5 Ways Christians Misread The Bible

If you misread the instructions for a dangerous piece of equipment, you could lose a limb. Misinterpret the signs while driving, and you could die.

We all know this, except when it comes to the most significant writing of all.

Christians believe that the Bible is the written word of God to people, revealing who God really is through the person of Jesus.

Through the Bible, we come to know God’s heart, character, intent and purpose, not only for us, but for the whole world and for all of history. Big stuff. And we meet Jesus, in whom God is fully revealed, come in the flesh to make everything wrong right, and to rescue us from our own mess, forgiving us and setting within us his Holy Spirit. Again, huge.

And yet, Christians who confess all this to be true about the Bible will commonly misread the very Bible that reveals it all.

We’ll approach these inspired stories and letters and biographies and prophecies as though they are a simple smorgasbord of dainty edibles, rather than a unified meal of sustenance. We graze, pick, disregard, ignore and over-consume, as our preferences dictate.

When I look at my own life, as well as interact with others, there are 5 ways Christians consistently misread the Bible, to our detriment and the detriment of Jesus’ mission.

5 Ways Christians Misread the Bible

  1. Reading without context.

    Many of our reading slips can be traced back to our pick-a-part style of consumption. The first way we read without context happens when we isolate texts from their original, literary and cultural contexts, ripping them off the page and applying them to whatever contemporary situation we deem worthy. We don’t understand what the text meant, and then make assumptions about what it might mean today. Whether this be represented by haphazard cherry-picking or by simplistic interpretations, the result is the same: a disembodied word ripped free from the context into which God spoke, the context which gave it the meaning God intended.

    Craig Groetchel preached a series called “Twisted”, featuring the Most Misused Verses of the Bible. I highly recommend it. Here’s the first one.

    And while disregarding the original context is a cardinal Bible-reading sin, we can also read without any awareness of our own cultural context, leading us to assume that the way we hearing the original story is the way the original recipients would have heard them. Wrong. We live in a unique context, and depending on our own cultural context we will hear in particularly unique ways. For example, many of us hear the Bible through Western, post-scientific, consumerist, individualistic lenses and think that’s the way it’s meant to be heard. (Here’s a book that’ll help with this: Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes)

  2. Reading to support a decision already made.

    Ever heard of confirmation bias? It’s the tendency we all have to interpret new data according to the theory we already hold. And it has powerful effect on our Bible reading.

    When we finally find the verse we’ve been looking for.

    We really want to do a certain thing, go with a particular person, quit that job or justify that action, so we search the Scripture for an authoritative nod from God. Ignoring the context helps, but this goes beyond that: we assimilate what we hear into our previously accepted decision, actively (although potentially unconsciously) disregarding anything that would contradict our desires. Translation variants can help with this, as we search for that oh-so-perfect fit.

    What does this mean? Rather than submitting our lives to God, we can read his Word only for its permission to live in ways we’ve already determined we want to live. And when we do, it’s amazing what we can make the Scriptures say to us.

  3. Reading all alone

    One of the more subtle ways we misread the Bible is through isolation. We read or listen or access God’s Word alone, and we never submit our reading or interpretation or questions or lack of obedience to the larger community of saints. But the Bible is a community book, given by God to a community, penned under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by people in community, and intended to shape the life of his people. You can explore more about that in this article.

    It’s only when we really dig into the Scripture together that we are able to hear the Word of God as he intended us to hear it.

  4. Reading for mastery rather than obedience.

    But maybe we are reading the Bible in context, accessing the community of saints (living and dead) to hear it as it was meant to be heard. It’s still possible for us to misread it by our pursuit of mastery rather than our commitment to obey.

    I think it was Eugene Peterson who said it: Our goal in Scripture study is not to master the text, but rather to be mastered by the text. Or, as others have said, we need to let the Bible “read” us more than we ourselves “read” the Bible. The goal is spiritual formation, not just theological information.

    It all comes down to the same thing: We can read so that we know more stuff, rather than for the sake of actionable obedience. But the goal of God’s word is to shape us into the image of Christ, to align us to his plan of action, and to equip us into the mission he has given us. We don’t read the Bible just to get more knowledge–we read it to become more like Jesus. And while we do gain a lot of information along the way, all of that must serve the larger goal of spiritual formation.

    Which brings me to my final point, the fifth way we misread Scripture is by missing the point altogether.

  5. Reading without seeing Jesus.

    When Jesus confronted religious leaders of his day about their misreading of Scripture, his main challenge was their failure to see how all Scripture points to him. They were convinced of Scripture’s value, and no one knew their Bibles better than these guys. And yet . . .

