Category Archives: Spiritual Life Coaching

Are Our Priorities Right?

What are your top priorities for your growth and development as a Christian? If you are a parent, what are you emphasizing to your children to guide them into adulthood? If you are a youth group leader or mentor, what spiritual guidance are you offering to ground and direct those under your care. If you were on the Board of Trustees for a Christian college or seminary, apart from emphasizing education and developing skills, what would you most want the students to learn and to gain from their education at your school? In other words, how should we be preparing ourselves and the next generation of Christian leaders to make significant contributions in our troubled and needy world? Are our priorities right?

Recently, I was given the opportunity to answer these questions for the sake of the school where I teach, the Myanmar Institute of Theology (MIT), in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). The school theme that I proposed for the academic year, “Growing in Christ, Preparing for Service,” was chosen by the MIT faculty members as particularly fitting for our 1200+ students. What follows below is the Bible study that I prepared to present this theme to the student body and all of our constituents. While the context is clearly a particular Christian college and seminary in Southeast Asia, this teaching applies to Christians everywhere. The writers of the New Testament insist over and over again that we need to keep our spiritual priorities straight—in our personal lives, families, churches, youth groups, and Christian schools. So much is at stake.

“Growing in Christ, Preparing for Service”

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MIT students in Christian Spirituality class

This year’s theme, Growing in Christ, Preparing for Service, is intended to concisely articulate the core theological and spiritual foundation of Myanmar Institute of Theology (MIT) and to remind us all of why MIT primarily exists. In other words, the primary purpose of this theme is to encourage MIT Liberal Arts Program (LAP) and Theology students, faculty, and staff to focus on developing their relationship with Christ as their first priority, and to humbly dedicate themselves to serving Christ, church, and country with greater knowledge, skills, and spiritual vitality.

Drawing largely on Jesus’ teaching on the two greatest commands and on Paul’s interpretation of the Gospel, we can say that the primary purpose for every human being is to know, love, and serve God, who is revealed preeminently in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.[1] For Christians, this life purpose is not simply a matter of doctrine; it cannot be fulfilled just by believing or by being baptized. Rather, it requires growing in our relationship with Jesus Christ all our lives. Our vocation—that is, our unique work in the world—flows from this relationship into a lifetime of service, no matter what our particular position, assignment, or activity may be. We may be called to serve primarily in the Church, the broader society, or simply at home with our families, but every Christian has the same general vocation to follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said of himself, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life…for many” (Mark 10:45). In short, then, our theme, Growing in Christ, Preparing for Service, draws our attention to our top spiritual priority of knowing and loving God in Christ more and more, and to MIT’s chief responsibility from a biblical point of view to prepare men and women to serve Christ and the Church in a wide variety of ways upon graduation.

Our Bible study will take Paul’s teaching on the purpose of the Church and the significance of growing in Christ as our point of departure. We will then look how Peter contextualized Paul’s ecclesiology, teaching marginalized and persecuted Christians how they should live and serve Christ in a religiously pluralistic world, and what kind of preparation is needed to do so. Finally, a few comments will be offered on the relevance of this biblical teaching and theme to MIT.

The priority of growing in Christ according to Paul

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New Testament Theology students discussing the Bible

The Church was established by the preaching of the Gospel, the working of the Holy Spirit through its proclamation, and the common faith of those who put their trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation.[2] According to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, believers in the Christian Gospel become members of the body of Christ, and together form the universal Church (1 Cor. 12). Further, God gave spiritual gifts to every member of the body of Christ (12:7). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul focuses on a subset of the body to emphasize particular gifts given to those who are in positions of leadership—namely, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, in order both to identify these leadership gifts and to discuss the purpose for which they were given.[3]

In general, Paul taught that God gives spiritual gifts among the members of the body of Christ in order that they may minister to, serve, and build up one another. In 1 Corinthians, Paul simply says that the gifts are given for “the common good” (12:7), meaning the good of the body of Christ (the Church). All believers in Christ have the responsibility to serve in ways that strengthen the body. Leaders have the additional duty “to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up” (4:11-12). To be built up means that all the members of the body of Christ would “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (4:13). When the body of Christ is mature, they “will no longer be infants,” liable to being misled and confused by false teaching (4:14). Instead of being crippled by instability and division, they would “grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (4:15, emphasis added), as the whole body “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (4:16, emphasis added).

