Morning Prayer: Jesus on My Side


One morning at a recent Journey retreat, I wrote the following journal as part of our communal morning prayer:

1 John 2:1-11

First reading

1 John 2:1 NIV, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”

Jesus is my Advocate. He speaks on my behalf to the Father about my shortcomings, my line-crossings, my spiritual failures. He is for me and not against me. He is my defense attorney, not the prosecutor. He seeks my acquittal, not my condemnation. Is this the image of Jesus I carry around with me in my heart? Do I then sin without a care for this reason? Do I seek to keep Jesus in the attorney business by freely keeping a long line of sins before Him to advocate for on my behalf to the Father?

Second reading

1 John 2:6 NIV, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”

Feelings. I feel badly that my claim to live in Him is not as supported by a loving lifestyle (which is how Jesus lived). Love is the bottom line in this passage. Love is how Jesus lived. Love is His treatment of me. My claims to be a “Christian” are supported only by a loving lifestyle. Knowing Jesus facts, or Jesus history, or Jesus ideas, or even Jesus words does not make me alive in Him. Living in love for Him and love for people He loves is the primary evidence. I feel drawn to this command. I would like it more active in my way of life. I want to be more loving. This is a true desire. I recognize shortcomings that I sometimes fear are chronic and unchangeable.

Third reading

1 John 1:7-8 NIV, “Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.”

Invitation. It is and isn’t a new command Jesus gives us here. I think of this as an invitation to live in what is old, established news as though it were something I had never heard before today. What makes it new? The freshness of seeing Jesus love for me and in me. The darkness is passing in me and the true light is already shining. The darkness of anxiety is passing, and the light of peace is already shining. The darkness of discouragement is passing, and the light of eternal encouragement is already shining. The darkness of lethargy and acedia is passing, and the light of joy and holy energy is already shining. I welcome Your invitation to step into and walk in the light today. I need this…deeply.

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Morning Prayer: Jesus is Life


One morning at a recent Journey retreat, I wrote the following journal as part of our communal morning prayer:

First reading – The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. (John 6:63 NIV)

Life versus nothing. What Jesus says is full of the Spirit and of life. This is at least one good reason to read the words of Jesus often–even memorize them. They are life-giving.

Second reading - The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. (John 6:63 NIV)

When the disciples express their discomfort over His hard words, He doesn’t apologize or backpeddle. He actually has more disturbing realities He might speak of or show them. I feel embarrassed to be so slow to recognize the spiritual realities behind the hard words He speaks earlier about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. And these aren’t even the most mysterious things He will say or do.

I feel saddened by how much trust I’ve put in the flesh when I hear Jesus say that it counts for absolutely nothing. It isn’t of any value at all. None. I’m hungry to be more aware of and living in these life-giving mysteries, rather than relying on what I come up with on my own and count on. My self-only wisdom, strategies, coping mechanisms and ways are empty–even emptying.

Third reading - Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! (John 6:62 NIV)

In context, how could Jesus’s ascension be offensive or off-putting? That seems to be the implication here.

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” (John 6:63, 64a NIV)

I’m invited to listen for the word of Jesus to me today, and to trust Him in what He says. There is fullness for me in what He says, but only as I embrace His words in trust. I cannot stop today at mere listening. I must trust. If I am not experiencing fullness, there must be ways in which I am not responding to what Jesus is saying to me with trust. I can live today in the confidence that what Jesus says to me is a reliable description of spiritual reality. This would be life-giving for me.

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A Transfusion of Christ’s Life


Some of you know that my wife, Gem, had a major surgery at the beginning of August related to her long-term struggle with anemia. Our son, Sean, and I both donated a unit of blood that she ended up receiving two days before the surgery itself.

That experience made me think about the Old Testament line that “the life of any creature is its blood” (in Leviticus 17:14, for example). In a literally sense, Sean and I gave a measure of our life to help Gem’s life. Even before her surgery, her hemoglobin levels had risen significantly and her energy with it.

I also thought about Jesus saving us by His blood. For example, He said, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day (John 6:53-54 NIV).” I receive life through receiving His blood. Obviously Gem didn’t literally drink our blood, at least not orally. She did drink in our blood, though, through the needle in the back of her hand. She took our blood into her and she gained from our life.

