Spiritual Formation and Devotional Intimacy - Lesson 8

Family Spirituality (Part 1)

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.
Gary Thomas
Spiritual Formation and Devotional Intimacy
Lesson 8
Watching Now
Family Spirituality (Part 1)

I. Introduction

A. Discussion of a modern approach to spirituality and how family life can be a form of spiritual growth

B. Reference to books "Sacred Marriage" and "Sacred Parenting" as sources of inspiration

II. Personal Story

A. Reflection on past personal experience in middle school

B. How past personal experience was challenged in marriage and how it changed the speaker's perspective on marriage

III. Importance of God's Agenda in Marriage

A. Explanation of how God's agenda for marriage can make us holy

B. How God's agenda for marriage can be more important than our own expectations and desires

C. Discussion of the reality of indwelling sin and the fallen nature of all people, and how it makes marriage difficult

IV. Conclusion

A. Emphasis on the spiritual value of marriage and how it can shape our souls


  • 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
Family Spirituality (Part 1)
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:12] We've been talking about different ways of spiritual growth. And what I want to address in this one is one that I think is a modern approach to spirituality. It's one I think that throughout the ages was underplayed and that I think is essential for us to recapture the purpose of family life for spirituality. When we look throughout the ages, there was more of a monastic view, a spirituality, the ideal life to really pursue God and to love God was the single life. It was a celibate life to be a monk or a nun. I want to express a different way, I think, a way that God caused 90% of us to live and how God can use the whole process of living within a family as a form of spiritual growth. And so let's pray that and I'll say before I'm getting that this this is kind of based on the two books, Sacred Marriage and Sacred Parenting. If some of you have read them, you said some nice things about them to me already this morning. But if you have read them, you know, these aren't how to books. It's not how to be married or or how to be a parent. It's really a sacred parent who says how raising children shapes our souls, how God wants us. I believe the process of us giving ourselves to our kids to help us grow in righteousness and holiness. And certainly the same thing is true of our marriages. So let's let's pray toward that end. Father, while we have great respect and honor those that you have called the lives single and celibate lives. Those of us that you've called in the marriage, Father, we asked you to open up our eyes to aspects of it that we may not have seen before.

[00:01:54] Pray we can embrace what you've created us to be and pray that we can embrace humanity as you set us up to be in relationship with each other, with open eyes and full hearts and complete understanding, particularly in how it relates to family life and getting to know you. We would ask for your favor now, in Jesus name, Amen. There are those moments in life when you really begin to get a feel for who you are. For me, one of those moments was in middle school. I don't know if you call it junior high up here or middle school, but those would be the grades For me. It was seventh, eighth and ninth grade, and they had something in the year they called the Hall of Fame pictures. Do you have those up here where they have certain categories that they vote people and maybe they have the categories they had most popular, And I certainly didn't get that they had most likely to succeed. My name wasn't after that. They had most athletic in my dreams. I was under that. But I did have one category. If you looked in the bottom left hand corner, there was my picture right into the title, the most polite for every junior high boy's dream. I must play. Yes, I got it. I mean, I knew it was a geeky title, but I also kind of thought that's the image I had of myself. I'm the third of four kids. I'm not a, you know, Type A personality. I'm more let's just be polite to each other, get along. We'll have a happier time on this earth, right? Same time in my life when I was developing this, understanding how others saw me, I met a young girl named Lisa Eli.

[00:03:37] We had a two week romance, which didn't mean anything more than I called her on the phone a couple of times, and then she broke up with me when her family went to Hawaii on spring break. Apparently, she wanted to keep her options open on the big island at that point in her life. So short lived romance. But then we re met in college, started dating and ended up getting married. So we kind of been junior high sweethearts. But it was amazing to me how soon after we were married that this image I had of myself from middle school as this nice, polite, laid back kind of a guy suddenly started blowing up in my face. One of the first real surprises for me about marriage was how some of the seemingly most insignificant things could become issues between my wife. Am I the only one this experience? And when the first issues my wife and I face were Ice cube trace family I grew up in. If you got out in ice cream, you're supposed to refill the tray and put it back in the freezer so the next person will have a nice full tray of ice cubes. And I'm convinced that's the biblical way to handle yourself in the kitchen. My wife, unfortunately, grew up in a family. Run those things down to an ice chill. Long as there's anything you can scrape off with a knife, you weren't obligated to refill the tray and put it back in the freezer. And so we get married. And as a new husband, not only do I have to get used to drinking warm Pepsi, I also had to get used to my inability to explain to my new bride how much of my joy and happiness in life depended on having this nice full tray of ice cubes whenever I wanted to.

