The Lasting Influence of Jesus


A simple house in a small village in the Dominican Republic. Unimpressive, but beautiful

Good morning on this Saturday. It’s been a restful one for me this morning. I’m grateful. I was looking through some old posts on this site, and came across this one from a few years ago about the remarkable nature of Jesus’s lasting influence in the world. It’s worth a revisit: 

“[Jesus] did not leave a book; He did not leave an army; He did not leave an organization, in the ordinary sense. What He left, instead, was a little redemptive fellowship made up of extremely common people whose total impact was miraculous. Though the members were individually unworthy, the fellowship which they came to share was so far superior to the sum of its parts that it was not only able to survive and endure, but finally to dominate and to save.” (Elton Trueblood. “The Salt of the Earth.” The Yoke of Christ and Other Sermons. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958, p. 25.)

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The One Who Welcomes Our Prayers


IMG_2266“God must not be represented as one who needs to be cajoled, and prayer must not be presented as a device by which we wring from a grudging Father what He does not want to give us. Prayer is not an overcoming of God’s reluctance, for He already wants the best for us. It is not because God’s will needs to be changed, but because of our own weakness and ineptitude that prayer must be continuous and persistent.” (Trueblood, Elton. The Lord’s Prayers. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965, p. 42.)

When I pray, how do I imagine God’s posture towards me? Do I have a vision of the Father that looks more a human father on a bad day? (Being a father is a hard job, and few are well-prepared for it).

Continual prayer is not about pestering God into doing what we want Him to do. We do not need to jumpstart Him. Praying continually is an invitation to live in constant communion with a measurelessly good God who is always available, always caring, always for me. I have lived so much of my life as though God were distant and rarely available. I have behaved as though I did not have access to all the resources of heaven as a joint-heir with Jesus Christ. I pray continually not to gain favor but to abide in favor.

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A Graced Rhythm of Life


img_26101On the last morning of Journey retreat #1 (which I enjoyed a week ago with Generation 22), I talk about the theme of “Rhythm of Life.” The more traditional idea is a “rule of life.” I came across this recently in my reading:

“[Quoting then Dean of the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, MA] The adoption of a rule of life is the declaration of our belief that prayer and personal religion will be developed only as we regularly and devotedly pay attention to them. It is to exercise consistently those parts of our life that have to do with our inner relation to God. This is to recognize that prayer, simply when we feel like praying or “when the spirit moves us,” is never enough to build on, and that progress is never made when all is left to chance or our emotions. A rule of life affirms that, once having decided what is everlastingly true concerning our devotional life, we then commit ourselves to the best way we know of getting there and abide by the rule as well as we can, come what may.” (Trueblood, Elton. The Lord’s Prayers. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965, p. 28.)

A rule of life, in this sense, is an acknowledgement that merely spontaneous prayer is not a foundation on which to build a deeply rooted communion with God. Growth in prayer is not dependent on a consistent and effusive inclination towards God, but often requires a resolve to place myself before the God I cannot sense or discern in a particular moment (or even season).

In the same way that an athlete seeking after high performance needs a consistent training plan and schedule she remains faithful to whether her “feel like it” is high or low, so we need simple, practicable rhythms to place ourselves before God day-by-day and even moment-by-moment.

If you’d like to explore this theme further, I highly recommend Stephen Macchia’s book on the theme, Crafting a Rule of Life. I had the pleasure of enjoying breakfast with Steve a few weeks ago while he was out here in California. He’s a person who lives what he shares, and shares what he lives.

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True and False Unity


2010.08.09 Just Be Taught (25%)“What we need in the effort to achieve the unity for which Christ prayed, is not a dull uniformity, but a variety with mutual appreciation. How wonderful if each group, when it makes some discovery, could feel that it holds this discovery in trust for the entire Church and should give every encouragement to others to imitate it. The paradox is that a faithful Christian society nourishes something that is unique, only in the hope that it will no longer be unique.” (Trueblood, Elton. The Lord’s Prayers. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965, p. 102.)

True Christian unity is not a clonish copying of one influential leader among us. It is a united expression of the many-faceted grace of God that it takes all of the members of Christ’s body to fully express. Variety in concert is the pathway. The person of Jesus is the vision.

This is a vision that pastors can have for their congregations—a vision to help develop the unique expressions of grace that may or may not “get a church program job done,” but may further the kingdom in measureless ways.

