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Greetings! I find myself praying and trusting that you have experienced something of the fresh affection and deep delight the Father and the Son feel for you in this fall season. I’m feeling deep gratitude for some of these myself.

I’m sending along this little email to link you to blog posts over the last couple of months that have been most visited. I hope one or two of them will prove encouraging to you in your spiritual life and leadership:

  • Morning Prayer: Overcoming Powerful Enemies” – This is one of those posts from a while back that has ended up being a commonly found Google search item. I share about overcoming my own powerful enemies of anxiety, fear, self-doubt and low confidence, based on Psalm 118:17-19 NIV.
  • Unhurried Life: Help Get the Word Out” – Towards the end of summer, I asked friends of the blog to get the word out about my book, An Unhurried Life, via Facebook, Twitter, Amazon reviews, blog posts, etc. I was grateful for so many who took initiative and helped spread the word. We saw quite a few new readers get on board. If you didn’t get a chance to participate, but would be willing now, please click through for a few suggestions of how you could now.
  • An Autumn Prayer” –  As we entered September, I shared my autumn prayer from a year ago. It was a prayer for focus and simplicity.
  • Five Soul Care Questions” – If you’ve been reading the blog recently, you’ll know that I just finished a six-part blog series on this theme. I took the five key questions of Romans 8:31-39 and reflected on them. There was a very positive response to these.
  • When You Can’t Pray for Yourself” – I shared and reflected on a great word from F. B. Meyer in his book The Secret of Guidance. The substance of his counsel? When you can’t pray for yourself, pray for someone else.
  • Psalm 3: The God Who Sustains Me” – In Psalm 3, David says, “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.” I reflected on what God’s sustaining has been like in my journey. 

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Soul Care Question #5: Unconditional Love?

[Soul Care Question #4: Unceasing Intercession?]

If Paul’s questions begin with favor and generosity, it makes sense that his finale would be  the love of God: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (35a). The familiar passage continues: “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (8:35b-39).”

The question of God’s love is the most basic one of all. What might come between me and Christ’s deep care for me? My own failures? But Paul says no ‘depth’ will separate me from God’s love in Christ. There is no trouble, difficulty, opposition, scarcity, exposure, or threat that can rise up and block the effective care of Jesus for me. Nothing. Never. Period. I am empowered to live my life as a conquerer through Jesus. I can even be “more than a conqueror.”

But even with these assuring words, I feel the twin temptations rise up with questions of their own: “What have you failed to do that would increase God’s love for you?” and “What have you done that will diminish God’s love for you?” If I focus on what I feel are God’s disappointed expectations or realizations, I will fail to rest confidently in unfailing love. I don’t want to waste one moment allowing corrosive questions like these to linger.

There is nothing—no thing—anytime or anywhere that Jesus will ever allow to come between you and Him. His love will always overcome whatever threatens to make a gap in your relationship with Him. He is always and actively closing that gap. It doesn’t exist from his side, even if it seems to from ours. Am I living as though there were something I could do that would diminish the potency, power or presence of the love of Father, Son and Spirit for me? Do I really think I’m that powerful? Silly. Very silly.

Paul wrote something about the love of God that help me here:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

Jesus, your death for me and for other ungodly persons like me was evidence of the depth of your love. It was never based on our goodness or our remarkable performance. It might have made some sense for you to die for a worthy person, but you loved enough to die for an unworthy person like me. I haven’t done anything to deserve such status. But I can’t do anything to undeserve it either. It is a gift that I want to keep on receiving.

So, more surely than water runs downhill, the love of Jesus flows towards me. More surely than the sun rises each and every morning of my life, the love of Jesus rises me meet me in every moment. More surely than there is air for me to breath in every moment, there is always the love of Jesus for me to rest in.

RESPONSE: “How can God’s love be unfailing in light of what I’ve done? Of what’s been done to me?” What in my life threatens to put distance between me and the Father’s love? How does the Father answer those nagging voices, “He would love me more if…” or “He loves me less now that…”

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Soul Care Question #4: Unceasing Intercession?

