Looking Back: Thoughts on a Protestant Order


Yesterday was full and good day of ministry. I began by enjoying coffee with a worship pastor friend with whom I meet every other Thursday to share our lives with one another. Then, I helped lead a day retreat in Orange, CA for a number of Christian leaders from the area. I never cease to be amazed at the creative compassion of God in how He expresses Himself to His beloved sons and daughters. Then, I ended the day speaking to the InterVarsity chapter at University of California at Irvine. I came home tired and grateful.

Tomorrow, I’ll lead another one of our “An Unhurried Day with Jesus” events at Creekside Christian Fellowship in Irvine, CA. Then, I’ll preach at the three Sunday services at the Ventura (CA) Vineyard on the theme of “Prayer: A Relationship with God”. I’d be grateful for your prayers.

I so long to be part of a wider movement of Christ followers who share a common life of intimacy with God, love for one another and shared engagement in Christ’s work in His world. Below is a link to a post from January on what such a movement might look like.

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Looking Back: Cultivating Holy Rhythms of Life


I continue today to recover from a lovely cold/flu that’s parked in my chest. Hurray for antibiotics and cough syrup with codeine. So I’ll make this one short.

E. Glenn Hinson, in an article from Weavings (May/June 2002), talked about how we might more deeply practice the presence of God in our lives through rhythms of daily and occasional disengagements from our activities to simply be in the presence of God.

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An Upside to Monotony?


I read the following in Dennis Okholm’s Monk Habits for Everyday People:

“[quoting Michael Casey] The purpose of the relentless sameness of the monastic round is to create a climate in which hidden aspects of the personality become manifest. External monotony is an invitation to inner change, whereas novelty and constant variety short-circuit the process of going deeper.’

We will discover our true selves as we patiently simmer in communities and relationships to which God has called us. And we will find God there as well, because if we cannot find God where we are, we will not find him elsewhere. Except for those extreme or abusive cases, if you haven’t seen God in your marriage, in your present employment, in your neighborhood, or in your church fellowship, then chances are you won’t see God in your next marriage, job, neighborhood, or church.” (p. 96-97.)

Reflection questions:

  • What is your hunger level for variety? In what ways is this a reflection of God’s great creativity and “new every morning”-ness? In what ways might it be a way of escaping the rhythms, rituals and habits that might be a place of maturing for you?
  • To what degree are you tempted to leave a place you’ve been for a while? How much “the grass is greener over there” is moving you?
  • In what ways might God be inviting you to stay put rather than start over?

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Looking Back: Family Rhythms


It’s been a good week of retreat. Yesterday afternoon and evening, we reflected together on Psalm 139 then heard one another’s stories of how we have known ourselves beloved by God. It was amazing to hear some of the unique ways God has shown his love over our lifetimes. What a gift to be part of a spiritual family like this!

Today, I’m reposting a link from May 2009 when I shared an insightful word from David Robinson’s Family Closter about rhythms of family spirituality. Enjoy!

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Thoughts on a Protestant Order


The Leadership Institute staff community has long functioned as a kind of Protestant Christian order, though we have not formalized that as of yet. (I use “Protestant” to distinguish from an Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic order). Elton Trueblood had a remarkable little essay on the theme, “The Emerging Order” (and being written in the 1950s, he wasn’t talking about anything related to the contemporary Emergent movement). Listen to this:

“The idea that is developing so powerfully is the idea of an order. An order is a society of persons, united by some common rule of obligation. The reformation that is sought is that by which the church as we know it becomes an order in this sense.” (Elton Trueblood. “The Emerging Order.” The Yoke of Christ and Other Sermons. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958, p. 120.)

An order is a community of men and women who are connected on the basis of a common rhythm of life and ministry. This is how I would prefer to state “common rule of obligation” (a phrase which feels more rigid and less life-giving to me). Becoming an order or being part of an order is not about making people as comfortable as possible as they come to us. We don’t invite them to join on the basis of self-interest, then grow in selfless discipleship to Jesus. At least that wasn’t His approach.

“What is needed, by contrast, is a movement of great power which cuts across all denominational lines, so that those who are working for the recovery of the lost provinces in the Methodist Church will feel a deep sense of unity with those who are doing the same in the Presbyterian Church, though this horizontal loyalty never interferes with the denominational loyalty. This is exactly what is coming to pass, and it presents no conflict of loyalty whatever. Because an order is radically different from a denomination, loyalty to both at the same time involves no difficulties. We must be wary of new religious movements which tend to draw people away from their local churches. What we seek, instead, is a movement which, by the inculcation of a new mood and the encouragement of a new discipline, can make ordinary Christians more effective members where they already belong and where their contributions are needed.” (Trueblood, p. 121.)

