wading

In 1997, I attended a pastors’ conference in Southern California. One of the main speakers had recently experienced a breakthrough in his own prayer life, which included prayer journaling (the practice of writing out your prayers) and was attempting to inspire his audience—made up mostly of pastors, myself included, more interested in growing their churches than they were in growing their souls—to commit themselves to prayer. I’d heard it all before. He said nothing new. But for some reason it was different this time. Well actually, I know why this time was different.

While listening to the speaker wrap up his message it was as if I saw a hand in front of me motioning for me to come. In my mind I knew this was the Holy Spirit beckoning me to try again. So I said yes. Even though I’d experienced failure after failure, I said yes. I made a commitment to pray (more specifically, to prayer journal) each and every day beginning the next Monday.

The conference ended. I went back to my hotel, and the next day I drove home in time for Sunday morning.

That Sunday was pretty much like any other Sunday. This time, however, after my sermon and before dismissing the crowd, I knew there was something I had to say.

“Before you go, I need to tell you something.”

I didn’t mean it to sound ominous, but an uncomfortable hush came over the room. The poor people—they probably thought I was going to tell them I was leaving or that I’d fallen into some horrible sin.

“A few days ago at a conference I made a commitment. I committed to pray every day from here on out. I wanted you to know. I want you to hold me accountable. Have a nice week. You are dismissed.”

For a couple of seconds there was silence, and then people got up to leave.

Immediately I thought to myself, “You idiot! Why did you tell them? You didn’t have to tell them. You could have kept this to yourself, but you told them. Now they’re going to check up on you. You know you’re gonna fail. And then you’ll have to tell them. That was really stupid, Dave.”

Monday came. I did it, day one of prayer journaling. Tuesday came, day two. By the time Sunday rolled around I had kept to my commitment for a whole week! Before and after the service people came up to me to ask how I was doing.

“This is day seven.”

“Great, Dave, great; you keep that up.”

The next Sunday, “So pastor, how’s that prayer thing going?”

“This is day fourteen.”

“This is day twenty one.”

“This is day twenty eight.”

Slowly, the inquiries about my spiritual progress began to taper off. People eventually quit asking but I didn’t quit counting.

I still can’t believe it but I went 1,463 days in a row before skipping a day! But I didn’t skip it because I turned my alarm clock off and went back to sleep. I chose to skip it, or, to be more honest, I needed to skip it. Dare I be so bold as to suggest that God told me to skip it?

You see, toward the end of my 1,463-day run, I began to notice some things in me I didn’t like. I could recognize a bit of obsession with my growing number. I could tell some pride had entered my heart.

“I’m on day 1,053. How awesome am I?”

I never said that, but I thought it.

I knew that the only way to break the pride in my accomplishment was to skip a day. I knew I had to do it. I felt God was asking me to do it.

It took me a few days to give in, but hey, what do you expect? After all, I’d made it past four years! More than four years of continuous daily prayer! That was something to be proud of which, of course, was the problem. So there was no day 1,464.

I’ve skipped many days since then but not too many, at least not too many in a row. My norm is still daily quiet times with God but I’m no longer counting, no longer obsessing, and I’m not aware of any pride connected to my spiritual routines.

Every once in a while I’ll remember that conference in 1997, the speaker, the following Sunday at church, and the weeks of people asking me, “Hey, Dave, what day are you on?” Mostly I remember the vision of that hand beckoning me to come.

Prayer Journal, September 21, 1997, Day One:

“Lord, today I begin. I don’t know how long this will last. You, O Lord, know my fears. I am painfully aware of my weaknesses. Hear me and give me grace to seek You. Let this be the first day of a new life of prayer and intimacy with You.”

Can you see that hand beckoning to you? Can you feel the Father tugging at your heart, asking you to come and begin, or begin again? Don’t let fear of failure hold you back. I’m not asking you to make the same commitment I made at that conference so many years ago, but I am asking you this:

Are you willing to settle for a relationship with the Father that is “a mile wide and an inch deep,” or do you want to experience God beyond the shallows? Can you see that hand? Say yes to it. Begin.

