Spiritual Formation: Contemplative & Holiness Traditions

Introduction

Spiritual formation theology is not enough for true transformation. In order to align oneself with the actions and person of Jesus Christ, it is helpful to instill certain practices that help form the heart toward the will of God in life. Two of these practices are Contemplative and Holiness. This essay analyzes each practice while highlighting several key principles within each practice to their benefit in the spiritual formation process.

Contemplative

Contemplative disciplines are that of reflection and passivity. It is living out worship in prayer. “Jesus was a person of prayer. He prayed regularly; he prayed often. The busier he got, the more he talked with God.”[1] It is his examples of unparalleled dedication to prayer that Christians can learn and emulate.

God is at the heart of prayer. In essence, prayer is bringing the triune God into what the life of the Christian is doing together with God. This is achieved through solitude and prayer. The two can be interchangeable but each is necessary for spiritual formation. Some people include fasting into this practice as well. The key is alignment into the kingdom of God, this is what contemplative principles do. They attempt to align the Christian heart with the will of God in his/her life. This alignment shifts the soul into the kingdom of God. “This is our soul, that place at the very center of our being that is known by God, that is grounded in God and is one with God.”[2]

Christians achieve this alignment through setting time apart from the world, through solitude and prayer, and entering into God’s Kingdom by seeking him. Peter Kreeft gives a great example of this through what he calls the stop, look, and listen to the method of prayer. Here the disciple stops everything he/she is doing, looks to the father and waits to listen for answers.[3] Although it sounds rather simplistic, this illustration goes at the core of the contemplative discipline. When we set ourselves apart from the world (Romans 12:2), clear our minds and hearts in fasting and solitude (Matthew 6:16-18), and seek God first and his righteousness (Luke 12:31); it is in these methods that we find Christ’s strength in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Holiness

Holiness principles tend to be more intricate in nature. It deals with inward and outward practices in opposition to sin. This can get tricky, as it did for the Pharisees in the Bible. Merely acting pious is not the way toward true spiritual formation, but it can be something done or abstained from that will corrupt the spiritual walk in Christ. “Obedience is the natural outgrowth of a life that is bound to God. If we are in love with God, we will obey his laws.”[4]

This includes abstinence, self-restraint from cussing or gossip, fasting, reading the scriptures, etc. The key is not what is actually done, by deed, but what brings the heart closer to the heart of Christ. In some instances, just forgiving one another or showing charity in places where charity is amiss is aligning the heart with the heart of Christ. It is by obedience to God’s law that we live out the Christian life in a fallen world. These rituals of obedience do not make us holy but validate the faith. “Jesus turns our attention away from ritual purity and points to the purity of heart from which flows unshakable obedience to God (Matt. 5:8).”[5]

Conclusion

Every person has a spiritual place within that accumulates experiences, suppositions, feelings, opinions, etc. throughout life. These things make up our soul. “That spiritual place within us from which outlook, choices, and actions come has been formed by a world away from God. Now it must be transformed.”[6] This transformation can only occur by a long, diligent, sacrificial process of discipline and practices. Two very important practices are contemplative and holiness traditions. These traditions bring us closer to Christ and further separates us from the fallen world in which we live.

Bibliography

Barton, R. Ruth. Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2009.

Kreeft, Peter. Prayer for Beginners. Ignatius Press, 2000.

Smith, James Bryan., Lynda L. Graybeal, and Richard J. Foster. A Spiritual Formation Workbook: Small Group Resources for Nurturing Christian Growth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993.

Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2012.

Footnotes:

[1] James Bryan Smith, Richard J. Foster, and Lynda L. Graybeal, A Spiritual Formation Workbook – Revised Edition: Small Group Resources for Nurturing Christian Growth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 8011).

[2] Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).

[3] Peter Kreeft, Prayer for Beginners (Ignatius Press, 2000), 31.

[4] James Bryan Smith, Richard J. Foster, and Lynda L. Graybeal, A Spiritual Formation Workbook – Revised Edition: Small Group Resources for Nurturing Christian Growth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 8011).

[5] James Bryan Smith, Richard J. Foster, and Lynda L. Graybeal, A Spiritual Formation Workbook – Revised Edition: Small Group Resources for Nurturing Christian Growth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 8011).

[6] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), 14.

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