By Rev. Ken G. Crawford, 31 October, 2011

There are intersections of life and faith where clarity becomes chaos, direction becomes distraction. We find ourselves in between, in transition. To some this feels like a death, while others experience the emergence from adolescence into adulthood. For still others, like me, it is a time of midlife crisis – an undercurrent of dis-ease that says the old ways of doing things will no longer suffice. “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” as the title of Marshall Goldsmith’s book proclaims. A process of discovery ensues, sometimes with blind and anxious experimentation like the restless husband who gets a new wardrobe, new hair, a new convertible, and a new girlfriend (who looks remarkably like his wife!) all in the hopes of freeing himself from this disquiet. Had he read Ignatius, he would have known that a period of desolation is not necessarily a bad thing, a thing to be avoided, shunned or eliminated. Rather, this desolation may be a gift from God, a stirring in the soul of a person or group, shaking loose entrenched thoughts and habits. Good or bad, Ignatius says, we honor a season of desolation by not making any changes, but rather wait till we experience returning consolation regarding a particular direction after long periods of prayer, study, meditation, and conversation.

I experience churches living in the midst of this struggle and grasping at anything that might settle the anxious soul. Surely God has something better in mind for us. Perhaps the church in the second decade of the 21st century finds itself in such a midlife crisis. “What we were” is no longer enough, but we are unsure of what we might become or how to get there. In what follows, I look at two studies that describe for us where some vibrant churches are headed. Later I will identify three practices that are, I believe, essential for the clergy and laity as they seek to live through this season of crisis into the fullness of God’s dream for us, that which Jesus regularly described as “the kingdom of God on earth…as it is in heaven.”


Diana Butler Bass, in her book Christianity for the Rest of Us, explores some of what is happening, and how congregations are managing to live vital, faithful lives during this period of becoming. After describing what was in the first two chapters – “The Vanished Village” and “Remembering Christianity”, she offers a word of hope in the next – “”The New Village Church” and “Finding Home.” She summarized a frequently heard critique of the church experience of our young adulthood – “These mainline congregations…paid little or no attention to people’s spiritual lives.” (Bass, 42) Those people, like so many at mid-life, said “Isn’t there more?” and they began to wander. In fact, she starkly states: “Nomadic spirituality, that sense of being alien in a strange land, is almost a given of contemporary life.” (23)

What she proceeds to describe are congregations who have found ways to live Christianity incarnationally, to live their faith existentially – rising organically from the experience and meaning of their existence. She found in these churches three shifts in attitude and focus – “from traditionalism to tradition,” “from purity to practice,” “from certainty to wisdom” (45). These shifts seem to be true of congregations who are experiencing freedom from the frozen thoughts and habits alluded to above. After outlining what she calls “Ten signposts of renewal”, Bass describes transforming lives, congregations, and the world. What she does not offer is concrete guidance for how clergy and laity may live into such ways of being. She identifies alternatives to the shallow acting out of a midlife crisis, but doe not help us navigate those dangerous waters.

So, where can we find help for the next steps in “Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures”? This subtitle to Emerging Churches (Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, both of Fuller Theological Seminary) offers hope in the gerund verb form “creating,” suggesting a process to be followed. But this is no documentary or “Idiots Guide to the Postmodern Church.” Rather, they suggest that emerging churches who seriously and effectively respond to this midlife crisis of contemporary Christianity are marked by nine distinct practices; the tone is more descriptive than instructive. The first is “identifying with the life of Jesus.” (Gibbs, 45) They illustrate that these emerging churches began to look at Jesus differently, stating “95% of the unchurched [in Seattle] have a favorable view of Jesus, so… the church needs to be trained to look at Jesus” (48) with new eyes, those of the culture. Perhaps then, they argue, the church will be able to have conversation about Jesus with people in the culture. So, I say, one thing to do is learn to ask a new set of questions, such as, “If we like Jesus, and they like Jesus, then why don’t they want to be with us (and why aren’t we more with them)?” We should not presume that we, the church, can answer that question in isolation. Rather, in prayer, reflection, study and dialogue with the community around us, we explore together who Jesus is. This sounds like a risky proposition, one that may stir anxiety on the part of the church. We prefer to read Matthew 16.13-16 and just parrot Peter’s answer rather than asking the question and seriously considering the range of answers. Could we even answer Jesus’ question? Do we even know “Who people say that [Jesus is]”? And then we are faced with whether we received from God an inner light revealing to us who Jesus is for the world today, or do we simply say what flesh and blood have told us (cf Mt 16.17).