    “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40 NIV)

    What a powerful indictment. They were all studied up and failed to get the point. And yet, we can do the same today, and need to hear this reprimand for what it is: an invitation to read the Scripture as the way to Jesus himself. Because when it’s all said and done, whether we know this theological point or that particular verse, whether we can quote Scripture or hardly remember what we read, it all comes down to this: are we letting God reveal himself to us through his Word, so that we see and follow Jesus? Are we coming to Jesus, through the Scripture, to receive the life he has for us? 

So what’s your tendency? If you had to identify your weakness, which of the 5 would it be?

Is God Feeling Distant? How Faith Grows Stronger in Deserts than in Gardens

We can wonder if God is even there.

Because we long to feel God’s daily presence, it’s easy to mistake seasons of dryness, while we journey through arid lands, as signs of God’s absence. We wonder if God has left us, we wonder where it happened, we think back to what we must have done to cause this divine quiet.

Have you ever felt that? That no matter what you say or do, pray or read, God isn’t listening, that he’s not even there?

And how does that challenge your thinking?

What do you do?

  • Some of us get frantic, and try everything we can to reverse the trend. We read new books, listen to more sermon podcasts, keep busy.
  • Others get discouraged, and begin to wonder if everything we’ve ever experienced in the past was a mirage.
  • Frequently we award this feeling of disconnection from God with further acts of estrangement, failing to slow down, denying the dryness, acting as though everything is fine.
  • Or we walk away, thinking, “Okay, if God’s not going to speak or make me feel his presence, I’ll do my own thing.” We walk away from community, we stop serving in our local church, we neglect listening for God’s voice through his Word.

But the feeling that God is absent is real, and you are not the first follower of Jesus to experience that desolation. In fact, Jesus himself experienced it, and many others through the ages have, also.

Our ancient mothers and fathers evoked the harsh landscape of the desert to capture that feeling of loss and despair.

And in contrast, like oases in the sand, we can also experience beauty and joy and freedom in the midst of desolate places, marking times when God seems more palpably close.

Our forebearers told us to expect times of both desert and oasis in our life with Christ. St. Ignatius used the terms “desolation” and “consolation” to capture an aspect of this reality. We are to revel in the consolation, but also respect and respond within the aching difficulty of desolation, too, for we find that God is just as present within the aridity of desolation as he is within the verdancy  of consolation.

Or, to put it more simply, God is in the garden and God is in the desert. And while we may not see him or hear him as clearly in the sandstorm as in the jungle, he is no less present to us and no less loving in his care for us.

In my own experiences of the desert, and in my many conversations with fellow travelers who find themselves in hollow, windy places, I’ve found three practices helpful.

First: Self-examination and response.

The truth is, there does need to be an aspect of self-examination when we begin experiencing spiritual deserts. If God seems far away, I do need first to ask, “Have I moved away from God?”

  • Have I been ignoring the Spirit’s voice, convicting me of a sinful habit or the need to reconcile with someone I’m estranged from?
  • Are there patterns in my life which have contributed to this spiritual dryness–disconnection from Christian community, lack of prayer or Scripture, or a failure to slow down?
  • Am I physically sick? Or struggling with depression? Are there other circumstances which could be contributing to these feelings of malaise or distance?

We need to ask these questions, honestly and openly, and respond to what is revealed to us. God’s love is revealed even here, for it could be through this difficult time, we are finally able to see something we’ve been missing, and experience God’s grace and healing and freedom even now.

But I want to be careful here: The importance of self-examination is not meant to imply that spiritual difficulty or dryness is always a result of some failure on our part. While we need to ask the question, the answer could be that nothing is out of order. You have continued to serve. You are not aware of overt sin nor are you ignoring spiritual fundamentals such as Scripture, prayer and community.

We can often go one of two ways–either be too willing to blame ourselves for everything, or too eager to exempt ourselves from any responsibility. Let’s not fall prey to either temptation but willingly allow the Spirit to reveal truth to us, even if that truth is that you haven’t done anything wrong.

Second: Keep Traveling Together. 

More than any other temptation, when we find ourselves in desert places we must not give into isolation from each other. When I talk to people who are experiencing significant desolation, I almost always discover people who are withdrawing (or have already withdrawn) from community.

Nothing exacerbates desolation faster than isolation. We want to pull back from gathering to worship with fellow believers, we cease to connect with friends, we stop serving together. We forget that we are not the only ones who are experiencing times of dryness, nor are we unique in our trials.

It can be subtle, and the people around you may not even notice for a while. But if you withdraw, it will only contribute to and heighten your feeling of spiritual desolation.

Choose instead to connect. Keep traveling with others. Talk to them about your current struggle to hear God’s voice. Get raw about how you are feeling. Don’t hide. Don’t duck. Don’t isolate.