[00:05:12] So I had to get creative. One night I saw my opportunity. Lisa was speaking romantically to me. She said something like, Gary, I'm going to love you forever. I love you. I said, Honey, I don't need you to love me forever. I said, I need you to love me for 7 seconds. She says, What are you talking about? I said, I timed how long it takes to fill the ice cube trays. And I know it sounds pathetic to you. It sounds just as pathetic to me. But but here's the thing. If you had talked to that junior high boy who was voted the most polite in his ninth grade class, I never would have believed I could have been that small minded, that petty, that trivial is something so pathetically small as ice cube trays could actually become an issue in my marriage. But there was something about this force in force intimacy of of living with my new bride that brought out sides of me and aspects of me and pictures of me. But I didn't like all that much, to be honest. And nobody had ever warned me of this. It's not as if my wife and I had gone in blindly to marriage. We'd been through some really good pre-marital programs and they talked about the issues of in-laws. It talks about issues of finances, talked about issues of communication and conflict, all important things. Nobody had warned us about the spiritual challenge of marriage. I went into marriage completely blind to that. In fact, I went into marriage. It shows you how naive I was kind of thinking it was a compromise because I grew up in a wonderful church, really don't have a conscious life apart from God. And my thinking was, if I was really holy, I'd be single, like Jesus Christ.

[00:07:01] I mean, here's the Lord I've served and worship my whole life. He lived his life as a single man. And I open up my Bible. I read the words of Paul and he talks about how I would be you would be, as I am referring to his singleness. And while there is a cherished, important and significant tradition of celibacy in the Christian church, I kind of thought, as a lot of the ancients did, that that was the preferred model for spiritual growth. I mean, in part because of my being a student at Regent College, I sort of grew up reading the Christian classics, and for honest, most of the Christian classics were written by monks and nuns for monks and nuns. And the thinking really was that that's the preferred way to pursue God. And if you get married, make the great compromise. You could try to pursue their way of life. But good luck. And so many even contemporary models of Christian spirituality are based on that monastic celibate model. When I talk about the spiritual disciplines, things like meditation and weekend retreats and fasting and whatnot, a lot of those are things that don't fit in all that well with family life. I mean, I might think it'll help me to grow spiritually if I take an entire weekend away to pray and fast by myself and some mountain cabin. My wife, as she's home with three kids, might have a different view about what's spiritual that weekend. And the surprise for me was that when I found out after I got married, far from marriage being a compromise, I was being challenged spiritually, far more deeply than I'd ever been as a single person when I was single and didn't get along with a college roommate.

[00:08:43] I just had to hang on to the end of the school year. I could have a different roommate the next school year, and now I was in a situation where I was going to have to work out my stuff and it wasn't just getting along with the roommate is getting along with myself in that relationship. I've talked to a number of couples. I'm old enough to where some of my friends have had marriages that weren't successful that ended in divorce. And when you can get them to be really honest, sometimes I'll open up and confess that though they are plenty fed up with the spouse that they're divorcing, a lot of them are just as fed up with who they were in that relationship. They can remember things about themselves that make them ashamed, things they've said, things they've done their are horrified at who they became in that relationship. And rather than see that in humility as a chance to have their sin exposed, confess it and grow, the temptation is to run to somebody else who hasn't seen their stuff because they're just so horrified that the problem is we bring our stuff with us, every relationship we go to. And I believe the spiritual challenge of marriage gives us great opportunities for spiritual growth rather than marriage and family life being a compromise in our pursuit of God, it can be one of the primary avenues He uses to shape us into the image of Jesus Christ. I remember talking to my brother these days, my older brother, even though I got married before him, and understanding this even rather early on in my marriage, I said to him when he was asking me, I said, Jerry, I understand now, I think.

