I Can’t, But Christ Can


Jesus1When he was in grade school, my youngest son would often look at a hard school assignment and say, “That’s impossible.” I realize that I sometimes say the same thing about situations that enter my life as an adult. This little word from F. B. Meyer has helped me:

“…if only we would meet every call, difficulty, and trial, not saying, as we so often do, ‘I shall never be able to go through it,’ but saying, ‘I cannot’ but Christ is in me, and He can,’ we should find that all trials were intended to reveal and unfold the wealth hidden within us, until Christ was formed within us and His life manifested in our mortal body (Colossians 1:27).” (F. B. Meyer. The Secret of Guidance. Chicago: Moody Press, n.d., p. 43)

Every troubling and testing experience we face leads to a basic question: where am I looking? If I am looking at my capabilities (or, more often, my lack of capabilities), I will be tempted to either self-deprecation or self-reliance. Both are too small to weather the most challenging storms that attack us. Father, somehow teach me that my best first glance is to You. Christ, You are in me. What could be more true, more real, more powerful than that simple fact?

“You may be a prodigal or inconsistent child, but you are a child. If you were wise you would take the child’s place at the Father’s table and enjoy His smiles. They await you. But if you still remain out in the cold, as the elder brother in the parable did, you do not alter the fact that your place is ready for you to occupy when you will.” (Meyer, p. 48)

The words that describe what kind of child I am—obedient or disobedient, loyal or disloyal, godly or ungodly—do not change the fact that I am a child of a loving Father Who longs to enjoy fellowship with me. There is always a chair for me at my Father’s table. There is never a time when I am not invited to come, taste and eat of what He is providing me. Neither greedy excess or cold pride removes my seat from His table. But coming to Him always involves leaving something. Am I willing to leave so I can come?

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When You Can’t Pray for Yourself


b15architecture_interiors007-imagea“When you cannot pray for yourself, begin to pray for others. When your desires flag, take the Bible in hand and begin to turn each text into petition; or take up the tale of your mercies, and begin to translate each of them into praise.” (F. B. Meyer. The Secret of Guidance. Chicago: Moody Press, n.d., p. 31)

This is what I read just before my response to Matthew 9 shared in the last blogpost. F. B. Meyer served me as a wise spiritual director in a place of felt dullness and disconnectedness in prayer. I imagined sitting together with him. What might he have actually said in counseling me?

“Alan, if you don’t feel you can pray for yourself, let God bring the concerns and needs of others to mind. Let your heart be turned inside-out to extend grace to others in prayer. Don’t let your life stay small.

“And do you find that your heart just isn’t ‘in it?’ Take a text and let each verse become a point of connection with God. Respond to Him. Pray honestly just what you think and feel in the moment. Talk to Him about what matters to you, what concerns you, what involves you. Be patient and persistent. Be there and stay there with God. You won’t be sorry if you persevere. You may well be if you don’t try.

“Do you need a sort of jump start of the heart? Let the Spirit surface in your thoughts and feelings a remembrance of His many mercies–present and past. Let Him raise the level of gratitude in you as you remember the many good things He has done on your behalf.”

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Spiritual Disciplines: Undoing What I’m Overdoing


Bethlehem, Church of the Nativity(This evening, I’ll randomly select three of you who’ve been kind enough to share the word about An Unhurried Life with their Twitter, Facebook or blog friends to receive a special thank you (a signed book and a copy of my favorite little prayer book). I appreciate all of you who have already helped out. Click to learn more).

I was reading my journal from earlier this year (which is something I like to do since I’m so good at forgetting things!). I came across an entry that helped me again:

“I awoke this morning thinking about something John Ortberg said about fasting at a recent conference. He said that fasting is a very helpful (and strategic) discipline related to sins of excess (lust, gluttony, etc.). When I am struggling with over-doing something, it is good to practice some form of under-doing something (whether the same thing or another thing). I can feel my body cry out that this would diminish my life. I immediately think of Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 about making his body serve God’s purposes. He uses the extreme language of “I beat my body.” Fasting would be a way of training my body to rely on God for what it needs, rather than running the show with its cravings and longings.

I can treat the impulses of my body as I’ve treated certain thoughts and feelings that I discern to be immature and fleshly. There are times when thoughts and feelings I have seem more childish or juvenile than adult. This is perhaps true of bodily impulses as well. I can easily imagine an impulse of lust being a seventeen-year-old version of me with hormones racing. I can say “No” to those impulses that aren’t adult, mature, loving, holy and whole. This is but one way I choose life.

