Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tribes, Assimilation and Connectivity

Last year I read Seth Godin's book "Tribes" and found it quite interesting, but I hard a hard time seeing how it could be put into practice, especially in a church or ministry context. Ok, people are getting connected in an increasing number of ways, community is being recognized as more important, but what do you do with that?

Todd Engstrom made an interesting post in his blog along these lines. Godin talks about Senator Bill Bradley's elements of a movement:
  1. A narrative that tells the story of who the tribe is and the alternate future they are building
  2. Connection between the movement leader and the tribe
  3. Something to do, or actionable items
Todd found the second item to be most challenging in a ministry context, and adapted these elements for church as:
  1. Narrative and alternate future = preaching and visionary leadership
  2. Connection between leader and tribe = assimilation and “community”
  3. Actionable items = mobilization
This stirred me to think the following...
  • Narrative starts with preaching, but if it’s heard well, should result in stories from the tribe as they add to that narrative.
  • Connection between people and the leader isn’t as important as connection among people, and connection to the shared vision
  • Two models for actionable items: one (for a centralized tribe) is to have a structure that supports action consistent with vision; another is a more decentralized approach where individuals come up with their own actions. The former is a powerful organization, the latter is a movement.
  • It's one thing for the leader to talk about the vision, but you know something powerful is happen when other ministry leaders and group leaders, and then their own people, are talking about the same vision.
  • Today, might connectivity precede assimilation? The way I saw his blog post was via a tweet he made, which I only saw because I happened to make some twitter comments at a leadnet show we watched on the web. I think that in today's culture, there can be no assimilation without first come connectivity being established, and with some vision being caught by the new person, one that is already resonating with them. This community and shared vision leads to assimilation, which leads to greater community, and so it grows…
  • This echoes something I learned in a recent class at Rockbridge Seminary - for many people today, belonging precedes believing - and this has deep implications for evangelism and assimilation.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Attitude of Gratitude

Your mom probably taught you how to say 'Thank You' when you got a treat, or something that you liked. It's something else entirely to get the raw end of a deal and be encouraged to have an attitude of gratitude. And yet that's what the Bible encourages us to do - "Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Eph 5:19-20).

I Thessalonians 5:16-19 concurs, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit's fire." (NIV). If I can paraphrase - like any good parent, God doesn't like whining. If you want something harder, look at Matthew 5:44 "Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you."  I know it sounds hard, but it's not just feel-good nonsense.

I can think of at least three good reasons for this command to be thankful. First, it is always proper to be thankful to God for all the many blessings He has given us. Second, when we are in rough circumstances, we may not be able to control what happens to us, but we do have control over our response. Third, as Adele Calhoun puts it in her book "Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us" - thankfulness is the antidote to a critical spirit. Simply telling someone to be quiet or stop whining isn't enough - we must go a step further. By finding something worth being thankful for in any circumstance, we do change our attitude. Going through a rough time right now? I don't mean to minimize it or sound trite, but seriously, spend some time responding to God in thanks. You'll be glad you did, and you'll be a stronger and more content person for it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Celebration and Worship

The Christian life is a life full of tremendous joy! So why do so many of us walk around with a sour look on our faces, and rightfully earn the scorn of our friends as kill-joys? Why does it sometimes seem like smiling, laughing, and celebrating are improper acts of piety? The life of Jesus and His disciples reflect celebration.

As we come near the close of our series on spiritual disciplines, I want to look at a pair of disciplines that experience and proclaim this joy - celebration and worship. They sound similar, and we sometimes confuse the two. We celebrate because we've read the last page in the chapter of history, and God wins! Celebration is praise, taking joy in all the goodness around us. Even in rough times there are things to celebrate, and joy to be found. Joy, unlike happiness, is not dependent on our circumstances. It is a fruit of the spirit, that we expect to find in the life of those in whom the Spirit of God lives.

