Category Archives: Day to Day

Stepping Out in Faith

Myanmar Institute of Theology faculty and students seeking God's guidance
Myanmar Institute of Theology faculty and students seeking God’s guidance

What important decision lies before you right now? How are you going to decide what you’re going to do, and how willing are you to step out of your comfort zone to reach for what you really want or feel called to pursue? If you’re considering a major life change, John Wesley’s four-legged stool is still a very valuable guideline for any discernment process. This model seeks to balance input from Scripture, reason, tradition, and your Christian experience. You would ask yourself: “What does Scripture say about this idea or issue? What wisdom can I draw from my elders and tradition? What makes sense when I think the matter all the way through? What have I learned from my experience that might inform me now, especially as it relates to trying to listen and cooperate with the Holy Spirit? [1] Then, without neglecting the standard guidelines, often you will still need to venture beyond what you can know from Scripture, reason, tradition, and past experience. Every situation is unique, and important life-affecting decisions often require “real time” assessment of all the variables involved (who’s affected, cost to you, resources available, opportunities, priorities, capability, motivation, support, etc.). Sometimes, the Spirit may prompt you to do something unheard of or completely creative, not found in Scripture, not tried in your tradition, and perhaps quite unreasonable to reasonable folks. If the proposed idea doesn’t “make sense” by your way of thinking, ask yourself, are there compelling reasons to step into uncharted territory anyway? Without killing your enthusiasm, what safeguards need to be put into place that will limit the risks but will not undermine the new venture? A Risky Venture When I decided to leave my role as Executive Director of Family Hope Services (TreeHouse) to develop a global teaching ministry, I didn’t know if I was following a calling, a dream, or a fantasy. I was pretty sure that I needed to get back to teaching and more direct ministry, but what was the best way to do so? I didn’t want to go backwards to a conventional teaching role just because it seemed a safer route. But, how could I be sure that my being creative and taking a risk was truly going forward and not actually running away from the demands of my current position?  Would others judge me courageous or foolish?

On the Camino, trying to discern God's leading
On the Camino, trying to discern God’s leading

So many questions and self-doubts swirled in my head, but I was willing to take all the risks if I could just be sure that the Spirit was guiding me. Yet, such confirmation did not come before I had to make a decision. I knew I had to make a change, and I was willing to strike out on my own. I finally concluded that even if I could not answer all my questions with certainty, I would have to trust that God would guide me as I explored and experimented along the way.

However, at the same time, my move was not a blind leap. I had already made three trips to Bulgaria where I taught pastors and spouses and did some leadership coaching with very positive results. Over the previous decade I had developed numerous workshops, courses, and written resources. I sought the counsel of others, and conducted two more experimental mission trips, one to Myanmar and the other to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Finally, the enthusiastic response we received from each venture, combined with affirmation and support from our home church, prompted us to take the next major step.

In 2008, we created Faith, Hope, and Love Global Ministries (, a 501(c)(3) non-profit ministry as a vehicle for sending us and providing accountability, and we ventured forth. Over the past five years there have been many ups and downs and surprises, but as time goes on our step of faith has been confirmed repeatedly as we have now taught and ministered in Rwanda, the Congo, Ukraine, France, Vietnam, and Myanmar. So, on we go, more and more sure of our calling, and yet never knowing for sure if the decision we are making at any given point is from the Spirit or not.

A Dream Realized: Teaching at the Myanmar Institute of Theology in Yangon
A Dream Realized: Teaching at the Myanmar Institute of Theology in Yangon

Don’t Be Afraid

When it comes to stepping out in faith, how willing are you to get out of the box to try something new, creative, or otherwise unheard of and unexpected? Truly, discerning the will of God can be a complex subject, requiring a lot of thought and prayer. In seeking to learn how to listen to and cooperate with the Spirit, you should expect to stumble, get confused, make mistakes, and sometimes be completely fooled at times. If you’re self-aware and honest enough, you may never have complete assurance that what you’re thinking or feeling is truly from God, or whether the decision you made came from the Spirit or from some other source. Nevertheless, at some point you have to make a decision. You have to take some action. You have to take a chance. No matter how thorough your discernment process may be, there will always come a point when you have to step out in faith without sure and certain knowledge of what God wants you to do. This is where you need to have some guts so that you don’t just take the safe option or choose a path with a small vision, and miss out on the full and fruitful life God intends for you. Is something holding you back from stepping out in faith in some important aspect of your life? If you haven’t done your homework, do that first. But if you’re just waiting for more signs or more certainty, you may never take action. Don’t be afraid. Be brave. Take the next step as best as you can discern it, and see what happens. David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work … of the LORD is finished. (1 Chronicles 28:20, NIV)