[00:10:25] A little bit better when you said If your goal in life is just to serve Jesus, consider singleness because marriage takes far more time and effort and energy than I ever imagined it could possibly take. But if your goal in life isn't just to serve Jesus, but to become like Jesus, I said, get married because I've never experienced anything like Mary's and God is used to reveal my sin, to show me sides of me I've never seen before, and just as importantly, gives me an avenue to work out my spiritual growth in a way where I can grow in those areas when I'm weakness, provided I value my marriage for that spiritual purpose. And it led me to a whole different approach of marriage. And that's really what led to this whole notion of sacred marriage. Prior to that, every even Christian approach I'd seen about marriage was based on the how to model. How do you keep romance fresh and fun? How do you resolve conflict? How do you communicate? How do you keep the romance alive? And I had to ask a different question. Seeing the spiritual challenges that I was facing, experiencing the opportunity of spiritual growth, I had to ask itself, what is God's agenda for my marriage isn't the same as my agenda for my marriage. Ever thought about that? What is the reason I got married? Isn't the reason that God wants me to be married to even ask that question? Because our culture makes assumptions about why we should get married, what we should value about marriage, what makes a marriage worth it? But maybe God's perspective is very different. And I think behind the how to approach is basically this How do we make marriage easier? How do we make it more fun? How do we make it more fulfilling? And I had to ask a prior question What if God didn't design marriage to be easier? I don't believe he was caught off guard when Adam and Eve fell.

[00:12:40] I know we get into issues a controversial theology here, but I don't think God was caught by surprise so that when he created marriage, he knew what was going to happen. That all of us, except for half of Adam and Eve marriage, we would live in a fallen state knowing that he still created man, he still created woman, he still designed marriage to be a lifelong relationship and had to ask myself, even though I want marriage to be easier, What if God didn't design marriage to be easier? What if God had a purpose in mind that goes beyond my comfort, goes beyond any notion of the temporary emotions? What if, in fact God designed marriage to make us holy even more than to make us happy? What if God designed marriage to make us holy even more than to make us happy? I'm not suggesting that happiness and holiness are mutually exclusive, because I don't believe that. In fact, I believe the opposite, that we will have the happiest, most fulfilled lives when we live our lives in obedience to God and in accordance with His word. But if I accept that marriage is one of the life situations God could call me to, to help me grow in holiness, to reveal my sin, to give me a place to work out the characteristics and the qualities of Christ. How will that affect if I'm single? Who I marry and why I get married. And if I'm already married, why I stay married and how I act married. For me, looking at marriage, that lens changed everything about my relationship to my wife, Lisa. I began to respect certain aspects of marriage that I used to resent when I when I think I got on God's page.

[00:14:18] Then when marriage became difficult, when I had my sin exposed, when my selfishness, when I felt my feet being pinched because I'm being selfish in my marriage rather than resenting my wife's claims on my time, I could say, Wait a minute, Gary, maybe this is God's purpose for marriage, that you don't realize how selfish you are, how proud you are, how self-absorbed you are, and God has given you here a wife to point out to you every time you're inconvenienced how intensely you feel it. And so when I begin to accept marriage as one of the ways that God can refined my character, rather than running from the conflicts and the bitter qualities of marriage that represent any human relationship decide to have. And while they weren't pleasant to go through, I can see the spiritual value. And I tell you what, I fell in love not just with my wife, which was true, but I fell in love with the whole idea and design of marriage in a way I never had before. When I adopted God's, I believe God's agenda for my marriage rather than my own. Now what makes marriage so difficult, And therefore I believe in some way so spiritually fruitful. It comes from a passage we've already talked about. James three two When James says we all stumble in many ways, we all stumble in many ways. The Bible is promising you you're not marrying a God or a goddess. You're marrying somebody who will stumble how often? In many ways. Let me put it this way. Let's say you're fed up with your current spouse. You say you're going to trade him for a newer, improved model. He think, right? You put the word out. You get 200 prospective applicants that want to replace your current spouse.