In Paul’s vision for the Church, everyone is expected to keep growing in Christ and to be actively serving one another for the common good and the upbuilding of the whole Church. If we have accurately summed up the priorities for the body of Christ as a whole, how much more important is growing in Christ, preparing for service for the Church’s future leaders.  

The necessity of growing in Christ as preparation for service according to Peter

When we turn to the Apostle Peter’s teaching, we see how he contextualizes Paul’s teaching on growing in Christ for Christians who were marginalized by the broader, religiously pluralistic society and sometimes even persecuted for their faith.[4] In the face of such hardship and danger, he urged Christian believers to go deeper into their own relationship with God in Christ, to strengthen their self-understanding as the people of God, and to prepare themselves intellectually as well as spiritually, morally, and behaviorally, so that their witness to their largely nonChristian neighbors would be more clear, vibrant and persuasive.[5] They were not to shy away from suffering for Christ. Yet, at the same time, they should avoid unnecessary persecution (that which comes from outright rebellion or immoral behavior) and live exemplary lives for all to see. He urged them to “live such good lives among the pagans though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pet. 2:12).

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MIT undergraduates discussing the relevance of Christianity for today

To live up to our calling and to the demands of serving Christ requires ongoing spiritual growth and development. So, Peter says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:2-3, NIV, emphasis added). Peter writes elsewhere, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18, NIV, emphasis added). He knows well that his readers already have experienced the grace of God and know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. Yet, he also knows that the Christian faith calls us to keep growing in our knowledge and experience of God in ever-new and more meaningful ways.

Throughout his letters, Peter gives many practical teachings on what it means to grow spiritually and prepare better for Christian service. In one place, Peter urged his readers, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord” (1 Pet. 3:15a, NIV). Acknowledging Jesus Christ as our Lord, or leader, is not something a believer does just once at baptism. Rather, surrendering to the lordship of Christ is ongoing struggle and process that continues throughout our lifetimes. This, too, is an important part of growing in Christ. According to New Testament writers, accepting Christ as our Savior and Lord is an essential turning point in our spiritual journey, but it is only that—a significant turning point (not, endpoint). Bending our knee to Christ as Lord repositions us to eagerly pursue a fuller and more significant relationship with Christ on an ever-deepening basis. Then, as we grow, Peter tells his readers, “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet. 3:15b, NIV). Here Peter calls Christians to keep growing intellectually and to develop communication skills to talk about their faith (and not hide or minimize it) with those who don’t know Jesus Christ. And so forth.

In sum, Peter teaches Christians how they should think of themselves and respond to nonChristians in the face of marginalization, misunderstanding, ignorance, and even persecution in a religiously pluralistic context. They are to neither hide from nor belligerently fight against those who oppose or mistreat them. He didn’t advise them to change their theology or view themselves as inferior to the majority and the powerful. Instead, they should sharpen their self-understanding as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that [they] may declare the praises of him who called [them] out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once [they] were not a people, but now [they] are the people of God; once [they] had not received mercy, but now [they] have received mercy” (1 Pet. 2:9-10). Then they should learn how to better reflect their faith, hope, and love to the nonChristians surrounding them in intelligent and positive ways. In short, the best response for Christians in a hostile, religiously pluralistic setting is to keep growing in Christ and to prepare themselves to serve both within the Church and within the broader society.

Conclusion: Implications for MIT

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Lecture on the Christian faith to entering MIT undergraduates

So, how does this Bible study apply to MIT? Just this. For MIT to fulfill its duty to Myanmar Baptist Convention (MBC) and the churches it serves, we must be diligent to teach our students how to grow in Christ. We must adequately prepare them for a lifetime of service. And, since many MIT graduates will be given significant opportunities to lead in the Church and society, we must also teach them how to lead and how to help others to grow in Christ and to be humble, faithful servants of Christ.

You may be wondering, does this Bible study suggest that growing in Christ should come at the expense of academic excellence, sharing the Gospel, participating in inter-faith dialogue, or working to address societal ills and needs? No, not at all. All these endeavors and missions remain important objectives for Christians, and especially for MIT students and graduates. Yet, growing in Christ is the most important priority, and is the pre-requisite for all our intellectual, academic, mission, and societal activities. Why? Because Jesus taught that the only way we can hope to bear fruit in our lives is by maintaining a close (“abiding”) relationship with him (John 15). Paul and Peter taught the same thing, as we have briefly seen in this Bible study. They only added that our personal relationship with God in Christ needs to keep growing and deepening as well. They taught that we must become more and more like Christ and learn how to relate better to nonChristians in a religiously pluralistic world.

