My Most Important Hour

Of all the hours in the day, the hour after I get up in the morning is probably the most important.

For many years, I have practiced an early morning discipline of preparing for my day.  This takes place before anyone else in my family awakens.

I am convinced that this hour helped me to become a better man, husband, and father. At times the hour helped me thrive in my growth and development. At other times, the hour simply helped me survive the turmoil.

I generally get up about 5:00 AM. For years, this worked because I knew our children would not be up at that hour. Long after our children have grown up and married, I continue the same general schedule now.

What I do each morning is not magic, unique, or a secret known only by a few. The power of this practice is that it is a daily discipline that I usually practice the five days each week.

What I do during this hour varies, but I have continued the same basic practice for many years.

w-Giant-Coffee-Cup75917What I do during the first hour of the day:

1. Emptying my mind. Generally, I sit in silence for a few minutes. I keep a notepad nearby and often begin making a list of whatever occurs to me. Quite often things come to mind that I need to do that day or have been trying to remember. I have found that writing down these thoughts frees my mind. This may take only a few minutes but is very helpful. I keep the pad in front of me during the hour in case anything else randomly comes to mind.

2. Practicing spiritual disciplines.  I read Scripture, pray, and read anything else that feeds my soul. Most recently, I have been reading through the Psalms in The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible. At other times I might use Phyllis Tickle’s, The Divine Hours. During this time I will often practice some of the ancient spiritual disciplines. Basically, I try to vary what I do during this time.

I write in my journal during this time. I might reflect upon a scripture I just read or something that happened the previous day. At other times, I might write a prayer in my journal. There are also days when I write nothing.

3. Planning my day. I think about my goals and priorities. I consider the progress that I would like to make on two or three projects. (The tool I am currently using is Donald Miller’s Storyline Productivity Schedule. These are available here.)

Remember, the point is not that you need to get up at 5:00 AM or that you need to do exactly what I do. The point is that a habit/practice such as this can be very useful regardless of your age or circumstance in life. Many mornings I will spend about an hour with this. Most mornings, it will be about an hour and a half. Again, the time is not the point. Find what works for you.

 

Soul Starvation

soul_550When Christian leaders are not regularly nourished, burnout can be the result.

Ministry can become something that one gets done by sheer willpower.  There is no longer any sense that one is drinking from strong and deep spiritual wells.

This can become deadly.

The demands of life and ministry become intoxicating.  Our lives are fueled by an adrenaline rush that results from feeling needed and important.

The pressures of life and ministry can become intoxicating.  There is no sense of rest, silence or recreation.  Instead, we find ourselves thriving on the pressure.

The appearance of spirituality can become intoxicating.  We can put tremendous energy into creating the illusion that we are spiritual people.

This intoxication is deadly.

Maybe the place to begin is by praying that God might nourish and water the parched soul and that the demands of life and the church will not be allowed to take precedence over what is essential to the soul.”

Did Becoming Older Bring Me Closer to Jesus?

Nouwen-In-the-Name-of-JesusDid becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?

Henri Nouwen in his book In the Name of Jesus, reflects upon a time when he asked himself this question. The book is not new.Perhaps you read the book some years ago. I did — and now have read the book five or six times.

That question from Nouwen will not go away.

Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?

  • As I reflect upon my behavior,
  • As I think about my attitude,
  • As I consider my words,
  • As I get honest about the thoughts in my heart,
  • As I ponder my life before Jesus,

That question from Nowen will not go away.

Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?

I am blessed to know many older believers who seem to grow in their love for Jesus and their trust in him.

I have witnessed some of these people become more tenderhearted, more singularly focused, and more of a blessing to be with as they grow older. I have known people whose very presence reminded me of Jesus.

I have also known older believers who allowed their fear and anxiety to completely engulf them. Some become bitter and cynical, ready to lash out at whoever appears to be a threat. Others pull back, withdraw, and talk about having “put in their time.”

Maybe you will join with me in reflecting on this important question.

Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?

Once you and I have considered this question, perhaps we

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now need to think about what we might address in our lives in order to have a better outcome in the future.

Questions:

1. Envision the kind of person you want to be five years from now. What kind of husband/wife or father/mother do you wish to be? What kind of friend do you wish to be? How do you need to grow up or mature in order to become closer to Jesus?

