Spiritual Formation and Devotional Intimacy - Lesson 6

Spiritual Formation: Three Paths to Grow (Part 1)

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.
Gary Thomas
Spiritual Formation and Devotional Intimacy
Lesson 6
Watching Now
Spiritual Formation: Three Paths to Grow (Part 1)

I. Introduction

A. Overview of the topic of spiritual growth

B. Assertion that spiritual growth does not happen by accident and requires purposeful and intentional effort

C. Mention how this idea goes against the "spirit of the age"

II. The importance of humility

A. Explanation of the biblical references of Proverbs 3:34 and James 4:6 which states that God opposes those who let pride reign in their lives

B. Definition of humility is not thinking less of oneself but thinking less about oneself and putting others first

C. Examples of how a person who is a slave to pride will act in different aspects of their life

III. The importance of gentleness

A. Comparison of gentleness to the way a mother cares for her firstborn child

B. Paul described himself as being gentle among the Thessalonians like a mother caring for her children.

C. Explanation of how gentleness leads to a more compassionate and caring approach

IV. Conclusion

A. Summary of the importance of humility and gentleness for spiritual growth

B. Encouragement to be intentional and purposeful in one's spiritual growth journey

C. Final thoughts and recommendations for further study.

  • 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.


Dr. Gary Thomas
Spiritual Formation and Devotional Intimacy
Spiritual Formation: Three Paths to Grow (Part 1)
Lesson Transcript

This next session is called Spiritual Formation - Three Paths to Growth. What I'm trying to do here is take different approaches at different ages and different times, and different branches of the church have really adopted as one of the ways we can go from giving our hearts over to being transformed by the grace of God. The underlying assumption of this session, which I think goes a little bit against the spirit of the age, to be honest, is that spiritual growth doesn't happen by accident. I don't believe the Bible teaches and I don't believe the Ancients believed that just being a Christian for 6 years gives us 6 years of maturity in the faith. I don't believe that being a Christian for 20 years gives us 20 years of maturing. But how many of you have known a Christian who's been a Christian for 20 years with about 6 months worth of maturity? For whatever reason, we live in a day and age that seems to celebrate passivity as if that's trusting and trusting and God, which I think is a misunderstanding. And we almost fear an active, intentional and purposeful effort. But throughout the history of the church, I believe they've called us to both that we're to be purposeful and intentional about growing. And I want to look at some of the ways they expressed fear for us to do that. I was kind of turned on to this by my oldest daughter when she was. And it's very appropriate with the Winter Olympics starting here in a month or so. You guys are already at I can't believe it seems so long ago when they announced Vancouver 2010 and then it's like three weeks away even that it's just amazing. Anyway, when my oldest daughter is now 22 was seven or eight, she fell in love with figure skating. In her mind, no one was as beautiful as Nancy Kerrigan in that gold sequined outfit as she skated across the ice. That was the year that Tonya Harding was also in the Olympics. And we were just frankly glad that she chose Nancy Kerrigan so that we didn't have to have other discussions about what went on. But because she was so into it, we'd let her stay up past your bedtime so she could watch the competitions during the Olympics. And what I'm about to share is a terrible example of parenting. I'm not putting myself up as an example. This is a negative example, but it's what happened.

So Allison came up after watching some of the preliminary events or something, and I could tell she was really worried. But I was really into this book. I was reading in the living room. She said to me, "now, Papa, if you enter the Olympics, you get gold, silver or bras right?" Now, Allison's grown up as Ms. Malaprop. She's always mixing up words, and I knew she's mixing up bronze and bras. But what does it matter? Just. I'm in this book. I won't worry about it. And so I just said, That's right. And Alice is her. But little girls don't need to wear bras, right? And I realized what was going on is that my precious daughter was afraid she's going to enter the Olympics, get third place, and receive an award for which she had no use. You see, all this is really worrying her. And so my problem is that already answered. I said, Well, I'm just going to deal with this on the direct level. Right. It's the easiest way out. So. That's right. And little girls don't need to wear bras. So she hikes up her shirt just above her belly button, sucks your tummy in and out and says, but I'm on my way, right? I said, Yes, Allison, you're on your way.

