Seth Godin and Spiritual Transformation

I read this from Seth Godin in one of my favorite books, Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind

Lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it. And that emotional waiver is why this is your work and not your hobby.

  • Substitute the word spiritual for the word creative, 
  • substitute the phrase truly transform for become a professional, and
  • substitute the word life for work… 

… and you have the secret to spiritual transformation:

Lots and lots of people are spiritual when they feel like it, but you are only going to truly transform if you do it when you don’t feel like it. And that emotional waiver is why this is your life and not your hobby. 

That’s why I believe that the best thing we can do as spiritual people is choose to become “professional Christians“, and do the work, day in and day out.

 

Professional Faith 3: Muscle Confusion

So P90X is all the rage right now.

From what I understand (ahem), it’s all about “muscle confusion”: when you do certain exercises over and over, your body actually adapts to the routine, and eventually you begin to lose some of the benefits of your workout. In order to avoid this you need to keep your muscles “confused” by constantly varying your workout and introducing new exercises.

A professional faith also needs “muscle confusion” in a way.

One of the phrases pastors constantly hear is, “Well, I’m not a _________ person,” where that blank space is occupied by words like, “Bible”, “worship”, “service”, “tithing”, “solitude”, “community”, etc.

People are constantly identifying and declaring their “natural wiring”: how God has naturally wired them.

This is a good thing.

Mostly.

The thing is, as I hear people say (for instance), “Well I don’t really share my junk because I’m not really a community person,” sometimes I think is our faith really based on, “I’m not really?” Is it only based on who we are, or is it based on who we are capable of becoming

Someone better?

I think identifying our natural inclinations and paths for spiritual growth is absolutely invaluable, but if we’re not careful we surrender growth for remaining comfortable in those paths.

And I don’t think that’s what God intends.

All the great religions—Christianity included—are not based on us merely being what we are but on challenging us to be MORE than what we are.

And to be honest, I want that. I need that.

And so here enters the concept of muscle confusion.

A professional faith demands that we not get too comfortable in our daily or weekly disciplines. Growth demands that we stretch ourselves, meaning we engage in pathways and efforts that may feel alien or strange to us.

So community people: choose solitude every once and a while.

Bible people: make sure you are going on mission trips (both local and global).

Service people: make sure you are reading your Bible.

Make no mistake: these will feel uncomfortable, but that’s the point. Spiritual activity that becomes too rote and routine runs the risk of losing its effectiveness.

So to review (and to paint in broad strokes), a professional faith:

  1. Isn’t governed by emotionalism, but shows up, day after day, to do the work of spiritual growth.
  2. Has a plan and engages in tools it needs to grow.
  3. Isn’t afraid to occasionally shake things up in order to get out of routine.

Keep on growing.

 

+e

 

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?

+e

Why Not Become a Professional Christian?

I’d like you to think about becoming a professional Christian.

Do those two words even belong together? What does that look like? A televangelist? A faith healer? A church shopper? A person who takes faith and turns it into something legalistic and dead?

It seems like a far cry away from the idea of loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving others as yourself.

A far cry from the Good Samaritan; from the Father running after his long lost son; from the powerful images pulled from the BIble. Rather it seems dry, dead, almost crass.

I’ll actually allow that it’s really easy to think about it like that; in fact, that’s very much the way I used to think about it.

A year or so ago, a little book was recommended to me, and it has revolutionized my way of thinking about a lot of things.

In The War of Art, writer Stephen Pressfield sets forth powerful insights into the nature of creativity, but as I read the book a thought started to form in my head…

What if these same creative principles apply to living the “Spiritual Life”? 

What if our primary call is to create our own Gospel-shaped life? 

Pressfield says that the key to the creative life is to “become a professional.” Here’s how he describes it:

The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps.

To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation.

The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time.

The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is all there seven days a week.

The word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning “to love.” The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while th epro does it for the money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real vocation.

The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.

So many people are hungry for something different.

So many people ask themselves, “Can my life really be different? Can it look at all like some of these stories I read in the Bible or church history?”

So many people even want it to be different.

But they aren’t willing to “turn pro” as Pressfield defines it.

They may be willing to give their life to God, but they’re not willing to give their life to the process of God’s work in their lives. They’re not willing to give their life to it, to show up every day in order to create their “work of art”—their Gospel-life.

You can hunger all you want, but most of the time it—life change, or spiritual growth—is simply not going to magically happen. We have to commit to going beyond being “amateur Christians” and actually choose to do the work—not in the sense of earning our salvation, but in the sense of arranging our lives for spiritual growth. 

