United Methodist Women

 P1000958

Spiritually Speaking, November 2015

In gospel story after story, Jesus reveals himself as the Great Healer. He offers healing and wholeness so widely and often that it seems clear to me that healing is his desire for all of God’s children. And almost all of us need some type of healing – physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. We may be suffering from recent health issues or wrestling with old grief. Perhaps we’re struggling with depression or anxiety or anger. Maybe we feel overwhelming loneliness, as if everyone has forgotten about us.
 
When I talk about healing, I’m talking about being restored to God’s particular vision of wholeness for each one of us, which may or may not necessarily involve being cured of illness. Medicine may cure us, but Jesus heals us. And while we must depend on Jesus to be the healer, there are things we can do to open ourselves to his healing power.
 
Prayer is the best way I know to crack open the door of our souls to allow healing of all kinds in. We can ask directly for healing; after all, Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?” Or we can bask wordlessly in the healing love of Jesus because he knows what we want and need. Still another way prayer can aid our healing occurs when we ask others to pray on our behalf.
 
Gratitude is a practice that opens us to Christ’s healing love. It’s hard to be grateful when we’re in pain, but it can be powerful to remind ourselves that even though we may be bedridden temporarily, our hearts beat and our lungs take in essential oxygen without us having to pay the tiniest bit of attention to it. We may be depressed, but maybe we can be grateful for mental health professionals and medications that help. A relationship with a family member may be strained, but can we give thanks for friends who become like family to us?
 
Another way to be receptive to God’s healing is through the created world. We might take comfort in cuddling a dog or cat, taking a walk amid the autumn colors, or gazing at the stars in the night sky. Art of all kinds can be healing – music, stories, paintings, poetry, even good movies. And having a community of support while healing is invaluable.
 
Healing can be a long, drawn out process, and we cannot rush it. We don’t have to like it, but we do have to move through it in order to heal; we all know the adage “The only way out is through.” While the healing process can be filled with uncertainty, the one thing we know for certain is that Jesus accompanies us every step of the way.
 
Brenda Anderson-Baker
Mission Coordinator for Spiritual Growth

 

Spiritually Speaking, October 2015

The gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. He goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. (John 10:3-4)
 
Daisy was our golden retriever who was with us for 12 1/2 wonderful years until she left us a few months ago. She was not the brightest dog I ever met, but beautiful, leggy blondes can get by just on their looks. Daisy loved two things most: me and food. And not in that order. She could hear the sound of kibble hitting her dish from the farthest edge of the back yard. And she could hear my car coming from several houses away.
 
Daisy knew what mattered to her and she listened for it. Although I said she wasn’t bright, in this regard, she was much smarter than I am. So often I fill my ears and my mind with useless chatter, forgetting to listen to the One who I say I want to be the Good Shepherd of my life.
I know I’m not the only one who lives in a noisy world. I don’t think I’m the only person who often has a crazy mind, a tired body, a restless soul. We live with the false urgency of texts and emails, with the deadening monotony of meetings, with a constant barrage of “entertainment.” With all this going on, it’s hard to remain committed to finding the time and the silence to listen for the voice of Jesus.
 
I think it’s especially hard to listen – to Jesus and to one another – because we live in a world that doesn’t value the slowing down that listening requires, the stilling of ourselves and the silence that’s necessary for careful listening. How do we learn to recognize the voice of our Shepherd so that we may follow him in such a noisy world?
 
God want us to listen for his voice. Scripture tells us that over and over. Be still and know that I am God (Ps 46:10). If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come to him (Rev 3:20). Incline your ear and come to me (Is 55:3).
 
So how do we hear God’s voice? Like almost everything that involves growing deeper in faith, I think we must be intentional about it. I think we need to regularly set aside time to do that. Daily prayer time serves that purpose for me. Weekly worship is another opportunity to listen for the voice of Jesus. And for me, occasionally getting completely away from my daily life is essential. When I step into silence and set aside time to listen, God often shows up. When we set apart time listening, we can recognize the voice of our Shepherd and see where he is leading us.
Brenda Anderson-Baker
Mission Coordinator for Spiritual Growth

 

Spiritually Speaking, March 2015

As we enter the season of Lent, I come back to Sarah Parsons’ book A Clearing Season because so much of what she writes resonates with me. She sees Lent as a time to clear space for God in our lives, to open ourselves to God’s healing love. My tendency is to launch a sweeping set of Lenten practices guaranteed to fail because my plans are too ambitious and therefore not sustainable. Instead, Parsons suggests we find one small hurt or broken area and invite God to heal and transform that wound. “Trust,” she says, “that the little space where God comes through will create enough openness for now and will extend into greater openness later.”

