Jesus says He came that we might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10). As Jesus lays out what it means to live abundantly, we begin to see the relationship between spiritual abundance and lifelong flourishing. As we read and meditate on God’s Word and on the life and words of Jesus, we find abundance comes as we prize God and His way above all else.
By grace we can choose God and His way consistently, over the course of our lives. This is the ongoing work of spiritual formation, the process by which we learn to live according to God’s instruction. Spiritual formation used in this sense concerns three areas: worship, training, and relationships. By being formed in right worship, right training, and right relationships, we join God’s transformative work of our whole being—mind, body, heart, and soul.
Right worship refers to worldview, the lens through which we interpret our lives and make meaning of it. If we think God distant or mostly absent, we will pray less, if at all. We will most likely try to figure things out on our own, only turning to God at the last, desperate moment. If we perceive the Bible as an antiquated text or position ourselves as “red-letter” readers, we will mistrust the Bible. We will prioritize the portions we like and neglect the rest, ultimately molding a god who looks a whole lot less like the Triune God of the Bible and more like the gods from Norse or Greek myths and legends. And if we view God as more of a friend than an authority—though He is our Friend in Jesus—we will shrug Him off. We will deny our human limitations, which are given for our good, and pursue other forms of self-definition and identification. God may have known what was best way back when in the garden, but He does not know best now. We, not God, should decide what is right and good and proper.
How do we construct a better worldview, one aligned with God’s ways rather than ours? It starts with taking the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, seriously. We let its story seep into our minds, hearts, souls, and bodies and transform us, day by day. We build our worldview on God’s trustworthy Word, and interpret our lives through it.
Right worship continues with learning doctrine, truths about God as revealed in the Bible and complemented by the history and traditions of the universal church. These doctrines cannot stay in our heads; to have their full effect, they must become the truths by which we live. We should remember them, like the Israelites were told to do when they entered the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 6). We should recite them when we rise and when we rest, when we walk and when we sit, when we teach them to the next generation and when we hear them taught to us. By such things we live and flourish.
Right training grows from right worship. As we orient ourselves toward God and His precepts, we discover the joy of growing in “the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). We participate in God’s powerful work within us, becoming more and more like Jesus every day. We train ourselves to love what God loves, to see as God sees, to act the way God acts.
This training has rewards. Pastor Eugene Peterson, paraphrasing Paul’s letter to Timothy in The Message, says:
Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We’re banking on the living God. (1 Timothy 4:6–10 MSG, emphasis added)
As we train our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies, we become “fit,” ready for the good works God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Timothy 3:14–17; Titus 2:11–14). We realize Jesus is our greatest joy and hope. He delights our hearts as we learn and train ourselves to delight in Him.
And we do have to train ourselves. Delighting in Jesus no longer comes naturally; our sin nature and life’s demands constantly tug us in other directions. This delight is not a mere mental acknowledgement of Jesus’ goodness, although training our minds is critical. We must fill our minds with what is true and excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8–10). It cannot be rote service, either. As Martha, the diligent host, learned (Luke 10:38–42), serving God well involves a whole-bodied participation of body, mind, and heart. Finally, delighting in Jesus cannot be relegated to an emotional state. Our emotions are important. They are a part of being made in God’s image. But our emotions are not good barometers for delighting in Jesus. We have to train ourselves to delight in Him with all our emotions, the positive and the negative, along with our minds, souls, and bodies.
Right relationships refer to our communities. While we can and should pursue Jesus on our own, our pursuit should involve and bless others. The Bible regularly reminds us we are blessed to be a blessing, starting from the beginning. God instructs Adam and Eve to rule His world—not through brute force, but through loving stewardship. God says to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth with His glory by reflecting Him well.
The language of blessing occurs at the end, too. In Revelation John describes a tree whose leaves heal and bless the nations (Revelation 22:1–5). The gates to God’s holy city remain open. Everyone is safe; no one needs to worry about enemies or sickness or death. Those things are gone. The new heavens and earth have come. God dwells with His people, and His people dwell with Him.
We can live into those past and future realities by developing right relationships in the present. Such relationships increase our joy in the Lord. They comfort us when we suffer, when we feel alone, when we forget what we know about God. Right relationships hold us accountable, too, and remind us to live in light of Jesus’ sure return. “Let us not neglect gathering together,” says the author of Hebrews, “but encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25). Paul urges us to sing Spirit songs together, giving thanks in our hearts to God (Colossians 3:16). We are meant to worship God as the people of God, in everything we think, feel, say, and do. We always were. We always will be.
When we pursue the flourishing life in Christ, we are never disappointed. Through being formed in right worship, right training, and right relationships, we discover the laws of God’s upside-down kingdom. Life abounds as we become less and God becomes more. Life bubbles up as we bring our emotions to God rather than tucking them away or losing ourselves in them. Flourishing happens as we serve others, prioritizing them and their needs above our own. That is the abundant life, which never ends with us. It goes out, the life of God poured out for us and through us, to the rest of the world.
Want to enhance your spiritual formation this year with right worship, right training, and right relationships? Apply for one of our cohort-based development programs! The Austin Stone Development Program offers a systematic study of Christian doctrines. The Writer Development Program emphasizes spiritual formation through the disciplines of writing and critique.
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