Two Things That Christ Desperately Wants You to Know, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2!

Last week I suggested that there were two things that Jesus wanted you to know, and that these two simple concepts have the potential to jumpstart, restart, or simpley START your spiritual journey.

The first thing that we need to understand about reality (and ultimately, any spirituality worth its salt is in the end about REALITY)  is that “salvation is a life,” and you obviously you can read the rest of that post if you’d like.

The second reality that Jesus would love for his followers to understand is that not only is salvation a life, but we are active participants in that life.

(Or, at least, we should  be.)

Yep… this is the part where Jesus tells most of us to get off our butts and start engaging in our lives in such a way that he can be present in it with us.

Because the life we have to live can only be lived by one person, and one person only…

YOU.

You can’t live someone else’s life. Christ comes to no other person in the same way he has come to you, and what that means is that Christ comes to YOUR job…

… YOUR family…

… YOUR school…

… YOUR financial situation…

This is significant because there’s an insidious tendancy in matters of faith to think that spiritual things happen to, well, spiritual people

(and almost all of the time the “spiritual people” = not me).

But the thing is that the life Jesus comes to save and dwell in is not anyone else’s life. It’s yours.

Not only do you not have to wait until you “get right” with Jesus to start experiencing salvation, you actually can only do what you can do right now, in this moment.

Good spirituality is only ever about how you can experience the Kingdom of God now, in this moment and in this circumsances, not in “someone else’s” life, who is supposedly “more spiritual” than you.

(To be clear: I’m not saying that there’s not more spiritually mature people in the world: I know there are, and I’ve been blessed to experience life with some of them. What I am saying, however, is that some of us use our “UN-spirituality” as an excuse to stay dormant and stuck, when actually God says that

RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE…

                                                    RIGHT HERE,

                              RIGHT NOW,

YOU

          ARE

                    BLESSED.

(And that, my friends, is called GRACE.) 

 

The actual question is, what are you gonna do about it? What will you do with this life that is given to you?

Jesus wants to live his life in your life.

IF you want that, if you want to experience Jesus life in the midst of your life, what you actually have to do is arrange this life of yours in patterns and rhythms and experiences that actually resemble Jesus’ patterns and rhythm and experiences.

(There’s an old cliché here that actually is appropriate: If you want to do the things that Jesus did—meaning his miracles and such—than you have to do the things that Jesus did… meaning his rhythms and patterns and habits of life.)

A lot of us don’t think that way.

We’re stuck. We’ve been trying this “faith thing” for a while now, but instead of Jesus’ life of love, peace, transcendance we still seem to have “Eric’s life” of jealousy, laziness and too many chips and salsa.

It feels mundane, and definitely not spiritual.

We pray for something, and we try harder, but if we haven’t actually arranged our lives to look more like Jesus’ this practically amounts to a Christian version of crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.

In just the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, we are told that Jesus hangs out in “lonely places” to be with God. He rises before dawn to pray.

That’s just a hint of what we’re getting at: Jesus is able to do the things he does and experience his Father the way he does in because he makes himself available to the Father.

(It’s not about Jesus “working” for his father’s love, and it’s not about that for us either. God gives His love freely; it’s about what to do with this life that we are living.)

To put it yet another way, salvation is a life, and we are invited to practice it in particular ways, ways that Jesus (and other spiritual masters throughout the years) are very familiar with.

Metaphors and examples from art and sports serve well here:

You can call yourself a “musician,” but if you don’t practice the necessary skills to make music, it will be largely hit-or-miss as to whether or not you can actually make a piece of music.

You can call yourself a Christian (and remember, God does love you, regardless; His love is not optional here), but if you don’t practice the skills necessary to do live the life that Jesus wants to live within your life, it will be largely hit or miss as to whether you’ll be able to respond with compassion, peace, and love when the time comes.

You can call yourself a decathlete, but if you don’t practice … 

(I think you get the point.)

The “training regimen”, or practices that Jesus engaged in are historically called “Spiritual Disciplines.”

