Tag Archives: thirty thousand days

A Spiritual Personality Test

Before there was Enneagram or Myers-Briggs, there was Jesus.

When a stickler for rule-keeping asked him (prosaically) about the most important rule of all, Jesus’ answer went so far above and beyond that it could easily answer a dozen (better) questions.

Let’s see.

  • What is God looking for from humans?
  • What is the key to eternal life?
  • What is the key to abundant life?
  • What, frankly, is the meaning of life?
  • What are the most essential aspects of the human condition? (Emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical, and social—heart, soul, mind, strength, and neighborhood.)
  • Define worship.
  • What percentage of a person’s life does God require?
  • Where should we begin?

Here’s what Jesus actually said.

“Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” —Mark 12:28-31

I find that the more I think about this rubric, the more I see a grid for understanding how I’m wired, how each of us uniquely connects with God. All of us, I think, have a sort of spiritual personality that inclines us in one direction or another. If we conduct a “strengths finder” inventory of our devotional life, we can see how it plays out. Some of us, for example, lean towards the cerebral; some of us are more action-oriented. For everyone, it starts with the heart.

You may be aware of Richard Foster’s work on spiritual formation. His organization, Renovaré, put together a gold mine of a book called Devotional Classics, a collection of excerpts from 2,000 years of Christian thinkers. It’s interesting how Foster divides these sojourners into what he calls six “streams” of spiritual formation:

  1. The Prayer-Filled Life
  2. The Virtuous Life
  3. The Spirit-Empowered Life
  4. The Compassionate Life
  5. The Word-Centered Life
  6. The Sacramental Life

With Foster’s categories in mind, I took another look at the Great Commandment and saw a lot of overlap. While Foster peels off the Spirit-fueled life as one way of knowing God, I’d argue that the Holy Spirit empowers every way to worship. All of our avenues to knowing God (heart and soul, mind and strength, loving neighbors) depend upon the power of our Counselor, Comforter, Keeper.  Keeping Him always at the center, there are a lot of ways to worship. Where do we begin?

Worship, the prayer-centered life, a Godward orientation. This is the realm of heart and soul—longing, praising, singing. As I put it in Thirty Thousand Days,

Worship, boiled down, is love, quite different qualitatively from respect, or loyalty. Love usually begins with emotion but is sustained by choice, nurtured by tenderness and attention, and carefully guarded. But many, offering numb obedience, call it love, equating a tow-the-line mentality with devotion. It is true that God desires obedience (“to obey is better than sacrifice,” according to I Samuel 15:22), but also clear that he desires deeply our very hearts.

“Love me with all your heart” —Deuteronomy, Matthew, Mark, Luke

“Serve me with all your heart” —Deuteronomy, Joshua, I Samuel

“Trust me with all your heart” —Proverbs

“Seek me with all your heart” —Jeremiah

“Praise me with all your heart” —Psalms

“Follow me with all your heart” —I Kings

And finally, the right context for obedience, “Obey me with all your heart” —Deuteronomy, Psalms

Furthermore, we are instructed to have a heart that is soft toward God, yearns for God, pounds for God, is fully devoted, is stirred, steadfast, secure, and undivided. We are “above all else” to guard our hearts, to keep our hearts pure, to rend our hearts, to be glad and rejoice with all our hearts, and if we have strayed, to return to him with all our hearts, to treasure his word in our hearts, and to cultivate sincerity of heart.

An abundant life, then, is a life lit by love, a life lived fully from the heart.

Some of the writers who explore this intersection of heart and soul include Julian of Norwich, Frank Laubach, E.M. Bounds, and Brennan Manning—not necessarily a group known for their systematic theology, but for their amazing, emulate-able prayer lives.