To take just one more example from Gibbs and Bolger, this emerging church moves from a focus on “gospel of salvation” one of “gospel of the kingdom,” (91) a shift from focus on the teachings of Paul to those of Jesus in the Gospels. The focus becomes more communal, more holistic, more outward focused, more God focused. This seemingly small change has dramatic impact on how the church thinks about God, itself and the world. A few pages later, though, they make a disturbing observation: “Emerging churches may not appear as legitimate forms of church to those who are not wrestling with the ideas of church practice” (95). This seems to suggest an inevitable split between those of the church that has been and those of the church that is becoming. Bass offers a hopeful vision of mainline congregations who are making the transition, though perhaps they too have left aside others “who are not wrestling” as Gibbs and Bolger say. Neither work explains what the people of God are to do, how we are to make this move, if at all. I will now offer three suggestions.


The questions I am asking are, “How do we love the place from which we came and those who raised us (the modern, traditional, mainline or evangelical churches that are struggling today) while living into the new work of God in the church and world? How do we love and serve the former while giving birth to the latter? We recognize that not all will make the journey to the new land (cf Num 32). Yet we all can still support and be supported, still understand and be understood as one people serving one God. How do we love and remain a part of the existing communities as they make the slow journey of transformation “by the renewing of [their] minds”? (Rom 12.1)

I suggest several categories of thought and practice. Any one of them may help, but I envision all of them together, forming a “cord of three strands that is not easily broken” (Ecc 4.12). They are spiritual formation, theological reflection, and personal growth. Each of these will help individuals and congregations move toward discernment, development and deploying of ministry. This brings us back into the cycle of formation with our experiences of ministry to be nurtured, challenged, edified, equipped, and sent for further ministry (cf Mark 6.6-13, 30-32).

Spiritual Formation Spiritual formation starts with the self as the active agent. One who is aware of the need is also capable of making change and progress in the spiritual life, even if the presumption is that “those others are the immature ones.” My personal ongoing spiritual formation is grounded in the work of the Jesuits. I appreciate their intellectual rigor, their pragmatism, and at the same time their wonderfully creative and expressive poetry and use of imagery. Hearts on Fire: Praying with the Jesuits (edited by Michael Harter) is a wonderful collection of poem prayers linked with the four ‘weeks’ of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. As I pray with the Jesuits I find my heart opening and becoming increasingly tender towards the people I serve. I move from being impatient with them, through impatience for them, and finally to peace with where they are, knowing that God is at work among us, which is enough for today. This peace leaves me no less hopeful for our full transformation and reconciliation as together we grow, one body, toward maturity in Christ. The shift taking place in my heart through study and prayer then allows a peace to open around me, one in which others may experience similar grace from God. As I experience these transformations, this new life emerging in me, I practice vulnerability and transparency. I talk with the congregation about what is unfolding in me, and I endeavor to share some of those prayer habits that have been helpful to me.

The framework of spiritual direction is useful in spiritual formation, even if not practiced in a traditional one-to-one relationship. Frank J Houdek, S.J, provides guidance from a Jesuit model that I would apply to congregational leadership. A starting premise is that good candidates for spiritual direction desire to grow “in awareness and responsiveness to the living God” (Houdek, 17). One might wish or even assume (as at times I have) that everyone in a church does or at least should feel this way. The reality is otherwise. Not all people in churches (including some leaders) are interested in growing spiritually. So, how does one discern among these, and how does one serve the whole congregation, not just those who actively want to grow?

Houdek indicates three traits present in those who are “ready” to begin spiritual direction. The leader might also look for these in individuals, among groups, and in the community as a whole system. They are: 1) a sense of awareness of experience – “what is happening”; 2) the ability to reflect on these experiences; 3) verbal communication skills. (16-17) As leaders, when we find these traits lacking, we can intentionally work with others to develop them throughout the congregation. We see in Jesus’ teaching ministry a focus on reality – on what is really going on, not just what appears to be. Jesus presses the disciples beyond easy answers “You give them something to eat,” “Let the net down on the other side,” “Roll away the stone.” Jesus then asks questions of meaning, often in response to questions asked of him. This habit frustrates and annoys his listeners, but pushes some of them to deeper levels of thought. Then, Jesus calls on them to articulate – “Who do you say that I am?”, “What is written?”, “Which is the true neighbor?”

