Is There Value in Possessing a Small and Narrow Mind?

Greatness is an Option when Smallness is a Reality

Lately I’ve been doing some thinking about a couple labels used by insular people to critique the perceived insular perspectives of others – “small-minded” and “narrow-minded.” 

In a time when tolerance as a virtue is given supremacy in our culture, I wonder if Christian culture has also been influenced by this same mindset. It’s understandable how this can happen. When every person is able to decide for themselves what is acceptable and what is not, we end up with an inability to adhere to well-defined, long-standing realities. We dismiss or deny actualities based on our current thinking which is often tainted by tolerance. We moderns know what is best.

We’ll defend our own ideas simply because they are our own. There’s no way we could be mistaken. We’re too smart or experienced to be tricked by anything that varies from our well-informed understanding. 

We are so much like Pilate asking, “What is truth?” when the Truth is standing right in front of him. He can’t see truth while staring at it. He’s blinded by his own position, politics, and prejudices, just like us. 

So, when someone challenges our ideas we label him or her as “small-minded” or “narrow-minded” in an attempt to protect our own hidden prejudices. 

These are the labels that I’ve been thinking about. 

No one wants to be small-minded or narrow-minded anymore. That’s for ignorant, cave men; jungle-dwelling tribal members who have yet to experience the modern world with its super-information highway. People who don’t read, can’t use the internet, or possess a 55 IQ qualify as small-minded. 

These terms are usually used in a derogatory sense. You should feel bad about yourself if you are small- or narrow-minded. Those using these words may see you as biased, uninformed, or just plain ignorant. It’s not a good thing to be small-minded. 

I disagree. There’s another way of understanding these terms. 

Support for Smallness 

There are specific areas of our thinking where smallness is to be celebrated. It’s foolish to think that every idea has value and should be accepted. There are some people who espouse the idea that a Triune God does not exist. Many religious groups, including Moslems and Mormons, do not believe that Jesus is of one essence with the Father. The true Church has always worshipped the Trinity, one in essence. The Church is being small-minded and that’s a good thing.   

Normal Christianity values a “small” mindset over being broad-minded or “thinking big.” Modern societal norms pressure us to think and act like consumers, desiring more and better, striving for more comfort and less suffering. Yet, thinking small denotes humility, contentment, and perhaps simplicity. Are there any virtues more dismissed in our culture than these? 

Jesus teaches us that the small and narrow way is the only way to life.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it. Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7.13-15)

In this context of “narrow” and “broad,” Jesus introduces false prophets. True Life is only found in the narrow and small. False prophets operate in the wide and broad leading to destruction. Sounds to me like we’re supposed to experience the narrow and small not the wide and broad. Our “way” of life is to be small and narrow. 

It’s small-minded to experience Jesus as THE Way, Truth, and Life and to live in the Father through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. We cram our lives with so many distractions from the Way, so many ideas that are not Truth, and so much that sucks Life from us, that we easily succumb to the broadness of our culture and society.

This includes the broad Christian culture that embraces anything that resembles something Christian. If it happens in church it must be OK. If our favorite theologian teaches it, it must be true. Popular Christian musicians sing heresy and we’re blind to it. The new, hot Bible teacher goes off the interpretive rails and we think he’s/she’s just being creatively innovative. 

Jesus became small when He became man. Yet, in taking on human “narrowness” he experienced human life to the fullest. I imagine a fuller human life is only possible as we become content, humble, and live in union with the Trinity as Jesus did.

Paul illustrates in his life and also writes that we are to be content in whatever situation we’re in. Normative Christian living prioritizes the narrowness of humble, godly contentment. (Philippians 4.10-13) Making sure we’re not small-minded is never mentioned. 

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. (1 Timothy 6.6-9)

We need to be well aware of our desires (“lusts”) because destruction is found in our desire for “broad” and “more.” However, it looks like contentment is found in our desire for “narrow” and “less.” 

Context Matters (and often we don’t actually know the context)

I do understand there are ignorant, petty, biased, bigoted, and reactionary people all around. In these cases, “small-minded”/“narrow-minded” might apply. We need to be cautious about placing these labels on others since each one of us possess these same characteristics. 

Additionally, to label someone “small-minded” when they are simply challenging or disagreeing with us, is well…you know. 😏

Obviously, in using these labels (whether we should or not could be debated), context matters. It might be best not to use them at all. 

Bottom line? I’m comfortable with being labeled small- or narrow- minded in the sense of theological truth, Church teaching, and spiritual practice. I want to be small-minded vs. high-minded or broad-minded. I want to know what it is to experience the narrow and small way like Jesus did. 

I want to be small-minded when it leads to humility and contentment. I want to be narrow-minded when it comes to truth. (Problems arise we think we know the truth when it’s not really the truth.) 

Being small-minded doesn’t have to be an unfavorable attribute. It may just as well describe someone who is humble and content. 

Small and narrow – seems to be the way of Jesus. 

What do you think? Still not convinced? Got you thinking? Have you struggled with being small (content, humble)? Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K 

What Every Christian Should Know About Prayer

It's Not What You Think

You only truly know what you experience. So when a disciple made the request to Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” Jesus did not give his disciples a book to read, a program to follow, or a video to watch. He didn’t form a small group to study prayer. He didn’t give them words to study, exegete, or preach. He gave his disciples words to say and a way to say them. That, according to Jesus, is what it means to pray. That’s how you learn to know how to pray. You learn to pray by praying. There is no theory here, no theoretical ideas at all.

 

You don’t understand Jesus’ words in order to say them. You say them in order to understand them. 