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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If you haven’t already, let me suggest that you go back and read pt 1 and pt. 2.

Do you feel like your depth of intimacy with God is an inch deep, while your ministry responsibilities stretch you a mile wide? I want to help you experience God beyond the shallows. I believe it’s possible to go deeper.

Don’t you wish you were more deeply spiritual? Something keeps reminding you that your personal intimacy with Jesus is the most important thing, but there are so many other things that pull you in the opposite direction. There is the person you are and the person you want to be, and you wish you could close that gap. You can. It can close. It will take a lifetime, but it can close little by little.

Movement in the right direction, no matter how small, will eventually get you where you want to be. Moving toward a deeper spirituality through the spiritual practices that will get you there (Bible reading, prayer, meditation, devotional reading, journaling, etc.) is not about giant steps but about baby steps. Here’s three out of nine steps to help you get started.

Step Seven: When you fall off the horse get back on and leave the guilt behind.

Notice I said when, not if. There will be days when you won’t meet with God as you had planned. Sometimes this will be your fault and sometimes it will be the result of circumstances beyond your control. This has to be expected and accepted. The question is not whether we’ll break our spiritual disciplines routine, but what we do after we break them.

I suggest when you fall off the horse that you calmly climb back in the saddle (resuming your practices) and leave guilt on the ground beside your imprint. It does little good to beat yourself up. We get so upset when we fail. It’s as if we expected not to.

I’m not surprised when I fail. What surprises me is when I succeed. I’m surprised that I don’t fail more, not that I fail as much as I do.

No need to flog yourself. Don’t start over; just pick up where you left off.

Step Eight: Watch out for self-righteousness and legalism.

It’s unfortunate but few things lend themselves to self-righteousness or legalism quite like pursuing a deeper spirituality. You don’t see them at first, but they creep up on you.

Self-righteousness sneaks in suggesting thoughts like, “I’ve gone 1,463 days without missing a single day of having my quiet time. What day are you on, huh, huh? What’s that? You don’t have a quiet time? Oh, poor thing. I’ll pray for you on day 1,464.” We would never actually say this. But do we think it? Sometimes.

Legalism appears in our thoughts saying skewed comments like, “I better not skip my quiet time today. I’ve got to preach in the morning and I want God to show up.” Or, “I bet the reason I had such a bad day was because I didn’t have a prayer time.” Or, “God is happy with me when I have my devotions but disappointed with me when I don’t.”

Watch out for the creepers.

Step Nine: Don’t let past failures keep you from trying again.

It wasn’t until about halfway through my pastoral career that I got serious about soul-care and spiritual formation. Before that, my spiritual life was on and off, hot and cold. I’d hear some sermon or read some book about prayer, feel guilty, make a commitment to prayer, go a few days…and then quit. Some time would go by, I’d once again hear some sermon or read some book about prayer, feel guilty, make a commitment to prayer, go a few days…and then quit, again.

Does that sound familiar?

I never really struggled with reading my Bible every day, but prayer? That was entirely different. At that time in my spiritual journey, practices like meditation and journaling weren’t even on my radar screen. That was about to change.

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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This post will make more sense if you’ve already read pt. 1

Do you feel like your depth of intimacy with God is an inch deep, while your ministry responsibilities stretch you a mile wide? I want to help you experience God beyond the shallows. I believe it’s possible to go deeper.

Don’t you wish you were more deeply spiritual? Something keeps reminding you that your personal intimacy with Jesus is the most important thing, but there are so many other things that pull you in the opposite direction. There is the person you are and the person you want to be, and you wish you could close that gap. You can. It can close. It will take a lifetime, but it can close little by little.

Movement in the right direction, no matter how small, will eventually get you where you want to be. Moving toward a deeper spirituality through the spiritual practices that will get you there (Bible reading, prayer, meditation, devotional reading, journaling, etc.) is not about giant steps but about baby steps. Here’s three out of nine steps to help you get started.

