28 October 2015

Praying your Thought Stream

"Okay. It's time to pray. 'Dear Holy Father in Heaven above. Thank you for this day and all of the good gifts that come from Your hand. 

[I could really use another cup of coffee]. 

Wait, where was I? Oh yeah. I am so grateful for every...

[I wonder what my work schedule is like today] 

Shoot. Sorry God. Please be with my pastor... 

[I wonder how Bob is doing. He seemed kind of down last week. I really like sleep. And coffee. I should really check my Facebook status. Oh, and I need to order that book. Wait...no...I'm praying]. 

Where was I? Dear God...wait I already said that....

[sigh, forget it.]

Have you ever had a prayer time like this?  You sit down to pray with the best of intentions. Perhaps you plan to use the ACTS model (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication) or some other approach. But then you get going and your mind is in 10,000 places. You become angry with yourself because you cannot focus on "praying right." Paul's words from 1 Thessalonians 5 come to mind--"pray without ceasing"--and you cannot even imagine praying for 10 minutes. What does it even mean to pray without ceasing?  You begin to think, if there is a right way to pray, I am surely doing it wrong. Then the guilt comes.

But, what if in our pressure to pray right we are completely missing the point? We become so focused on following the right model, or saying the right words that we forget that prayer really is conversation with God. It's about relating with the Trinity, not manipulating God with our words.

So, how might this look different? First, drop the guilt over your anemic prayer life. Even when you don't know how or what to pray (which for me is much of the time) the Holy Spirit prays for you (Romans 8:26). He is way better at it than we are anyway.

Second, learn to enjoy talking with God about everything. When you are praying and you think about another cup of coffee, thank God for coffee or just let him know your desire. When you are praying and you think about your work schedule, offer it up to God.  I think when Paul talked about praying without ceasing, I think this is partly what he meant a life lived in ongoing conversation with God, learning to present whatever comes to mind.

Third, learn to listen. Sometimes, when those seeming interruptions come to mind, we should attend to them. God speaks to us through His word, but also through His people, and His world. Give ear to him. Pray conversationally and relationally--speak and listen.

19 October 2015

Book Review: The Contemplative Pastor

There are few writers I enjoy more than Eugene Peterson. His love for God, for people, and for language routinely meet on the pages of his books. His work should be tasted and savored, but I find it difficult not to binge on his writings. Not surprisingly, Peterson exploring "the Art of Spiritual Direction" in The Contemplative Pastor (1989) was a book that I had a hard time setting down.

The Contemplative Pastor is broken into three sections. In the first, "Redefinitions," Peterson explored three descriptors for a pastor: unbusy, subversive, and apocalyptic. I was recently moved by his description of the "unbusy pastor" in his later memoir The Pastor and had some familiarity with the idea of the apocalyptic pastor. Briefly, in Peterson's thoughts, pastors should be characterized by settledness, margin, and patience, working without frenzy in the day to day life of the church and of the world.

The second section--the longest--is called "Between Sundays". Peterson meaningfully argues that much, if not most, of the work of the pastor takes place from Monday to Saturday. The nine chapters here are built around the beatitudes with an eye toward soul care. Each chapter begins with a poem and then moves into the realities of spiritual direction, exploring themes such as creation, prayer, language, small talk, and suffering.

The final, albeit too brief, final section contains a number of poems about the incarnation. Peterson asked, "is it not significant that the biblical prophets and psalmists were all poets?" To answer his rhetorical question, yes, I believe it is significant. Words matter.Words convey truth, but they also convey beauty.

Like his previous works The Contemplative Pastor by Peterson is a joy to read, whether or not you are a pastor.

12 October 2015

What would you call a man...