Jesus made prayer accessible and good. We’ve made prayer complicated and intimidating. Let me save you hours of frustration and help prayer become simple again. 

Learn to Pray By Praying 

Learning to pray is a meandering path for many Christians. My journey with God in prayer has taken me from a period when I dismissed prayer as unnecessary to the present where prayer has become an integral part of each day. Along the way were long stretches of inconsistent time with God followed by short bursts of focused effort. On my own I tried my best to learn how to pray by reading books on prayer. “I need to pray! So, I’ll read a book about prayer.” Huh?

However, what I needed to do was actually pray. Learning comes in doing. You learn to play the guitar by playing the guitar. You learn to swim by swimming. You learn to cook by cooking. You learn to pray by praying. Jesus knew this. When asked to “Teach us to pray,” Jesus gave his disciples words to say and a way to say them.

We have much to learn from this brief exchange. But first let’s see that…

Prayer is best learned by repeating a set prayer.

Jesus gave his disciples a liturgy, a prayer liturgy – a form or order to follow with meaningful words expressing the essentials for living in relationship with God. Good prayer liturgy is the way you learn to pray. Good prayer liturgy teaches you to know God and yourself in relationship with Him. It’s that simple. 

Here it is simple and plain. Learn to pray by saying this prayer from Jesus in the morning, at meals, and at night. 

Our Father in the heavens, hallowed be your name

Your kingdom come

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, 

Give us today our bread 

and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors 

and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. 

Don’t listen to the ignorant naysayers who believe that repeating a set of words becomes boring, methodical, nonsensical, and rote. They don’t actually know what they’re talking about. Real liturgical prayer is filled with meaning, struggle, surprises, depth, and wonder. Follow Jesus. He knows what he’s talking about. 

I have been saying these words almost daily (and now multiple times during the day) for over 5 years now. After all these years, I’ve not tapped into the depth of their meaning though new experiences of prayer sometimes happen. This prayer, in particular, is an inexhaustible treasure of God’s life, love, and light. 

Say it consistently with a humble heart and you’ll discover its treasure. 

How will you implement Jesus’ prayer to his disciples in your own daily life? What obstacles do you need to overcome in order for this to happen? When will you start? Share below. 

Dr. K 

Hospitality on Steroids: Three Weeks That Changed Our Lives

You Never Know How the "Stranger" May Impact Your Life

What comes to mind when you think of “hospitality?” Does a romantic B & B tucked away in a secluded forest or located on a hill overlooking a gently flowing river come to mind? How about a luxury hotel where your every comfort is provided from satin sheets to monogrammed robes? Maybe you think of an attentive host and waiter that make you feel at home when you eat at the local Cracker Barrel. Perhaps you think of last Saturday’s pool party at the Johnson’s filled with good food, cool drinks, and fun activities.

It may be true that most of us like the idea of hospitality more than actually doing hospitality. 

When thinking of hospitality, do Abraham and Sarah ever come to mind?

One day, while relaxing outside his home on a hot day, God comes to Abraham in the form of three strangers. Abraham insists that they stay for a while, refresh and rest. He and Sarah then prepare bread, meat, and other provisions so that the needs of their body and soul could be met (the body and soul are intertwined). In the midst of their hospitality, a significant conversation takes place including the news that Sarah is to birth a child in her old age. 

The hospitality of Abraham and Sarah is portrayed in the icon above. They welcome and attend to these three unknown messengers of the Lord. They work hard in providing what is needed. The strangers find refreshment and rest. In that setting, God “shows up” in an unsettling yet amazing way.  

Three Weeks Of Intense Hospitality 

As you may have noticed, this is the first UnCommon Journey post you’ve received in almost four weeks. It was not my intention to cease writing over this period. It just happened. It happened mainly due to a ramped-up demand on my time by folks in our home. It’s not that the people were demanding, always wanting something from me. It was the situations that brought them into our home that needed so much attention that I had no time to blog. The need to engage with folks immediately prevented me from interacting with you. Please forgive me. 

Forgive me for not communicating with you as I so desire and enjoy doing. I have so much to learn about navigating through demanding times while keeping other necessities afloat. Let me share with you what’s been happening here. 

It all started when Tyler, through Airbnb, asked about the possibility of his family staying with us for the funeral of his brother-in-law. Through a few messages it sounded like a fit so he booked with us. They were to arrive the very next evening (Monday). We keep our rooms prepared for guests at all times. Good thing! 

When they arrived, the story began to unfold. Jim, a 38 year-old man, had died suddenly, leaving this family in grieving shock. Arriving at our house was his wife and 10-year old son and two step-children, father and step-mother, sister and Tyler, and later three sisters to the wife. The family was raised in Ooltewah but were now in New York and Florida. Jim was to be buried “back home, here in Ooltewah.” It was fascinating watching this family pull together, support one another, and honor Jim in everything. 

On Tuesday they pulled together pictures, memories, family/friends for the wake on Wednesday.  

On Thursday the funeral and graveside were held. Afterwards, family and friends (about 50) gathered back at our house for catered meal, catching up, and reflections.They interacted with people they hadn’t seen for 10-15 years. We prepared Homestead House for them and cleaned up after them. Young cousins swam. Games were played in the front yard. There was lots of talk, laughter, eating and drinking. 

Friday was time with family and clean up until everyone left Saturday morning. 

I had significant conversations with various family members but especially the dad who was grieving deeply over the loss of his only son.

It was our privilege to minister to each person –  body and soul. We didn’t use trite words of comfort; only genuine works of grace that we hoped would help comfort their hearts. 