I can do this by the readily available grace of Your Spirit, Jesus. Thank You!

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Robert Mulholland: The Religious False Self


mulholland(Through this Thursday 9/12, help me get word out about An Unhurried Life? I have a nice little thank you for three who do. Click to learn more)

In his book, The Deeper Journey, Robert Mulholland paints a compelling picture of what he calls our “religious false self,” that “me” that I put on like a mask or a disguise to make others see me in a particular way.

“Often our religious false self hides its fear behind a wall of activity. Our religious false selves can be as frenetic in our religiosity as secular false selves are in their performance-oriented attempts to authenticate their identity and value. A welter of worship services, Bible studies, prayer meetings, accountability groups, fellowship meetings, retreats and workshops often enable us to calm our fears and assure ourselves that our religious identity and value is secure. Of course, the praise and adulation we usually receive for all these activities further serve to confirm the validity of our idol and the box in which it is kept.” (p. 51.)

Our religious false self can hide behind a flurry of “Christian” activity and moral performances just as impressive as any workaholic working another late night at the office. We do more and more, and begin to believe we are more and more. There is, of course, much to be done. But we do not do it to prove our value, but rather to express our value. The value is given and already there. We are not establishing it but displaying it. It is not a testimony first to us, but to Jesus Who does such good work.

Instead of finding our sense of value, meaning, our very “name” in relation to the One Who loves us and in continual abiding relationship to Him, we uprooted ourselves from this rich soil and try to plant ourselves in the soils of achievement, pleasure, accumulation, productivity, moral crusade, popular acclaim. We uncling from every false vine so that we might abide in the one true vine.

“Our false self and its world, even our religious false self, hallow position, power, prestige, possessions, popularity and performance. Identity, meaning, value and purpose are found in these. To live in public intimacy with God, to live so that God’s name is hallowed, is to become lowly, powerless, without esteem, simple in lifestyle, unconcerned with the plaudits of the crowd, being in God for the world. Such a life becomes a threat to our false self and its world, especially to our religious false self. A God‑hallowing life in such a world may come to manifest the ultimate revelation of God–cruciform love.” (p. 157.)

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A Powerful Spiritual Leadership Resource


(Would you be willing to help get the word out about my book, An Unhurried Life? Between now and September 12, I’m asking my friends to tweet, Facebook, blog or review the book to let others know. Click to learn more)

Prayer gazebo at the Young Life conference center in Jarabacoa, DR.

I have done some of my best thinking and praying when I drive. On my way to Fuller Seminary this morning, I sensed God’s Spirit raising a question in me: “Does my life stir hunger in others to grow in God, or do I try to manipulate them into behaving better or working harder?” Does my influence come as only an outward appeal, or is something of the life and vitality of God so growing in me that others might be drawn to Him through me? I don’t feel like a model of perfection, but I’d like to be a model of progress.

Do I believe that perhaps my greatest leadership resource is the life of God being formed within me? Am I growing in my experience of God’s love and in loving Him back. Might my life draw others to join me on the same journey? Is my life any different in the ways of God from those I’m seeking to offer spiritual leadership? Am I making significant strides in transformation in the ways of God? Am I making significant space in my schedule for solitude, silence and prayer?

As a leader, I lead by going somewhere, by going further in the direction of Christ’s purposes for my life. I cannot give what I have not been given. I cannot give spiritual direction to another if I don’t know where I am going spiritually. I cannot describe a place on the spiritual journey if I have not been  traveling that path myself.

Father, grant me greater grace to continue growing more and more in Christ. May He be so fully formed in me that I could say with greater integrity the words Paul said to the Galatian church, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (2:20).”

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Kyle Strobel: Discovering the Life of Grace (Part 3)


kyleLast week, Jamin Goggin, Saddleback Church’s pastor of spiritual formation, launched their first in a series of Conversations in Spiritual Formation at Saddleback’s Rancho Capistrano retreat. Kyle Strobel, author of Formed for the Glory of God, shared on the theme, “Discovering the Life of Grace.”  I appreciated his insight that grace is far more than mere forgiveness, but is God’s gift of God’s own self in Jesus Christ to us. I found Kyle’s insights helpful in so many very personal ways. In gratitude I am sharing my notes in three installments here.

