One of the fallacies of spiritual formation and spiritual mentoring is that if we can convince individuals to follow a specific set of disciplines that they will become everything God wants them to be. This thinking ignores a number of core principles:
It ignores the fact that each one of us is absolutely unique. As unique individuals we relate to God individually and differently, we learn and grow differently, and we are at different places in our spiritual lives so no one program or set of disciplines or formula is going to help everyone grow spiritually. In Ephesians 2:9-10, Paul calls us God's workmanship or literally, God's work of art - each unique, each special, each a creation of God.
Growing up in Asia I had my own personal "chop." It is my name in Chinese engraved by hand in a piece of soap stone. The cool thing about chops is that each one is unique and even though some of the Chinese characters may be the same, since they are carved by hand, no one is the same. That is true for each of our personalities, God given wiring, the place we are spiritually and the next place we need to go in our relationship with Christ.
This has implications for those of us who preach! We can give people specific instructions as to how they should relate to God or we can give Biblical principles and encourage people to apply them to their lives in ways that work for them.
For years my dad rose at 4:00am in the morning for his devotions. That is great but it does not work for everyone! Some love to journal (I do) but for many it never really works and is a chore, not a pleasure. Some can spend long periods in prayer, others cannot and when they try they end up discouraged and feeling guilty.
But even these practices miss an important part of spiritual formation. It is possible to do all the things one is supposed to do and still not live a transformed life. Practices by themselves do not translate into transformation.
I remember an elder in a church I pastored who was as legalistic as anyone about the Christian life yet he left his wife because she didn't make him happy? He had the practices down (and was ready to impose those practices on others) but his heart was untransformed and hard. Nor would he listen to those who tried to reason with him. All of us have stories like that.
Transformation means that we are regularly becoming more like Jesus in our relationships, our intellect, our experiences, the desires of our hearts, in the shedding of those elements of our lower nature and the embracing of the fruit of the spirit.
Helping people get to transformation is the key to spiritual formation or mentoring. The place to start is where people are and not where we think they should be. I am always amazed at how impatient we can be with people - and how patient God is with us.
One way to find out where people are at is to explore the areas of difficulty or unhappiness in their lives which is often an indication of where they are "itching" and looking for solutions. The Holy Spirit has a gracious way of getting our attention through difficulty and unhappiness.
I think for instance of the many couples who are struggling with their finances today and looking for solutions. Helping them understand Biblical principles for finances is obviously a part of spiritual transformation and it is the place where they are looking for solutions today. So that is a great place to start and as they see God's transformation in their financial life they become open to His transformation in other areas of life. We start where people are open, and looking for solutions. That is exactly what Jesus did with the people he came into contact with.
I think that one of the barriers in spiritual growth is that we often believe that those teaching us, mentoring us or preaching to us want us to become a version of them. It is easy to extrapolate that since we are "mature" that others will be mature when they look like "us."
The truth is that God wants us to look like the best version of us that we can be through the transformation of our hearts and lives - not like someone else. God made us unique. Now he wants to infuse our uniqueness with His Spirit and make us supernaturally unique. A better, supernaturally changed version of who He already made us to be. That is the end goal of transformation because it infuses our uniqueness with His Spirit, character, mind, and passions. We become like Him but remain like us as the "work of art" he created us to be.
The armed services says, "Become all that you can be!" Jesus says, "become all that I made you to be." That is our challenge to others as we help them to grow spiritually.