Inner Formation of the Heart

Part 17: Inner Formation & Spiritual Disciplines/Practices

    Posted by Klaus Issler on February 2, 2010

Part 17:  Inner Formation & Spiritual Disciplines/Practices

            In light of the previous musings, it may become more obvious how spiritual practices have their role (see principles #7 and #10). “A discipline is any activity within our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort.” [1] We cannot change central beliefs directly partly due to (1) the unhurried process by which settled central beliefs are formed, and also because (2) we are not the only ones involved in the process. God has an essential role in our individual transformation process, along with our community (and culture). Yet with personal intentionality and persistence, central beliefs can be changed. As Richard Foster notes, “Indirection affirms that spiritual formation does not occur by direct human effort, but through a relational process whereby we receive from God the power or ability to do what we cannot do by our own effort. We do not produce the outcome. That is God’s business.” [2] Cloud and Townsend illustrate this point by advising, “The alcoholic who tries to stop drinking by using willpower and commitment is wasting his time. He’s much better off using that willpower to take himself to the next support meeting.” [3]

To encourage change in our lifestyle, it usually requires some kind of “moment of integration” or “interpretative framework” shifts—a refocusing of our perspectives and priorities.  Yet to bring these ideas into our lifestyle we must also engage in various “practice” shifts—where we try out or experiment with new ways of living.[4] The task is to place ourselves in accommodating circumstances so that over time, as we welcome God’s grace in our journey, our central beliefs can change and become more aligned with God’s reality.

            I used to give much more attention to my words and behaviors--what I said and how I acted in my attempts to follow God’s commands in the Bible.  But in light of the insights above, I am giving myself more grace and taking a long-term view of formation.  What is now more important is to attend to my reactions to discern what is going on inside. And, as I become aware, to be transparent with God and admit I need help and ask for his grace to grow my heart. But becoming aware of our gaps—that can often be a challenge, as I share one example in the next musing.

[1] Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy, 353.

[2] Richard Foster with Kathryn Helmers,  Life With God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Formation. (NY: HarperOne, 2008), 155.

[3] Henry Cloud and John Townsend, 12 "Christian" Beliefs That Can Drive You Crazy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 59-60.

[4] The idea of a “practice” shift comes from Charles Kraft, Christianity with Power (Ann Arbor, MI: Vine, 1989), 79.


Next Musing: Part 18: A Personal Example of Reducing a Gap

Dr. Klaus Issler