[1] Many good books have been written on the subject of discerning the will of God, such as Elizabeth Liebert’s, The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making (2008).


Filed under Day to Day, Spirit-Led Living

It’s a Question of Love

The voices. The voices. What do you do with all the voices in your head and conflicting motivations in your heart?

I’m not talking about grappling with audible sounds or crazy stuff. I’m referring to the many competing thoughts, feelings, and impulses that vie for your attention and make it difficult to confidently choose a good course of action. You may sincerely desire to be Spirit-led, but you aren’t sure whose voice is whose in your head.

“What am I supposed to think?”

On top of it, most of us are well aware of the power of self-deception, not to mention the lies and deceits of the devil. We know we’re fools if we think that every thought, “insight,” and impulse we have is sound and reliable, and are fooled if we believe our motives are always pure.

When torn between various inclinations, motivations, and ideas, what do you do? When seeking help from God, how do you differentiate the leading of the Spirit from all the other “voices”? Consider the following scenarios from the social domain of life:

  1. “To Give or Not to Give?” You see a homeless person on the street (or simply get a call from yet one more fundraiser), seeking money. One voice says, “Give.” Another says, “Look the other way.” Another voice judges the person asking. Still another speaks from your heart. What’s moving you? The God of compassion, basic human decency, unresolved guilt, fear, or something else altogether?
  2. “Why Am I Interested in Them?” You feel drawn to someone, but you’re experiencing a range of conflicting thoughts. Are you being moved by the Spirit, responding to a basic need for love or friendship, being driven by your physical desires, compensating for some unmet emotional needs, trying to avoid feeling so lonely, or what?
  3. “Why Am I So Smart?” You’re sure that you’ve got someone or something figured out. Has God given you insight and wisdom, or are you simply a perceptive and astute person? Are you seeing the person or situation clearly, or are you blindly projecting yourself or your desires on to others? Are you making a sound judgment or are you being influenced by unwarranted assumptions?

It’s a Question of Love

Amid the din of conflicting internal voices and our incessant tendency to want to serve ourselves, Jesus’ teaching on the priority of loving God, others, and ourselves offers a simple but extremely practical guideline (Mark 12:30-31). Make a habit of always asking yourself, “What about the Rule of Love?” As the Apostle Paul taught, always think about how you can put love into action by “look[ing] not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). That’s love. Thinking about the impact of your words, attitudes, and actions on those your life touches, and choosing to put their best interest even ahead of your own. The rule is to make love the guiding principle in all you do.

Now, back to the hypothetical scenarios mentioned earlier. How would you apply the Rule of Love in the three situations? Here’s how I might do it.

  1. “To Give or Not to Give?” My suggestion: If you want to give, give. If you don’t, don’t. But regardless of whether or not you give something, love calls for treating the person with respect. If you choose to not give money, at least let your smile communicate that you see them as a fellow human being, loved by God. And if you do give (in this scenario or any other charitable endeavor), remind yourself that God has given you an opportunity to give to serve God’s purposes in ways that bring glory to God not yourself.
  2. “Why Am I Interested in Them?” Relationships are trickier. So many factors influence our interests in others, and every relationship is different. Here I will only make one suggestion. Remind yourself that you can best love others when you have experienced the love and grace of God for yourself, and when your relationship with others is not a substitute for the love you can only know in God. The less you “need” to love someone or be loved by him or her, the more free you will be to truly love others in ways that are life-giving rather than life-imprisoning or even destructive.
  3. “Why Am I So Smart?” There’s a difference between “judging” someone, behavior Jesus forbid; and “making a judgment” based on your perceptions and evaluation, our human responsibility for survival and good citizenship. Judging is prejudicially thinking you can know someone’s motives or evaluate their choices. Making a judgment, on the other hand, is carefully determining what is good, right, and true in a given situation. When you must make a judgment, remind yourself that love cares more about building up others and restoring broken relationships than “being right” and securing your identity or status vis-à-vis someone else’s.

