Spiritual Leadership: Lessons from Spiritual Direction


Here is a great summary of what makes a good spiritual director. These qualities are also useful for those of us in any form of spiritual leadership. You can easily change out the words “spiritual director” for “Christian leader.”

How is God growing these qualities in your own life and ministry?

The lines in bold come from Kenneth Leech’s revised version of Soul Friend (Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 2001, p. 84-85.)

“From the tradition, the spiritual director appears, first as a person possessed by the Spirit….”

The consensus among Christian spiritual writers is that the best mentors of the spiritual life are those who are uniquely gifted by God in this way. Those whose lives are growing in holiness and in intimacy with God are the ones who we can trust to give good spiritual guidance. A godly spiritual director is one in whom Christ is making Himself more and more fully at home.

TO READ MORE OF THIS, HEAD ON OVER TO THE LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE BLOG.

God’s Measureless Faithfulness


rainbowThe other day, in my morning lectionary reading, I came across a psalm line that captured my imagination.

He remembers his covenant forever,
      the promise he made, for a thousand generations…”
Ps 105:8 NIV

God has no problem with remembering. I can forget things moments after I’ve heard them or seen them. I am, sadly, pretty good at forgetting. It’s why I’m all the more impressed and impacted by the idea that God would make a promise that would still be on his mind a thousand generations from now.

Somehow, a thousand generations feels longer than forever. I can’t imagine 30,000 years. If my three sons have children, who have children, and this pattern continues for 998 more cycles, we could be in the year 32,014 (not allowing, of course, for the culmination of all things coming sooner). Even then, the Lord would remember a promise he might make to me about my generations to come. Isn’t that measureless faithfulness? Talk about an unhurried God.

And so it isn’t hard to imagine that God still has in mind promises he mades to Adam, or Abraham, or Moses, or David, and ways in which I am, today, a beneficiary and heir to the benefits of those promises, not by blood but by faith.

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There are promises Gem and I feel God made to us many years ago early in our marriage. Some of them have not yet been fulfilled. I wonder if some of them might not be fully fulfilled for generations. Would I be O.K. with that?

Awakened by Reality


Hole in a wine barrel.

Hole in a wine barrel.

[As a brief reminder, I am blogging twice a week on our ministry blog at The Leadership Institute website. Many are sharing that they appreciate hearing different voices from our Journey community over there.]

I recently had a very hard conversation to which I wasn’t looking forward. Those are always hard, aren’t they? But experiences like this have a way of awakening us to reality in a way that “life as usual” doesn’t. We find we need to say something we had hoped to keep hidden. Or we find we need to hear something that feels quite unwelcome. Reality. And there’s nothing quite like reality to awaken us to the Real.

I’ve quoted from George MacDonald novels before. In his The Highlander’s Last Song (one of the first of his novels that I read when I discovered him), he describes a scene in which two main characters are threatened by a flash flood. The coldness of the water and the danger of drowning was bracing to them both. In comment, MacDonald observes:

“When we are most aware of fact‑ness, we are most aware of our need of God, and most able to trust him. The recognition of inexorable reality in any shape, or kind, or ways tends to rouse the soul to the yet more real, to its relations with higher and deeper existence. It is not the hysterical alone for whom the great dash of cold water is good. All who dream life instead of living it require some similar shock. Every disappointment, every sorrow, every tragedy of life can work the same way–can drive one a trifle nearer to the truth of being.” (MacDonald, George. The Highlander’s Last Song. Ed. Michael R. Phillips. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1986, p. 160-61.)

How much of our lives do we sleepwalk? How often are we daydreaming instead of actually living? A bracing splash of cold water in the face is a helpful metaphor for those moments when God awakens us to what actually is—in us, around us, in others.

A few months ago when I was in Nigeria for the Journey, I had a conversation with a pastor who had just escaped from a muslim extremist attack on his village. He had narrowly escape at least eight different times with his life in just a couple of days. At one point, he was in a cornfield surrounded by armed extremists. He was rather certain that he was facing his final moments in this life. He then prayed that God would deliver him and his family. Within moments, a hard rain began to fall that scattered the armed men. He made his escape. To hear this pastor’s story was bracing for me. That pastor gave me a gift that I am still cherishing.

What hard thing lately has felt like an unwelcome splash of very cold water in your face? What has happened to you that you resist with everything in you? How might that become the sort of encounter with reality that could awaken your soul to the Real?

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Engaging the Scriptures for Life-Change


Beautiful shot by Scotty Bruce, a friend and alumni of The Journey.

