Spiritual Formation – How We Mess It Up

There are four blind spots that mess up our view of spiritual formation—hindering our testimony and leaving us with a limited vision of Christlikeness. They not only cheat God, but they rob us as well. Recognizing these tendencies is important if we ever hope to develop a fuller, healthier vision of what is means to live like Jesus…

Complacency -- Far too often we are content in believing we are going to heaven and are only concerned with living at ease in Zion. When this happens, we settle for a performance-based spirituality that is satisfied with a saving faith and a manageable life. We are content with “good enough” Christianity and with what Dallas Willard calls “sin management.”

At other times, rather than embracing our brokenness and moving towards God, we run like Adam and Eve. We hide from God, believing change is not possible, and we allow shame and guilt to justify the distance. Regardless of what drives it, lethargy, blindness, or fear can keep us from moving toward growth.

Narrowing the Definition -- Another way we water down Christlikeness is when we attempt to define spiritual maturity in terms that are manageable and safe. Often this results in a definition that plays to our strengths and passions. It is based on some biblical truth but is not comprehensive enough… For example, a person who defines growth in terms of intellectual knowledge might pour herself into books and Bible studies as her marriage crumbles and her kids walk away…while an experiential person who regularly talks about how God is speaking to his heart may show a lack of discipline or even rationalize blatant moral sin by saying, “The Lord told me it was ok for me,” because of feelings and experiences he has interpreted as signs of the Lord’s favor...

Once we define spiritual maturity in terms we are comfortable with, either formally or informally, we can control it and, in some cases, perfect it. As a result, we look at ourselves in the mirror, pat ourselves on the back, and celebrate how mature and godly we are. We then avoid, rationalize, and continue to be in denial about the other issues in our lives that are broken and out of order.

Lack of Awareness -- Another area we struggle in is the ability or desire to honestly examine our lives. We are aware of our obvious problems, such as peeking at pornography, drinking too much at the Christmas party, or refusing to forgive our abusers. But we avoid self-reflection when it comes to the daily battles with our flesh that occur moment by moment, day after day.

This is marked by the lack of confession in many of our prayer times, and when we do confess things, we bring up the same things again and again, often addressing them in generalities: “Lord, forgive me for my pride and my greed.” This is a good start, but still shallow. When walking in a conscious awareness of our depravity, we ought to be more aware of the real-time sin we face—not just our external actions, but also the deeper issues of our hearts…

Perceiving Growth as Linear -- A final way to mess up our vision of growth involves how we view the process. We all understand that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But if you’ve ever hiked in the Rocky Mountains, you know that a straight line isn’t always possible, nor is it always best. Unfortunately, we’ve been conditioned to think that a straight line is the best way to achieve spiritual growth…so we try to develop a formula, program, or some incremental steps in order to help us reach our destination. Sometimes this does, in fact, help. The problem with this is that true learning usually occurs in waves and in more of a circular fashion than a linear one. We learn something, forget about it, struggle with it, and then it cycles back around. We then hopefully re-learn it or apply it in a deeper manner. Attempting linear growth leads us toward a formulaic, industrialized spirituality that is trite and shallow…

Each of these patterns limits our ability to grow to our full potential in Christ. They are often born out of a desire to control our spirituality, to justify ourselves, and to be able to positively compare ourselves to those around us. When limiting mindsets are systematically held to by a congregation, whether intentionally or not, they hinder individual growth, and they stunt the maturation of the entire congregation…

On the other hand, when we have a clear, overwhelming, vision for Christlikeness that ties everything to spiritual formation, we are laying the foundation for God to mature us as individuals and as a community. We’ll come to see we are just as broken and in need of God’s grace today as we’ve ever been. When this happens, humility is prevalent; spiritual growth is occurring, and God is pleased. And when God is pleased, God blesses. He will bless the work of our hands, and He will make us more like Himself in the process…

--from Chapter 9 of Dirt Matters: The Foundation for a Healthy, Vibrant, and Effective Congregation

Next week, I will offer some insights from Chapter 10: “Envisioning Your Harvest.”