“Discipline” has now taken on a largely negative connotation in our culture (being sent to the principal’s office for “discipline”, usually involving—in my day—a swat with a board), but it’s original meaning has much more to do with instruction or knowledge, and even now in some contexts it can still refer to the idea of training yourself to do something in a habitual way.

We want to habitually respond to life the way Jesus would. We want to make it a habit to allow him to reign and rule—to live—in our lives.

The group of training habits and practices (disciplines) are fairly well defined. They include:

  • prayer
  • solitude
  • silence
  • celebration
  • service
  • worship

There are more, but these are a foundational core. (Actually Dallas Willard would say that an even more essential core would be: prayer, solitude and silence. You can see these lived out constantly in portrait of Jesus’ life that we see in our four gospels.)

This is our training regimen.

This is our practice. 

This is the life that we are called to, in order to see the salvation life that God holds out for us.

These two thoughts—that salvation is a life, not an “after-life promise”, and that we are called to actively participate in this life through practice and training—consistently have taken people beyond their circumstances and more deeply into the Kingdom of God. If we let them have a tangible impact on our day-to-day lives, they actually bring about the Kingdom within and among us. Jesus saw it and lived it in his day, and he wants us to know that we can see it and live it in ours as well.

That is a wonderful, subversive, revolutionary invitation, and one that is still desperately needed for the world today.

 

blessings and peace… as usual, please comment, like and share…

under the mercy

+e

 

 

 

Two Things That Christ Desperately Wants You to Know, Part 1

I don’t know if that title qualifies as “click bait” or not, but whatever: that’s the title that came to me, and what’s more, I believe it.

On one hand, I think Jesus lived in an utterly different reality compared to most of us. I think he dwelled in what might be called “the sacred now.” He lived in a dynamic, living interplay with his Heavenly Father, and I think that reality and relationship was on of the defining characteristics of his life and his ministry.

On the other hand, one of the things that I have come to understand through the years of seeking the Kingdom and pursuing Christ is that Jesus came to show us that we can live in that same reality. 

It’s available to us. Now. 

(As opposed to later, when we die.)

Throughout the stories and reports of his life, Jesus makes these remarks about the potential of life here and now, on this earth: 

One of his favorite “pronouncements” is that the Kingdom of God—a way of life that is soaked through with divine, loving potential—is available and present now, in and among us (Matthew chapter 4, Mark chapter 1, Luke chapter 17).

In John’s gospel, Jesus repeatedly refers to a life that is characterized by a “stream of living water” (that is, water that is flowing and moving) that is, again, available to human beings in their present reality, not distant. 

So, what if Jesus was telling the truth? 

I know for myself, much of my life has been marked by anything but that type of reality. Most of the time I found myself either waiting for a “magical” transformation (that never seemed to happen), or a simple resignation that I could/would never change until I died and then I could go “be with Jesus in heaven”, at which point I would:

  • get a harp to play and a toga to wear
  • sing some sort of vague worship song while living on a cloud
  • finally” be changed

This reality seems pretty counter to what Jesus was saying. According to Jesus, “salvation” is actually a life: a God-bathed, Spirit-directed life.

“Salvation is a life.” This is one of two closely-related ideas that I think Jesus desperately wants his followers to know. Furthermore, I think that if we had a conversation with him right now, he would tell us that to the degree that we can make this (and next week’s) truth a present reality in our lives, we would find ourselves radically, revolutionarily changed.

In fact, I think that one of the important reasons we have these “Gospels” (“Good News” stories about who Jesus was and what he did and why he was our long-awaited Messiah) is that they show just what a “salvation life” actually looks like.

(Hint: it looks like Jesus’ life: helping other people; healing others; being radically compassionate to the hurting; experiencing a joyful dynamic intimacy with his Father; the ability to endure setbacks and suffering; and finally the willingness to offer the totality of his life and body as an instrument to be used for the sake of others.)

The Biblical, Jesus-exemplified salvation is a life, not a death.

It is potentially now, not then. 

It is potentially here, not there.