The first step is to identify a piece of brokenness in your life. Maybe it’s your tendency to worry, or overcommit, or take a loved one for granted. It could be a damaged relationship, or guilt over a past failing, or a secret shame. Can you imagine sitting quietly in prayer, holding that hurt close to you, and then opening your hands and offering it to Jesus? Can you offer it to Jesus over and over for as long as it takes, listening for words of peace and healing until all that remains is a faint scar of that early wound?

This is hard—no question. If you’re like me, you’ve carefully built up layer upon layer of protection around the painful part. That protection has served me by shielding me from a difficult part of myself and by hiding it from others so they can’t tell it’s there. It’s important to remember that Jesus knows this part of us intimately; no matter how well we hide it from ourselves and others, we can’t hide it from him. We know that he can handle any emotion we have, see through any defenses we’ve created, and treat our brokenness with gentleness, healing, and love.

Parsons refers to this process as “breaking your heart for God.” She says, “When we allow our hearts to break for God’s sake—for the sake of greater love and truth—and we express the heartbreak openly, with fasting, weeping, and mourning, our vulnerability draws us into closer communion with God and with others.”

It takes courage to let ourselves recognize this vulnerability and offer it for Divine healing and love. When we can admit to Jesus that we are broken and hurting, we begin the healing process. Similarly, we open the door to greater authenticity with those around us. And we open the door to the freedom to truly be who God created us to be. My prayer for you this Lenten season is that you have the courage to trust the Great Healer with the parts of yourself that need to be transformed. May it also be so with me.

Brenda Anderson-Baker
Mission Coordinator for Spiritual Growth
 

Spiritually Speaking, February 2015

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
 
As someone who feels reasonably secure in her identity as a grownup, this verse from Matthew challenges me. I have to keep reminding myself that childlike is not the same as childish. Do I even want to be childlike? And what might that look like?
 
In the next verse of this passage, Jesus tells his followers that they must become humble like the child among them. It would do me well to practice being a person who doesn’t have to know everything, solve every problem, and deal with every issue. Even in my prayer life, I don’t need to tell God what to do; I need only to put my problems in his hands.
 
After turning over my problems, I need to trust that God will take care of me the way children trust the grownups in their lives to protect them. One of my most frequent prayers lately is: “With you, nothing is impossible.” This prayer reminds me that God can come up with solutions far more appropriate than anything I might imagine.
 
Children can teach me about anticipation. It would be a gift to wake up every morning, excited to see what the day brings instead of regarding it as my to-do list, as I too often do. I can let myself feel eagerness not only for big events like vacations, but also for the everyday gifts God blesses me with: coming home to my husband at the end of the work day, a lunch date with friends, sitting down with a new book, among so many others.
 
I can learn to ask for help when I can’t do something by myself. God graces us with family, friends, and community. I know how good it feels to be able to do something for another person, so why am I so reluctant to let others help me? Even after shoulder surgery last summer, when I truly needed a lot of help, I found myself uncomfortable asking for it. Children are experts at this, and I can learn much from them.
 
Can you remember the last time you got so absorbed in a project or activity that you forgot about everything else? Me neither. Being truly in the moment seems to be how God wants us to live – not reliving the past or worrying about the future, but just enjoying what is in this moment.
 
Sometimes being a grownup is hard work. But life can be a joyful gift, and children show us how to appreciate that. May we become more like children so that we get glimpses of the kingdom of heaven right here on earth.

Brenda Anderson-Baker

Mission Coordinator for Spiritual Growth

 

Spiritually Speaking, October 2014

I think one of the hardest things to pray with any kind of authenticity is the Covenant Prayer attributed to John Wesley (#607 in our big hymnal). And the line that causes me the most difficulty is “Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee.” I have been wrestling with what it might mean to be laid aside for God and why He might want that.
 
Through programs, studies and training, I feel as if I have been preparing myself to be “employed” by God for the past several years. In order to have time for this preparation, I’ve had to set aside some leadership roles that kept me busy in our local church. As a result, I now find myself feeling adrift, unsure about how and where to step back in – or even if I should. I’m feeling as if I’ve been laid aside by God, and I’m taking it kind of personally. Why, after working so hard, would God lay me aside?
 
