Archives For Reflection

Psalm 51 is one of my favorite psalms. It reveals some of David’s inner thoughts, fears, and concerns after his terrible sin (2 Samuel 11). Below is a brief survey of this psalm.

The Significance and Application of Psalm 51

Photo Credit: Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing

I. THE PURPOSE AND ARGUMENT OF PSALM 51

A. Purpose Continue Reading…

I. My Sin Nature

The quest for a life that is spiritual starts with sin. Even though God made me in His image, I have not been a good image bearer of Him because of the sin in my life. However, I do not always have to be a slave to sin. I have learned that I was a slave to sin from one teaching from Jesus as well as chapter 6 of Romans.

My Quest for a Life that is Spiritual

Photo Credit: Paul David

A. Romans 6 and the Mosaic Law’s Role in Sin

Romans 6 points out the power of sin in the life of man. Continue Reading…

Today’s post is the final part in a three part series about the benefits of a Sabbath. You can read the previous two posts here:

  1. The Sabbath: God’s Story
  2. The Sabbath: My Story

Today’s post focuses on you and your story about the benefit of the Sabbath of taking one day off per week.

The Sabbath

The main reason I have dedicated three entire days of blogging (and close to 3,000 words of writing) is that the Sabbath has the ability to give you a,

  • new outlook on life because of a new lifestyle
  • new ability to focus on your work while you are working because you know you are eventually going to have a day off
  • new ability to not focus on work while you are not working because you know you have a day off to relax and will be working the next day

The word “Sabbath” is derived from the Hebrew word which means to “cease” and “desist.” In ordinary terms, the Sabbath basically means a one day break each week from normal work and tasks. These are items such as work for your job, household chores, cooking, etc.

The activities you do or do not do on the Sabbath are up to you and vary depending on your lifestyle. However, I am not sure if there is a specific right or wrong thing to do on the Sabbath that can be applied to all people everywhere.

With that said, I believe the Sabbath teaches two things to leaders:

  1. It teaches you to trust God to provide: When taking one day off per week there is an element of trust you must have for God to help get the work done that needs to get done. Many times I have went to bed Saturday night (my normal Sabbath day is Sunday) knowing that there was work I needed to get done before Monday which was not complete. When things like that happen, it takes trust in God to have Him organize things in order for them to work out. Interestingly, when I stay committed to taking that Sabbath day, things always work out.
  2. It teaches you to focus on God: If you are like me, when you finally start taking days off, you suddenly have lots of free time and do not know what to do with it. As a result, the simple act of taking time off gives mental space for you to think about God, who He is, and what He is doing in your life. This is perhaps the best practice of the daily Sabbath: free time to think and focus on God.

Question: What is your story of taking a Sabbath?

The Sabbath: My Story

October 24, 2012 — 2 Comments

Today’s post is titled, The Sabbath: My Story as a follow up from yesterday’s post, The Sabbath: God’s Story. I am sharing with you my personal story of the amazing change in my life when I started to maintain a Sabbath day off once a week.

The Sabbath
Back in 2008 I was working hard. In fact, I was working extremely hard. Everyday I worked a solid eight hours at United Way of Stanislaus County, then I would work two or three hours on A Day of Hope, then I would start the day over again. In addition to the weekdays of maintaining that schedule, twice a month on a Saturday I would lead a fundraiser car wash for A Day of Hope. The car wash consisted of staying up until about 9pm or 10pm on Friday night gathering all the supplies in preparation for the next day.

For A Day of Hope, our car washes were not the normal two hour long High School Cheerleader car washes where the kids start and a couple hours later they are done. Our car washes were from 9am until 7pm, a total of 10 hours of work on a Saturday. This meant 10 hours of working in the hot California heat in addition to driving around picking up and dropping off volunteers.

My Sundays would then be filled with all the other normal duties that needed to be done for a nonprofit program such as A Day of Hope. Those duties included sending out donation request letters, thanking volunteers, updating our website, running social media, etc.