I don’t know how that strikes you, but I remembered that when I began to wake up and open up to that reality a couple of things happened inside me:

First, I realized how much I had “settled” for something less than the Kingdom of God here and now. My sights had lowered, and I had given up hope that change was possible. I had nearly completely resigned myself to the idea that I would limp and stumble through my earthly life, repeating the same old mistakes and sins I had always committed, experiencing relief only when I breathed my last, and could finally “lay my burden down.” (Don’t get me wrong: I will be happy to lay aside some of my burdens, but it was really about where and how I was settling in my current spiritual life.)

Second, I realized how desperately hungry I was for this life. If Jesus really was offering me a life that looked just like his, and he was offering me that now, rather than later, I wanted it. I needed it. I was beginning to leave a trail of destruction, both in my personal life as well as in the life of those who were closest and most important to me. I wanted and needed this change.

So I guess the questions this morning are:

  • What does “salvation” mean to you? Is it “here and now”, or is “there and later”? 
  • What is your life capable of becoming? Do you believe that Jesus thinks you are capable of living a life like his?

Next week: the other thing that Jesus wants you to know.

Under the mercy,

+e

I’m so grateful for each and everyone of you. As usual: please like, comment and share. 

 

 

Jesus Walked

Jesus logged lots of miles.

I started running this year, and I’ve been able to track my progress by using a couple different apps on my phone. Currently I’ve run about 120 miles, which kind of blows mind (no wait, actually it really blows my mind!).

But my progress is not much considering how much Jesus and his disciples must have logged around Palestine and Judea. If you read the gospels, Jesus is forever taking his little band of followers on day trips, teaching and telling stories as they go.

They must have walked for hours every day.

I was thinking this morning about what that says about following Jesus. I think in many peoples’ minds “being a Christian” is something that you do on Sunday morning, or when you’re at church, or in your small group, or whatever. The picture that the gospels show us, however, is a faith that is worked out while you’re walking.

It’s as if Jesus goes to great lengths to show that the spiritual life is infinitely practical: it can be lived out amidst the dusty roads of Palestine, or the cubical walls of your job, or the desks of your classroom.

Unfortunately, this sometimes run counter to how many churches approach the spiritual life. Institutionalized religion says that the spiritual life can only be lived out through “safe places” like Sunday school classrooms, baptism services, or comforting worship services. In this model, Jesus never would have left the Temple or the synagogue: he would have kept his disciples in the safe, “spiritual” places where “God lived.”

But he didn’t. He was constantly saying, “You know what would be awesome right now? To take a walk! Let’s go!!”

(I’m sure Peter rolled his eyes; trust me.)

At this point in my life I’m really not interested in spirituality that has no daily, ground-level expression. Not interested in doctrines that are merely abstract. If there are truths about God (and I believe there are), they should have tangible expression in our lives. Our doctrines and beliefs—the incarnation; the resurrection; a God of mercy, grace and transformation; the Church—don’t belong in seminaries or temples. They belong at our breakfast tables, in our cars, in our meetings, in our workouts, etc. etc.

One of the most challenging questions we can ask ourselves is, “How do my beliefs impact my daily, moment-to-moment life?

  • Am I living as if I have the mind of Christ?
  • Am I truly living out the resurrection?
  • Am I upholding the value of the “called people of God” (the church)?
  • Am I treating my physical reality—creation, my body, etc.—as if God really did come to earth and become a human being just like me?

Jesus didn’t keep his spirituality tucked away in the “God-places.” He brought the God into the every day places.

And yes, this song still rocks.

The Signature of Jesus

 

photo 1

In November, 1999 a colleague gave me a copy of a book called The Signature of Jesus by Brennan Manning.

I really didn’t like it.

Maybe it was because I was consumed with a rebellious intellectual quest to remake the North American church.

Maybe it was because I just wasn’t spiritually mature or ready to receive it.

At any rate, I read it, and underlined a few different things, and then set it aside: it really hadn’t “taught” me anything.

