After four hard years in ministry, I left the pastorate discouraged and confused. I gave my heart and soul to the church, but I had become disillusioned. I didn’t understand why there was such a gap between my expectations and what i was experiencing in real life. Why wasn’t the church growing as I had hoped? Why was God letting so many people suffer and die—good people, followers of Christ, individuals we prayed for? Had I been too naïve in applying biblical teaching so literally? Perhaps if I understood the Bible better, I reasoned, maybe I would discover where I had gone wrong in my thinking and ministry.
I enrolled in a PhD program in Chicago looking for answers. I eagerly dove into the study of the Old and New Testaments. I hung on every word of my professors. I felt like I was getting filled up and coming alive again. Yet, I had no idea what God intended to teach me through the program, let alone where this journey was going to take me.
In the first semester, in an advanced level graduate course on the apostle Paul, a single verse suddenly reoriented my thinking in a way that has radically altered my relationship to God and my approach to ministry and leadership ever since. As part of his lecture, one of my favorite professors, Dr. Edgar Krentz, read Paul’s words recorded in his second letter to the Corinthians:
[God] has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—
not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit
gives life (2 Cor 3:6).
I don’t remember what point dr. Krentz was making, but I knew in an instant I had just received the answer I was looking for—or at least what would lead me to so many answers over the coming years. The epiphany was not at all what I was expecting, but it was what I needed to hear: “. . . the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
I came to graduate school assuming that I needed more academic knowledge about the Bible to answer my questions. What I needed more was to learn how to relate to God in a more intimate way. I needed to learn how to listen better for the voice of the Spirit and how to let the Spirit guide my life and ministry on a day-to-day basis. I didn’t just need more Bible study. I needed more of the Holy Spirit.
Since that moment of reorientation, almost thirty years ago now, I’ve been on a quest to understand what it means to experience the Spirit’s leading and working in every possible aspect of my life and ministry. My study, writing, teaching, coaching, preaching, mixing with Buddhists and Muslims as well as Christians of every stripe, traveling to dozens of countries around the world, and now serving as a professor and spiritual coach in Myanmar and other countries in Asia, Europe, and Africa are all part of my insatiable desire to discover what is true about the Holy Spirit, and what difference the Spirit can make in the life of ordinary followers of Christ. I’m still on that journey, but what I’ve found so far has been life-changing for me and many others.
Saying Yes to God: How to Keep in Step with the Spirit is the latest fruit of my research, exploration, and personal experience related to the Holy Spirit. My quest for greater understanding has selfishly been for my own benefit. This book however is for my students, colleagues, coaching clients, and all those who, like me, want to know God more experientially, and want God’s help to pass through the walls that have been holding them back in their lives. It’s for those who are ready to give up trying to transform themselves, and want to learn how to be transformed by God. It’s about how to draw better on the Holy Spirit in every way imaginable, in every aspect of their lives, for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. It’s motivated by a desire for myself and for my brothers and sisters in Christ to be more of what Jesus envisioned for his followers—able to shine forth the light and love of Christ in a world full of suffering, injustice, and alienation.
Please note that the book may be read without reference to any of the footnotes. The notes are included for those who would like to find additional resources and nuances of meaning not addressed in the main text. on many occasions, I have included especially lengthy footnotes when I wanted to alert students and other interested readers to critical issues debated among scholars or to the views of well-known writers on Christian spirituality, and to clarify how my position coincides or differs from other important voices.