What God Wants Most From You

God has one primary desire for you. It is greater than all others. What He wants most from you is you! He wants your heart. He wants all of you.

 

Just as God gives us many unique gifts but the best gift is Himself, so we can offer our gifts and acts of service, but the gift He desires most is YOU.

WillingToFollow

Remember that familiar conversation that Jesus had with Peter? It was so human. The question Jesus had for his close friend was, “Do you love me?”  Three times he asked that question. He eventually told Peter what to do, but Jesus locked in on what He wanted most from Peter – his love.

 

I’ve always been compelled to the famous quote of St. Augustine: “Love God and do what you will.” In other words, if you get that one right, the rest of life will follow suit. A soul who truly loves God will want to do what God loves. The New Testament says it like this: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”

 

On another occasion Jesus said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my commands.”

 

The evidence of your genuine love for God is revealed in your obedience to the teachings of Scripture. And as I’ve traveled through life, so many people refer to the idea of obedience as religion, or refer to me or other Christians as “religious.” And ok, at one level I know that’s true. But man I was never drawn to religion. I’m still not. I started following Jesus, not become part of a certain religion, but to follow a person who I believe is God, and who I also believe invites me into a personal relationship with Him. And over the last 15 plus years, that idea has been so real to me, over and over again.

 

When I seek to follow God authentically, I have found myself falling deeper in love with Christ. He’s become real to me, often in the most painful moments of life, or the  hardest knocks that have come. My awareness of Him is so prevalent in moments like that. But even in the day to day moments, I’ve learned to see Him, find Him, and even connect with Him deeply along the way through life.

 

The reason God made you and me is because He desires to be WITH us…every day, every moment, and then forever. And I love that we don’t have to wait. It’s as if each day God is saying, “I would like to spend today with you.”

 

We can’t make ourselves love God by sheer willpower.

willpower

However, we can choose each day, each moment, to be with Him. We can ask Him to spend the day with us as we rise in the morning, teach us truth and guide us as we travel through the day, and help us to see Him and His beauty that surrounds us all the time. We can invite God into our work day, ask Him to change us, empower us to forgive others who may not deserve it, prompt us to do good to those in need or to give sacrificially or generously to someone less fortunate. We can also thank Him for those special moments we have with our kids, or in a friendship or in our marriage.

 

Again, we can’t make ourselves love God, but we can come to know Him better, and because God is love, the more I get to know Him personally (not simply about Him) I will grow in my love for Him. Love is always a product of knowing God. And each day we can know Him and love Him a little more.

 

All of this also points to our primary calling and purpose in life – and that calling can be lived out every day of our lives, no matter who we are. This is the invitation you and I have, to be with God so that we get to know Him, and ultimately so we fall deeper and deeper in love with Him.

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Holden Turns 6-years old and…

On March 7th, my youngest son Holden turned 6. And just like any 6 year old boy, the day was a special day. But on this day, there was more going on than would be expected. Holden was diagnosed with autism just before his 2 year old birthday, and so for the last 4 years, our family has been on an unpredictable and challenging journey.

 

One of the most difficult things for Cheri and me revolves around the mystery of what Holden is thinking. We don’t get to hear his thoughts in words because Holden doesn’t have the ability to talk at this stage in his journey. We long to hear his voice. We long to know what he is thinking. We just can’t wait to hear him express his emotions, and his affections too. To date, we haven’t ever heard Holden say, “I love you” or “I miss you” or anything of the like. And that hurts our heart. For us, but more so, for him.

 

For a few years now, we have hired a consultant/therapist (Kathy) who has helped us in this journey in uncountable ways. She is a certified RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) consultant. One aspect of her work involves teaching us how to cultivate an environment that stimulates brain development in Holden. And we’ve done our best to foster this. But to be honest, it’s been very hard at times to stay motivated. Why? Well, for many reasons, but one big one is because we see very little, if any, progress with the visible eye. Sometimes in honest moments, we just wonder, “Is this doing anything?” “Is this working?” In short, we start to doubt if the process that we’ve ascribed to is actually going to do what we hope and expect.