Then, sometime later, I decided to pick the book up again and read through it. For some reason—who knows why—this time I was ready.

And it rocked my world like nothing I’d ever read.

Manning wasn’t “cute” or overly-intellectual by any measuring stick: he was poetic, but in a forceful and time-tested way. He was obviously brilliant, but his theology found its way out through references to plays and poems and ancient monks and hermits that I had never heard of before.

The man could write, and God was speaking (very loudly and clearly) to me write through his words.

He wrote things like this, “Viewed as a theological relic, the cross does not disturb our comfortable religiosity. But when the crucified risen Christ, instead of remaining an icon, comes to life and delivers us over to the fire he came to light, he creates more havoc than all the heretics, secular humanists, and self-serving preachers put together.”

I needed to hear that. Brennan challenged me (over and over again; he wrote multiple books, and all of them contained similar marks of style and hard-hitting but poetic, “practical” theology) to not keep my spirituality abstractly in my head but to bring it out where my mouth, hands, and feet made use of it.

It was what I needed, and I’ve read the book now probably a dozen times. It contains the reminders I need to live out my faith.

In 2008, I was playing guitar at a conference that Manning was to speak at. Now, I’ve shared the stage with dozens of superstar speakers: Bill Hybels, Beth Moore, John Ortberg, Rob Bell and Louie Giglio, to mention a few. Most of them have been pleasant men and women, but none of them have ever captivated me or put me in any sort of nervous awe.

But this was Brennan.

This was the man who formed me in a way that few—if any—author or speaker ever had.

I was giddy.

We were rehearsing the music for the session when an elderly man in jeans that were patched with 30 different colors and textures of cloths walked up on the stage to test his microphone. I stopped in my tracks, and knew instantly who it was. I had a job to do, so I couldn’t talk to him then but my heart lept when I saw this man who had mentored me—maybe even fathered me in a way—for so many years.

I had brought my copy of the book that had shaped me for so many years, and as he spoke (plainly and profoundly) I jotted just a couple notes inside the front cover: “Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.” (from Paul Tillich)

After the session, he was doing a book signing, and I stood in line with my bent copy. When I approached him, I stammered out that his writing had changed my life and in a way even saved it. He glanced at me, and said, “Great.”

Then he signed it with a shaky autograph, and I was on my way.

It was one of the most gloriously anticlimactic moments of my life.

It’s actually difficult to communicate why this was so perfect.photo 2

He was slightly (and perfectly) grumpy, and not slick in any sense of the imagination. There were no false smiles, no fake sense that I mattered to him. He didn’t write the books or speak or do book signings because somehow his ego needed to be stroked. He did what had to be done, and he delivered the books, the message, the signing with an understated and subtle presence that refused to bow to a false self, to the idol of fame.

It would have been so easy for him to be false, to give me a slick smile and handshake.

But instead he just said, “That’s great,” and signed his name.

It’s one of my most prized possessions.

Channa Masala and the Myth of the Super-Disciple

Here’s what you must know first: I really, really like Indian food. photo-2

So when a buddy of mine forgot about a lunch appointment we were supposed to have at an Indian restaurant in town, I wasn’t about to shrug my shoulders and say, “Oh well, guess I should go on back to my office.”

No way. I was going to stay and enjoy that lunch buffet.

While I sat and enjoyed my tandoori chicken and naan, I started reading a book by one of my favorite authors: Future Perfect by Steven Johnson. Johnson perfectly fits my idea of interesting reading: his work is multi-disciplinary, makes unexpected connections, and is built around what makes ideas great and compelling.

He starts off the book by telling the story of US Airways flight 1549, the “Miracle on the Hudson,” when Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger managed to successfully land a damaged airplane on the Hudson river in New York with all 155 passengers safe. Though it was truly an amazing act of piloting, and “Sully” made a great hero—humble and relatively quiet, and committed to being good at his vocation—Johnson goes deeper behind the story.