Worse, I find myself feeling jealous of those in leadership roles and those who get approval and acclaim for their church service. God knows how much I hate admitting that, but I miss feeling at the center of church activity; I miss being in the know about what’s going on. I suspect these feelings are exactly why God might be laying me aside for now.
 
My ego wants the big thing, the employment for God that makes me feel valuable and important. Jesus asks the rich young ruler to leave his possessions and follow him. In a similar way, Jesus may be asking me to give up the very thing my ego wants. Maybe he wants me to be invisible, to serve without needing to be recognized and admired, to be free of the need to manage how I am perceived. Perhaps I’m being called during this season to focus on quiet service, pleasing only him instead of trying to impress or be admired by others.
 
Whether or not God will employ me in the future, I’m starting to sense that he is granting me the grace of small, daily acts of obedience right now.  That thought, while somewhat disappointing, might help me stay grounded in each day rather than scanning the horizon for evidence of God’s plan for my life. Maybe his plan is simply for me to be faithful in the everyday stuff of life.
 
I know I cannot do this myself, so my prayer is that Jesus will heal me of self-importance and approval seeking and help me become a person who cares far more about how God see me than how anyone else sees me. Merciful God, hear my prayer.

Brenda Anderson-Baker

Mission Coordinator for Spiritual Growth

 
 

Spiritually Speaking, September 2014

It was an 85-degree August day today, but the chilly mornings and the earlier sunsets whisper that fall is coming. I usually love autumn, but this year I’m feeling a bit melancholy about the approaching season. The passing summer months seem to be a reminder of quickly passing years. I remember that I am in the autumn of my life, and I’m not handling it as gracefully as I would like.
 
I see the reminders of passing years everywhere. Kids who were toddlers when we moved into this neighborhood are now driving. My old dog just watches the rabbits in the field, knowing she can’t chase them anymore. The evidence is in the mirror as well, and it seems impossible that on my next birthday, my age will include a zero.
 
This has been a year that reminds me that life is precious and finite. My husband laughingly reminds me, “I thought you said you wanted to grow old together.” I reply, failing to appreciate his attempt at humor, “Yes, but not just yet.” He had a major health scare this year, and I’ve had some health issues of my own related to this degenerating body. I don’t like it one bit.
 
I turn to scripture for some wisdom about aging, some way of accepting these years as the gift from God that they truly are. Psalm 92 says this about the righteous: In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap. Being rooted in God, the psalmist seems to say, results are in an alive vital life. Regardless of the mirror’s reflection or my joints’ complaints, staying close to God offers a fullness of life at any age.
 
And how do we stay close to God? The psalmist offers this advice: give thanks to the Lord, sing praise to his name, declare God’s love and faithfulness.
 
Gratitude is always essential. Does it make sense to focus on aches and pains when I am so thankful for a healthy heart and legs that carry me where I want to go? Singing praises is a form of worship as well as gratitude. Rather than bemoan a stronger prescription in my glasses and hearing that doesn’t seem quite as sharp as it used to be, can I use my morning walk to intentionally celebrate the yellow finches that dance on sunflowers and the call of the sand hill cranes? Evidence of God’s love and faithfulness surround me constantly. I pray for the good sense to seek those signs with faith and hope – to celebrate this autumn and every season thereafter for as long as God blesses me with life here on earth.

Brenda Anderson-Baker

Mission Coordinator for Spiritual Growth

 

Spiritually Speaking, May 2014

I am slowly – and a little painfully, too – coming to the realization that this faith stuff is not a do-it-yourself project. No matter how hungry I am for deeper faith, my only option is to open myself to God with the prayer that He will change me.

I keep thinking that one more book or prayer practice or small group will be the key. But really, all I can do is stumble along, ask for forgiveness when I need it, and trust that God’s grace remains regardless of how “good” I am or how much I try.

In his book The Gift of Being Yourself: the Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, David G. Brenner confirms the gradualness of this process. “Coming to know and trust God’s love is a lifelong process. Making this knowledge the foundation of our identity – or better, allowing our identity to be re-formed around this most basic fact of our existence – will also never happen instantly. Both lie at the core of the spiritual transformation that is the intended outcome of Christ-following.”