You’ll find that others are struggling, too. And your honesty and willingness to stay connected will not only serve you, it will be tremendously helpful to others. In times of discouragement and difficulty, we must run counter to our natural inclination to isolate ourselves. We must stick closer than brothers, closer than friends–we must stick together as children of our Father.

Third: Take Courage and Trust.

It may come as a shock to you, but we can grow more in faith during times when God seems silent than when God is more recognizably active.

Why is that? Because during times where God is identifiably moving, when you are hearing him speak and feeling him respond, it is relatively easy to stay on track. When the Scripture comes alive every time you crack the Bible, it’s easy to dig into the Word. When worship gatherings feel drenched in the Spirit, how hard is it to keep connecting as a church? When our prayers are being answered, our fears are being conquered and our witness is taking effect in other’s lives, what more encouragement to do we need? It’s pretty easy to keep focused and following Jesus with all that positive reinforcement.

And while I would never want to minimize the importance of these times of fruitfulness and vibrancy, faith is relatively easy to come by when we are there.

But fling us out into the sand, and it gets harder to taste and see the goodness of God. Stop up our ears so we cannot hear, cover over our eyes so we cannot see, and what do we have? Will we keep following God in the fog or the storm, when we cannot know what’s going on?

In other words, will we trust that God is present even when the signs of his presence are no longer as easy to discern?

Because that’s where our faith is built. It’s when we can’t see we have to believe that, in spite of our blindness, God is there.  It is during times when we feel abandoned by God that we must take courage from God’s prior revelation that he will never leave or forsake us, trusting that in spite of our feelings of alienation, God is present.

That’s where faith solidifies. When the roots drive down deep for recessive aquifers. When God invites us to love and listen and follow, even when we can’t feel or hear or see him.

It’s in the desert that we mature in our trusting relationship with the Father, so that whether we are in places where God seems more absent or more present, we are no longer swayed by either. We know, because God has shown himself true over and over, that what we experience in life doesn’t define God’s character or faithfulness to us. God said he would be with us, so he is with us, despite all feelings to the contrary. Jesus said we were to take heart because he had overcome the world, so we will take heart in his victory regardless of how we may be feeling defeated.

And so we trust. We know with a knowledge that surpasses knowledge that Jesus’ love is deeper, higher, longer and wider than our imagination and experience, established on the cross, confirmed by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And we will grow, even when it’s windy, cold, dry and lifeless. We grow in storms or quiet, in desert or garden. We put out buds and produce fruit, maintaining our connection to the Father through the Spirit, in the community of his ever-expanding body of Christ.

We will grow because we know that God is near, and in the quiet times, the dry times, the desert places, he is still calling us to follow him. And as we do, we will discover something greater than we expected–that the God who seems silent is speaking still. He is always speaking, always wooing, always calling. Even in the silence, God speaks.

And as we learn to hear him in the silence, we will grow, mature, deepen, become all that he has desired for us, for our good, for his glory.

 

How my 88-year-old friend inspired me to share my faith in Jesus

Recently, I called to check on an elderly friend who moved from our city to another. She’s in her late 80’s, and starting to slow down a bit. 🙂

But not in her evangelistic fervour. No, that is white-hot, and I was so inspired by our conversation together that I wanted to share it with you.

Because we weren’t very far into our chat before my friend began to mention people she’s been meeting in her senior’s complex, describing them to me based upon their spiritual journey.

  • “He seems to be from a Buddhist background. I will find out more about that.”
  • “She had some kind of a Christian connection, but it has long lapsed.” 
  • “She likes to attend the local spiritual retreat centre based on the teachings of a New Age guru.”

Before too long, my friend had invited two of them to join her in her room for more spiritual conversation, providing for each of them a booklet which explained the Christian faith more fully and invited them to follow him. And she is praying for them daily.

Wow. 

The truth is, my friend was struggling with the move to this new city. Away from her friends, leaving the church she’s long loved and served in, surrounded by new people and feeling alone–she was pretty down. But, she knew God had sent her there, too. And with that knowledge in hand, she embraced her calling, her commissioning as Jesus’ ambassador to people for whom this will likely be their very last chance to discover the grace of Jesus and enter his life for them. 

Jesus loves those who’ve resisted him all their lives. So much so, he sends them witnesses like my faithful friend.

And that calling compels her–compels her to pray, to invite, to witness, to share, to reach out to new people, to see through the eyes of faith those whom the Spirit is drawing to Jesus.

When I hung up the phone, I was riding high. Her example to me was such an encouragement. As I reflected on it, at least 6 things came to mind.