2. What is one area of your life that you are willing to address so that you will be closer to Jesus?

 

Make Your Move Now (2)

front-porch61Pay attention to the front porch

The front porch is what people see. The front porch determines whether people have a desire to come any further. If the front porch looks cluttered, dark, and uninviting, people may see this as a sign that they are really not welcome in your life.

Begin this

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year by paying attention to the front porch of your life. Have some people concluded that you really are not approachable? Our front porch is what people see before they get to know us. Someone says, “If you knew my heart, you would think differently of me.” Yes, but the problem is that your front porch is saying something else.

Your front porch is all about what you say. Isn’t it amazing that the hole in your face is basically how people determine who you are. What comes out of your mouth is significant.

Your front porch is all about your attitude. Complainers and whiners will repel people in a hurry. It is like sending a double message. People who are caustic and bristle when someone makes a mistake will find that many people will not come any closer.

Your front porch is all about your attention. One of the greatest assets you have in your relationships with others is your attention. Do you pay attention to others or are you too distracted to really listen?

Four Ways to Pursue Wisdom

Do you put a premium on pursuing wisdom?wisdom.jpg

Do you know this pursuit can make all the difference in your future?

  • Some people are intelligent, yet they don’t seem to have much wisdom.
  • Some people are articulate, yet they use poor judgement.
  • Some people are very talented, yet they make some very unwise decisions.
  • Some people are charming, yet they place themselves in some unwise and even compromising situations.
  • Some people gain much attention from others, yet they are shallow and lack any depth.
  • Some people advance quickly in their careers only destroy themselves and their family through unwise choices.

Here are four ways to pursue wisdom:

1. Read the wisdom literature of the Bible. Read books such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and James. Examine wise and foolish persons in Scripture. Be a student of wisdom.

2. Pray that the Lord will give you wisdom regarding your habits, your actions, your words, and your decisions. Confess to him when you have behaved foolishly.

3. Learn from people whose lives reflect wisdom. Ask them questions. For example, suppose you know a Christian businessperson whose life reflects wisdom and godliness. You might ask questions such as:

  • What habits or practices have helped you grow in wisdom?
  • How do you maintain a growing vibrant marriage while under stress and pressure at work?
  • How have you dealt with sexual temptation in your life? Are there any particular practices or habits that you have while traveling and staying in hotels for meetings, conventions, etc.? What would you recommend to a young man or woman?
  • How have you kept your priorities God-centered?

4. Listen to the words of godly people in your life who raise questions or voice concerns about some aspect of your life.

  • Does your wife (husband) tell you that he feels uneasy about a particular person in your life?
  • Does a friend raise a question about changes that he is seeing in your behavior or moods?
  • Does a co-worker (who happens to be a Christian) raise questions about some decisions you have recently made?

Question:

When you think about wise men or women you know, what words might you use to describe their lives?

Interview With Trevor Hudson (Part 2)

The following is part 2 of a recent interview that I did with Trevor Hudson. (You can find part 1 here.) Trevor lives in South Africa. He a minister HudsonBook.jpg and the author of a number of books. Most recently, he has written a wonderful book entitled Discovering Our Spiritual Identity. I think so much of the book that I am about to teach through it at our church on Wednesday evenings.

I encourage you to savor his words below. Very important.

(If you would like to be eligible to win a copy of Discovering Our Spiritual Identity, leave a comment below or tweet regarding this post.)


Many pastors/Christian ministers have left their congregations at a low point in their lives. Marriage problems. Use of pornography. Power plays within the congregation. Some are exhausted and burned out. What can pastors and other church leaders do to practice better self-care before such a crisis becomes a part of their lives?

Seek to keep our love for God alive in our hearts! I really believe this is the deep secret of caring for our own souls. It is so easy for us as pastors to become religious professionals and forget our amateur status as followers of Christ. We keep the love of God alive in our hearts by consciously opening our hearts and minds to Jesus Christ on a daily basis. We need to find, with the help of good friends along the Way, practical ways in which we can do this. The other helpful thing for me personally is keeping myself open to the joy of God in the midst of my daily work as a pastor. For me this means enjoying special moments with Debbie (the person to whom I am married), chilling with my adult children Joni and Mark, hanging out with friends, going running, watching my soccer team and just loving life as it comes. Pastors need to be the most joyful people around, even in the midst of our very painful contexts. This is a daily challenge for me because I am someone who can easily get overwhelmed by the pain we encounter as pastors each day.


Ok, Trevor, you just touched on something very important. What do you do when you are overwhelmed by the pain of others? What do you do when you are overwhelmed by a sense of your own failure before God? (You may wonder if there is any use in continuing on with Jesus!) What have you found helpful?