Worship is sometimes confused for singing and music - or even worse, for a specific kind of singing. It's also sometime thought of as "the service that happens on Sunday morning." Although both of these should include worship, worship is much more. It is our hearts and lives proclaiming the worth or greatness of God, a life of being present with God, of giving Him first place in all we do and say. It's our proper response to who He is.

Another good way to look at these two is that worship is experiencing the greatness of God, and celebration is experiencing the goodness of God. Both celebration and worship rock! :)  "Whatever you do... do it all in the name of Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him!" (Col 3:17)  Worship and celebration together is letting our very lives be a song of praise... Enjoy this song by Casting Crowns...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fellowship and Community

Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25, The Message).

You might not think of gathering together with other people as a spiritual discipline, but it's a very important one. It's not that something is hard or unpleasant that makes it a discipline, but whether or not something is important, provides an indirect benefit, and is something we should be intentional about.

Glen Woods writes "Solitude and silence have long been touted for their benefits as spiritual disciplines. In the crowded, marginless West, there is still much merit to reclaiming their appropriate places in our lives. However, we would do well to learn community as spiritual discipline as well. Think of it this way. Whereas solitude calls for us to take time away from the crowds to pray, listen, worship, and communicate with God alone, community calls for us to be the presence of Christ among others. Solitude and community are both necessary; they also both tend to be either ignored, or receive out-of-balance focus."

He goes on to list five distinct benefits of intentionally pursuing community:
1. Learning to love your neighbor as yourself (yes, this especially includes your enemies).

2. Learning to practice the fruits of the spirit, realizing that others are showing forbearance to you even as you are attempting to do so for them.
3. Learning to give, not out of legalistic duty, but out of love.
4. Learning to become vulnerable, allowing others to speak into your life.
5. Refining your character is integral to the abovementioned points.

Accountability, not being a lone ranger in the faith, and having other people who can speak truth in your life, is particularly important. The discipline of community helps address the problem of self-centeredness. Are you involved deeply in the lives of others - do you have a small group of people you get together with to intentionally care for and love one another, spurring each other on in the faith? God created us for community.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Service and Secrecy

The way up? It's the way down.

"Jesus took a towel and a basin and  redefined greatness." -Richard Foster, "Celebration of Discipline"

Service - it's not just a spiritual discipline, but a way of life, a view of life that demonstrates you love God and you love people. As a practice it can help with devotion and with humility. It's the intentional practice of serving others, even through the most menial of tasks, with an attitude like you're serving our Lord Himself, and doing it in His name and for His glory. "Whatever you do, whether in word in in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Col 3:17). The discipline of service helps us avoid arrogance, helps us appreciate those who serve us, in addition to giving a tangible benefit to those we serve.

A highly related spiritual discipline is that of secrecy. It goes hand and glove with service, as secrecy is an intentional disdain of recognition for a good you've done. Secrecy allows us to love others in a more genuine way, unconcerned with whether they notice or love us back. It also helps keep us free from becoming a people-pleaser, and codependency on the praise of others. The attitude is what is important here - you wouldn't go and lie to deny that you did the act, but you simply do it with an attitude that our love for God and others doesn't depend on getting a 'Thank you'.

This week I and some friends are exploring these and other spiritual disciplines. Some practical examples of service and secrecy include: cleaning a toilet while praying and praising God, cleaning up the floor or highway when no one is around, making an anonymous gift, or simply changing your attitude in doing something you normally do where you choose not to be concerned with whether or not you are thanked. I must say, it makes a huge difference in your heart and for your sense of self-importance when you do things like this and turn them into a devotion time serving and praising God Himself.