6 Things I Learned About Evangelism From My 88-year-old Friend

  1. Wherever we are, that’s where we’ve been sent as Jesus’ witness. We might want to be somewhere else, but here–right where we are–can be be engaged in an entirely new way if we understand ourselves as people who’ve been sent by God.
  2. We don’t retire from our truest calling as Christ’s ambassadors. We fill that post until our final breath. It’s who we are, more than what we do.
  3. Compassion for people is the heart of evangelism. It’s only as we really see people with the heart of the Father that we will be moved to share the good news of Jesus.
  4. God is incredibly patient. Jesus loves people so much that he sent yet another witness to himself, to people who’ve spent most of their lives running away from him. Now, people in their 80’s and 90’s are meeting one of God’s very best, and are receiving yet another offer of grace. What a patient Father, who is not willing that any should perish. 
  5. Prayer empowers evangelism. As we share the good news of Jesus, there are many forces which seek to prevent people from finding forgiveness and freedom in Christ. We must fight those forces with prayer, so that people can really have their eyes opened to the love of Jesus for them.
  6. Inviting people to gather, eat and discuss is a key strategy. Whether it’s something as simple as tea in your room or a full-blown Alpha course, this strategy seems to be the classic way God moves among people. My friend took everything up a notch by moving a “chance” conversation in the dining hall forward through invitation to further conversation over tea. Could we get together and talk more about this? Bold, winsome, clear.

I’m thankful for my faithful friend. And I’m inspired by her example and I’m praying for her success.

How did she inspire you?

 

How to be a perfect church (and yes, it’s possible)

Finding a perfect church is hard.

Being a perfect church is even harder. 

You know all the things everyone is looking for in a church:

  • Incredible worship gatherings
  • Awesome community
  • Insightful and inspiring teaching
  • Fantastic programming for every niche, age and inclination
  • Deep Biblical study, combined with laughter, love and care
  • Discipleship happening everywhere, with no one left behind
  • New people coming to faith in Jesus every week
  • Ample finances, with very little pressure to give
  • Pastors who are theological geniuses, caring counselors, compelling communicators, excellent fund-raisers, phenomenal parents, and wonderful visionaries, all the while maintaining a healthy work-life balance as an example for everyone else
  • And all this as a church which asks only just enough to keep everyone engaged but not overworked and burning out

Well, you know what they say about a perfect church. If you ever do find one, don’t join it–you might ruin it! 🙂

But what if a perfect church was possible? And what if being perfect was measured by a different standard?

I’ve got a surprise for you: Jesus himself told us to be perfect–perfect kids of our perfect Father, which by my definition, means being a perfect church.

Where did he say that? Right here, in his Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:43-48‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Yep. Jesus told us to be perfect. And he’s not looking for a certain quality of worship music or a community of super-saints.

How Jesus qualifies perfection challenges our cultural or religious definitions. Because being a perfect church has little do with looking great or doing everything right.

How can we be perfect? Well, Jesus said it: By loving the people we most want NOT to love. Loving people we dislike or disregard–or worse, loving people who dislike us and disregard us, who even hurt us or despise us–that, my friends, is the MOST VIVID sign that we are being the perfect kids of our perfect Father.

To these early followers of Jesus, this meant loving people who overtly persecuted, ridiculed and rejected them because they have decided to follow Jesus. For us, it may mean loving people who don’t agree with us, or who don’t like us, or who are really difficult to be around.

But that’s a very different way of thinking about perfection, isn’t it? 

We’ve often thought of perfection as meeting some external standard of achievement, about staying out of trouble, keeping our noses clean and our shoes shined up.

We’ve defined perfection as not messing up. But that’s not what Jesus said. Being perfect is not about never having a family issue or never struggling with relationships.  And it’s certainly not about no nasty feedback from the sound system (or parishioner) on a Sunday–not about no misprinted lyrics, no screaming kids and no weak coffee. Perfect doesn’t mean we’re always smiling, never awkward, and super comfortable.

That’s not how Jesus defined perfection for us. No. Being perfect kids of our perfect Father is about LOVING difficult people in the same generous ways our Father loves everyone. In fact, as we can see, being perfect involves getting into the mess. In this teaching, we can’t actually be perfect without difficult people to love. We can’t demonstrate our perfect Father’s “rain and shine” love without the folks in our lives who are a struggle to care for.  The Father “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  God is indiscriminate with his grace, and Jesus calls us to be the same. We are to love generously, to love like the sun and the rain–without discrimination, without reservation, without judgment on who will use the “rain” properly or really appreciate the “sun” for the gift it is.

A “rain and shine” kind of love, indiscriminate in grace.

When we love across the lines, when we include those who are frequently ignored (by us and others), when we reach out a hand to someone who’s hard to help–that’s perfection.

When we open up our mouths to invite someone to sit down, when welcome new people into our cozy friendship circles, when we overcome prejudice toward others through hospitality, we are being perfect as our Father is perfect.