Chapter four goes into greater detail on the traits necessary in the director, and some things that can be done to develop them. Clergy and lay leaders would do well to study this chapter and pursue the characteristics described there. We are called upon to model these and other practices of spiritual formation and theological reflection. We are aided in this by our own study of these two disciplines, and by working with a spiritual director ourselves.

Theological Reflection Theological reflection as a learned skill brings together two elements: 1) an experience, and 2) a faith tradition, and moves to a third: 3) an action in the world. This work is best done with questions.

What is happening? This is not as obvious as it seems. We first need to begin with our perceptions, because that is what we have. We then need to look beyond our perceptions, ‘as close as we can get’ to an objective description separate from our emotional reactions to what is happening. At this point we also want to avoid making value judgments about the speech and behavior of others or ourselves.

What does my faith tradition say about what is happening?
This includes several elements: a) The theology in my head – the stories and ideas that come to mind that seem immediately relevant and are a composite of ideas from my own faith development over time (embedded theology). b) Scripture – are there texts that seem to speak either directly or indirectly to this situation or experience? c) Tradition – what has the church taught about this subject? Often there exists a variety of teaching on a particular topic, so it is worth being aware of and open to this variety, so that we might gain new insights and not simply rely on what we ‘think we know.’ d) Revelation – As I pray (speak, but mostly listen) do I receive any new thought on the subject that does not seem to arise directly from one of the above sources? If so, how does it square with them? Even when God does ‘a new thing’ it will be consistent with some underlying spirit or intent present in the ‘old thing (understanding)’.

What insight do I now have into my experience and my tradition? As I think and talk through the above, what insights and understandings arise? What does God seem to be doing? What clarity is brought by allowing the ‘light of faith’ to shine on otherwise clouded and shadowy experiences and thoughts?

What am I or others to do with this increased insight?
So what? Theological reflection is incomplete unless it results in something concrete. What am I (are we) called to be or not be, say or not say, do or not do? How am I to love God and neighbor as self in the midst of this experience and in the light of this reflection? “What does the LORD require of me?”

We learn these skills of theological reflection by working with peers and trusted guides, and then we live them out, day by day, in the midst of our faith community. We think and speak in these ways. We reframe conversations along these lines. When people rush toward certainly, we slow the pace with questions. When anxiety begins to build, we ask for faithful reflection. Stone and Duke’s book How To Think Theologically is a great introductory resource for people learning these skills, as well as those who seek to model and teach them to others.

Personal Growth    The third area of formation is Personal Growth – clearly a broad terrain filled with any number of challenges and opportunities. For the purpose of this paper, I want to suggest that developing a working knowledge of Family Systems Theory, and the techniques that currently fall under the broad category of ‘coaching’, can go a long way toward helping leaders grow personally, and then equipping them (us) to help others. By ‘personal growth’ I have in mind transforming those mental, emotional, habitual and relational patterns which cause problems in our lives. Intentional practice of spiritual formation, theological reflection, and ministry often shine light on these aspects of self, inviting us to think about them and seek growth. Some are so dramatic that we really need counseling or psychotherapy. Many, however, can be worked through in individual or group coaching using systems theory as a frame of reference. The works of Edwin Friedman and Roberta Gilbert have made Family Systems Theory more accessible.

Crucial Conversations give us tools for better understanding ourselves and aiding others in the journey of self discovery. A “crucial conversation” is one in which “the stakes are high…opinions vary….and emotions run strong” (Grenny, 3). The book helps us understand and address those situations and relationships of conflict with calm reason, skill, and humility. The authors lay out various specific techniques for leaders – things we can understand and do, and over time, with support, even do well. One such technique is to “start with heart” which includes answering three questions: “1) What do I really want for myself? 2) What do I really want for others? 3) What do I really want for the relationship?” (34) Asking these questions helps us move away from short sighted reactive behaviors that undermine our real goals and hurt others. Later they lay out a technique called “STATE” – Share your facts; Tell your story; Ask for others’ paths; Talk tentatively; Encourage testing (140). This skill teaches us to have a difficult conversation while reducing the risk that others or we will become defensive – a particularly good skill when working with a group on the journey through a liminal space from what no longer works toward something yet to be discovered. On that journey, anxiety abounds and any skill that helps reduce or manage it is useful.