For more info on the spiritual disciplines of service and secrecy, see Donald Whitney's "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life", Richard Foster's "Celebration of Discipline", or articles at The Reading Room at The Water's Edge.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Learning from my children

We had a great conversation around the lunch table today. It started off talking about 'what is a coach potato?' which of course led to talking about the cartoon "Jo-Jo's Circus." On that show the parents spuds weren't setting the best example for their little one. My youngest reflected "That's not very good, is it?" I told him no, but that parents can learn from their kids too and that we can learn from their example. "Really???? How!?" came back the question. I told each kid one way in which their lives or hearts were an example for me to follow. My daughter's extreme thoughtfulness and caring about others; my oldest son's ability to laugh in any situation; my middle son's attitude of contentment and willingness to hug absolutely anyone, anywhere; and my youngest boy's always demonstrating that despite mom's love for taking care of us we needed to be sure to show her lots and lots of love too!!

Wow! It's hard to express how their faces lit up, knowing that their dad sees great things in them that I learn from them. My daughter (the thoughtful one) said "Well, I learn from you too - I love how encouraging you are!" One son really appreciated how we could talk and pray together about things that were on his mind. They expressed appreciation for mom too, for just how much she loves them, and for how she would encourage them when they were down, and to get get back on the bike when they fell off :)  This was one of the most awesome weekends I've had in a long time, but I'll remember this conversation with my kids for a long, long time. I'm so blessed!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hurry Sickness and the Practice of Slowing

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”  (Mark 6:31)

For some, solitude and silence are killer disciplines. For others, the one I'll discuss today may be even harder. It's the spiritual discipline of slowing. John Ortberg's excellent book on spiritual disciplines, "The Life You've Always Wanted" has a chapter on 'An Unhurried Life: The Practice of Slowing'. An excerpt can be read in Christianity Today - "Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry". The disease we all face is 'Hurry Sickness'. When we have hurry sickness, we are haunted by the fear that there just are not enough hours in the day to do all we need to do. We find ourselves chafing when we have to wait. (Oh boy, do I know that feeling, especially in my professor days back in Boston!) While this in itself isn't a great attitude it gets worse when we find ourselves rushing even when there is no reason to, we snap at people due to a tension level that won't go away, and we lose our sense of gratitude.

What's the cure for hurry sickness? It doesn't just work itself out by itself, it takes training - the intentional practice of slowing. Ortberg puts it plainly - "Deliberately choose to place yourself in a position where you simply have to wait... Drive in the slow lane.. Declare a fast from honking... Force yourself to eat your food slowing... For a month at the grocery store choose the slowest/longest line. Get in it. Then let someone go ahead of you." I can see the looks on some of your faces even now. Ironically, the weirder you thing these ideas are, the more you are probably suffering from hurry sickness and the more you should slow down!

My own pillar of sanity and slowing is keeping the sabbath. Not as a must do, but as an intentional offering of the day back to God, in which time with Him, time with people comes first. This has been my practice for over twenty years, even in the most insanely busy times of my life. Though I'm sometimes not the most patient man in the world, I would be far worse off if I ignored the wisdom of God's plan for my time. The Sabbath is like an eye in the hurricane of life's demands. Take one day a week, and banish hurry. You might be amazed at the difference it makes.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Solitude and Silence

"Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life." - Dallas Willard, "The Spirit of the Disciplines."

Though we were meant for community, and though communication is essential, often we saturate our lives with noise and company in an attempt to fill a void in our hearts or to avoid allowing ourselves time to think. The spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence are powerful tools for a deeper communion with God. They are also disciplines that come far easier for some of us than others - as my wonderfully charming and gregarious wife can attest! For contemplatives and ascetics, it's an essential time, both for recharging our batteries and for drawing near to God.

Donald Whitney discusses these in his classic "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life" (Chapter 10 on this subject can be found at his web site). There he defines the discipline of silence as "the voluntary and temporary abstention from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought." Solitude is related, it is "voluntarily and temporarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes... Think of silence and solitude as complementary disciplines to fellowship. Without silence and solitude we're shallow. Without fellowship we're stagnant. Balance requires them all."