He goes on to also confirm the futility of thinking I can do any of this by myself. “Every time I dare to meet God in the vulnerability of my sin and shame, this knowing is strengthened. Every time I fall back into a self-improvement mode and try to bring God my best self, it is weakened.”

I recognize that I need to pry my fingers off the steering wheel and surrender to God. But I don’t know what that really means. I know I can’t find a “Seven Quick Tips to Surrendering to God” guide, but I wish I could. Because sometimes I don’t have a clue how to find the balance between being intentional about practicing my faith and trying to make my faith a project of my own undertaking.

My fear is that trying to be good or holy or whatever else I think a Christian should be only makes me self-absorbed instead of God-focused. I make it about being perfect or trying harder when it’s really about allowing God’s grace to touch me. As Brenner says, my self-improvement program is a poor substitute for God’s transforming love.

I know I make it harder than it has to be, but I also know that growing in faith, being closer to God, doesn’t just happen accidentally when we’re not paying attention. We do have to show up and ask God to change us.

So there’s the balance, I guess. I need to be intentional enough about using my prayer practices and other spiritual disciplines to show up and be present for God. Then I have to trust Him enough to believe that whatever happens after that is about His will, not mine.

Brenda Anderson-Baker

Mission Coordinator for Spiritual Growth

 

Spiritually Speaking, April 2014

The Psalms are everywhere this month: in the Lenten Bible Study, in a book I’m reading with a small group of friends, and in my morning prayer practice. I’ve ben trying my hand at writing my own; some are personal paraphrases of the “real” Psalms, and others are simply my prayers. Here’s one that’s partly tongue-in-cheek, but partly a reminder too of hope and resurrections. After all, we are Easter people.

Psalm 151

A song of lament and praise for those living in northern mountainous lands during springtime.

How long, O Lord, we beseech you, how long will this bitter wind plague us? Have you forsaken your children in this cold, dark world?

Our ancestors told stories of warm sun and green grass, soft breezes and lush grape vines. You blessed them, they said, with blue skies and singing birds, but we could scarcely believe it.

As for us, our hearts turned as cold as a winter night on the mountain, and we lost hope. Friends became enemies as our weary tempers took hold and our sharp tongues lashed out. Wives cursed their husbands, and workers grumbled at their masters.

We dreamed of green and blue, sun and warmth, but still we waited in a harsh, gray world. We felt betrayed by a glimpse of sun, only to feel once again the unforgiving wind on our skin. Out eyes watered, and we sought comfort in wine and honey; hear our cry for mercy, O Lord, we prayed.

Then you shone your face on us once more and we were made glad. The sun dawned once again and we felt the blessing of your comfort. Songbirds appeared, buds burst forth, and our hearts were gladdened. We sang praise to you our God, for delivering us and reviving our hope. We gave you thanks for spreading your hand over us.

You reminded us once again that you do not act on our time, but on your own. We prayed for patience and trust and hope, and you rewarded us with spring. We will trust in your unfailing love forever.

Brenda Anderson-Baker

Mission Coordinator for Spiritual Growth

 

Spiritually Speaking, March 2014

I feel as if I’ve missed the past two seasons of Lent by being so preoccupied with schoolwork. Now that my only class this month is Beginning Beekeeping, I’m looking forward to Lent, and I’m praying to make it a meaningful time.

The UMC website says: “Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give themselves for others.”

The way I understand this is that Lent is a time for saying no – though self-sacrifice – and a time for saying yes – through self-giving. I think the two things are tied together like a breath. When I say no to some thing, there’s more room in my life to say yes to others. And when I say yes in ways that are self-giving, it’s easier to say no to the things that distract me or demand too much of my attention.

I don’t know anyone who thinks it’s possible to say yes to every good thing that comes along. Learning to say no helps us discover what’s most important. When we say no to good things – for example, skipping a glass of wine or dessert with dinner or staying up late to watch one more episode of Downtown Abbey – we demonstrate what’s more important to us; we’ve made a decision in that moment that we want to say yes to better health or to being well rested for whatever the next day holds. Saying no to some things creates space in our lives for more meaningful yeses.

And when we say yes to giving ourselves to others, it may help us say no to the things we ought to be saying no to. If I extend myself to be kind to a difficult coworker, I say no to pettiness, holding a grudge, and meanness of spirit. If I say yes to taking a neighbor to the doctor, I say no to self-centeredness and personal convenience.

