Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Kyle Strobel's new book, Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards, (InterVarsity Press, 2013).
One of the greatest minds in Christian history – 18th century pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards – can inspire your own spiritual development. By using the spiritual practices that Edwards called “means of grace,” you can encounter God’s glory in ways that transform your soul so you become the person God wants you to become.
Here’s how you can follow Edward’s classic example of spiritual formation through practices that connect you with God’s grace:
Invite the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s beauty to you and bind you to Him in love. Spiritual formation is all about God’s work within your soul through the power of His Spirit; your part in that work is simply to pursue God and respond to how He works in your life as you seek Him. Pray for the Holy Spirit to show you more of God’s beauty every day. As He does, let yourself fall in love with God. The more you learn about God, the more you’ll grow to love Him, which will then motivate you to learn even more about Him in a wonderful cycle that constantly draws you closer to God.
Start the journey with love in mind. Edwards presents the Christian life a journey of seeing God more clearly every day that you focus on Him and seek to grow closer to Him. Keep in mind as you travel on your spiritual pilgrimage that love is your goal, because God is love. Heaven – a place of pure love – is the ultimate destination on your journey because God lives there. Expect to be changed on your journey. As you travel closer to the God of beautiful love, He will make you a more beautiful and loving person yourself.
Walk in affection. God loves you personally, so He wants you get to know Him personally. Rather than just seeking to learn about God, seek to know God on a personal level. Let your growing knowledge of God inspire affection in your soul. In order to share in the life of love that God offers you, you must undergo a renovation of your heart. Encountering God in a transformative way involves more than just thinking about Him; it involves responding to God’s love by loving Him back. Aim to walk in harmony with God by having your emotional heart beat in rhythm with God’s heart. As you do, you’ll come to see both God and yourself more accurately and understand how deeply you need God to love and redeem you.
View spiritual disciplines as means of grace. Edwards saw spiritual disciplines as means people can use to experience more of God’s grace in their lives. When you practice spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible reading, you place yourself in a posture of dependence on God, thereby positioning yourself to receive His love. Spiritual disciplines usher God’s grace into your life by orienting your mind and heart to God and inviting God to transform them.
Experience God’s grace through His Word. God reveals His mind and will to people through His Word, the Bible. Since the Bible is the primary way that God reveals Himself to the world through Jesus Christ, the Bible can help you understand all of the other means of grace. When you read, study, and reflect on the Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the wisdom you need to understand its message and apply it faithfully to your life.
Experience God’s grace through prayer. Prayer – the main way of communicating with God – gives life to all of the other means of grace. Pray with faith, expecting God to listen to your prayers, care about them, and respond to them according to what’s best for you. Pray from the heart, expressing your thoughts and feelings honestly to God since God wants to relate to personally and is willing to meet you wherever you are. In prayer, you can orient your life around God’s presence and power, which will then transform you for the better as God works in your life.
Experience God’s grace through self-examination. When you examine your soul before God with honesty and humility, inviting God to show you sin that you need to confess and repent of to keep growing closer to Him, you can experience the grace of spiritual freedom as God forgives you and empowers you to grow.
Experience God’s grace through meditation. Saturating your mind with Scripture verses from the Bible and carefully reflecting on them will give you a fresh perspective on God’s beautiful glory, Edwards says. As you meditate on a specific truth about God, you also hold it before you as a kind of spiritual mirror so you can get a more accurate view of your own life in relation to God. Meditation will help you focus on the realities of God’s holiness and your own sinfulness, inspiring you to more deeply appreciate the love and forgiveness God offers you.
Experience God’s grace through contemplation. Edwards says that contemplation is similar to meditation, but with the focus only on God rather than on yourself as well. Contemplation involves setting your mind completely on God in order to learn more about Him. Ask God to help you approach contemplation with quietness, calmness, humility, patience, and hope.
Experience God’s grace through the Sabbath day. Resting from work one day per week creates space in your life for you to recalibrate your soul to God and experience the joy of living according to God’s rhythms, without unhealthy stress.
Experience God’s grace through fasting. When you fast, you give up something that you crave (such as food) but that may sometimes distract you from pursuing God as your top priority. Suppressing your natural appetite for whatever you’re fasting from exposes weaknesses in your soul (such as pride, control, lust, and arrogance) that you can hold before God in repentance during fasting. As a result, spiritual breakthroughs may occur. Edwards recommended that people fast together in church communities rather than privately so that they could support and encourage each other in the process.
Experience God’s grace through conferencing. The practice of conferencing involves discussing Bible passages or church sermons with other people in your congregation. Working together, you can encourage each other to grow closer to God and hold each other accountable along the way.
Experience God’s grace through soliloquy. Edwards uses the term “soliloquy” to refer to the practice of speaking directly to your own soul as you hold it open before God in prayer. When you invite God to show you who you really are through soliloquy, you’ll learn more about who He is, and how His grace can transform you for the better.
Experience God’s grace through silence and solitude. Incorporate both silence and solitude into your life regularly, because both of these practices create the space necessary for you to practice prayer, meditation, and contemplation.
Adapted from Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards, copyright 2013 by Kyle Strobel. Published by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.
Kyle Strobel (Ph.D.,University of Aberdeen) is professor of theology at Grand Canyon University and research associate at the University of Free State (Bloemfontein). Strobel previously published Jonathan Edwards' Theology: A Reinterpretation (T&T Clark). He blogs at metamorpha.com.
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, is author of the new novel Dream Factory, which is available in both paperback and ebook formats. Visit her website at: whitneyhopler.naiwe.com.
Publication date: July 5, 2013