I am deeply grateful to all those who have contributed in a wide variety of ways to the creation, review, and completion of Saying Yes to God. In particular, I want to acknowledge the many contributions of my spiritual life coaching clients, students, colleagues, the board of directors of Faith, Hope, and Love Global Ministries, a dozen readers of the manuscript at various points along the way, and especially my wife.
Over the past ten years, my spiritual life coaching clients have proven to me that saying “yes” to God makes all the difference in the world to one’s experience of God and to the quality of one’s life. Their humility, openness, and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit have consistently led them to a place of love and peace in the presence of God, as well to new insight, clarity, and motivation. The principles and practices presented in this book are both biblically grounded and have grown out of my own personal experience, yet my coaching clients have shown me that these truths are not simply theoretical or idiosyncratic. They are applicable for any follower of Christ who wants to better know, love, and serve God. Many of my client’s stories fill these pages as illustrations of this truth.
Along with coaching clients, two completely different groups of students were particularly helpful to me in refining and shaping the teaching in these chapters. The first was a small group of theological students at Myanmar institute of Theology. The students met with me on Thursday afternoons, second semester, during the 2015–16 academic year. In our times together, we practiced the simplest versions of listening to God and asking God to speak a needed word into our lives. These students had never had any spiritual direction or instruction on how to listen to God on such a personal level. Our experience together showed me how easy it is for anyone to learn simple, but profound, spiritual practices—and to be well rewarded for doing so. Their testimonies affirm how responsive God is to those who are listening with the right kind of heart and mind-set.
A second group of students came from a Monday morning Bible study group at Christ Presbyterian Church (Edina, Minnesota). Each week, for four weeks, twenty-five to thirty adults met for two hours to work through the major teaching of this book. This group helped me to see the value of identifying and concretely naming the “walls” where each of us get stuck in our spiritual journey and relationship with God. Their engagement and responsiveness throughout our time together further strengthened my conviction that there is tremendous value of pushing hard on simple spiritual truths (such as listening to God, being humble and open, and loving others) to explore where, when, and why they become so difficult to live by in real life.
I’m also grateful for the inspiration and example of many pastors, faculty members, and other Christian leaders that I have met around the world, especially those who have had to make great sacrifices in order to serve Christ. in particular, I have been profoundly inspired and touched by the dedication of professors Lahpai Zau Lat, Edmund Za Bik, Samuel Ngun Ling, Cung Lian Hup, Maung Maung yin, Eh Tar Gay, and many others, too many to try to name, who have served with me as fellow faculty members at Myanmar institute of Theology (Yangon, Myanmar). They live their “yes” to God so concretely and extensively that I have come to see how provisional and self-serving my “yes” can be at times. Their examples have helped me to want to give more of myself in Christian service, and to do so with more humility. They’ve been showing me by their lives, usually without words, what it means to focus more on serving others and glorifying God than on serving myself and seeking my own glory.
The board of directors at Faith, Hope, and Love global Ministries has been very encouraging over the long process of writing this book. Specifically, Peter Strommen, Thomas Erickson, and Michael Dircz have each in his own way affirmed the validity and value of the spiritual principles and practices that are presented in these chapters. More broadly, I am very grateful for their support and insistence that I not neglect writing in the midst of the many demands of teaching, coaching, and service abroad. Their commitment to me personally has been a great source of encouragement and practical help as well, as I seek to live out my own “yes” to God as fully as I can.
At critical points in the development of the book, a dozen different individuals read the manuscript and offered feedback, suggestions, and encouragement in multiple ways. Wherever I was able to incorporate the suggestions of these readers, I credit them with making the book better. Wherever I failed to adequately draw on their insights or address their concerns, I take full responsibility for this lack.
All of the readers were chosen because of their own track record for saying “yes” to Christ in their own personal lives, most of whom are ordained ministers, presidents of their congregations, leaders of Christian ministries, lay leaders, and/or actively serve as spiritual directors. In 2014, early on in the writing process, Judith Doré and Josias Hansen read the first draft of the introduction and chapter 1, when I first was starting to pull together the content and shape of the book. Each made observations that influenced the development of the book as a whole. At the end of 2015, Sylvia Bailey, David Carroll, Laura Crosby, Paul Harmon, Ed Sladek, David Stark, Eric Strobel, and Kim Thompson read the complete manuscript, giving me helpful feedback on what “worked” for them as well as what didn’t work or what they felt was missing.
Early in 2016, Mark Burrows was particularly helpful. He generously read the entire manuscript and offered many penetrating comments and suggestions, not all of which I could act upon, but all of which were deeply appreciated. After one more round of editing, my beloved mother-in-law, Lucy Hartwell, proofread the text, word by word. In addition to the specific gift of finding typos and other grammatical issues, she offered sincere, personal words of encouragement, in the amazing way that only she can do, which I will always treasure.
Finally, I cannot express deeply enough my tremendous appreciation and gratitude to my wife, Jill. Time after time, when I needed wise counsel or a thumbs up to say “yes,” she was the one who gave me what I needed. When I wanted to move too quickly or was headed in the wrong direction, Jill was the one who urged me to slow down or be more discerning. When I grew hesitant or unsure of myself, she reminded me of my gifts and calling. When being supportive meant great personal sacrifice for her, Jill usually still said “go.” In all, Jill’s love, support, encouragement, counsel, confidence, willingness to confront, prayers, personal example, and unbelievable dedication to me and our marriage have all contributed significantly to my ability to say “yes” to God in so many ways.