I keep going back to the Rule of Love especially when I’m in the midst of a complicated or confusing social situation. I do so, not because I’m so loving or spiritually mature, but because on my own, I’m not.  I need help. I need a simple way to get the right perspective, quickly.

The Rule of Love may not give you a complete answer in every complex or confusing situation. Yet asking and praying with the question, “How are my actions an expression of God’s love for those God wants to love through me?” is what Spirit-led living is all about in its purest and simplest form. The more you ask yourself this question of love, the more you will be able to discern the Spirit’s voice amid all the other voices, and feel confident about how to proceed.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love… Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-8, 11-12, NIV)


Filed under Day to Day, Spirit-Led Living

Use Your Head!

A friend of mine gathered his family of four around the television. It was a big day. Everyone was excited. The Holy Spirit had whispered in his ear that this would be a good week to buy lottery tickets. Millions of dollars would be such a huge blessing to this family encumbered with debt and college tuition looming. They would be sure to use some of it to advance the kingdom of God, too! Clutching their tickets, they could hardly wait for the show to begin. What a surprise (to them and no one else) when none of their numbers were selected. What went wrong?

What was I thinking?

We may raise our eyebrows at what seems like an obvious case of wishful thinking, but who hasn’t let their hopes make a monkey out of them at one time or another? We get so emotionally involved with what we’re doing that we spiritualize our own desires, biases, and preferences. We conclude that God is leading us forward when we are actually leading ourselves astray. Simon and Garfunkel sum up well this common human weakness in their hit song, The Boxer: “All lies and jests, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. Hmmm Hmmm. Hmmm.” What’s the remedy? Am I suggesting that you stop trusting the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you, contrary to what I argued in my previous essay, “Spirit-Led Living: A Simple Path”. No, not at all. Rather, I’m cautioning you against naiveté and false expectations. In any discernment process, instead of just going with your feelings and what you want to be true, you need to prayerfully use your head, too. Learning the hard way It started with an overwhelming sense of compassion and grief. None of the kids I met on the streets of Yangon had fathers. Begging for food was a daily occurrence. One orphan boy had been living on the street for much of the past three years. Their clothes were filthy, their bodies skin and bones. Was I being called to give them the helping hand they needed in order to transform their lives? Soon, everything seemed to be falling into place. We were successful at getting two of the kids off the streets and into homes, and three of them back into school. They looked so proud in their new school uniforms, and seemed so eager to ride their new bikes to school. It felt great to be doing something so concrete and meaningful for the poorest of the poor.

Trying to sort out the truth

Four months later, I found out that the kids had been lying to me about having to pay school fees. School is free for children in Myanmar, but no one told me; and when someone did, I chose to believe the kids and their ready explanations over the adults who knew better. Then I found out that they were lying about going to school at all. Some of them actually did go to school occasionally, but I eventually found out that the one who I thought was my star pupil had been lying from the beginning. They were using the “school money” for food, games, movies, gambling, and sometimes drugs (glue). If you’re thinking, “What did you expect? You should have known better,” you are simply making the point of this essay. Yes, I should have known better, but I was too driven by my own emotions, personal needs, and desires. I wanted to believe that we were making more progress than we actually were. I didn’t check up on them as I should have, and blinded myself to what I should have been able to see. We’ve now addressed the issues, and have made the necessary corrections in how we are going to work with the kids going forward. We hope to not make the same mistakes in the future, but the past six months have taught me again how easy it is to fool yourself. No matter how experienced you may be, how knowledgeable, how prayerful, or how full of love and compassion, there simply is no substitute for paying attention to what is truly going on, facing the truth, and thinking through what you’re doing. The balance Are you struggling with confusion, disappointment, frustration, or hurt from some actions you’ve taken that you thought were prompted by God, but now question? If so, maybe you need to make some adjustments to your discernment process. Don’t over-react, but don’t miss the learning opportunity either. If you feel yourself in the grips of emotion or driven by your desires to the point that you or others are starting to question your judgment, maybe you need to take a step back and take an honest look at what’s going on. For the sake of those you care about, for your sake, and for the sake of whatever work you are doing for Christ in the world, beware of just believing what you want to believe. Pray more, not less, but don’t expect answers to come in the form of sentimental feelings and implausible revelations. And don’t expect the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and guidance to replace your responsibility to think through your course of action. Ask God to guide you through your rational thought process as well as through your feelings and desires. Listen to those who know you well and who can be a bit more objective. Face whatever truth the Spirit wants to reveal to you, and use your head. Jesus said, “Be wise as serpents, innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). And,  “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14:28).