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Following Jesus Into Solitude


IMG_1066One of the writers who has provided me rich counsel in cultivating Jesus’s own rhythm of work and rest has been Elton Trueblood (1900-1994). Below is my paraphrase of a quotation from his book, The Lord’s Prayers (1965).

At times, Jesus would invite His disciples away from the demands of ministry and take them with Him alone and quiet in retreat. The gospel of Mark shows Jesus inviting them: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest (Mark 6:31).” Is there any better rationale than this for busy people in serving, healing, teaching and ministering professions getting away for regular times of retreat? These times of stepping away are no sign of failure or actual loss, but are an opportunity to regather resources for the good work given us by God. We return to the work of ministry renewed, revitalized and ready again. Such a rhythm results in greater progress than is produced by continual labor. Every busy person should see their lives in chapters. Some chapters involve active and hard work. Other chapters involve rest and preparation. In our hectic, busy world, it grows harder to find times and places to be alone and quiet with God, but it is still possible. Such a rhythm requires significant personal leadership and a conscious, deliberate plan. The rhythm of times away from our work enables us to bring far more to our work when we return. Being released from the pressure to produce, impress others or “be on” can be an enormous relief.

UnhurriedLife_smBy the way, my book, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest (IVP, June 2013), is now available for preorder on Amazon. And in case you’d be interested in the original Trueblood quotation, here it is:

“Sometimes Christ separated the Apostles from the strain of human encounter by taking them apart with Him, when their need was sufficient. “And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while’” (Mark 6:31). Here is the support for the requirement that busy people, especially those in the serving, healing, and teaching occupations, should engage in. periodic retreats. These withdrawals do not involve failure, or any backward motion, but rather a gathering of resources for renewed encounter. They are really advances rather than retreats. Every busy life should be lived in chapters, including chapters devoted to work and chapters devoted to preparation for work. With the world‑wide increase in population, the experience of absolute solitude is becoming daily more difficult, but for most of us it is still possible, providing it is included in a conscious and deliberate plan. Most people in public life would accomplish far more if each could have one week in the year when he does not see even one other human being. The relief from having to impress, or even to please, is potentially healing.” (Trueblood, Elton. The Lord’s Prayers. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965, p. 30.)

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Praying Like Jesus


An ancient stone path in the historic city of Bethsaida in Israel

An ancient stone path in the historic city of Bethsaida in Israel

How do we learn to pray? The first disciples learned by what they witnessed in Jesus’s life. They asked him to teach them. Listen to this take on that theme:

“Any honest consideration of the life of Jesus Christ is both shaking and humbling. Whence came such power? The chief way in which we can find a reasonable answer to this question is by a continued study of His prayers. His prayers are not the whole of His revelation, but they are elements apart from which the other elements cannot be understood. The few prayers do not constitute the sufficient condition for understanding Christ, but they do constitute a necessary condition. What was His secret? George Buttrick has put it with convincing brevity: ‘The open secret is: His days were steeped in prayer. The missing word is God, and only by prayer can we find it.’” (Trueblood, Elton. The Lord’s Prayers. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965, p. 125.)

Jesus’ days were steeped in prayer. He lived in continual communion with His Father. He often withdrew, even in the midst of his busiest seasons, to be in prayer. But not prayer as something to do as much as Someone to be with. Am I learning to follow Jesus’s way here? Are my days steeped in prayer—in conversational relationship with my Father in heaven?  What do I not have in my soul or heart because I have not asked the Father for this that I need? Do I need more self-control? Am I asking the Father to provide me all that I need in that way? Am I expressing my practical dependence on Him alone in this way?

When I think of my continuing wrestling with the practice of prayer, I continue to also believe that my image of Jesus and of the Father are not nearly as welcoming, loving, gracious, or merciful as the True God is. Father, empower me with the Spirit of Jesus to live in communion with You like Jesus did. Amen.

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Necessary Neglect


Ruins of the Praetorium in Caesarea by the Sea.

Those of us engaged in either paid or voluntary ministry often feel overwhelmed by the needs that surround us. It can feel ever-present. In light of that experience, these words of Elton Trueblood about Jesus become critical for us:

“It is a little shocking to realize that Christ, on occasion, actually neglected the needy populace for a while in order to pray. The striking instance of this phenomenon is that of going apart from the clamoring crowd to the Mountain of Transfiguration. All three of the Synoptics tell the story, but only Luke, who stresses prayer more than do the others, says that He went up to pray (9:28). Most of the disciples remained on the plain below, continuing to meet with, and trying to help, the needy people. Yet Christ Himself, with His inner circle, actually seemed to avoid, at least for a time, the human miseries which He could have relieved had He been there. We know of the miseries because the needy people were there waiting for Him upon His return.