The implications of this Bible study for MIT, as well as for the broader Church in Myanmar, seem obvious. The Church’s current leaders (including MIT faculty and staff) would teach, preach, and model the importance of growing in Christ as the top priority for Christians and the essential pre-requisite for everything we want to do in the name of Christ. Throughout the school year, MIT would actively promote the spiritual life of students, faculty, and staff (helping each one to grow in Christ) while organizing the school’s curriculum and student activities with the ultimate purpose of a MIT education in mind, namely, to prepare future leaders to serve Christ faithfully and fruitfully in their various leadership roles. Future leaders (including MIT students) would embrace these priorities for themselves and take personal responsibility to pursue them in every way they can.

May God bless MIT and all the churches that support and are served by MIT as, together, we keep growing in Christ, preparing for service.

[1] Matt. 22:37-39; Col. 1:9-28.

[2] See, e.g., Acts 2; Rom. 1:15-16; 10:6-17; 1 Cor. 15:1-11; Gal 1:1-9; 3:1-5; 4:4-7.

[3] Eph. 4:8-11; Cf. 1 Cor. 12:1-10; Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Pet. 4:10-11.

[4] 1 Pet. 1:5; 2:4, 11; 3:14; 4:12-16.

[5] 1 Pet. 1:13-16; 2:5, 9-17, 19-21; 3:8-16.

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Good Happy? Bad Happy?

Kids on the streets of Yangon, Myanmar

Kids on the streets of Yangon, Myanmar

Ever had to try to explain to a 15 year old why glue sniffing is a bad idea? I have. Now, imagine trying to do so when he doesn’t speak much English, lives on the street without parents, has been glue sniffing regularly for four years, and loves doing so because it makes him happy! I wondered, how in the world am I going to get through to this kid? I needed to find a simple but effective way to talk about the risks and consequences of drug abuse, while acknowledging that he may indeed feel happier when he uses glue in the moment. As I thrashed about considering various strategies, the concept of “good happy” versus “bad happy” emerged out of prayer one morning. Chances are, you have never been tempted to sniff glue, and never will be. However, you probably know what it’s like to seek out or settle for a “bad happy”–enjoying a “feel good” in the moment that you later regretted or caused suffering for others. Think about the times, for example, that you made an impulsive purchase on your credit card, took one too many drinks at the party, got something off your chest in a cruel or thoughtless way, betrayed a friendship by passing on juicy gossip, looked for comfort or satisfaction from the wrong kind of entertainment, or indulged in some other self-gratifying behavior that threatened to destroy or undermine something or some relationship you really cared about. Maybe you did feel happy or happier for awhile, but, if you’re honest, you will also admit that it wasn’t a “good happy”. Your experience wasn’t something that left a clean, joyful feeling that nourished your soul and enriched your storehouse of memories. Whatever you did wound up hurting you or someone else, and the fallout from your actions was anything but happy. If you’re struggling with making poor choices that wind up being a “bad happy”, there are some things you can do to turn your life around.

  1. Think about the choices you’re making. What did it cost you last time you gave in to your impulse or desire, and what is it costing you to live this way?
  2. Make a conscious decision. Instead of just going with your feeling or desire in the moment, force yourself to deliberately choose a course of action, and explain to yourself why you are deciding as you are. When you hear yourself talk, do you buy your rationale? If someone else came to you with the same line of reasoning, what would you say to him or her?
  3. Get ahead of the temptation, and make alternative plans. When tempted to go for the “bad happy” choice, ask yourself if there is another way, a healthier way, for you to have your needs met. What else could you do to bring a smile to your face and joy to your heart that you won’t regret later?
  4. Structure your life differently. What could you do to re-structure your life to provide more support for the good decisions you want to make? Perhaps you need to find new places to go in your free time, new friends, new forms of recreation, a small group, accountability partners, or something or someone else who can help you to stay on track more consistently. In the case of the glue-sniffing street kid that we were trying to help, we found him a job, a new place to live with a caring family, and provided regular check-ins with caring adults, new routines and structures that are minimizing his opportunities for drug abuse and are helping to meet many of his needs in healthy ways.
  5. Focus on giving rather than receiving. Of course, you want to feel the warmth and joy of being loved, but when you focus mostly on loving others first, so much of what you thought you were looking for from someone else is likely to come to you in the giving. The more you focus on loving without expectation of return, the more you can avoid much of the disappointment, frustration, conflict, and even anger that floods you—and often sets you up to seek a “bad happy”—when others don’t give to you what you were hoping for.
Nativity sculpture in the Chartres Cathedral, France