Now, she just knew intuitively that she would develop physically. That just happens. The same is true of my son. I never set my son down when he was seven or eight and said, But if you're going to make six feet tall, you better grow a couple of inches this year you're getting behind. I mean, that would be absurd. That just happens. But the same thing isn't true spiritually. For my daughter to mature spiritually, she's going to have to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, going to have to give her mind over this study. Give her heart over to worship. Be a partner in what God is doing in her life. I believe that's a testimony of scripture. It is certainly the testimony of the ancients. Our passive approach to spiritual growth reminds me of a guy that I was behind a line at an airport one time. He was buying a king-size bag of Peanut M&Ms a king-sized Baby Ruth Chocolate bar and a men's fitness magazine. And it just seemed to me like they didn't really go together. But I kind of think that's a Christian idea that we think we can do anything we want. Look at anything we want, spend our time any way we want. But if we read a little bit of the Bible that somehow we're going to mature spiritually, I don't believe that's the case. And so what we're going to share in this time is how we can build on the practices of the past to see spiritual formation take place.

We begin this morning with this passage, but I want to go on to express what the next point will be. 2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence by which he is granted to us, is very precious and great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world, because a sinful desire for this very reason.

Okay, notice you said this has happened to you, your believers. You are marked by God. God is active in your life. Now, for so many in our church today, the thinking is now I can retire. Now it's just resting in the Lord. Everything happens automatically. Peter looks at it exactly opposite. He says for this very reason. Because you have been saved. Because God has called you to himself. What does he say? Make every effort. [00:06:05]
What is every effort? It's devoting yourself to being close. It means it's giving all that you have and saying this is not to be a haphazard event after we've made sure that we've worked 8 hours in our vocation, loved our families, planted flowers, achieved world peace, then we start to think about spiritual growth. Now, you say, and in the midst of all that other stuff, this is our focus. This is our effort. We make every effort to add to our faith, make every effort, he says, to supplement your faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge and knowledge, with self-control and self-control, with steadfastness, steadfastness with godliness and godliness, with brotherly affection and brotherly affection, with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, there should be a progressive growth in the Christian life. We're never stagnant, but they're increasing. They keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. So clearly there's a biblical call to be intentional, indeed to make every effort to grow. And that's why the first formation. The first pathway to growth that I want to talk about this afternoon is practicing the virtues, practicing the virtues. What happens here is that the ancients discovered that practicing the virtues is sort of like from a spiritual perspective, what physical body building is.

You can decide to cultivate your biceps, your triceps, your quadriceps by doing certain lifts with weights or resistance or whatnot. And the ancients discovered that they could grow spiritually. They could fulfill Peter's call for them to be intense about growth by looking at Jesus Christ and seeing what virtues are present. And from a Christian perspective, if you wonder what does virtue mean? Ultimately it's the characteristics of Christ. Okay, we can go into Greek language and whatnot. I think that's a waste of time since we're kind of limited here by virtues. I'm talking about those qualities that were present and obvious in the life of Christ. And what Christians would do then is they would just say it is our responsibility to become familiar with those virtues and then to practice them, to put them into place so that we can then express that as part of our life. We see that Jesus was courageous. How do I focus on growing in courage? I see that Jesus was gentle in the way he treated people. How do I grow in general as Jesus was kind? How do I grow in kindness? The Bible talks about Jesus humility. How do I grow in humility? And what I like about this pathway to growth, again, is so many of these themes are tied together. When we talk about static or dynamic holiness, it is easy to focus on what we shouldn't do, and that's what most Christians approach the virtues say focus on the positive, what can you become? And the best thing a Christian can become is to become like Christ. And so I have this positive focus. I want to be what Christ was. That's what I seek to build in my life, and that's how I grow in holiness. Now, here's what I think is undercut this. We've had in this day and age a popular teaching that growth is from the inside out. You got to change the inside of the outside can't change. We have a fear of addressing the outside because we think that's legalism or works righteousness. Now, clearly, I think the Bible teaches that our hearts have to be changed by God, which is a work we cannot affect. It's a work of God's grace before we can work on the outside. But I believe once we've been redeemed, the Bible does call us to focus on outward actions. And how else can you become gentle? How do I make my heart gentle? How do I make my heart? What am I supposed to hammer? The only way I can see it? And this is how the ancients understood it. If I act in humility, I become more humble. If I consciously act with courage, I become more courageous. If I consciously remember that Jesus was gentle and then treat others with gentleness that affects how I become. I believe there is the inside out change, but I also believe and neuroscience, I think, backs us up now that there's outward in change. As we studied the brain. Now we know more about the brain in the past 10 - 15 years than we ever know before because they've developed some new instruments to look at it that our actions literally physiologically shape our brains. That's what gives the power behind addictions. What we do physically impacts our brains. And so when we begin to act as humble people, when we act as gentle people or courageous people, we are shaping our hearts by our actions. Now, I don't want to give up inside-out change, but I also want to give up outside in change. I think it is hampered the church in our fear of legalism and works righteousness, which I believe is misplaced, that we've really given up an ancient practice of great spiritual growth by focusing on practicing the virtues. So I want to look at some of these virtues just as an example of how we can grow.

