It’s All About the Seed


(A repost from May 2009)

The seed eaten by birds is as much seed as the seed that produced a hundredfold. The snatching of the Word by the devil–and the rejection of it by the shallow and the choking of it by the worldly–all take place within the working of the kingdom, not prior to it or outside of it. It is the Word alone, and not the interference with it, that finally counts. True enough, and fittingly enough, the most obvious point in the whole parable is that the fullest enjoyment of the fruitfulness of the Word is available only to those who interfere with it least. But even in making that point, Jesus still hammers away at the sovereignty and sole effectiveness of the Word. Those on the good ground, he says, are those who simply hear the Word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirty-, some sixty-, and some a hundredfold. It’s not that they do anything, you see; rather, it’s that they don’t do things that get in the Word’s way. It’s the Word, and the Word alone, that does all the rest.” (Robert Farrar Capon. The Parables of the Kingdom. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985, p. 82-83.)

In what ways are you cooperating with what God has been saying to you? In what ways are you resisting…getting in the way?

Spiritual Disciplines Guaranteed?


IMG_6103

(A repost from October 2009)

A friend of mine, for whom I recently wrote a few hundred words for an article she is writing, raised an interesting and challenging question. She raised it as a fellow spiritual formation leader and trainer. I’m rewording it a little, but the substance of the question was this:

Does practicing spiritual disciplines guarantee life transformation?

Some who have participated in The Leadership Institute training over the years have, as far as I can tell, tried practicing the disciplines regularly but haven’t seemed to experience much life change. I’ve wondered about the reasons for this. My friend mentioned the barriers of legalism and pride. These are certainly two major barriers to transformation I’ve witnessed in my own life.

First, my friend and I would both be annoyed by anyone using “guarantee” language related to spiritual practices. I shudder at the thought of a spiritual practices infomercial:

“We can guarantee that you’ll be satisfied with how well these practices work. Imagine feeling peaceful, confident, and in control. All this can be yours now, if only you’ll follow these few easy steps. These practices are centuries old, but fresh as new-fallen snow. Don’t delay! Operators are standing by…”

Some practice spiritual disciplines as one more Christian self-help technique. This is probably just another subtle expression of pride. USAmerican Christian leaders often want to mass produce and franchise any vital Christian practice, draining away spiritual vitality in about the same way a rose cut from the bush starts dying immediately.

In light of the question, I remember Henri Nouwen’s definition of a spiritual discipline: “the human effort to create open space to listen to the voice of the One who calls us the beloved.” If I think about times and seasons when spiritual practices have resulted in little transformation in my own life, one reason has been that I failed to practice them as open space and unhurried time to be in God’s presence.

I think of 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” I have engaged spiritual practices, but with a veiled face. Instead of seeing the glory of the Lord and being transformed over time by such a vision, I have hidden my face even in the midst of my spiritual practices. A veil of hurry, or of drivenness, or of unconscious resistance has veiled my face from beholding His.

I’ve been finding that a therapy process may uncover emotional woundedness that produces a veil of fear and anxiety that, even in the practice of disciplines, veils my face. I don’t even realize that I’m hiding even when think I’m coming to Him. I intend to come to God through spiritual disciplines, but deeper movements of fear and anxiety clutter the space and hurry the time I’m trying to offer to God.

I’m learning that transformation is the fruit of unveiled encounter between my heart and God’s. Spiritual practices can be the opening through which this gradually occurs.

Read “More Thoughts on Spiritual Disciplines Guaranteed

A Good Word: Prayer That Avoids God


Happy New Year to you. May it be one in which the roots of your life grow deeper into the unfailing and faithful love of God for you. Here’s a good word I came across in preparing for the sermon I’m preaching this weekend at Crossway Church in Santa Ana.

“The great temptation always crouching at the door of prayer is to use prayer is a way to avoid God: using God language to avoid God relationship; using the name of God as a screen behind which to hide from God. Clichés are the usual verbal giveaways of prayer that is, in fact, nonprayer.” (Peterson, Eugene. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005, p. 278.)

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Why Do We Resist Solitude?


I lead many retreats these days with solitude and silence with God at the heart of them. It feels like a fringe benefit of my ministry role. I love guiding others in vital encounter with an unfailingly loving God. Nothing encourages me more. Along the way, I’ve noticed different kinds of resistance people have to spending time alone and quiet with God.

