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According to a report, 64% of Christian youths have underdeveloped faith, that is to say, most young believers do not have a deep, personal relationship with a loving God. Also, most Christian adults have poorly integrated faith. In a nutshell, they might have Bible knowledge but do not extend their love, mercy, and justice to others well enough.
Although Christians often talk about spiritual formation, they do not know and practice the essence of it. So, what is spiritual formation?
By studying the key Bible passages about spiritual formation, the three key words are formation, disciple, and maturity.
First of all, formation is about the reception of Biblical truths and the appropriate responses. In short, continual transformations are needed (2 Cor. 3:18).
Secondly, it is about discipleship, that is, an active following of Jesus Christ. Christians should do what Christ did on earth. Discipleship is not simply achieved by memorising Scripture verses and going to church. Life transformation is required as we claim to be followers of Christ.
Thirdly, the essence of spiritual formation is all about spiritual maturity. As Christians, we should aim for spiritual maturity.
As you can see, spiritual formation is a must for Christians. Thus, I have come up with an acronym of HEART for it. “H” stands for “Hear”. “E” represents “Examine”. “A” is “Abdicate”. “R” denotes “Regroup”. “T” is “Trust”.
1) H: “Hear”
The Starting Point of Spiritual Formation
Have you heard of Bruce Lee? In my days, all Asians and Westerners have heard about this late Chinese martial artist. Not only that, many young people imitated the moves of Bruce Lee, and they wanted to have muscular built bodies like him. If they started to learn martial arts and bodybuilding, the starting point is to listen to their coaches. First of all, the starting point of spiritual formation is to hear the divine words.
4 “Hear, O Israel: dThe Lord our God, the Lord is one.2 5 You eshall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And fthese words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 gYou shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 hYou shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 iYou shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) Jews call the Bible passage of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 Shema. This passage begins with “Hear”, that is “Shema” in Hebrew. The pious Jews recite it in the morning and evening daily. Not only that, it is also used as a bedtime prayer and a prayer before death. When Christ was asked about the “greatest commandment,” He quoted the Shema (Mark 12:29). The central teaching of Shema is not mandatory obedience but love. Love is not simply an emotion or feeling, but it is also an action. God expects His people to respond to His love with responsive actions. If we loved God, we would willingly listen to His teachings.
Head Knowledge and Heart Knowledge
Many evangelical churches stress on biblical preaching and teaching and it is a good thing. For sure, we need to have the correct head knowledge, but at the same time, we need to have heart knowledge as well. Head knowledge is all about information, but heart knowledge is experiential knowledge. In simple terms, we need to put the biblical teachings into practice and experience the truths that we hear.
The Mistakes of Many Christians
Many believers like to hear inspiring sermons and that is crucial. However, simply hearing great messages without any positive responses would not do us any good.
The Resolution of Christians Today
Dear Christian friends, what is your resolution today? I sincerely wish you would spend more time reading the Bible, so that you can have more time hearing God’s voice.
The Resolution of Non-believers Today
According to the Gospel of John, 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God loved you so much that He offered His Son to us, so that we would have eternal life. If you were a non-believer, after hearing these words, what would your response be today?
2) E: “Examine”
Checking Up on Himself
A pharmacist overheard a young boy talking on a pay telephone. The boy asked the man on the phone if he needed to hire a lawn boy. Apparently, the man told the boy that he has already hired a lawn boy cutting grass for him. However, the boy still went on to ask if he were pleased with the lawn boy’s service. After hanging up the phone, the pharmacist told the boy that he was sorry that he didn’t get the job. However, the boy told the man that he had already got the job but he simply wanted to check up on himself.
The Reminder of Jeremiah
In Lamentations, the Prophet Jeremiah said, 40 Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord! (Lamentations 3:40) The prophet reminded the readers to do self-examination, that is to see if they had departed from God’s ways. If they did, they should return to the Lord once again.
The Second Step of Spiritual Formation
The second step of spiritual formation is to “Examine” our faith. When we have heard God’s words, we should do self-examination accordingly.
There is a proverb in the business world that merchants who take no inventories would finally become bankrupt. Similarly, Christians ought to check up on their spiritual condition from time to time, or else, we might go spiritual bankrupt one day.
Listened the Sermons for Someone Else
On many Sunday mornings, we might have heard something like this, “The pastor preached well today. It would be good if so-and-so were here.” Sadly, many believers listened the sermons for someone else but not for their own wellbeing. Instead of listening the sermons for others, we should respond to it accordingly. Let’s have a resolution today, that is, to listen to every single message and do self-examination right away.
Your Love for The Lord
Do you love the Lord, I mean, not in the past, but now? You might have loved the Lord in the past, but how about now?
Peace in Your Heart
Do you have peace in your heart now? The Lord Jesus says, 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Dear friends, are you loaded with burdens now? For sure, we all have some sort of burden, but the heaviest burden is the burden of sin. Jesus Christ has already accomplished the salvation, and all of His followers would find rest for their souls. I pray that all of us would have divine peace in our hearts now.
3) A: “Abdicate”
A Greek philosopher said, “Know yourself.” A Roman emperor said, “Control yourself.” Other orient sages said, “Give yourself.” Jesus said, “Deny yourself.”
The Calling of Christ
Here are the words of Jesus Christ recorded in Luke 9:23-25. 23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? (NIV 2011)
New Testament Background
As to the bystanders, they understood the message of Jesus well that crucifixion was a horrible capital punishment. Roman prisoners bound for crucifixion were forced to carry the horizontal cross beam to the place of execution and they were nailed to the cross subsequently.