 

And then along the way, we have these moments. They are moments of wonder and beauty. They fill your heart with hope and even draw your heart to God’s heart. These moments may seem small to the onlooker, but when you live in waiting, and at times doubt the process, and then you have that moment that infuses your spirit with life, man there’s nothing like it!

 

And so one of those moments came on the week of Holden’s 6th birthday. Up to this point, Holden has mimicked a few words that he’s heard us say, but he’s never used a word that was congruent to the moment and used it with the right meaning. But on this day, Holden walks up to mom and (drum roll please) he said, “Peetzha.”

 

It may sound simple to you that our son said pizza, but for us, that was extraordinary. It was a moment of wonder and beauty. A moment of hope and encouragement. And it reminded us that our faithfulness in the process is working. Holden’s development is going slower than we would desire, but God reminded us on Holden’s birthday, that He is walking with us, walking with Holden, and that what we are doing with him and for his development is without a doubt working!

 

What all of this also reminded me of is the spiritual life. There is a process for our development. God is at work in our lives. He invites us to be participants. At times we doubt. At times we wonder if what we are doing is working. But again, development takes time, and it’s often hard to see with a visible eye. But you know what, if we pay close enough attention, God will bless us with these seemingly small moments, which can become moments of great wonder and beauty and hope. They remind us that walking with God, doing our part, being faithful in the journey, that all of it is worth it. And that the God who began a good work in us, will be faithful to complete. Keep at it. God is working. And along the way, pay attention to the small moments of wonder and beauty and hope. And then, celebrate them like crazy, and more so celebrate the God who makes it all possible!

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Where Peace and Happiness Are Found

Thomas Merton that finding our unique self is the problem on which all our existence, peace, and happiness depend. This pursuit couldn’t be more central to the human journey because if we find our true and unique self, we’re on our way to finding God. And if we find God in His truest form, we will have also found our most authentic self.

 

I will concede that finding one’s true self doesn’t make any spiritual sense if his or her uniqueness weren’t of immeasurable value to our Creator. But every human being is of unfathomable value to God. You matter. Your uniqueness matter. And your quest to know that very person in the truest and purest form, that matters!

 

The way I sometimes hear Christians talk about spiritual growth, or growing in Christlikeness, bothers me. Partly because somehow they see this pursuit as reducing our uniqueness. Are we to become more and more like Christ? Of course. But are we also to become more and more like our true self? Again, of course. I know that is hard to reconcile, or even make sense of for some, but our individual expression and displaying of Christ will always come through our own unique personhood. Author David Benner writes: “Paradoxically, as we become more and more like Christ we become more uniquely our own true self.”

 

Many people pursue uniqueness in all the wrong ways, and what results is they try to CREATE a self rather than RECEIVE the very gift of our SELF-in-CHRIST. This is very important to understand. To become our true and unique self is not something we make or establish or create. Identity is never reduced to a creation. Identity is always a discovery. To find our most authentic and truest identity is forever a gift from our Creator.

 

The human desire that we all have for uniqueness is a desire given to us by God, which makes it a spiritual desire. That desire for authenticity is a longing embedded into our souls by God. These yearnings aren’t simply psychological, thus being insignificant to the spiritual journey. These longings for authenticity and uniqueness are responses from our spirits to God’s Holy Spirit. In other words, God’s Spirit is wooing us to come back home to find our true identity. Let’s make no mistake – God longs for you to become your most unique self, because your truest self is rooted in Christ. God is seeking to restore you to that uniqueness that He originally created you as. And that all leads us to the conclusion that to discover your destiny involves finding and living into your true and unique self.