Beautiful shot by Scotty Bruce, a friend and alumni of The Journey.

Often, in the morning, I will read the particular Psalm, Old Testament, Gospel, and New Testament lectionary readings for the day, then journal my responses to them with these questions in mind:

• “What do you want to say to me, Lord, through these readings?
• What do you want me to know and remember?
• What do you want me to hear and hold onto?
• What do you want me to feel and be confident of?
• Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

If you have never read the scriptures through the lectionary, you can learn more about this on Ken Collins’ web site, and you can see the current readings here on his site).

One morning in May of this year, these were the lines that caught my attention, and my journalled responses:

  • Ps 40:2, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” God lifts me up out of the messy, muddy, trapped places I find myself, and gives me the gift of a solid, secure, firm place to stand and live. I’m so grateful for this grace.
  • Ps 40:13, “Be pleased to save me, Lord; come quickly, Lord, to help me.” This prayer implies that the Lord is one who is pleased to save me and help me without undue or unkind delay. He isn’t biding His time, but is attentive and present. Any delay on God’s part is strategic and not arbitrary.
  • Ps 54: 4, “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” I can have confidence that God really is my help, and the One who sustains me. I am sustained by God himself.
  • Ex 34:21, “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.” There are seasons when we will be sorely tempted to work when we should, and when God invites us, to rest. Our culture amplifies, endorses and even embodies this temptation.
  • Ex 34:29, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” There is a radiance in our countenance when we are in conversational relationship with God. This is the holy mysticism that some resist for fear of being misled or misguided by some other presence. Counterfeits copy something of value. We don’t toss the valuable because it has been counterfeited. We use discernment to be sure that we are only embracing the genuine article.
  • 1 Th 3:9, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” There is a gratitude and joy we can have in God’s presence as we think of those we serve in the gospel. This is the nature of “abiding for others” in prayer.
  • Mt 5:37, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” I don’t have to reinforce the truth I speak with vows and promises and oaths. I can be a person who says “Yes” and lives “Yes,” or says “No” and lives “No.”

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Book Endorsement: Beloved Dust


21548911I’m glad to write a little endorsement here of Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel’s new book Beloved Dust. The publisher was kind enough to send along a copy a couple of weeks ago (though that does not influence my opinion of the work).

I wanted to wait to write this until I’d had a chance to read a few chapters. This has been a great pleasure. What I have most appreciated in what they write is the inviting sense they offer of bringing the “real me” to the “real God,” in a sense, dustiness and all (and idea they talk about in the book).

We don’t pray prayers that we think God wishes to hear, or that show us in our “best light.” We come and pray honestly. We show God the places where we know we need grace. We do not hide our dustiness behind sanitized and sanctimonious prayers. We pray our hearts and our minds and our guts just as we find them when we come.

I hope you’ll get yourself a copy and enjoy it as much as I am. It’s well worth your investment of time.

Buy your copy of Beloved Dust on Amazon.com

Grateful Listening to Scripture


IMG_0834The other morning, as I was enjoying my morning reading of the lectionary passages for the day, I found myself very grateful. I journalled this little prayer of thanks:

“Thank you, Jesus, for enabling me to read these texts with an ear to hear your voice, rather than with a sense of needing to fulfill my “spiritual formation” duty. I sometimes fall asleep to this simple reality. Thank you for awakening me to remember that spiritual practices are simply a way of offering you the gift of my attention…of my abiding in you. Thank you for reminding me that my deepest and truest hungers and thirsts are satisfied in you. Too often I begin in a place of hunger and thirst for your living presence and present voice, but then devolve into a sense of duty, obligation and lifeless focus on my faithfulness or my unfaithfulness, neither of which brings life. Only your faithfulness does this. It sounds simple to write this prayer, but I can so easily become focused on my side of our relationship in such a way that I forget your initiative and interest that always precedes mine. Thank you, and Amen.”

I’ve realized along the way that sometimes I come to the scriptures as a listener, but sometimes I come to the scriptures seeking answers to the questions I have crafted, solutions to the problem I have identified, blessings the ideas I’ve hatched. It’s too easy to fool myself that I’m seeking God’s kingdom first when I’m really seeking God’s kickstart of mine.

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Confidence in the Presence


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I love finding meaningful insights in little lines of scripture where you don’t expect it. For example, I recently read this line in my morning scripture reading:

Colossians 4:17 NIV, “Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.’”

It made me think that I could paraphrase it for myself…

Read the rest of my post at spiritualleadership.com/blog/

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