You see, Sullenberger (and flight 1549) was indeed a talented and composed pilot. But, as Johnson points out, there was a lot more going on here than just Sully’s grace under pressure. Actually, Sulllenberger’s actions on that morning were the culmination of decades of research and behind-the-scenes engineering, all of which enabled the pilot to make the “in the moment” decisions that saved those passengers lives.

(Hint: it was all about chicken guns and fly-by-wire technology.) 

 

This just in: none of those engineers were being interviewed on cable news shows.

Instead, decades of men and women simply went to work and thought about little ways to make flight better and safer.

And then when it mattered, it all came together.

Are they any less heroes?

There’s an assumption that the one with the most “face time” is the hero. They are the ones who have done all the right things in order to make things happen (or make things not happen, as the case may be). These heroic mean and women—even truly humble ones like Sullenberger—are celebrated as “just-a-bit-better-than-everyone-else” people.

But are those nameless engineers and manufacturers any less responsible for those 155 passengers still being alive?

Sullenberger is definitely a “hero”, but he is not the only one. Little decisions and efforts get made over months and years and decades that put people like him in position to win.

Sometimes people of faith get hung up on the “super disciples” around us. Whether it’s people from the Bible (like Peter, Paul, or John), or other really, really good people we’ve heard about (like Mother Theresa, or Billy Graham, or Desmond Tutu), it’s easy to get caught up in their stories, or in their charismatic personalities.

Maybe, if you’re anything like me, it’s even tempting to somehow start thinking that somehow they got an “extra dose” of God’s Spirit, something that’s allowed them to do the things they did and think the thoughts they did.

But it’s simply not like that.

Sure Paul looms large in the Bible. But if you just read his letters you know he didn’t do it alone: that he traveled with people, and had key helpers with him as he did his ministry. Some of their names ended up in our pages (Priscilla and Aquila, Junia, Tychicus [my favorite]), but a lot of them probably didn’t. 

Yet they were with Paul. Helping. Doing the work when he had moved on to other cities. Some of them may have even had preliminary conversations with their communities before Paul got there, so that they would have context for what he was talking about.

In other words, they help “set the table” so that Paul could succeed.

What are their names?

I have no idea.

But they absolutely made a difference.

And they are absolutely heroes.

Sometimes the person that gets the most prominent billing is not the only one responsible for the victory, or for averting a disaster. Sometimes there’s another story that is just as critical, just as important to the success as the decisions that are made in the moment.

The point that I’m trying to make is that when faith becomes “big business”, and when we become exposed to all of the gifted and talented Christian teachers, preachers, writers, musicians, etc., etc., we can allow this thought to enter our head that says that somehow they are “just a little bit more” than us. They are Christians, but moreso: somehow they got that extra dose of the Spirit.

That’s simply not true. Paul writes in Romans 8 that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us: the church.

That means everyone has the same spirit. We may all be at different parts of our journey, and we all have different gifts, but we should never assume that the man or woman doing all the interviews is the “most gifted”, or the only hero.

We are all heroes.

I love Indian food.

And this David Bowie song.

 

 

 

I STILL Can’t Fix You, But…

A few years back I wrote a post about Coldplay. Well, Coldplay and spiritual growth.

I was thinking about it this morning. I’ve been in a class this week about being a “spiritual director”, an individual who helps someone become (and remain) open to growing.

One of the helpful metaphors that has come up in the class is the spiritual director as a sort of “midwife”—we are there to “assist” in the birth, but it’s really not our baby nor our labor. We may know a thing or two, but we are not a professional, not separate from the situation. We are in the birth process with you, helping as we can, naming things as we can.

But ultimately the birth process is yours, not ours.

In other words, I still can’t fix you, but

  • I’ll be with you during the process
  • I’ll try to help identify what you’re going through
  • I’ll comfort you when I can and encourage you when you need it

And I’ll celebrate with you when “new birth” arrives.