 

The human journey is a journey of becoming. And to become who we were designed to be involves an ongoing transformational process. That process involves taking personal responsibility to engage in three pursuits. First, to pursue knowing God. That means we seek to know Him personally in the depths of our being, which involves intentionally carving out time to be with Him and open up the deepest part of you to Him. Second, we must pursue knowing ourselves. This begins by learning how we are known by God. What does God think of us? How does He feel about us? What do we know about ourselves from God? And then this journey can go as deep as we allow it to go. And third, we must pursue the discovery of our identity and calling that is found our groundedness in Christ.
I’ll be writing more blogs soon to continue this conversation, so stay tuned.  

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The Surprisingly Controversial Topic of Self-Awareness

To become a follower of Jesus Christ means that you are actively seeking to follow a self-sacrificing Christ. The New Testament recounts Christ’s own words that “the Son of Man (Jesus) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus also said that to follow Him, we must “deny ourselves and take up our cross daily” (Luke 9:23). On yet another occasion, Jesus tells his followers that it is in losing our self that we truly find out self (Matthew 10:39). I could go on, as there are a plethora of other quotes from Jesus that reveal how serious He was about calling his followers to a self-sacrificing way of living, a way of living for others and not for self.

 

So then, why is it that we hear swirls and swirls of conversation throughout Christianity about the importance of self-awareness, or “self-discovery”? Why focus so much on ourselves when God asks us to focus on others? Great question, glad you asked it.

 

Although this has become increasingly pervasive in the Christian dialogue, I know there are many Christians that hear terms like this, or even the words identity or authenticity, and they immediately resist. They often jump to conclusions about how “humanistic” or “self-focused” those ideas are. They have one compelling reason after another that explains why Jesus Himself would not have aligned with or “liked” these ideas. Essentially, many people dismiss concepts like self-awareness as mere psychobabble or “culturally influenced Christianity.” And so at one level, perhaps what they’ve experienced, and how they’ve seen others use these terms, is an accurate assessment.

 

However, I think these concepts get a bad rap – not because they are inherently flawed – but because flawed people misapply them. If self discovery is motivated by a narcissistic quality of morbid introspection alongside nonexistent extrospection, then the outcome will inevitably be in opposition to the call from Jesus to be a living sacrifice. It will be me-heavy rather than others-heavy.  

 

But if these concepts are applied as they are designed to be, I believe they are not only central to the human journey, but central to the life of a follower of Jesus Christ as well. Even in the very text I mentioned above (see Matthew 10), Jesus speaks just as much about self-discovery as he does about self-sacrifice. Interesting, huh? Don’t just take my word for it. Go back and read it for yourself if you don’t believe me.

 

A second point of clarity is this – spiritual transformation is not possible if we don’t deal with both the problems and the assets that come with the SELF. The goal of the spiritual journey in the life of a Jesus-follower revolves around the transformation of the SELF as it relates to full surrender to God and His design for our lives. And I would argue what so many ancient and modern spiritual – and in fact Christian – thinkers, authors and theologians argue. That to know God requires that one know our self as well. In other words, to discover our true identity in Christ (See 2 Corinthians 5:17), we must know both our self and God, BECAUSE the self is where we meet God. And in fact, if we are to live out our calling or vocation, both quests are critical. And not only are both quests necessary, they are inseparably connected.

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The Protege Playbook – 3 Responses to 3 Questions

Here’s an excerpt from an interview I did about my latest book, The Protege Playbook.

Protege A Missio Playbook

1. What particular need are you addressing?

I believe that the texture and velocity of the movement of Christ depends on the texture and velocity of the leaders leading it. The texture of our souls and our character matters more than anything else, and I just don’t see enough focus in leadership put on what kind of person we are becoming. As ministry leaders, our primary conversation ought to be about the formation of our character. I’ve heard people ask what is the chief end of the Christian life, or what is the goal of the Christian life. And then of course there are many answers – like “to make disciples” or to “evangelize the world” or to “love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with God.” There are many good answers that are pretty much all encompassed into conversation. But the real essence of what the movement of Christ is all about is this – our goal is to be formed into the image of Jesus Christ for the sake of others. That’s it. That’s the chief end. And that’s about our texture. But man, that’s not what we seem to be most focused on.  And then by velocity, I don’t mean to simply imply speed as if to say the faster we go the better. In this book, I’m addressing core components that help us advance the mission of God further and faster, but again, all rooting ourselves in who we are becoming for the sake of others. It all starts with character, and from that place the mission and movement of Jesus advances. And the church NEEDS to be focused more on that, especially when it comes to the formation of young leaders.

