"You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”
"Pray like this, […]
'May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
-Jesus (Luke 17:21, Matthew 6:9,10)
The other night I walked into the house and I heard our digital piano being played. This is not an everyday occurrence, though it’s a beautiful one. My wife is the only person who really plays it, though our kids have recently taken an interest in pounding out “Heart and Soul” over and over again. And over. Again.
In our family, when my wife plays the piano, it means one of two things. Most often, it means that shalom is here. Shalom is the Hebrew word for “peace," but it means more than that. It means wholeness and rightness in every facet. It means that things are healthy and at that moment, we are truly well. There is no yelling. Bellies are full and homework is either done or happily occurring. True contentment reigns.
When we have family moments like that, and we are at peace, the piano is a way that Bethany expresses it. The music fills our house almost as a metaphor for the rightness of the moment. Her beautiful voice creates a blanket of comfort that extends through both floors, full of lyrics reminding us of God’s goodness and love.
But there are other times (OBVIOUSLY). Those are the times when she sits down at the piano to sing not because things are right, but because precisely because they aren’t and they need to be made right.
These are the moments when shalom has been broken. There has been too much stress in the house. The kids have been fighting and bugging each other. The week has been heavy. We are exhausted and grumpy. We’re heartbroken about whatever the latest act of hatred on earth has been. Even turning on the tv or looking at our phones is so obviously hollow that it’s unbearable. And so she sits down and sings. And she begins to make us right again.
Sometimes the things that we do to express the beautiful are the same things we need to do when it all seems ugly. We need to sing what is true until it becomes so.
This is the story of the God's already/not-yet kingdom, isn’t it? This is how Jesus can tell us one moment that the kingdom is already here— within us and available— then tell us that it’s somewhere out there, coming in the future, and to pray for it. It’s a paradox until you start to experience it. So Jesus people learn to declare that the kingdom is here in one breath, and then we look around and pray for it to come in the next. Because it all has been made right, and yet nothing is right. Sometimes it’s one, sometimes it's the other. And that’s ok to admit.
But if we are being shaped into the image of Jesus, the practices that characterize us will not change based on if things are well or not. If we are overwhelmed by beauty and justice and love and compassion around us, we name it and recognize it as God’s goodness. We declare that the kingdom is here. We lean into it, pray and fix our eyes on the creator and redeemer to find rest in that beauty.
If we are overwhelmed by ugliness and injustice and hatred and selfishness and brokenness around us, we name it and declare what God’s goodness looks like anyways. We pray for the kingdom to come, and we declare our commitment to being a part of that ushering-in process. We fix our eyes on our creator and redeemer and rest in the hope that true life is possible with Jesus, even in these moments, and that goodness will ultimately win out.
And wouldn’t you know that when we do that, the kingdom does come— in one little way— on earth as it is in heaven. We sing it into being, so to speak. And God uses that to change us, and to change those around us. It’s like a street violin piercing through the din of the city bustle. It causes the world to stop and take notice.
When we see God’s goodness around us, let’s declare it fully.
When we are missing God’s goodness around us, let’s declare what’s ultimately true until we see it.
Jesus, give us eyes to see your kingdom today. And give us feet to work with you to bring it tomorrow.
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
-Paul (Colossians 3:2)
In the sport of volleyball, when you “set” the ball, you use your fingers to spring it above the net in the perfect position for a spike. A good set is all about placement so that the best outcome can occur. The set is not the end goal- the end goal is moving the ball across the net and scoring… but this is how you make that happen.
Where you set things affect how well you’ll do.
The apostle Paul had never heard of volleyball. But he certainly understood something about placing things at the right spot. And he understood that for disciples of Jesus to do well in the world— to be transformed into the character of Jesus and extend the good news of Jesus in the most effective ways— the mind had to be set correctly.
So he challenges Christians in the town of Colossae to “set your minds on things above.” Sometimes translators use the phrase “heavenly things.”
Well goodness, that sounds high and holy, doesn’t it? We might even be tempted to think that the perfect Christian's mindset is completely unaware of the real world around her, because she is so caught up in the "heavenly mindset.” I believe those are the people who we frequently say need to “get their heads out of the clouds.”
