Do you know the story of Samuel? (Take a look in 1 Samuel 3:1-10 for a reminder.)
There was a boy named Samuel who God called to in the night. After realizing that it was God, Samuel responded by saying, “Here I am! Your servant is listening.”
God still calls people today. It probably won’t be a voice that we hear with our ears, but God finds other ways to get our attention.
Throughout my life I have tried to listen for God’s call. Since Diana and I have been married we have tried to listen for God’s call on our life together. Sometimes when faced with a decision, we are not sure what God is asking us to do or how we are to respond. There have been times when we have made a choice and then wondered if we made the wrong one. I struggle sometimes with knowing if God is really calling me or if it is just my own thoughts. Other times I struggle with understanding what God is trying to say to me.
Do you ever have this experience? Are there times when you have wondered if God was calling you to do something but were unclear about what it was?
God is concerned about his creation, especially we humans. There is no aspect of our life that does not matter to God. God loves the world and every person is precious in his sight.
Not only is God concerned about his creation, he interacts with it. Our God is not withdrawn from his people but is involved with them.
God’s love and concern for his creation leads God to call people to help fulfill his purposes in the world.
What God wants to do in the world hasn’t changed:
- inviting all of us to love
- being patient and forgiving to all
- helping and giving to those in need
- working hard for peace
- redeeming the world
Did you know God is calling you?
So, what does it mean to be “called?”
In John 1:43 we are told that as Jesus was preparing to leave Galilee, he found Philip and said to him, “Come. Follow me.” Eventually Philip and Nathaniel and Peter and Andrew and all the other disciples would accept Jesus’ call and would “follow.”
When God calls us, it is an invitation to becomes “followers” of Jesus.
When we respond to his call it means that we follow him; making him our Lord, our savior, our mentor, our guide, our teacher.
But the call of God does not stop here.
This call to “come and follow” carries with it an invitation “to become like Jesus.” We are called to a life of service.
Does God ever wake you up in the night? Do you sense this call in your heart right now? If so, listen to it and respond.
Responding to the call does not mean we have to be perfect or will always make the right choices.
In fact, at some point in our life we will fail; perhaps many times. Samuel did. So have I.
But the power of the Gospel is that Jesus does not give up on us. The same Jesus who conquered death has the power to forgive us and restore us for a better future.
When you hear his call, consider responding like Samuel – “Here I am! Your servant is listening.”
A plan for personal spiritual development is just that – personal. There can be a common structure with individual practices or applications that are meaningful for each person.
When I think of personal spiritual formation, the writings of two authors come to mind – Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster. Henri Nouwen has been a strong influence for me in the areas of both spiritual direction and community. Richard Foster was an early influence on the disciplines of my college spiritual formation.
Let’s start with Richard Foster. In his foundational book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, Harper and Row, 1978, he encouraged believers to realize that our growth as Christians was something more that attending a certain number of church gatherings or taking communion a certain number of times each year or reciting the Creeds once a week. Spiritual growth involves practices or disciplines woven into our everyday lives. These disciplines help shape a certain spiritual trajectory throughout our lives – Inward, Outward and Corporate. Many of his disciplines for these areas are ancient practices of Christians since the first Pentecost, and the children of Israel before that!
Now consider Henri Nouwen. His books have influenced my understanding of spiritual formation in a community setting, the role of a spiritual director and the necessity of small groups in the individual and corporate growth of a local church. I have read many of his books, but one of them, Spiritual Direction, was not compiled until after his death in the late 1990’s. Two of his students took his notes from courses and their conversations with him and organized thoughts as best as they could in a way Nouwen may have done. One of my favorite quotes is related to the need for Christian community.
“Though it is not easy, Jesus calls us to live together as a family of faith and commitment. In community we learn what it means to confess our weakness and to forgive each other. In community we discover what it means to let go of our self-will and to really live for others. In community we learn true humility. People of faith need community, for without it we become individualistic and, at times, egocentric. As difficult as it is, community is not really optional in the spiritual life.” Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Direction, Harper, 2006, pp.114-115.
With this as background, I would encourage followers of Christ at all developmental levels to follow this general plan.
- Daily reading (lectionary is a good choice)
- Daily private prayer/listening
- Weekly study
- Meditation on Psalms
- Personal retreats every three months (4 to 24 hours)
- Modest, moderate lifestyle
- Selfless regard for the wellbeing of others
- Weekly serving opportunity
- Confessing to one another
- Serving one another
- Weekly worship together with other believers
- Bi-weekly small group accountability for fellowship, sharing, group study and prayer
As with any plan, the particular way it gets played out will vary from person to person. Introverts will tend to enjoy the Inward Disciplines more than extraverts. Extraverts may enjoy the Outward Disciplines more than introverts. When it comes to Corporate Disciplines, they take different forms based on personal gifts and preferences (worship style, serving opportunities, local church fit, small group involvement).