 

 2. What is distinctive about this idea and/or your approach to leader development and formation?

Well, The Protégé Playbook offers an approach to people investment. In other words, how are we allowing other people to invest in our lives, and then how are we going about investing in the lives of others. This is essential to advancing the movement of Christ in our world. Truth is, the transforming power of the Gospel travels from person to person, one life to another life. And again, it just doesn’t seem like we hone in that all too well across the board. We give tons of energy in the church world to the Sunday experience, and by all means, we should. It’s very important. However, when I look at Jesus’ ministry, that wasn’t where he spent most of his energy. I know, I know. People say, “It was a different culture.” But I don’t buy that because when you look at pretty much everything Jesus did, taught or said, we don’t apply that same principle. So when we take an honest look at Jesus, at least from my vantage point, he was relational and personal and incarnational. He walked with people in the every day grind of life. He talked to them on dusty roads and at the side of wells. He spent time in people’s homes and in honest conversations about what really matters in life. And so in essence, he lived his life as a mentor and disciple-maker. And that’s the heartbeat of this book. It takes the reader on a six week journey into discovering how this all plays itself out in life. By the end of the reading experience, my hope is that people will have clearer picture about how to invest their life, where to spend their time, and what to actually do with people who desire to be mentored. And along the way, we travel into areas that are important to guide people into as they seek to grow into Christ-like character.  

 

3. What are the top few things you want readers to take away from your book?

The Protégé Playbook isn’t just a book of potentially good ideas or methods. It’s an arsenal of time-tested development tools that I’ve used personally in working with emerging leaders for the last decade. I’ve tried to wrap 10 years of learnings in my experience into this little book. My hope is that people would walk away (1) with a vision to become someone with something to say, (2) with increased awareness of their own growth areas and then to be able to identify specific action steps for growth to happen, (2) with a deep conviction that leaders should not do life or leadership on their own, and that they need guidance from people who have been where they want to go, (3) with a renewed conviction about what drives healthy leadership and to know how to better become a relationally healthy leader, and finally (4) with increased knowledge on how to get on the path to become a leader who is experiencing real transformation at a character and soul level. That’s the kind of leaders we desperately need leading local churches and ministries around the globe. And that’s why I wrote this book, to help advance THAT conversation.

 

 

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Resisting the Motto – Just Do It

Resisting the Motto – Just Do It

You’ve probably seen statistics about how rich we are in America, and I know it’s so true. We are blessed, and I am very grateful, truly, for where I live. We do in fact live in an incredibly wealthy country. You’ve probably also seen statistics about how rich you are personally (at least compared to the rest of the world). And again, there is so much truth embedded into that reality, and I’m very grateful. However, if you’re anything like me, I certainly don’t feel rich…far from it. Granted, I’m a pastor and I didn’t exactly get into my career field for the money, but still.

I bet many of you who are reading this feel similarly to me – that money is a bit tight, and that you wish you had more for other things you want to buy or have. And perhaps you even pray that God provides more, especially in this Christmas season. I’ve prayed that many times, and on occasion God has provided in answering those prayers.

But something about this endless pursuit of more is alarming. Let me confess something personally. I have a really hard time letting go of what I subtly perceive as My Hard-Earned Money. I don’t really like the idea of giving my money to someone else or spending it on someone else. In other words, I generally want to use all the money I have on myself and my family. And when I do bite the bullet and give to others, even then I am confronted with my selfish motives (sad but true). Now I get it, and I know this isn’t right – and there is a disturbing truth hidden in my generalized greed. But stay with me without judging me too harshly yet.

