Spiritual Formation and Devotional Intimacy - Lesson 5

Sacred Pathways

The lesson highlights that God desires a personal and intimate relationship with each individual and that different people will have different ways of relating to him. It is emphasized that there is no one right way to connect with God, and that we should be open to exploring different ways that resonate with us personally. Throughout scripture, various forms of worship are celebrated and it's encouraged to find the way that works best for us.

Gary Thomas
Spiritual Formation and Devotional Intimacy
Lesson 5
Watching Now
Sacred Pathways

I. Introduction

A. Background on the topic of spiritual formation

B. Purpose of the lesson: to explore the idea that God created individuals in different ways and therefore, different people will have different ways of relating to God.

II. The concept of devotions

A. The idea that devotions should be seen as an opportunity to enjoy an intimate relationship with God, rather than an obligation

B. The fact that devotions have become a "check-off" item on a to-do list

III. Relating to God in different ways

A. Examples from the Bible of different individuals relating to God in different ways (Abraham's altars, David's warrior mentality, Solomon's temple building, and Mary's quiet worship)

B. The idea that scripture encourages different forms of worship

IV. Conclusion

A. Recap of main points

B. Encouragement to find different ways to connect with God that resonate with individuals personally.

Class Resources
Lesson Resources
  • This lesson focuses on the concept of spiritual formation, which is the process of growing in one's relationship with God and becoming more like Christ. You'll learn about the role of historical figures such as Perpetua and Francis of Assisi in spiritual formation, the importance of more than just belief in doctrine, the need to cooperate with God and surrender to his will, and the challenges and opportunities of spiritual formation.
  • This lesson discusses the distinction between static and dynamic holiness. You will learn about the importance of being available to God and the potential for transformation in one's relationship with him.
  • In this lesson, Gary Thomas discusses the societal pressure to conform to a certain physical standard and how this can lead to insecurity and self-doubt. He contrasts this societal view with the Christian view of the body, which holds a respect for the aging process, and acknowledges that our bodies have a purpose because they were created by God and that God incarnated himself in human form in Jesus Christ and how our bodies will also be raised on the last day.
  • This lesson focuses on the transformation of our physical bodies to become spiritually alive, and the idea that worship is not limited to singing and music, but encompasses all aspects of our lives. An example of Madame Galen Jean, a historical figure who lost her physical beauty but found spiritual depth and wrote books that inspired others, is used to illustrate the idea that surrendering oneself to God can lead to spiritual growth. The class also suggests that individuals can bring Jesus to others by approaching them with love and understanding, and by focusing on bringing Jesus to others rather than personal ambition and people pleasing.
  • The lesson highlights that God desires a personal and intimate relationship with each individual and that different people will have different ways of relating to him. It is emphasized that there is no one right way to connect with God, and that we should be open to exploring different ways that resonate with us personally. Throughout scripture, various forms of worship are celebrated and it's encouraged to find the way that works best for us.