An order does not have to live within a single denominational or organizational boundary. In fact, it is probably better if it doesn’t. An order is a relational reality that seeks to serve the various communities and traditions from which participants come. It doesn’t exist for its own benefit, but for the benefit of others. Whatever order emerges from the extended community of The Leadership Institute will seek to serve the churches, institutions and ministries from which members come. It would not seek to replace or supplant them, but serve and enrich them. That’s at least what I long for.

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Rule of Life and Martin Luther King


One of my presentations at The Journey retreat is on the theme of “Rhythm of Life.” “Rule of life” is more common phrase, but I find this word is less inviting to this recovering perfectionist.

In her book, Soul Feast, Marjorie Thompson says, “A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. When we speak of patterns in our life, we mean attitudes, behaviors, or elements that are routine, repeated, regular. Indeed, the Latin tern for ‘rule’ is regula, from which our words regular and regulate derive. A rule of life is not meant to be restrictive, although it certainly asks for genuine commitment. It is meant to help us establish a rhythm of daily living, a basic order within which new freedoms can grow. A rule of life, like a trellis, curbs our tendency to wander and supports our frail efforts to grow spiritually (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005, p. 146).”

She points out (p. 148) that Martin Luther King, Jr. developed a rule to guide the nonviolent protests of the civil rights movement:

  • Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
  • Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation, not victory.
  • Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  • Pray daily to be used by God in order that all might be free.
  • Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  • Seek to perform regular service for others and the world.
  • Refrain from violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  • Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  • Follow the directions of the movement and the captain of a demonstration.

Perhaps on this day when we remember Martin Luther King’s legacy, we might remember not just the outward good his life inspired, but the way of life that inspired it.

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Looking Back: Resource for a Rhythm of Prayer


Happy Christmas Saturday. I hope that your celebration yesterday was both joyful and triumphant! Our family had a simple but fun day together.

Perhaps in this season as we also prepare for a new year, you’ll be thinking about what your own rhythm of prayer will look like in coming weeks or months. I’ve linked a post from June where I talk a little about some resources that could help.

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Discipline is the Price of Freedom


Today, I will join my colleagues Paul Jensen and Chuck Miller in leading a training/retreat day for the international board and key staff of Open Doors International. We have developed a five-year plan to help them be intentional about putting spiritual transformation at the heart of all they do as a minister to the persecuted church around the world.

In the afternoon, I will share a presentation titled “Rhythm of Life.” A rhythm (or, classically, “rule”) of life is defined by Marjorie Thompson:

“A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. When we speak of patterns in our life, we mean attitudes, behaviors, or elements that are routine, repeated, regular. Indeed, the Latin tern for ‘rule’ is regula, from which our words regular and regulate derive.” (Marjorie Thompson. Soul Feast. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995, p. 138.

In my preparations, I came across this sage counsel from Elton Trueblood on spiritual discipline and true freedom:

“We have not advanced very far in our spiritual lives if we have not encountered the basic paradox of freedom, to the effect that we are most free when we are bound. But not just any way of being bound will suffice; what matters is the character of our binding. The one who would like to be an athlete, but who is unwilling to discipline his body by regular exercise and by abstinence, is not free to excel on the field or the track. His failure to train rigorously and to live abstemiously denies him the freedom to go over the bar at the desired height, or to run with the desired speed and endurance. With one concerted voice the giants of the devotional life apply the same principle to the whole of life with the dictum: Discipline is the price of freedom.” (Elton Trueblood. The New Man for Our Time. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970, p. 69.)

“I am most free when I am most bound. Discipline is the price of freedom.” This is a truth that I haven’t always embraced. I learned it earlier this year as I persisted in daily exercise, losing many excess pounds and gaining endurance, stamina and strength. I was free to cycle 375 miles over five days because I let myself be bound to such daily practice. In the weeks since that ride, I have instead chosen freedom from such daily practices. The fruit has been a diminishing of the freedom that greater energy and resilience have given me.

Why do I become lax in discipline? Somewhere in my thinking are these ideas: “I need a break from discipline. I want to be free of these restrictions. I just need a breather.” Such false freedom has actually reduced the life-affirming freedom I had been enjoying. A relaxing of discipline has diminished me rather than developed me. I don’t have something good to show for my false leisure. Even Sabbath takes discipline. The discipline of saying “No” to the impulse to accomplish something is a hard one, but that will do good work in my body, my mind, my heart and my soul.

I am not to be bound in slavery to without-God passions in my life, but bound in love to Christ Who desires my full attention and devotion. Keeping my gaze fixed on Him is the most fruitful discipline I could possibly practice. How will this grow in me? How will it grow in you?

Buy a copy of Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life
or The New Man for Our Time on Amazon.com

Further Thoughts on “Spiritual Disciplines Guaranteed”


IMG_7358An internet friend of mine, Matthew Gamble, offered a great comment on yesterday’s post, “Spiritual Disciplines Guaranteed.” His thoughts prompted a few more in me that I’ll share here.