(With all this work, no wonder I wrote a book and passed off the work to someone else, right!?)

Oh, and did I mention that I also coordinated the Chick-fil-A Leadercast at our local church every spring. This meant the same amount of work as the car washes, just for one-time in the Spring instead of twice a month for the entire summer.

With this crazy work schedule, I was getting burnt out. My body was falling apart and I was mentally exhausted. I realized I had to change when I received news that I had tendinitis in my arm as a result of simply working too much and not allowing my body to get enough sleep.

As a result, I started to take one day off per week. On this day off, I did no work on a computer, no writing, and no talking on the phone about work. The only thing I would do is sleep in, attend church, watch movies, and maybe read a book or my Bible. I did not realize it at the time, but I was beginning to take a personal Sabbath day every week as the Bible instructs.

The results I received were amazing. The biggest difference was that the pain in my arm which had become worse and worse went away. I also noticed that I was more refreshed and mentally sharp both at work and at home.

It has been about four years since I started maintaining a Sabbath day and I still practice it even now. Some weeks I “cheat” a little because of family or work commitments, but most of the time I enjoy a Sabbath day off.

With some reflection, I now see three main benefits to taking a Sabbath day:

  1. A Sabbath day allows me to work harder: Taking one day off per week to rest is a reset button. After a day of rest I feel refreshed, revived, and ready to work again. With that refreshed body and mind, I am actually able to work hard and do better work by offering my best self to my work.
  2. A Sabbath day gives me a mental break: As I get older I am noticing that more of my work requires my mental energy and less of my physical strength. A day of rest helps my brain relax so that when I return to work, there is some room in my brain. I have actually found that a day of rest helps me get good ideas and new ideas that I might not have ever had if I was simply working all the time.
  3. A Sabbath day allows me to work harder because I see the end of the week: This is something I would not have realized at first, but definitely has impacted my work. When I know that I am going to take a Sunday off of work, I notice I am able to work harder during the week. I am able to work harder because I know that on Sunday I will be rewarded with a refreshing day off.

I hope you are able to see some of the benefits of the Sabbath from my story. Tomorrow’s blog post will be titled, The Sabbath: Your Story, (if you are not subscribed to this blog, you can do that here via RSS feeder or by email) where were will focus on your story of what benefits you can enjoy by taking a Sabbath day every week.

I am grateful to read about Thomas Merton’s emphasis on writing and the spiritual benefits he received from it.

Journaling

Based on his legacy and the number of published works that are credited to him he must have written a lot. Merton shares with us his love of writing when he exemplifies, “For to write is to love, it is to inquire and to praise, or to confess, or to appeal” (p. 17 of Bridges to Contemplative Living). In a way I relate to Merton. Writing is enjoyable, and it is a chance to inquire of God, praise Him and others, and appeal to God by sharing my heart. Writing helps to think inwardly and examine myself and my motives.

Because writing helps to examine myself and my own spiritual life it keeps me from thinking about the faults of others and judging them. In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas Kempis emphasizes to us the need for “Avoiding Hasty Judgments” when he writes, “Keep your eyes on yourself and avoid judging the actions of others. In judging others we accomplish nothing, are often in error, and readily fall into sin; but we always gain by self-examination and self-criticism” (p. 18). That is convicting for me because (like all people) I have a tendency to judge others when they are not living up to the standard I set for myself.

However, I think I can avoid that by following Kempis’ suggestion that self-examination is good, and I can always self examine myself through writing.

Question: Do you benefit from writing our journaling?

JOY OF SOLITUDE

March 26, 2012 — Leave a comment

Following up from my recent blog series, My Spiritual Formation Journey, I am sharing some additional throughts while reading books from Thomas Merton, Ajith Fernando, and Henri Nouwen.

Relax
Merton’s thoughts this week reflect the joy and happiness he found in solitude after faithfully being a monk. He writes, “what more do I seek than this silence, this simplicity, this ‘living together with wisdom’? For me there is nothing else. It is the pinnacle . . . . solitude really means: when the ropes are cast off and the skiff is no longer tied to land but heads out to sea without any ties, without restraints!” (p. 30 of Bridges to Contemplative Living). He seems very excited about this “solitude” thing that he has discovered.