Every evening and morning we prepared breakfast for 10 people and cleaned up afterwards. Hours every day were devoted to grocery shopping and preparation for the next day’s breakfast. There was constant movement, conversation, and attentiveness all day long. I took it as a personal challenge to commune with God in this busy environment. The Jesus Prayer became my heart’s “go to” during these hectic times. Rhonda and I did this work on our own and found great joy and satisfaction as we engaged in a labor of love for this grieving family. 

The whole experience deepened our understanding of hospitality. It helped change our hearts to greater sympathy and mercy to others. 

(Names have been changed in this story for reasons of privacy.)

After these dear folks headed home, we welcomed a hurting family that same afternoon. Father, mother, and daughter had just gone through major health scares making this get-away a necessity. Again, we served and conversed in ways we hoped would encourage, strengthen and sooth their bodies and souls. The two children (grandchildren) practically lived in the pool.

While this was going on, another couple stayed Saturday night. Then a mother-daughter combo came Sunday through Tuesday, over Memorial Day. It seemed a never-ending ministry of preparing, cleaning, and then preparing again. 

We had one day to “relax” until friends, Greg and Becky (HH partners) from So Cal, stayed with us to survey the area for potential retirement locations. It was a joy to have them in our home for five days during which we had our first Homestead House fundraiser.

Friday night 16 people gathered for food, drink, and a presentation of the impact of Homestead House Ministries on the lives of individuals and ministry leaders. It was loads of fun and of financial benefit to our ministry even with countless hours of preparation, planning, and implementation. The Lord was so good. 

Greg and Becky headed out Tuesday morning.

That evening we welcomed another group of So Cal friends (and HH partners). We prepared and fed dinner to 11 family members. Our friends and their two young daughters stayed with us a couple more days while the father headed up a conference at Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, GA. 

While all this was happening, we were dealing with a significant family issue. Also, Rhonda was still working daily at Bryan College, preparing and cleaning once she got home. (I think she’s an angel!)  I was attending to the needs of our guests – preparing, serving, and cleaning up breakfasts, grocery shopping, spending time with guests, and working around the house to make our guests feel comfortable. All this for about 21 days straight. 

Honestly, this is the first time in almost four weeks that I’ve had a lengthy opportunity to sit at my computer and write. 

What we’re learning about hospitality

When we devoted our lives to the ministry of hospitality, we had idealistic notions of what that looked like. None of that has faded. However, we are more realistic about what genuine hospitality entails. 

  1. True hospitality is a lot of concerted effort. Sometimes it’s just plain work – good work – but work nonetheless. But, as my father would say, “I get tired in the work, but not of the work.” We want our guests to keep romanticizing hospitality. We’ll try our best to do the grunt work with grace and love so it doesn’t come off as “sacrificial.”  
  2. Genuine hospitality provides the opportunity to meaningfully give life to others and receive it in return. It is so encouraging to encourage others. Genuine love is usually reciprocated. We don’t love in order to receive. Yet, this often happens. 
  3. Welcoming the stranger, a good description of hospitality, gives room for God to show up in unexpected ways. Conversations often turn to heart concerns. Life situations are disclosed. Loving hospitality is a safe place for people to unburden themselves. We listen. Sometimes that is all that’s needed for God to minister to hearts and encourage another step forward. 
  4. Hospitality demonstrates that care for body and soul often makes words unnecessary. For us introverts, too much chatter can be counterproductive to our desire to minister. We just want to do for others and not have to talk so much. We can pray as we “work behind the scenes.” It’s not that we don’t like people. We simply want to meet their needs in ways authentic to us and to others. Being hospitable is the perfect way to do this.
  5. Compassionate hospitality means that it is crucial to know the love of God. Only in communion with God can real love be experienced. God is love. We rarely are. To connect with people in love we need to stay connected to God’s love.

I hope you’ll consider how you might open your home and heart to the fascinating and challenging ministry of hospitality. Host your friends or neighbors for dinner. Accept a traveling missionary into your home. Host a theme party for your small group or Sunday School class. 

Do this out of your love from God and for God. Commune with God as you prepare. Then, share the goodness, love, and mercy of God with the “strangers” who enter your life. 

You will be blessed when you do. 

If you have questions about a ministry of hospitality or comments, please share below. 

Dr. K 

The Great Need of Christians For Spiritual Fathers

Compared to Teachers, They are Rare

Finding a spiritual father has been a life-long goal of mine. One is not easy to find. They hide in solitude and silence. They are simple and unconcerned about publicity. They are among us yet we’re blind to their presence. I’ll not give up my search. However, I may need to adjust my expectations.  

My own biological father, Joel Kettenring, helped me know God by his example and by his preaching. He possessed a  great heart for God and a wholehearted dedication to serving Him. He probably had a lot more to offer me spiritually than I was looking for at the time. Yet, I was deeply influenced by his obvious desire to know God more deeply.

Perhaps his example stirred in me a desire for a “spiritual father” – a man whose ongoing experience of God is deeply transforming his life; a man being humbled as he struggles to die to self and live in Christ.  

Thankfully, I’ve had many fatherly men in my life. They were influential at a particular time moving me along in my journey to the Father. Pastor Joe and Pastor Bill, Drs. Wayne, Klaus, Dallas, and Tom were instrumental in showing me a meaning of Father whether as a shepherd, teacher, or unofficial mentor. I am eternally grateful that they showed me what a true father is and what he is not. 

I’ve learned two realities on this father-journey: 

  1. Only God the Father can be the father my heart longs for.
  2. The journey is about becoming a spiritual father as much as finding a spiritual father (even though I know I need one to become one). 