In verse 23, there are three commands: first, “deny themselves”. Second, “take up”. Third, “follow”. The New Testament is written in Greek. The verb “follow” is a present imperative, meaning we must follow Christ on a daily basis.
The Third Element of Spiritual Formation
Before we became believers, we were kings and queens of our own lives. In a nutshell, we all had our thrones. The third element of spiritual formation is abdication. We must abdicate our thrones to Jesus Christ, so that He can truly be the Lord of our lives. The meaning of “deny themselves” is the denial of their own interests and needs. Taking up our cross means that we want to leave our comfort zones for the sake of faith in Christ, and that is also an action of abdication. We are the bosses of our lives, and the action of following Christ daily is the indication of changed ownership. The three commands point at the same direction: abdication. In simple terms, if we wanted to grow spiritually, we must abdicate our thrones to Jesus Christ.
Two Types of Ministry Attitudes
There are two types of ministry attitudes. The first one is self-seeking. Instead of serving God, we serve our own interests and serve for our own benefits. As to many onlookers, we might look good, but in fact, we know we are not serving God but ourselves. The second kind of attitude is God-centered. In short, we serve for God’s Kingdom and God’s glory.
Many people are not happy with their lives. Some said, “I don’t have money.” Well, you have money all right, but what you really meant was that “you don’t have enough money.” If you have financial concerns, please abdicate your throne to Jesus, and ask Him to take care of your financial situation. If you have health and other issues, submit your life to Jesus, and let Him take over your problems. Perhaps, your situation remains the same after abdication, but God would grant you the strength and courage to face your problems. The key to a joyous life is abdicating your thrones to Jesus Christ.
A Challenge to Non-believers
As human beings, we all like to the controller of our life. However, we simply cannot control everything. Dear friends, would you like to abdicate your throne to Christ and let Him take control now?
4) R: “Regroup”
A Classic Case of Regrouping
What are the headline stories in 2016? In that year, Brexit shocked the whole world. Also, in the same year, against all odds, Leicester City Football Club won the Premier League. These were the headline stories around the Globe last year. In the previous 2014-2015 season, Leicester played badly and was almost relegated. What brought the amazing change last year? Regrouping! The new manager came in and regrouped the struggling team. Similarly, Christians have to regroup our spiritual condition from time to time.
Secrets to Spiritual Formation
What are the secrets to spiritual formation? One of the key elements is regrouping.
The Plead of Apostle Paul
In Romans 12:1-2, the Apostle Paul made a plead to the Roman believers. He said, 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. The Apostle Paul encouraged believers to offer themselves to God as living sacrifices, so that they would experience the renewing of their minds, and would have the ability to understand God’s will consequently. Offer oneself as a living sacrifice is never easy. If a believer did not forsake his or her rights, he or she would not offer himself or herself as a living sacrifice. Offering ourselves as a living sacrifice is regrouping your spiritual life. When we do so, we would experience spiritual renewal.
After becoming a Christian, I have offered myself to God repeatedly. However, when I was a new Christian, I struggled to offer myself to God as a living sacrifice. When God called me to become a preacher, I refused because I did not want to give up the lifestyle that I liked. Finally, the love of God won me over, thus I willingly offered myself to Him as His servant.
For sure we cannot change our past. The things that we did and the choices that we made were unchangeable. All we can do is to regroup our life now. Are you pleased with your past choices and old lifestyle? Let’s make a difference by offering yourself to God as a living sacrifice today.
5) T: “Trust”
The Last Key to Spiritual Formation
Finally, the last key to spiritual formation is to “Trust” in God. The beginning of our Christian journey begins with faith in Christ, thus we have become God’s children. Furthermore, by putting trust in God in our Christian walk, we would attain further spiritual growth.
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
The Fruits of Trusting God
What fruits would Christians produce in trusting God? According to Romans 15:13, by putting trust in God, we would have joy, peace, and hope (Rom. 15:13). Also, by trusting in God, we would have the strength to withstand the assaults of Satan (Eph. 6:16; 1 Peter 5:9), and we would become more like Christ (Rom. 8:29). In conclusion, by trusting in God, we would deepen our love for God and human beings, and that is the goal of spiritual formation.
Faith and God’s Power
Faith and God’s power are closely connected. According to the Gospels, as people simply put their faith in Christ, they witnessed the manifestations of God’s power.
American theologian Bernard Ramm says, “Little faith brings the soul to heaven, where great faith brings heaven into the soul.” When we believed Jesus Christ as our Lord, our sins are all forgiven, and this is little faith according to Ramm. So, what is great faith? Great faith is when believers trust in God in whatever circumstances, thus we would experience heaven, that is God’s presence.
Heart Condition and Circumstances
As human beings, it is natural that we do not feel good all the time. From time to time, it is normal and acceptable that we are down; however, it is not good for our wellbeing if we carried on like this. As a pastor, I do have negative thoughts and feel unhappy at times. On many occasions, I told God about my unfavorable situations and asked Him for help, and most of the time, He responded to my requests immediately. Supernaturally, I could feel the divine peace and strength that God granted so that I could face my troubles. My current circumstances did not change a bit, but my heart condition had completely changed. Like Dr. Ramm said, “Little faith brings the soul to heaven, where great faith brings heaven into the soul.”
Dear believers, how can we grow spiritually? There are five elements, and the first step is to hear the teachings of the Lord. Second, we must examine our spiritual condition on a regular basis. Third, we must abdicate our thrones to God. Fourth, as followers of Christ, we must regroup our spiritual direction constantly. Finally, we must trust in God with a simple heart.