Letting God do the work, but making sure we show up and give His Spirit the space to do so.

What would it look like if you decided to “turn pro”?

What would have to change?

What would you gain?

What would you lose?

 

more thoughts to come….

 

 

 

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Six Ways to Deepen Your Corporate Worship Experience

Sorry it’s been a while. I’ve been busy getting reacclimatized to ministry after a 3-month Sabbatical.

In the upcoming weeks I want to start unpacking my vision of how to create a Gospel-shaped life.

This week’s installment is about how we might deepen our corporate worship experience.

  • I’m assuming here that you share my belief that worship is a spot where heaven meets earth.
  • I’m assuming here that you believe that God indeed inhabits the praises of his people, and that He wants to meet with us, to speak to us, to “do stuff” in us during worship.
  • I’m assuming that you think that worship (not just the musical kind) is probably the most important thing you can do on earth.
  • I’m assuming that you think God is more important than you are, that is, that He belongs on the throne of your life, not you.

So is it possible to learn to worship better?

Should “learn” or “better” even be part of the conversation?

I think they should. I think to the degree that we want worship to be rich and meaningful; to the degree that we want to meet with God and to hear Him speak and feel Him in our presence, we should own up to our end of the bargain. 

We should do our best; we should come to worship with best, not so that we can work our way into God’s presence, but so that we can make the most room for Him—and His Spirit—that we can.

Too often we show up to worship in order to receive only. Doesn’t this turn things around? Doesn’t this make worship about us? About God giving to us? Worship begins when we recognize who God truly is and who we truly are; once that relationship is clear, God tends to then speak and do His business with us in the best possible sense.

So how do we get better at worship? I’d like to suggest six very practical suggestions to helping all of us come to God better prepared to meet with Him.

  1. Get a good night’s sleep. Most of us roll out of bed at the last possible minute on Sunday, scurry to church, get adequately caffeinated (if that’s an option at your church), and then wander in, greeting people as we go, eventually settling down just in time to start singing the third verse of the second song. And then we wonder why the band seemed a little “off” that week, or why worship was a little “dry”. If God is truly worth it, and if the Sabbath is truly the joy that we say it is, maybe Sunday worship should begin on Saturday night. 
  2. Engage in the “worship before the worship.” Before you come to church, read Scripture and pray. Thank God for another day of life, and tell Him you are excited to worship Him today. As you get in your car to come to your gathering place, take time to center down into God’s love. Pray for yourself and for the worship team of your church. Pray for your pastor. Prepare your heart individually in order to engage corporately. 
  3. As you sing, engage deeply with the lyrics. Connect the words to your own life. It’s only thing to sing, “He loves us, oh how He love us” passively and absent-mindedly. It’s another thing entirely to connect those words with your own story.
  4. Be willing to worship “from the outside in”. We talk a lot about “inside-out” worship, and having the inward state of our hearts match the words we are singing. But this ignores a basic truth of how the body occasionally works. The truth of our existence is that our physical postures and expressions can affect our emotional states. This means that sometimes if you want to experience worship more deeply, you should be willing to engage your body. I know there’s lots of different worshiping traditions, some more expressive than others. I also understand that Paul calls us to not be distractions in our corporate gatherings. But within those parameters, I believe we should experiment with physical expressions of worship—raising our hands, clapping (I won’t even mention movement… yet), kneeling, etc.—that can unleash deeper realities for us.
  5. Look Around. We don’t merely worship as private individuals; we worship as a body. Occasionally, take your eyes off of the screens (no really, please take your eyes off the screens) and look around the room. Who is mourning? Say a prayer for them. Who is rejoicing? Celebrate with them. Allow yourself to be shaped by the way your brothers and sisters are worshiping with you.
  6. Offer a sacrifice. Worship isn’t about you. It’s not about the band. It’s about God. It’s easy—so easy—to show up on Sunday morning with an attitude of “Give something to me, God.” Indeed, sometimes life beats us down and it’s all we can do to limp into our gatherings on Sunday.But our job during worship is to offer a sacrifice to God. It’s His job to heal us, to comfort us, to give us faith, to remind us that we’re loved and valued as His children. So consciously make a switch in your mind to give rather than receive. Or at the very least, commit to giving first and receiving second. 

I hope that these six suggestions might equip you to bring a deeper offering to God on Sundays. Ironically, I also think they’re the key to receiving more from God during worship as well.

But it’s still not about that.

peace