Whitney gives some excellent reasons for practicing silence and solitude:
- To follow the example of Jesus
- To better hear the voice of God
- To express worship to God
- To express to God
- To be physically and spiritually restored
- To regain a spiritual perspective
- To seek the will of God
- To learn control of the tongue

Ruth Haley Barton wrote a book on just this subject, "Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God's Transforming Presence." In it she shares some tips for this practice.
1. Identify a sacred place and time for you
2. Begin with a modest goal (the length isn't as important as the regularity)
3. Select a comfortable yet alert physical posture
4. Begin with a simple prayer expressing your openness and desire for God
5. Close your time in silence with a prayer of gratitude for God's presence
6. Resist the urge to judge yourself on your expectations in silence

Others have pointed out that solitude and silence require attention - if you don't engage the mind you'll fall asleep :)  Consider memorized Scripture, meditating on it; consider an attribute of God (as well as the fact that He is present); consider the faithful actions of God in the past (both in your life, in the church, in history); and listen in active stillness.

If you find yourself constantly in a state of hurriedness and unease... consider the benefit of silence and solitude in the pursuit of godliness (and sanity!)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fasting and Prayer

Fasting as a spiritual discipline is intentionally abstaining from something that is good for a period of time for the sake of spiritual growth – for prayer, to humble ourselves before God, to increase our awareness of our reliance on Him. Usually fasting is abstaining from food, though it may also be from drink, sleep or sex (I Cor 7:5). The goal is never to earn brownie points, show God or our friends how cool we are, to punish ourselves, or to make God change His mind.  Isaiah 58 warns about fasting for outward show, when instead God wants our hearts.

The purpose of fasting is "to take our eyes off the things of this world and instead focus on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God and to ourselves that we are serious about our relationship with Him.”  Fasting was described and encouraged in both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus says “when we fast” (not if) in Matthew 6:16-18 where He reminds us to fast in secret. Jesus Himself fasted for 40 days (Matt 4:2) at the start of His public ministry before calling the disciples. Fasting was not uncommon in the early church (e.g. Acts 13:2-3).

Campus Crusade for Christ has an excellent guide to fasting which covers why we should fast, how to fast safely, how long and what type, preparation, physical issues, and how to break your fast. There’s even some good information on fasting from the “Dummies” series: “Fasting provides self-discipline in an undisciplined age.” and “Fasting fosters concentration on God and his will.”  I would say fasting is particularly recommended for:
  • Seeking a renewed commitment and fresh start in your devotion for God
  • Seeking direction from God before a major decision or big event
  • Seeking physical healing for a loved one or someone going through a rough situation
  • Seeking deliverance from sin, temptation, or anything else where you seem stuck
If you’ve never really done any prayer and fasting, give it a try, and start small! Skip a lunch and take the hour to pray. Pray for other people, for guidance, in confession, with a listening heart. Before dinner when you’re feeling particularly hungry, take some time again to pray, to humble yourself before God, and to be acutely aware of your reliance on Him. Break the fast with a healthy meal (not a large pizza!)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Show on Leadnet - Church Bull Session

Today Leadnet had a brief show and call-in program "Church Bull Session". This is a weekly show (Tues at 4pm) where Leadership Network's Dave Travis, Reggie McNeal, and Chris Willard will be shooting from the hip on a number of ministry topics and current events. I was able to ask a question by twitter as well as follow-up with a call-in question. I got to tell Reggie that I loved his book "The Present Future" and only had to throw it across the room once :)