After reading about Merton’s joy of solitude and Fernando’s encouragement for leaders to teach their disciples what they need to know before ministry, I have been thinking about how these lessons apply to my own life as a leader. Fernando encourages leaders that they “will also need to equip their children [disciples] to face the dangers in the world” (p. 172). Fernando continues by writing, “If we are to be leaders then, we should make the pursuit of joy an important aspect of our lives” (p. 177). The learning point for me here is that as disciples and young leaders who are being “spiritually formed” we need to be warned of what can hurt us (by those leaders) and encouraged to do the things that help us find joy (by those same leaders). This brings to mind the feelings Amy has shared about not being taught “self-care” by her teachers while in training to become a nurse. Those teachers should have been teaching her about the practices that would bring her joy in her work and what would allow her to avoid what might hurt her. On the flip side, Merton is encouraging us in the same way that solitude can provide that joy we need in ministry.

The joy we gain through solitude can be exciting and be, as Merton calls it, “the pinnacle” of our faith.

Question: Do you enjoy solitude and time alone? Why or why not?

Another crucial element of my spiritual formation is my study of God’s word.

Prayer and Spiritual Formation
This is a deep study where I do more than just read devotionally in the morning. When I study God’s word I read it over and over again, I study the historical context, and I look at the literary issues/meaning of the original text. For example, I just finished leading a 20 week Bible study series on the life of David about how he faithfully followed God, served Israel, and worked under Saul. Fernando further expands on the necessity of reading the Bible and the change that happens in our lives when he writes, “being anchored in the Word of God also gives security and firmness to our ministries. The path of obedience in ministry is not very easy to follow, as it often goes against our natural inclinations. Sometimes when we are obedient to God, others might think we are fools, and even we ourselves might wonder.”[1]

To accumulate all of these practices in their essence leads to me getting my identity from God. And that identity and picture, I hope, looks like this: “People who get their identity, security, and significance from God have the strength to be servants. Servants do many things that seem to be demeaning. Their schedules are at the mercy of those they serve, and often things requiring attention crop up at the most inconvenient times. One has to be strong to remain joyous while doing such things.”[2] I hope that I can be that servant and I pray that my practices and attitudes of spiritual formation lead me to being that way. Because the main focus on these important spiritual practices and attitudes focus on solitude, I would like to conclude with some thoughts on solitude from a man who knows what true solitude looks like and about the benefits that come from it. In his book, The Way of the Heart, Henri J. M. Nouwen reflects:

Solitude is not a private therapeutic place. Rather, it is the place of conversation, the place where the old self dies and the new self is born, the place where the emergence of the new man and the new woman occur.[3]

Question: What are your thoughts and feelings about these four blog posts on spiritual formation?


[1] Ajith Fernando, Jesus Driven Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), 93.

[2] Ibid., 59.

[3] Herni J. M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1981), 17.

The attitudes and practices that guide my spiritual life are simple but necessary.

Prayer and Spiritual Formation
The main spiritual practice is my quiet time in the morning with God. That time usually happens for about an hour from 4:00 AM to 5:00 AM. During that time, I journal down my thoughts and experiences from the previous day. Then I take some time to read large chunks of my Bible. Then I pray to God by talking with Him verbally and by writing down my payers in my journal. I first encountered the idea of reading large chunks of the Bible during prayer time while reading a biography on Billy Graham. The biography described how Billy often spends large chunks of time in the morning and the evening reading his Bible as part of prayer time. Reading large chunks of the Bible is his way of staying connected with God and staying familiar with who God is by reading His story.[1]  Reading large chunks of the Bible as part of my quiet time has been very beneficial to me and my spiritual life and my prayer time.