Jesus applies this two ways within this passage:

First, To Generously Provide Care for those who might actively seek our harm.

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” To his first followers (and for many followers of Jesus today), this is a sacrificial call. Love those who are hurting you. This is Egyptian Coptic Christians offering forgiveness to terrorists.

For most of us reading this, Jesus is calling us to generously provide care, seeking the benefit of people we might deem an “enemy” of our faith or a person we don’t agree with. But the implication is clear: Jesus calls us to mirror the grace of our perfect Father in our love for others most unlike us.

Second, To Openly Include Others who we’d rather not associate with

“And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” To give a greeting in a public place, back in the first century, was an act of association and friendship. You were willing to be seen as somehow connected. Here Jesus is calling his followers to be like him, willing to associate with people they might otherwise ignore. Like Jesus who hung out with sinners, we are to associate with people far away from the Father, in order to show them his love.

In our day, the application of this is astonishingly easy to understand, though it can be hard to do. We must overcome our cozy cliques and reach across the social, ethnic, religious and ideological lines to befriend people who are very different than us. We need to stick out our hands, and welcome people into friendship who others may deem beyond hope or interest.

That’s how we can be a perfect church. And you know what? It’s just us doing for others what the Father has already done for us in Jesus. Our perfect Father loved us when we were his enemies, generously providing care for us when we had no interest in relationship. Jesus, as I already mentioned, was constantly associating with “sinners”, so much so that religious people rejected him.  He ruined his reputation to love us. Will we ruin our reputations to love others?

If you are looking for sinless humans and flawless communities, then you will continue to search for a perfect church and will never find it.

But if you are willing to be part of Jesus’ mission, loving others who are easier to reject, welcoming into friendship people far away from God and far away from us, then you just might find you’ve discovered a perfect church after all. In fact, you might already be part of one. 


This post was adapted from an unrecorded message I gave at our Erickson Covenant Church Father’s Day BBQ on June 18, 2017. 

What’s choking you? 3 reasons Christians don’t grow, and what can be done about it

How can some Christians go years without growing spiritually?

I mean, isn’t that equivalent of getting married, and then ignoring your spouse? You thought an inked marriage contract was all you needed, rather than the flourishing love relationship the contract was designed to protect.

Yes, I follow Jesus, they say. I believe in him, but I’m not growing. I don’t pray. I don’t study Scripture. I don’t serve in the body of Christ. I’m not accountable to Christian brothers and sisters. And I’m not any stronger in faith or deeper in spirit than I was five years ago.

How is that even possible? Jesus gave one answer to that: kingdom life can be choked by lesser priorities.

In his famous parable of the seeds, Jesus pointed out four broad responses to his kingdom message. In his third example, he pointed to people who, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Mark 4:18-19 NIV)

Lesser priorities choke out the kingdom growth Jesus desired. Worries, wealth and wishes for “other things” are the classic signs of a choked out life. 

How do these three priorities choke our spiritual life? And what can we do?

First, worries choke our minds.

What is worry? Worry is inverted prayer, where our minds comb through, again and again, the areas of our lives we feel in least control. Worry indicates our primary concerns–it’s what we fix our minds upon, what we wake each day thinking about. And worry is powerful, for under its power, it is difficult to experience the peace and power of God in our lives.

What’s the remedy? We combat worry by praying the truth of Scripture. (You can read more about one way to do that here.) Recognizing all our concerns, we express them to God by receiving his truth into our minds, and speaking the truth back to God about our situation. Worry, turned to prayer, produces growth in our own lives.

Second, wealth chokes our hearts.

There’s a reason Jesus calls it “the deceitfulness of wealth,” for it is exactly that: a sneaky slit that leaks away the life Jesus wants for us. It’s not that wealth itself is bad, but we usually have no idea how powerful it is, and how easily we can be won over by our wealth without ever realizing our loyalty has shifted. Jesus warned, over and over again, that we can’t serve God and money. When we try, it’s our relationship with God that withers.

Giving to Jesus’ kingdom priorities is the only way we can get wealth right.

What’s the antidote? Only one thing: generosity. Giving to Jesus’ kingdom priorities–the poor, the church, missions–is the only way we can get wealth right. Don’t think so? Listen to Paul’s challenge: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:17-18 NIV)

Giving generously releases the choke-hold of wealth on our spiritual lives. You can take that to the bank. 

Third, wishes choke our passions.