I asked "What does missional leadership development look like in a church trying to be more externally focused". (Answers below are from memory, I don't have a transcript)
"It's about Deploy-and-Debrief, not Train-then-Deploy, and it's a very different mindset." In other words, you create opportunities for people to serve (especially outside the walls of the church), then intentionally talk about what happened afterwards. The traditional approach would be that you announce training, give people the skills to do something, then send them off to do it. 
Be intentional about what you recognize and celebrate. Be sure to put high emphasis on what is going on outside of the church. For example, when you recognize children's ministry, add "Not just you involved in ministry here, I mean everyone who in ministry to children. Teachers, stand up. Volunteer tutors at the high school, Foster parents, grandmothers who are caregivers, stand up and be recognized. You guys are doing wonderful work in children's ministry!"
I then asked about how to encourage a shift from ministry inside the church to outside...
Every member a minister was an important biblical teaching that came out of the reformation, but there's an important aspect that it misses. Every member of the church is a also a missionary, called not only to serve but to share the gospel to those lives they touch. Rather than a replacement of every member a minister, it's more of a change in focus in where they are deployed, and a greater sense of mission in what they do. It's not about finding a church ministry for everyone, it's about releasing people for service to other people where they are already deployed - serving in their community, among their family and friends. It's about encouraging the use of their time and spiritual gifts to touch the lives of those outside the church walls.
My next question: "How do you make the shift from equipping for internal ministry to releasing for external ministry and for developing the mindset of every member a missionary?"
Churches need to adopt the Home Depot approach - You can do it. We can help!  Too long we've had the attitude (implicit or explicit)  "We can do it. You can help."
Another idea is to bring in several community leaders over time - fire commissioner, police chief, high school principal, gang leader, and have them share what's going on the in the community and how they can help make a difference.
One other great comment made on the show, when another caller asked "How do you motivate people to get involved in the community?"
You don't! Give it up, stop trying! Instead... create a venue for service where they can actually do something. When they see that what they're doing is actually impacting lives, it will motivate them in a way you never could by talking about it. Change the behavior, leading by example, and the motivation will come powerfully and naturally.
For more on these ideas, you may want to check out Reggie McNeal's new book "Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church." (I'm falling behind on reading, I really need to get this one myself!)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Developing People

The following ten lessons on "Developing People" were shared by Craig Groeschel on his blog at - excellent points for all of us to keep in mind! They apply no matter what your sphere of influence is...

"Once you start attracting good ministers, God will want to use you to help make them great ministers. Here are ten lessons I’ve learned about developing people:
  1. Honest, immediate, and consistent feedback on performance is invaluable.
  2. Developing strengths nets a bigger return than developing weaknesses.
  3. Developing others takes a ton of time in the early seasons and produces huge results with smaller investments in future seasons.
  4. You will see a better ministry return by investing in your star team members than you will by investing in weaker players.
  5. You will have to allow people to fail if you want them to improve.
  6. Great coaches are great encouragers.
  7. If you don’t schedule intentional time for developing others, you aren’t likely to do it.
  8. God can use you to pull more out of a person than the person may believe exists.
  9. The person you are developing can also help develop you—if you will ask questions and listen.
  10. The best people builders develop others to develop others."

Craig is a very insightful leader! As much as we wish we could make a program or an easy three-step process for developing people and developing leaders, it's all about this kind of relational investing in others.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Intercessory Prayer

Intercessory prayer is simply praying on behalf of other people. The Full Life Study Bible defines it as "holy, believing, persevering prayer whereby someone pleads with God on behalf of another or others who desperately need God's intervention". The Biblical basis for this is that we are a royal priesthood, and may play a role as mediator - not based in our own holiness or goodness but that of Christ.

Sometimes intercessory prayer is called "Standing in the Gap" - based on a passage in Ezekiel 22:30 where judgment came due to lack of such prayer - "Because the Lord God did not find anyone to 'stand in the gap,' to intercede for the land, He was requited to pour out the judgment due its disobedience." This is serious stuff. You can find many references in the Bible to intercessory prayer, how it is a great responsibility, how it makes a difference, how God Himself seeks faithful intercessors, and how some are specially gifted with faith and passion for this kind of prayer.

The Bible also gives several specific people who should be the focus of regular intercessory prayer:
- Leaders and government authorities (I Tim 2:1-2)
- The people of God (Joel 2:12-13; Romans 1:9; Eph 6:18)
- Our pastors and those in spiritual leadership (2 Cor 1:11; 1 Thess 5:25; Heb 13:17f)
- Our community and our nation (Ps 112:6; Jer 29:7; Dan 9:3)

Typically the intercessor doesn't just work through a list (though that can be helpful at times), instead carrying out a real burden to intercede, perhaps fasting, and with much patience and determination.