[Soul Care Question #3: Unending Justification?]

Paul has raised questions about God’s favor, God’s generosity and God’s lack of accusation towards us. His fourth question? “Who then is the one who condemns (8:34a)? Paul goes on to respond to that question by answering, “No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

Not only am I not accused, but I am not condemned. Who will have the power to condemn me when Ultimate Justice has acquitted me? No one will. Accusers will accuse and condemners will condemn, but I need not listen to such words. I could foolishly listen and give credence to them. But, they haven’t any substance in reality. Jesus Christ has proven His love, taken my penalty, and sits in authority now. He is still speaking up for my cause. He is still stands in my defense. If the evil one seeks to condemn, Jesus defends me and refuses to listen to such empty charges. Jesus is actively for me and seeking my good. It feels good when someone cares enough to take action for my good. Jesus is doing this for me all the time.

Some mornings I awake with a sense of uneasiness. It is a kind of accusing, even condemning feeling. As I reflect on that feeling now, I wonder why I wouldn’t have easily connected these Romans 8 questions about “Who will accuse?” or “Who will condemn?” with this feeling. It isn’t a feeling that rings true in the light of these queries. It is a feeling that strikes me as untrue, unreal, and unreliable. I must awake to this and trust in the intercession of Jesus for me that cannot be diminished or taken from me.

RESPONSE: Can I come to a place where I am quicker to assume the reality of this truth and slower to give any weight to feelings of accusation or condemnation? Of course I can. Will I? How might I rehearse these truths in a way that deepens my reliance on Jesus? How might I keep my ear open to the accepting words of Jesus towards me? Am I letting another voice condemn me when the Supreme Court has delivered it’s final verdict of “Not Guilty”?

[Soul Care Question #5: Unconditional Love?]

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Soul Care Question #3: Unending Justification?

[Soul Care Question #2: Untold Generosity?]

Paul’s first two questions in Romans 8:31-39 dealt with God’s favor and generosity. But what happens when we do something wrong? Doesn’t this call God’s favor and generosity into question or change God’s orientation? For this reason, Paul’s third question is, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.” (8:33)

Paul basically says that if God has completely justified us through Jesus, and if God is the Divine Supreme Court, then what authority will be able to effectively level a charge against us? When I’ve been acquitted by the highest court of all, then no prosecutor in any lower court has a leg to stand on in bringing a charge against me. There is no higher authority to which he could appeal. Whatever there is to be justified has already been justified. And the Father has already justified me today through Jesus. I am not hopeless or helpless. I am unaccusable. By generous grace, I am right with God. There isn’t anything wrong between us anymore. Do I believe this? Do I trust this?

RESPONSE: So if the Father does not accuse me, what business do I have accusing myself or allowing someone else to do so? Where are you tempted to listen to accusing voices in the back of your mind? What do you suspect God is still holding against you? Can you see the smiling, accepting face of Jesus saying, “That’s old business. Let’s leave that behind us alright?”

[Soul Care Question #4: Unceasing Intercession?]

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Soul Care Question #2: Untold Generosity?

[Soul Care Question #1: Unfailing Favor?]

What is the second of Paul’s questions in Romans 8:31-39? “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things (8:32)?” This question surfaces God’s basic generosity towards us.

Paul begins by affirming that God gave his very best when giving an only Son. God gave God’s beloved Son for our good—my good. We are all beneficiaries of this unimaginably good gift of the Father. When we least deserved it and were most resistant, Christ died for us. So Paul simply takes this basic generosity and moves it into the neighborhood of our everyday life.

Paul’s logic here seems to run like this: “The Father did not refuse to give us His only and precious Son to show His love and bring us back near. If that’s true, then what else would the Father withhold from us that would do us good? Is God going to give us the very best Good, then withhold lesser goods?” Would that make any sense? What ‘thing’ do I need today? Will the Father withhold it from me, especially if I ask? I’m not focusing on material luxuries, though I might genuinely need financial resources or other material things. I’m talking about deep life needs like joy, peace, courage, hope and the like. These the Father will give me in relationship with Him through the Son. They will be the fruits of my loving companionship with the Father.