Some people prefer structure. Others prefer spontaneity. But our preferences aren’t the whole of us. Being a structure guy myself, I’ve found that a willing embrace of spontaneity has been an important pathway to growth and freshness. Often, embracing what isn’t our preference is critical for spiritual progress. Embracing life-giving structure can be very good for the more free-spirited, spontaneous approach.

As for formulas, this is one of the banes of USAmerican thinking. We tend to take what is organic and vitally alive, then process and package it for mass consumption. Like with food, a lot of the nutrients get lost. We might sell a lot more of it, but is it all that it could be anymore? And formulas tend to forget the mysterious reality of God’s grace, God’s initiative, and God’s empowering presence. You can’t package those!

And as for the practice of “devotional time,” yesterday I joined a group of about 100 church leaders who listened to Jack & Anna Hayford share their lives. He talked about the regularity of his time with God, but that sometimes it was two minutes and sometimes two hours. The focus isn’t on a formula, but on God Himself. I’m not seeking to be faithful to some system of practices, but to a personal, interactive, conversational relationship with my heavenly Father. (But I often catch myself turning my gaze from His face to my practice all the time). Spiritual disciplines are a way of making more unhurried time and uncluttered space to listen for God, watch for God and notice Him. They are not good things I do to gain favor with Him.

Finally, I’ve been discovering interesting evidence of regularity in spiritual practices in the early church. It appears that the earliest Christians may well have continued the prayer rhythm of the temple (morning, afternoon and evening), either in community or individually, but at those times. It is an embryonic version of what would later become more formalized in monastic communities as the daily hours of prayer. (You can read a great summary of this in the introduction of any volume of Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours. I’ve include a link to the Wintertime/Autumn volume here.)

In his book, Subversive Spirituality: Transforming Mission Through the Collapse of Space and Time, Paul Jensen has done a masterful job illustrating the rhythms of spiritual disciplines and ministry disciplines of

  • Jesus Himself
  • the first Christians (Acts)
  • the church of the first two  centuries (apostolic fathers)
  • the church of the modern age (1450 to mid-twentieth century)
  • the church of the postmodern age.

It is, from my biased perspective, a priceless resource along these lines. I’m on my second read already.

A Holy Rhythm of Solitude and Ministry


IMG_2728I lead a lot of retreats that include an extended time alone and quiet with God in the schedule. For many, it’s quite a challenge. For others, it’s a welcome opportunity. Sometimes, I think more would come to our retreats if they were scheduled nice and tight with lots of information to learn or techniques to try out. It’s much harder to “sell” the idea of space to just be with God.

Eugene Peterson says “the contemplative life generates and releases an enormous amount of energy into the world.” Sometimes, we have a hard time see the connection between simple abiding in God’s presence we experience in solitude and silence with God, and fruitful engagement in the relationships and work of our lives.

At another level, when a major portion of a day retreat is time alone rather than time hearing a presentation or learning some skill, it can feel like the participant is paying for a lot of “nothing.” I think some wonder why they should pay to attend a retreat like this when they could do it on their own for free?” Fair question.

My answer? Of course any of us can take the next free day in our schedule to get away somewhere and be with God like this. A better question is, simply, “Will we?” I’ve had the following experience more times than I can count. At the end of one of our retreat days, someone will say, “I’ve heard about solitude and silence for years,” or “I’ve read a lot of what Richard Foster or Dallas Willard say about solitude and silence.” The next thing they’ll say is, “But today is the first time I actually set aside extended time to try this practice on.”

The other day, I led a retreat with five hours alone with God at a local retreat center. At the end of the day, a number of these leaders talked about how hard it is to do what we actually want to do in getting away occasionally to be alone with God. It’s harder than it looks! This is why I work to provide days or weekends that are spacious in design, that include lots of open space and unhurried time to linger with and listen for God. Participants will often share the dramatic impact days like this have on the quality of their lives and their work. I

I would love to see more and more Christ followers actually practicing the rhythm of a day (or partial day) a month alone with God to enjoy communion with Him, to listen for His voice, and to see life, relationships and work in the light of His constant, loving presence. Burn-out would be dramatically reduced. Compassion would rise. Creativity would overflow. But like the child trying to get out of a Chinese finger trap, we usually just keep trying harder and oly find ourselves more squeezed.

I love leading people into God’s presence. If I can serve you through your joining us in one of our Southern California events (Come Away Friday retreats or An Unhurried Day with Jesus Saturday retreat, I’d love it. Or, if you are out of the Southern California area would like to talk about a day retreat like this in your area, I hope you’ll get in touch. For nearly twenty years, this has been one of the greatest joys of my ministry.