Category Archives: Chartres, France

“Questions”

Crucifix in sacristy window, Chartres Cathedral

(Click on photo to enlarge)

I’m living with lot of questions lately. Burning, existential, spiritual questions. They keep bugging me and just have to be answered.

I suspect that part of the problem is that I don’t always really want to know the answers. But at the same time, I do want to know. It’s pretty obvious that I’m never going to be satisfied—or at peace—until I see what I need to see, and then act on the truth God reveals.

• What does it mean for me to be faithful to God?

• What does it mean for me to pick up my cross daily?

• What does God truly want me to give of myself and my resources in light of the gross inequities and great suffering for so many throughout the world?

I’m not looking for trite answers here. I already know what the Bible says about each of these questions. I’m trying to pierce the fog of self-deception and cultural blindness to see the truth about how I’m living out my faith (or not), what’s truly in my heart, and what Christ sees in me and in the world. I’m trying to be more open to hear how God wants to answer these questions for me.

I don’t have an axe to grind, and I’m not reacting. I want the Gospel I preach to others to revolutionize my own life in all of the ways that Jesus intended. And I want to better serve Christ and his kingdom, and not keep tripping so much over my own stubborn, self-centered, self-serving tendencies.

I feel calm when facing these questions, on one hand; and yet increasingly desperate, on the other. Not desperate so much out of anxiety or fear, but out of a growing sense of the enormous need in the world and my minuscule capacity to do much about it. I’d like to do more, and I’d like to be more.

And so, in my growing desperation, I’m becoming more and more aware that I have to make some choices—maybe some radical choices—if the future is going to be any different than the past. I’m talking about making changes in how I respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in absolutely every context of my life, and in how I give of myself and my resources to others on a regular basis.

For example, I’m increasingly dissatisfied with my trying to have the best of both worlds. I have spent most of my life both attempting to enjoy a meaningful relationship with God and to minister effectively to others, while simultaneously living to please myself as much as possible. And it’s not working. Or at least, I’m not at all satisfied.

Some days, I feel overwhelmed by all these questions. At other times, when I am more grounded, I can let go of what is way outside of my control or understanding. When I feel well connected to God, I can rest in his grace and focus on what is within my power to do.

However, at the same, the Spirit is still calling for changes. I’m beginning to see that the question is not, “How much can I do for Christ and his kingdom, given that I will continue to serve myself as well as possible?” The question has increasingly become, “What could I do—or, better, what would God do through me—if only I would let go of my self-serving choices and behavior?”

The more I keep asking these questions, and am not be afraid of what the Holy Spirit might show me, the more I see that God is actually starting to answer them. He’s using the process of asking the same things over and over to change me in ways I resist, but like. Greater clarity and conviction are emerging little by little—not always with words or concepts, but I can feel the shifts, and I can see that I’m changing for the better.

I’m a bit uncomfortable with this process. I’m not in control, and I’m a little (a lot?) worried sometimes about where all this might go. At the same time, it feels right.

What questions are you living with right now? I’d really like to know how the Holy Spirit is bugging you…and changing you through the process.

A Prayer “Loving God, thank you for the questions that lead me to better places. Please draw me more fully into Jesus’ life and death. Please help me to not lose heart as I have to face the utter darkness, despair, and desperation of the cross. Give me courage and strength to die to myself, and lead me by your power to resurrection in every area of my life possible. May your good will be done.”

I’m writing from Chartres, France. When these words are posted, I will be teaching the The Spirit-Led Leader course at the Ukraine Evangelical Theological Seminary in Kiev. Please pray for Jill’s complete healing from her pulmonary embolism (see post “To Live or To Die”), and for my teaching and coaching of seminarians and pastors this spring (www.fhlglobal.org/ministries). Thank you. May this Easter week be a time both of dying to self and of experiencing resurrection for you.

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“Praying on Purpose”

Moon over Chartres Cathedral

“Lord God,

please help me

to live fully

to love deeply, and

to give freely,

so that

all those I meet today

may know and experience you

through me.”

Every morning, I pray this prayer to breathe new life into my mind and heart. The words focus my attention outside of myself. They re-orient me and motivate me. They remind me that my life has meaning in relationship with God, and purpose as I reflect the light of Jesus Christ to others.

I created this prayer several years ago as part of a coaching exercise to help me to think more deeply about my purpose. Since then, its meaning and value for my daily life and relationship with God has continued to grow.

What does praying on purpose look like for you? If you don’t already have a set prayer to help you start your day, try jotting down simple phrases that express the desires of your heart and your vision for your life.