Apostle Paul 

The Apostle knew the crucial significance of a spiritual father in the life of the Christian. We need instructors and teachers. But our greater need is for fathers who live authentic Christian lives worth imitating. They are much more rare, harder to find, easy to miss. 

St. Paul writes (I Corinthians 4.15-16) – For though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you have not many fathers…Therefore I urge you to imitate me. (in other letters he writes something similar – 1 Cor. 11.1 Imitate me as I imitate Christ, Phil 3.17, 1 These 1.6, 2 Theses 3.9)) 

True spiritual fathers have the credibility to say, “Imitate me” since they have the genuine life in Christ to back it up. 

Teachers 

Today we have a myriad (Gr. murious) of instructors (NKJV –  “ten thousand;” innumerable). Everywhere you turn, there are instructors. In church you have pastors, Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, elders or deacons. In schools there are professors, researchers, and teachers. There are countless books by instructors. Thousands of websites by writers. Hundreds of conferences loaded with speakers. Friends with advice. Well-meaning relatives who preach their opinions. People communicating through movies, books, brochures, CDs, radio podcasts, satellite radio, seminars, webinars, ebooks, and bumper stickers. Instructors are a dime a dozen. 

We have more than enough “paidogogos” (Gr.) – meaning: trainers, instructors, teachers, guides, guardians, tutors.  

These instructors pass on information. They appeal to the intellect. They want you to think better, make informed judgments, stimulate your brain, refine your reasoning, become smarter, grasp arguments, comprehend ideas, and sharpen your reasoning. They seek to persuade with logic and emotion. 

They don’t necessarily need to follow their own teaching. The idea is: as long as the information is good, they are good. 

Fathers 

Fathers may want all this for you, too. But they understand the real necessity to live what they teach so much so that they hesitate to teach truth unless they are living it. They know God relationally and experientially. They are more about experiencing life in Christ than trying to analyze and explain it. 

This kind of “spiritual” father can truly have authority and exercise responsibility because he/she lives God’s life – dying to self; repenting of wrongdoing; battling sin, flesh, the world, and satan; humbly submitting to a higher authority, and actually participating in God’s will. 

Above all, these spiritual fathers model life in Christ. They are real-life examples of living death, purposeful struggle, moment-by-moment communion with God, bold humility, loving kindness, joyful peace, faithful long-suffering, true wisdom, and beautiful goodness. They manifest the qualities of gentleness, humility, patience, compassion, discernment, and love. 

They are rare indeed. 

They are not interested in simply passing on information. They want to BE the information they pass on. 

Their goal? Again, we turn to the Apostle Paul: My little children, of whom I travail in birth until Christ be formed in you  (Galatians 4.19).

A true spiritual father wants nothing more than to see Jesus Christ in his children. Therefore, he wants nothing more than to see Jesus Christ in his/her own life. 

Today

Let’s be honest. We have plenty of Christian leaders who want something different than this. They’re devoted to building or maintaining their own little kingdoms (church, school, organization, online platform) and finding people to follow them into it. They’re dedicated to persuading people to a certain theological way of thinking. They’re committed to helping others become better people, changing the world to become a better place, or raising family members to be good. And they do this by instruction. 

Rare is the leader who, out of their own Christlikeness, influences others in becoming like Jesus as they follow their example.  

What we have are scores of teachers who, on occasion, act like fathers. What we need are fathers who, on occasion, act like teachers. 

Let’s make this really practical for a second. A big mistake often made by fathers to their children is to focus on instructing them rather than being a father to them. I write from personal experience. Ugh! It’s much easier to tell our children what to do, or demand it of them, than guide them gently, lovingly, and patiently. Our heavenly Father relates to us as a Father who lovingly guides by example and patience. We need to do the same. If you’ve blown it in the past with your children, there’s no better time to become more fatherly than now. Ask their forgiveness for being so demanding and begin building a Christ-like relationship with them as you become more like Christ. 

I’m confident there are true spiritual fathers out there. They’re hidden in their humility and total devotion to Jesus and His ways. They are not popular or even well known. 

I’m also confident I’m not close to being one. I’m far too worldly, self-absorbed, judgmental, and unloving to qualify. To find one, I look through a window not into a mirror. 

I”d love for us all to find a spiritual father here on earth. Perhaps, while we’re searching, we can seek to imitate Jesus Christ and the Apostles. 

Are you up to the challenge? Few are. I hope you are an exception. 

Share your thoughts about spiritual fatherhood below. 

Dr. K 

An Invitation to Real Apostolic-Like Living

The Challenge of 1 Corinthians 4.9-16

From some corners of evangelical Christianity come the cries for apostolic ministry – ministries of authority, physical healing, signs, words of knowledge, prophesy, and the “supernatural.” The desire is for apostolic results. But, what about the apostolic kind of life that goes with it? These results did not come through empty vessels but through men shaped by asceticism, hardship, resistance, and prayer. A modern apostle might say, “It doesn’t matter. The supernatural is God’s work. It matters little how I live or who I am.” The Apostle Paul would disagree.