What if we are missing the point a bit? Both Genesis and Revelation point to the goal where Heaven and Earth meet. And in Jesus, we find the things of heaven are actually pretty earthy. They’re not disconnected from reality, yet they taste a bit like heaven. They are about selfless love, active grace, and complete peace in being united with God. Jesus shows that the “things of heaven” are about servanthood and kind words and forgiveness. The things of heaven are dignity for the broken hearted and healing for the suffering. Heavenly things look like a name and story and value given to every human being.
When we get this right, heavenly thinking becomes much less cloudy than we may have previously thought…
But setting our minds in the right spot for Jesus to work in us is hard these days. And I’m not convinced it’s because of our huge sins and massive selfishness (though those certainly play a role). For the typical Jesus follower, though, it’s about something far less obvious.
We’re just distracted.
In volleyball terms, we’re not looking for the ball, so we miss the set.
Andrew Sullivan writes that the the greatest threat to faith today "is not hedonism, but distraction.” The barrage of technology, news, noise, and connectivity creates a concoction that can leave us stumbling about as we flip from one thing to another. We are spinning, and our minds are never set on much of anything.
The antidote? Well, it’s probably not going to be more volume and moving lights during Sunday worship. Beating bad distractions with good distractions doesn’t really accomplish the end goal.
It’s going to be about getting uncomfortable with silence and stillness with God. And that will take radical intentionality. Fifteen years ago our digital age required us to sit down at a desk if we wanted to to plunge into the rabbit hole of the interwebs. Now we bring the rabbit hole with us wherever we go.
Technology is not evil, but it’s certainly not neutral.
Sometime I wonder if we realize that God gives us permission to just turn things off so that we can set our minds on God’s heart.
You’ve got permission. Use it. Take some moments to place your mind in the right spot. Leave your phone behind. It's ok.
What’s one way that you will open up space today so that your mind can sit still and listen for God? What’s one way you can help make space for someone you love to do the same?
Jesus, set my mind on your beauty today, so that it might change me and change our world.
Thanks to my wonderful wife Bethany for providing this week's thought for reflection together.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.
-Apostle Paul (Ephesians 3:20)
Then Jesus shouted, ‘Lazarus, come out!’
In Luke 10, we are introduced to “a certain woman named Martha” who welcomed Jesus into her home. Poor Martha is usually viewed from that point on as nothing more than a cautionary tale of workaholism. She is the one who misses the point. Mary is the good sister; the one who gets it right.
As a result of this bad press, I never found Martha particularly interesting or appealing. That changed a few days ago when I entered into her story and began to connect deeply with her humanity.
By the time we encounter Martha for the second time in John 11, we can deduce that she is a woman who cares deeply about her family and about Jesus. She prioritizes taking care of people and anything else that needs to be taken care of. She is responsible and capable. She tries to do the right thing in every situation.
But one day, her world is shaken.
Her brother dies because Jesus doesn’t come in time to save him. Jesus could have come. He should have come. They sent for him. But he chooses to ignore their message and arrives four days too late.
It suddenly feels like everything around Martha is crumbling down around her. But because she is capable and responsible and trying to do the right thing, when Jesus arrives, Martha pulls herself together and goes out to meet him. She can’t quite put it into words, but she knows deep down that Jesus could have stopped this. She knows there is power there. She knows that he could have healed Lazarus and saved them from all of this pain. If only Jesus had come sooner! She has to say something so she blurts out, “if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She still knows Jesus is good and true and powerful…but why oh why didn’t he choose to come and heal Lazarus when they asked?
Jesus assures her that Lazarus will rise again.
And she knows that. She knows that hope is promised and her brother will rise again someday. She truly believes it. She verbalizes these things. She wants Jesus to know that she really does trust him. She really does have hope for the future. But the now, that’s where the pain is at.
Then Jesus declares who he is and what is promised and he asks her if she believes.
And she does believe. Of course she believes! She knows Jesus is the Messiah they’ve been waiting for. In fact, after knowing Jesus for some time, she is absolutely convinced that he is the Son of God. But she still doesn’t know how that’s supposed to help in this moment. Right now. Now that it is too late.