Working in a coaching model – asking questions rather than telling information or opinions, also helps reduce defensiveness, and allows people the space to live with their anxiety while trusting in the ultimate safety of the relationships. Thomas Crane’s book The Heart of Coaching methodically describes his understanding of “transformation coaching” in three phases: Foundation, Learning Loop, and Forwarding the Action (Crane, 44). He then outlines steps within each phase, so the reader knows specifically what to try – some are optional, others are presented as necessary. One great value of this book for the transformational leader is the ability to work through the perennial questions, “What’s going on? AND What do I do now?” Along with systems theory and the work of Grenny and others, Crane’s book can help us understand what’s going on. More importantly, it then helps us think through what to do. A leader, or group, can sit down with this model and begin to get a handle on the complexity of a congregational system, which is a web of systems within systems within the system – all of which are made of triangles, and all of which are then connected to innumerable external systems. What do I do now? Indeed! Working with a coach, and developing coaching skills, are vital tools for transformational leaders, those who wish to remain fully committed to the existing communities of Christian faith, while walking the long road with them, either from Egypt to the Promised Land, or back to Israel from Babylonian captivity. Either, or both, are long, slow journeys. Along the way many, including the leaders, will say, “Let’s just stay here,” or “Let’s go back.” The Hebrew Scriptures tell us this story repeatedly, and we see it mirrored in the gospels as people struggled with trying to believe that the promise of a coming kingdom was real. That freedom, peace, joy, and new life were real. That who I have been does not have to define who I can become. This is Good News.

As we engage these three processes – spiritual formation, theological reflection, and personal growth – we will be better equipped to serve the church, to equip Christians for the work of ministry. The church, on its better days, wants this from us. We, on our better days, want this for the church. God, every day, wants this for and from us, for and through the church, for the sake of the world Christ came to save. This is the work to which we as ministers, as disciples of Jesus Christ, have been called.

Works Cited:

Bass, Diana Butler. Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith. New York. Harper Collins. 2007. ISBN 9780060859497.

Crane, Thomas G. The Heart of Coaching: Using Transformational Coaching to Create a High-Performance Coaching Culture. San Diego. FTA Press. 1020. ISBN 9780966087437.

Gibbs, Eddie and Ryan K. Bolger. Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. Grand Rapids. Baker Academic. 2008. ISBN 9780801077154.

Grenny, Joseph, et al. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High. New York. McGraw Hill. 2002. ISBN 0071401946.

Goldsmith, Marshall. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. New York. Hyperion. 2007. ISBN 978-1401301309.

Harter, Michael. Hearts on Fire: Praying With The Jesuits. Chicago. Loyola. 2005. ISBN 9780829421200.

Houdek, Frank J., S.J. Guided By The Spirit: A Jesuit Perspective on Spiritual Direction. Chicago. Loyola Press. 1996. ISBN 9780829408591.

Stone, Howard W. & James O. Duke. How to Think Theologically. Minneapolis. Fortress Press. 2006. ISBN 0800638182.

Ministry of Spiritual Direction

(written as part of my application to the Perkins’ Certification in Spiritual Direction Program)

Scripture is filled with stories of people who serve as guides. Moses guides the people from Egypt to Canaan. John the Baptist directs the gaze of his followers saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Jesus says, “Follow me…” Paul says, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” The spiritual life is about moving in a direction – toward deeper experience of our life embraced by God. As the stories in the Old and New Testaments suggest, this journey is one of twists and turns, peaks and valleys, dead ends and glorious vistas.

The journey toward oneness with God is simple, but not easy. Our lives are filled with competing claims from within and without. As Paul writes of his own experience (Romans 7) we hear the struggle of one who is sorting out the right path from the various options, seeking to make sense of powerful compulsions to choose this or that path – and he admits that he fails regularly, though not every time.

During his own ministry we do not see Paul humbly seeking the guidance of any human. He admits to having been brought up at the feet of the Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) and to having traveled to Arabia and returned to Damascus, where he had previously literally been led by Ananias while Paul’s eyes were still covered with scales (Galatians 1:17). In this we see some evidence that Paul had those whom he considered wise guides in his spiritual journey, first in Judaism, and later in his early formation as a Christian. He even admits to surreptitiously meeting with Peter (and briefly with James) in Jerusalem without coming before the whole Jerusalem council of Christian elders (Galatians 1:18).