Step Four: Set specific, realistic, and easily attainable goals.

Don’t settle for vague goals. “I’m going to spend more time with God” is too fuzzy. Be more specific. How many days a week do you want to set aside time for God? Which days will work the best for you? Where will you have these meetings? How much time will you spend with God? Specific goals lead to specific results. Unclear goals lead to unclear results.

Be realistic. Don’t set the bar too high. In fact, I believe the bar should be so low that you can’t help but step over it. It’s better to have easily attainable goals and achieve them than to set yourself up for possible defeat with goals that are too ambitious. If you fail you’ll feel discouraged and unmotivated.

I think a realistic and attainable goal to begin with would be something like three days a week for fifteen to twenty minutes.

I remember suggesting to one pastor that he start with ten minutes, three days a week. He asked me, “What good could ten minutes do?” I replied, “Right now you’re doing nothing. What good is that doing? Going from zero to ten sounds pretty good.” We both laughed.

Step Five: Make yourself accountable.

In my coaching practice I am constantly amazed at the power of accountability when trying to bring about personal change.

Not too long ago, about ten minutes into a coaching call, I asked my coachee (that’s right, that’s what I call them) about an assignment he agreed to during our previous call. I heard laughter.

“What’s funny?”

“I was wondering how long it was gonna take you to ask me that. You know one thing I don’t like about you?”

More laughter.

“What?” I asked curiously.

“I know you will always hold me accountable to the action steps I set for myself. Sometimes, especially if I didn’t do what I said I’d do, I hope that you will forget, but you never do.”

More laughter.

“Well, my job is to either move you forward or make you miserable.”

Even more laughter.

Find someone to be accountable to. Share your goals with someone. Ask them to check in with you either by phone, text, or e-mail once a week or so. Just knowing that they will be asking you how your progress is going will be enough to trigger your pride (that’s right, pride can be used to our advantage) and keep you on track.

Step Six: Be willing to experiment until you find a rhythm and set of practices that work for you.

How you start out might not be the same as how you end up. You might begin with more focus on scripture meditation and a lesser amount of time on journaling; over time, you might reverse that. Silent prayer might work better for you than verbal prayer. I’m really into writing out my prayers. For others this doesn’t work. A devotional book might help…or not. Try silence, or worship, or meditation and reflection. If Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays no longer work for you, then switch to Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

It might take some time and experimentation for you to discover what works for you, and what results in a meaningful time with God. The first way is not the only way and might not be the best way. Find your way and do it until it doesn’t work for you anymore, and then find another way.

Next week: The Pastor, Baby Steps, and a Deeper Spirituality, Pt. 2

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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Baby steps: to make progress on something in small increments (from the 1991 movie What About Bob?).

Bob (Bill Murray): I can’t do that. It’s too big!

Dr. Leo (Richard Dreyfuss): Baby steps, Bob. Baby steps.

Back in my college days I remember taking a psychology class that focused on modern psychology theories. I was the only student in the class who was not pursuing a degree in counseling. By then, I’d been a pastor for about twenty-five years. These students took delight in tearing into me, and pastors in general, for screwing up so many people with “pastoral counseling” instead of pointing them to a professional. They all had some story about how a pastor had scarred them, or someone they knew, for life. It’s hard to argue with someone’s experience, so for the most part, I just sat there silently while thinking to myself, “Oh yeah, like no one’s ever been screwed up by a professional counselor?”

Anyway, one night the professor showed us a clip from the movie What About Bob?, and said Dr. Leo’s baby steps concept was an example of behavioral psychology, a theory of psychology founded by John B. Watson that came into vogue after the release of his 1913 paper, “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It.”

To put it simply, Watson believed that anyone’s behavior could be changed. Richard Dreyfuss’s character, Dr. Leo, believed this could be accomplished by taking baby steps.