 

How Most Churches Seem to View Discipleship

Okay: I know I’m dating myself here, but Steve Martin used to have this bit in his standup called, “How to Be a Millionaire and Never Pay Taxes.” He used it in his opening monologue 1977 when he hosted Saturday Night Live. The transcript reads like this:

 

You.. can be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes! You can be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes! You say.. “Steve.. how can I be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes?” First.. get a million dollars. Now.. you say, “Steve.. what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, ‘You.. have never paid taxes’?” Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: “I forgot!” How many times do we let ourselves get into terrible situations because we don’t say “I forgot”? Let’s say you’re on trial for armed robbery. You say to the judge, “I forgot armed robbery was illegal.” Let’s suppose he says back to you, “You have committed a foul crime. you have stolen hundreds and thousands of dollars from people at random, and you say, ‘I forgot’?” Two simple words: Excuuuuuse me!!

 

Sometimes I think the church views discipleship in a similar way. In a variety of different ways we proclaim, “You can be like Jesus!” (Well, at least I hope we proclaim that. A lot of churches still focus on proclaiming, ‘You can avoid hell and go to a weightless, disembodied heaven!’ This, um, was not Jesus’ message. But that’s for another time.)

Then we roll out our “plan”, which essentially sounds like this:

“You can be like Jesus!”

“Pastor, how can I be like Jesus?”

“First, be like Jesus. Now…”

Um, what?

Most of church “discipleship programs” essentially tell people to be like Jesus without ever examining how transformation actually happens. 

We do well, and quote Paul about training versus trying, but then we never seem to actually do anything about the training! Which really amounts to us actually advocating trying versus training!

Maybe I’m wrong; maybe it’s happening in more places than I see (I know my church is doing its best at a multifaceted plan for discipleship).

But if we were doing our job, it seems like we’d be producing more transformed people according to Galatians 5:

  • more loving people, who fight against the divisive and often hateful speech of our country (particularly in the political realm)
  • more peaceful people, who are willing to entertain the fact that violence and war are often not God’s will
  • more self-controlled people, who are willing to recognize and separate themselves from all entanglements and addictions, whether they be from alcohol and drugs or food and shopping
  • more kind people, who are willing to stop blaming the poor and powerless for being, well, poor and powerless

As I said, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the North American church really is aligned with God on the subject of spiritual transformation (or as C.S. Lewis put it, “Producing ‘Little Christs’”. But I don’t hear a lot of people talking about it.

+e

 

Eugene Peterson on Spiritual Direction

For a season now, I’ve been pursuing a spiritual direction, and trying to be a better “director” of people’s souls myself.

I was recently going through Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integritywhich has shaped me as a pastor as much as any other book I’ve ever read—with a friend, and re-read what he has to say about giving spiritual direction.

(Incidentally, I think that “spiritual direction”—or mentoring, or whatever you’d call personal, spiritual influence—is one of the most desperately needed activities in our culture. I think much of 21st century North American culture has no need for a bigger, better, faster worship gathering. We need a more sober, consistent spiritual direction and discipleship for God’s people).

So here’s what Peterson says:

  1. Cultivate an attitude of awe with and for every person you meet with. Every meeting is a privilege, and an opportunity to see God work.
  2. Cultivate an attitude of ignorance. We can make assumptions about peoples’ motives and feelings. Most of the time they are wrong. We do better to assume nothing and ask questions. (This is something I’m trying desperately to grow in.)
  3. Cultivate a predisposition to prayer. Prayer is the furnace, and oftentimes what people really want from us is to learn to run the furnace for themselves. They don’t want our advice; they want to learn how encounter God for themselves.

Professional Faith 2: Have a Plan

I thought I might unpack what a “Professional” Faith might look like in everyday terms.

There are so many options out there, but there are some things that I’ve tried and/or heard about, so maybe they’ll help you get started if you want to get serious about doing the work of becoming a “Gospel Artist” (i.e., partnering with God to create a gospel-shaped life).

NOTE: I believe in the power of a positive secret, so I won’t share exactly what my daily practices are, but if you want to know, contact me directly and I’ll walk you through them. Otherwise, I’ll speak in general terms here and give some resources that have worked for me in the past, some of which I still engage with.