Here is the finest example of the rhythm of withdrawal and encounter. It would have been a mistake to remain always on the mountain, but it would also have been a mistake never to ascend the mountain. Service is important, but service is not the only thing that is important. In so far as we try to imitate the life of Christ, we need to be reminded that the quality of service depends primarily upon what we have to offer, and that we do not have enough to offer when we are always offering. Christ left the needy people in order to engage in prayer, not because He did not care, but because He cared so much that He had to have times apart for conscious communion with the Father. The duty to pray is as crucial as is the duty to serve.” (Trueblood, Elton. The Lord’s Prayers. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965, p. 29.)

For Reflection:

  • What concerns or responsibilities in your life seem so large as to make time for prayer feel somehow beyond possibility? How do you want to step away with Jesus into places of encountering the Father?

I’m Not Wild About Mild


“Christ is saying [in describing the church as the salt of the earth] that mild religion, far from being of partial value, is of utterly no value. We can lose our Christianity! It is easy to go on with the motions; it is easy to continue a structure; it is easy to go on with a system. But Christ says it isn’t worth a thing. Eroded religion is of no value at all. The consequence for us is that the Christian religion must mean more, or it will eventually mean nothing.” (Elton Trueblood. “The Salt of the Earth.” The Yoke of Christ and Other Sermons. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958, p. 29.)

Lukewarm faith is not mildly valuable, but worthless. Would you pay half-price for a lukewarm Starbuck’s coffee? Would you pay half-price at the market for milk that had been unrefrigerated for just a day or two? Are we living in vital, vibrant relationship with Christ? Or, are we going through motions that were once vital and alive, but have since become empty habit?

“That Christ was completely realistic about the possibility and the seriousness of failure of any society, including a Christian society, is shown by His use of another parable that of the barren fig tree-to make the same point as that of the worthlessness of the pile from which the true salt had been drained away. There is no virtue, He taught, in continuing to be patient with what is hopelessly unproductive.” (Elton Trueblood. “The Salt of the Earth.” The Yoke of Christ and Other Sermons. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958, p. 29.)

There comes a point that any Christian ministry or movement may cease to be fruitful. This certainly doesn’t mean that it will cease then to exist. We can keep lifeless Christian structures or gatherings going on life support for years after they have ceased to have any real life in them.

Where is God working in your life and ministry to renew what has faded? Where are you sensing His fresh life breaking in? How might He be inviting you to deeper communion with Him in this new year?

(A repost from January 2010)

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Cultivating Real Freedom


IMG_8946

“The best prayer is seldom a hit-and-miss matter, but grows by the glad acceptance of discipline, which, far from being its antithesis, is the price of real freedom. Herein lies the deep wisdom of the Yoke passage (Matt. 11: 29, 30). Just as an empty freedom inevitably turns into bondage, so the acceptance of Christ’s yoke sets men free. It does not eliminate burdens, but because the yoke fits, the burdens actually seem light. In Christ’s teaching the practice of devotion is the first item of a series in which freedom is the final consequence. “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).” (Elton Trueblood. A Place to Stand. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1969, p. 103.)

How is God inviting you to take on His well-fitting yoke these days? What rhythms of discipline are there that you may not often feel like practicing that would actually cultivate a way of life in you that you deeply desire? How may God be drawing you to regular practices of prayer?

(Repost from August 2009)

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The Graced Work of Prayer


“Most of the problems relating to God’s will are already solved when we see prayer not as an effort to change it, but as loving communion which may help in the promotion of that will, whereas without the prayer it might be frustrated.” (Elton Trueblood. A Place to Stand. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1969, p. 90.)

In prayer, do I believe at some level that I’m trying to change God’s mind? Do I think I have more wisdom than He does so that I need to counsel Him as to how He should act? Do I think I have more compassion than Him so that I need to goad Him to care about something I care about more?

Instead, I see prayer as a way of coming into line with the good, graced purposes of my loving Father for me and for those in my life and ministry. What if prayer is learning to see my life, my relationships and my work from God’s perspective? What if prayer is more about relationship than about advocacy for my position with God?

Our prayers may be a significant cause in the course of events in our lives and the lives of others. Learning to pray in union with the purposes of God, asking that His kingdom truly come and His will be truly done, may actually help it come and be done. How about that! This would show how prayer is a significant element of my work, rather than just a preparation for the “real” work.

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