What would you call a man who...
  • Uses touch to heal rather than to harm (Matthew 9:25, 9:29; Mark 1:31; 1:41; Luke 4:40; John 9:6)
  • is a willing servant (Mark 5:24; 10:45; John 13:4)
  • is known for his compassion (Matthew 14:14; 15:32; Mark 6:34)
  • sees children not as a hindrance but a joy (Matthew 18:2; 19:13; Mark 5:41; 10:14; Luke 18:16)
  • Listens to the "undesirables" in society (Matthew 20:31-32; Matthew 26:10; Mark 2:15; 5;34; Luke 5:13; 5:31; Luke 8;2; Luke 19:5; John 4:1)
  • can be sad and troubled (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33; John 13:21)
  • cries (Luke 19:41; John 11:35)
  • steps away from a fight (Matthew 26:52; John 18:11)
  • keeps his mouth shut rather than justifying himself (Matthew 26:63; 27:14)
  • feels pain (Matthew 27:50)
  • devotes himself to prayer (Mark 1:35; 9:29; Luke 11:2; John 17)
  • requires rest (Mark 6:31)
  • knows the Scriptures (Luke 4:17; 24:27)
  • speaks of love toward other men (John 13:23; 13:34-35) 
  • Values relationship (all of the Gospels)
You would call that man Jesus. Often our definition of masculinity is formed not by Scripture but by Hollywood. The biblical portrait of Jesus is not one of a hard-edged emotionless, loner. Rather, he is a man of conviction and wisdom who is tender, compassionate, relational and emotional. 

08 October 2015

Reflections from a Pensive Heart

I have felt weepy today 
Emotive clouds pregnant
     Eager to give birth to tears. 
Yet they are not gloomy and gray. 
     They are tall and billowing and white. 
     Contentedly basking in the light of day
     Ready at a moment's notice to conspire with the sun 
          to mingle rain drops and sun drops 
to paint beauty in the sky. 

I partly blame...or perhaps thank...Andrew Peterson for today's speculative mood. I listened to his new song, Be Kind to Yourself, perhaps a dozen times this morning.  His lyrics and mood affected my mood and lyrics today. Let me share a few of my rambling thoughts.


The Beauty of God's grace is my heartbeat. Thoughts of it occupy my mind many times a day. Grace marvels me. That God would lavish His love on me is difficult to comprehend. Today, though, I have been struck by mercy, grace's mirror image twin. Mercy is beauty. Because of the blood of His son, and His incomparable love, God stays His hand.


Though Lewis's Mere Christianity is a matchless book, Christianity isn't merely anything, a point Lewis rightly made. In whatever ways I might conceptualize Christianity, it is more, always more. It is too easy to allow Christianity to be assent to a set of doctrines, or a way of living, or even a feeling. Christianity is more. In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrased part of Mark 12 as "love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy." Christianity is not merely attending church on Sunday morning. It is not merely saying yes to Jesus. It is not merely preaching the good news. It is not merely serving the poor. Christianity is all of life. Christ is present in my dinner table conversations, my walks on a crisp day, and my love of my wife. He is present in my laughter, my sorrows, and my pain. God does not exist above the everyday, He enters it. True faith is both ruddy and transcendent. I marvel at them both. 


My mind tends to run ahead, always thinking, thinking, thinking. Cogwheels whirring, manipulating ideas and formulating thoughts. I want to learn to be attentive to the moment. To quiet my soul enough to listen for God. To be present with people. 

Father, train my ears to listen carefully for Your indwelling breath. Sharpen my eyes to see flickers of Your majesty. 

05 October 2015

Of Thinking Humbly of Ourselves-a'Kempis

I finally started reading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a'Kempis (1380 - 1471). I only made it as far as chapter 2 before I stopped to ponder. These words captured my attention and convicted my spirit. I have updated and paraphrased the language from the version I have to improve readability so thou art not plagued with obfuscation.