Spirit-Filled Life-2

When you live from the heart, it flows upward, to God, but it also flows outward, to neighbors. I think the natural overlap of loving God and others is compassion. Our love of God is humbling, awe-struck; we see God’s love of humanity and join Him. A meek understanding of ourselves in light of God’s mercy gives us empathy and makes us, like Christ, gracious. A couple writers who exemplify this compassionate life are John Perkins and Rich Mullins, people whose heart-love for both God and neighbor shines.

Spirit-Filled Life-3

This vertical-horizontal life must be grounded in knowing God to be sustainable. After all, we cannot worship whom we do not know.  As A.W. Tozer said,

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God…

We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.

The time we spend studying God is one of the greatest predictors of our spiritual vitality and Christlikeness. Whether we naturally tend to relish intellectual pursuits or not, we can’t afford to skimp on time with Him. Too many Christians, I think, neglect this path of loving God, and as a result, too many churches stall out, only ever an inch deep. But God is endlessly fascinating, infinitely surprising, and quite pleased to reveal Himself to seekers. (See Psalm 25.)

Knowing God requires studying Him, asking questions, seeking answers. We press into Him, never satisfied, and listen with rapt attention. It is an act of mental devotion and spiritual discipline, loving God with both our mind and our strength. Primarily, it is Bible study—daily, sustained attention on His Word.

If you need inspiration, dive into Tozer, J.I. Packer, J.P. Moreland, Jen Wilkin. Check out the Bible Project’s through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, complete with fun videos explaining all 66 books of the Bible.

Spirit-Filled Life-4

Loving God with all of our strength is active. The mental side of action is study, while neighbor-oriented action sends us out on mission. When we apply strength to neighbor love, we live set apart—holy—lives. We live purposefully—seeking justice, speaking truth, proclaiming the gospel. Knowing that “we are not our own, we are bought at a price” gives incentive to worship sacrificially, setting aside, as Hebrews puts it, “the sin that so easily entangles” and running “with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1-3) It is the kind of radical, just life modeled by Martin Luther King, Jr. or poured out by any number of faithful missionaries, often at the expense of their lives.

Spirit-Filled Life-9

Passionately pursuing God heart and soul, loving your neighbor with all of your strength, living self-disciplined lives—all of this can take a toll. When weariness sets in, the first to go is strength. Inevitably, our time with the Lord suffers, our love for neighbor dries up, and finally, we lose heart. What’s left?

When Michael and I hit our most weary moment in ministry, we were given the gift of rest, an extended sabbatical away from our hectic day to day business. Even in that precious time away, we were initially so tired that I found it hard to pray, hard to read. But God used that quiet season to restore my heart, through Sabbath, stillness, and contemplation. Instead of doing, I was allowed simply to be. Instead of studying, I was permitted to listen, and to see.

This last pathway to worship is perhaps the least intuitive in our ADHD culture: the quiet interplay between mind and soul. Some of my favorite teachers here include Eugene Peterson, Annie Dillard, and C.S. Lewis, people who took the necessary time to be still, and know that He is God (Psalm 46).

Spirit-Filled Life-7

What happens when we still our hearts, look up? It leads us right back to worship, and refills our hearts.

Maybe you can easily identify which way of worship comes most naturally to you, and which areas are more of a struggle. What would it look like to learn to love God in new ways?  The more we give God of ourselves, the more we are repaid (heaped up, pressed down, running over).

Who wouldn’t want more of Him?

Called and Keeping Place: Two Very Short Book Reviews

This month I simultaneously listened to Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home and paged through Ryan Pemberton’s Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again. It was a fascinating combo platter. Both Michel and Pemberton found themselves far from their places of origin and longing for home. Both explore the geographical cost of discipleship. Both use story to tease out theology. And both were terrific.

Having just returned from Oxford (Pemberton’s stomping ground) and having so recently published a book with the working title “Homesick” (ultimately Thirty Thousand Days), I couldn’t not read either of these books. Indeed, there were so many familiar moments in each one that a fly on the wall might have heard me yelp in recognition.