In 1 Corinthians 4.9-16, the Apostle Paul, from first hand experience, describes what being an apostle looks like: 

  • last of all
  • sentenced to death
  • a spectacle to the world, angels and others
  • a fool for Christ’s sake
  • weak
  • held in disrepute
  • hungry and thirsty
  • poorly dressed
  • beaten
  • homeless
  • involved in manual labor
  • reviled yet blesses
  • persecuted yet endures
  • slandered yet speaks well of the slanderers
  • the scum of the world
  • rejected like garbage

Contrast this with the modern-day “apostle,” who is trying hard to be:

  • relevant
  • distinguished
  • privileged
  • popular
  • successful
  • influential
  • diplomatic
  • well-liked
  • recognized
  • powerful
  • comfortable

Paul’s description could easily be dismissed as only applying to first century apostles. If only he had not gone on to say,

 I admonish you because you have countless guides who want to tell you how to live but not many fathers who are actual examples of how to live. That’s why I say, “live as I live; imitate me.”

You and I are not apostles. But we are to become apostle-like Christians as Paul describes. This is at the core of our journey with Jesus Christ and his apostles.

It is a journey to nothingness.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle writes, “Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies”  (4.10). Nothingness is the place we experience everything good. 

It is only in dying that we experience real life.

Do you know much about the Apostles? Unfortunately, I don’t. 

Today, let’s find out more about these men who changed the world in their living and in their dying.  

Spoiler alert: with one exception, they all died as martyrs. How did they live? How did they die? Let’s do some research. Then, let’s do some self-examination in light of what we find. 

Share below a gem that you discover and how it impacts you. And share this post with others. 

Dr. K

Getting Serious About Knowing God in Prayer

Learn from Those Who Pray

Since starting to establish a online platform, I receive 10-12 email messages everyday from people eager to inform and sell me their insights on how to have a successful internet platform. They’re telling me how to blog, podcast, use Facebook and Twitter, write, develop online courses and ebooks, publish, do webinars and videos, and build a recognized brand. But, none of these successful entrepreneurs help me know God better. None of them teaches me how to commune with God. Why would I think they could? That’s not their purpose or goal. 

Jeff Goins, a successful writer and internet entrepreneur, doesn’t help me to refurbish an antique desk. He’s a writer who helps other writers. Jeff may know some furniture restoration techniques. Yet, he’s not the “go to” guy on restoring antique furniture.  

Let’s apply this to praying.

Isn’t it fascinating that we look to and trust people to teach us about prayer who don’t know prayer? They take a stab at it now and then. They read a book about it and pass on some ideas they glean from their reading. They talk about a passage of scripture on prayer. They cry out to God when they’re desperate enough. 

However, communing with God in prayer is not their daily, ordinary, regular way of living. They have too many other, more important, things to tend to. 

Yet, we try to learn prayer from people who are inconsistent, somewhat ignorant, and less than committed to real communion with God. 

Why should we expect to learn how to pray from a pastor who struggles to find 15 minutes a day to meet with God?

Is this one reason why our prayer lives are so anemic? We have many teachers but no one who genuinely models for us a life of prayer whom we can follow. 

A Typical Approach to Prayer, Unfortunately

I recently read the book entitled Prayer by Timothy Keller. While I appreciate much about what he writes on prayer – “[Prayer] is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life” – he falls far short of exploring the fullness of knowing God in prayer. By focusing on the prayer writings of Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin, Keller objectifies prayer as this “thing” we do rather than the way we live. I imagine that’s how he approaches prayer himself – academic not experiential. 

Prayer seems to be an object of study to Keller. As helpful as this might be, he totally misses the reality of prayer. Prayer is participating in the life of the Trinity not an object that’s dissected for comprehension.

I grew weary of his constant referencing of “prayer styles” into categories like, “communion-centered” or “kingdom-centered” prayers. This “straw man” dichotomy must be destroyed. Prayer is God-centered or it is nothing. I use the word “communion” for prayer since it best reflects a participation in the life of the Trinity which is our privilege and responsibility as Christians. When we commune with/participate in God, categories mean nothing. The relationship is everything. 

And that is what’s missing in most modern approaches to prayer – relationship. I’m talking intimate union with Mercy and Truth. In 321 pages of Keller’s Prayer, I don’t recall seeing the word “relationship” even once.

Keller illustrates that most teaching on prayer we’re exposed to comes from people who read books about how others pray or exegete passages from the Bible about how others pray. They rarely pray themselves. Keller only referenced his own experience of prayer a couple times. One has to wonder why. 

Just because Christian leaders may know a lot of theology or Bible information doesn’t automatically make them proficient about knowing God in prayer. They may be able to help you know more about God. However, your heart seeks to actually know God. 

Knowing God Means Experiencing God in Prayer

The Psalmist David writes of seeking the Lord (prayer): “This is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek the Face of the God of Jacob.”

He then poetically exclaims:

Lift up your gates, O you princes, and be lifted up, O everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall enter. 

Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!

Lift up your gates, O you princes, and be lifted up, O everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall enter. 

Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory! (Psalm 24.6-10)

David knows that our heart yearns to know God. To know the might of his power and glory in us. To know his strength in our weakness. To know his might in our struggles. To know his glory in our mundane.

Our role is to open the door of our heart and let Him enter. 

More than knowing the Bible or how to do certain spiritual disciplines, we want to truly experience the reality of the Trinity in our life. 

Greater and Lesser Lights 

Do you know there are men and women who devote their whole day to communion with God? They have learned and continue to learn what it’s like to abide in Christ every moment. 

Why do we ignore the brilliant rays of enlightenment beaming from holy men and woman and rely on “lesser lights” to guide us? 

  • We’re unaware of their lives. 
  • We’ve been told they are extremists, other worldly, with whom we cannot relate. 
  • We reject them because they don’t fit into our theological framework. 