  • The lesson discusses the idea that spiritual growth does not happen by accident and that it requires purposeful and intentional effort. The main focus is on humility and gentleness as two important qualities necessary for spiritual growth. The lesson cites Proverbs 3:34 and James 4:6 as biblical references to the idea that God opposes those who let pride reign in their lives, and that humility is not thinking less of oneself but thinking less about oneself and putting others first, and gentleness is the way of being like a mother caring for her children.
  • This lesson delves into the idea of spiritual formation, discussing three paths through which one can grow: practicing virtues, experiencing difficulty and suffering, and practicing spiritual disciplines. One of the virtues discussed is thankfulness, which is counterintuitive to the way the world thinks, and that maturity in faith is marked by being malleable in God's hands and surrendering our own desires. It is emphasized that when difficult times come in our lives, it is a opportunity to grow spiritually, but it can also be used as an opportunity by Satan to create bitterness and resentment in our souls. The lecture also provides several suggestions for books that can help deepen the understanding and practice of spiritual disciplines in one's life.
  • Marriage can be a powerful tool for spiritual growth and holiness as it can help reveal and work through one's sin and selfishness. However, we need to understand and accept that all people stumble in many ways, and that it's important to adopt God's agenda for our marriages rather than trying to impose our own expectations and desires on it. This way we can have a healthy and fulfilling marriage.
  • In this lesson, it is discussed how marriage and parenting can be used by God as tools for spiritual growth and personal development. It is shown that by putting the needs of others first, as in caring for a spouse when they are sick or teaching and guiding children, individuals can learn to become more like Jesus Christ and grow in their faith. The speaker emphasizes that despite the challenges and mistakes that may come with these roles, they present opportunities for personal and spiritual growth.
  • This lesson covers the historical development of Christian spirituality including the Desert Experience, various forms of prayer, Eastern Orthodox approach and challenges for Western-minded Christians.
  • The lesson covers historical movements in Christianity, including monasticism, Puritanism, and Pentecostal/Charismatic, and their emphasis on asceticism, scripture, and the Holy Spirit.

In this class, you will learn about the process of spiritual formation and the importance of developing a deep devotional intimacy with God. The lesson will explore the biblical foundations of spiritual growth, the role of the Holy Spirit, and the individual's personal responsibility in their own spiritual development. You will also delve into various spiritual disciplines and practices that help foster a closer relationship with God, such as prayer, meditation, Scripture reading, worship, and fellowship. Finally, you will examine common obstacles and challenges faced in the journey of spiritual growth and discover strategies to overcome them.


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Sacred Pathways Study Guide: Nine Ways to Connect with God

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As believers in Christ, many of us today fall into the trap of thinking we have to approach God in a certain way. This one-size-fits-all mentality typically leaves us...

Sacred Pathways Study Guide: Nine Ways to Connect with God

Dr. Gary Thomas
Spiritual Formation and Devotional Intimacy
Sacred Pathways
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:10] The first verse in the first book I ever wrote, Seeking the Face of God was this Jeremiah 3021. For me, it's been a life challenge where we're told this Who is he? Who will devote himself to be close to me, declares the Lord. Who is he? Who will devote himself to be close to me? Declares Lord, it presents a picture of God looking over the years saying, Where is the woman? Where is the man who will make it the aim of their life? Primarily to get close to me, their creator, Out of all of the things we could pursue academic achievement, business accomplishments, athletic excellence, all of those which can be good things. Jeremiah is asking through God, looking over the Earth, is there someone who still reserved their best effort and their best time to draw close to me? Now an Old Testament ex may take issue with me using this verse, and if that's a convenient way of phrasing it, that may not actually be the meaning. So I have another passage to back it up since then. II Chronicles 69 says For the eyes of the Lord Rains throughout the Earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. So even if this passage isn't the appropriate way to describe it, I think the concept is there that God is looking for men and women who will give their lives over to pursue a relationship with him. And here's what I love about this aspect of Christian spirituality. It's not just about what we're supposed to become. It's not just about allowing ourselves to be transformed. It's not just being used by God in service. This is the fun part. This is really one of the fun sessions of this course, because it's about getting to enjoy an amazing, intimate relationship with God.

[00:02:11] It's an invitation to get in touch with the God who created us. It's an invitation to spend time with the God who designed us to spend time with him, the delight of our hearts. It's it's an incredible offer. And that fact is what surprises me and saddens me that today we use the word devotions almost as some form of obligation. Have you had your devotions today? It's something we should do. When I think the Bible would present. It is something we get to do. And so some time ago I really began to explore why is something that such an incredible invitation? Why has it been turned into a heavy obligation? Why is something that we should be excited that we are able to do? Why is it become some thing that we're supposed to check off our to do list? Have we done our devotions today? The answer, I don't think, is the who of the invitation. I mean, it's amazing to me that God issued this invitation that he would want to know us, that he would want to reveal himself to us. And it's interesting to me that we don't view this invitation as we should, in part because we live in a celebrity culture and God should be the celebrity of all celebrities. But our hearts are trained to see him as such. I've experienced this in my own heart before. My own books could feed my families. I would work on projects with other, better known Christians. And one such project was was Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham. We were working together and, you know, as an amateur student of of Christian history, I've always admired the role that Billy Graham has played in the Christian church, particularly in the 20th century.