Although Martha knows that Jesus can do remarkable things, raising the dead isn’t even on her radar. It is so far beyond anything she could ask or imagine. She doesn’t even consider the possibility.
But Jesus does. And Jesus does it.
He does the thing she didn’t even know she could ask him to do.
Jesus opens a tomb and brings death to life.
Turns a story around completely.
Brings the ending that nobody saw coming.
Restores someone that was truly beyond hope.
He does infinitely more than she could ask or even imagine.
I think on this and wonder… where is my faith too small? Where is my imagination too limited?
Jesus, sometimes I nod my head in agreement while still not really trusting the ways you can transform my life and our world. Strengthen my faith and sharpen my eyes.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
-Jesus (Luke 9:24)
A movie that I despise has become a memory that I love.
I helped out at a "Frozen" themed kids event several years ago that left me changed forever. I ran the karaoke machine as a long line of 5 year old girls sang "Let it Go" 26 TIMES STRAIGHT. After that (seriously), I had a bit of trauma surrounding the musical Frozen. But when my daughter was a part of a local performance of Frozen Jr.last week, I tried to “let it go” and enjoy the musical once again. And I did.
Something beautiful about the storyline struck me in a fresh way. When the young sister becomes accidentally struck in the heart with an ice spell and is slowly freezing to death, she learns that only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.
It’s assumed that this act of true love is something that needs to be done “to her”. Perhaps it will be a kiss from her love, perhaps someone will act dramatically to rescue her. We don’t know.
But at the end of the story (SPOILER ALERT), though dying herself, she throws herself in front of a sword to protect her older sister. Though it appears at first that she becomes a frozen statue, moments later she begins to melt and is whole again.
It’s her own act of love that thaws the heart. It’s her effort to bring healing to another that enables healing in her.
In our faith, we absolutely trust Jesus to be the one who brings ultimate healing and wholeness. But within that life, sometimes we go through seasons of frozen hearts where hurt, bitterness, anger or loss take over. During those times, we may be waiting for an act of love toward us to help thaw us out, when what we really need is to move beyond ourselves and act selflessly. When we look around the world and continue to love and serve radically, putting others first, we often find that there is healing in that journey. Indeed, perhaps we cannot be healed until that happens.
Maybe this is why Jesus said that if we don’t forgive others, our heavenly father won’t forgive us (Mt. 5:15). Instead of God holding a grudge or trying to teach us a lesson, maybe Jesus is hinting at the fact that until we lay down our own lives for others in forgiveness and service, we will never be able to grasp the depth of Jesus laying down his life for us. By participating in the healing of others, we open ourselves up to God’s healing.
The famous prayer of St. Francis, which I have come to value so much that I speak it aloud every morning, speaks of this beautiful truth in its final three lines.
Lord make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sew love,
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console.
To seek to be understood as too understand.
To seek to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Part of our own healing process, over and over again, is learning to love and act redemptively toward others in spite of our own wounds. And many times, as we practice that love again and again, we find that we are not only a healing agent in the life of another, but that God uses that humble willingness to do something miraculous in us as well.
Where are you frozen right now, standing paralyzed and unable to move on? Choose today to look up and look out, laying down your own life, and you just might find that Jesus picks it up and restores it for you in a new way.
Jesus, give me courage to love well today, even when I feel weary myself.
And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them.
The "sons of thunder" are at it again. Rain down the fire, Jesus! They deserve it!
Some early manuscripts of the book of Luke include a final phrase on the end of Jesus’ above statement. “Jesus turned and rebuked them,” it reads, “and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of…’”
They are excited about Jesus bringing the revenge. Jesus decides to hold up a mirror.
Isn’t it just the worst when we’re full of righteous anger toward another, and then Jesus asks us to look inwardly instead and evaluate our own character?
Our world is full of constant battles between good and evil. If only it was clear who fits into those categories! Why can’t life be like our superhero fantasy movies? There's good and there’s evil. It’s straightforward. Sometimes they even color code the light sabers to help us out.
And yet, standing before Jesus and in simple honesty, we cannot deny the well-known words penned in 1973 by Soviet dissident and Christian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
"The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.”