This gave me a new appreciation and insight into what it might mean to receive life—eternal life–in Christ through His blood. I have tended to think about the blood of Christ in terms of forgiveness and cleansing. That’s good. Here, I’m reminded that blood of Christ infuses life into us. We drink in His life—His perfect life. Perhaps we can imagine a continual transfusion of the life of His blood coming into us to revive, energize and, literally, enliven us. That insight has been helpful to me lately.

Reflect:

  • How have you thought about the blood of Christ as an experiencing reality in your journey?

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Pursuing Godliness…or Pursuing God?


A creekbed near the foot of the tallest peak in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte, near where I preached in November (La Cienaga, Dominican Republic)

(A Journal excerpt from February 7, 1990)

I’ve been thinking about the rhythm of my spiritual life. I tend to spend a lot of time all at once with the Lord and His word, and then go a long time without Him. How different from Jesus’ invitation to trust the Father for daily bread. I tend to be feast or famine in my journey with God.

This illustrates my addiction to drama. I like things to be exciting and impressive to others. I crave having my spiritual heroicisms noticed by others. Forgive me, Father.

Of course my own evangelical experience has tended to downplay spiritual drama (at least of the charismatic variety) to avoid any appearance of excess. I’ve ended up with a kind of “functional atheism” where I really don’t embrace something unless it fits in my small-box understanding of how things are supposed to work. Since I don’t like surprises, I’ve adopted a theological perspective that essentially defines surprises away. I just have a slightly different closed system than the God-denying scientist.

Finally, I think about sermons I’ve heard (and preached) about the importance of godly character. I have been urged and have urged others to “pursue godliness.” I’m beginning to wonder whether God means for such moral ambition to really be the focal point of my spiritual efforts. I’m coming to see in the New Testament that character is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It grows out of communion with God. Sometimes in my effort to grow in godly character, I neglect communion with the person of God Himself. I try to bear fruit for God, rather than bearing godly fruit in Him. In the language of John 15, apart from Him I am capable of nothing. Simplify my focus, Father.

Last Month’s Most Visited Posts


In case you don’t read this blog as daily as I post on it, below are the most visited posts since early May. As always, the majority of visits come to my “Ministry Burnout Statistics” and “Retreats” pages. I hope one of them will encourage you today.

  • How Prayer is Deepened” – I unpack a great quotation from Elton Trueblood about the importance of silent waiting in prayer. I also shared that “the pace and idea-intensity with which we teach and lead tends to train our people to be comfortable with large amounts of unpracticed insight.”
  • Cultivating Holy Rhythms of Life” – Here I talk a bit about a rhythm of daily, monthly and annual retreat.
  • Stuck in a Prayer Rut” – This was probably my favorite post of the last month. I shared about some of the stuck places in our prayer lives, like the irony of prayer that is more me-focused than God-focused.
  • Spiritual Formation: Health and Wholeness” – On the day Gem and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, I shared some thoughts about longevity in marriage and Christian leaders. I suggested that deep and rich spiritual formation lies at the root of it all: “In the midst of ministry pressures and demands, [Christian leaders] need to learn how to live in genuine, practiced relationship with God.”
  • Christ With Me in Everyday Life” – I spoke a little here about connecting the wounded and broken places in our lives with the healing power of Jesus we witness in the gospels.
  • A Soul That Faints for God” – I shared a story in application of Psalm 84:2: “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord.”

Being Undone by Grace


“The great thing is to be delivered from useless desires, desires which though they appear to be very profitable and efficacious, in reality lead us off the right road because they emphasize our own action more than the action of grace. This is St. John’s main concern: that contemplatives should not waste their time and their efforts in doing work that only has to be undone by God and done over again, if they are to come to union with Him.” (Thomas Merton. Disputed Questions. New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1953, 1959, 1960, p. 215.)

Which of my impulses or inclinations are fruitful and which are fruitless (or even damaging)? Merton says they are the ones that emphasize what I can grab for myself rather than what I receive as a gracious gift from my Father.

What work am I doing that God may well have to undo before He can do what He wishes in and through me? There is a remarkable question! Where am I doing “my own work” (Heb 4:10) rather than the work God has given me (and is actively doing in and through me)?

I’ve learned that one of the values of solitude and silence is that we are enabled to sort our desires, discern grace and therefore cooperate with God. What needs to be undone in me so that God by His grace can do what He wishes? I think it’s a good question.