When someone who has devoted their life to God in prayer says something about prayer, we need to pay close attention. Such is the case with the abbot of a monastery on Vashon Island in the Puget Sound, Washington. Abbot Tryphon says:

We all need a good dose of silent prayer each and every day. Finding that perfect place in your home that can become your cave or your prayer closet gives you that space where you can go deep into the heart and connect with God…The Jesus Prayer is that perfect prayer for it is a place of adoration and praise and a place that proclaims Jesus is Lord who can grant you mercy. The simple prayer which evokes the holy name of Jesus can transform your life and take you into the very heart of God. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”…This prayer accomplishes St. Paul’s admonition that we should pray always. It is a prayer that takes you out of yourself and into communion with Christ. It is a prayer that can change your life… (from Ancient Faith Radio podcast, May 2, 2018)   

When a man of prayer speaks about prayer, we need to listen and follow his instruction. 

Jesus, totally living his life here on earth in communion with the Father and Spirit, can teach us a thing or two about prayer. The Apostles who learned from Jesus how to pray, write what we need to read. Men and women who answer God’s call to a life of prayer can teach us much about relating to God in prayer. Why would we go to anyone else? 

Though we cannot live as these lived, we can accept some of their ways and benefit from their experiences of knowing God in prayer. 

  • We can read the saints who devote hours each day in private and communal prayer. 
  • We can take the scriptures on prayer to heart. Wrestle with Jesus’ teaching, Paul’s example, and James’ writings. 
  • We can read and pray the Psalms which is the prayer book of the Church. 

Helpful Books 

Books can be of some benefit depending on the author. But the best way to commune with God is to commune with God even when you don’t know what you’re doing. Because it’s not so much about doing the right things as being with God. 

I can recommend two books on prayer that will challenge you to pray, written by men devoted to God in prayer. These are not easy books because they confront our ignorance and invite us to real prayer. They are also written by authors who are probably outside your tradition. All the more reason to read them. 

       Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (Richard J. Foster)

Foster is a good writer. In this book, he draws from centuries of prayer literature and praying people to compose a masterpiece on prayer. Though I don’t endorse all that he writes, there is certainly much more good here than not. I appreciate his referencing real ancient writers like Gregory of Nyssa and St. Symeon the New Theologian. Distinguishing 21 “types” of prayer is unnecessary. But if you ignore the labels and focus on the content, you’ll benefit from this book. 

       Prayer of the Heart (George Maloney) 

If you’re ready for it, this is the one book that comes close to presenting prayer in all its fullness. Maloney, a Roman Catholic priest, explores the Eastern Orthodox approach to God in prayer. Don’t let that scare you off. Take from it what you can and then keep coming back for more when you’re hungry again. There is so much available here for the good of your relationship with God. If you possess a burning to know God in prayer, this book will feed the flame. 

Skip the superficial prayer drivel (Lucado, Omartian, Wilkins, Hybels, Yancey) and take seriously your desire to know God in prayer. The best help comes from those who’ve devoted their lives to knowing God in prayer. Find them. Listen to them. Let them lead you into the heart of God. 

Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K 

Trying to Help Those Who Don’t Want Help

A Brief Discourse on Helping

People who have a heart for people desire to help them. Yet, people you care about are not always receptive to your help. What do you do then? When it comes to helping others, it takes two to tango.

Seeking help is scary and sometimes difficult. To admit you have a problem along with the prospect of personal change often keeps you from seeking help. You’re blinded by shame, pride, fear, and anger. Therefore, you can’t clearly see reality or your true self.

There’s the story of the two young fish swimming along. They happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning boys! How’s the water?” The two young fish swim on for a bit. Eventually one of them looks over at the other and says, “What the hell is water?”

The truth can be right in front of us but we can’t – or choose not to – see it. It’s easy to become blinded to the realities of who we are and what’s around us – like the fish clueless about the water.

Help means someone “invades” our private space challenging us to rearrange some things, get rid of the junk, clean out our closets, and stop messing up our lives.

It’s easy to see how seeking help is rarely easy.

Offering Help

According to my 10 pound New Oxford American Dictionary, “help” means to: 1) “make it easier for (someone) to do something by offering one’s services or financial or material aid; improve (a situation or problem); be of benefit to; assist (someone) to move in a specified direction; assist someone to put on or take off (a garment); relieve the symptoms of (an ailment); 2) to serve someone with (food or drink); to take something without permission; 3) an appeal for urgent assistance

Basically help is assistance. We don’t like to see people in pain. We have resources they need. We offer the resources.

Unfortunately, this kind of assistance may be unwelcome, unappreciated, faulty, or misunderstood,

It Takes Two to Tango 

First, there’s the “help-er” who seeks to ease someone in a difficulty PLUS the “help-ee” who receives the help and benefits from the help.

Help is a two-person dance. Sure, you can try to help yourself on your own, but rarely with any level of success. You’ll keep tripping over your own clumsy feet. The best way to help yourself is to accept the beneficial help from others who have insight and experience related to your situation.

What do you do, then, when your help is not wanted? Here are five suggestions:

1. Press forward anyway no matter the consequences. Force your help on them. This reminds me of an intervention. I’ve only heard stories of this method’s success. The few times I’ve been involved in something like this, it failed. The human will plays a significant part in change. As Benjamin Franklin taught: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

2. Pull back and find another way to persuade. When done with genuine sensitivity, love and kindness, this method is effective.

An Aesop’s fable illustrates:

The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.

“Kindness effects more than severity.”

However, there are human beings that will use this method to manipulate people. Instead of a direct assault, they’ve learned the art of “putting on airs,” treating people nicely, so they can get their way.

Real help doesn’t manipulate people. Discover options that will make a difference.