Here is a teaser for each, for those of you looking for your next good read. Be sure to check out the links to their respective websites, too.

keeping-place-11Keeping Place.  As one who is demonstrably preoccupied with Home and homesickness, I loved this book. Michel’s depth of historical study and the fascinating connections she makes between ideas and moments in time are so impressive. She writes like a scholar but not necessarily for scholars—she teases out universal themes and relates them to all of us. I listened to the audio version, so there is much I did not catch (a hazard of audio books), but I enjoyed it enough to covet a paper copy for my shelf, one to dog-ear and underline. From her early discussion of “nostalgia” (did you know homesickness was once considered a medical condition?) to her closing chapter on our forever Home, this is a great exploration of the human condition.

Called by Ryan J. PembertonCalled.  Fast paced, thought provoking, entertaining, and scattered throughout with great nuggets. Pemberton is a great storyteller, and a very likable protagonist. You have the feeling he and his wife would make great friends. There are plenty of Lewis stories for Narnia lovers, publishing misadventures for aspiring authors, and reflections on discerning God’s will for anyone. Another one to keep and refer back to (or re-read) in the future, whenever the idea of following God in crazy directions is daunting and the way forward is unclear.

Sojourner

Imagine you slept last night with the window cracked, and this morning as the sky grew light, you heard a persistent bird on a tree branch outside. It must have been a new bird in the neighborhood, because it was a tune you hadn’t heard, one haunting melody whistled again and again. Imagine you got up and showered, still with that simple tune floating around in your head, but as soon as you started the car and the radio came to life, there it was again: the exact same notes. Weird, right? But then imagine you arrived at work, and the person in the next cubicle was humming it. And then your neighbor’s phone. And a barista, whistling it three hours later. Twilight Zone, for sure.

Sometimes I have that sensation. Multiple conversations with different people revert back to the same theme. Online chatter swirls around it. Cultural events echo it once more.

Everything is connected.

This week my déjà vu comes in the haunting song of fractured identity. I hear it in individuals: in the broken heart of my young anorexic friend and the lament of an uprooted divorcé. I hear it across society: in the rampant gender wars, our pervasive dysphorias, the immigrant’s plight, and the perpetual segregation of our people. I hear it in the church—questions of vocation and purpose and roles. It’s everywhere.

Who am I? Who are you? How are we meant to live?

It seems to me so striking that our never-fully-answered howl goes up before a God who names himself simply, “I am.”

He alone is content with that plain statement, and does not wriggle under his own self-examination. He needs no qualifiers, no sentence-finishers. His name itself is complete. We get from two words a picture of God as content, confident, and wholly enough. He is not grasping, as we are, or ashamed, boastful or fractured. He just is.

God is so very different from us. We hate ourselves, compare ourselves, puff up, put down, distort, wear masks, deceive, exclude, reject, divide. Almost all of our national dysfunctions come down to our discontented, broken identity. Who are we? We have no idea.

I love that throughout the Bible God’s people identify themselves as “sojourners.” They are the wandering ones, far from home, but heading, always, to Zion. They’re quick on their feet, ready at a moment’s notice to pack it in and head out. They are the original RVers. Here are a people who might as well name themselves “Homesick,” whose primary attributes include longing and waiting. GoRVingLogo_11_203x153-2

They know: it is easier to cling to God when your hands are empty. It’s easier to be rich in love when you’re poor in spirit. It’s easier to resist the quicksand prejudices of culture when this world is not your home. They hold loosely; they travel light. And God, for His part, sojourns with them.

As Jen Pollock Michel points out, God’s first home among His people was not temple, but tabernacle. Think of it—God living in a Coleman tent. He gifts His people with His presence, a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night—and with them, He hits the road. He’s not afraid of wilderness; in fact, He almost seems to prefer it. (As any camper can tell you, in the wilderness you can really see the stars.)

