What is Spiritual Formation?
Spiritual formation calls us “to put out into the deep” with Jesus!
Spiritual formation is growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ that transforms Christians into the image of Christ and empowers them for life and witness in the kingdom of God inaugurated by Jesus. The goal is to continue the ministry of Jesus by proclaiming and demonstrating the Gospel in word, action, and life. Spiritual formation calls Christians to a deeper life in Jesus! A favorite Pentecostal hymn expresses the ethos of spiritual formation:
“Deeper, deeper in the love of Jesus, Daily let me go; Higher, higher in the school of wisdom, More of grace to know.
Deeper, deeper! blessed Holy Spirit, Take me deeper still, Till my life is wholly lost in Jesus, And His perfect will. [Refrain]
Deeper, deeper! tho’ it cost hard trials, Deeper let me go! Rooted in the holy love of Jesus, Let me fruitful grow. [Refrain]
Deeper, higher, ev’ry day in Jesus, Till all conflict past, Finds me conqu’ror, and in His own image, Perfected at last
Refrain: Oh, deeper yet, I pray, And higher ev’ry day, And wiser, blessed Lord, In Thy precious, holy word.”
Spiritual formation challenges Pentecostals to launch their faith into the depths of the love, grace, and wisdom of the Gospel, grow fruitful, become conquerors, and perfected in His image! Following Jesus requires that they “put out into the deep” (Luke 5:4).
How is a spiritual life developed? If you search the internet, you will find numerous programs. Authors are confident that if you follow the steps of their pathway, you will arrive at your desired destination. Common prescriptions are prayer, fasting, bible study, church attendance, and confession of sins. Of course, a reasonable donation to the spiritual guru will speed you along the way! Not achieving the goal is your fault: sin, lack of faith, and an undisciplined lifestyle cause you to stray from the proven path. The only solution is to start over and work harder.
Pentecostals need to relearn a basic theological principle when it comes to spirituality. The life and ministry of Jesus and the first Christians provide the model we are to follow. Luke’s story of the calling of Peter and the catch of fish shows us the biblical way of spiritual formation.
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him (Luke 5:1-11, NRSV).
The story begins with a crowd pressing in on Jesus at lake Gennesaret to “hear the word of God.” The importance of listening to the word of God is a recurring theme in Jesus’s teaching, according to Luke. Jesus explains the parable of the sower by commending those who hear the word of God and hold it fast in an honest and good heart will bear fruit (Luke 8:11-15). When a woman pronounced a blessing upon Jesus, he proclaimed that those who hear the word of God and obey it as blessed (Luke 11:27-28). Luke wants us to know that Jesus emphasized that hearing the word of God is essential in our spiritual journey!
Peter was among the fisherman at the lake that day. His boat was one of two on the shore, and Peter was busy washing his nets. Jesus got into Peter’s boat, asked him to put out a little way from the shore, and then sat down and taught the crowds. As a bystander, Peter heard the word of God and now found Jesus had invaded his life. He took over Simon’s boat, the fisherman’s life, and livelihood! Luke’s Gospel is full of life-changing encounters with Jesus, 1) the leper (Luke 5:12-16), 2) the paralytic (Luke 5:17-26); 3) the tax collector (Luke 5:27-32); 4) the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50), 5) the lost son (Luke 15:11-32). Spiritual formation happens when Jesus enters our world and changes our lives by an invasion of His grace. Spiritual formation is God’s initiative!
After finishing teaching, Jesus remained in the boat and commanded Peter to “put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). Jesus is Lord! He is the one who establishes the program for our spiritual formation. As Pentecostals, we need to hear him speak through the word of God and allow him to take the initiative for our growth through the Holy Spirit. Have we inherited spiritual formation programs from our faith tradition that need reexamination? Do we need to abandon programs designed to meet our personal needs, goals, and objectives rather than the Lord’s? Jesus calls us to leave the familiar shores of our traditions and allow him to set a new course for our faith, life and ministry.
Peter is perplexed by Jesus’ command. After all, they had fished all night with no success. Doing things the traditional way failed. But Peter chose to respond to the Lord’s word in trusting faith. The result was a miracle. The nets were bursting with fish, and two boats filled to the point of sinking. Luke wants us to understand that spiritual formation requires hearing God’s word, acknowledging Jesus as Lord, and acting upon it in faith even if it challenges our traditions. Hearing and acting upon God’s word is the firm foundation Jesus wants us to build upon (Luke 6:46-49).
The encounter with Jesus and the miracle of the catch overwhelmed Peter. He acknowledged Jesus as Lord and himself as a sinful man unworthy of the divine visitation and grace he received. He “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). The knowledge of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and our separation from God follows encountering Jesus and receiving grace. Peter’s encounter with the Holy One closely resembles the prophet Isaiah’s. Seeing the Lord upon his throne, he exclaims, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). Peter and Isaiah learn their sinfulness does not separate them from the Lord. Isaiah receives forgiveness of sins, and Peter is told not to be afraid. A calling to mission follows for both. Isaiah agrees to go to the people of Israel (Isa. 6:8). Jesus announces to Peter that “from now on you will be catching people” (Luke 5:10). Luke concludes his story abruptly. “ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11). Peter’s spiritual formation culminated in following Jesus!
Luke provides a spiritual formation model for Pentecostals to follow. Spiritual formation: 1) is God’s initiative, 2) requires hearing and acting upon God’s word, 3) is received in trusting faith in Jesus as Lord, 4) reveals our sinfulness and God’s overwhelming grace, 5) results in a life-changing calling to follow Jesus and allowing Him to transform our lives. Spiritual formation calls us “to put out into the deep” with Jesus! Spiritual formation is going “deeper, deeper in the love of Jesus.”
Jones, Charles Price. 1900. “Deeper, Deeper in the Love of Jesus.” Hymnary.org. https://hymnary.org/text/deeper_deeper_in_the_love_of_jesus.
 Charles Price Jones, “Deeper, Deeper in the Love of Jesus,” Hymnary.org, 1900, https://hymnary.org/text/deeper_deeper_in_the_love_of_jesus.  All Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.