When people begin to seek spiritual formation and spiritual direction, they often sense that God’s action in their daily lives appears to be absent or vague. This initial sensing that something is missing is a soft wooing of the Holy Spirit; a gift from God even before we are conscious that it is a supernatural gift. The purpose and goal of spiritual direction is to help this awareness grow until it becomes a conscious noticing of “God with you” rather than a vague feeling that something is missing.
In beginning sessions, a spiritual director will often ask questions that focus on this awareness. Questions such as, “When was the last time you had a sense of God with you? What did that look like? If you could be aware of God in this sense, what would it look like?” might be asked and discussed. The goal of spiritual direction, regardless of the actual reason a person might present when he or she calls for an appointment, is to support the growth of a knowing that God is both near and far at all times. His very omniscience means that He is both “everywhere” and “with me” at the same time. Human nature has an easier time believing in the distance of God rather than this “near to me” God. Yet, we are told over and over in the Bible…
“Am I only a God who is close by and not a God of the farthest reaches? Am I a God anyone can hide from? Am I not everywhere, filling heaven and earth?” (Jer. 23.23-4 The VOICE)
“He is ever present with me; at all times He goes before me.” (Ps. 16.8 The Voice)
The yearning to know God is our in-born heart’s desire to live in never ceasing awareness of His presence with us. We want the results to be obvious in our lives. We want fellowship with Him, intimacy with Him, enjoyment of Him. We want to have a tangible knowing of all of these relationship benefits that result in sensing his tender loving care.
Spiritual direction helps us examine and name our desires; examine and question our beliefs about ourselves and God; and begin to practice spiritual disciplines that will develop the muscles of our spiritual man. In the same way that cardio exercise strengthens our physical heart, spiritual practices will begin to strengthen our spiritual heart.
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12.11 NIV)
Next week we will begin to look at some spiritual practices and disciplines. A good resource for greater understanding about the purpose of discipline in the life of a Christian is the classic spiritual formation book “The Spirit of the Disciplines” by Dallas Willard.