Whatever your specific approach, do not neglect praying for others, especially your neighbors and friends, those you love, those who have not heard the gospel, and those whose leadership will affect many people.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Praying through ACTS

Prayer is simultaneously simple and profound, speaking with a dear friend and coming before the Holy creator of the universe. We have in the Bible the Lord's prayer, the Lord praying for us (John 17) and a great variety of ways in which people have spoken to God, in praise and petition. We're commanded to pray without ceasing, but also encouraged not to babble on in vain repetition. Prayer is the lifeblood of our relationship with God.

In considering spiritual disciplines, bible reading and prayer are always at the top of the list, as they are both the most commonly practiced as well as key agents of transformation for both mind and heart . Of course, it would be pretty poor if either of these were merely treated as a discipline, something we had to do. Dallas Willard in "The Spirit of the Disciplines" comments "Prayer is conversing, communicating with God. When we pray we talk to God, aloud or within our thoughts... It would of course be a rather low-voltage spiritual life in which prayer was chiefly undertaken as a discipline, rather than as a way of co-laboring with God to accomplish good things and advance His Kingdom purposes."

Several forms of prayer are practiced as spiritual disciplines. Adele Calhoun describes 14 in her "Spiritual Disciplines Handbook," including: breath prayer, centering prayer, contemplative prayer, conversational prayer, fasting, fixed-hour prayer, inner-healing prayer, intercessory prayer, labyrinth prayer, liturgical prayer, prayer partners, praying Scripture, prayer of Recollection and prayer walking.

I can't even scratch the surface of the subject, but here I just wanted to share one of the earliest ideas I learned about a balanced and disciplined prayer life, the simple acronym - "ACTS". When we pray, there should be the following elements (whether one after the other, or spread out over time) -

Adoration - to worship and praise God, simply for who He is
Confession - honestly confess our wrongdoings and seek forgiveness
Thanksgiving - be grateful for what God has done, even in rough times
Supplication - personal petition and intercessory prayer for others, asking for help

We're encouraged to turn to God to supply all our needs, and to come to Him to ask for his provision, but if they only time we ever talk to God is when we want something, that's not good.

I find myself still today using 'ACTS'. In fact, can I share a part of my routine that may sound silly? In the morning I'm a slow riser - it's not my best time. I hit the snooze button at least 4-5 times. But these days instead of rolling over or worrying about what I have to do that day, I pray through ACTS. One per snooze alarm hit. When I finally drag myself out of bed to face the day, I've been praising and worshiping Him, have confessed any sins from the previous day, and have lifted up several people in prayer. Don't worry, it's not the only way I pray - He gets some quality time when I'm awake too, but for me, this is a great way to start the day :)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Review - The Principle of the Path

Andy Stanley is an outstanding communicator well known for clarity and wisdom in his writing and speaking. The Principle of the Path is another excellent book, in which he explains a basic principle that is at work in many aspects of our life.

The premise of the book is extremely simple (as Andy states) - that "direction - not intention - determines our destination." In other words, the choices we make put us on a path that plays a much bigger role than where we 'want' to go. I wouldn't call this a self-help book, there's no formula to follow; the application of the principle remains a challenge even after you fully understand it. The power comes from the fact that it is not only so true, but that it operates in every aspect of our lives - relational, moral, financial, spiritual, physical.

The book addresses several good questions, such as why so many smart and driven people start out with a clear vision of their desired destination and yet years later find themselves in a completely different place. The principle, once embraced will empower you to identify and follow the path that will in fact lead you towards your desired destination. While Andy is a Pastor and uses several biblical examples, his writing style is down to earth and the principle and applications apply to everyone. There's only two downsides I found in the book. The first was that it was too long (and I almost never say that about a book!) The second was that it seemed to concentrate mostly on avoiding wrong paths instead of how to actively start down and stay on a path that will lead you from where you are to where you want to be. Nevertheless, it's a very solid book which I recommend for everyone.