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The Problem of Functional Atheism


I had a great day away yesterday at St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, CA. It was a treat to arrive in time for 7:30am morning prayer in community. A friend and I spent until midafternoon on the grounds. My heart and mind unwound, and I was able to be more attentive to God’s presence with me. On that theme, I came across this insight from Gerald May’s book Dark Night of the Soul:

“At worst, we give lip service to God’s presence, but then feel and act as if we were completely on our own. I think of church committee meetings, pastoral counseling sessions, or even spiritual direction meetings I have attended. They often begin with a sincere prayer, “God, be with us (as if God might be in attendance at another meeting) and guide our decisions and our actions.” Then at the end comes, “Amen,” and the door crashes shut on God-attentiveness. Now we have said our prayers and it is time to get down to business. The modern educator Parker Palmer calls this “functional atheism. . . the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me .” (Gerald G. May, M.D. Dark Night of the Soul. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004, p. 44.)

Ouch. How much functional atheism is there in my life still? Where in my life do I assume that God isn’t interested (or worse, not even welcome)? One of the core values of The Leadership Institute is something we call “The One-Third Rule.” Whenever we have leadership of a meeting, a gathering, a conference, whatever, we design the time so that at least one-third of the time is actual engagement in spiritual disciplines, or practices of community or mission. Not included in this one-third is talking about and teaching about these disciplines or practices. We seek to set aside sufficient space in meetings like May describes so as to be deeply attentive to God throughout the gathering. We want to avoid mere nominal recognition of God as a clearly unimportant initial element that we quickly move beyond.

For example, when we “open a meeting in prayer,” how open are we really if the prayer takes two minutes and the meeting takes two hours? To what degree do we actually expect and trust that God is with us in that meeting? What evidences of the fruit of His Spirit are there in our interactions and our shared life?

“Ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me.” This is Parker Palmer’s definition of functional atheism. Christians who believe in Christ may live, though, as if He were a million miles and a thousand years away. How would my life be different right now, or this week, or in this season, if I more truly believed that, by His Spirit, Christ is making Himself more and more at home in my heart?

Buy a copy of Gerald May’s The Dark Night of the Soul on Amazon.com

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Looking Back: Wholeness and Holiness


In May 2009, I posted some reflections from Philippians 3:17 that were part of my preparations for an upcoming Streams of Grace retreat:

Philippians 3:17, “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”

I suggested, “We need to notice those among us who have walked a little further or a little longer than we have. Maturing is the fruit of long training in grace. We need to see what faithfulness in the face of great hardship actually looks like in the life of a more seasoned follower of Jesus. This is what the Philippians had in Paul.”

Click to read more “Wholeness and Holiness

Practicing God’s Presence in our Words


How God-focused is our Christian language? I was thinking recently about some words that have become more popular among Evangelical Christians in recent years: solitude, silence, Sabbath and retreat, to name a few.

We sometimes see these words more in terms of our experience than in terms of their implicit God focus. Solitude isn’t just being alone, but being alone with God. Silence isn’t just being quiet, but quiet with God. Sabbath is resting with God. Retreat is withdrawing to focus my attention more on God. These practices are a means of opening up space in my schedule, in my thinking, and in my attentions to see Him more clearly in my life.

Solitude is different than privacy. Silence isn’t just personal peace and quiet. Sabbath isn’t taking a personal day. And retreat isn’t an escape from the reality of my life, but an engagement with the ultimate Reality of my life.

What about rediscovering the God focus in other Christian language? How about community as more than just people sharing life together, but living Christ in common? What other thoughts come to your mind? I’d love to hear your comments.

Completely Relaxed With God


One of the continuing challenges of my spiritual journey is to always begin with God and not with myself. This comes in many sneaky ways. When I pray, I’m coming first to listen, then to speak my heart and mind. When I come to the scriptures, I come to listen. What are You saying to me, Father?

One scripture, for example, that really helped me recently is Isaiah 26:3-4…

You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.

Perfect. Steadfast. Forever. Eternal. These are solid, lasting words. Is it possible for me to be completely relaxed with God through Christ? I hope to keep growing in my confident reliance on God’s trustworthy love.

The Message blurs the Isaiah 26 lines some:

People with their minds set on you,
you keep completely whole,
Steady on their feet,
because they keep at it and don’t quit.
Depend on God and keep at it
because in the Lord God you have a sure thing.

There is perfect peace when my attention is steadfastly fixed on You, Lord. When my attention veers from a focus on You to a lingering in my own thoughts, that’s usually not a good path. Anxiety lies there. Fear. Pride. Discouragement. Whatever isn’t from God.

How might you enjoy a more God-focused day today?