Am I living as though I am indigent when, in fact, I am an heir of God’s kingdom together with Jesus and that the Father is not going to hold anything back from me to live as fully in His love, His joy, His authority, His power, or His life as I can possibly live?  What is there that I—that we—need that we do not yet possess? How might the Father Who did not spare His precious Son want to graciously provide this?

This question surfaces a temptation that runs like this: “Is God really being generous with me here and now?” How does this show up in my anxieties or fears? What do I need that I fear I will not have? What worries me about my future? What do I truly need to live my life more deeply in Jesus and to be more broadly fruitful for His kingdom purposes? Why would He withhold this from me? And what do I think I want or need that the Father, in his measureless generosity, is saying “No” to so that He can offer me a better “Yes”?

RESPONSE: Give thanks for every gift that comes to mind. Ask for whatever you feel you need in your life or your work.

[Soul Care Question #3: Unending Justification?]

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Soul Care Question #1: Unfailing Favor?

www.gemhelen.comThe first of Paul’s five questions at the end of Romans 8 is simply, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” It’s a good question to start with because it’s a question of God’s basic orientation to us. Is God for us…or against us?

What happens in your heart and mind when you read this question? Sometimes, I hear a tempting voice suggesting that while God may be for us, God may or may not actually be for me. I let the enemy of our soul call God’s favor for me into question. This becomes a basic point of trust for me. Will I rely on what Paul is saying as apply to me? Will I embrace this expression of certain favor for myself? Can I enter into this and every day confident that, for His own reasons, God is for me and not against me? I really can. And, by grace, I will.

One of our founders at The Leadership Institute, Wayne Anderson (1940-2008), always shared a message titled, “Grace” on the first morning of the first Journey retreat for each generation. The heart of that message was that just as surely as we are saved by grace, so we live by grace, serve by grace and lead by grace. At the heart of our life of following Jesus is God’s basic orientation towards us in Jesus of being for us. I remember the last time I heard Dallas Willard present (in February 2013 at the Knowing Christ Conference in Santa Barbara), he said something like, “Don’t ever believe anything bad about God.” This is about grace. And it’s awfully hard to think something bad about God if I keep my eyes on Jesus.

But, when it comes to working this out in my life, I must remember that while He is very much for me, He is not for my own selfish plans, preferences or desires. He is for me…the real me He created. He is working to renew His image in me that I will become just who He intends me to be. I must let God be for me in the ways God chooses and not the ways I prefer. And does it make any sense to be against myself if God is not against me but for me? Would I be claiming to have more knowledge or power than God?

So, there is no one who can be effectively against me if God is faithfully for me. Who or what do I feel is against me? How might this be a diversion from the One Who is truly for me?

RESPONSE: Take a moment to give thanks and express praise for just how God is for you in every area of your life, especially those areas that haven’t always felt that way.

[Soul Care Question #2: Untold Generosity]

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Five Soul Care Questions

www.gemhelen.comA while back, Gem and I were sharing passages from the scriptures that we had been reading and reflecting on. She mentioned reading in Romans 8:29-30, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

I have no doubt that many of my five-point Calvinist friends would be more than ready to expound on these verses. Instead, I took a moment to take a peek at the passage in John Stott’s little commentary on Romans 5-8, Men Made New. What caught my attention were not his comments on these two verses, but his title for verses 31-39, “Five Unanswerable Questions.” After the introductory question of verse 31, “What, then, shall we say in response to all these things?,”  Paul asks five more heart-searching and faith-provoking questions. I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on these five questions, which are:

1. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (8:31b)

2. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (8:32)

3. “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” (8:33a)

4. “Who then is the one who condemns? (8:34a)

5. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (8:35a)

Over the next five posts, I’ll share my thoughts on each of these questions that invite reflection more than solution, awareness more than answer. I tend to prefer answers to questions, but questions like these help me enter into the living mystery of the fathomless life of God. They are questions to live with. I hope you’ll reflect and respond along the way.

