Revised Spiritual Reflection Tool

Refection is a wise life practice.

Busyness undermines reflection. Without pausing, we do not grow in wisdom that God can teach us through life. Taking time to examen our lives gives God space to catch our attention.

A Revised Spiritual Reflection Tool
Over the years numerous people  have expressed appreciation for this tool. I thought it might be time to circle back around and polish it up a bit.

In general, older versions of my writings lean toward being self-directed rather than Trinitarian/God directed in orientation.  As God has continued to teach me his Way I have been shown over and over how utterly dependent I am on Him from beginning to end. This is, of course the gospel. There is still too much spiritual self-help in our evangelical consumeristic mindset and practices.

I went back through this document and cleaned up some of the verbiage and questions. This tool might be a good place to start, but obviously it is not thorough in all areas of life. Feel free to adapt it as is best for your life circumstances.

I encourage you to discard any older versions of this tool and utilize this revised version. Feel free to pass it along – use it with your family or team or organization. Thanks for giving credit to the source.

As always, feedback is most welcome.

Spiritual Life Inventory

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Looking for a Fall Retreat?

There is going to be an encouraging gathering at the Y of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO in October to reflect on the topic of “Rooted and Grounded in God’s Love: A Leader’s Journey.”

VantagePoint3 always puts on deep, meaningful gatherings. Check out the website for more information. I hope to see some of you there.

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A Moveable Feast

Relearning some crucial lessons in the area of personal intimacy with Jesus.

I have a spirituality that is quite sufficient when I am home. The space from others and stable routine allows for a steady rhythm. But on the road, it is being stretched a bit. This IMG_8315 2raises a question.

Is it possible to have a “moveable feast” – a spirituality that deeply nourishes the soul day in and day out while on the road?

Reality Check
The easy answer is “yes.”

The hard reality is that I am finding it challenging to live into this of late.

I aim to maintain my morning patterns and sabbath day while on the road (see past posts on similar topics here and here). When those travel days begin to stack up though, fatigue begins to creep in and I my best intentions get stymied.

Here is an example. Let’s say that after a couple of weeks of being on the road engaging others, the emotional tank begins to get low. So when it comes to prayer in the morning, I find I am staring off into space pondering I am not sure what. Prayer is an interpersonal engagement after all. After days of tending to others, I begin to struggle in my attention toward God.

Here is the catch though. Jesus is my life, my strength, my bread, my water, my everything. He is all I have to give to another. Sure, his mercy is enough when I am less engaged with him on some days. But, frankly, it bugs me. I don’t want to be less engaged with him when I am on the road, but rather more engaged. I need him.

Trial and Error
Here is where a nice punch line would be given – the answer to the quandary at hand.

I don’t have one though. I wrestling on this topic.

Here are some questions I am pondering?

  • Is my schedule too compressed? Not enough space between events so that I can recover from the previous event and be replenished sufficiently for the next?
  • What about those times when “life happens” and there is no option? Is there something else I can do to allow for more time on the margins of the day?
  • Is this just a liability of my vocation? Or is there another way to walk with God in this vocation?
  • What about those longer multi-week international trips – how does one stay intimately abiding as the days pass?
  • Other…….I am still pondering…..

These questions remind me that what was “sufficient” earlier in my life is no longer sufficient now. God is beckoning me deeper, something has to change for me to respond well. A parent of little ones could, possibly, ask different questions.

The Goal: A Moveable Feast
Not getting tired in the care of others is unrealistic. We all tire. Yet spiritual vibrancy is not IMG_8378 an unrealistic pursuit. I have experienced it in the past over many years in many countries and many demanding scenarios.

I aim for a moveable feast – a transportable rhythm that allows for me to respond to Jesus moving toward me daily.

If this were a simple formula to live out, I guess it would not require fresh engagement with the Lord to discern a new way forward.The Lord invites me to converse with him and see what fresh perspective he will provide. After all, my desire for him is not a self-born desire. It is his desire for me drawing me toward himself.

 

How would he have me respond in the next chapter of life?

As always, I’d love to hear what you are learning on this topic. Thanks for chiming in. 

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Can I Believe Him If I Cannot See Him?

