When I think about my own spiritual formation, one of the things that’s been helpful for me to remember is that people of different personalities approach spiritual growth differently. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
For instance, I am wired very differently than my wife, Donna. I’m a “get stuff done, change the world now,” type of personality. I have much more of an “activist” personality. Donna, on the other hand, has a much more contemplative personality. She is more likely to consider her actions for a while before she makes them, and this has made her naturally more prayerful than myself.
For example, when the weather is warm, Donna will bike over to the nearby park with her Bible and just sit there. In that environment, it is natural for her to engage in prayer and reflection. That’s not as natural for me. Some people are more like me and some are going to be more like Donna. In fact, there’s a whole continuum of personality; from the more contemplative to the more activist.
Jet fuel drinkers and candle lighters and everyone in between
Mindy Caliguire leads a ministry called SoulCare, which provides coaching and spiritual direction for weary ministryn leaders. She is a key partner with the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center’s Resilient Church Leadership initiative. Mindy has worked in a lot of places with get-it-done people, people like myself. She calls people like that jet fuel drinkers. They are constantly on the go, often burning the candle at both ends.
That’s one side of the spectrum.
The other side, using Mindy’s terms, is the candle lighter. The candle lighter moves a bit slower. Things might not happen as fast, but they also might happen more deliberately.
In our house, I would be a jet fuel drinker and Donna would be a candle lighter. Mindy tries to help the jet fuel drinkers realize the practices that they need to stop burning the candle at both ends and exhausting themselves.
And, I see the need.
A few weeks ago, I preached at Saddelback’s weekend services. While there, I referenced a meeting that was hosted by Saddleback about a decade ago. It was one of their national conferences, and (like all such conferenes) it had a flyer. I still have that flyer to this day.
The flyer for that particular conference the conference had seven people on it. Rick Warren is on one side of the seven, I’m on the other.
There were five nationally-known pastors between us. You’d probably know all their names. Three of the five had some experience that caused them to leave the ministry, at least temporarily.Of course, the reasons would be as complex as the people involved, but I was also reminded of my own failures and frailties.
And, as a person who’s not naturally contemplative or prayerful, I actually have to say to myself, “I have to prioritize my formation.”
Spiritual formation in stressful times
This has been the most difficult year of my life and in many people’s lives. I’ve never had so many leadership challenges, amidst great personal challenges as well. The first month or so I just had to do certain things. I have a network of people that rely on me. I have faculty that I need to serve and staff members with budgets collapsing, and I had to do all these things, no matter how overwhelming it all was. In the midst of that, my kids and family are facing the disappointment that accompanies canceled high school graduations and not going off to college like they were planning to do.
And then, on a Tuesday, I just said, “I can’t do this.” Like so many others, I was emotionally and spiritually at a wrecking point. Not long after I reached my breaking point, a friend of mine died by suicide.
It was at this breaking point that I was reminded how much my spiritual practices had suffered in that period of stress. My discipleship had lost its focus. And, I realized why— I got too caught up in the work of the Lord that I neglected the Lord of the work. I got so caught up in the work at hand that I ignored the work that God is still doing in me.
One of the things that people have to do in these extreme times is to hit reset. My spiritual practices are often reset in order to prioritize them. I desperately needed a reset earlier this year.
Spiritual formation that engages you
This breaking point has taught me the value of my spiritual practices, especially in difficult seasons. I have to remind myself to take the time for my spiritual formation because I can be a busy person and forget to prioritize that time.
But then I look at that flyer, and I see friends of mine, three of the five who have had public failures.
This is both a warning for me and also a reminder of a deep need in my own heart. I need time in the Word. I need prayer and spiritual growth and formation.
At Wheaton College, many people are more formal in their spiritual practices than me; there are people are using prayer books and people going through a lectionary or whatever it may be.
That’s just not me. I’m the guy who opens his Bible. I sing aloud, so you don’t want to be around me during my prayer time. I sing songs from the eighties because that’s when I learned to worship.
I open my Bible, I read, and I pray.
But, I’m not at all against those other practices. Some read Puritan prayers for their growth and I praise God for them. Others are going through a prayer book. I’m for all that, as long as you are pushed toward growth and formation as a disciple. For me, I’m just more of a simple “read the Bible, pray and worship” kind of guy.
But, my point is this. Find a path to engage spiritual disciplines that changes you, makes you more like Jesus, and sends you on mission.
We all need to be pursuing spiritual formation in effective ways, no matter who we are. Furthermore, in times of disruption, we need to lean into our disciplines even more.