I couldn’t help but smile at that amazing truth illustrated the other day when one of our littlest LifePath kids picked up two plastic light sabers at a park and found a way to shove them together and turn it into one giant morally ambiguous toy. That’s us, isn’t it? Some light, some dark, right there in our hands. The struggle is real.
Jesus leads us to the uncomfortable truth that the first step in making the world right is to be personally transformed in the deep places. To have the selfishness, the greed, the anger, and the violence in our own hearts replaced with grace, life, compassion, and love. Then perhaps we can know how to handle the darkness that we encounter.
Jesus is deeply powerful, and he gives us power. But the purpose of that power is often misunderstood. At the risk of undermining my comment about how movies lack the complexity of actual life, last week I saw one that succeeded. My wife and I watched Dr. Strange, which is a Marvel Universe film about a former star surgeon who begins to understand that there is a mystical and powerful reality beyond what he has believed. In one conversation between Strange’s future mentor and a current student, the mentor shares her reluctance to teach Dr. Strange, because he may become lost in the temptation to use that power incorrectly. The student responds by asking her to remember his own journey...
"You didn’t lose me. I wanted the power to defeat my enemies. You gave me the power to defeat my demons…”
That’s a pretty good Jesus statement right there. Sit with it. We may desire God’s power to be used to change everything about the world that we don’t like. But most often, God’s power comes through self-giving grace, changing us in such a way that the world changes, just a little. Until it happens over and over again. Then the world changes a lot. This is such good news. Jesus has come to save us from the power of sin, and also to save us from the systems of revenge, violence, and enemy-making that we have learned to live by. We all have demons that we fight. And we all are tempted to take those hurts and pains and project them onto those around us instead of allowing Jesus to deal with them directly.
So maybe we need to start with the basics again.
We acknowledge that we have both light and darkness within us.
We hear the words of Jesus offering grace but also calling us to be transformed inwardly.
We then receive the spirit of Jesus as we look around our world, so that compassion leads us to offer an alternative, rather than just getting upset.
Isn’t that good news?
Jesus, speak the words that I need to hear today, whether they be grace or rebuke. Search my heart so that humility and compassion characterize my life.
No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Paul, Philippians 3:13-14
The NFL season has just started, and people will often use the phrase, “Defense wins championships.“ Yet we all know the truth in sports: if you don’t score points, it’s impossible to win. Hunkering down and keeping everything out of your net/endzone/goal will never lead a victory.
Recently I was talking with a friend who provided a helpful metaphor on a subtle Christian attitude that seems common these days.
He said that he notices a defensive approach in many people as they live their faith in Jesus. Not defensive in terms of defending one's faith from antagonistic attacks, but defensive in terms of a passive approach to the Jesus life. In other words, the primary benefit of faith becomes simply to handle the challenge of life without being beaten. Like when the U.S. men play Germany in soccer and don’t push forward because they just hope for a tie. In this mindset, Jesus helps you deal with everything coming at you, which you feel you have no control over. Life is stressful, it’s overly busy, and there is little you can do except try to fend off the negative stuff. Now that’s certainly the reality sometimes… but it’s not the whole story.
The presence of Jesus is absolutely foundational in our journey with God... but it’s hard to read the New Testament and conclude that “handling what life brings” is the endgame, isn’t it?
Paul’s message to the Corinthian church is about pressing on… trying to win, even. That’s not a very defensive approach.
The early church had such confidence in Jesus transforming them as a starting point, that it led them to take risks for the sake of the mission. The goal wasn’t just to survive. It was to go out and actually do something. It was to move the ball forward, seeking after the kingdom, being unafraid and unashamed to do wild and risky actions of trusting Jesus and offering radical love and compassion to the world. They went all in. They broke social assumptions and ran toward the people that others ran away from.
Sometimes I wonder where our (my!) theology of risk has gone. Are we eager to pursue new things when we sense Jesus calling us? Are we willing to actually change our schedules? Are we willing to meet new people, step into new places, and open the door to new directions? What about changing a career if Jesus stirs? What about praying boldly for direction and a faithful trusting heart?
