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Friday, March 4, 2011

inward/OUTWARD Spiritual Formation: The Missional Matrix.

Last night we launched imagine/Northampton's first 14-week inward/OUTWARD Spiritual Formation Workshop. The goal is to link intimacy with God through the spiritual disciplines of listening prayer and reflection on how he is forming a person's heart after his heart with the call on every Jesus-follower to take up and exercise the primary identity of being a Kingdom-revealing missionary. The two are inextricably linked in the call to love God from the core and one's neighbor as oneself by living transparently in a way which opens them to Jesus.

I have to say in my 37 years of "working out my salvation," learning to listen to God, and accepting the call to embrace a core identity of being a missionary have formed me spiritually in ways other aspects of the Christian life have not. Both have revolutionized my grasp of the "normal Christian life," changing me profoundly.

So here's how I currently understand the missional matrix, matrix being defined as "a situation or surrounding substance within which something else originates, develops, or is contained."

First, inward spiritual formation is the Holy Spirit-birthed transformational process where a person becomes aware of the God who is really there. He or she assents to, not just the possibility of this God, but the fact of this God. It's an "I know that I know that I know," affirmation because of encountering him. The eyes of the heart have been opened, the blind see what before was hidden from view. The mind begins to grasp what the heart has yielded to and spiritual formation begins.

That formation grows as the love relationship deepens between God who transcends Space and Time, and the person who has opened to him. Because Jesus became "one of us," we're able to come near him. Intimacy with the One who's so far beyond our meager comprehension is developed  through real-time interaction of the Spirit and the person in dialogue whether by means of the Scriptures, prayer, worship or following him in missional service.

I've found over the years in my formation and through helping many people grow spiritually that the deepest and most lasting transformation comes because the heart has become convinced of the love of God. Intimacy is most a matter of the heart. The mind understands what the heart has come to experience in relationship to God, but if the heart remains distant, the mind has limited grasp of intimacy.

So in the Workshop we begin with Listening Prayer. If people learn to discern God's "still, small voice" they can find intimacy with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Much of what God says in this interplay of intimacy has to do with his desire for the person to draw close, trust him, change, surrender, obey and follow wholeheartedly. His words address the whole person, but as:
  • a loving Father to a child,
  •  an affectionate Friend to a friend, 
  • a faithful Lover to his beloved,
  •  a masterful Teacher to his student,
  • a beneficent King to his valued subject,
  • a good Master to his loved bondservant.
Even when he instructs or corrects his children in listening prayer, study, or deep contemplation, it's never to crush the spirit by belittling, mocking or harsh accusations (that's the adversary's modus operandi). There is no rage or vitriol. His words are meant to teach, inspire, convict, transform and mature his people leading to life and freedom. In learning to listen to God we're being trained to hear his voice and know what he cares for. Our ability to discern his ways in and through us is fine-tuned. We walk by faith to be sure, but it is informed faith coming from knowing his voice whether we are listening, reading, thinking, looking, doing or reflecting.

I hope you're beginning to see how intimacy with God is inextricably linked to living the primary identity of being a missionary. The missional way of life centered on incarnating the redemptive Kingdom of God in all our comings and goings flows from having spent all sorts of intimate time alone with God, just as Jesus went out into the lonely places overnight to be with his Father. Can you imagine what those conversations must has been like? The Father and Son in complete unity on the verge of dismantling Satan's assault on Creation, defeating the curse of death, and setting the stage for the Church to be about intimacy and unity!

Simply put, hours built up being alone with God listening and reflecting, equip any follower of Jesus to bring the Kingdom to people who can't see him. We are all called to go forth and make disciples. Because our hearts become deeply fond of our Abba, Savior, Lord and Comforter due to his astounding goodness, beauty and truth, we want others to get to know him. Living in a world awash in suffering and sin, and seeing people held cruelly captive to every manner of evil sparks compassion in people who've come to know God's heart.

Inward spiritual formation trains a Jesus-follower to see opportunity for loving service which breaks down walls. Because he or she has come to know and trust the voice of his gracious Lord, a readiness for engaging people gradually can take hold. God can direct such a person in the moment to interact with someone, or see an opportunity to offer grace and help. Followers accustomed to hearing God's voice respond more readily when he summons them to connect with a stranger or ask a question which opens a spiritual dialogue with someone for the first time. Such readiness becomes a way of life, natural, not forced or canned. It fits the person's personality and is not some script to robotically follow.

The reality remains, Jesus is out in the community doing Kingdom work already and we are summoned to be with him as he does so. When we know how to hear and discern his prompting, we put ourselves in the middle of what he's already prepared the ground for: salvation, healing, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and warehoused, befriending a street person, helping a prostitute leave the life, spending time with elderly shut ins, helping a co-worker mend a marriage or deal with an out-of-control teenager, taking an addict to AA, or even relocating to another country to live the Gospel for the poorest of the poor. The opportunities for outward spiritual formation are endless. Drawing inward propels us outward because we encounter Jesus and the heart of the Father for the world.

So our current inward/OUTWARD Spiritual Formation Workshop aims at helping our folks learn the inward disciplines so they can move out more and more in the Kingdom work they were hand-picked for.

If you've questions as to our availability of doing this at your church, let us know by 1.) responding here, 2,) emailing at, or 3.) calling the imagine offices: 413.585.5830.
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