Filed under Day to Day, Spirit-Led Living

Between Sundays—Spirit-Led Living in Ordinary Life

U Zaw

U Zaw (pronounced oo zo) teaches and mentors poor, teenage boys who work for Helping Hands, a small social service program in Yangon, Myanmar. Annie Bell, the wife of an British diplomat, started this skills-development outreach several years ago. A deeply compassionate woman, Annie has generously opened her heart and home to these boys and to many other individuals in response to the overwhelming poverty and needs that surround her.

As Annie’s right hand man, U Zaw is responsible to teach 20 boys and young men how to refurbish furniture for resale. He’s there to help them develop marketable skills; and, just as important, he quickly adds, character. Most of those who work at Helping Hands are fatherless, with huge voids in their lives. U Zaw is genuinely concerned for each boy, and takes his mentoring role very seriously.

As a Christian, U Zaw’s faith is very important to him and is a source of inspiration for his work. I was surprised by his low impression of his own spiritual life.

Love for these kids oozed from his pores, and his dedication was manifestly obvious; but it was his wife that he praised. She is the one who truly loves Jesus, he told me somewhat sheepishly. She is the one who is committed to the church, he explained, obviously self-conscious about his own minimal participation. U Zaw works six days a week  and rarely has time to even attend a weekly worship service, let alone any other church activity. He clearly feels bad about his lack of church involvement.

We only had a few minutes, but there was no way I was going to walk away without commenting. The measure of our spiritual vitality goes well beyond what we believe or how much time we spend in Bible Study or church. Spirituality is also—maybe chiefly—about how we live out our faith between Sundays. I had to tell him what I saw in his love and dedication for those kids, that his heart and actions shouted a living spirituality and were beautiful expressions of what it means to follow Christ in ordinary life.

Sandra Schneiders, professor emerita in the Jesuit School of Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkely, California and pioneer in the academic study of spirituality, captures well the interplay of belief, relationship to God, and relationship to the rest of humanity. Schneiders defines spirituality as one’s “lived experience” of faith.[1] Spirituality, then, is not just belief, on one extreme, or a collection of religious experiences, on the other; and it certainly isn’t the accumulation of religious activities. Rather, our spiritual life is grounded in God’s activity on our behalf, is enlivened by our response of faith, and is marked by our experience of seeking to live out the faith in myriad ways, affecting every dimension of our life.[2]

Please don’t misunderstand me. We need to worship, and we need spiritual disciplines to strengthen and encourage us as we seek to follow Christ. Personally, I depend on guidance and inspiration from reading my Bible, fellowshipping with other Christians, singing, worshipping God, and praying.

Yet, between Sundays, the real measure of our spirituality is in how we live out our faith in the context of our daily life. It’s in how we fulfill our duties and responsibilities, and in how we treat one another. We must resist the temptation to measure our spiritual maturity by how much we’ve learned intellectually, how many spiritual practices we observe, or even how many spiritual “highs” we may have experienced. Instead, what matters most is how much we let the love of God move us and flow out of us toward others.

As I turned to go, U Zaw began shaking my hand vigorously, a huge smile spreading across his face. It was apparent that no one had ever explained to him what spiritual vitality looked like in the life of a humble, sincere follower of Christ. “You must come back and talk to me again!” he insisted. “I want you to meet my wife, too!” I would be happy to do so, I thought. You’re just the kind of person I want to be around.