I invite you to practice saying yes and no during this Lenten season. And then notice what happens. Is there a bigger yes that happens because you’ve said no to something else? Maybe you want to say no to so much busyness; what if the yes you hear is the voice of God doing something new in your life? What if you say yes to anonymous acts of kindness? Maybe the no that results is less depression or anger. This Lent, pick one or the other – self-sacrifice or self-giving – or pick both. Then pay attention to what God is doing in your life.

Brenda Anderson-Baker

Mission Coordinator for Spiritual Growth

 

Spiritually Speaking, February 2014

Between Sunday morning sermons and Thursday evening Bible studies, the parable of the prodigal son has been getting a lot of airtime in my mind the past couple of weeks. During this recent round of reading and listening to the story, I was most struck by the idea of the younger son returning home empty-handed. My thinking was that we have to give up the things of the world – empty our hands , so to speak – and then turn around (repent) and go home. Only with such spiritual emptiness will we be able to receive the abundance of God’s grace.

But as the story played out in my mind, I started thinking about the circumstances that caused the younger son to end up empty-handed. I wondered what it might mean to squander his inheritance, and then I started wondering about the inheritance itself. Jesus called us sisters and brothers; Paul tells us we are not only God’s adopted children, but heirs as well. So what is God’s inheritance to us?

Each of us inherits different gifts, talents, blessings, and circumstances from God. We might consider those things part of our inheritance from our Abba, our loving Father. Like the younger son, we could spend our inheritance seeking worldly things; even without making sinful choices as we presume he did, we can still seek things like wealth, status, and excitement that might cause us to stray far from home.

But we can also spend our gifts and talents for good – to serve others, to honor God, to try to bring forth the Kingdom in our homes, churches, workplaces, and communities. For a long time I thought “prodigal” meant “wayward” or maybe “long lost,” based on the context of the parable. Eventually I learned that the actual definition meant reckless or wasteful, which certainly describes the behavior of someone who squanders his fortune.

But prodigal also means extravagant and lavish. This seems to me a perfect way to describe God’s grace and forgiveness for us. And I wonder if the younger son might have a valuable lesson to teach us that goes beyond the cautionary tale we usually associate with him. Maybe the lesson is this: To spend our inheritance – those blessings from God that are uniquely ours – wildly and extravagantly in service to the world. Maybe we’re called to love generously and recklessly instead of guardedly and stingily. Perhaps our purpose is to trust God fully, to love him passionately, to praise him wholeheartedly.

I know that I would like to live like that – to spend every penny of my bountiful inheritance from God so that when I arrive home empty-handed, I can hear my Father say, “Welcome home, my child. Come and join the celebration.”

Brenda Anderson-Baker

Mission Coordinator for Spiritual Growth

 

 

Spiritually Speaking, January 2014

I took a class in Methodist history this fall and, although the course work was daunting, I am grateful for what I learned. I was particularly taken by the unsung role of women’s work in the church’s history.

Did you know how much southern Methodist women contributed to the civil rights movement? I didn’t. In the 1930s through the 1960s, white women challenged their husbands, community leaders, cultural norms, and even the church. They broke down racial barriers and set examples by working alongside their African American sisters. These women held leadership trainings, worked for equality in education, promoted voting rights, and even influenced policy in the federal government. Through decades of visionary work, southern Methodist women worked tirelessly to bring about the kingdom of God. Most importantly, they challenged the church to follow the teachings of Jesus in taking a stance for racial equality.

I am most inspired by how the women of this era challenged themselves to live more Christian lives. They had to evaluate how they treated their own domestic help. They had to decide whether they would look away when they saw discrimination. When they learned of an impending lynching, they showed up in the area and talked with community leaders. They brought all of themselves to the issues of their day and they served with the people they were helping.

That’s where I start feeling challenged. It’s easy enough for me to write a check to a cause I support. But if I should start to feel pride or smugness for doing so, I only have to look at our history. Charity is unquestionably important; it’s part of being a Christian. And when circumstances prevent my actual presence – I won’t be going to the Philippines for typhoon cleanup, for example – I’m sure writing a check is better than not doing so. But would I have been one of the brave women who lived dangerous and countercultural lives? And what are the issues today where we might be called to do more than give money?

This quote from Sadie Tillman in 1963 is about racial issues, but her words make me uncomfortable today: “Are we going on as usual, ‘putting on’ programs that have no bearing on the agony we are in, making reports on ordinary affairs while closing our eyes to racial upheavals? Are we studying about our ‘wonderful missionaries’ instead of making a mighty effort to put into practice the truth that we send them to proclaim to others?”