What do you most want out of each day? What do you think God is calling you to? What words or images evoke a deep feeling within you that will open your heart toward God and send you forward with renewed energy and anticipation?

I chose “to live fully” for my prayer because I want to experience the “abundant life” Jesus envisions for me. (John 10:10) I’m thinking about a life full of loving relationships, worthwhile work, helpful service, meaningful interaction with others, and doing all the good God intends for me to do each day. This means, I’m really praying that the Holy Spirit will fill me and lead me in every possible way.

I pray to love, because when I am loving others I am closest to God. To love is also the best way to make a difference in the world on a person-to-person basis. I ask to love deeply so that my attention to others won’t be superficial or contrived, but genuine, heartfelt, and pure.

I want to give freely so that I can be more selfless, and less grasping and greedy. I don’t want to be so possessed by my possessions, but to be free to share generously. I want to be more like Jesus, who came “not to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:45)

My prayer benefits me greatly, but the ultimate focus is not on me. I am praying that God will enable me to experience more of Jesus, and through him, more of life—true life, eternal life, purposeful life— to motivate others to come to know Jesus better, too.

I want others to see how my faith and relationship with God has come to permeate more and more of my life, and how much better my life is with God than without God. If other people can see Christ’s love, care, joy, power, peace, and purpose at work in my life, perhaps they will seek a closer relationship with him for themselves.

That’s my prayer.

What’s yours?

I pray that out of [the Father’s] glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV)

Point: When you align your prayers with God’s purposes for your life, you will experience a more intimate relationship with God and greater energy for daily living. The Holy Spirit can use your words to give you more motivation and inspiration to get outside of yourself and your own problems, so that you can live with more purpose and joy.

Prayer: “Loving God, thank you for the life that comes from being in an intimate relationship with you. Please help me to experience more of Jesus, more of your love, and more of the Holy Spirit, so that I may increasingly know you and reflect your grace and love to others.”

© Timothy C. Geoffrion, 2010. Please share freely with others with proper acknowledgment of source!

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“How Much Do You Want the Light?

Light pouring through South Windows, Chartres Cathedral

Light pouring through South Windows, Chartres Cathedral

Nicholas* had avoided me for weeks. Then all of a sudden he insisted on getting together ASAP. When he finally sat down opposite me, he was almost out of breath. He couldn’t look me in the eyes at first, but immediately his words starting tumbling out of his mouth. Tears streamed down his face.

After a particularly upsetting relapse into an old, hated pattern of behavior, Nick was visibly shaken. He was terrified at the power of the temptation and at his own weakness. Yet, what he hated the most was the horrible effect his sin was having on him. Suddenly the right words came to him:

“It sucks the light out of my being and fills it with darkness.”

Each of us has our own weak spots and pockets of darkness in our life. Some of us nurture envy or jealousy. Others are blinded by greed, self-justification, or delusions. Sometimes we comfort ourselves by fantasizing revenge; filling our eyes, hearts and minds with lust; seeking to feel powerful by being cruel; or by exploding in rage. Even more tragically, sometimes we actually wind up hurting, abusing, or deliberately exploiting others.

We may hate being in the darkness, and we may even despise ourselves for our weaknesses and failures. Yet, in the midst of daily anxieties, pressures, and temptations, slipping back into the darkness can be almost effortless. As our sight dims, we may even become more resistant to the light, or forget how much we have lost along the way.

My own tendency to drift into darkness is one of the main reasons I periodically set aside time to fast and pray. I don’t usually like fasting, but I like what God does in me through it.

Fasting helps me to focus interiorly, and to listen more closely to the Holy Spirit. God often reassures me that I am deeply loved and that I belong to God. In the presence of Christ’s light, sometimes I also see better my emptiness, my resistance, my lack of integrity, and the darkness that still grips me in secret places. I also find greater power to let go of sin, and greater motivation to seek the Light.

In fasting and extended times of prayer, I suggest the following:

• Give up two or three meals and drink only water (or juice if need be) all day.

• Use the meals times to read Scripture, journal, and pray alone.

Set your intention to create extra space for the Holy Spirit to shine the light of Christ into your dark places.

• Ask the Spirit to help you to see what you have been having a hard time facing, and to rekindle your love and longing for Jesus and others—and maybe for yourself, too.