3. Wash your hands of it. You care for the person by letting them carry on blinded by their own insanity. This seems to be what the father of the prodigal son did. It’s what God does to some of his creatures driven by sin. It seems a crazy way to love. But we’re not God.

There are some people whom you cannot rescue. It’s a hard reality to admit. You cannot help every individual no matter how much you try.

4. Pray for God to help while waiting to participate (or not) in that help. As a Christian, this is a great option. Commit the person to God’s mercy constantly. Then, seek God wholeheartedly as you wait on Him to direct your desire to help.

5. Most importantly, be an example of a person being transformed by the mercy and grace of God. The trouble this person is having may be God’s way of changing YOU and your ability to love others. Your ability to help flows from who you are.

Insight from the Psalmist

Read how God helps those in need:

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob; whose hope is in the Lord his God….The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; He upholds the widow and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked He brings to ruin. (Psalm 146.5-9)

  • The person who looks to God for help will usually be open to receive help from others. He/She has some idea of God’s ability to assist.
  • The person who doesn’t trust God for help may struggle with trusting others who offer help. That kind of person may find God assisting them to ruin.
  • With God there is always hope and help. Yet, we are responsible to learn to trust Him and His help. We can just as easily  rely on ourselves.

Insight from Psychology 

Victoria Maxwell who writes on the Psychology Today site, reminds us of these steps in helping those who don’t want help:

  1. Remember the journey to accept there is a problem to deal with is theirs alone. We can offer genuine help and listen with an open and compassionate heart. But, we are not responsible for their health and happiness. Let go.
  2. Ask your loved one to humor you and go to see someone who can help. Offer to go together.
  3. Build trust and rapport. If your trying to help creates more frustration and anger, do not get frustrated or angry in return. This is easier said than done. Do your best to keep communication open no matter how difficult it becomes.
  4. Evaluate whether you are really the best person to talk to your loved one right now. This may really be true of parents toward their adult children. Another person who is wise and loves people, may be the better option to meet their need.

When Help may not Helpful

  • When help is given only to correct a perceived wrong. Care for the individual is not important. The only issue is fixing the problem.
  • When help comes from a less-than-credible person or someone not respected; an unreliable source. Of course, the one needing help determines this. If they want to dismiss a person as untrustworthy, then they’ll miss the help they need.
  • When help comes from a haughty, proud person. This person may be more interested in looking good than actually helping.
  • When help creates more problems. For example, the person becomes even more dependent on the aid of others.

Making it Personal 

A major frustration of ministry is directing our desire to help people towards those who don’t see their need for help. People who are complacent or self-satisfied, don’t see their need for help. Unfortunately, this describes most people who sit in church pews Sunday after Sunday.

It also describes most church and ministry leaders. Their problem is more ego-related than complacency. Their expertise, training, position, or charisma exempt them from needing assistance. This is a dangerous place to be.

Though life always includes a good dose of struggle (it’s designed that way), we make it more difficult on ourselves when we try to go it alone. Truth is, we don’t have what it takes to make life “work.” We need help.

Also recognize that help is available to you. Ask God for help and see where that takes you. Wisely receive the help that’s offered and be open to benefit from it.

Lastly, become a person who genuinely helps others in kindness and love. Draw close to the Helper of us all and learn from Him. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all know what help is and how to do it. Follow their lead and heart.

Share a story of help below or share something you’re taking away from this post. 

Dr. K

 

It’s Been an Honor to Join You in Prayer

2018 Lenten Prayer Report

From February 18 – April 7, 2018 I had the honor to pray for almost 200 people every day. Names were given to me by readers of The UnCommon Journey and friends who receive the Homestead House Ministries newsletter.  

Most of the names were from people I know personally. A few I’ve never met.

Names came from close friends and long-time acquaintances as well as people we’ve only recently met. 

Names were submitted from folks living in: California, Tennessee, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Alabama, Indiana, North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, Michigan, and even London, Ontario Canada and London of the UK. 

Sometimes I knew the need or situation that prompted the request. Often I did not. 

Some needs were family situations like estranged or “wayward” children. Some requests focused on personal or family decisions. A few were personal struggles – spiritual and/or physical. 

I kept these needs in mind as I brought these names to God. The names were listed on a 81/2 x 11 sheet of paper because I have such a poor memory and wanted to make sure every name was mentioned every day. Of course, when I say name I mean person. (I have the gift of forgetting (no joke) which makes the list necessary. I need to write about this special gift sometime.) 

Along with asking God’s mercy on every person, I prayed this prayer for every person: 

O God, our Heavenly Father, who lovest mankind and art most merciful and compassionate, have mercy upon thy servants (here I would mention your names) for whom I humbly pray thee, and commend to thy gracious care and protection. Be thou, O God, their guide and guardian in all their endeavors, lead them in the path of thy truth and draw them nearer to thee, that they may lead a godly and righteous life in they love and fear; doing thy will in in all things. Give them grace that they may be temperate, industrious, diligent, devout and charitable. Defend them against the assaults of the enemy, and grant them wisdom and strength to resist all temptation and corruption of this life; and direct them in the way of salvation, through the merits of the Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

The prayer might not mention the specific need of the person, yet it focuses on the essentials like walking in truth, living a godly and righteous life; the need for grace, protection from evil, to resist temptation, and live the way of salvation. These are “big picture” items that, if realized, would meet the more specific need. 

For 50 days, I prayed like this for every person. That’s not a statement of pride or piety. It’s a statement of commitment and tenacity. I told you that I’d pray for the people you mentioned to me and I was able to keep my word. 

In actuality, I was simply joining with the Trinity and the saints gone before us who pray for these people at all times.