***

Do you feel like your depth of intimacy with God is an inch deep, while your ministry responsibilities stretch you a mile wide? I want to help you experience God beyond the shallows. I believe it’s possible to go deeper.

Don’t you wish you were more deeply spiritual? Something keeps reminding you that your personal intimacy with Jesus is the most important thing, but there are so many other things that pull you in the opposite direction. There is the person you are and the person you want to be, and you wish you could close that gap. You can. It can close. It will take a lifetime, but it can close little by little.

Movement in the right direction, no matter how small, will eventually get you where you want to be. Moving toward a deeper spirituality through the spiritual practices that will get you there (Bible reading, prayer, meditation, devotional reading, journaling, etc.) is not about giant steps but about baby steps. Here’s three out of nine steps to help you get started.

Step One: Ask God for help.

I’ve got to believe it warms the Father’s heart to hear us cry out to Him:

Father, help me to spend time with You. Motivate me, change me, give me a hunger for solitude with You. I want to know You better and experience You more. My willpower is weak but You are strong. Do for me what I cannot do for myself. Cause me to grow in my intimacy with You and help me with the practices that will take me there.

Step Two: Keep your eye on the real goal.

The goal of prayer, journaling, scripture meditation, silence and solitude, worship, fasting, practicing self-denial is not prayer, journaling, scripture meditation, silence and solitude, worship, fasting, and practicing self-denial. These are simply the ways we draw closer to God, or the practices that help us experience God. The goal is quality time with God. What motivates us is the desire to keep company with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

Imagine you are carrying around a toolbox with the words Spiritual Formation stenciled on the outside. Inside you find a number of tools you can pull out and use to deepen your soul and draw closer to Jesus. The goal is not the tools. The tools just help you with your project.

Step Three: Expect a fight.

Developing a spiritual life that is meaningful and consistent is hard work. It will not come about without resistance. Sometimes keeping company with God will be effortless. Other times being alone with God will be sabotaged by interruptions, distractions, procrastination, and a strange inner struggle that causes you to avoid the very thing you want.

Coming up next? The Pastor, Baby Steps, and a Deeper Spirituality, pt. 2

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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Over the years I’ve developed a much broader definition of prayer than I used to hold. Like most new Christians in the 1970s, the need for personal prayer was drilled into me. I’m not suggesting this was a bad thing. It was a good thing. I wish there was more drilling like this today. However, the concepts of prayer that I embraced were very limited.

For example, when I started out, I thought of prayer as those times when I sat with my eyes closed and I talked to God. Sometimes my prayers focused on my personal needs, and other times my prayers were “lifting up” the needs of others (I used a lot more Christianese back then). If you were really spiritual you called this intercession. If you got really good at intercession (I’m not sure how this was ever measured), you could be called an intercessor, or better yet—a prayer warrior. Anyway, for me prayer simply meant bringing my needs to God in one-way communication. Notice that I did not say one-way conversation? Communication can be one-way, conversation cannot.

Here’s a spiritual formation formula: communication with God + conversation with God + communion with God = keeping company with God = prayer.

Communication is when I talk to God. Conversation is when God and I communicate back and forth. Communion refers to those times when there is a sense of closeness, harmony, and connection between God and me. These times can include, but are not limited to, traditional prayer. Whenever communion occurs and I am keeping company with God—I am praying.

Let me describe what I mean.

There are a number of things I might do when I sit down to meet with God. Sometimes I sit in silence practicing deep breathing. Sometimes I read my Bible or meditate on the scriptures. I journal. I pray for my needs. I might pray out loud or silently, or I might write my prayers down. I read devotional classics. I might concentrate on an object like a cross, or a picture on my wall or the clouds in the sky. I might sing. Other times I might pray for people. I seldom do all of these at one sitting.

My times with God will look different from day to day. Sometimes I don’t even pray per se. I’ve come to regard all of my practices as forms of prayer. I am communicating, conversing, having communion with, and keeping company with God. For me, it’s all prayer.