These examples illustrate some of what I understand spiritual direction to be. Spiritual direction begins with the premise that we are on a transformative spiritual journey, one made easier when we are helped by others who bring insights and knowledge to which we lack access otherwise. As the biblical journey stories demonstrate, this process is not a quick one, but is marked by seasons of days or years of exile, of fasting, paring down, chosen or forced deprivation, so that the participants might come to rely less on temporal supports and more on the eternal Spirit. It is noteworthy that in these stories some choose their guide while for others the guide seems actively chosen by God. Perhaps this apparent distinction is simply one of awareness and perception – in reality we are choosing, and God is choosing, simultaneously. Either way, or both, spiritual direction involves one being led, and one leading. Even when practiced in community, this one-on-one relationship is still primary in the direction experience. A group of peers may come together for spiritual support on the journey, but it is difficult for me to envision how several people gathered together could effectively direct one another. This would represent too many voices muddling things rather than moving us toward the clarity we seek in the midst of an already existent cacophony.

The nature of this directive relationship and the resources brought to bear will vary based upon the background of the participants. Christian spiritual direction will necessarily be in conversation with the Christian Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Along with this will come the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) found through the Jewish and Christian theological and spiritual traditions. I personally am drawn to the Ignatian tradition and have worked with spiritual directors from that perspective. Among contemporary writers, Merton and Nouwen and Foster are primary for me. Spiritual direction will often present new authors or traditions to the directee, but this needs to be done with sensitivity and respect for where that person stands now and from whence she has come and how. The role of these authors is often to point us toward God with new language, articulating insights we may approach but cannot put in words. They are perhaps, like the “Road to Emmaus” story illustrates (Luke 24), walking companions who open the scripture to us so that our hearts burn within us.

Spiritual direction also must honor the diversity within the Christian community. Directors will each have personal spiritual practices that resonate deeply – these may or may not connect for a particular directee. Part of the early relationship is coming to understand these differences and determining whether a productive relationship can be established that supports the person seeking direction. If I as a mainline protestant lack knowledge of or appreciation for Pentecostal traditions, for instance, it may be very difficult for me to offer direction to someone who comes from and still feels deeply rooted to such a way of understanding God and self in the world. If the directee and I are both are open, this could be a wonderful learning experience for us.

For some, openness to other religious and spiritual traditions provides additional resources and companions for the journey. Much wisdom is to be found beyond Christianity and Judaism in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, African and American spiritualities, to name a few. It may be that these are brought into the direction process by the directee who has a casual interest or a deep sympathy for the history and culture from which those beliefs and practices arise. The director will want to help the directee listen for what is life-giving and redemptive in those traditions and seek connections with the broad and diverse river of Christian faith and spirituality.

As an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a natural part of my vocation is offering spiritual direction to parishioners and others in the community. As I preach and teach and interact with people around town, they often have occasion to seek further conversation in support of their spiritual journey. It may begin with a conversation in person or by email regarding something that was stirred by the sermon. Or they may simply reach a point in their life when it is time to begin another part of the climb up the “seven story mountain”. As people pass through transition times – adolescence to young adult hood, beginning a family, having a family disrupted by divorce or death or other crisis, career change, “midlife crisis”, “empty nest syndrome”, retirement, declines from old age – they often want to reinterpret the place of God and self in the world through a spiritual lens. This work is supported by spiritual direction.

My own calling draws me toward people who are asking questions, who understand themselves on a journey which will not find its final destination in this life. I believe that mystery, paradox and ambiguity are inherent in the spiritual life, and exist within the Christian scriptures. “Systematic Theology” has always seemed something of an oxymoron to me – how can we presume to systematize time-bound human words about a God whose ways are not our ways and thoughts are not our thoughts, existing both within and outside of time? How can we summarize the theology of the bible in pithy phrases when the bible itself represents a long and difficult development of theological understanding from a pantheistic “our God is the strongest among the many gods and everyone goes to sheol when they die” to a variety of New Testament understandings of “eternal life and bodily resurrection through the grace of the one and only God, beside whom there is no other, who by the way is not just one but three-in-one”? God’s name as given to Moses is like a Zen Koan – “I am what I am” or “I will be what I will be” and the very notion of the trinity is shrouded in incomprehensible mystery. These instances seems to be to suggest a God who actively resists our efforts at systematizing, categorizing, codifying, and cataloguing for all time what is true and what is false, what is good and what is evil, who is redeemed and who is damned.

My own spiritual journey has very much been “working out [my] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) – well, perhaps not fear and trembling, but certainly awe and humility. I understand my call to ministry in general, and spiritual direction in particular, to be about supporting others who are on the journey. It is difficult to offer direction to people who don’t know they are lost, or who are not searching for a better path, or to walk the path they are on with peace and grace and hope. I’m reminded of the scene where Jesus says to the Pharisees, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) I hear a note of irony in his tone – all of us are sick and sinners, it’s just that some (Pharisees) are oblivious to their own state and thus not receptive to what Jesus seeks to offer them. Similarly, spiritual direction can be offered, but not forced or coerced.