Paul reminded Timothy as a young leader that God did not give him a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline. It propelled Timothy. Timothy was only half Jewish and as such felt rejection nearly everywhere he went. It would have been so easy for him to not pursue his ministry calling because it seemed too risky. But he trusted God and stepped out, and became a building block for one of the most influential young churches in the New Testament. Its effect is still felt today.
We know we have the amazing God of comfort who meets us exactly where we are. Today, for a moment, let’s consider the God of challenge who invites us to trust him as we lay our lives down for one another and this kingdom of love that Jesus died to express. There is such joy in winning at life by losing ours.
I want my life to be about pursuing the kingdom of immeasurable worth, not just sustaining regular life with an upbeat attitude. Don’t you? I’m trying to learn how to take new risks. Will you join me?
Jesus, lead me in whatever direction you want. Open me up to trust you and step out in new directions with new joy and boldness.
We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
-Hebrews 4:15 (MSG)
There’s a difference when someone thinks they can see where you’re coming from, as compared to having been there themselves. Does that make sense?
If my kid is nervous the day before school, I can say, “Yeah, I get it, but you’ll be fine.”
But that’s vastly different than me saying, “You know, I remember a time that I was scared to walk into a new place, and it was hard. Let me tell you that story.”
In the middle of fear and pain, one response feels distant. But the other makes us feel known.
Of course, it goes deeper than school butterflies. When we walk through pain and trauma, many of us have learned that there are no words that can describe the struggle. It’s only when we meet another who has experienced something similar that we can access a glimmer of peace. We don’t even need to have our issues “fixed.” There’s simply something hopeful about being understood.
And yet, even when we encounter people who experienced similar pain, fear, or heartache, there is still a limit. Every person is different, and we are complicated. So even when someone has been through similarities, they can’t truly understand at the most profound level, simply because they are not you. They are not able to see into your heart or your head. Not fully, at least.
I was having a conversation recently with a friend of mine who has been through a lot of hard moments during the past few years. He was sharing how his difficult circumstances have been leading him toward Jesus more and more. He made a simple statement that continues to bounce around in my head, about a conviction that he’s come to hold recently.
"I have a Christ who suffered, and that’s how I know he identifies with me."
So simple. So life-changing.
We are given a confidant. A friend. A Lord. A brother… who has the ability to see into the depths of our pain and struggle. But he has also experienced all the emotions we could ever imagine. And he hurt. He hurt hard. He gets it.
Maybe that’s why Jesus is called “God with us” as his nickname in the Bible.
Jesus looks at us squarely in the eyes, seeing past our walls of insecurities and our silent arguments with nobody in particular about how hard life is, or parenting, or dealing with this heartache, or that disease, or this addiction, or that uncertainty, or this responsibility. And instead of telling us to get over it, we hear a voice of gentle humility.
Do we believe this? That Jesus understands? Or have we completely stripped away the humanity of Jesus to the point where we say he was human, but what we think is “well, I mean he was mostly God so obviously he wasn’t really like us. Maybe like 60/40?"
When we embrace the extra-ordinary humanity of Jesus, that’s actually when his divine nature explodes into our lives. That’s the moment that we realize that we are truly, entirely, and impossibly… understood.
More than your parents understand you.
More than your spouse understands you.
More than your best friend understands you.
Even more than google understands your needs and wants.
When we begin to trust that Jesus understands our struggle, I mean really trust it…
Then we can let him lead us toward the way of life, however difficult that might be.
Because you’re not alone.
You are understood. And you are loved.
Jesus, meet me where I am today in a way no one else can. Lead me on from there.
Brothers and sisters, become imitators of me and watch those who live this way—you can use us as models.
Paul, Philippians 3:17 (CEB)
At the risk of alienating 97% of this readership, I’m going to share briefly about a hobby of mine that few others understand. I’ve played disc golf for about 15 years now, both as a recreational and competitive player. It’s a growing sport, with a full pro tour that competes on various courses all over the world. The sport is big enough that many professionals are making a full time living, but small enough that you can still meet the players if you get to a tournament. We stream their tournaments online, and every now and then my kids come out with me to play, but not often.
This past weekend, our local disc golf course hosted a National Tour event, where many of the top players from Europe and the US were competing for three days. Newark, Delaware became the epicenter of the disc golf world for a weekend! (Stop laughing, seriously.) I was excited about watching the pros, but my kids were too and asked to head over to the course several times during the weekend to follow the best players on the planet.