Being overwhelmed is an experience that many of us can identify with. We can be overwhelmed by personal grief, the information that comes at us from all sides, the demands of our work, personal relational pain, the immensity of the needs around us and the list just goes on and on. I have found it helpful first to name my overwhelming. Naming things is a powerful act. Then I find it helpful to share my sense of overwhelming with God and at least one other human being who I can really trust. This means I am no longer isolated by my overwhelming but connected in community. Lastly I have learnt that hidden in my overwhelming experience there is often an invitation to attend to the shape of my living. Often when I am overwhelmed my life is knocked out of shape. So I need to give attention, usually with the help of someone wiser, to how I can intentionally live a more gospel-shaped life. Perhaps I can quickly add that not all “overwhelmings” are bad. We also need to open ourselves to those joyful “overwhelmings” of beauty and music and goodness that lie all around us–and above all, to the experience of being overwhelmed by the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for each one of us in Christ.


Some ministers really struggle with developing some kind of daily/weekly routine in their ministry. How can a person who works with a congregation address this issue in his/her life?

I need to be clear about what tasks lie at the heart of faithful pastoral ministry and intentionally build my days around these things. I find it very helpful to do this with my leaders so that they can encourage and support me in my intentions. In my 35th year of pastoral ministry, I am also more aware than ever of my need for “hidden preparation” for public ministry. Sometimes leaders in the congregation are not aware of this and so this need must be carefully explained. In order to do what I need to do “on the spot” as a pastor, I need “off the spot” moments to freshly prepare myself for whatever it is I must do.


Many ministers feel totally overun by the needs of the congregation and quite often, the expectations of the congregation. What can ministers do to better pace themselves in their ministries?

I don’t think I am a good person to ask when it comes to this question! Overcommitment has been my number one sin as a pastor. Consciously I desire a more leisurely way of being a pastor yet I keep sabotaging this intention by taking on too much. Reflecting on this contradiction with some good friends, and asking God to shine some light on the hidden motivations of my heart, is proving to be very helpful at the moment. Maybe this is where we need to begin if we want to pace ourselves better—with the kind of confession before God and others that leads us to attend in new ways to the shape of our living. This is what I am learning at the moment. Hopefully I will better be able to answer this question in a few years time!


Interview With Trevor Hudson (Part 1)

Trevor Hudson lives in South Africa. He is a Christian minister, author, and encourager to many. I have mentioned his latest book Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved on this blog.

I recently asked Trevor several questions that might be of interest to Christians in general and ministers in particular. The following interview will appear in two parts. I will be giving away one copy of the book just mentioned in a drawing. To be eligible, please leave a comment below, on my Facebook page, or post a link on Twitter.

Hudson.jpg


Trevor, I have just read your book Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved. I enjoyed the book greatly and have been recommending it. What was behind the writing of this book?

Thank you, Jim, first of all for your warm affirmation of the book. It is very close to my heart! What was behind the writing of the book? I am deeply aware that we live presently in a historical moment characterized by a profound searching for a vital and life-giving spirituality. In the midst of all this searching there is a critical need for careful discernment. Many expressions of spirituality doing the rounds within Christian congregations can only be described as foreign to the spirit of the crucified and risen Jesus. Often they are obsessively absorbed with the meeting of personal needs and reflect minimal concern for those who suffer. Alternatively, a spirituality of social struggle and involvement is frequently endorsed which avoids the biblical imperative for personal conversion and deep inner change. I wrote the book as a modest attempt to describe a spirituality that is centered in Jesus Christ, faithful to some of the treasures of the diverse streams within Christian Spirituality, accessible to those in the local congregation and responsive to the deep suffering all around us.


What do you suggest to congregations in which members desire to stay centered in Christ, but find daily demands and the needs of others around them are exhausting? How does the average Christian begin to see his/her way through?

I would say to congregational leaders, “Please be careful not to exhaust your members more than they are already!” As a pastor I want to be very respectful of the daily demands that those in my congregation face everyday. I would help them to see their daily lives at home and work and in the community as the primary place for their formation in Christ. They don’t have to be in the church buildings more in order to do mission. I would explore in our moments together very down-to-earth ways which help us remain mindful of Christ’s active presence within our daily lives—ways of turning our minds towards Christ on a regular basis, inviting him into our daily activities, remaining thankful, recognizing him in those we encounter and trusting him with outcomes. The promise of Jesus is that, as we learn to walk with him in our daily lives, we will live more lightly and freely. It is a wonderful thing when we in our local congregations can discover the reality of these words in our own experience.