My ministry is marked by several characteristics which those around me recognize. Perhaps the first is the aforementioned openness to ambiguity. My anxiety is not raised by it, and so I am able to create a safe space for others to wrestle or rest, as they choose, until they find a place of equilibrium. This capacity of mine causes frustration for some in the midst of administrative processes in the church where people want to be told what to do and how, or just want to “make a decision already” without taking time for prayerful reflection and God’s unfolding revelation in the midst of the community. There certainly are times to direct by telling people what to do and how – generally spiritual direction is not one of them except at the very early periods, when new skills are called for. When asked to teach them to pray, Jesus offered his disciples a concrete and specific and simple response. Other times when speaking of the kingdom of God and life of the spirit he spoke in parable and metaphor filled with ambiguity and open to a diversity of interpretation.

Another practice of my ministry is what now is called coaching, a way of asking powerful questions and doing “appreciative inquiry” to help another person explore place and path. In my ministry I have always sought to accompany others and help them build their own capacities for life, faith and ministry – including ways of seeing and experiencing the spiritual in life. I think all life is spiritual, whether or not we recognize or embrace this reality. Part of spiritual direction is helping people to see with the eyes of the heart (Ephesians 1:18) to recognize God in the whirlwind and in the silence (1 Kings 19); to learn to ask, “Where is God and what is God doing?” This work of learning to think theologically is, I believe, an important strength that I bring to my work of spiritual direction.

Lastly, I would emphasize my work as a writer, and my ability to put into words what others are thinking but have trouble articulating. Whether in conversation or through poetry and essays, this skill offers, like other spiritual writers of present and past, new ways to view past and present experiences, along with a window into possible futures. Working toward the Certificate in Spiritual Direction will give me an opportunity to continue this work of reading, reflecting and writing within a community of likeminded sojourners.

In June I will begin the Doctor of Ministry Program at Perkins. My project direction is toward a “center for suburban spirituality” where people come together to practice spiritual formation, theological reflection, personal emotional and relational growth, and ministry discernment and development. This is a “beyond the church walls” kind of ministry that includes but is not limited to folks in a particular congregation – many of whom would currently classify themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. I’m interested also in what spiritual direction might mean among these folks. The work toward a Certificate in Spiritual Direction will complement and help strengthen my DMin experience, providing a different way of approaching these topics. Along the way I would hope also to be able to support my peers in the certificate program as we form a community during our time together, developing relationship as colleagues and as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Personality, Strength & Gift Assessments

In doing work on my own development as a leader, along with the work I do coaching & training others in their leader development, I’m compiling a set of free and @ cost online assessments of personality, strength, spiritual gifts, etc.

They are intended for guidance and reflection only. I make no claims (nor do they) to compete accuracy. Their accuracy depends in part on how willing/able the participant is to be honest with self and the test. They are valuable as a reference for conversation.

Sixty Minutes to Change Your Life

You can spend sixty minutes each day in prayer. That may seem to many of us like a monumental task, entirely unrealistic given our daily schedules and the number of minutes we currently spend in prayer each day. I understand this entirely, as it has been daunting to me as well. But I firmly believe that absolutely anyone who wishes can make this work for their own lives, and will in the process find that their lives are transformed by the power and presence of the Spirit of God at work in them.
First, let me say that I am not suggesting that you attempt to sit down and pray for sixty minutes straight. (If you follow my suggestions here, you’ll eventually get to that, without even trying, so don’t knock yourself out right now). Rather, I want you to think about sixty minutes spread throughout your day. As a Christian, I approach prayer from a Biblical and Christian theological perspective (which is not to say that all Christians will agree with me, or that I believe there is only one faithful interpretation of scripture – this is simply my understanding at the present time, from within my faith context). I do believe that this principle will work for people of any faith, or even for people of no faith, perhaps those of us who would call ourselves ‘spiritual but not religious’. The New Testament offers us good evidence that the prayers of people who desire to love and serve God are in fact heard by God, even if those people are not followers of Jesus! (See in particular Acts 10). Simply seek God, and know that before you even thought of Him, He was seeking you.
So, Sixty Minutes to Change Your Life. I have a strong aversion to things that sound too easy or too good to be true. This is not a spiritual version of a get rich quick scheme or a failproof diet plan to loose 100 pounds in 30 days. In fact, I am not suggesting that the changes in your life will come quickly at all. I don’t know how or when your life will change through these habits I want to suggest – simply that your life will change significantly and for the better. The changes may come suddenly as they did for the Apostle Paul (Acts 9) or slowly, as for the Apostle Peter (you really have to read the whole Gospel, but here is a summary.
Let’s get honest. How many of us look at our day and think, “Man, I’ve got so much spare time on my hands, I just don’t know what to do.” In the fast paced fractured world in which we live, not many of us in North America feel that way. Even so many retired folk are heard to say, “I’m so busy now, I don’t know how I ever had time to work.” And most of these folks are not meaning that they are now so busy with spiritual practices. So, where, exactly are these sixty minutes? I am not, at this point, going to ask you to stop doing anything in your weekly routine in order to accomplish this. I will not suggest that you watch one less hour of tv each day (though that might not be a bad thing). These sixty minutes are already available in your day, as you’ll soon see. Really, I promise.