This course has helped to shape me to no longer see prayer as something that I do only in the morning before I go out to do my work during the day on my own. Many of Thomas Merton’s writings about being in “constant communication” with God have helped me to realize that I can do that and that I can stay in His will by doing that. And that communication with God can be as simple as thanking him for an answered prayer, to praying I will be Christ-like in a conflict I know I need to create, or a prayer for safety while riding snow mobiles in Alaska.

Merton’s writings have encouraged me to learn that solitude is a good thing. I have always enjoyed solitude and know that I connect with God best in silence best. Merton’s writings have taken this belief to a new level. When he writes, “What more do I seek than this silence, this simplicity, this ‘living together with wisdom.’? For me there is nothing else. It is the pinnacle. . . Solitude really means: when the ropes are cast off and the skiff is no longer tied to land but heads out to sea without any ties, without restraints!”[2] Solitude helps me to feel centered, to quiet my mind and to focus on God. It allows me to be reminded of who God is and who he wants me to be. Staying centered in my spiritual life is absolutely critical to doing what God has called me to do. How can I say I serve God if I do not regularly spend time with him? As Merton explains, our time with God is:

“given to me by God that I may live in it. It is not given to make something out of it but given to be stored away in eternity as my own. For this afternoon to be my own eternity, it must be my own this afternoon, and I must possess myself in it, not be possessed by books, by ideas not my own, by a compulsion to produce what nobody needs. But simply to glorify God by accepting His gift and His work. To work for Him is to work that I myself may live.”[3]

That time that I have in the morning with God is not my own. It is God’s and I am not supposed to make anything of it, but just rest and relax in it.

Another spiritual practice that I can do regularly to keep me spiritually centered are retreats. Retreats can simply be an extra day off over a three-day weekend, or a camping trip, or a long vacation like I just enjoyed over Christmas for 11 days in Alaska. Fernando explains how I feel sometimes that as ministers “we are so rushed that we do not think straight because we do not have time to think reflectively. . . . We need to slow down! Retreats help us do this.”[4] Retreats help to refresh me, give me alone time of solitude, and rejuvenate my passion for work for God. I notice that my strength of character comes back after retreats, that I feel more determined, less likely to be derailed, and that I have a greater strength to confront others who oppose me. When I come back to normal life after retreats it feels that God has been doing some good work in me even though I was not doing His work. Because I took a retreat from doing His work it gave Him the room to do work inside of me.

Another practice that guides me in my spiritual formation is regularly meeting with my coach and mentor, Steve Elliott. He has given me great insight and great wisdom when I have needed it. When Steve and I meet, I ask him questions, he coaches me through difficult situations I am in, and he teaches me about the Bible.

Question: What are the spiritual (or non-spiritual) practices that help you to feel centered?


[1] John Pullock, Billy Graham: Evangelist to the World, (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1979), 147-148.

[2] Thomas Merton, “Dancing in the Water of Life: The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume 5,” ed. Robert E. Daggy, (1998): 235-236, quoted in Jonathan Montaldo and Robert Toth, Bridges to Contemplative Living: Volume 5, Traveling Your Road to Joy Bridges to Contemplative Living (Notre Dame, IN: Ava Maria Press, 2006), 30.

[3] Thomas Merton, “A Search for Solitude: The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume 3,” ed. Lawrence S. Cunningham, (1996): 214-215, 219, quoted in Jonathan Montaldo and Robert Toth, Bridges to Contemplative Living: Volume 5, Traveling Your Road to Joy Bridges to Contemplative Living (Notre Dame, IN: Ava Maria Press, 2006), 17.

[4] Ajith Fernando, Jesus Driven Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), 65.

Allowing myself to get spiritually off center on a regular basis is going to have a terrible impact on Jesus’ ministry here on earth that I do. Jesus’ ministry is not going to look good or be effective.

Prayer and Spiritual Formation
When I am not centered in my spiritual life five things happen:

  1. I have less patience
  2. I am more irritable
  3. I allow resistance to stop me when it normally does not
  4. I do not think as clearly on decisions
  5. I do not enjoy work as much

These things sometimes lead me to make decisions that I should not such as treating people poorly and not managing my money well.

