Spiritual Formation in the Pandemic

In this pandemic, we’ve seen racist police officers kill innocent Black men — thinking they’re doing their job of public service. We’ve seen raging protestors loot stores, burn buildings, and kill innocent police officers and others — doing this in the name of social justice.

In both cases, people’s beliefs and commitments to do good were not enough to enable them to be loving and peaceful in a crisis.

Other people in the pandemic are too fearful of COVID-19 to leave their house. Or abusing alcohol to cope with quarantine, job loss, or family stress. Still others — including some pastors we talk with — are overworking and burning out. Anxiety, alcohol dependence, and overworking are spiritual formations.

We’re all getting a spiritual formation. The question is what is forming you?

Dallas Willard defines spiritual formation for the Christ-follower as, “The Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself” (See Renovation of the Heart).

Notice that spiritual formation focuses on the Spirit of Jesus shaping our inner being. Your thoughts, feelings, motives, choices, body, and relational connections all need to be re-formed by grace. Jesus says we’re called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength, and relationships (Mark 12:30-31).

There are more dynamics involved in human flourishing and social justice (or not) than to just believe and do what’s right, as is often taught.

The pandemic has revealed what has been forming people on the inside for months and years prior. Under stress, their previously developed attitudes, emotional postures, relational alliances, patterns of choice, and bodily habits take over. Most of this is unconscious.

To love others like Jesus does, we need to bring our whole self to him in a process of training (1 Tim. 4:7). We’re spending time with him in an emotionally honest relationship, confessing our hurts and short-comings, and absorbing his mercy and teaching.

Jesus’ first followers suffered from injustice, abuse, and divisiveness (see Acts in the Bible). They were not racist, raging, abusing alcohol, or overwhelmed with fear like so many people today in the pandemic. They were loving to all people, including different ethnic groups and their enemies.

How did they do this? How did they keep blessing those that cursed them? They trained with the Master to learn his easy yoke way of doing hard things. They developed heart habits of enjoying God’s loving presence and sharing his love with others.

Jesus is inviting you to train with him when he says, “I see how tired you are. I have a tender heart for you. Come get into the grace-yoke with me. Let’s pull the plow across the field together so we can harvest crops of love and peace to feed hungry people. Walk in step with me and we’ll get the work done in a good and delightful way. Join me and your soul will really come alive in God’s spiritual world!” (Matt. 11:28-30 paraphrased; see my book on Jesus’ easy yoke).

We learn the easy yoke way of Jesus through engaging in a strategic mix of spiritual disciplines like Bible study, quiet prayer, serving others, and soul talk with friends.

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Listen to this week’s SoulTalk: Gain a vision for training with Jesus for greater joy and productivity.  In this episode, Bill and Kristi, along with pastors from Saddleback Church will help you develop a vision for stepping into Jesus’ easy yoke and seeing development in all areas of your life. Jesus brings ease into all areas of life–experience it for yourself! 

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