We could approach this several ways. For starters, consider dividing that hour into 3 segments – 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes in the evening, and 30 minutes throughout the day, divided into 3 minute increments. Begin your day with 15 minutes of prayer while your are doing your daily routine. I begin each day with prayer before I even roll out of bed, giving thanks for the day, asking God for guidance through the day. As you stumble to the shower, where is your mind? What if it were focused on God? Now, it is helpful at this point to have some words of prayer, scripture, or song committed to memory, to prime the pump as it were. Perhaps you know the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9, or Psalm 23. I’ll share more simple prayer suggetions later. For now, the point is to think in terms of praying while you do other things. Praying is to our spirit what breathing is to our body – we exhale the waste and inhale the sustenance. In fact, the word for breath, in Hebrew Ruwach, in Greek Pneuma, can also mean spirit or wind. You breath most times unconsciously while doing your other activities. Prayer can take on the same character in our lives, that it is something we do continually, without needing to think about it – though certainly at times we will want to, just as we will focus and concentrate on our breathing at certain times.
You’ve taken a shower, brushed your teeth, gotten dressed, and whatever else you may do in your morning routine. Give thanks in a breath for the ability to do each of these things with whatever ease you have. That may all take more than 15 minutes right there. Even so, before you rush out the door to begin your tasks appointed for the day, take 5 minutes to sit still focus on your breathing, and ask for God’s presence with you throughout the day. Again, here is a place that breath prayers can be very useful. And now you’ve prayed 20 minutes – you are already 5 minutes ahead for the day – we’ll call that extra credit.
The next part of your day is 30 minutes of prayer broken down into small increments – 2-3 minutes each. If you got 9 hours of sleep (wouldn’t that be an answer to prayer!) then you’d have 15 waking hours through the day. Spend 2 minutes in focused prayer at each of these hours, and you have spent another 30 minutes in prayer during the day. Here are a couple of suggestions on what to do with those minutes:

  1. Take a deep breath. Breath in the Spirit and Presence and Healing and Peace of God, and breath out stress, anxiety, fear, worry, anger, frustration. Do it again.
  2. Read a scripture. You may have a part that you particularly like – read that. Have a Bible handy in your work space, or wherever you spend your days, and simply turn for two minutes at the changing of the hour and pause, give God thanks for the opportunity to live in this present moment, and read the text before you.
  3. Read a few verses of a Psalm or Proverb and meditate upon the text. If you’re not sure where to start, consider this daily habit of Praying with Psalms and Proverbs.
  4. Incorporate one or more of these or another prayer habit as you transition from one task to another. I have found it particularly helpful, having prayed with the Psalms and Proverbs as I start my day, to go back and revisit one when ‘shifting gears’ between different tasks, or as a way to refocus after a particularly challenging conversation, or in preparation for one.
  5. Prayer of Now – How attentive are you to what is happening right now, this very minute, as you are reading these words? Who else is around you? What is your physical posture and attitude? What sounds and sights and smells are in your environment? What qualities does the light have? Attending to the present is a way of being grateful for life – living not in the glories and regrets of the past nor the hopes and fears of the future, but in this very moment, which after all is your one and only moment.
  6. Prayer of Attention – Related, but focused specifically on the people present in your life at any given moment, and having/developing a heightened spiritual sense/sensitivity toward them. As you look around, and truly notice people, in the room with you, i
    n the next car at the light, wherever, offer a prayer of blessing to God for them, that they may know how very much God loves them and desires to heal and bless them. An amazing story is told in scripture of a time when Jesus walked through a crowed market, on the way to a very important appointment, when he stopped. “Who touched me,” he asked. His disciples laughed, pointing out that this was a silly question, for in this great crowd, many people were bustling around and ‘touching’ him. “No,” he repeated, “someone touched me,” for he had felt a spiritual connection and transfer of power to/with someone there. Jesus was attending to the people around him and was thus aware that one of them stood out as in particular need of his attention at that moment. She had reached out to Jesus because she needed and wanted to be loved, healed, blessed. Not only did she receive healing – she also received his attention. Can you give someone 2 minutes of attention each how as a consecrated act of prayer?