You see, when I have stepped into an opportunity to give (whether it was to someone in need, tithing to my local church, giving toward a cause or a charity, etc.), I have experienced joy in the giving. Yet, when the next opportunity comes around, you would think I’d be all excited to get that joy “hit” again, but no. It’s still hard to let go of the money. Argh! Why doesn’t this get easier every time you give?

In moments like these, I not only realize how attached I am to earthly things, but also how detached I am from a core commitment to emulate the heart of God, which in its essence, is a giving heart. And though these moments are hard to be honest about, I feel compelled to engage the deeper realities of my heart, rather than resist the underlying meaning of such chronic closed handedness. And these unflattering reflections of my heart remind me how important it is for me to choose to give, even when I don’t feel like it. Why? Well, for a lot of reasons. But for starters because it cultivates deeper trust in God. It helps me practice greater surrender and submission to God. And although I may not be the most cheerful giver, at least I will glean joy from the act of worship it is to offer what is ultimately God’s anyways.

There is one thing that has helped me more than anything else in this journey of learning how to live and be generous. It is rooted in a greater understanding of the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul speaks about money, and connects it to a gospel perspective. He doesn’t command us to “be generous” simply because that is the “Christian thing to do.” He challenges his readers to think about and view money with a radically different perspective, what I would call a gospel perspective.

In essence, Paul says this – if we’re having trouble with money (we’re anxious about it, clinging to it too tightly, etc.), then it’s rooted in our lack of knowing, or one might say, the lack of deep and adequate understanding of the gospel. If we get anxious about our money, or if we find ourselves overly needing of money and constantly wanting more, then we need to rethink our understanding of the gospel.

If we really understand the Cross, we will see the profound nature of this truth – that Jesus Christ became poor so that through HIS POVERY we could become rich. If we really see this, we cannot edge ourselves away from being generous. Generosity is embedded into the gospel in such a way that if we really get it, then we have no other choice or response than to live with increasing generosity.

In essence, Paul is telling us that if you’re not openhanded, then you don’t really know the Christ who died for you at the ground of your being.  You haven’t grasped the gospel profoundly enough or rightly. If you had, then your unwavering response would be to live as generously as you could stand, constantly striving to give to others, and carrying the eternal perspective that only the Cross brings.

I urge you to remember that we’re all in process in life, and so this conversation isn’t one that should make us feel shame, but instead a conversation to move us towards clarity – of the nature and profundity of the gospel. Right gospel understanding cultivates a growing and deepening way of living that generosity flows inevitably and abundantly.  When we experience God’s remarkable grace at the deepest level through Jesus Christ, change doesn’t come small.  It comes radically.

I have learned along the way that when I’m not living generously, the Bible teaches that money is still my security. When I am not living openhandedly, I’m reminded that I don’t really know that Jesus is my Savior at the deepest level of my being. And man, I keep finding myself living in the struggle and need to depend on God’s strength and not my own.

The biblical writers don’t just tell us to “do this right now,” (implying, in our own strength). These writers don’t say what Nike says, “Just do it.” There’s a greater context and deeper understanding that is laced throughout the Scriptures and which specifically applies to generosity. We can’t just go “be like Jesus” as if it’s in our power. Instead, the Bible calls us to admit that we can’t be like Jesus and even that we can’t live generously (by ourselves). When we really understand Scripture, we understand that this is a journey of G0d-dependence. It’s a quest we’re all called into, to let go, to trust God, to submit to his will and purpose. Will we become better versions of ourselves if we rise to the level of trust God calls us to? No.  Will we become more enfolded into His heart and being?  Yes!

God doesn’t want our money, but He does want our hearts. And when we’re challenged to give, what’s really happening is this – our hearts and lives are being called out and tested – will we trust God with our money and with our lives? Will we lean on Him, depend on His strength, rely on his power that is at work in us? And to access that strength and power, we must see the Cross for what it really is – a picture of ultimate sacrifice, a picture of God who is so rich but made himself so poor so that we could possess what truly matters. Jesus takes your place on the Cross. Jesus sacrificed His life so you would find life. Jesus died so you wouldn’t have to die. And when you really grasp this, you will be transformed. And when you are transformed, you begin to experience the loosening grip of money on your heart and you begin to live generously for the One who has been so extravagantly generous to you!