 FIRST A WORD ABOUT TIME…

Martin Luther said somewhere that he was so busy he simply HAD to devote 2-3 hours of every day to prayer.

I think it’s pretty obvious that most of us don’t think that way…

It seems to me that we allow busy-ness to take over, to give it the priority.

To put it succinctly, this puts first things second and second things first. A professional knows his priorities. I was looking through a “productivity system” that was designed by a writer, and at the bottom of every day of his calendar was a place where you write your “Life’s Theme”—the spine that your life is wrapped around. It’s so you constantly know what the most important thing in life really is. A professional faith knows owns up to the fact that the most important creative work we have is the one that produces the gospel-shaped life that God is calling us to produce.

For me that doesn’t just take time; it takes the first, significant portion of my best time.

For myself, I’ve found that I need somewhere between 30 and 70 minutes of focused spiritual time in the morning to maintain my sanity for the day.

I honestly don’t know if that sounds like a lot or a little; to me it’s just what is required.

As I got serious about being professional, I realized that I had these daily needs for the things that the spiritual life offers me—I constantly craved more peace, more humility, more sanity, more love—but that I seldom owned up to my part of the equation. I really just expected that God would swoop in like Superman and magically make my heart more peaceful. The time I offered him was in fits and starts: I’d say prayers in crisis, or a hurried line or two as I sat in traffic, or on my lunch break.

That’s like a professional writer expecting to write a brilliant novel by writing for 4 minutes every morning and then in 30 second spurts throughout the day: it may get done in 40 years, but it may have little consistency and excellence. Furthermore, when you consider how quickly the novel could have been written had the writer just sat down and done the work consistently and faithfully, it seems a bit tragic.

Poet Sylvia Plath used to wake up at 4:30 every morning to write because that’s when she could get her work done. Writer Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4am to get in five or six hours’ worth of work. When I was writing for Maida Vale, I’d wake up at 5:30 to do my songwriting exercises before the kids stirred for school.

An artist’s commitment to his or her work drives her time.

We have to really decide how important this God—and this life He offers us—really is, and then adjust our schedules accordingly. You’ll be amazed at the change you can feel when you can stretch out and REST a bit.

NOW A WORD ABOUT TOOLS…

After we manage to get our time sorted out, the bigger question remains: what do we do with it? This, in itself, is daunting because of the sheer number of options available: devotions, prayers, books, music, etc. The Bible itself is 66 books and a thousand pages of stories, prayers, instructions, letters.

Where do you start?

As I said, without necessarily telling you exactly what I do, I’ll just throw out some examples of what I’ve DONE in my journal towards becoming a professional. These are simple tools that the church has historically used. They are the “hammer and nails” of building a spiritual life—they may not be sexy, but they’ve been proven to work over time.

BIBLE

In so many ways, it all starts with scripture. Our spiritual life is one of RESPONDING to God, and in so many ways God’s first word to us comes through scripture. But where and how to begin with such an overwhelming book? In a way, the worst thing we can do is to sit down with this Book (or rather, these books) and simply start reading. There are a few options.

1. A reading plan. If you’ve never read “the whole story”, I’d say start here. Read the whole thing, preferably in chronological order so that you get a sense of storylines and history. I try to do this every 5 years or so, just to remind myself of how grand God’s work is.

2. One book at a time, one question at a time. This was one of the key pieces of advice I heard from a theologian. Anything else can lead to (a) being overwhelmed or (b) getting crazy answers from the text. So consider what questions you have of God and the Bible (“Who was Jesus?” “What does Paul have to say about living in community?” “How did the first followers of Jesus behave?”). Then pick a book and start reading with those questions in mind. Honestly, sometimes you won’t get an answer, but at least the processs is manageable.

3. Lectio Divina. This “Divine Reading” is a method of approaching scripture that the church developed over time. It’s a way of closely listening to the scriptures that can speak to your heart in a highly personal, intimate way. It involves using small chunks of scripture, reading slowly, and imagining yourself in the story. You can find additional resources on lectio here, or contact me for more info.