I'm a big Andy Stanley fan, so I was happy to get a copy of this book from the Thomas Nelson Blogger Review Program. More information on The Principle of the Path can be found at the Thomas Nelson website, and it's available for sale at Amazon and other retailers.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Spiritual Discipline of Journaling

Journaling strikes me as an interesting activity. It seems like a good way to express yourself and to take some time to reflect on life and learning. I don't know many people who do a little journaling. Most people would never do this, while others have journaled for their entire life. Either way, it might surprise you that journaling may be quite useful as a spiritual discipline.

Donald Whitney's classic "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life" has an excellent chapter on Journaling. Here are some notes from that as well as eight reasons why we should consider journaling.

"One of the seldom-practiced but very valuable Spiritual Disciplines is journaling.  Though not commanded in Scripture, God has blessed its use since Biblical times. Journaling is one way to express the pursuit of Christlikeness commanded in 1 Timothy 4:7:  ‘Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.’"

What is a Journal?
"A journal is a book in which a person may keep a variety of things, including a record of the works and ways of God in his life, of daily events, of personal relationships, of insights into Scripture, of prayer requests, of his feelings about and responses to these things, and the interpretation of all these from his own spiritual perspective.  The Bible itself contains many examples of God-inspired journals.  Many Psalms are records of David’s personal spiritual journey with the Lord.  The journal of Jeremiah’s feelings about the fall of Jerusalem we call Lamentations.  A journal not only promotes spiritual growth by means of its own virtues but it’s also a valuable aid to the other Spiritual Disciplines as well."

The Value of Journaling
  1. It helps in self-understanding and evaluation (Rom. 12:3)
  2. It helps in meditating on the Lord and His Word (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:1-3)
  3. It helps in expressing one’s deepest thoughts and feelings to the Lord (Ps. 62:8b)
  4. It helps in remembering the works of the Lord (Ps. 77:11-12)
  5. It helps in creating and preserving a spiritual heritage (Deut. 6:4-7; 2 Tim. 1:5)
  6. It helps in clarifying and articulating insights and impressions (1 Pet. 3:15)
  7. It helps in monitoring goals and priorities (Phil. 3:12-16)
  8. It helps in maintaining the other spiritual disciplines (1 Tim. 4:7)

For more info on journaling I would recommend Donald Whitney's book . Search around and you may find excerpts or notes on this, for example this handout on journaling based on Whitney's book. John Ortberg's "The Life You've Always Wanted" also discusses journaling. Upward Call ministries has on their website a  good article on journaling. Others are looking at more modern forms of journaling and have suggested Blogging as a spiritual discipline, and now even Twitter as a spiritual discipline. In fact, one reason I started blogging was to add some discipline to my own reading, Bible study, and sharing of insights. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

Spiritual Temperaments and Book Reviews

Gary Thomas has identified a set of nine spiritual “temperaments” which describe the different ways in which we connect with God. He discusses these in a book called "Sacred Pathways". Myra Perrine followed this up with a book of her own describing the temperaments and adding new material - "What's Your God Language? Connecting with God through Your Unique Spiritual Temperament". Perrine defines “A spiritual temperament is simply a God-given preference indicating how someone best and most naturally loves and serves God. Spiritual temperaments can be bold statements in our churches of how God has legitimately, though diversely, wired us to know him while also displaying differing facets of his character to a watching world!”