And the day has passed, the night has come, and your dream world becons you. Reverse the morning pattern:

  1. Take 5 minutes to sit still, breath, and give God thanks for the day.
  2. Ask God to show you where you might have chosen differently during the day – chosen more for blessing, more for hope, more for reconciliation.
  3. Ask God for forgiveness for the places you failed to be who and what you knew you were called to be.
  4. Ask that God might prepare your mind and spirit through the night, so that if tomorrow comes, you will be ready to embrace it as God’s child, stepping out into a world in need of love which, having received from God, you are now called and equipped to offer to others in His name.
  5. Carry this prayer into your nightly routine of preparation.
  6. Read a scripture. Was there one that spoke to you at some other point during the day? Perhaps you have chosen a theme scripture for the week, or the month, or even the year – meditate on this text briefly. Songs, poems and other spiritual writings can also be useful at this time. While we sleep, our spirits ‘chew’ on the things we feed them at the close of the day – what are you in the habit of feeding yours?

And the sixty minutes has passed, sprinkled throughout the day in small amounts like sips of ration water on a walk across the desert. You may expect several things to happen to you as you pursue this course:

  1. Irregularity. Starting a new habit is difficult. Build in supports – tell other what you are doing, ask them to encourage you and even invite them to join you. Put reminders around – postit notes, 3×5 cards with verses or prayers on them, etc. And cut yourself some slack – prayer is a source of grace, not one more thing about which to feel guilty and inadequate.
  2. Imperceptible change. Often only in retrospect will you realize that your character and attitude have changed. This is a piece of what the Apostle Paul meant by being transformed by the renewing of your mind.
  3. Sudden change. At times something dramatic may occur. You may do something wonderfully out of character and grace-filled and wonder, “Wow, where did that come from?”
  4. God moments. Like the previous. Also, encounters with people that take you pleasantly by surprise. Other people may begin to act differently toward you, approach you to talk about things, offer things, even bless you. I don’t know really whether more of these things are happening for you, or if your skills of attention are hightened so you notice and are open to them. Its probably both, I think.
  5. Peace. Perhaps this is the most dramatic and significant change I have found in my own life. Peace is increasingly prevalent in my life. Admittedly, I still have my moments when I’m feeling anything but peaceful, but they’re fewer and farther between.
  6. Sabotage. I hate to say this, but when we make positive changes in our lives, there will be people around us – often those who think they love us most – who will knowingly or unknowingly do things to undermine, derail, or reverse our progress toward spiritual health and wholeness. At these times we must be like water flowing around and over rocks in a stream. The water does not fight the rock. It does not avoid or ignore the rock. It comes close, touches, even caresses and dare I say blesses, and then flows on, not being deterred from its forward progress. This experience of sabotage then becomes a great test of faith and an opportunity for you to hone your prayer skills.
  7. Hunger. This may be difficult to believe now, but you will long for more prayer as you enter deeper into this habit. Once you drink deeply of these waters, no other will satisfy.
  8. Productivity. You will find that every minute you take for prayer makes your other minutes that much more productive. While prayer should never become some tool in our success toolkit, it is true that the moments doing other things increase in value in proportion to the time we spend in prayer. This may be because you choose choose to spend moments on fewer urgent items and more on important ones. It may be that your mind is clearer to concentrate, think, create. It may be that your conversations are blessed and anointed by God (cause after all you’ve been praying that this very thing would happen). Most likely, its all of this and more.

Sixty minutes to change your life. I hope now you are convinced enough to try this experiment – sixty minutes for sixty days. That’s long enough to ingrain these practices into your life as habit, and long enough to see some noticeable results. I look forward to hearing your story and how God moves in your life.