What do we really want? It’s a powerful question. A happier family, a more comfortable job, a better body, a kinder climate? The answers will be as varied as we are. And under this final caption, Jesus catches everything else which shifts our passions away from him and on to “other things.” Rather than seeking first the kingdom of God, we passionately pursue lesser things. We wish for __________ (you fill in the blank), rather than wishing for a stronger church, a more effective witness, an opportunity to show love to a neighbour, a breakthrough in our relationship with our son, or a deeper understanding of God’s grace.

How can we combat lesser wishes? By utilizing our gifts to strengthen the body of Christ. We can realign our passions by actively realigning our service, for employing the spiritual gifts God gave us for the purpose of building up the church (the only reason he gave them to us) leads us to greater wishes, deeper desires, an increase in passions for the same things Jesus is passionate about: lost people finding him, broken people being restored, hurt people healed, and a people of God more vibrant and alive to him than ever. That’s what it means to seek first the kingdom of God–we desire what Jesus wants more than anything else. And when we do that, growth is inevitable.

So what about you?

Which of these three–worry, wealth or wishes–have been choking your growth the most?

And what will you do about it? Jesus wants you to grow in relationship with him, and he’s doing everything possible to help you do that. But you’ve got to choose to grow: to pray God’s truth into your situation, to give generously from your wealth, and to serve passionately the kingdom priorities of Jesus. Get that choke-hold off your neck, and grow.

What’s one thing you will do this week to respond to stop the choking and start the growing?

Does the Church Matter? 3 reasons it does, with links to past posts

What’s the big deal about the Church, anyway?

Does it matter?

Is it relevant?

Should I care? 

In some form or another, these are questions I get asked almost weekly. So, I thought I’d offer you three posts from my past writing, specifically on the topic of the Church.

I encourage you to read the one that intrigues you the most. Let me know what you think by commenting below, or on the original post.

1st Post: We Gather AS the Church, not AT the Church.

The first post gets at the way we speak, and therefore think, of ourselves, arguing that when we gather, we gather AS the church, not AT the church (read post here). By rethinking our language, it can help us be the church wherever we are–gathered together or scattered throughout the week.

2nd Post: When we say we love Jesus, but don’t care for his Church.

It’s always struck me that Christians don’t get the deep connection Jesus has with his church. If they did, they might speak more carefully about his bride. Rather, we will say we love Jesus, and then proceed to insult, berate and disregard the one he loves most. It’s the equivalent of saying, “I love you, Jesus, but I can’t stand your wife.” (read post here)

3rd Post: Why I haven’t quit church (and you shouldn’t either)

The church is a mess. There’s no denying it. But where is Jesus? Right in the middle of that mess. In a reflection from Revelation, I was challenged by this picture of where Jesus was standing, and where we need to be standing as well. (read post here)


The Church of Jesus Christ is broken yet beautiful, filled with the Spirit of God and desperately in need of grace. I’m thankful to be counted among them, because of what Jesus did for me. And I’m excited to be in on Jesus’ plan to heal the world through us! (Here’s a bonus link to one more post about that!)

Question for comment below: How has your understanding of the Church changed over the last few years? Why?

Make a Flexible Prayer Plan: LAST DAY of the Pray-May Challenge

For the month of May, we have explored multiple prayer practices, all designed to enhance our conversations with God. Today, on the last day of the Pray-May Challenge, we look back and plan forward.

Why? So we can make a flexible prayer plan for our ongoing prayer lives.

When we look back at what’s been helpful to us in prayer, we can plan forward toward greater conversations with God.
First, we look back.

You likely missed a few of the prayer challenges over the last 31 days. Completely understandable–it was a lot to take in!  Feel free to scroll back through the days as a reminder. (I’m considering putting them all into a downloadable pdf or ebook for my blog readers so they are more easily accessible, but for today, you’ll have to look back through May’s posts.)

  • What prayer practices were most meaningful to you? Identify 2-3 practices that helped you grow.  
  • Why were they helpful to you? Do you notice any commonalities? 
  • What was most challenging to you; though intriguing, they will require more effort and time to fully appreciate? 
Next, we plan forward.

The goal in planning forward is not to make a rigorous prayer schedule, but to design an open, flexible plan for regular conversations with God. Rather than being restrictive and demanding, think of it more like planning fun dates with someone you love, or designing outings with a good friend.

Of the 2-3 prayer practices that were most meaningful to you, how would you like to integrate them into your life moving forward? 

  • For example, having been intrigued by the concept of prayer walking in my community, I’d like to go out for a prayer walk on one Saturday a month, and I’d like to see if I can get one or two others to join me.
  • Or, I really grew through the 5 minutes per hour of prayer, during my waking hours, and I’d like to see about practicing that at least a few days per month.
  • I loved Lectio Divinathe art of prayerful Scripture reading and meditation–and I’d like to practice that on a regular basis during my morning Bible reading time. Similarly, talking to Jesus from within a Gospel story really drew me in, and I want to keep trying that out.
  • It could be that Praying God’s will through Paul’s Prayers has really helped you pray more effectively for those you love, and you want to integrate that more fully into your regular prayers.

