They took my money, but look what God did in me
Updated: May 11
Can you believe that the state of Virginia and a guy named T. took thousands of dollars out of my bank account and won't return it?! I'll finish the story at the end, but I figured it was a good hook to get you to read this very important blog. And there is a point.
The final class I had to take before graduation at The King’s University was called The Spirit Formed Leader. If I'm honest, I was not very excited about it and figured it was “filler” before I graduated. It turned out to be the most significant seven weeks in probably the past seven years of my life.
If you've never heard the terms spiritual formation or spiritual disciplines, you are not alone. It's one of the reasons that many Western believers can be very vocal about the fact that they are believers without actually being formed into the image of Jesus very much or without a dynamic experience with Him, the person. All one must do is watch believers share their views on social media to know there is lack of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23); a lack of deep spiritual formation. Anger, sarcasm, hateful speech and pride can't be found in Paul's list of godly traits in the life of a Yeshua follower. Let’s talk about that.
Spiritual formation is about balance, discipline, connection, faith, listening, pausing, and more. “Christian spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ for the glory of God and for the sake of others.” More simply, it “is a fancy way of talking about how we become more like Jesus in our daily lives.”
The focus of spiritual formation is the Holy Spirit, who guides the ongoing journey towards union with God. The response is submission. Formation is an organic, life-long, and holistic process involving right thinking (orthodoxy), right behaviors (orthopraxy), and right feelings (orthopathy) of individuals and communities. … [T]he Spirit and the written Word, and the living indwelling Christ, help us to experience “living water,” which flows out of our innermost being (John 7:37-38).
Idols and the Image of God
Diane Chandler emphasizes that we were made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26) but it was corrupted in humanity when Adam and Eve fell. Yeshua came to restore God’s image in mankind. The Hebrew word for image is tselem, which can also mean idol. What is the connection between an idol and us being made in God’s image? Tselem “derives from the root word that means ‘to carve’ or ‘to cut.’” An idol maker carves from a piece of wood an image. In the same way, God is forming believers into the image of his Son.
Chandler compares spiritual formation to Michelangelo’s David. “For over 35 years, the enormous block of Carrera marble had languished in the outdoor workshop of a notable cathedral.” Two other sculptors started but gave up. Finally, Michelangelo took on the task of chiseling out a massive David. We are like that block—or Jeremiah’s piece of clay that is shaped according to the potter’s will (Jer. 18). “God shapes us into the image of Jesus over time, crafting an eternal identity.” That is spiritual formation for the believer.
The Mature are Pro-active
Psalm 1 (There is a reason that religious Jews constantly read the Psalms. In many Christian traditions, they do as well.) contrasts the wicked and the righteous. It would be a mistake to assume that the righteous person is simply someone who made a faith commitment at some point with pursuing discipleship. He or she is proactive in growing mature in their faith. The Bible says that his “delight is in the law of the Lord,” and he “meditates on his law day and night (v. 2).” How do we do that in our busy lives? It is not easy. It takes discipline and hunger. But it is so rewarding!
Pete Scazerro writes about having fixed times during the day when you take some time for prayer, silence, solitude, and/or the Word. This is an ancient practice called the daily office. “The root of the Daily Office is not so much a turning to God to get something but to be with Someone.” You might set your smartphone to remind you at certain times during the day to read a Psalm, pray for a few minutes, or simply sit in silence for five minutes, seeking to hear God’s voice. This is how Yeshua is formed in us—by spending time with God. I don't become mature by telling everybody what I think about everything on social media, without giving any thought to the feelings of other people, much less God Almighty. In fact, such practices often have the opposite effect, feeding our ego and promoting narcissism. Spiritual formation leads to humility and brokenness. (Here is a great sermon from Francis Chan on humility).
I say it takes hunger and discipline because we live in a world that is constantly vying for our attention. Only the truly spiritually hungry person will take the time to seek the Lord in a disciplined way. And not just disciplined, as in every day, but in having a block of time where we are vigilant about being uninterrupted and focused.
I can tell you that I was always willing to fit God in as I had time. Surely, he understood that I had a lot of work to do for him. I often checked emails and the news before prayer, with the excuse that it will help me pray. Now, I don't even bring my phone. We are not fitting go in, but privileged to be with him. I am understanding that the true work of God is to make space (time and place) for a love relationship with God that is calm and without distractions. As I have done this, it is so much easier to discern his voice.
This can become works/legalism. Scazerro says his wife can skip a Daily Office with zero guilt. We can't build a relationship with God on guilt and pressure. But neither can we by ignoring our need for regular, concentrated time with God. There is a healthy balance.
Everything you do will prosper!
Back to Psalm 1 which says that the person who loves God’s word (Hebrew is torah or instruction) “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers” (v. 3). The person by the stream is someone who has constant access to water (God). What makes him or her that way is their meditation and love of God’s words and ways. So, when someone wrongs him, he has immediate access to a reservoir of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s get back to my taxes
Several months ago, I got a letter from the state of Virginia that I owed thousands of dollars in taxes from 2019. This happens to me every few years and I explain to them that I no longer live in Virginia but in Israel. One time they garnished funds from me, but eventually returned them. It took several months before I could have a conversation with T., the one who made the decision. I assumed, that like last time, I would explain and he would return the funds. Only he did not.
This angered me. It has been a source of stress for me for the past several months. One thing I have not done until recently is to pray for T.—to bless T.. Why would I? Because that is the difference between somebody who is living in a love relationship with Yeshua and someone who is not. I have had nothing but stress from this. Suddenly, I felt the Holy Spirit well up in me and I began to pray for him and bless him. God is in control of my life and my finances. And God loves T.. I don't know how this situation is going to turn out. I just know that God is much more concerned about Jesus being formed inside of me than He is about a few thousand dollars. And I can tell you that since I began to pray for him and forgave him (even if he is technically right—I am really not sure), all the frustration and stress over the issue disappeared.
Some excellent books on biblical spiritual formation are:
Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster
The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard
Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas
Christian Spiritual Formation by Diane Chandler
The Deeply Formed Life by Rich Villodas
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero
 “Spiritual Formation,” Portland Seminary, accessed on April 26, 2023, https://www.georgefox.edu/seminary/about/formation.html#:~:text=Christian%20spiritual%20formation%20is%20the,journey%20towards%20union%20with%20God.  Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks, The Other Half of Church, Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2020), 14.  “Spiritual Formation,” Portland Seminary.  Diane J. Chandler, Christian Spiritual Formation, An Integrated Approach for Personal and Relational Wholeness (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014), 31.  James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).  Chandler, Christian Spiritual Formation, 30.  Chandler, Christian Spiritual Formation, 74.  Chandler, Christian Spiritual Formation, 75.  Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (p. 143). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.