Imagine this: last week, your friend Erin, a freshman you have been praying for, became a Christian. Invited by her roommate, Erin had been attending the large group meetings for two months and became involved with a seekers Bible study shortly thereafter. She quietly made her commitment after reflecting on Jesus’ healing of a paralyzed man in Mark 2. You were there to pray with her.
Needless to say, you are jazzed. As a student leader, this is the most exciting aspect of your ministry. A new believer! The angels are partying! Okay, but what’s next? What do you do with this spiritual infant? What are the next steps in Erin’s spiritual journey?
In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul lays out Erin’s ultimate goal as a disciple. As a new member of Christ’s Body, the church, she is to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, NIV).
Wow. What a goal! Wouldn’t this Christian thing be much easier if Paul had simply laid out a religious checklist for her to follow, such as to pray certain prayers, read your Bible and go to church three times a week? But that’s not the way it works. While his admonitions to be “holy and blameless” (1:4) and to live as “children of the light” (5:8) may seem abstract and demanding, they reflect our ultimate goal—to imitate the Lord (5:1).
God so loves Erin that he wants her to be his work of art, his masterpiece (2:10). How is it possible for a messy freshman to move from her current lifestyle to becoming God’s pièce de résistance?
For more than two thousand years, serious disciples of Jesus have built spiritual disciplines into their lives in order to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” While not ends in themselves—we are seeking Christ, not the disciplines–they are means through which we more clearly hear his voice. These include both individual and community disciplines.
On the individual level, Erin should be encouraged to practice the following:
- Scripture—Engage in daily reading and meditation.
- Prayer—Pray often and engage in periodic fasting.
- Sabbath—Take a 24-hour period every week for rest, reflection and praise.
- Solitude—Schedule regular (perhaps monthly) times alone for reflection and maybe some artistic expression or journaling.
Likewise, within the context of Christian community, Erin should foster:
- Worship—Become involved in a local church that worships well.
- Pastoral care—Receive guidance from someone senior in the faith.
- Fellowship through a small group community, friends and prayer partners—Be supported, held accountable, confess sins and study Scripture.
- Service—Join with others to practice compassion, justice and proclamation.
Terms like “disciplines” and “practice” are not very fashionable these days. However, if Erin really wants to grow in her faith, she’ll do well to reorganize her schedule for a regular daily quiet time, a full day off each week, intentional fellowship and service to the less fortunate.
There is no shortcut to growing in Christ, no magic step, no “killer application” that will instantly make her into a grizzled saint. Like the rest of us, Erin will have to intentionally put herself in places where the Lord’s voice is loudest.
Spiritual formation involves both purposefulness—actively practicing the disciplines—and calm receptivity—recognizing that only the Lord can change us into his image. It is in this mysterious place of paradox, where God’s grace and human effort combine, that Erin will experience spiritual growth.
—Alec D. Hill
(from Student Leadership Journal, vol. 16:1)