As always, when I share notes from a presentation, my standard disclaimer is that these are insights that I gained from listening to Kyle. They are sometimes his exact words or quotations. They are sometimes my own words or reflections on what he shared. So, don’t assume I’ve transcribed his presentation. And these notes are lightly edited, so bear with possible typos or grammatical goofs. I’ll take responsibility for any way in which I might have misunderstood him. With that in mind, I pray these notes will help you in your own journey of entering into the life of God’s grace.

- – -

(Read Part Two)

Abiding is relationship. This pushes against the self- help mechanisms of our culture.

Jesus primary identity was Son. Jesus’s life is an image of abiding in loving relationship with the Father

that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:21, 23, 26 NIV)

We participate in Jesus’ relationship with the Father. The Christian life is a continual abiding in relationship.

Do we have the status of children without enjoying the life of being God’s child?

We receive a posture of embracing the Father.

Spiritual disciplines can turn into another mechanism. Spiritual disciplines are a means of noticing and enjoying grace. They are a posture we take before God. All the postures we take before God are meant to be a mutual embrace.

This postures before God involve:

1. Embracing the life of God in grace. We allow ourselves to be aware of idols we are tempted to embrace instead. We are caught up into the life of God. This is more than self-help.

2. Abiding by living our lives with God. We accept that we are partakers of the divine nature.

3. Anticipating: We realize that there is still an element of “not yet” in our experience of God’s full presence. This is not yet the new heaven and new earth of full realization.

This is a season of faith and hope. These become sight in heaven. Only love is eternal.

The truth of who we actually are surfaces when we come into the Presence. We must embrace and acknowledge our God given strengths.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 NIV)

Beauty, affection, and love are the atmosphere in which we engage God.

Regimens (stage and situation of life specific) and rhythms (regular practices like meditation and contemplation) can help us live this life of grace.

Are we trying to conquer our sins for God and before we can be in God’s presence, or are we learning to be with God in the midst of our struggles and stumbles?

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Kyle Strobel: Discovering the Life of Grace (Part 2)


kyleLast Friday evening, Jamin Goggin, Saddleback Church’s pastor of spiritual formation, launched their first in a series of Conversations in Spiritual Formation at Saddleback’s Rancho Capistrano retreat. Kyle Strobel, author of Formed for the Glory of God, shared on the theme, “Discovering the Life of Grace.”  I appreciated his insight that grace is far more than mere forgiveness, but is God’s gift of God’s own self in Jesus Christ to us. I found Kyle’s insights helpful in so many very personal ways. In gratitude I am sharing my notes in three installments here.

As always, when I share notes from a presentation, my standard disclaimer is that these are insights that I gained from listening to Kyle. They are sometimes his exact words or quotations. They are sometimes my own words or reflections on what he shared. So, don’t assume I’ve transcribed his presentation. And these notes are lightly edited, so bear with possible typos or grammatical goofs. I’ll take responsibility for any way in which I might have misunderstood him. With that in mind, I pray these notes will help you in your own journey of entering into the life of God’s grace.

- – -

(Read Part One)

Do we think about gospel as the presence of God with us? Or, do we mostly think of a courtroom? The problem with the courtroom as primary is that it is not a place of lasting friendship. You do your business in court and you leave it behind (hopefully). You aren’t a friend to the judge or even your attorney.

Trying hard to be forgiven is lifeless. It is a very human gospel. But God has actually given Himself to us. Grace is the gift of God’s own life.

Two main biblical images beyond the courtroom that help us enter into this: adoption and marriage. Both are metaphors of family and affection.

We are God’s sons and daughters in Jesus Christ. The Son has broken open his relationship with the Father to us. “Abba” is Jesus’s prayer, and we are invited to pray it in Jesus. He is a Son by nature. We are children by grace.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:3-6 NIV)

For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18, 22 NIV)

In adoption, we break open our lives to welcome a child into them. This is what God has done for us.

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4 NIV)

Legal issues are involved in adoption and marriage, but this isn’t the focus. We don’t dwell on a marriage license or adoption papers. The focus in these is love—relationship. Adoption and marriage give us a new identity. It’s a relational reality.

A courtroom is not the ongoing purpose of the Christian life.

The prodigal son could only assume his true identity at the loving initiative of the father. He couldn’t get past the dutifulness of a slave.

Do we treat grace as limited, as if someone else receiving grace diminishes its availability to me?

We tend to turn everything into a mechanism that we control. It doesn’t become about being with God.

Do we go to church as a mechanism to feel forgiven, or as a place where, together, we come to know and enjoy God and be known by God?

(Read Part 3)

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