Thomas describes the following nine types / spiritual temperaments:
  • Naturalist who is most inspired to love God out-of-doors by being in a natural setting.
  • Sensate who loves God with the senses -- through awareness of taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound.
  • Traditionalist who loves God through ritual and symbol
  • Ascetic who prefers to love God in solitude and simplicity
  • Activist who loves God through contributing towards justice and the enhancement of life in the world.
  • Caregiver who loves God by loving others.
  • Enthusiast who loves God with mystery and celebration.
  • Contemplative who loves God through contemplation.
  • Intellectual who loves God with the mind.
The "Sacred Pathways" book  is a refreshing look at how we connect to God and how our personality and unique design affect how we relate to Him. After introducing the concept of a spiritual temperament, he spends a chapter on each of the nine temperaments. He describes what these temperaments look like, how they interact with God and Scripture, and gives some biblical and/or contemporary examples of people with that temperament. There are a set of questions at the end of each chapter to help the reader assess which temperaments are most prevalent.

The last chapter is particularly useful, on "Understanding Your Sacred Pathway." There he gives suggestions on applying knowledge of your temperaments to worship, devotion, and bible study. The book has a number of good ideas on how to improve your devotional times, which can look as different as the people who have them. While I wish he could have gone a little further in the area of 'what do I do with this information?' I did find the book to be quite helpful and encouraging. It should be an interesting read for most Christians, especially those who feel like their current devotions have become dry (or have disappeared).
Looking for more on the application side, I also read Perrine's book, "What's Your God Language?" She does an excellent job as did Thomas with describing the concept of a spiritual temperament and describing each of the nine, in an approachable and inspiring way. There are also two assessment tools within the book, one to discover your spiritual temperament, and another to assess your current spiritual practices.

What does this book cover that goes beyond Thomas' book? Perrine is more focused on application, and with each temperament there is an outline of four-weeks that gives practical exercises for experiencing God through for that temperament. There are hints and sidebars throughout which provide additional ideas for personal reflection, prayer, and journaling. Chapter 4 addresses "How Does My Spiritual Temperament Help Me Love God?". Chapter 5 is completely new material, on "Denominations and Differences in the Church Today". Chapter 6 is quite good, addressing "The Lifelong Journey of Knowing a Loving God." You get the feel throughout the book that the author cares deeply about the material, about connecting with God, and has a lot of experience in helping others do this.

If you're curious what your spiritual temperament might be, check out the free online assessment for spiritual temperaments based on Thomas' "Sacred Pathways". I also found a page that summarizes the pathways and gives some other examples. Me? I'm an Intellectual / Ascetic / Contemplative / Enthusiast. Consider for yourself how God wired you to worship Him.

Friday, May 1, 2009

More Ways to Interact with Scripture

There are many creative ways to experience the truth and power of Scripture. Bible study and devotional reading are powerful activities, but there are other ways to interact with Scripture that can help you see things in new ways and (for those of us who like to change things up) to provide variety to keep things fresh.
As I come to the end of this week-long series on Bible Intake, I want to make a few more comments about Meditation on Scripture. The call to do this is found in Scripture itself - Psalm 119 contains several references to meditating on, and delighting in, God's Word. Joshua 1:8 says "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success." J.I. Packer in "Knowing Goddefines it: "Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God... It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God."

There are several other good sources on meditation on Scripture that you may want to check out - this primer , an article by Jan Janson, and this excellent reference at The bottom line is that meditation on the Bible is for everyone, pastors and parents as well as contemplatives. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon regarded this very highly , and gives us a key reason why we should interact with the Word of God in different ways as we wrap our mind and heart around it:
"Truth is sometimes like a flint, which, when it is smitten the first time yieldeth not; but at last one happy blow of the hammer shall make it fly to shivers. You will find it the same with gospel doctrine, that you want to understand but cannot. There is some difficulty you cannot surmount. Meditation comes and gives one stroke after another with all the weight of prayer and of thoughtfulness, but it stirs not; till at last our diligence is rewarded, and we see the whole mass of masonry which reason had piled together of fabulous traditions, cometh tumbling down; the foundation is discovered, and the truth made clear to our apprehension in a moment."