It was a lot of fun to get autographs and see amazing shots, and be immersed in this world for a short time. But something else interesting happened as a result. Every day after school, rather than hopping on their bikes or scooters, my boys have been grabbing their discs and asking to head out to the field to throw and get better. They’ve never shown this kind of consistent interest before. And wouldn’t you know it, they’re getting better every day.
Something changes when we get up close and personal with people who are really doing something well. We can watch from afar, but when we walk alongside somebody and see how they deal with each challenge, it makes us want to imitate them. We get inspired, and we start working at new skills because we see what is possible.
The core ideas behind discipleship are following and becoming. Jesus invited people to walk with him, watch him closely, and see what life with God looked like from an "up close" perspective. This tradition continued in the early generations after Jesus ascended. Paul wrote about it constantly. In his letter to the Corinthian church he was blatant: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Why not just say, "Follow the example of Christ?” Is Paul arrogant and needy here?
I think the reality is that Paul understood that we have to see real lives lived in the Jesus way if we’re to become mature disciples. It doesn’t happen by only reading the Bible and attending church gatherings. It doesn’t just happen from solid small group curriculum. We need to have physical, flesh-and-blood examples of people in our lives who give us something to imitate. This doesn’t mean that we put people on pedestals or try to find perfection. It means that if we’re not walking with others who are formed in Christ, we’re missing a primary opportunity for transformation and inspiration.
With our fiercely independent North American mindset, finding a “Paul” in our lives seems like a luxury. We just don’t have time or energy. But we do, friends, if we decide it matters enough.
Look around your life. Who are you drawn to because you see the compassion of Jesus, the gentleness of Jesus, and the wisdom of Jesus? Who are the people in your periphery that make you want to love God and others better when you’re around them? Perhaps now is the time to be more intentional about walking alongside instead of watching from afar. We all need that, at any age.
Jesus, help me identify disciples around me that I can intentionally learn from and grow with.
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
-Jesus (Matthew 7:24)
I was listening to a pandora music station as I cleaned my office this week from the summer buildup. Papers, packages, and a host of other clutter had invaded my home office, largely as a result of my children deciding that it was their favorite room in the house to destroy for no reason at all.
I’m a music guy, and so I loved having a great backdrop of music to my task. Instead of it being an hour of drudgery, it became a joy.
After a while though, I got lost in my cleaning and apparently the music stopped playing. I don’t even know when it happened, but it had been a while. I checked my laptop, and there was a little screen that had popped up on my browser.
Are you still listening?
So I stood there for a moment and pondered the question. Pandora asks that question because it’s easy for people to walk away and forget what they’ve been doing (and also because they want you to buy the premium version but that’s not the point so please stay focused here).
Are you still listening?
The question can be a little annoying if you’re still in the room. Of course I’m still listening!
But that’s not always true, is it? It’s entirely possible for me to be sitting in the room and not actually be aware of what’s playing in the background. That’s why the question matters. It forces the hearer to do something… to actually participate, and to decide if they want to continue to listen, over and over again. Anytime that there’s lack of activity or engagement, the program’s gentle question pops onto the screen
Are you still listening? Still here? Do you want to continue?
And you have to do something.
Isn’t that what discipleship is all about? Belief that leads to action. Faith is so much more than "I pushed play once and now I believe in Jesus. I guess I’m done.” Yet, the uncomfortable reality is that much of our lives are indistinguishable from a non-follower of Jesus. But if we look at the life of Jesus, belief is simply a springboard to a way of life where we are constantly moving, acting, and living differently in light of our trust in Jesus. And that’s what the word “believe" means in the Bible, anyways. It’s about an active trust, where your action shows that you’re trusting.
The Spirit prompts that question in me once in a while…
Are you still listening? Do something to show me you’re still listening.
This may sound silly, but it could be the most transformative practice you ever do… what if you chose to do one little thing every single day that shows that you’re still listening? What if you invited Jesus to give you creative nudges each day to do something that expresses the radical faith you have in him? Something that a normal person probably wouldn’t do as they go about their life?