[00:03:59] He had such a huge role. And as frankly, I working throughout the day, I heard him say to his assistant, you know, Gary and I haven't made quite the progress we had hoped. I've got to fly out and see my parents tonight. So why don't I take Gary with me? We can work on the plane. Franklin's his own pilot. He can have dinner with me and my parents, and then we'll work on the plane coming back, and we'll. We'll get this thing done. And I'm listening in to this conversation with the assistant saying I'm going to have a private dinner with Billy Graham. Franklin Graham and Ruth Graham. I'm thinking, how cool is this? Not many people get to meet with Billy Graham these days and Franklin's explain wise as Billy's gotten older and he's gotten frailer with Parkinson's and all that he's facing, the problem is he's wanted to preserve his strength for preaching when he comes in town to do a crusade. Used to. Everybody would want their 5 minutes with Billy Graham, the Christian bookstore owners and leading pastors, the mayors, the senators, a congressman, the governor. And that's if he spent all day meeting those people. He wouldn't have enough strength to preach and they didn't want to have to have a pecking order. You have to be this kind of a person to get to meet with them. They don't want to offend people. So very few people got to see him. So that point in. His life getting to have a private dinner with Billy Graham, his wife and his son. That was incredible. The problem is I already had my plans set. I was supposed to return that day. And you know how air travel goes, right? I'll fly you from Seattle to Chicago for $350 If you have to change it by a day, they're happy to accommodate you for another 1200 dollars.

[00:05:30] I mean, they just really I didn't really care, to be honest what it would cost me. I also had some appointments because I thought I was going to be back the next day, but I really felt like I could go to any of my friends and say, You know what? It was you or Billy Graham. I chose Billy. I felt like any of my friends would say, Yeah, that was probably a wise choice. And yet, as it happened, we made enough progress where I didn't end up flying out with Franklin to meet with his parents. Now I kind of wish I would have dug my feet as I think about it, but where I was convicted was praying on my return trip back when I realized, you know, I really didn't care how much it cost me to meet with Billy Graham. I didn't even think about the financial cost. I didn't care who I would offend or what appointments I would have to cancel to meet with MG KG, The chance to do that, that was well worth offending other people. And yet every day one much greater than Billy Graham. And it was like Billy Graham would be all but invisible is looking over the there saying Will Gary will you will someone else devote themselves to being close to me today? And I don't know if my words can accomplish the effect and I'm asking for God's spirit to just help speak it into your heart. But I wanted it to start to be overcome, really, by the invitation that the God who created us is eager for you and for me to draw close to him just who it is saying. Will you spend some time to draw close to me? That being the case, I don't believe the reason we turn devotions into a heavy obligation is because of the who.

[00:07:18] It's not who were called to be close to. We should desire to be close to it should make our hearts race that we can be close. I think instead it's the how how we've tried to train Christians to spend time drawing nearer to the Lord. We've had sort of a one size fits all spirituality. I think over the past generation. It kind of came up in the seventies and eighties, particularly to college ministry, where we were trying to train people to spend time with the Lord. And we've developed this sort of sanitized one size fits all quiet time, certain way to pray, certain time to pray, a certain way to do it. This is how you spend your time with the Lord every day. And what I've found is that a one size fits all spirituality doesn't fit us any better than a one size fit shirt would fit everybody in this room. We know one size fit clothes don't really fit anybody. And I think a one size fits all spirituality doesn't represent the varied way that God has expressed his creativity in each one of us as different individuals, different individuals, different ways that we relate to the Lord. Now, it took God some time to get my mind around this. I was a very by the book discipline in college. I knew how you met with the Lord. You had to do it this time of the day. It had to be before 7 a.m.. God's a busy God, you know, if you're not spending the time before seven, he might be off in Russia solving some world or Middle East crisis or something. And and here's how you studied your Bible and here's how you set up your prayer list and even the appropriate structure of your prayer adoration.