PRAYER

For me, prayer is the thing. It is the mechanism for communion and fellowship with the Father. There are tons of different ways to pray, but here are just two resources to get you started:

1. Common Prayer. This is the prayer that liturgical churches pray every day. You can find it online here, and there’s also an app. What I love about Common Prayer is that structures your prayer time with scripture and some prayers that have been written and tested, while leaving time for our own prayers and words during intercession. One thing that can be difficult about using this resource is that it’s meant to be done in community; when I use it I just read everything out loud. Many of us are predisposed to think that “reading prayers” is somehow less spiritual, but I actually find it very useful. I just direct my thoughts and words towards God as I read, and this has turned into a strong backbone for my morning time with God for a long time.

2. The Lord’s Prayer. I’ve mentioned this before, but one way to start structuring your prayer life is to use the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. The trick is to savor the words and to speak them slowly with meaning, occasionally “unpacking” a word or phrase as you pray. In truth this prayer could make up the whole of your prayer time in the morning, but it’s up to you how thoroughly you use it.
The point of all this is to have some kind of plan, to shrink the change that you’re trying to undergo. You don’t have to use these tools exactly, but as we begin to embrace a professional faith the point is to help ourselves with structure and tools.

Next up: Make It Easy.

Professional Christian Redux

I’ve written before about becoming a “Professional Christian.” To reiterate, most people think that a “professional” refers to someone who is remote, and only committed to something—a business, a movement, a faith—because of what they can get out of it, particularly monetarily speaking.

A lot of folks think that a professional is defined only by the payoff.

However, as great writers and thinkers like Seth Godin and Stephen Pressfield point out, a true professional isn’t defined by the payoff she might get; rather a professional is defined by their commitment to their craft.

A professional isn’t governed by their feelings; they show up, day after day, to do the work that they’ve been called to do. They stay in it when things get difficult, and they don’t deviate until the job is done, the book is produced, the art is finished.

A professional is faithful.

Doesn’t that sound like a disciple?

As part of my job, I spend time with a variety of different people. I’ve recently been hanging out with a nineteen year old guy who is pretty talented at a variety of different things—music, programming, sports, etc.—but who is having a difficult time focusing his efforts.

His life lacks a little momentum.

We started going through (of all things) Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I told him, “We’ll mutually agree on reading chapters. If you show up and you haven’t done the reading, you have to buy me lunch. Otherwise, I’ll pay.”

(So far, he’s doing fine.)

Two weeks in, however, he set aside his book and told me, “Hey, I need to talk to you; I’m kind of struggling spiritually… I’m just not ‘feeling it.'”

We talked about all of the things that could be behind this situation, but essentially it boiled down to the fact that he simply wasn’t “showing up.”

His spirituality was governed by how he felt, rather than his commitment to putting himself in front of God (and to putting God in front of himself) frequently and consistently enough to allow God to grow and mature his faith.

This, my friends, is what “amateur spirituality” looks like.

It’s governed by emotionalism, by whether or not we “feel like” praying, worshiping, meditating, serving, etc., etc.

The long-term results are a shallow, lukewarm faith, and ultimately apathy.

Rather, I think we need to learn to cultivate a spirituality that shows up, day after day to do our part in allowing God to form His Spirit in us. It’s not easy; it’s not automatic; it’s not quick.

But professionals don’t care about any of those things.

Professionals are committed to the long-term “win”.

They’re committed to the project.

To the art.

To the vision.

Here’s the thing: God wants you to grow. He intends for you to become Christ-like.

This is no far-fetched, strange notion; it’s actually the entire point of our existence. IF we take seriously the fact that God created us as icons—images—of Himself (Genesis 1v27); if Jesus really meant that we are supposed to “greater things” than he did (John 14v12); if we really are meant to grow up into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 3v19), then we have to take seriously the idea that we have work to do (even as God does His work in us).

So why not commit to it, as a professional?

How can you become more “professional” in your spiritual life? In what ways do you need to simply start showing up, day-in and day-out?

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