Some time ago, I decided to quit calling my daily time a prayer time. I didn’t feel this was accurate. A prayer time gives the impression that all I’m doing during that time is talking to God about my needs and the needs of others. Instead, I prefer to call it my quiet time or my time to be with God.

I spend an hour each day, first thing in the morning, with God. I know this is impressive to some. To be honest, it doesn’t impress me at all. I would like to devote more time, and sometimes I do, but normally my time lasts an hour.

There are times when I’m helping a pastor develop a spiritual formation plan that he or she will ask me about my practices. When I tell the pastor that I spend an hour each day, he or she assumes I’m saying that I talk for an hour to God.

“Wow, I can’t imagine doing that.”

“Doing what?”

“Praying for an hour. What do you pray about all that time?”

Once I clarify how I spend my hour the pastor begins to see this is something relatively easy to attain. I’m not just praying. I’m doing any number of things that, for me, amount to prayer. Now let me address the question, “How much time is enough time?”

My answer? I don’t know. You tell me.

How much time can you afford to take? How much time will be enough so that you feel relaxed and unhurried? How much time do you feel is needed for you to connect with God?

For me the starting point for having a leisurely time with God is an hour. Can I achieve that leisure in less than an hour? Yes. Can you? I don’t know, you tell me. There is no hard and fast rule for this. No one can tell you how much time is necessary. The issue is not so much time spent, as it is how meaningful that time is.

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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Okay…don’t freak out because I used the word “mystic.” I’m talking about Christian mystics. I have a whole chapter in my book Mile Wide, Inch Deep on why we should be comfortable with Christians mystics. Here’s my definition of a Christian Mystic.

  • Mystics believe God can be experienced. Mystics base this belief on their understanding of the Bible and their own personal experience.
  • Mysticism is the practice of spiritual disciplines—such as, but not limited to, prayer, scripture meditation, solitude, fasting—that help one experience God.
  • Mystical is the actual experience one has with God. When we say, “I felt God say to me…,” we are claiming to have had a mystical experience.

Having said that, let me say this:

The greatest need today is not for better sermons, better outreach strategies, better mission statements, better and clearer values, better leadership skills, better staff, better volunteers, better small groups, better offerings, or better vision. We don’t need more ideas, more opportunities, more systems, or more resources. We have enough books, conferences, and experts willing to tell us what we should do.

The greatest need today is for pastors who know God deeply and experience God regularly. We need mystics in the pulpits, spiritual directors who, from their own depth of soul, know how to take their people by the hand and lead them into experiencing God for themselves. Since spirituality is more caught than taught, we need pastors who have become infected with a virus, not life-threatening but life-giving, a virus passed on by close proximity, a virus called intimacy (into-me-see) with God. We need contagious pastors who infect others, not because of what they know but because of who they are.

Mystic shouldn’t be added to Paul’s list of leadership gifts in Ephesians 4:11-12, it should be assumed. Shouldn’t an apostle experience God? Shouldn’t a prophet experience God? Shouldn’t an evangelist experience God? Shouldn’t a pastor-teacher experience God? If we answer yes, then isn’t it fair to say that all four of the leader types (or five if you don’t believe in hyphens) in Paul’s list are mystics?

In her book Christian Mystics, Ursula King says, “Thus there is a need for a new mysticism in a new world. Creative mystics are needed to adapt the heritage of the past to the needs of a new season. In the past, the wisdom and insight of mystical knowledge has been handed down within the Christian Church and was tied to its doctrines. But today the situation is much more experimental and open-ended. There remains the question, then, how mystical teachings and practices are best disseminated and transmitted.”

May I suggest: one of the best ways for mystical teachings and practices to be disseminated and transmitted is through the encouragement and example of a pastor who has the heart of a mystic.