[00:08:53] You know, it just is amazing how I was so confident of the way you would meet the Lord. And I think God was somewhat laughing as he just set me on the process of expressing to me the different ways that people relate to him when the first ways he's opened up my mind. So I fell in love with a young college student. I was a college student the time, so that was appropriate. A young college student who eventually became my wife. Her her name was Lisa and Lisa and I is just so dramatically different in so many ways. I grew up the consummate junk food junkie. You know, Captain Crunch, Big Macs, pizza and ice cream were my four food groups in college. Lisa Much better me would grow up eating 100% whole wheat bread and the things that grow, stuff like that is what she preferred. And so when we got married, we had to compromise on things. Particularly, it became more difficult when we had kids. I'll never forget the one morning when my son's pretty sharp little kid put down his spoon at breakfast time. He looked up at my wife. He said, Mommy, how come daddy cereals have toys and ours don't? And that's sort of blew my cover about what was going on there, what I was eating for breakfast. But we looked at food so differently, and it shouldn't surprise me when we look at something like food so differently, we would also look at devotions to the Lord so differently. I'm very much a morning person. Moore offered to have me stay at a house here in Vancouver. I said, Look, it doesn't start to mind. It's easy for me to get up to Vancouver by eight. I wake up early anyway, my wife is anything but a morning person.

[00:10:28] She is pretty much an evening person. She's not really awake till nine. I mean, she might be walking around, but her brain really hasn't kicked in until about 9 a.m. before the fogginess is there and she's fully present. And so what she would do in college is that she would get up just before her first class go. The classes have lunch, you can come back and take your Bible up under the roof of the dorm and lay in the sun with her Bible and have a quiet time. And I so thought that was cheating and the flirty way to college since you guys have come on. So who goes up onto the roof? Laziness on the afternoon and calls that a quiet time? Well, Lisa didn't really have anything to say, so two weeks went by. I hear this knock on my dorm room door. I open it up. Lisa marches in. I'm not making this up. Throws her Bible open to ax. Chapter ten, verse nine. And here's the passage she showed me. About noon the following day, Peter went up on the roof to pray. What are the odds of that? I mean, how is that possible? I mean, she'd so got me on that one. And again, I think God was just laughing that, you know, you got to have your quiet time early on. And and I think in sort of a comical way, he was opening up my eyes. Now, the process was increased when I had kids. And those of you who've had kids know what I'm talking about when you realize how different each one of them are. I mean, they come out of the womb in many ways with a set distinct personality. When you look at my three kids, I call it the Hegelian family in the philosophy of Hegel, this thesis antithesis and synthesis.

[00:12:16] We really kind of have that with our kids. We have the extreme introvert, very much extreme extrovert, and one who's right in the middle. My oldest daughter is a big introvert. She likes to talk about relationship. She wants to just sit in a Starbucks, hasn't had a competitive bone in her body her entire life. We talked about maybe playing soccer when she was younger. She's like, Why I might fall? She was more into dance and I mean, she just wasn't into competing. She doesn't want to. She would feel bad if she beat somebody in something. She's so sensitive she would never want to defeat anybody in anything. My son is very competitive and we do lots of competitive things together. We'll play golf together. We'll watch sporting events or whatnot. My youngest daughter is very much the extrovert. She's the life of the party. She likes to laugh when she was really young. One of her favorite things to do with me is we would go to the International House of Pancakes. I don't know if you have them up here, but the name is pretty explanatory. And she liked them because they had what they called funny face pancakes. You know, they're the chocolate chip pancakes with a lot of whipped cream to make a face. She like to go there with me because she knows her mom would never allow her to have that for breakfast. Lisa would say, Honey, that's a dessert. It's not a meal. Maybe. Well, I'll share one or something when we're done. But she could have that with me, so. But. But as I look back on their childhoods, I like the fact that I had a very distinct relationship with each one of my kids. We did different things.