 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

[1] Sandra Schneiders, “The Discipline of Christian Spirituality and Catholic Theology,” in Exploring Christian Spirituality: Essays in Honor of Sandra M. Schneiders, IHM,” ed. By Bruce H. Lescher and Elizabeth Liebert (New York: Paulist Press, 2006), p 200.

[2] Adapted from my book, One Step at a Time: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Spirit-Led Living (Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute, 2008), p. 6.


Filed under Day to Day, Spirit-Led Living

Discernment—Where to Start?

How do you discern the will of God for your life?

This is one of the most important spiritual questions to ask, yet one of the most difficult to answer. Just as you have to develop your own personal relationship with God, no one can do your discerning for you.

While there are no sure formulas, here’s a good place to start your discernment process that I have found very helpful in my own life:

1. Humble yourself before God.

“Let go” of your attachment to certain, set outcomes and ways of being in the world. In gratitude for God’s mercy, grace and love, open yourself to however the Holy Spirit may want to use you to serve Christ.

Jesus is our example. He surrendered whatever impulse he may have had to further his own self-interest. He voluntarily “emptied himself” and took the form of a servant, even to the point of giving up his life to obey God’s will and purposes for his life. (Philippians 2:5-11)

2. Offer yourself to God.

At the same time, bring yourself fully into the discernment process. You may think that surrender means emptying yourself of all your desires and everything that makes you “you” in order to discern the will of God. Not so. Discerning the will of God is not done in a vacuum.

To relinquish your will to God, you need to know your own will. To offer yourself in God’s service, you need to know what your unique self has been prepared to do. Your personal interests, abilities, personality, passions, and experience all go into the “you” that you are offering to God as a “living (not dead, not formless) sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).

You may want to lead a group, to create something, to start a new business, to do something nice for someone, or any number of other things. Don’t look for the “right” thing to do for God at this stage, but be honest with God about your will and vision, as best you know them. Ask yourself, “What is deep within my heart and mind that I want to do with my life?” (See Deut. 1:23; Luke 1:3; Acts 15:28 for a few biblical examples of leaders who sought to serve God by considering what seemed good to them, in consultation with God and others.)

3. Release your will and vision to the Holy Spirit.

Once you’ve specifically told God what you want, then release your will and vision as fully as possible. Ask the Holy Spirit to refine your thinking and heart’s desires for your life, or to replace them altogether. Pray to want what God wants, to see God’s vision for you, and to be able to align your will completely with God’s purposes for you. (See Mark 10:46-52; Luke 22:42.)

All of this calls for self-reflection and genuine openness to God’s working within you. The process requires time, prayer, and patience to learn how to recognize and yield to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Discerning the will of God, then, is more a matter of walking by faith, a step at a time; than it is about getting a complete vision for the rest of your life all at once, and then going out to do it. In other words, to discern the will of God is not about simply getting God to answer to your question, “What should I do?”

Rather, discernment is the fruit of a process of personal transformation. As you repeatedly humble yourself before God, offer your body as a living sacrifice, and seek to renew your mind by soaking up Scripture and listening attentively to the Holy Spirit, you will grow in your ability to discern the will of God for your life.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12 :1-2, NRSV)

The Point: The best place to begin any discernment process is in extended prayer. However, don’t just seek an answer from God. Seek to be transformed by God. Humbly empty yourself of your own self-interest before God, while you simultaneously offer all of your unique self to God. Tell God what you want, while you keep asking, “But what do you want, my Lord?” Keep watching to see what happens as you continue to pray and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit-within your thinking, perspective, feelings, and circumstances. And go from there.

A Prayer: “Heavenly Father, take my will and let it be completely conformed to your will for my life. Help me to see better what is in my heart and how you made me. Teach me how to offer myself fully to you, as a fully engaged individual, uniquely made and called. Teach me how to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit, and use my life in ways that best serve Christ’s purposes. Amen.”

© Timothy C. Geoffrion, 2010. All rights reserved. Please share this article with as many people as possible, with proper acknowledgment of authorship and web-address.