The first virtue we'll look at is humility. Humility. Which has been called by the ancients and justly so as the Queen of the virtues. What I love about humility is that it makes virtually every sin impossible. If you're a truly humble person, you can't sin sexually because you would never use another person for your physical pleasure. You would never abuse them. If you were a humble person, you would never even think of stealing from someone. You would rather be wronged than deprive someone of something that's rightfully belonging to them. If you're a humble person, you wouldn't be abhorred at the thought of getting your way into a social circle by talking down and attacking someone else because you would put them above yourself. If you adopt humility, there really isn't a sin that you could fall into. Virtually every sin has its root in arrogance and improper. That's why the ancients called it the Chief of the Virtues. That's why Scripture is so strong. There's one passage in the Bible that appears in three very significant places to show you how ingrained this is with God's thinking again. If we take it that when the Bible speaks, God speaks. This speaks very loudly. I'm talking about the phrase God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. That's in 1 Peter 5:5, Peter the Rock upon whom Jesus said he would build his church.

Proverbs 3:34 Building Wisdom in the Lives of Young Men in Israel and James 4:6 repeated three separate times in Scripture virtually the same phrase. This is the thought of the faithful that God Himself will oppose us wherever we let pride reign. If I am a pastor of a church and leading with pride at that point, God opposes me. If I am a parent leading my kids with arrogance and pride. At that point, God himself opposes me if I am treating my spouse with arrogance and pride. God at that point opposes me now. Again, if I go back to my sports analogy that I've been talking about early this morning, if I'm playing basketball against somebody, I don't want to look at the other end of the court and see God opposing me. I don't like my chances of winning a game. If God is against me. And so whatever situation, life, I'm like, Lord, give me a heart of humility. And here's the positive benefit. Then when I have been a humble heart, rather than focusing on not sinning, it becomes impossible to sin. Or in the sense it becomes less likely if I'm acting in humility. Now we often have a misunderstanding of what humility is. Humility isn't thinking less of yourself, it's thinking less about yourself. It's not thinking less of yourself. Humility is thinking less about yourself. It's exalting yourself above others. It's making you as the center of your thought. The center of your world, the center of your actions. It's putting you on the throne that all things that matter are as they pertain to you. And here's a challenge. We can't be proud in spots. If you show me a proud man, in one sense, we're all proud.

But a guy who's a slave to pride and doesn't realize it, I can tell you exactly how he treats his wife. She's his little help me. He doesn't really care about her day, but he wants her to hear about his day. I can tell you how he parents his kids. If they embarrass him, they'll be punished severely immediately and on the spot if they're misbehaving and nobody sees him and it doesn't reflect on him and he's tired, he'll let it go. Because what matters is how everything reflects around him, not the truth of what's going on in another person's life. And it will affect the way he treats people and leadership. It will affect the way he treats people who are leaders above him. It will affect the way he drives. A proud person wouldn't race through a neighborhood knowing they might run over somebody's kid. They're more concerned with keeping others safe than getting somewhere on time because they didn't handle their schedule and they're running late. I mean, humility is just this wonderful virtue that leads us to service, that leads us to put others first. It makes us aware of our sin, and it empties every other sin in the process.