Nativity sculpture in the Chartres Cathedral, France

“Good Happy” Holidays Whether your holidays are times of high expectations for joy and love for you, a dreaded time of loneliness and conflict, or something in the middle between these two extremes, it is a particularly good time to think about “good happy” versus “bad happy” as you make your plans for the holidays. For me, the best happy I know comes when I have spent sufficient time just talking to God about my life, my desires, my questions, my longing, and all the people and all that matters most to me. Sometimes I will simply focus on how much God loves me or on what it means that God took the form of a human being in Jesus, and that he gave his life so generously to others, even to the point of dying for us. When I genuinely seek to be close to God, alone or amid others, I feel something deeper than “happy”. Sometimes it is pure joy. Other times I feel at peace and content, and the drive to seek “bad happy” dissipates. Sometimes I find this place of peace and joy through silence and solitude in prayer. Sometimes, it’s worship that re-orients me and frees me to let go of selfishness and wrong-headed behavior. Other times, it’s doing something for someone else with no other expectation than inner satisfaction for doing good, or maybe hoping to see a smile cross their face or light up their eyes. You have heard it said many times, “Let’s not forget the reason for the season,” and “Be sure to keep Christ in your Christmas.” These are not just clichés. These words are wise counsel to help you lift your eyes off of yourself to the one whose life, death, and resurrection have given us an opportunity to experience life in ways not possible otherwise. You have to find for yourself what spiritual practices and lifestyle choices produce the “good happy” your heart most desires and that fits with Christ’s calling on your life. But before you plunge headlong into the holiday activities, pause for a moment. Think about what you can learn from your life experience. Make conscious decisions about how you want to go forward. Find good alternatives to the poor choices you are likely to be tempted to make. Structure your life in supportive ways. Focus on giving rather than receiving. Above all, seek to be as close to God as possible, as often as possible, and in every way possible. Take time, multiple times, to focus on Jesus this Christmas, so that your heart and mind will be nurtured by the only enduring Source of life, love, and contentment—the best possible “good happy” you could ever experience. [Jesus said,] Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28) I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10, NIV)

Icon of Jesus and child

Icon of Jesus comforting a child

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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 (www.fhlglobal.org), 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).

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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?

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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? Various 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.

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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. VariousWe’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).

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“Seeking God for Real”

(Best day on the Camino with my son, Tim)

To what extent can you honestly say that you are “seeking” God?

I’m talking about going beyond what we’ve been discussing over the past few weeks. Seeking God may certainly include studying (learning what the Bible says about God and God’s love), reflecting (drawing on your past experience to draw near to God in the present), and asking God for what he most wants for you (to reveal God-self and Christ’s love to you). Yet, actively seeking God is more creative and more open-ended than looking for specific, prescribed outcomes.

Instead of asking for a specific grace (as we talked about last time), you enter into a posture of readiness to learn, to see, to feel, or to experience whatever God might want to teach, show, or do in your life. Though you may be driven to seek God out of your own need and desire, the more mature your seeking becomes, the more you will seek to know and experience God on God’s terms and in God’s timing, in ways that fulfill God’s purposes for your life.

This kind of seeking is both active and passive. You take initiative, and yet wait patiently. You are earnest and diligent in your pursuit of God, while expecting God to reveal God-self in surprising ways, independent of your efforts. You insist on never letting go of your desire for God, even while you continually empty yourself of all concrete expectations and demands. You keep knocking on the door of heaven like the persistent widow, while praying, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

In 2006, when my family and I were walking the Camino, I had many opportunities to seek God in prayer. In fact, the whole 500 mile pilgrimage over the Pyrenees and across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela was largely about seeking God. At one point I began praying, “God, help me to know you better, and specifically to know you as abba, father.” I had no idea how God might answer this prayer. It wasn’t up to me to figure that out, but to stay open, observant, prayerful, and ready.

One day, not long after I started praying this way, I got my first answer. Though Jill questioned my sanity, Tim (my elder son) and I took an alternative route over the mountains and met up with Dan (my younger son) and her twelve hours later. The scenery was spectacular. The experience was the best of the pilgrimage so far. Hours in silence or simple conversation, in such beauty and hardly seeing another soul, created a peaceful, joyful feeling that was so deep neither of us could imagine ever feeling otherwise.