Filed under Day to Day, In Practice, Prayer

Right-Size Your Fears!

"Fearless in Butembo, Congo"

Have you “right-sized” your fears, or are you letting them undermine your vision for your life and ministry?

Imagine, for example, that your best friend is waiting for you just across the highway. The only way for you to see her (or him) is for you to cross the road on foot. However, the traffic is heavy and you are worried about getting hit by a car. How much fear would be actually useful to you in this situation?

If you have too little fear, then you might try to cross the street without looking, and might very well get run over. On the other hand, if you have too much fear, then you might never cross at all. However, the right amount of fear will prompt you to look both ways before crossing, but won’t hold you back from getting where you want to go.

Think for a moment about your fears. Are they helping you to serve Christ more effectively, or getting in the way? How could you “right-size” them in order to make a better decision about how to handle them?

Here’s a suggestion. For use with my coaching clients, I created the Straight A’s approach to right-sizing fears that you might find helpful: Acknowledge, Assess, and Access.

1. Acknowledge your fears. For example, do any of your fears sound like this: “I am afraid that I won’t succeed.” “I am afraid that others won’t like me or my work.” “I am afraid that others are going to blame me if something goes wrong.” “I am afraid that others will think that I am a failure, and I will be very embarrassed.”

2. Assess the real dangers or costs involved in pursuing your vision. Is your fear based on fact, fiction, fantasy, probabilities, or what? Is the amount of your fear warranted? Should what you fear materialize, could you handle it? If not, what resources could you draw on to help you keep going?

3. Access God’s power. What would happen if you shifted your focus from your fears to God, and to what God can do in you and through you? What would happen if you believed that the Holy Spirit will give you what you need to serve Christ in effective, fruitful ways? What would happen if you prayed, not just for success, but also for peace, perspective, humility, freedom and power to confidently move forward in faith?

Last week I talked about my response to the life-threatening illness I had to deal with over 20 years ago. (See, “Get Ready. Get Set. Get Going!”) Right-sizing my fears kept the very real danger of dying from paralyzing me. I didn’t know if I would be healed, but I knew that there were many things I could do to seek healing.

Likewise, when I felt called to develop Faith, Hope and Love Global Ministries, I had to face many fears that tempted me to quit before I even began. Yet, each time I start to get overwhelmed with my fears, I stop and remind myself why I am doing what I’m doing. I recall God’s faithfulness in the past, and remember that my teaching and coaching of pastors and leaders is Christ’s ministry, not mine. God must produce the needed resources and fruit. My job is to show up and do my best.

To be afraid at times is normal, and sometimes useful. But to be crippled by fear is a denial of faith and contradicts the teaching of Scripture.

Don’t let fear stop you from following the Spirit’s leading. Acknowledge your fears, assess the true dangers and costs of pursuing your vision, and access God’s power to keep moving forward.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14;29-31, NIV)

The Point: You have been called to serve Christ in ways that will take you way outside your comfort zone at times. Don’t let fear undermine your motivation and capability to create, pursue and fulfill your God-given dreams and purpose. “Right-size” your fears. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom, courage, and strength to deal with them and the circumstances behind them. Stop letting your fears hold you back, and get on with God’s vision for your life.

Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for showing us by your own example how to stay focused on God’s calling and to not be held back by fear. Please help me to acknowledge my fears and to accurately assess their validity. Teach me how to better access your Holy Spirit’s power so that I will not lose heart to pursue your calling on my life.”

© Timothy C. Geoffrion, 2010. All rights reserved. Please share this article with as many people as possible, with proper acknowledgment of authorship and web-address.

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Get Ready. Get Set. Get Going!

What do you want to do with God’s dreams and vision for your life?

I was forced to answer this question at a much younger age than I ever imagined. I was 28 years old. My firstborn son had been born safely the day before. My wife and I were so relieved and excited about all that lay ahead for us.

Now the voice on the other end of the phone was telling me I had to start radiation treatments immediately. I had 10 good years left, the doctor said. After that, the rare skin disease would get nasty. Then I would die.

