be made whole again.
And I love that the invitation isn’t to carry our crosses alone in Matthew 16, but to carry our crosses and follow Jesus.
Even the definition from Portland Seminary on the topic of Christian spiritual formation points to the Holy Spirit as being the One we depend on for transformation. I think it’s important to note as well the words they used to describe this process; organic, life-long, holistic.
The process of spiritual formation is the act of taking the narrow road that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 7:13-14,
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (NLT)
It’s choosing submission and surrender over control; hope over despair; joy over jealousy. And I believe that it’s also understanding that in our humanness, Christ dwells amidst the messiness of it all. It starts with accepting that we are in need of a Savior, laying down our pride, and surrendering to His process within us.
As Robert Mulholland says,
“Our cross is the point of our unlikeness to the image of Christ, where we must die to self in order to be raised to God into the wholeness of life in the image of Christ. . . . So the process of being conformed to the image of Christ takes place right there at that point of our unlikeness to Christ.”
Christian spiritual formation isn’t possible without a relationship with God. It’s through knowing Him, familiarizing ourselves with His voice, and turning our hearts towards His that true transformation begins.
And Christian spiritual practices are one way in which we can choose to abide deeper into Christ so as to be formed to the image of Him.
I love how Ruth Haley Barton in her book, Sacred Rhythms, describes the purpose of spiritual practices,
“I cannot transform myself, or anyone else for that matter. What I can do is create the conditions in which spiritual transformation can take place, by developing and maintaining a rhythm of spiritual practices that keep me open and available to God.”Sacred Rhythms
This is the purpose of Christian spiritual practices and rhythms; to create space in our lives and souls that keep us constantly open and available to God.
Because it’s in our openness, our vulnerability before Abba – our Heavenly Father who cherishes and loves us unconditionally – that we are renewed, transformed, and made whole.
Over the next few months, I’d like to dive deeper into the Christian spiritual life together – where regulations and laws fall to the wayside and relationship, truth, and authenticity take center stage.
This is where our minds catch up with our hearts and all of who we are responds to the loving invitation of God…
“Hold onto me,” He whispers as He leans in close, “Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”Matthew 11:29-30, NLT
Abiding is really just beholding and being aware that that’s what you’re doing. It’s making yourself aware of God’s ever-present presence with you in the everyday, and I want to peel back the layers of different Christian spiritual practices so that, together, we can grow our roots deeper into Christ.
Spiritual formation is a constant, continual, non-linear process that requires total dependency on God.
And the purpose of Christian spiritual practices and rhythms is to teach us how to depend on God amidst a very independent-of-God world.
A Journey Into the Christian Spiritual Life
I would love for you to take this journey with me over the next coming months as we explore different Christian spiritual practices such as:
- Breath prayer
- Spiritual direction
- Centering prayer
- Lectio Divina
- The daily examen
I may add to this list or take away from it, and we may bounce around a bit from one topic to the next. But the point of the next few months is to go deeper in our spiritual lives with the Holy Spirit, and journey towards becoming like the tree planted by the water in Jeremiah 17:7-8,
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (NIV)
Abiding is beholding and beholding helps us draw closer in connection with our Creator. And this is my prayer for you, friend, as you take this journey with me over the next few months.
I pray that you would approach each practice or rhythm with an open heart, ready and willing to receive more of God with you.
I pray that as you uncover more of your soul in the presence of God, wholeness, and healing would find you.
And I pray most of all, you would remember that grace carries you, always.