Q & A
Spiritual formation refers to the process by which our interiors are shaped be like Christ (Gal. 2:20, 4:19, Eph. 3:16-17). Just as Christ reflected the image of God perfectly (John 12:45), we are called to be conformed to His image (Ro. 8:29). Robert Mulholland defines it this way: Spiritual formation is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others (from Invitation to a Journey).
Spiritual Formation is often thought of as a set of practices or disciplines. Yet that is not the full story. Spiritual disciplines and practices are a means of intentionally engaging in relationship with God, so that our presence and responsiveness to God and His interactions grow to resemble that of Jesus Christ’s.
Ultimately, the goal of Spiritual Formation and its practices is to cultivate obedience to Christ and His Word so that we learn to live our lives as Jesus would if He were in our circumstances. Spiritual formation is important because it uses practices to allow an individual to join God in His work of transforming the soul, growing our awareness of the loving presence of God and our responsiveness to it.
See also our article on spiritual formation.
The Bible forms the basis of the spiritual life for the disciple of Jesus. Foundationally, it introduces us to the triune God in whose image we were created and are being re-formed. As we accurately appropriate its contents, enter its worldview, and live in interaction with God as provided by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, we move toward transformation and conformity to the image of Christ.
Secondly, spiritual formation principles as outlined in the Scriptures provide the basis for healthy spiritual disciplines. As the Bible claims, it is profitable to make the man of God adequate and equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Looking at Scripture we can find many practices that are either commanded (such as meditating on God’s word), or modeled (we can follow the example of Christ in retreating to spend time with our Father). It also provides a framework which can help us approach suggested practices that don’t fall into either of those categories with discernment.
For more, see our article on Handling God's Word.
Feelings and emotions are incredibly important, but not ultimate in the spiritual life. Both Jesus and Paul (as well as others) use feelings and emotions as information regarding the spiritual life and its progress to Christlikeness (Matt. 15, 23; Ro. 6-8; Gal. 5, Col. 3:1-17, Eph. 4:17-24, etc.).
The spiritual life is not based on emotions, but emotions can indicate areas in need of transformation revealing heart attachments that keep us from conforming to Christ’s image and imitating Him. Awareness and appropriate understanding of emotions and the role they play is essential to sanctification.
The Bible addresses the interior life more than 3,000 times in Scripture, indicating that the ‘heart’ (which includes mind, emotion, will) holds primacy over behavior. It is the motivation behind our actions. Current brain science also indicates that emotions and thought are not independent of each other, but that mind-emotion-will are intertwined. Therefore, it is essential to engage the whole of man’s interior, including the emotions, in the process of spiritual formation.
The key is to focus on what God is doing in the emotions we are experiencing, rather than on resolving the emotional issue. Consequently, spiritual formation does not seek our happiness (calm emotional state), but rather our holiness (right relationship with God). As a we conform more and more to Christlikeness, our emotional experience will become more and more consistent with the Word (John 10:10).
Spiritual Formation done biblically supports both evangelism and mission. First by emphasizing obedience to the biblical witness, which automatically fosters Kingdom expansion. (Gal. 1:17-18) Additionally, growing as a disciple of Jesus flows from maturing in Eternal Life, i.e. knowing God (John 17:3). The experience of growing in God’s love generally impels the disciple to invite others into life with Christ in His Kingdom. This not only holds at its heart evangelism and mission, but also the multiplication of disciples because the experience of a reconciled relationship with God is so rich.
Christian spiritual direction finds its roots and safeguards in the Bible. The focus is obedience to Christ through the Spirit’s interaction with a person in light of biblical norms. The Bible provides the way of understanding life with God and the Holy Spirit is the true director. Both director and directee practice surrender to the Spirit’s leading throughout their time together. The human spiritual director’s role is to provide an atmosphere of safety and love in which attention may be given to the Holy Spirit for obedience to His Word and life in the Kingdom of God. The directee brings the circumstances of their life (interior, exterior and history) to be opened to the presence of God for His interaction and direction.
See also our article on spiritual direction.
See also our definition article on Spiritual Direction.
All spiritual directors associated with GEM subscribe to the ESDA’s Code of Ethics. Generally spiritual directors listed on the GEM Spiritual Life site are members of the ESDA. Should you desire a spiritual director outside of GEM’s context, please feel free to search for qualified spiritual directors on the ESDA’s website.
"An ethical spiritual director is always seeking to have healthy and appropriate relationships with others, including God, oneself, one’s directees, and others in the community and the world. Love is our highest calling and command (Matthew 22:36-40) and all other ethical considerations should flow from this main principle. However, in any personal interaction where one person possesses training and experience in an area that another does not, there is an imbalance of power that makes both parties vulnerable to risk: the risk of abusing that power and of being abused. By outlining the following ethical guidelines, we seek to help spiritual directors to behave appropriately in their ministry, to recognize and to be prepared for ethical situations that may arise, and to consider the condition of their own deceptive hearts (Jeremiah 17:9) as they seek to practice this ministry of love."
-From the ESDA's Code of Ethics
Spiritual Direction differs from other helping professions because it takes people from “normal” living to Kingdom living by helping them recognize the Spirit’s leading. The trajectory of spiritual direction for the directee is practiced or lived Christlikeness through paying attention to the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Gary Moon says, “For the most part, spiritual directors work with individuals who are already living close to the middle of the normal curve, but desire to become abnormal—abnormally loving, peaceful, joyful, abnormally aware of God, and his loving presence. In spiritual direction, the goal is to accompany directees on a journey toward normal kingdom living—far from the center of the world’s normal curve.”
Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls by Gary W. Moon and David G. Benner (p 23)