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My Struggles with Prayer

I don’t know if you can relate, but though I WANT to pray regularly, consistently, passionately, and with great faith, I often find myself distracted, doubting, inconsistent, and irregular in my prayer life.

prayer delete

I know, I know – I’m a pastor. And pastors are supposed to pray more than anyone, and maybe you even think pastors should be “masters of prayer.” Perhaps many pastors are that, but I’m not. In fact, I’m even a little hesitant to share this struggle because I know people think this shouldn’t be the case. But here I am, right in the spiritual struggles like everyone else.

 

Like I said, I find myself very distracted when I pray. My mind thinks about many things. If I pray silently, man it’s worse. And when I try to pray out loud, often, I suddenly realize I’m not praying anymore. And sometimes, minutes go by until I realize this. Weird, right? And so there are two spiritual practices, or practical habits you could say, that I’ve adopted that have helped me the most.

 

First, most days, I write out my prayers in a prayer journal. To be honest, I don’t really like journaling. For starters, my mind goes way faster than my hand. And so I get a little bored. What I often do is not write full sentences buy words or ideas or phrases that get at what I’m praying about.

 

A second practice I’ve adopted is praying through the use of an acronym. I know there are a couple I’ve heard about that people use like A.C.T.S, but I just kind of came up with my own – it’s P.R.A.Y.E.R. Creative huh? haha

 

I start with Praise (and Thanksgiving). 

This sets the right tone in my prayers, focuses my mind and heart on who God is, and it often expands my faith.

The R is Repent (and Confess). I know we’re forgiven already because of Christ’s death and resurrection, however, the Bible teaches us to repent (not just once in our first decision to follow Christ and receive him as Savior, but all along the way. There is something powerful about confessing our sins and struggles to God. There’s something powerful about taking time to really think about turning away from something you’re doing (or not doing) that is keeping you at a distance from God. Sometimes I find myself repenting of good things, that I’ve made ultimate things, or that I’ve put my worth in more than God.

A is simply ASK. The Bible tells us to ask…and it will be given. I try to ask with faith, trusting whatever answer God gives. I try to ask faithfully for what God is putting on my heart to pray for. I also try to ask persistently.

Y is for YIELD. Everyday, my goal is to yield to God. That means, I want His agenda, His will, His purpose. And I have to fight (every day) to not make it about me, my agenda, my will, and my own purpose. This is hard, and so I know I must have a daily moment (actually way more) to yield, or surrender to God. I NEED to point my being toward God.

E is for EMOTIONS. This may not settle as easily as the others, but I have learned the utter importance of taking time to express my emotions to God. Sometimes that involves joy and gratitude, other times sadness and disappointment. On occasion, I notice that I’m angry or irritable, and I’ve learned to pay closer attention to this. Those emotions are more often than not clues that are telling me that something needs to be paid closer attention to. And often it’s even revealing of what God is wanting to do in me or how he’s want to change me. I’ve read tons of books on this topic, one of which was a second read through very recently – The Cry of the Soul (by Dan Allender) – amazing book. Hard to read in some ways, but incredibly insightful. I read Gary Smalley’s new book on Anger recently too. Great foundational book on that topic.

R is for Receive (and Respond). What does God want me to receive (what is he saying to me, what does he want me to just sit in, etc.). And then, upon receiving a word from God, a command, a encouragement, or whatever, then I must ask, “Ok, how am I going to respond?” This reminds me that living as a disciple of Jesus can be distilled down to hearing and obeying, or one might say being “receptive” and “responsive”.

I wish I could say I do this EVERY DAY, but I don’t. Recently I’ve been trying to do it every day, and truly I can say that every day I do walk through this acronym and pray out loud to God (or in a journal), my soul is in a different place. My soul is in a more centered place.