Yet, the best part of the day for me was simply being with my son. The joy did not come from what we did or said as much as it came from being in his presence when we both felt completely free to be ourselves and to enjoy the various experiences together.

Spiritually, the most powerful moment came when I suddenly realized something about God the Father that had never sunk in before. If God loves me as I love my son, surely God delights in just being with me as I was delighting in being with my son. If I can feel such joy just seeing Tim so happy and peaceful, I have to think that God—whose parental love must far exceed mine (see Psalm 103:13; Isaiah 66:13)—must be thrilled to be with me any time I am experiencing life as he intends for me, and I am conscious of the depth of his love and relationship with me. (Excerpted from One Step at a Time: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Spirit-Led Living.)

What is God going to show you if you seek him more earnestly and diligently each day? I don’t know exactly. Seeking God doesn’t try to answer that question before undertaking the journey.

Rather, we seek God in order to find what we cannot find otherwise. And when we knock, and no one answers; when we ask, and you do not receive; when we seek, and we do not find, then we must continue to knock, ask, and seek. And wait.  There’s no other place to turn for what we most need and desire.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Luke 11:9, NRSV).

The Point In addition to studying, reflecting, and asking to know and experience God more fully, actively seek God in the midst of your daily life. Open yourself to insight and experiences with God that you cannot predict or orchestrate. Ask for eyes to see whatever God may want to reveal to you, and then keep looking.

A Prayer “Creator God, I want to know you better and experience you more fully. Please show me more about who you are in ways that I can understand and believe. Help me not to be afraid of you, but to trust you to reveal what I most need to see, according to your will and purposes for my life and our relationship.”

© Dr. Timothy C. Geoffrion, http://www.spirit-ledleader.com

Please feel free to copy or send to as many other seekers of God as possible!

Proper crediting of author and source required.

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“Ask for What God Most Wants for You”

(The Camino: Cruz de Ferro, Spain)

What do you ask God for when you pray?

Most of us routinely ask God for help in one way or another—a very biblical, natural, and helpful practice. However, we can easily get stuck on our physical and material needs, or on our ideas and desires for our life, when God wants something far more significant and lasting for us.

Instead of just asking God for what you want or think you need, seek the most important gifts he has for you that best fit with his will for your life.

When I was on a seven-day silent retreat a few weeks ago, we prayed several times each day, using methods developed by Ignatius of Loyola. Each time we went to prayer, we read Scripture and asked God for a “grace”. We weren’t asking for forgiveness, but for a particular experience of God. For example, we asked for the grace…

• to see and experience the enormity of God’s love,

• to see our sins and how they are affecting our life and relationship to God,

• to recognize the magnitude of God’s mercy,

• to be able to love God more fully, or

• to be able to follow and serve Christ better.

These are the experiences God most wants for us, because they are the ones that have the power to truly transform us and to move us more fully into the life God intends for us.

When I was 13 or 14 years old, I wanted to know if God truly loved me. I knelt by the side of my bed. My eyes were closed. I clasped my hands together. I prayed, “God if you care about me, show me. In some way, help me to believe that you truly love me.”

While waiting for an answer, I suddenly saw in my mind a huge hand extended through the clouds toward me. I knew at the time that I was probably creating an image that fit with what I wanted to believe. However, something else within me said that God was responding to the cry of my heart. I’m convinced God was revealing his love to me that day, because the joy I felt, and the comfort I received, fit with how the Holy Spirit has frequently ministered to me ever since.

Similarly, in the Psalms, David praises God and describes God’s help in his life like a hand descending from the sky. He wrote. “[The Lord] reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters” (Psalm 18:16).

Then, what David experienced through a personal experience, God has done for all of us in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Talk is cheap, and feelings are fleeting. The love that you most need will reveal itself in action. You can know you are deeply loved when someone intentionally does something for your well-being, especially if their gift comes at a personal sacrifice—as God’s incarnation and Jesus’ death dramatically illustrate.

God’s love you is already well established in the historical, concrete existence and life of Jesus. You never have to question it. And at the same time, it is not uncommon for God to reach out to us in various ways to convince us of his love and presence. Perhaps the revelation will come as a feeling, through a vision, in a dream, by a new understanding, or by setting you free in a new way. The Holy Spirit may speak a timely word to you, love you through someone else, or work through you to bless those around you in some way. Or, you may simply be given an inexplicable peace or joy.