All men naturally desire to know (Ecc 1:13); but what good is knowledge without the fear of God? Surely a humble husband that serves God is better than a proud philosopher that, neglecting himself, labors to understand the course of the heavens. The man who knows himself well is lowly in his own sight and does not delight in the praises of men. If I understood all things in the world, yet were not charitable what would that help me in the sight of God, who will judge me according to my deeds? [I have a theological quibble with this statement, a point I would want to clarify, but I will leave it aside for just now]

Stop obsessively trying to know so much, because when you do, you are distracted and deceived. Learned men are happy to be seen as smart to others and to be considered wise (1 Cor 8:1). There are many things that you can know about that do not profit your soul and the man who focuses upon those other things, but ignores his salvation, is very unwise. Reading many words does not satisfy the soul; but a good life comforts the mind and a pure conscience gives great assurance in the sight of God. 

The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely you will be judged, unless you also grow in holiness. Do not be proud for any art or science that you know, but rather let your knowledge make you more humble and cautious. If you think you know a lot, realize that there is a lot you don't know. Don't pretend you are smarter than you are; rather, acknowledge your ignorance (Rom 12:16). Why would you prefer yourself before others since there are many who are smarter and more skillful in the Scriptures than you are? If you want to profit from what you learn, desire to be unknown, to be little esteemed before man. 

The highest, most beneficial reading is to truly know ourselves. True wisdom and perfection are to know that of ourselves, we amount to nothing, but instead to think well of others. If you see someone else sin, don't think to highly of yourself because you don't know how long you will be able to remain in good estate. 

We are all frail (Gen 8:21), but you ought to hold none more frail than yourself. 

04 October 2015

Book Review: Faith Alone

Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification (2015, Zondervan) by Thomas Schreiner is an informative, readable introduction to sola fide, the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

In the opening section, Schreiner explores the history of sola fide. He establishes the importance of the doctrine not with the reformers, but with the early church fathers, 1500 years prior. After a brief sketch of this earlier history, he spends a considerable amount of time on the reformers. He dedicated a chapter each to Luther and Calvin before exploring the Council of Trent, later reformers, Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley. This overview led to some surprises particularly in regards to Richard Baxter and John Wesley.

In the second section, he moved in earnest into exploring the theology of sola fide including human sin, faith alone, God's saving righteousness. Chapter 9 which deals with the interpretation of the phrase pistis Iesou Christou and whether it should be interpreted "faith of Jesus Christ" versus "faith in Jesus Christ", was interesting and important. He later concluded section two with traditional topics such as imputation and the forensic implications.

The final section deals with contemporary issues including the Roman Catholic Church, Francis Beckwith's departure from evangelicalism, and NT Wright's New Perspective on Paul. I was particularly interested in the chapter regarding Beckwith and Schreiner's response.

On the whole, this is a great introductory text to the doctrine of faith alone. This volume has whetted my appetite for the rest of the 5 solas series.

Book Review: Soul of Shame

My friend Curt Thompson's sophomore release, The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves (Zondervan, 2015) does not disappoint. He is a Christian psychiatrist deeply influenced by the field of interpersonal neurobiology and particularly the work of Dan Siegel.

My initial exposure to Curt was when I was asked to be a respondent to his first book, Anatomy of the Soul. I read his book with an analytic eye, prepared to offer my critique. Prior to our talk, though, I was blessed to have a three hour dinner with him and another friend. Although I was still left with questions about his ideas, I felt a connection with the man. I have often joked that he is the only person I have ever presented at a conference with whom I hugged when we parted. I have since read his book four times.

Quite some time ago, he told me that he was working on a book on shame and I could not wait. In recent years, I have done quite a bit of reading about shame including Ed Welch's fine book Shame Interrupted as well as the works of Brene Brown. These works have been professional rewarding and personally helpful.

The Soul of Shame is a particular gift to me, however. As a Christian, a neuropsychologist, and someone interested in shame, this book provides a unique intersection. He weaves his personal and professional experiences together with his discussions of vulnerability and developing an integrated mind, particularly in the context of a body of believers. Though written by a psychiatrist specializing in interpersonal neurobiology, it is accessible, interesting, and wise.