(More to come)

Trevor Hudson: God Has Stepped Into Human History

Each Thursday, I will be posting a brief video (1:41) of Trevor Hudson’s reflections on what it means to know God and be formed into the image of Jesus. Scot McKnight said the following regarding regarding Trevor’s recent book, Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved.

Trevor Hudson is one of South Africa’s contemporary spiritual masters. The book in your hands contains the wisdom of a gentle pastor guiding each of us into a deeper walk with a God who heals. If I had one person I’d choose to be a pastor to my children, it would be Trevor Hudson.

On Resilience 5 (Guest Writer-Charlie Coil)

The following post is the continuation in a series by Charlie Coil. You can read part 1 here, part two here, part three here and part four here.

Part V: We Don’t Give Up and Quit–But Why? And How?

Forrest Gump sits under a tree beside his beloved Jenny’s grave mulling over one of the great philosophical questions: “Jenny, I don’t know if Momma was right or if, if it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s bot

h. Maybe both is happening at the same time.” We understand the dilemma here, don’t we? Those who try so hard to shape their own destinies discover lady luck insists on playing her part. We are both dust in the wind and beings without end! Making sense of why we keep getting up and living our lives is the challenge here.

resilience (1).jpgEnlightened moderns don’t like this both/and choice—either we’re immortal or we’re not they say. Only the weak-minded imagine there’s a heaven. We can make peace with our mortality if we just “imagine there’s no heaven”, no immortal soul, no ultimate destiny. I think this is why we lost the word “Jesus” in that old song. Today we sing, “Nobody knows the trouble I seen. Nobody knows my sorrow [instead of “but Jesus”]. Instead, the popular ethos is to just be your authentic self and have the courage to “roll with it.”

But, if the notion of human destiny is meaningless then so is human resilience. Bounce back to what, from what? If humans are cosmic accidents and resilience is merely evolutionary biology then why are anti-depressants the most commonly prescribed drugs in the world? In fact, why are people able to choose not to be resilient? The evolution of our DNA should have taken us far past such a modern predicament by now. Why do highly-evolved teenage brain cells “give up” these days so that they lose the will to live and suicide is soaring out of control among this age group? Aren’t we supposed to have evolved in psychic resilience by now? We humans are supposed to be at a place in our evolution where we don’t give up and quit for the simple reason that it is in our evolved genetic makeup not to give up.

Viktor Frankl was a Jewish holocaust survivor and famous Austrian neurologist and psychologist. He is perhaps most famous for his aforementioned book, Man’s Search for Meaning and for his notions of existential analysis and logotherapy that he worked all of his life to explain. His experience in the concentration camps taught him that “[a] man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward another human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’[i]So, Frankl at least admits that humans need a ‘why’ in order to survive and thrive, but he apparently didn’t think the content of the ‘why’ or the purpose mattered much, just so you had one.

I disagree! At some point there comes a time when a ‘why’ must lead to something more than ‘just because’. Meaning must point to something beyond itself and hope must have its substance. One of the more fascinating (albeit tragic) causes of the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1852), according to many astute historians, was less about the infamous potato blight as it was about the government’s “answer”. One well-known example was a public works road-building program that notoriously put men to work building “roads to nowhere”. When the workers learned this fact they lost interest in work and ultimately in living. They embraced a kind of fatalistic acceptance and returned disheartened to the tight quarters of their filthy government-provided workhouses and died mostly of disease.[ii]

You can see that we must address the question of why we don’t give up before we can talk about hownot to give up. For centuries philosophers and poets have recognized the need for some kind of plausible response to this question. Perhaps the oldest treatment is found in the Jewish Tanakh’s ancient wisdom book of Ecclesiastes. In 7:29, the wise teacher says, “See, this one thing I have found, that God made human beings ‘just right’[iii], but they have devised many schemes.” The idea here is expressed lyrically (perhaps accidentally) by Joni Mitchell in a song from the idealistic nineteen sixties. “I came upon a child of God / He was walking along the road / And I asked him, where are you going / And this he told me… / We are stardust / We are golden / And we’ve got to get ourselves / Back to the garden.” At least here is a popular vision for why we don’t give up. We are goingsomewhere—we’re trying to get ourselves back to the garden, never mind what you conceive that garden to be. At least, here’s a purpose, a telos for humanity, and therefore a clear reason not to give up.