Maybe the sojourner identity is the one great solution to our culture’s many woes. I am not, after all, Queen of the Castle. I am Child of the King. (And just like that, there go pettiness, scorn, self-centeredness and pride.)

I am Not Home Yet, therefore, I do not have more rights than you. (There go nativism, suspicion, hostility, and flotillas of homeless refugees.)

I am not Defined by my Past; I am Defined by my Father. Therefore, I don’t have to grovel like a worm, I can relax as Beloved. On the other hand, I am not In Search of a New and Better Self. I am Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. (And now we’re whole.)

Listen to the people around you speak. Do you hear that same tune piping over the loudspeaker of someone’s fractured heart?

“I’m the black sheep of my family.”

“I’m trying to find myself.”

“I just don’t fit anywhere.”

And then listen to David.

You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

 For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

 My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

 Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.

 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!

How vast is the sum of them!

 Were I to count them,

they would outnumber the grains of sand—

when I awake, I am still with you….

Search me, God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

—Psalm 139

Photo on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re/0ab415″>Visualhunt</a&gt;

Billy Graham is 99

My husband can do a mean Billy Graham impersonation.  His voice drops an octave, his eyes start to twinkle, and in his best Southern accent, he implores, “Come on down, just come as you are.  Come on down.”  Billy, as you’ve probably heard, hit 99 today — 99 years on planet Earth.  The man was born in 1918, between two world wars, before polio was eradicated, before Twinkies or Elvis or NASA.  He lived through a tumultuous century of wars and scandals and Al Gore inventing the internet.  He was friends with 12 presidents of the United States and spoke in all the far-flung corners of the world, from a divided Berlin to backwater outposts of Africa — topping 185 countries in all.  Pretty good globetrotting for a guy who was born in the days of the Model T.

But how in the world did Billy Graham catapult onto a world stage?

How a gangly Southerner speaking the same old message over and over again could powerfully rivet stadiums full of skeptics is a mystery — the mystery of the gospel.  At bottom, it is a simple (nevertheless astonishing) story of a murdered Jewish carpenter and his subsequent rising again.  Crazy.  And Billy never tried to improve on it, he stuck to the facts.  Come on down, Billy said.  “Believe that Christ died for you. He suffered for you. He won the battle over sin for you. He rose from the grave and was victorious over death so that you can live forever.”

In honor of old Reverend Graham and the faithful, inspiring life he’s led, I give you a dozen great Graham quotes.  Seems Billy and I like to natter on about the same subjects; these quotes all hit on a topic from Thirty Thousand Days.  I think that’s fitting, since Billy has lived exactly 36,160 days today.

Seeing Eternally

“I often wonder if God, in His sovereignty, allows the eyesight of the aged to cast a dim view of the here and now so that we may focus our spiritual eyes on the ever after.”

Worshipping Wholeheartedly

“The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.”

Walking Purposefully

“Strengthen your commitment to Christ—now. Don’t wait until the storms of temptation, or sickness, or old age threaten to blow you off-course; now is the time to strengthen your faith.”

Caring Passionately

“We should be about our Father’s business by pouring His compassionate love into aching and parched souls that have nowhere to turn, no one to love, and no one to care. Let them see Jesus in us. That is a living testimony.”

Giving Generously

“God has given us two hands – one to receive with and the other to give with. We are not cisterns made for hoarding; we are channels made for sharing.”

Holding Loosely

“…we are dissatisfied. We want more, more, more. But Jesus said, ‘You cannot serve God and money.’ He said that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things that he possesses. Adolf Berle, in his study of power, points out that riches often make people solitary and lonely and, of course, afraid. Many times a rich man knows loneliness and fear, because when he makes wealth his god, it leaves him empty. You see, without God life loses its zest and purpose and meaning.”

Loving Deeply

“The greatest need in the world is the transformation of human nature. We need a new heart that will not have lust and greed and hate in it. We need a heart filled with love and peace and joy, and that is why Jesus came into the world.”