On the road to Damascus. Jesus said to Paul, “I will [send] you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (Acts 26:17-18, NRSV)

No matter how strong we may think we are, we are all capable of self-deception and great sin. Yet, by reaching out to Jesus Christ in faith and earnestness, the Holy Spirit may very well send a powerful, piercing, cleansing, and renewing light that frees us from the various ways that Satan has a hold in our lives.

It’s not a magic solution. We are not completely transformed for all time. And an experience with the Light does not replace the role we can play in avoiding sin the next time. Yet, by continually seeking the Light of Christ, the Holy Spirit will expose the lies we cling to, and drive our darkness away. With clearer heads and humbled hearts, we usually know what we need to do differently next time to avoid getting so consumed by the darkness, and to stay in the Light. Then it is up to us to act on the truth.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7, NRSV)

The Point: The real question for spiritual growth is not, “How dark is your darkness?” Rather, it is, “How much do you want the Light?” If you want it, you can have it. But you can’t produce it on your own. Only the Holy Spirit can pour Christ’s light into your inner being and consume your darkness…. Is it time for you to set aside a day for fasting and prayer?

Prayer: “Lord, please help me to see what I need to see, give me courage to face the truth, and strength to act on what you reveal.”

* In order to protect confidentiality, “Nicholas” is an amalgam of various individuals I have worked with over the years. Yet his situation is very true to the experience of countless sincere Christians I have known.

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What Can I do? It’s Not Working!

Chartres under construction

Chartres under construction

What do you do when you are just not getting the results you hoped for?

You’re working hard and putting yourself out there, but the response from others is disappointing. You’re feeling more and more frustrated or discouraged. You want a different outcome, but you just can’t figure out what’s wrong or what to do differently. Maybe you’re getting angry, and you feel like lashing out. Perhaps you feel like giving up all together.

When I get in this kind of situation, as I did this past week, my first instinct is often reactive. I vacillate between going on the attack and wanting to quit. Yet, there is a third way.

It’s called “change.” First, I had to face the fact that my current approach to teaching my class was not working, and was not going to work. I had to try to see the situation through the eyes of my students, and imagine what they might be feeling and needing. I had to stop blaming others for the disappointing and frustrating situation, and start thinking creatively.

I had a choice to make. Would I stay stuck in my current feelings and just press through anyway? Or, would I step back to get a fresh perspective and be open to change?

Fortunately, I chose the latter approach. But this choice did not come without a fight. Within me, that is. I had to die to the teaching I wanted to give, and then I had to allow new ideas and different methods to surface.  Specifically, I had to do at least ten things to make the shift.

  1. I took some time to be by myself, and avoided the temptation to take out my frustration on class members.
  2. I went for a long walk. (In this case, I had the opportunity of walking the labyrinth inside the Chartres Cathedral three times, surrounded by images of Jesus and other biblical characters.)
  3. I let off steam by muttering under my breath and by making faces for my wife’s camera. (By the way, if you want some comic relief, there’s a hilarious Youtube video on trying to herd cats that my son sent me. Let me know if you want the link.)
  4. I consciously let myself feel all of my feelings (frustration, disappointment, hurt, anger). I didn’t feed them, but neither did I try to talk myself out of them. I let the feelings surge within me. I named them, without judging them.  At first they grew stronger, and then, over time, they started to lose their power and began to dissipate.
  5. I spent a long time journaling, and started this article hoping that by the end of the week I could really live into what I was going to recommend to you.
  6. Through all of this, I was praying. First complaining to God, then asking for help. What do I need to see here? What do I need to let go of? What can I do differently? What do my students most need, and what do they most need from me?
  7. I stood in front of Le Beau Dieu (The Beautiful God), a statue of Jesus on the south porch of the cathedral. I asked Jesus (not the statue) what he would do. Almost immediately my eyes fell to the Bible the Jesus figure was holding. The message seemed clear: get back to letting the class flow directly out of Scripture.
  8. I sat down and rethought the next teaching session from the beginning, based on the language, approach, and content the class members would find most helpful, instead of what I most wanted to teach them.
  9. I went out to dinner with friends to stop obsessing on the experience, but then got up at 5:30 a.m. the next morning to spend extra time thinking and praying before rejoining the rest of the group.
  10. Though my students had not done anything wrong, I forgave them for not being the way I wanted them to be, in order to clear away the negative feelings that grew out my reaction to them. I forgave myself for missing the mark with my teaching and not figuring out what they needed faster.

I’m not sure what kind of article you would have gotten if the class had bombed again! But it didn’t. The new attitude, new material, and new approach made a huge difference.  Between my willingness to change, whatever spiritual work they had done unbeknownst to me, and the moving of the Holy Spirit, the teaching time flowed powerfully once again.