Maybe you stop one day and truly pray for your neighbors.
Maybe you write a note or a text that encourages someone out of the blue.
Maybe you take a brief prayer walk and simply waste time with Jesus.
Maybe you choose to give your money away to care for the poor in some tangible way.
Maybe you turn your phone off for 2 hours so that you can be more present with people.
Maybe you read the perspective of a marginalized person in America and ask Jesus how he would respond.
Are you still listening? Click the button.
The transition from summer to fall is right on top of us. Many of us are busy making plans, getting back into school year rhythms, and trying to finish all of the items on our summer to-do list before we’re out of time. There is no better time than now to pause and ask ourselves if we’re listening to the voice of the One inviting us to live in the Kingdom… or if we’re so consumed with our tasks that we hadn’t even noticed what’s playing.
Jesus, open my ears, stir my spirit, and lead me toward your Kingdom today.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
-Jesus (John 10:27)
Do we think that God is intentionally difficult to understand?
The late Dallas Willard was a professor of philosophy at USC for most of his career. He was also one of the most influential Christian spiritual formation voices of our time, writing a number of profound books on following Jesus. He trained an entire generation of pastors toward spiritual depth (myself included). If you’ve never his work, check out his seminal book, The Divine Conspiracy.
There’s a story that a young man tells about his interaction with Dallas during a ride to the airport after a conference. The young man was trying to figure out a PhD program to pursue. This decision would affect where he lived, what specific career path he would be moving in, financial implications, and more. The decision-making deadline was right upon him. He shared with Dallas the difficulty and complexity of the decision and his anxiety at a lack of guidance from God though he had prayed about it many times. Dallas listened, asked a few questions, and then gave this response:
“Well, simply pray, and say: 'Lord, I do not believe that you mumble, so if you’d like to direct me, you need to do so before Friday. Otherwise, I will presume your blessing to make my own choice.'”
Whoa. That sounds terrifying. God would give us the freedom to make our own choice about important things?
I’ve known many Christians that approach life as if it’s a nearly impossible maze, and at every turn there is the way God wants and the way God is against, yet there’s little clarity on which is which. It suggests God’s will is one single path made of hundreds of little decisions that I could get wrong at any point and screw up forever. Therefore, there is a constant underlying anxiety that we are always about to get it wrong. Sleep well tonight, friends!
I’m not talking about moral decisions here of doing something loving vs. something selfish. We’re talking about decisions that have no clear moral implications.
What if God trusts us to be seeking after Jesus and acting accordingly? Maybe much of this is less about God’s will and more about our own. I remember, as a youth pastor, having senior high students in my office who were paralyzed about which college God wanted them to attend.
Have you spent some time praying for guidance?
Well, do you sense that you can serve Jesus more effectively at one school over the other?
Can you imagine yourself glorifying God at both schools?
I think so.
Then uh…. where do you want to go the most?
God’s will for us is not a needle in a haystack. God’s will is that we would trust in the way of Jesus and the rescue of Jesus, and live our lives openly, inviting others to join us in expressing God’s kingdom.
That doesn’t mean we don’t prayerfully discern. The flip side is dangerous too. To act as if everything we do is obviously God’s heart for us without prayer and discernment is arrogant and foolish. But if we have been set free, and we trust that disciples of Jesus can hear his voice and guidance…. then maybe we need to stop it with the constant fear and pressure.
From the beginning and through til now, God has entrusted humans to partner in God’s redemption purposes. Like Willard says in his book Hearing God,
God is not looking for people to endlessly command; God desires to form persons and a people who can bring to bear all their own redeemed creativity and will into the realization of the Reign of God on earth...
Everything we do can glorify Jesus. That’s the beauty of freedom and grace working in our lives.
Let’s seek God for guidance about decisions and constantly move in the best direction. Let’s be patient with those decisions and not rush. Let’s involve other trusted disciples in those decisions. And when no clear path emerges, maybe it’s not because God is staying silent and unreachable. Maybe it’s because God is saying… I trust you.
Is there a decision that you’re stuck on because you feel a lot of pressure? Maybe you need to hear God’s grace and trust.
Jesus, speak to me. And when it’s not audible, form me enough so that I can express your heart in everything.