***

Think back for a moment to those Christians from your past that had the greatest impact on you. There was something different about them, wasn’t there? They seemed to be more spiritual, or closer to God than others you knew. Just being around them made you feel nearer to God. And even if their maturity or spirituality seemed beyond your grasp, there was something about them that urged you along, making your heart wish for and believe that a closer relationship with Jesus was possible.

Remember our definition of a mystic? A mystic is one who believes that God can be experienced, has some experience in experiencing God, and is good at helping others grow in their experience of God. Don’t miss that last phrase, “helping others grow in their experience of God.” If this is not the job of a pastor then I don’t know what is. If there is anything our people need more from us than this, I don’t know what that could be. And if I’m correct, then the really exciting thing is that this is possible for every pastor regardless of his or her education level, church size, or Myers-Briggs score.

You may or may not have a ministry degree. You may or may not have a large church. You may or may not have written a book. You may or may not have been the one asked to speak at a church conference. The name of your church may or may not have appeared on a Top 100 list in some ministry magazine. It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, a great speaker or just adequate, bi-vocational or full-time, tall, short, fat, thin, attractive, or look like the rest of us. If I’m right, then you can be a mystic. If I’m right, then the people who sit in your church staring back at you each week need you to be a mystic.


 

You might want to read Pastor…Are You Reading Too Much of The Same Thing? before you go further.

In my office next to big comfortable chair I sit on when spending time with God is my stack of quiet time tools. I have a Bible, a notebook for journaling, and a notebook for writing my prayers. I have a small pad of paper to write things down that I don’t want to forget, things that might pop into my mind and distract me. In addition to these, I always have a book I am reading devotionally for spiritual formation. Some of these books are considered spiritual classics, and some of them have been written by contemporary authors who focus on the inner life. Francis Bacon wrote, “Some books are to be tasted, others are to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

Over the years there have been many books that I have chewed and digested for the purpose of spiritual formation. Here are some examples:

  • A Monk’s Alphabet by Jeremy Driscoll
  • The Seeking Heart by François Fénelon
  • The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
  • Devotional Classics, Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups edited by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith
  • Any volume from the Rekindling the Inner Fire series edited by David Hazard
  • Shepherds Balm by Richard Earl
  • The Wisdom of the Desert arranged by Thomas Merton
  • My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
  • A Simple Path by Mother Teresa
  • The Essential Wisdom of the Saints edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi

For the really, really serious reader:

  • Interior Castle by Saint Teresa of Avila
  • Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross
  • Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ by Jeanne Guyon

My two favorite books on the spiritual disciplines:

  • Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
  • The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg

***

My favorite spiritual writer of all time is Thomas Merton. In all my years of reading, no single writer has had more influence on my spiritual formation than Thomas Merton. Merton said, “For there are people one meets—in books and in life—with whom a deep resonance is at once established” and their books “open up a new road” for you. For some reason, Merton has been one of those people for me. If you are unfamiliar with Merton, the book Seeds, edited by Robert Inchausti, is a great introduction to his writings, and is, in itself, a great book to use devotionally. I always recommend Seeds to those who want to start reading Merton. When Merton was alive he endorsed A Thomas Merton Reader for those interested in getting to know him and his work. Both are excellent introductions.

***

Here are some helpful questions to ask to determine if a book is a spiritual classic, or a spiritual-formation-focused book, that can serve the inspirational category of reading:

Does this book have anything to do with church growth, church management, pastoral skills, philosophy of ministry, biblical commentary, Greek or Hebrew word study, or leadership development? If so, it’s not what I’m talking about.

Does this book have an obvious focus on spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines, personal intimacy with God or going deeper in one’s relationship with God? If so, then it probably is what I’m talking about.

Is the book trying to make you more knowledgeable or more spiritual? If the focus is more on education than formation, then it’s not what I’m talking about.

Is the author still living? If so, then there’s a 50/50 chance it’s not a spiritual classic.

Questions for reflection:

  1. Do I read more for education, recreation, or inspiration?
  2. What type of input do I need more of: education, recreation, or inspiration?
  3. Which books on the recommended reading list have I read?
  4. Which books on the list would I be interested in reading?
  5. Which of these could I buy today?
  6. What’s stopping me from buying it?