I still wish I could have taught what I wanted to teach, in the way I wanted to do it; but something else was needed in this context, with these particular students, at this unique time in their lives. Thank God, I was given the grace to make the needed changes in time—for their sake.

Paul (then known as Saul) spent a lot of time hurting God’s people, thinking he was working for God. However, when Jesus finally got his attention on the road to Damascus, Paul faced reality, surrendered his will to Christ’s, and started a new chapter in his spiritual journey and service to God. In his telling of the story, he said, “I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’” (Acts 22:10, NRSV)

The point: Our work in the world is not about us. It’s about Christ, and what the Holy Spirit wants to do in us and through us for the sake of those we are called to serve. If something’s not working, we need to face reality, and make whatever changes are needed in order to get into the Spirit’s flow once again.

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Self-Confident or God-Confident?

Chartres Cathedral

I had to laugh. I was walking the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral today, looking for inspiration and peace. I was trying to get motivated to write this week’s web article on self-confidence. Instead, I just felt anxious about whether or not I really had anything worth saying!

Whenever I lack self-confidence like this, or become overly self-conscious, I freeze up or become horribly awkward. I’m afraid I won’t be clever, interesting or original enough, and you won’t keep reading or won’t respect me. So, I procrastinate.

This kind of paralyzing self-consciousness and lack of self-confidence is widespread in my experience. Many of my clients, students, and friends wrestle with these same issues in their own ways.

As I see it, the root cause of the problem is often fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of looking foolish, fear of what others may be thinking or feeling about us. Our confidence falters, and we hesitate to put ourselves forward.

Sometimes, we have the opposite problem, too. Driven by pride, we become determined to prove our worth or superiority to others—or to ourselves. We may accomplish a lot, but too often the end result is more about us, and less about God.

At the same time, pride can be the cause of a low self-image and our feeling badly ourselves. It works like this: When we can’t do something as well as we’d like, our pride can’t bear the thought of our “losing” or “not measuring up.” So we mope about or feel embarrassed over our shortcomings and failures, and stop trying.

Either way—puffed up into self-serving overdrive or deflated into self-defeating underdrive—we can easily become too pre-occupied with Self.

What’s needed is a shift in our focus. We need to move from being so self-conscious (worrying about our performance or what others might be thinking about us) to being more God-conscious (focusing on what God wants for our lives and how the Holy Spirit works through imperfect mortals to bless others).

And what a difference it makes! When I become more God-confident at least 5 things happen:

1)   I remember to base my self-image first and foremost on how God looks at me (I am loved, valued, cherished, and forgiven; and have purpose in life), and on what God will do through me (not on what others think of me).

2) I ask God how I may best serve Christ’s purposes today and meet the needs of those God brings into my life (rather than on what I might get out of my efforts).

3)  I stop procrastinating, because I know I have important work to do in the name of Jesus that stems from God’s calling and will (rather than waiting until I feel like getting started or I am certain of “success”).

4) I work hard to offer my best to God, because I feel so grateful to be loved by God and eager to be part of whatever the Holy Spirit is doing.

5) I make a conscious decision to trust that God will do good things through me, because that’s how God works when we obey the Spirit’s promptings and use our spiritual gifts to serve others.

In short, focusing on self either keeps us from getting to the work God has for us to do, or distorts our motivation and message by bringing glory to ourselves instead of God. Focusing on God makes our confidence soar, and motivates us to get going with the good work God has for us to do—today!

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

The Point: Are you tired of getting all tangled up in yourself? Stop thinking so much about what others are thinking about you and being so afraid. Have more confidence in God’s work in you and through you, and get going with what you know you need to be doing.

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Incredible Joy!

Easter Vigil in Cathedral

Easter Vigil in Chartres Cathedral

Youth celebrating Christ's resurrection in Chartres Cathedral
Youth celebrating after the Vigil

I have never been to celebration like this before. I’ve been to social gatherings with lots of laughter and commotion. I’ve enjoyed elegant multi-course, white-table clothed, dinners with sumptuous delicacies, as well as fun backyard barbecues with kids running all over the place having a great time. But there was something different about this night.

The joy was almost palpable. As soon as the three-hour vigil finished, just before midnight, the youth rushed to the front of the church to sing and dance. As the huge cathedral bells announced the arrival of Easter Sunday morning, near pandemonium broke out near the altar.