 

Praise (and Thanksgiving)

Repent (and Confession)

Ask

Yield

Emotions

Receive (and Respond)

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Vulnerable When We Least Expect It

In 1996, I started college at the University of South Carolina. Life was going very well for me, as I was fortunate enough to enter these years on a baseball scholarship to be a Gamecock! But not long into my first semester, my life took a radical turn. Not only did I make a choice to become a fully devoted follower of Christ, but within weeks I started to sense a calling to vocational ministry. This was not in the plans before. In fact, I was on my way to dental school. At least that’s what I desired.

Though I didn’t understand all of what I was getting into, this calling was distinct. And it was birthed from my own experience of life because there were people, including my parents first and foremost, who became my own spiritual guides. These instrumental people offered counsel, support, and in their own faith in God, I was envisioned of what a life of faith is really about. And as college began, I quickly realized that I did not want what many others wanted (i.e. to party and have fun, etc.). I wanted something more meaningful. I wanted to live a life – even during my college years – that counted. I wanted to make a positive difference in people’s lives. And ultimately, I wanted people to know the God I was getting to know.

All of this led me to “enter the ministry.” And really, when I graduated college in 2000, I had already been doing ministry (I was selected to be the chaplain of the baseball team, and also the president of FCA, led a Bible study for the baseball team). And now it is getting close to 20 years since I’ve been “doing ministry.” That’s a scary thought to myself, but anyways…

Along the way, I have had some success, and of course I have also failed on many occasions. In the midst of both the successes and failures, I have learned many lessons about life and God and ministry itself. In many respects, it’s easier to learn when you fail because something obviously went wrong and you’re forced to learn something so you don’t make that mistake, or fail in that way, again.

But in the successes is where I have found the most hidden and often surprising lessons about life. One lesson I have learned, but really keep learning, is that when life is going well, when success is happening, we become most vulnerable. In words, sometimes during the seasons of life and ministry that are outwardly most successful, we become most inwardly vulnerable.

I’m reminded of Jesus here because what he did during his ministry was he prayed. Ok that may seem obvious, but wait. If you really ask yourself whether you pray more in hard times or in good times, I presume you might say what I would say – I pray much more fervently in hard times, when things aren’t going well, when I’m experiencing heartache or hardship. And in the good times, when I’m having success and when things are going well, I am less apt to pray. I know, I’m a pastor, and this shouldn’t be true. But I’m being honest, and so it is true. Don’t want it to be true, but that’s what has happened many times over.

And THAT REALITY is what makes us most vulnerable inwardly. In 15 plus years of ministry, one simple conclusion I have come to is that ministry can be really hard. But you know what, so can life. Life can be very difficult. We struggle and we are tempted. We face challenges all the time and waver on what decisions to make. Or we make poor decisions…over and over again. And we get stuck in life.

What did Jesus do in the chaos and busyness of his life? You guessed it, he prayed. Jesus prayed when life was crowded and draining it all out of him. After he began his ministry and the demands of his time and energy increased, the Bible says “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Why? Well, one big reason that I believe he did this is because he knew that sometimes seasons of ministry that are outwardly most successful are inwardly most vulnerable.

So when life is hard, pray. And when life is going well, pray. When you face important decisions, when you’re frustrated and discouraged, pray. When you are effective and successful, and when life is all going so well, express your gratitude to God, but resist the temptation to live life on your own. Take time to separate yourself from the crowdedness and busyness of life and pray. Pray fervently and passionately. Pray boldly and humbly. And make your prayers not just about asking God for something, but take time to praise God, worship him, thank him, and adore him. And then take time to surrender your own will to his will. Pay attention to his presence in your life, his activity, his voice. Prayer at its core is about being attentive to God’s presence, and then responding to what He’s saying. And if you life like this, you will live a life that is empowered by the Holy Spirit of God who lives inside of you and is present all around you.

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