Standing Firm

“I feel sorry for the man who has never known the bracing thrill of taking a stand and sticking to it fearlessly. Moral courage has rewards that timidity can never imagine. Like a shot of adrenaline, it floods the spirit with vitality.”

Choosing Light

“No matter how dark and hopeless a situation might seem, never stop praying.”

Rest

“Humanity wants comfort in its sorrow, light in its darkness, peace in its turmoil, rest in its weariness, and healing in its sickness and diseases: The Gospel gives all of this to us.”

Unhooked and Unhindered

“A real Christian is the one who can give his pet parrot to the town gossip.”

Home

“My home is in Heaven. I’m just traveling through this world.”

A man who has lived nearly forty thousand days exceedingly well is a guy we should all be asking how to live.  As Mr. Graham so eloquently put it, “The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives. The greatest waste in all of our earth, which cannot be recycled or reclaimed, is our waste of the time that God has given us each day.”  I’d say he used his time pretty darn well.

Eternal Perspective Excerpt

From Thirty Thousand Days!

“We are very, very small. Consider for a moment that there are over 100 billion stars in the Milky Way alone, and that the Milky Way is only one of billions of galaxies. Try to fathom for a moment the unfathomable distance between each of these perpetually exploding balls of gas — perhaps 20 million million miles between stars — then head out to your front yard and look up.  Reel, dizzy, under that spinning disco-ball — do you feel appropriately humble?”  Read more at crosswalk!

 

Life is Vapor, Week 11

“Most of the things we need to be most fully alive never come in busyness. They grow in rest.”
Mark Buchanan

“Sabbath observance invites us to stop. It invites us to rest. It asks us to notice that while we rest, the world continues without our help. It invites us to delight in the world’s beauty and abundance.”
Wendell Berry

This week we talked about work, and rest, about slowing down, and breathing deep, and trust.  We talked about why our work matters, really matters, in a place where nothing much seems to matter, and how, ultimately, everything matters–from our tedious chores to our grand accomplishments.

Join us?  And let us know–what would the long term effect be, year after year, if you learned the secret of real rest?  How would it change you?  How would it change your family?

Life is Vapor, Week 9

So enjoyed our conversation about spiritual battle Sunday night!  It went right along with this gem from Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

Stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord.  (Exodus 14:13)

“These words contain God’s command to the believer when he is reduced to great straits and brought into extraordinary difficulties. He cannot retreat; he cannot go forward; he is shut up on the right hand and on the left; what is he now to do? The Master’s word to him is, “Stand firm.” It will be well for him if at such times he listens only to his Master’s word, for other and evil advisers come with their suggestions.

“Despair whispers, “Lie down and die; give it all up.” But God would have us put on a cheerful courage and even in our worst times rejoice in His love and faithfulness. Cowardice says, “Retreat; go back to the worldling’s way of action; you cannot play the Christian’s part-it is too difficult. Relinquish your principles.” But however much Satan may urge this course upon you, you cannot follow it if you are a child of God. His divine decree has bid you go from strength to strength, and so you shall, and neither death nor hell shall turn you from your course. Even if you are called to stand firm for a while, this is in order to renew your strength for some greater advance in due time.

“Precipitancy cries, “Do something. Stir yourself; to stand still and wait is sheer idleness.” We must be doing something at once-we must do it, so we think-instead of looking to the Lord, who will not only do something but will do everything. Presumption boasts, “If the sea is before you, march into it and expect a miracle.”

“But faith listens neither to presumption, nor to despair, nor to cowardice, nor to precipitancy, but it hears God say, “Stand firm,” and immovable as a rock it stands. “Stand firm”-keep the posture of an upright man, ready for action, expecting further orders, cheerfully and patiently awaiting the directing voice; and it will not be long before God shall say to you, as distinctly as Moses said it to the people of Israel, “Go forward.”

Here’s the talk in case you missed it!