Last November, I experienced the cultural resistance of the Dominican pastors. They are rarely if ever alone. A few American missionaries were very doubtful as to whether the pastors would be able to handle two hours alone…let alone with God. There is a cultural sense that if you are alone, there must be something wrong with you. In fact, on the day retreat I led for them, one of the pastors walked to the end of the retreat center driveway and sat on a rock. Someone walking by actually made a point of walking over and asking him, “What’s wrong?” This is the “we just don’t do that here” form of resistance. It can happen in churches as easily as in countries. .

Some Christian leaders feel a temperament resistance. They may say, “Solitude is for introverts, but I’m an extrovert. I prefer to be with others. I grow most in community.” Solitude doesn’t devalue community, but is a rhythm that enriches community. My experience is that the deepest and most united community is a fruit of a deeper communion with God cultivated in solitude. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the one who said, “Let [the one] who cannot be alone beware of community…. Let [the one] who is not in community beware of being alone.”

Finally, there is what I’d call a productivity resistance, like the CEO who says, “I’m a driven person. I don’t have time to waste in solitude like that. Solitude is for less productive people.” Leaders think that solitude is for monk-like people and not activist leaders. They think time spent alone with God will somehow reduce the fruit of their ministry. I would simply suggest that Paul the apostle was a great leader and a great pray-er. He experienced solitude on long walks between cities and in seasons of imprisonment along the way. Did he have a fruitful ministry?

And who is going to argue that Jesus was a weak leader? It is said that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Lk 5:16).” Often. Not rarely. Or occasionally. Or at times. Often. What might that mean for our own rhythm of life as Christ-followers?

What kinds of resistance rise up in you to “often withdrawing to lonely places to pray”? Busyness? Fear? Guilt?

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Spiritual Disciplines Guaranteed?


IMG_6103 A friend of mine, for whom I recently wrote a few hundred words for an article she is writing, raised an interesting and challenging question. She raised it as a fellow spiritual formation leader and trainer. I’m rewording it a little, but the substance of the question was this:

Does practicing spiritual disciplines guarantee life transformation?

Some who have participated in The Leadership Institute training over the years have, as far as I can tell, tried practicing the disciplines regularly but haven’t seemed to experience much life change. I’ve wondered about the reasons for this. My friend mentioned the barriers of legalism and pride. These are certainly two major barriers to transformation I’ve witnessed in my own life.

First, my friend and I would both be annoyed by anyone using “guarantee” language related to spiritual practices. I shudder at the thought of a spiritual practices infomercial:

“We can guarantee that you’ll be satisfied with how well these practices work. Imagine feeling peaceful, confident, and in control. All this can be yours now, if only you’ll follow these few easy steps. These practices are centuries old, but fresh as new-fallen snow. Don’t delay! Operators are standing by…”

Some practice spiritual disciplines as one more Christian self-help technique. This is probably just another subtle expression of pride. USAmerican Christian leaders often want to mass produce and franchise any vital Christian practice, draining away spiritual vitality in about the same way a rose cut from the bush starts dying immediately.

In light of the question, I remember Henri Nouwen’s definition of a spiritual discipline: “the human effort to create open space to listen to the voice of the One who calls us the beloved.” If I think about times and seasons when spiritual practices have resulted in little transformation in my own life, one reason has been that I failed to practice them as open space and unhurried time to be in God’s presence.

I think of 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” I have engaged spiritual practices, but with a veiled face. Instead of seeing the glory of the Lord and being transformed over time by such a vision, I have hidden my face even in the midst of my spiritual practices. A veil of hurry, or of drivenness, or of unconscious resistance has veiled my face from beholding His.

I’ve been finding that a therapy process may uncover emotional woundedness that produces a veil of fear and anxiety that, even in the practice of disciplines, veils my face. I don’t even realize that I’m hiding even when think I’m coming to Him. I intend to come to God through spiritual disciplines, but deeper movements of fear and anxiety clutter the space and hurry the time I’m trying to offer to God.

I’m learning that transformation is the fruit of unveiled encounter between my heart and God’s. Spiritual practices can be the opening through which this gradually occurs.

Read “More Thoughts on Spiritual Disciplines Guaranteed