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Slow Down, Soul!

img_9045Lately, I’ve been finding help in those psalm passages in which I see someone talking to their own soul. It’s a kind of holy talking to yourself. There are times when I’ve been able to simply notice the thoughts of my soul rather than being caught up in them without any detachment or holy perspective. Rather than being inwardly rushed and frantic, I am able to remind myself of a reality greater than my immediate feelings. Here are some of the psalm lines that have been especially good for me:

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:5 NIV)

When my soul feels heavy, down and troubled, I can remind myself that have reliable hope in God. I can remind myself that God is good and that I will see Him and praise Him soon. (Also Psalm 42:11 &. 43:5).

Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn. (Psalm 57:8 NIV)

When my soul feels lethargic and sleepy, I can urge my soul to awaken to the real presence of God with me just like the rising sun awakens a new day.

My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him….
Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:1, 5 NIV)

When I feel itchy, anxious or fearful within, I can remind my soul that there is rest to be found abiding in God. The future is bright in Him. There are countless good things that He is preparing for me.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits— (Psalm 103:1, 2 NIV)

Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty. (Psalm 104:1 NIV, and 146:1)

In seasons when my soul is not as aware of the goodness of God as it has been in others, I can remind myself of countless benefits and express the treasure, brilliance and weightiness of Who God is in my life. One practical way I’ve been doing this lately is through a journalled examen. I just start writing a list of thanksgivings, some dramatic and some simple. The other morning, it took writing thirty expressions of gratitude in my journal before my soul lightened up a bit and because to see hope.

Unhurried time:

What is happening in your soul right now? What are your joys, encouragements or hopes? What are your sorrows, worries or despairs? How do you want to talk to your soul in God’s presence to remind yourself of what is good and true?

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Expanding Care through Prayer

Coffee beans growing in La Cienaga, Domininan Republic

(An edited journal excerpt from March 29, 1990)

Our life of ministry is richer when our circle of prayer is larger than our circle of care. The Spirit of God wants to make our heart more spacious in our caring about others. His love will always be greater than mine, but He is in me and wanting not only to pour His love into my heart, but through it to others. To live the lifestyle of the overflowing cup, I must learn that He is always pouring and that I can welcome His filling at anytime.

The more time we spend thinking of people in the presence of God, and praying for their needs, the more we experience God’s concern for those hurts and needs. This enriches my interactions with them and gives me insight into how I might serve them. It “peoplizes” my life and work. If my heart lacks care for a particular person, God’s Spirit is inviting me to bring them into His presence. Learning to hear His heart of love for them will enkindle the same love in me.

Repost from December 2010

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Soul Prayers and Situation Prayers

Gem and I outside the Peju Winery just north of Napa, CA.

I’ve been thinking about how we ask for prayer and how pray for others. Two categories I’ve been wondering about is what I’m calling “situational prayers” and “soul prayers.” Situational prayers are requests related to requests to change, improve or affect circumstances around us or others. We want healing, better finances, better relationships. There are plenty of situational prayers in the scripture where a king prays for God’s favor in battle against an enemy, or Paul asks others to pray that he will be delivered from the evil one, for example. Soul prayers are requests related to change and growth in our lives. Soul prayers get to the heart, so to speak, of our condition. I think of so many of the prayers of Paul in his letters. For example:

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:9-11 NIV).

Paul prays for mutual love to grow in experience of Jesus and in deepening insight. He asks that this would result in clearer discernment and a well-focused life that is rich in the ways and character of Jesus. In my experience, many of our requests for the prayers of others tend to be more situational than soulish. I don’t mean to create an “either/or” here. I would like to offer both kinds of prayers for others, and receive them for myself.

For Reflection: Which kind of praying would you say dominates your way of praying for others? What kind of prayer do you find yourself asking for from others?

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