With one deeply disturbing phone call, the adage, “life is short,” suddenly became very personal. Not only was I not going to live forever, but, in an instant, my naïveté about my mortality vanished. My time horizon for my life had been shortened by several decades. My son was going grow up without me. My wife was going to be a young widow. I wanted to throw up.

We’ve never recovered from that doctor’s call in 1986—and don’t want to. When the shock wore off, I realized that whatever I most wanted to do in my life, I had better do it, and fast.

We stopped dreaming about what we might want to do “one day,” and became very serious about pursuing what mattered most to us while we still could. We had today. We didn’t know about tomorrow.

My wake-up call eventually led me to a long series of choices that have made all the difference in the world to my life and ministry. I sought counseling, asked others for help, did whatever I could to seek healing and wholeness. I went back to graduate school, took more risks, kept seeking discernment and leading from God, and began to relentlessly pursue my dreams and deeper sense of calling.

Today, I am completely healed from my disease. I have raised two sons to adulthood. And my wife and I are back in ministry together again, able to serve Christ in ways that are exceeding my expectations and hopes. Now, nearly 25 years after that fateful phone call, flying over the mountains of North Kivu, Congo to teach pastors in the middle of a war zone (see the photo above), I realize that God has used suffering in my life to move me to new and surprising places where the desires of my heart and God’s vision for my life intersect.

Fortunately, we are not all diagnosed with a fatal disease that causes the kind of distress and anguish our family had to go through. But for each of us, our days are still numbered. Each of us has a unique calling, with enough time to fulfill it, if we listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us in the midst of our suffering, and take action.

Do you have an unfulfilled dream for your life that just won’t go away? Do you have a nagging sense that there’s something you were made to do, or to create, or to contribute, but you just can’t seem to get around to doing something about it? Perhaps, you’re even really looking forward to getting to work on it…some day.

What would it take for you to turn “some day” into today?

The [servant] who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:20-21, NIV)

The Point: Somewhere within you is a God-given dream for your life, or simply a sense that God wants to take you somewhere you have not yet gone. You may not fully understand it, and it may take years to fulfill it, but you know you are being called. Are you ready? Are your heart and mind set on doing the will of God? Are you pursuing God’s vision for your life? If not, what do you need to do to get ready, to get set, and to get going?

Prayer: “Loving God, thank you for calling me to serve you in special ways that fit with the unique person you have made me to be. Please lead me and guide me, so that I can faithfully fulfill all that you have in mind for me to do. Please give me all the courage, wisdom, strength, and resources I need to pursue my God-given dreams in ways that well serve Christ’s purposes.”

To realize our God-given dreams and fulfill our purpose in life, often walking with a trained pastor or spiritual guide can be extremely helpful. If you’re interested in exploring whether or not you could benefit from spiritual life consulting, please contact me at

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How Much Do You Want the Light?

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

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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The Daily Battle

Sons Dan and Tim on the Camino

Every day is a battle.

I don’t mean that every day is awful. My days are often full of joy, meaning, laughter, fruitful work, and love. Yet, life is hard, too, and full of struggle. It seems that so much can so easily undermine my heart and ability to live by my highest values and convictions.

The battle I’m talking about, then, is a perpetual struggle between what we want our lives to be and all those forces that work against our hopes, dreams and commitments. In this conflict, sometimes we are own worst enemies. Even at our best, when we want to serve Christ wholeheartedly, we can usually detect crosscurrents within us—be they mixed motives, at best, or outright sinful impulses, at worst.

At other times, our struggles are not self-generated, though. Sometimes, we get some “help” in our fearfulness, our struggles with temptation, our doubts, our distractions, and our entanglements. Scripture teaches that we are in a spiritual battle with forces of evil that are working to undermine our faith and faithfulness (Ephesians 6:12).

At the same time, we are assured that the Holy Spirit within us is stronger than the Tempter (1 John 4:4). Our job is to have confidence in God’s power and then strategically engage in the battle to overcome our spiritual adversaries. (See Ephesians 6:10-11, 13-18.) Likewise, we must actively draw on the Holy Spirit to overcome our sinful tendencies by daily surrendering our will to God’s and by praying for grace and strength in our time of need. (See Galatians 5:16-25; Hebrews 4:14-16.)