You get the idea. After identifying the 2-3 practices that have been most meaningful to you, make an open, flexible plan to use them as a regular part of your conversations with God.

Here’s my challenge for you as you do: 

  1. Keep it fun, and keep it gracious. Don’t be hard on yourself, but rather lean into these practices as exciting, liberating ways of freeing up time and space for you and God.
  2. Share what you are trying with someone who will appreciate it, and may even want to join you in some of the prayer practices (either together, or on their own). Your journey toward greater conversations with God will inspire others longing for more in their lives, too.
  3. Don’t be afraid to switch things up. If there anything we learned this month, it’s that there are a whole variety of creative ways we can talk to our Father (and we barely scratched the surface!).  If you find your conversations with God are getting dull or boring, for your sake and his, change things up!!

Before I close this post in prayer, would you do me one favour?

Please tell us what prayer practices you’ve chosen to continue going forward, in the comments below. That would be so encouraging to all of us.

My prayer for you as we close this month of challenges: Father, thank you for the gift of friendship with you. What an astonishing thought, that you have befriended us, and that you long to simply be with us in loving communion. Inspire us, by your Holy Spirit, to enjoy your presence, to rest in your will, and to walk boldly after you, each day of our lives. For your grace and your love, we stand forever grateful and amazed. We love you!! 

Creating space to meet with God is fun and exciting! Just look at this guy!

Practice Healing Prayer: Day 30 of the Pray-May Challenge

Do you know anyone who is suffering from physical illness? Yes, you probably do. In spite of our many advances medically, we are surrounded by people who experience chronic and acute pain, as well as various serious health conditions. Many of our family members, friends, co-workers, and fellow students are living with pain, often unvoiced and unknown. And all needing to experience Jesus’ love.

Today, I challenge you to pray for their healing.

Praying for physical healing in the name of Jesus has enormous biblical precedent. Jesus spent much of his ministry healing the sick, and he empowered his followers to do the same. The early church practiced regular healing prayer, and Jesus continued to heal people by the Holy Spirit, witnessing to his ongoing resurrection power through his body, the church.  Paul understood that there are those within the body who have spiritual gifts of healing, but also that praying for the healing of others was just part of the normal, Christian life.

In the book of James, we are encouraged to pray for the sick as a community, calling on elders to anoint with oil and pray for healing. By no means does this restrict prayers for healing only to elders! Rather, we are to practice faithful prayer, as a community, on behalf of those among us who are suffering.

As you pray for those in need, here’s some practical advice to keep in mind:
  • Before you pray for the person, ask the Holy Spirit to fill you so that you can minister to them with the Spirit’s power and grace.
  • After listening to how the person is doing, and hearing them share about their physical (or emotional, mental, spiritual, etc) struggles, ask that person if you can pray for them right now. If they are unwilling, don’t press it. For many people, they’ve never been asked this before, and it may seem awkward to them. If they seem uncomfortable, ask if it would be alright for you to pray for them later. Also: if you’re in a public space, be sensitive to how they may be feeling exposed.
  • If you do pray, don’t be weird about it. Don’t shout or speak strangely or get all amped up. Be at peace, and speak as you normally speak. You don’t need to close your eyes–in fact, there’s good reason not to, as you are able to observe how the person is doing as you pray.
  • Simply ask Jesus to heal them. You don’t need to be flowery or verbose: just speak the truth of Jesus’ love for them and ask that he would heal them.
  • If they are willing, ask if you can place your hand on their shoulder. Be sensitive to those who may not feel comfortable with being touched. Always respect boundaries and always be appropriate. (I find that there are those who like to clasp hands, which is great.) There seems to be a significant connection between physical touch and physical healing–not every time, but many times that Jesus healed others, he touched them.
  • Remember that asking Jesus to heal someone is not about you–you are simply obeying Jesus by praying, and letting Jesus work. Sometimes we get worried about ourselves–how we look, what others will think, what if Jesus doesn’t heal, etc. Healing is Jesus’ job; ours is to pray.
  • Remember that people feel loved when you pray for their healing, regardless of how God chooses to answer. The Holy Spirit ministers his love to others when we care enough to pray, and that works a deep healing in the life of someone who is feeling pain or suffering alone.
  • In that vein, make sure to remind people of Jesus’ love for them, even quoting a simple Scripture in which to anchor your reminder (such as John 3:16 or Romans 8:38-39). Pray for the Holy Spirit to pour the Father’s love into their hearts. 
  • Follow up with this person later, perhaps by sending them a message or asking them about how they are doing the next week. Show that you care for them in practical ways.
  • And continue to pray for them! Be faithful in remembering them before Jesus.
Praying for someone’s healing is a profound way of showing them God’s love.