Also, I was joining you as you prayed.

I have no special magic formula that produces answers. God’s work in each of these lives is ongoing. I was trying to participate in that work. 

Thank you to all who submitted names. I found an ascetic pleasure and reverent tenderheartedness by joining you in your prayers.

Let’s do this together again during Lent of 2019. 

If you’d like to share anything from this experience, please do so below. 

Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen! Thanks be to God for all things! 

Dr. K 

How to Have A Fuller, Flourishing Relationship with God

It Can't Get Much Simpler Than This

Living more fully into your life with Christ takes place by taking small steps. If you sense that God is inviting you to a better, closer relationship, how can you effectively answer the invitation? You cannot keep doing the same things and expect different results. That’s a description of insanity, right? If you need to know God better (who doesn’t?), then new habits must be implemented. 

Living more fully into your life with Christ takes place in the normal routines of everyday life. One of the mistakes made in urging folks to know God better is to only recommend practices that isolate them such as, solitude, retreats, or silence. I’ve made this mistake often because these practices are so challenging yet good for the soul.

Popular Christian formation writer Dallas Willard differentiates various spiritual practices as disciplines of “abstinence” or “engagement.” As helpful as these categories are, he sets up a false dichotomy. Most of the disciplines of “abstinence” are actually practices that engagingly battle against deep issues in our life. This kind of dualistic thinking leads to confusion. We may hesitate to begin practices that are truly helpful.

We need to begin more simply yet fully.  

Though I may sound like a broken record, I want to invite you to a practice that includes many of the “disciplines” all in one simple, package. Its practice is also “biblical” and in obedience to Christ’s teachings. 

As the saying goes: “You eat the elephant one bite at a time.” or “The journey of a lifetime begins with one step.” 

Here is one bite towards fullness and one step towards a deepening journey with God… 

Say the Lord’s Prayer at least three times every day.

Our Father in heaven, hollowed beYour name. Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. 

Simple. Doable. Effective. 

This can be done in the quiet of your own home. The prayer can be said while driving. The words can be spoken out loud or silently. You can say them before you get out of bed in the morning and when you get into bed at night; during a boring meeting or in the middle of a traumatic event. Saying these words can ward off anger and lessen frustrations. A good suggestion is to say the prayer before you eat. 

Set an alarm on your phone to remind you – 6:00am, 12:00 noon, 6:00pm; or 9:00am, 12:00pm, and 3:00pm. Whatever it takes to make it a regular part of your day, do it. 

Don’t be concerned with “feeling” the words or even understanding their full meaning. Say them with sincerity of heart and mind, focusing your attention on Jesus Christ. 

Most commonly, saying the Lord’s Prayer will move your heart into a much different place. At the least, it will move your mind to a better place. At the most, it will move your heart into the heart of God – communion. 

Trying to carve out 30 minutes for morning devotions might be too much for you. Reading your Bible for 10 minutes might be too hard right now. But, this prayer is simple, doable, and effective. 

When you engage the Lord’s Prayer like this, your life and relationship with God will become fuller and more flourishing.

“You will show me the paths of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16.11) 

Why not start today.

Share your experiences of putting this into practice. 

Dr. K 

Today, Christ IS Risen

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ Now, Forever, and Everywhere

Acknowledging the resurrection of Christ need not stop at Easter.  It certainly did not abruptly end for the disciples and friends of Jesus at sundown Sunday night. They dealt with the reality of the resurrection for the rest of their lives. Jesus Christ, once dead now alive, delighted and disturbed them every moment of every day. 

For us, the resurrection of Christ can be a daily acknowledgement. At the very least an every Sunday celebration. At most, a moment-by-moment participation in the life of Christ. 
 
That’s why the present tense: Christ IS risen is preferred over the past tense: Christ has risen. The resurrection is always happening in us and around us. 
 
Christ’s resurrection is not just a past, historical event that we remember once a year. It is to be a daily reality in which we seek to participate. 
 
Jesus told Martha in the moments leading up to Lazarus’ resurrection: “I am the resurrection and the life.” He always is and always will be the Resurrection. In Him, we live also.
So let’s celebrate with our brothers and sisters in Serbia…

The lyrics invite all creation to rejoice – stars, mountains, woods, winds, oceans, beasts, bees, birds, lambs, angels, and all humanity. The life of Christ gives life to all creation. And, all creation responds in joy and thanksgiving.

A note on the red egg in the video: In the Orthodox tradition, Easter eggs are dyed red to represent the blood of Christ, with further symbolism being found in the hard shell of the egg symbolizing the sealed tomb of Christ. The cracking of the egg symbolizes His resurrection from the dead.

Here are the lyrics in English:

 
People rejoice, all nations listen:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Dance all ye stars and sing all ye mountains:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
 
Whisper ye woods and blow all ye winds:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
O seas proclaim and roar all ye beasts:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
 
Buzz all ye bees and sing all ye birds:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
O little lambs rejoice and be merry:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
 
Nightingales joyous, lending your song:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Ring, O ye bells, let everyone hear:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
 
All angels join us, singing this song:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Come down ye heavens, draw near the earth:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
 
Glory to Thee, God Almighty!
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Glory to Thee, God Almighty! Christ
God is risen! Let us rejoice!
 
Christos Voskrese! (Christ is Risen!)
 
Voistinu Voskrese! (Indeed, He is Risen!)
 (The song is written by Saint Nikolai Velimirovic of Ochrid.)
 
Enjoy the video and the celebration. I hope this will help all of us live into the resurrection of Christ today and always.

Dr. K