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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Ellen’s closet is packed. Mine…not so much, especially during the winter months. I have four flannel shirts that I rotate through each week. Ellen threatens me that she is going to burn them. I threaten her that I will leave her if she does. Of course I’m joking. I’m not sure she is. A man shouldn’t have to put a lock on his closet door. Anyways…

Shirts remind me of the labels we put on people. Everybody has favorite shirts, or pants, or shoes, and everybody, or so it seems to me, has their favorite labels that they like to put on others.

Since we’re coming into a election year we’re going hear more and more about Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Obama-hating and Obama-loving people.

In the church world we have shirts we like to put on people. We’ve got Evangelicals vs. Liberals, Charismatic vs. non-Charismatic, Egalitarian vs. Complimentarian, Gay welcoming and affirming vs. Gay welcoming but not affirming, Calvinist vs. Arminian, Traditionalist vs. Progressive, pro-Flannel shirts vs. anti-Flannel shirts. This is just a partial list of the many labels we like to put on people. As I see it there are three problems with labels.

 

  1. With labels as with clothing, seldom does one size fit all. For example, many Evangelicals believe some things Progressives believe and vise versa. I know some Southern Baptists that are more Charismatic than some Charismatics.

 

  1. It is hard to label a person without there being contempt attached. Just listen to the next person you hear put a label on someone. They might not use these exact words but you can still hear “Those stupid…” tacked on to the beginning of their sentence, or, “…and I’m better than they are.” added to the end of their sentence.

 

  1. Finally, when I label a person I fail to see the person as a person and instead see them as a label. Labels limit. Labels limit my ability to love the person as God loves them and limits by ability to see the person as God sees them. The person I label, the person I have contempt for, is dearly beloved by our mutual Father in heaven. They might be wrong but first they are a child of God and loved just as much by God as God loves me.

 

When I was a kid I remember an advertisement at the back of a comic book for a pair of glasses that would enable you to have x-ray vision. They led you to believe that with them you could see under peoples clothes. Hot Dog! I ordered one. It didn’t work.

I want to see under the clothes, under the labels that I try to put on people. I want to see people naked.

 

 

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Fred Smith Sr. has been a mentor to some of the most well-known Christian leaders of our day. Fred popularized the phrase, “Leaders are readers,” and also said, “Make clear decisions about what you read and why.”1

Most pastors are readers, but they read too much of the same thing. By this I mean that pastors tend to gravitate toward books dealing with the ministry—reading for information rather than spiritual formation. I often wish they would read books other than the ones they take the time to read.

It is always somewhat exciting to start a new book—especially one you have reason to believe will be really good. Clean, stiff, untouched…soon it will be bent, written on, underlined, stained. I’m not nice to my books. And a good book will not be nice to me.

There is a place, I guess, for nice books, but the best books are never nice. Good books are intrusive, forceful, and inconsiderate of your feelings and comfort. A good book, unlike a nice book, confronts, challenges thought, and forces you to think, reconsider, or change. A good book will take you where you’ve never been before—often times kicking and screaming.

Most pastors read, but they read nice books. It’s a shame that with the little amount of time they do have to read that they bother to read the stuff they do: commentaries, church growth/management, books that develop their skills or give them new ways of doing the same old thing, all the while ignoring the books that deal with the pastor’s true self—his center or her soul.

Balanced people are balanced readers. There are three types of reading: educational, recreational, and inspirational.

1. Educational: For pastors this means books like commentaries, leadership development, church health/growth, etc.

2. Recreational: Fun stuff, reading just for the pleasure of it. Nothing work related.

3. Inspirational: Reading that stretches your soul. With this type of reading, you are not looking for information as much as inspiration—inspiration that deepens your intimacy (into-me-see) with Jesus.