You cannot know how God is going to reveal his love to you on from day to day, and you can’t manipulate or control God’s interaction with you. But you can ask. You can ask for a special grace to draw you closer to God and to experience more of what God has already revealed to you in Jesus.

“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 3:17-19, NIV)

The Point To move from knowing about God to experiencing God more personally in your life, let your prayers be guided by what God most wants for you. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the depth of Christ’s love for you. Ask to become increasingly convinced that God is present with you and truly does care about you. Ask that your heart’s desires will be increasingly purified until nothing is more important to you than your relationship with God and your ability to love and serve Christ. Ask, and it will be given.

A Prayer “Eternal God, you are beyond my ability to understand. I often cannot perceive your presence in the ways I would like, and I long for more of your touch. Please reach out to me in some way that I can grasp that I may be assured of your love and your care in my life. Help me to treasure my relationship with you above all others, and to accept your love on your terms.”

Suggestion: Start a journal expressly for the purpose of recording the ways that God reveals himself to you, loves you, and helps you to sense his presence and care for you.

*For more on knowing God and my experiences in seeking to know God through experience, see pp. 124-125, One Step at a Time.

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“Drawing on the Past to Draw Near in the Present”

(The Visitation, Chartres Cathedral)

In response to last week’s article, “Why we think God might love us,” one reader wrote, “I do not just want to know about God, I want to feel God in me!”

If this at all describes what you want, there is hope. While you cannot control God or your dictate your experience with God, you can “draw near to God” with confidence that God will “draw near to you” (James 4:8).

But how does one draw near to God?

In the next three articles, we are going to look at three powerful spiritual practices—reflecting, asking, and seeking—to help you move from knowing about God to experiencing God more personally in your life. First, the practice of spiritual “reflecting.” 1

No matter how distant God may seem at the moment, what has been your personal experience with the presence and love of God in the past? If you think back to the many significant moments or turning points in your life, what could you point to as evidence of God’s activity? When have you felt God’s touch?

You may have received an answer to prayer or had a special experience with Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Perhaps you perceived God’s love through someone else or an extraordinary series of circumstances. If you are feeling distant from God or want to feel his presence more, now may be a very good time to stop and ask the Holy Spirit to refresh your memory of all the ways God has been and is at work in your life for good. (Take a moment now to jot down the first few memories that come to mind.)

In the Magnificat, Mary celebrates in song what God was doing for her and would do for all of humanity through her son Jesus. At the time of the “Visitation” at the home of Elizabeth, Mary sings about the great works of God—not ideas about God, but the concrete actions of God. In reflecting on her experience with God, she is filled with joy and praise, perceiving the love of God in her life.

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

(Luke 1:46-49, NRSV)

When I look at my past through the eyes of faith, I can see how the Holy Spirit has worked through many significant events, people, and circumstances to shape who I am and my relationship with God. I meet someone special, take an incredible class, experience a great success or devastating tragedy, discover something profound or powerful in Scripture, use my talents in ways that open my eyes to meaning and purpose in my life, or make a critical decision with far-reaching consequences. Each experience then joins a whole train of other significant life-changing moments, which together become my testimony of God’s work in my life.

While anyone can point to noteworthy “chance” encounters or “coincidences” that have altered their life significantly, when you look at your life through the eyes of faith, you will see God at work. Then, not only will you think differently, you will feel differently as well.

Why? Because as you let the Holy Spirit open your eyes to the truth of God’s love and activity in your life in the past, you will be experiencing the Holy Spirit in the present. And, with Mary, the more you sense that you are truly blessed, the more you will have your own song to sing.

When you look back over your life so far, what in your experience suggests to you that God knows who you are, cares about you, and is in fact at work in your life for good purposes?

What is your song?

I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. (Psalm 77:11-12, NIV)

The Point: To move from simply knowing about God to experiencing the presence and love of God more personally in your life, you need to create enough space to let the Holy Spirit speak to you. Start by taking some time alone to look back on your life. Pray for eyes to see the many different ways God has been at work in your past experience, so that you may be better able to see and feel God in the present.

A Prayer: “Dear God, by faith I believe that you love me and are at work in my life, but sometimes I feel so alone and empty. Please help me to see where you have been active in my life over the years, and to feel your presence now. Teach me the song of praise and gratitude that only I can sing, because the lyrics express all the ways you have loved me and love me still.”

1 Many of the ideas from this article are discussed at greater length in One Step at a Time: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Spirit-Led Living, pp. 126-129.

© 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.

Photo: © Jill K.H. Geoffrion.

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