The ultimate telos (Greek for “end” or “purpose) is only alluded to in the Old Testament. ‘Fear God and keep his commandments’ was the conclusion of the greatest wisdom book of Judaism. But again, why? Where is all this leading to? To God? “Yes,” says the rabbi. “But show me why I should do this? Why should I keep going? Where is all ‘this’ going?” asks the modern. Judaism clings to only half an answer: it is in the notion of a King returning that all ‘this’ makes sense. But, Christians believe that the King has come and shown us the way and will return again. That gives us all the ‘why’ we need for now.

Another of my teachers, Dr. Harold Hazelip, concluded a message on “The Destiny of Man” that aptly illustrates this enigmatic truth.

“The great value of the doctrine of the Second Coming is that it guarantees us that history is going somewhere. When the African natives saw the British construction crews building strips of concrete in the jungle, they were unable to understand this use of machinery, men and money. These engineers were building highways that did not start anywhere and did not end anywhere. But, when the Africans saw the first airplanes land and take off, they began to understand the meaning of the runway. Without Christ life appears to be a highway that does not begin anywhere or lead anywhere; but with Him life takes on a function of eternal importance.”[iv]



[i] Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Washington Square Press, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1963:127.

[ii] Mark Thornton, The Free Market, April 1998; Volume 16, Number 4. Available online: http://mises.org/freemarket_detail.aspx?control=88 ; Christine Kinealy, A Death-Dealing Famine: The Great Hunger in Ireland (Chicago: Pluto Press, 1997); Austin Bourke, The Visitation of God?: The Potato and the Great Irish Famine (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1993); Cormac O’Grada, The Great Irish Famine (Macmillan, 1989).

[iii] The word yāšār here means “right” or “correct.” That which is yāšār is straight and direct (Gk euthēs), not crooked and perverted (cf. Prov 8:6–9; Job 33:27; cf. Mic 3:9). If so, this conclusion harks back to v 13 [“Consider the work of God; who can make straight what he has made crooked?”] From C. L. Seow, Ecclesiastes: A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary. New Haven; London : Yale University Press, 2008, S. 265  

[iv] Harold Hazelip, “The Destiny of Man” in Discipleship: Vol. IX, Twentieth Century Sermons, Abilene, TX: Biblical Research Press 1977: 43.

Strengthening the Soul (10)

This morning I read a fine article by Gordon MacDonald in the November 2010 issue of stethoscope.jpg Leadership (print). The article is entitled “Your Regular Checkup.” Basically MacDonald says that if a yearly physical exam is important for people then so is a periodic “spiritual exam.”

Sometimes, after one has a physical exam, the physician will make that person aware of a health issue that had gone unnoticed. Likewise there may unnoticed issues of the soul within us that we may not be dealing with. MacDonald writes:

I have become increasingly aware of the enormous amount of activity inside of me that I neither understand nor fully control. Impressions, attitudes, urges, motives, and initiatives bubble up and out of that darkened space, and not all of it is noble. It’s similar to all the physical activity deep inside my body that I don’t know much about either. it just happens with or without my conscious consent. (p. 76)

MacDonald suggests that if one were a physician giving a “spiritual exam,” the following areas might be addressed:

1. My patient’s conversion story. After hearing this story, MacDonald would ask about this person’s current relationship with Jesus.

2. Memory. Reflect on attitudes that could be present in one’s life: “Resentments, anger, unresolved conflict, or regrets that need examination and resolution? Behaviors, attitudes, desires that are costing you the respect of your spouse, your colleagues, your constituency? How about one’s forgiveness capacity, one’s readiness to repent?”

3. Motivation. Consider your motivations. “Why are you doing what you’re doing in leadership? Do you have a sense of calling from God–a call affirmed by others who are close enough to see the Spirit of God in you? Is whatever your call is getting you out of bed in the morning with a reasonable degree of enthusiasm and anticipation? Or has your call degraded into a job, slowly sapping you of your vitality?”

4. Discipline. Finally, MacDonald says that he might ask the following question: “What are the things you systematically push yourself to do because they don’t come naturally to you but which are necessary in order to make you a more effective person and leader?” MacDonald suggests that the following categories of discipline might be considered: “physical, intellectual, financial, time management, emotional, ego, worship.”


Question:

What would you add to these reflections on spiritual health? What has been helpful to you in accessing where you are?