Outside the circle of dancers, everyone was clapping, belting out the choruses led by Simoni, a guitar strumming, Spanish priest. “He is resurrected! He is resurrected!” “With him we died. With him we are resurrected. With him we live!” The mood was infectious.

By one a.m. the Chartres cathedral finally closed its doors and the joyous singers took to the streets. I couldn’t fall asleep until at least two.

Actually, I didn’t want to go to sleep. I never wanted to lose the feeling. In fact, I’m still smiling several days later, picturing the scene and recalling the laughter, the delight, and the great feeling of hope we all felt that night.

In a flash I knew that all the money in the world could not buy what I was experiencing at the moment. The emotions ran high and love was overflowing. At the same, the feeling behind the celebration was very deep and the meaning substantial.

The one who died on the cross for our sins came back to life again! Unheard of. Unparalleled. Life-transforming for his band of scared disciples and followers. Radically re-orienting. Hope-inspiring. Joy-producing. Confidence-building. Energizing. Motivating. Absolutely explosive.

In the midst of the darkest of human realities, light has come into the world. No matter what difficulty we must face when we walk outside the doors of the church—and no matter what darkness we sometimes see when we look inside our own hearts and minds—there is more to the story.

God lifts up those who look to him for life. Fighting for what’s right is not a lost cause. Seeking to live by love is not a fool’s game. Struggling to be a person of integrity is not a waste of effort. Though we may be exploited by the opportunists, be disadvantaged by the unscrupulous, suffer unjustly at the hands of others, or simply stumble over our own weaknesses and failures, God does not abandon those who put their trust in him.

Jesus’ resurrection proves who is really in charge, and where true hope can be found. There is justice. There is forgiveness. There is reward for doing good. There is eternal life.

What a great night! What a great Savior.

Though you have not seen [Jesus Christ], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9, NIV)

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Knowing

On spiritual retreat in Chartres, France, I am seeking God—looking at stained-glass windows, walking the labyrinth, taking long runs by the river, reading Scripture, worshiping in community, thinking, writing, and praying. This is the first in a series of postings on knowing and following Jesus more fully.

Tim in center of Chartres Cathedral labyrinth

Tim in center of Chartres Cathedral labyrinth

Yesterday, a pastor who attended my “Spirit-Led Leader” workshop in Myanmar wrote to me to ask me for suggestions for his Easter Sunday sermon. My answer was a question: “What brings you the most joy and power from your Christian faith?”

For me, the answer is pretty simple. Nothing has more dramatically impacted my life and perspective on the future than Jesus—his life, death, and resurrection—and the hope he gives me of eternal life with God after death.

Recently, one of my sons and I went to see the movie, Knowing. Nicholas Cage stars as a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, who stumbles upon a sheet of numbers buried in the ground 50 years earlier. The more he investigates, the more he discovers that the numbers might be pointing to a series of disasters. Can he figure out the code? Can he stop the disaster from happening? Can he convince his scientist friends that he is not crazy?

I won’t give away the ending, but let me say this film goes where “no man (or woman) has gone before”. Well, actually, the apocalyptic genre is well represented in literature, but few films dare to grapple with the end of the world in such a sobering manner, without a super-hero implausibly saving the day. In doing so, the film taps into the worst fears gripping much of the human race today (annihilation), while grappling with powerful human experiences that lead so many to faith in a higher power and in life after death.

Knowing terrified and comforted both. There is hope for those who are “called” and who listen to the “whispering” of the benevolent voices, warning them and guiding them. The biblical writers do something quite similar in dealing with ultimate matters. Prophets and apostles terrify those who dare to spurn the will of God, while offering hope to those who are called to faith by the grace of God, and who listen and follow the leading of the Spirit.

The biggest difference between the movie and the Bible is that Scripture actually names the source of our hope—Jesus Christ—and puts the hope of salvation within reach of anyone who believes.

Last week, Jill and I led a prayer walk for the Chemin Neuf (New Way) Christian Community on the labyrinth on the stone floor of the magnificent Chartres Cathedral. As I approached the center, I found myself asking God to show me the way forward in my life. In a flash, the words of Jesus came to my mind: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

I had my answer. I still have many questions and issues to resolve, but I know where my process needs to start. Knowing God and knowing how to best proceed need to be grounded in my relationship with Jesus. It seems I keep forgetting this most basic of spiritual truths.

Holy Week is a very good time to come to know Jesus better by taking extra time to focus on him, his life, his death, and his resurrection. What else—who else—can better help you know what your life is about and give you better hope for the future?

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11, NIV)

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