Six Strategies for Successful Struggling
When we know that sinful temptations, negative thinking or counter-productive reactions are going to arise within us uninvited, we are wise to get ready for them. When we expect a fight, and prayerfully prepare for it, we are much more likely to wage the war successfully.

Here are six strategies you can begin employing immediately:

1. Know your Achilles heel and do all you can to protect yourself from falling into sin. This is just common sense. However, how often do we ignore what is in our best long term interests to indulge in short term gratification?

Example: If you’re tempted to gamble away needed resources, don’t even enter the casino or make a bet. If you know that drinking alcohol is going to bring out your worst or work against what God wants to do in you and through you, find alternative social beverages, new hangouts, and even new friends, if need be. If sexual temptation is your nemesis, work hard to develop appropriate contexts in which you can get your affection and intimacy needs met. Regardless of what your specific weakness is, expect to be tempted, expect to want to engage in sin at times, and decide now, ahead of the temptation that no matter how you may feel at any given moment, sin is not what you want for your life.

2. Believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in you and cannot be ultimately thwarted by your failures or evil forces. God is a God of resurrection. Accept God’s forgiveness and seek the Spirit’s renewal and leading no matter where you may be.
Example: I spent years kicking myself for a number of poor decisions I made that took a big toll on me emotionally until my spiritual director reminded me that God is a God of resurrection. You and I are going to make mistakes—sometimes serious ones—but God forgives, and the Holy Spirit continually brings forth new life from what seems dead. To change the metaphor, the Holy Spirit is like a GPS navigation system that begins “recalculating” as soon as it detects that we have missed our turn or gone the wrong way. We may have to suffer the consequences of our mistake, but God is able to create a new path from wherever we are to lead us once again in a fruitful life of fellowship and service.

3. Know how God most wants to use you, expect various kinds of interference, and plan accordingly.
Example: I know that my best contributions often come from teaching and writing, but I can expect many distractions and much inner resistance to getting started on my preparation work. So, I don’t wait to feel like writing to get going. Instead, I block out time, expect to be tempted to procrastinate, and push through the resistance. Almost without fail, getting started is all I need to do in order to turn the tide in the battle.

4. Face fears head on, and don’t let them keep you doing what you need to do.

Example: My marketing and fundraising responsibilities always make me feel anxious. I’m afraid of failing and afraid of being rejected. Not a good combination. So, even when finding new clients or raising money is most needed, I can still freeze up. Fighting this battle means simply reminding myself that I must attend to this part of our ministry and that putting it off will make the situation worse not better. I then make a plan and work the plan. I start today.

5. Pick your battles and give your best efforts to fight for what matters most.
Example: On any given day I will be annoyed or frustrated with someone else for not doing or saying something the way that I think they should. If I’m not careful, I can let this perfectionist tendency produce judgmental attitudes and harsh reactions to others, undermining my greater goal of working well with others for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. Thus, I have to remind myself of my highest values and choose wisely when exerting my energy. When I choose love and serving Christ over self-righteousness or perfectionism, I usually know instantly I have chosen well, and the power of the temptation is cut significantly.

6. Ask the Holy Spirit to do in you what you cannot seem to do on your own. Sometimes no matter how much you want to stay focused and do the right thing or the best thing, you will still stumble or fail to follow through. In such cases, acknowledge the powerlessness you feel and ask for motivation, grace, and strength—or simply divine intervention—to lead you to higher ground.

Example: Sometimes when I have been hurt by someone, letting go of my anger seems beyond my ability. Yet, when I have exhausted my own effort to draw on God’s power to fight the battle, the best thing I can do is simply to let go of trying. I don’t indulge in the feeling, but I admit that I have reached my limit and I need God’s help. And I let go of my own efforts to change myself, and wait. Often my deliverance will surprise me, and I will be set free without doing anything more on my own.

Facing your own inner weaknesses and struggles may feel discouraging. Fully engaging in your spiritual struggles may be daunting. However, admitting the reality of the ongoing, daily battle is actually helpful, and is the first step toward getting the help you need from within yourself and God.

What battle are you fighting today? What’s your strategy to win it?

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:10-11, NIV)

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