In others words, when I am not spiritually centered I am a terrible example of a Christian and an even worse Christian Leader. Fernando describes what my life looks like and the negative impact it could have if I stay in a place where I am not spiritually centered when he writes, “Christian leaders are failing in the way they live and are bringing great dishonor to Christ. Perhaps the greatest need in the training of leaders today is to provide guidelines to help them live as biblical men and women.”[1] If I do not maintain my time with God I might end up in this category of Christian leaders.

This would mean that I eventually lose my influence as a Christian leader, and that is something I definitely do not want to allow to happen. If I become irritable and have less patience with people working on my team I will eventually lose my influence with them. I have treated people that way before for a short time and it is not good. I do not like who I become when I am not centered, and I know that others do not like who I am either. Because of the potential for this failure it is vitally important I maintain the practices and attitudes that help me to stay spiritually centered and driven to do Jesus’ ministry.

Question: What does your work/ministry look like when you are not centered?


[1] Ajith Fernando, Jesus Driven Ministry, 14.

Today I am beginning a series of blog posts sharing my spiritual formation journey. My spiritual formation is a journey of discovering what prevents me from staying centered, what Jesus’ ministry will look like if I am not centered, and what attitudes and practices will guide me.

Prayer and Spiritual Formation
The main thing that prevents me from staying centered in my spiritual life is when I fail to wake up early enough to have significant quiet time in the morning. Because I choose to have my quiet time in the morning before getting ready for work I need to wake up at 4:30 AM in order to have that quiet time. Waking up at 4:30 AM is tough because it is always dark and it means I need to get to bed early. So, when I have to stay up late to get some work done or have trouble falling asleep at night I struggle waking up early enough to have good quiet time.

Another thing that prevents me from being centered is when I become angry and aggravated at work. This does not happen very often, but when it does I notice that I am no longer feeling centered and grounded as I normally do. Another issue I have been working to remedy which negatively affects my spiritual life is when I attempt to take my goals into my own hands. At times when I feel God has asked me to accomplish things and they are not happening fast enough I start to take my own path to seeing them fulfilled.

For example, I feel that God has told me that I am to make leaders of every day men and women. In response to that I have self-published a book,[1] write six blog posts a week, tweet thoughts on Twitter, and interact with people on Facebook. When the amount of readers on my blog or the number of people “following” me on Twitter does not grow fast enough I start to think of ways that I can increase them instead of thinking about doing what God has asked me to do. Instead of thinking about how I can write content that will help people learn to become better leaders, I start to think of what I can do and say to gain more readers and followers (which is not good). If I was centered I would be focusing on doing God’s will and following Him, not on doing what I think is best to attract readers and followers.

Another thing that might prevent me from staying centered in my spiritual life is getting beaten up in the world. Because I live in a world full of sin that God says I should not love and be part of, it means the world will treat me harshly. From people at work who are mean to me, drivers on the road honking at me while trying to drive slowly and safely, people at Toastmasters who make statements which tear me down, to friends who fail me, these experiences hurt. When these things occur, I start to feel off center, resentful, angry, and mad. Those feelings do not allow me to stay and feel centered.

Fortunately I have God and his Word to help affirm in me what I feel called to do. While reading Jesus Driven Ministry I was greatly encouraged by this passage, “When we experience this affirmation over and over again, the messages we got from the world that we are useless, inferior, and insignificant lose their power.”[2] If I pray with God and feel that He has told me to do something specific, then it is hard to handle negative feedback from others who are disagreeing with what I heard from God. If I allow these things to happen too often and do not work to combat them with spiritual practices that remedy them, then Jesus’ ministry in and through me will not reflect Him and it will not be successful.

Question: What keeps you from feeling centered in your journey of life and/or spirituality?


[1] Christopher Scott, A Day of Hope: Leading Volunteers to Make a Difference in Your Community (Turlock, CA: Maximum Impact Leaders, 2010).

[2] Ajith Fernando, Jesus Driven Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), 54.