Praying for someone’s healing can feel intimidating or foreign, but it shouldn’t be. Laying hands on someone’s shoulder and asking Jesus to touch them should be as normal as anything we do.  And praying for healing is a profound way of showing God’s concern and interest in others.

I hope and pray you will take courage today, and reach out to pray for someone else. And as you do, may the Spirit fill you, gifting you with his power and presence. And through your care and obedience, may others experience the healing power of Jesus, touching them, mending them, helping them and restoring them, in his name. Amen.

Practice Daily Prayer in the Celtic Tradition: Day 29 of the Pray-May Challenge

We are almost done our 31 day prayer challenge, and I’ve been waiting to introduce you to Celtic Daily Prayer. In this wonderful tradition, people gather together (if possible) morning, noon and evening to pray through a a collection of prayers, Scriptures and meditations. The community at Northumbria produced this prayer guide in order to share with others the central liturgy of their community. I’m very thankful for them.

I have found this prayer book to be a terrific resource. We have used it as a family around the table, as a church for weekend retreats, as well as for personal prayer times. I love the rhythm of this liturgy, the way the prayers work deep into your heart and mind (as you use them more and more), going with you throughout your day, and bringing you back again.

For those unaccustomed to recited prayers, it will be new and invigorating, even if the strangeness of it may take some getting used to. For others more familiar, it will re-introduce you to practices you may have forgotten.

For Day 29, I challenge you to do two things: 
  1. First, go over to the Northumbria Community website, and read the page describing how to use this prayer book (they call it “Praying the Daily Office”).
  2. Second, pray the morning, midday and evening prayers, which can be either on the page I just linked you to, or by following these links:

This is a resource you will want to come back to, and so I am going to minimize my own words today, encouraging you instead to dive deep into the Northumbria Community and experience all the Spirit has for you through them. Keep coming back to this site, and consider buying the Celtic Daily Prayer book for yourself and your family.

That’s all for today. And with the words of blessing which conclude the Celtic Morning Prayer, I send you: 

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Try Hourly Prayer: Day 28 of the Pray-May Challenge

Ask someone when they pray, and you are often met with one of two responses: either they pray at a set time or times, like the morning, or at meals, or they pray all throughout their day, whenever they remember or are inspired to do so. Today’s challenge is a mix of both.

Day 28 of the Pray-May Challenge

Here’s what I encourage you to do: set aside 5 minutes every waking hour of today to pray. Only five minutes, consistently kept over the course of the day, adds up to well over an hour.

5 minutes x 15 hours = over an hour of intentional conversation with God in one day.

Why would we do that? Praying at set times has a long history within the Christian church, though the times are usually a little more spread out (and lasted a bit longer). Our brothers and sisters understood the value of a regular prayer rhythm, and we can follow their example. By praying at prearranged times, you become more conscious of the other 55 minutes, and your day becomes marked by conversation with God. What’s more, the act of stopping and talking to God, for a brief five minutes, will infuse your day with greater awareness of the Spirit’s presence and more openness to his promptings.

So how do we do this?

  1. Decide when you will pray, and set up an hourly alert system. Use your phone, set an alarm, or post a reminder of some sort that will interrupt you, if need be, to call you to prayer.
  2. Begin your day with a short prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help you in this day of intentional prayer.
  3. As you pray throughout the day, you may want to follow a similar form each time, or mix it up. You could pray using one of Paul’s prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, Mary’s prayer, or one of our many prayer challenges posted throughout May. Or you can simply talk to the Lord about the hour that’s passed, about your own heart and mind, about what you are thinking and feeling.
  4. One thing I do urge, however: praise God each time you stop to pray. Make praise central to your expression, whatever else you then go on to talk about with God. Our Father is worthy of our praise, any time, anywhere. I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.” (Psalm 145:1-2 NIV)
  5. At the end of your day, I encourage you to take a few moments and reflect on how these intentional prayer times, interspersed as they where, affected you. What did you notice about your prayer times? How did the rest of your day go? What surprised you? What was difficult? What would you do differently? Will you do it again? 
The more intentionally we listen to the Spirit, the more clearly we’ll hear him speak.

I’d love to hear how this impacted you, as well as ways it was a struggle. Post in the comments below.

My prayer for you today: Holy Spirit, each moment is a gift from you. Would you mark this day by an awareness of your presence with us? And each hour, as we stop to speak and to listen to you, may we receive all that you have for us. And may your name be praised, in us and through us. We offer this day to you, knowing that it is your gift to us. Amen.