A second virtue is gentleness. Gentleness. I've often wondered, maybe you have as well. What would it be like to be disciplined by the Apostle Paul? If you could go back to any time in history, you have the church just growing, just building up and you have the Apostle Paul himself disciplining you, mentoring you, training you, What would he be like? Well, we know what he thought because we have the gospels, but he also gives us a glimpse of how he treated those when he wrote to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul says this to them, we were gentle among you like a mother caring for her children. We were gentle among you like a mother caring for her children. Now, sort of cement this into your mind on what this means. If I could edit this a little bit, I'd say imagine a mother caring for her firstborn child. That phrase, the idolatry of the firstborn. Those of us who are parents, it really hits how you want to do everything right for your first kid, how everything seems more intense, and then it's a little bit less intense when they get down this way. When the when the third born's pacifier falls onto the ground. It doesn't get boiled for 5 minutes. It's more. Pick it up, stick it back in the baby's mouth. And. And you're good to go. But that exaggerated care of the first-time mom with their baby where you've got to practically put on hypoallergenic gloves and a face mask before she'll even let you near it. And she just. That's a kind of kill process. That's exactly how we were among you. We treated you like a mother cared for her child. Now, when you look at Paul, you don't get a sense in his narratives or his teaching that he was sort of an effeminate personality that's just preaching himself to others, that he got this from somewhere else. And it's rooted in who Jesus was, because before Jesus even came, the Bible testifies that Jesus was going to be gentle. Zachariah 9:9 a prophecy about the Messiah, which is repeated and affirmed in Matthew 21:5 directly applied to Jesus, says this See your king comes to you gentle and riding on a donkey. And I think that's making a theological statement because you don't go to war on the back of a donkey, do you? You think it's some big Hollywood drama movie with an army attacking. But instead of on war horses, they're on the back of donkeys, you know, just kind of bouncing up and down. And he's not half as threatening. And so when Jesus approaches Jerusalem on a donkey, he's making a statement. I come here in a gentle and humble state. I'm not I'm not here to go to war against you. I'm here in a gentle way. And then Jesus himself affirmed he was gentle.

Now it's interesting. Jesus almost never uses virtues to describe himself. He was speaking to a largely illiterate culture, and so he like to use images. I'm the good shepherd on the door. I'm the light of the world on the gate. I'm on them this, I'm that. But there's one time where I think it is so central to who he is. He didn't want there to be have to be any extrapolation from cultures through the generations. He wanted us to know exactly what he was like. Jesus makes it explicitly clear in Matthew 11:29 when he says, You want to know who I am, I am gentle and humble in heart. The two virtues he chooses to describe himself humility and gentleness. It was prophesied that he would be gentle. He affirms that he is gentle. And then when the early church look back on Jesus in remembrance, they remembered him as a gentle savior. Look at 2 Corinthians 10:1 when Paul is appealing to the Corinthians and he says, I appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ. Now, in context, if you have time to go back and look at that passage, Paul isn't arguing that Jesus was gentle. He assumes when they think of Jesus, they think of gentleness. It would make no sense for him to make this appeal otherwise. He was convinced when he appeals to them by Christ, they think of his gentleness. This the first thing that comes to their mind. He's using that to support his argument. So it was predicted and prophesied that Jesus would be gentle. Jesus affirmed, I am gentle. The early church remember Jesus as gentle.

Okay, now let's just say for the sake of evangelism, we were to go out to Stanley Park, go down to Gastown major areas, or UBC campus of UBC. We were to stop 100 people and say, Give me three words to describe God. You'd have 300 words, right? 100 people giving you three words. If we were to do that, I would be astonished with your list of 300. I think we could all do this. We'd come back literally with thousands of words describing God. I'd be surprised if there was even one or two occurrences of the word gentleness when people think of God. Here's what pains me about that. We have a generation where many are rejecting God, and the Bible is very clear that the eternal consequences of doing that are severe, severe and eternal. And if they're going to reject God, at least want them to reject God as He is, not as they think He is. And so here's a convicting part for me. Why doesn't this generation think of gentleness when they think of God? Could it be because his people have adopted belief but not practice? Doesn't it stand to reason if every Christian they knew seemed to display the virtue of gentleness that they might finally make a connection? There's something about these Christians that treat me in a gentle way, like I'm not treated by anyone else, like a fellow sinner.

They build me up and sit a tear me down. They're encouraging me instead of accusing. There must be something about their God. Did they act that way? But I think our failure to adopt the virtues of Christ is really hampering our witness of Christ, because people don't see God as gentle, largely because his people tend to be seen as harsh and not gentle. I think that's something we'll have to atone for if we don't get back to adopting the gentleness of Christ. In fact, great examples. Isaiah 42:3 when it says Christ wouldn't break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. But I don't know that I could pick two more fragile images. A reed isn't very strong on itself. A bruised reed you can barely handle without it. Breaking a smoldering wick represents a flame that's just a tiny dot of flame on the end of a wick. And the wax is building up. And you've got to be careful because it's so. It's so fragile. If you barely jostle the candle at all, the wax will come up and extinguish the fire. And Isaiah presents a picture of Jesus as the mighty Savior who could yet be so gentle. He could deal with the soul on their last nerve. One more harsh comment, One more scripture quoted out of context and they're over the edge and Jesus could resuscitate him and bring him back to life. It's a great ambition to grow in the gentleness of Christ.

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