Is faith in an unseen Jesus possible? I mean, all those people in the Gospels saw Jesus, were fed miraculous bread by him, touched the hem of his cloak and were healed.
Can we believe in this one named Jesus if we cannot see him?
Two Healings, Two Different Responses
John’s gospel was likely written in the late first century. He is addressing an audience who had not seen Jesus nor heard him teach nor had the opportunity to be healed in person by IMG_6476him.
In the midst of John’s gospel two men are healed. Their stories are recorded in John 5 and John 9. Despite standing face to face with Jesus and being instantly healed of crushing physical maladies one believed and one did not.
The John 5 guy did not believe in the end – he reported Jesus to the religious leaders after he was warned by Jesus that there was worse evils then being crippled. John’s words are specific: “Jesus found him and warned him…..(14).” “The man went away and told the jews….(15).” Despite being healed, he did not believe in Jesus.
What? That can actually happen?
The John 9 guy was healed of blindness. Because it was the Sabbath, the now formerly-blind man was questioned by Jewish leaders as to who had healed him and if he was even blind to begin with. For a likely poor, uneducated man,  the formerly-blind man made a mockery of the religious leaders own reasoning process. His response to Jesus was different too. John writes that “the  Jews cast him (the healed man) out of [the synagogue]…(v. 34)”; “Jesus heard that he had been cast out and having found him, he said, ‘Do you believe…? (35);'” “He said, ‘Lord I believe,’ and he worshipped him(36).”
John’s Point
  From these two stories we learn that seeing, hearing, and being healed by Jesus does not preclude trusting Jesus. These experiences are not necessary for faith. 
This is John’s point – we need not see Jesus to believe.  In fact, John 20:24-29 is a bit of an exclamation point to this fact.  This passage is of the  famous “doubting” Thomas confrontation with Jesus. Thomas insisted he would not believe until he had seen the resurrected Jesus himself.  Upon Jesus’ appearing, Thomas was on his knees before him. Jesus then uttered the beatitude of “blessed are those who believe me though they have not seen me.”
Battered and Buttressed
Life can batter our faith. It is also a means by which God tests, proves, and builds our faith.
Peter was in the room with Thomas when Jesus uttered those words recorded in John 20.
In the opening paragraphs of his letter (1 Peter) Peter reminds us that our faith is tried by life’s trials. He goes on to repeat Jesus’ words that he uttered in that locked room in Jerusalem: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him…. (1 Peter 1:8-9, but read the first 7 verses for context). 
Jesus Finds Us and Always is Inviting Trust
In each of our cases, Jesus finds us and asks us do you believe. This is not just a one off “being saved” event in our lives. John makes it clear in his gospel that faith is progressive. Our faith is relational. It is organic. It can be nurtured and it can be squelched.
Jesus comes to us every moment of our lives. He is always finding us. He is always inviting us, warning us, tending to us. How do we respond?
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Suffering as Part of Vocation

Suffering ≠ Punishment
In the stiff winds of a painful experience, a normal  human response is to wonder what we did wrong. Often behind this is a punitive perspective to personal pain – we messed up and IMG_5388now we are paying the price.

Here is a different view. In some instances, not all, personal adversity can be an aspect of ministry fulfillment.

Biblical Models
Think of those who suffered various kinds of hardships under the providential care and purposes of our wise God:

  • Noah built a boat in a desert. Think anyone mocked him?
  • Abraham waiting 20 years for that promised son as he wandered a land given but not yet possessed.
  • Moses’ two 40-year stints in the wilderness – once as a fugitive, the second as the leader of a fugitive people of God.
  • Jeremiah ingested God’s word and proclaimed it for over 40 years yet saw little change in God’s people.
  • Paul in 2 Corinthians lists numerous hardships he experienced as he went about his Apostolic work.

IMG_6801Joseph’s own words are startling.  Sold into the human trafficking reality of his time by his brothers, then falsely accused of attempted rape as an Egyptian slave, he spent years in an Egyptian prison. Decades later, to those same betraying brothers, he uttered his famous and wise words: “And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God. (Genesis 45:7-8)….  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Genesis 50:19-20).”

Joseph had come to realize that his sufferings had a purpose larger than his life. Sure, his brothers sold him into slavery, but it was God who was using that betraying act to fulfill the life purposes for Joseph. Wow.

Often our sufferings have larger purposes too. We might not be a national leader on the scale of Joseph, however we are God’s children and nothing is beyond his providential care and purposes.

My Lesson
Some years ago I came to the realization that the physical limitations I live with are not only the context in which God invites me to walk with him, it is the context in which he  manifests his love through me to others.

Could I have fulfilled this calling without these limitations? It is conjecture, but humanly speaking, possibly. In the Father’s wisdom and love though, he knows that these traits of his are supremely displayed in my personal version of limitations.

Weakness as a WindowIMG_0678
Personal sufferings are a means in which God can convey his love through us to others. The primary display of this truth is Jesus on the cross. Jesus’ suffering is the supreme display of the Father’s love. Our weaknesses can be a window into the same love.

How About You?
What are the hardships you are facing today? How might they be “an aspect of vocation?” How is God lovingly and mightily present in and through your weakness to others?

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Unshepherded Shepherds Beware

We are sheep first, shepherds second.
Sheep who are unwilling to be shepherded can get lost. Lost sheep make for poor shepherds.