All three are needed for balance. Most pastors are good at educational and recreational reading, but not so good at inspirational reading. What are you reading for inspiration?

I’ve never been able to confirm this quotation from Thomas à Kempis, so don’t quote me on it, but supposedly only one scrap of paper with his actual writing has survived and it reads: “For rest, respite, repose on this earth, I’ve looked high and low, but couldn’t find it, except perhaps in out-of-the-way nooks with out-of-the-ordinary books.”

The best books are out of the ordinary, they get your attention and transform your soul, and they form you more than inform you.

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The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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A couple weeks ago on Facebook I said that the greatest obstacle to the spiritual life is a love of sleep. Quite a few responses were generated by that and I’m afraid that most of them missed my point and instead focused on the benefits of getting a good nights sleep, which, as someone who does not sleep well, I will not argue. But that was not my point. I didn’t state my point. I do that sometimes. I want some statements to make people think. So…I should not get too upset when they end up thinking things I did not intend. Anyways…

Here’s what I was getting at. In regards to spending time alone with God, any time other than first thing in the morning is risky. First thing is the only sure thing. I’m not saying that having a quiet time in the middle of the day or evening will not work. Times like this can be just as meaningful but they are twice as likely (maybe more so) to be interrupted or postponed. And what does this have to do with a love of sleep and a fear of feeling tired?

For most of us, if we are going to start our day with time alone with God, if we don’t want to be interrupted by the family or by morning appointments, we will have to get up earlier than we would like to. We will have to, oh forgive me for saying this, set our alarm clock earlier. A good alarm clock is the best devotional tool you will ever have.

Now, I can already hear the objections: “I’m not a morning person. If I get up earlier I’ll feel tired. It’s better for me to meet with God later in the day.” Okay, let’s look at these arguments one by one.

Objection #1: I’m not a morning person.

This could be true. Some people can pop out of bed with a smile on their face, a clear head, and a song on their lips. Others hold on to their pillows like a man clutching a life preserver after having been swept overboard. For some waking up is easy, for others it’s hard. But honestly, haven’t there been times in your life when you had to set your alarm clock either for work or something else? When you did, when you got up early, did it kill you?

I thought about drawing your attention to Mark 1:35 (“When it was early in the morning, before the sun came up, Jesus left the house and went off to a quiet and remote place where he prayed.”) but making a principle out of a single verse is poor hermeneutics, not to mention an attempt to motivate by guilt and shame, and even though we pastors are good at that, I will not go there.

So, while it’s true that you might not be a “morning person,” consider what is more important to you: to stay in bed and stay the way you are, or set your alarm a bit earlier to insure that you have time to cultivate intimacy with God?

Objection #2: If I get up earlier I’ll feel tired.

Yes, you probably will. But is feeling tired really that horrible? Think about it. Feeling tired isn’t pleasurable but it’s not like getting a stick in your eye. Now I realize if you are a bi-vocational pastor who has a day job as a brain surgeon, then maybe you don’t want to poke around gray matter if you’re tired and struggling to keep your eyes open. But other than that…you’ll be okay. Your body will adjust.

Maybe you need to go to bed earlier or plan for a short nap in the middle of your day. The bottom line is this: would you rather feel physically tired or spiritually empty?

Objection #3: It’s better for me to meet with God later in the day.

I hear this a lot. I usually respond by asking, “So how’s that working for you?” The typical answer is, “Well…not as well as I would like. Often something else interrupts me.” Exactly.

If you are able to maintain a meaningful, consistent quiet time with God in the middle of your day, one that is peaceful and unrushed, then more power to you. Keep it up. But if not, take this challenge.

Compare early morning quiet times with middle of the day quiet times. Set a goal of three to four days a week. Take one month and experiment with early morning quiet times and one month with middle of the day quiet times. At the end of the two months ask yourself which approach proved to be more consistent and meaningful. Do what works best for you. Just remember, your current devotional routine is perfectly designed to give you the results you are getting. If you want different results you will probably have to do something different.

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The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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