[00:13:45] We talked about different things. We experienced different things. And as their father, nothing would have hurt me more than if my introverted daughter felt like she had to do the extroverted things with me that Kelsey and I do, or that my competitive son felt like he had to just want to sit and talk about relationships or go watch a romantic comedy or something. I like the fact that we did different things. Now, if that's true of me who had to receive my kids personalities, how much pure is it for a Heavenly Father who created those personalities? How much he must appreciate experiencing different ways of relating to each one of the kids that he has created? So I think admitting that fact celebrates God is the Creator, the various the creative creator that he is, if I could use that phrase, that he is so amazing in the way he created that he created us in different ways. Now, look, it's it's not wise to develop spirituality solely from experience. So God use this to put a wedge in my heart. But it was really Scripture that confirmed it, because when I went to Scripture to see where is this stereotype quiet time that we still celebrate today, I really couldn't find it. Then when I went into the pages of Scripture, I found that different people related to God in many different ways. I think of Abraham in the Old Testament in the Book of Genesis. He had this way of whenever he would meet with God, there be a special meeting and he would build an altar to God. And the Bible talks about how he went somewhere else. And he signified that by building an altar, traveled another ways away, and he built an altar.

[00:15:33] You don't see anybody else building up. That was sort of Abraham's thing. And then David comes on the scene several generations past that, and he's God's warrior. He's fighting God's battles, He's conquering God's enemies. And then near the end of David's life, he decides he wants to worship God through the temple. He's going to build this big, elaborate temple to celebrate worship for God. God comes to David and says, David, I don't want you to build my temple. You are my warrior. Nothing wrong with being a warrior. I needed a warrior at your point in history. But I want your son, Solomon, to build my temple. And what struck me about that is that God was specifically telling a father, Your son will worship me and serve me in a way very different than the way you worshiped and served me. God was telling David, I'm not going to fit you in Solomon's mold. I'm not going to fit Solomon in your mold. You're both going to worship me in a different way. And that's what happened. Solomon Worship God not by going out and killing a thousand Philistines. He offered a thousand burnt offerings of bulls before the Lord. Entirely different than David's way of worshiping God and rather than God chastising Solomon for wasting the bulls and not going to battle. He was so pleased with Solomon's sacrifice. That's when God came to Solomon said, Ask me whatever you want. I'm happy to give it. And it's amazing to me again, we're God was celebrating. Now, Skip, for many generations, we go to the New Testament. There's Mary sitting quietly at Jesus's feet, soaking in his presence, just listening to him. Can we even imagine Jesus looking down at Mary and say, Mary, why are you just staring at me? It's kind of creeping me out.

[00:17:19] If you really love me, why don't you give me one of those altars that Abraham built for me? A really cool look? I mean, they were creative. Showed some initiative or. Or show your courage for me by attacking Israel's enemies, or at least offer me a bull. Solomon offered me a thousand. You're just sitting here in front of me. Now, we laugh about that because we can't even imagine Jesus saying that. The fact is, throughout Scripture, God was worshiped by different individuals in a variety of different ways. I think Scripture celebrates that and gives us the freedom to do that. The challenge is we are apt as believers to often give ourselves less freedom than Scripture does. We often base our spirituality on our fear rather than the Bible on our prejudice, rather than on God's truth. And we limit our own lives when we do that. Bill Hybels, pastor from Chicago, taught on sacred pathways to pastors. He has a big pastor convention every year and one year. One of his sessions was on Sacred Pathways, a book that I wrote that this session is based on. And he talked about a pastor who came to him that Bill knew fairly well, is very relational guy decided he wanted to grow in the grace of prayer is that he would go away for a private, solitary fasting retreat. So he found a place to go where there was no television, no distractions. He would just give himself to prayer for the weekend, brought his Bible and a notebook to write down some thoughts and whatnot. He gets there Friday evening, pours out his heart to God, feels like he's been praying for three or 4 hours, looks at his watch, about 40 minutes has gone by, gets a little bit nervous.