I pray, I give, I study, I go to meetings. But when do I get my hands dirty? When do I serve in a face-to-face way with someone who needs my help?

Jesus, my Brother, grant me the courage and wisdom to follow you out of my comfort zone and into the world of your people.

Brenda Anderson-Baker

Mission Coordinator for Spiritual Growth

 

Spiritually Speaking, December 2013

Christmas is coming. The catalogs are arriving, the stores are decorated, and visions of triple-chocolate cranberry cookies are dancing in my head. I start thinking about the insane pressure created by this holiday. I start thinking about the things I think I have to do. I start looking at my December calendar, ready to rail against the Christmas machine. And the, really? I just bored by he thought of it.

Not he though of Christmas. I love many things about Christmas: candlelight worship, the Light in the darkness, the peace and promise of Immanuel, God with us. I love Advent too: the anticipation, the lights, the love and good will. What I get bored with is the idea of turning Christmas into either a festival or over-ness – overspending, overeating, overdoing – or a militant stance against he excess of the season. Both feel like more effort than they’re worth.

Part of it is that I’m tired; it’s been a hectic autumn, and I can’ summon up the energy to get into a snit about it. Part of it is that I’m really looking forward to spending some time this month with my sister doing big-city, Christmas-y things so I’m not feeling Grinchy about the commercialism. And maybe part of it – dare I say it? – is that I feel like I’m learning to trust God to help me learn how to trust myself.

When I really listen o what God is saying to me, when I bring God the things that are going on in my life and ask for help, sometimes I hear answers. God helps me hear the deepest longings of my heart, whether that longing is for more stillness or more community, for patience or action. There’s a practice in Ignatian spirituality called the examen. It’s really very simple: looking back at my day, week, month, or year. I identify the situations that brought me life and love, the times when I felt closer to God. Similarly, I notice the things that seemed to move me farther away from God. When I trust that God wants me to draw closer and wants me to spend time and energy on those things that bring me life, and love, it’s easier to make better choices in my life and listen more clearly o he true longings of my heart, which I believe, are God’s longings as well.

Loving God, in this busy season and in all the busy seasons of our lives, remind us to slow down enough so we can hear the whispers of your voice that lead us to understand your will for our lives, that lead us to know your true light in our darkness.

Brenda Anderson-Baker

Mission Coordinator for Spiritual Growth

 

Spiritually Speaking, November 2013

In the past few years, I have been focused on spiritual formation, so much so that I am immersed in the language of it. Then, when someone asks me what spiritual formation means, I have to stop and think a minute and try to put it into words. Some things become so much a part of your experience that you own them in a kind of wordless way – like trying to explain when to start braking to your teenaged new driver or describing how the internet works to your mother.

The definition of spiritual formation that I like best is both concise and thorough. In his book Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation, Robert Mulholland defines it like this: “Christian spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.”

First of all, it’s a process. We are all being formed continuously; the question is: What are we letting form us? Our family, friends, history, job, television? Or God? All of life becomes spiritual formation so we need to be attentive to the factors that shape us.

Being conformed to the image of Christ is entirely the work of God. Spiritual formation is not a self-improvement project that we can work at and accomplish ourselves. The best we can do is put ourselves in a posture of openness and receptivity to God and pray to be changed through grace. It’s like planting a garden – nothing we do can make seeds grow. But unless we create the conditions for growth, we can pretty much guarantee that nothing will happen.

So how do we put ourselves in this posture of openness to God? That’s where spiritual practices – such as prayer, scripture reading, worship and Sabbath, among others – keep us focused on God and help us develop a deeper relationship with God that lets Him form us. It’s important that we offer these practices to God freely, with no expectations or conditions or time frames. Remember, God is doing the work in the fullness of His own time. Our only role is to simply show up.

Finally, spiritual formation is for the sake of others. The purpose of being shaped by God is to affect our relationships with other people. Mulholland offers this test: “Are you more loving, more compassionate, more patient, more understanding, more caring, more giving, more forgiving than you were a year ago?”

Loving God, help me realize that your presence in my life is  more important than anything else. Grant me the obedience to bring myself intentionally to you again and again so that you may form me into the person you want me to be. Amen.

Brenda Anderson-Baker

Mission Coordinator for Spiritual Growth