[00:16:10] You put them through a battery of psychological tests, winnow him down to 12 semifinalists. Friends and family members come in, interview Those 12 semifinals give you a list of three people you're supposed to date. You spend two years dating them, getting to know them. Then you spend two weeks praying and fasting, and you finally make your choice. If you believe scripture after that whole process, you still end up with somebody who stumbles. How often? In many ways, yeah. Probably different ways than your current spouse, but many ways nonetheless. That's the human condition. This side of heaven. That's what makes marriage so difficult. Our expectations for marriage simply don't take into account the reality of indwelling sin and the fallen ness of our human nature. I think we undercut that. And so we're surprised when we get married because in the flush of infatuation, we don't notice that last year I started out the year about this time I was out in Pennsylvania speaking and I met this young woman, earnest young woman, getting very serious about a young man. She thought they might get married. She's listening. I ask my advice. And so we talk about some things and I ask, how does he stumble? What are his weaknesses? She said, You know, that's what's so amazing. He doesn't really have any like really? She goes, I know. I can't believe it either. I guess I just got lucky. And my response was, You know what? I'm going to trust the truth of Scripture that we all stumble in many ways more than I trust your perception and my advice to you as a single woman is don't marry this guy until you know how he stumbles, because you ought to know what you're signing up for.

[00:17:55] I said, I've never met a wife who tells me my husband doesn't stumble in many ways and your eyes just haven't been opened up to it yet. But but yet with this reality, with the Bible promising us we're going to marry somebody that will that was guaranteed to disappoint us and hurt us is going to need to be forgiven and who we're going to ask forgiveness from. It amazes me that we're surprised when marriage proves to be so difficult. I had a woman come up to me one time and she was going to lay out how difficult her marriage is. And I'm in a very difficult marriage. And and I just stopped her right there and said, you know, you don't have to tell me you're in a difficult marriage. So that's redundant marriage by its very nature, as if marriage is one sinner who stumbles in many ways getting together with another sinner who stumbles in many ways, occasionally having sex and creating little people who stumble in many ways. What could possibly be easy about that and what makes us think there's anything wrong with our marriage when it doesn't prove to be easy? How silly that would be that somehow we have a substandard marriage because it hasn't been easy. When how could that ever be an easy relationship? And so what I want to do is, is look at two aspects that I think God particularly can can use within marriage. And then we'll look at parenting to help us grow in Christian spirituality. And the first point I want to make about marriage is that we need to rediscover the purpose of marriage for purposes of spirituality. Let me begin it this way. It was startling to me. This may not seem like a huge revelation to you, but one time it was like a revelation to me in prayer when I realized why I got married and that virtually every reason was selfish.

[00:19:52] I like the way my wife looked. I thought, I want to wake up next to that face every day. We seem to have good times together. I thought she'd be a good mom. I like the books she read. I liked her mind. I thought she'd be a good companion and partner. And in one sense, to choose a marriage partner, we need to make character based choices. But. But can you see how that selfishness primarily drove me into marriage? And I would be willing to bet virtually every person here who's married got married on the same basis. Be honest. Then you get married primarily because you said. I'm better off married to this person than not. When you are considering whether to ask somebody to marry you or to get married, wasn't that your primary choice? Which means if if your primary motivation for getting married is selfishness and God's agenda is to crucify our selfishness, if we don't get on God's page, we're going to be frustrated with marriage. If we accept God's purpose and agenda behind marriage, then we can begin to appreciate the very aspects of marriage we used to resent. Because here's the reality. If you're a guy and you get married, your word for what it means to be a husband comes from Paul in a Ephesians five when he says, Husbands love your wives. How? As Christ loved the church, who gave himself up for her? He's saying, Guys, your call to be a husband is a call to be a Christian martyr. You're to lay down your life. You're to put this woman first. Now, I got married for primarily selfish reasons. God got married to crucify my selfishness, to give me somebody whose welfare I would put above my own in Titus Chapter two.

[00:21:41] Paul tells Titus that older women should train younger women how to love their husbands. He says once a woman gets married, a good part of her effort, energy and focus is How do I practically love this man? How do I help him? How do I support him? How do I give my time over to him? In both cases, when husbands are wives are directly addressed. The Bible uses language of service and putting that person first. And yet most of us get married for selfish reasons. I get married not to learn how to love. I get married to be loved. And as long as I stay in that selfish, immature state, I want to be loved. I want to be loved. I want to be loved. I'm going to be frustrated in my marriage if I get on God's page. Here's another opportunity to grow in love. Here's an opportunity to grow and kindness. What I'm really learning how to forgive. How cool is this? Then I'm going to love marriage. But if I resent having to forgive someone, if I resent having to die to my own desires and putting someone else first, I'll not only resent my wife, although I'll end up resenting marriage because that's what marriage is in biblical language. Serving your spouse, loving your spouse, putting them first. It's a completely counter cultural argument.

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