[00:19:07] So now he prays for his family. Just ask God's blessing in covering over them. Looks at his watch. Another 15 minutes has gone by, but very nervous now begins to pray for the leaders in his church, prays for the church's missionaries. Maybe an hour and 20 minutes has gone by. He wants to crawl out of his skin. He's so bored he just can't stand it. He slinks home, feeling utterly defeated, goes to Bill in an attitude of confession and says, What kind of pastor man? I want to teach my church how to pray. I can't even spend an entire weekend by myself with the Lord knowing he's a very relational kind of guy. Bill asked him, Have you ever thought of bringing a buddy with you? And the pastor looked in him like, Is that legal? Is that allowed? And the point behind Sacred Pathways is this does God care whether you pray better in a group or by yourself or just that you pray? Does he really care if you pray better, if you're taking a walk through the woods, you're alone in your room. Whether you pray in the morning or in the evening or the prayer is something that you're devoted to. Does he really care if you get the word into your life better if you enter a group, maybe a K.R. author or a Beth more Bible study, whether you're doing it by yourself with your concordance is in your Bible dictionaries, in your commentaries, whether you like to listen to Scripture on a CD or your iPod as you're commuting to work, or just as Scripture is a regular part of your life. What I'm trying to say is that the sacred pathways is really just a way to express the freedom that God gives us to unleash the power of desire in our devotions.

[00:20:52] I want to unleash the power of desire. When I was growing up, the only thing I heard about with devotions was discipline. We must be disciplined. We must be faithful. We must be committed. And it's not like I have a problem with discipline. You can have a hard time being a obedient Christian without discipline. But here's what I found. If you can marshal the power of desire. Discipline takes care of itself. If you enjoy something, you don't really have to be disciplined. You can't wait to do it. You wake up and you want to do it. Exercise is a great. Analogy for me because I've loved to run my entire life. And I know that makes me a little weird because for most sports, running is punishment, right? You drop a ball in football practice, the coach tells you to run laps. I'm like, Yeah, I'm going to drop the ball all the time because I'm not so good about catching. But I like the running, right? And I know people think it's weird and they think it's. I've had some people just look at me like I'm crazy. If they found out I did a marathon or something. But I also know not just running is healthy, but like weightlifting. I mean, I've seen so many articles that said to push back the effects of aging, you do so well, if you will, just lift some weights and do that. And I know it's healthy. So every couple of years I'll get these barbells or these light weights, and for about two or three weeks, a couple of times a week, I'll lift the weights. But I just hate it, right? I can't. And so then the next spring comes along and Lisa will sell them at a garage sale or something.

[00:22:22] Half the people in Bellingham who have weights probably have presents that were Father's Day presents or anniversary presents where I've asked for it, and then they've had to be resold because I just don't use them. And and I think it's the same way with our devotions that we know there are certain things we should do. But if we can find a form of exercise that we enjoy, it's the desire that pushes us forward. I've never seen guilt increase a person's prayer life. I've never seen a person guilt their way into becoming a devoted student of scripture. So even if the standard is, as the Bible says, who is he who will devote himself to be closer? If it's about devotion, that's not just adding something on the mind. It means the force of my life, the focus of my energy is on accomplishing this. I've got to marshal the power of desire. So rather than fear desire, I want to use desire to fuel my devotions and my time getting in there.

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