Let’s put that another way.

Debriefers who do not seek out being debriefed are not the best debriefers.

Pastors who are unwilling to be pastored by another make for poor pastors, or at least not the best pastor they could be.

We are sheep first, shepherds second. As we experience receiving from others, we are postured to extend to others.

We Shepherd out of our Sheep-ness.

Its our identity as adopted sons and daughters in utter dependency on God from which we relate to others. Yet, all of us, to some degree, have misshapen identities. Our identities are hqdefaultalways in the process of being redeemed, i.e. reshaped and reoriented.

We shepherd out of our sheep-ness.

If it sounds messy, well it is.

 

 

 

Receive First, Then Give
Too many of us in care giving roles are far, far more comfortable being the giver than the receiver. It is what we receive from Jesus that we extend to others.

Being dependent on God is, in part, manifested in being dependent on others.

Another metaphor: we are all beggars for bread and the bread I share with you is not of my own creation – another gave it to me.

Who are Your Caregivers?
Who is your pastor?

Who is your spiritual director?

Who is you coach or mentor?

Who is your counselor?

Who is your debriefer?

How often are you meeting with these ones in a vulnerable, receptive posture?  Be very specific; it might not be as often as we imagine.

We can only lead sheep to pastures we know well. If we hang out in the pasture called “I care for myself,” guess where we will lead the sheep?

I must never think I am above the care that I provide for others.

Unshepherded shepherds beware.

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…and just a Pinch of Disruption

Essential Elements of Spiritual Growth
At a recent training I attended the group was asked to list six essential ingredients of spiritual formation.

That is an intriguing question. What would you list?

IMG_9862

My Six

  • The Triune God of Love
  • Revelation (Word, creation)
  • Time (life-long process)
  • Response (this is the human agency element)
  • Others (community, church)
  • Disruption/disorientation (suffering)

I kind of go back and forth on how to put God’s love, revelation, incarnation, and sacrifice in there, so I am still polishing my thinking. How about you? What would you have on the list?

Concerning That Last Element….
Does that last one, disruption, surprise you?

The only way we can move to a place of new orientation is to be disoriented from our present orientation.

Sometimes re-orientation comes through desired life experiences – like continuing education or a good book. Sometimes not so much, like one of mom’s don’t-mess-with-me time outs.

But for the big transformative shifts in life we usually require a stronger jolt. Thus, adversities are a key ingredient that God uses to move us forward in our spiritual journey.  St. John of the Cross called it the dark night of the soul. Others speak of spiritual deserts, wilderness experiences, the “wall” – all these are times of deep hardship.

Knowing Is Key
Living in a fallen world guarantees we will face hard times. It’s not whether we suffer, but how and when.

IMG_0153Further, God will disrupt us to draw us further into himself (see Hebrews 12, for example). Regardless of whether God causes or allows a hardship, he loving leverages the circumstances to draw us deeper into himself. It is that deepening communion we are transformed.

Knowing this is forewarning. If we find ourselves in a dark time, then we can know that our good God is up to good, even if it is painful. He may not cause the pain, but he always lavishes his loving presence upon us. God redeems everything.

Remember, God defines our circumstances. Our circumstances do not define God.

How is the Wise Question to Ask
How is God inviting you to walk with him in a season of disorientation?
How do you want to respond to him?
How will you make extra time to draw near to him?
Will you spend more time in his word?
Will you call upon your community to rally around you?
Will you wait on God as these seasons usually last longer than we could ever have imagined?

All of these are key ingredients to growing deeper into the love and life of our Triune God.

It is Love that beckons, how will you respond?

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Prayer Agendas: God’s or Mine

Lately, I have been pondering spiritual development stages. Critical Journey by Hagberg and Guelich and Mansions of the Heart by Ashbrook have been two main resources.

Prayer Time Agendas
Prayer is diagnostic to growth. In other words, time abiding with Jesus in prayer deepens and broadens as an essential means and marker of maturing. Solitude is essential.

Communion with God is the core aim – not what is done for him or who I am becoming. The latter two are a corollary of the first.   Formation and mission are an overflow of relationship.

Something shifts within the prayer. Instead of me showing up with my list of things I want God to do, I show up and am quiet.   God sets the agenda of what we talk about. Instead of me filling the space full of chatter and then plowing into the day, I wait.

Ripple Effect
As I have reflected upon this idea, I can see how it would ripple out into the rest of life. Instead of me telling God what ministry I am going to do and asking him to bless it, I may find myself asking God what he wants me to do. Sounds good in theory, but how would that work out 9-5?

There is obviously lots of room to grow.

I am curios to what your experiences are as you progress through the years with Jesus.

May you make time to be with him and caring that abiding throughout full days.

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