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?

Graciousness: Daring to Live a Graceful Life

Gracious.relationship.jpeg

Have you ever noticed that some people speak of grace but they are not gracious? I once heard Fred Craddock say that the final act of grace is graciousness. He was right. Meanwhile, others – regardless of their gifts or personalities – extend grace and make an incredible difference in the lives of people.


What does it mean to be a gracious person?


A gracious person is slow to take credit and quick to lavish praise. In fact, a gracious person is not addicted to the attention of others. A gracious person is very comfortable in expressing appreciation and praise to another.

A gracious person never seeks to embarrass another. Humiliating another is not in this person’s vocabulary. Nor does such a person embarrass another and then attempt to escape responsibility by saying, “I was only joking.” Instead, a gracious person seeks to encourage and uplift another.

A gracious person regularly thanks others. This person chooses to express gratitude and never takes anything for granted.

A gracious person does not monopolize the conversation. He or she learns to ask good questions and creates opportunities for others to talk.

A gracious person does not play one-upmanship. Have you ever told a story about something that happened to you only to get this response: “That’s nothing, you should have seen what I did!”

A gracious person pays attention to people. Sometimes people come away from such conversations saying, “He made me feel like I was the most important person at that moment.” Wow! Don’t underestimate the power of simply paying attention to another.

A gracious person speaks thoughtfully. This person doesn’t say what happens to be passing through the corridor of his mind at the moment. There is nothing particularly redeeming about expressing every fleeting thought that floats through the mind. A gracious person tempers words through the filter of wisdom and love.

A gracious person does not have to be the center of attention. There are people who seem to crave constant attention. These people are so insecure they feel threatened if they are not noticed or acknowledged. There is a humility in realizing you are dispensable.

A gracious person points out the good. Maybe you are visiting a friend who lives in another place. Instead of pointing out the inadequacies of your friend’s community, you are constantly finding things that are good. “This cafe has outstanding peach pie! That was delicious.” “I just love the way you have planted your garden. It is beautiful!” Gracious people look for the good.


Where to begin today:

1. Today, pray that God will create an awareness of the opportunities to express graciousness to others.

2. Think ahead to the people whom you anticipate interacting with. Which one of the above attributes do you especially need to be conscious of when you are with this person?

3. Be intentional about thanking others. Your spouse. Your co-workers. The clerk at 7-11. A vendor. A client. Go above and beyond what you normally do.


Question:

What would you add to this list?

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?

When You Feel Spiritually Dry

Are there times when these two words describe you?DryCreekbed.jpg

Spiritually dry.

I suspect that most of us experience this at various times.

There is a creek that runs along the edge of our property line. Much of the time, there is water in this creek. However, during the hot Texas summer, the creek will often dry up. In fact, it will be so dry that the creek bed cracks due to the lack of rain and intense heat of the blazing sun.

There may be times when your soul feels parched and depleted.

There are often a number of factors that may be at work to create this sense of dryness. In addressing this, however, it is important to begin with your own heart.

Remember the story of Samson (Judges 16)? Part of his vow to God was not to cut his hair. However, the Philistine woman, Delilah, wore him down and he finally told her the secret of his strength. In the middle of the night when he was asleep, she cut his hair. As a result, he lost his strength. He ignored his covenant with God (symbolized by the vow he made regarding his hair) and lost his strength.

Whenever I experience a period of dryness, I need to ask at some point, “Have I ignored my covenant with God?” Of course, this is not always true. However, maybe one place to begin is with my own repentance. Unfortunately, this is the last possibility some people consider.

Darryl Tippens, in his fine book Pilgrim Heart, writes:

Our inability to confess our obvious and hidden failures greatly damages our spiritual lives and our credibility. Our witness rings hollow. Our carefully packaged faith that hides faults haunts us and angers others. When things go awry, as they will, it becomes second nature to blame others rather than take responsibility. Thus, Christians can reside in communities where the truth is rarely spoken and where disappointment, bitterness, cynicism, and anger simmer for years. Finally the day comes when the frustration explodes. Nearly everyone is surprised at the intensity of the blow-up. What happened and why?

Often the explosion is the inevitable consequence of Christians not telling the truth of their lives – hurts over their troubled marriages, the disappointment with parents and children, their sadness and anger over harsh and unfair words spoken at church, the chronic pain of a dysfunctional relationship at work. Mark it down. A Christian who is not confessional is in peril – a danger to himself and to the community (p. 100).

Perhaps during a season of dryness, when my heart feels parched and cracked, I ought to consider the possibility of my need for confession and repentance. Maybe, like Samson, I have not been attentive to the covenant relationship I have with God. Perhaps I have allowed myself to become worn down by the nagging temptations of the evil one.

Sometimes, confessing my sin and neglect may be the first step toward freshness and life again.


Question:

What have you found helpful during periods of dryness?

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.

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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.