• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Digging in

During graduate studies, I asked my primary professor (or lecturer) whdigging inat he would recommend I do to continue to grow in spiritual understanding and character.  His simple words were: “Select each year one topic of study, one area of life, and dig into it.”

Those words have served me well.

Biblical support for such a practice can surely be found in texts such as 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”  Yet, the truth being said, such a habit is not easy to regularly or consistently practice.

We live in a ‘create buzz’ society.  Some idea, new start-up or project gets a lot of play and energy for a very short time period, and then we move onto something else.  I have heard it said that if you don’t capture someone’s attention in the first 1m30 of a video, the person will ‘get bored’ and move onto something else.  Now there is nothing inherently wrong with this ‘speed of interest’.  However, if it is not balanced with effort spent thinking, studying and working on specific issues and needs in ministry and life, then one risks being more easily ‘tossed about’ by whatever may come our way.

It takes perseverance to ‘dig in’.  In ourselves, we don’t have that ‘stick-to-it tiveness’.  Sharing with others around us what our ‘plan’ might be for the next six months would go a long way to getting us started to ‘dig in’ well.

Why I love boards

Some of you read that title and thought, “Is he nuts?”  For most oboring board meetingf us, the topic of boards and board meetings is particularly dull.  Nothing could feel more unpalatable to our spiritual souls than sitting through a ‘bored’ meeting.

No, I do not believe I am ‘nuts’ to think that boards and board meetings are worth a second look.  And this past weekend reaffirmed my ‘love’ of boards.

I spent Saturday morning and some of the afternoon with people like Ray, Cedric, Tom and Anthony.  Several markers of that time together stood out for me.

One marker was time.  These four, along with others, gave up precious time from their full-time jobs to spend a day hearing about WT ministries, making decisions to remove obstacles which might hinder those ministries, and praying for those ministries.  If they didn’t believe in World Team, they wouldn’t choose to spend a Saturday in a board meeting when they could have been doing something else.

A second marker was insight. The various boards of WT and our partners are made up of people who bring incredible insight to the table; people who see things differently then we as cross cultural workers.  Ray made one comment during our conversations which was my primary ‘take-away’ from the meeting.  Up to that point, I had never even considered the insight that he shared.

The third marker was shared vision.  I wish I could come up with a better phrase, but these four are thrilled to be part of what WT is doing in the world, thrilled to be able to contribute in some way to helping WT accomplish its vision, thrilled to be standing behind us as cross cultural workers.  If they said it once, they said it at least five different times during our meeting: “We share the vision of World Team Global“.

Let me suggest two small follow up steps.  First, I would encourage each Ministry Support Centre board to put together a short photo/bio on each board member and send it to all members of the WT global community.  Second, I would encourage each of us to drop a short note of thanks to one board member.

Maybe that will help us begin to understand what boards and board members give to us as a World Team global community.

Preparing our minds for action

‘Drifting’ is something that can occur while standing and talking with someone.  I can be listening to the person, but in effect not really listening to them because I am not being ‘mindful’.  I am not ‘present’ with them at that moment.  Mindfulness is a discipline, a reflex that each of us should work on.

However, I also recognize that I can ‘drift’ in my walk with Christ.  I can go through the motions of spiritual disciplines without those disciplines or habits having enough impact to change the way I think and act.  I could say that ‘mindfulness’ applies not only to cross cultural communication, but to my life and ministry in general.

When Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:13: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” is that not in some way a call to mindfulness in regards to our spiritual life? 20-week

Each time you run a marathon or participate in a triathlon, there is a preparation schedule or plan that you follow.  That plan oftentimes extends over many months and is meant to help you in ‘building’ towards the actual event.

The good news is that we are not alone in this preparation.  Surrounded as we are by the community with whom we serve, we can daily remind one another to ‘prepare our minds for action’.  Becoming more mindful in our life and ministry is a joint effort.

Listening to God is just hard

Have you ever taken an inventory of your prayer life?  I don’t mean an inventory of requests made and answers given.  I’m talking about an accounting of what you say when you pray.

Just doing a quick ‘check’ of the past few days, I came to the following conclusions:

  • I did a fair job of varying praise, thanksgiving, and prayer requests (little prideful thinking there).
  • Many times, I found myself praying: “And I want to ask you to …hear his voice
  • Basically I talked and God listened.

Listening, as I wrote yesterday, is just plain hard.  It’s hard because listening is not about us, but about others and understanding what is on their mind.  Maybe I could rephrase that in regards to prayer by saying that listening is not about us, but about God and understanding what is on His mind.

At the recent Europe leadership meetings, the main speaker made us to take some significant time to just ‘listen’ to God in prayer.  ‘Significant’ for most of us means about 2-3 minutes.  What I took from that time was how hard it is to listen to God.  In other words, how hard it is to shut off our continual prayer request default mode and ‘hear’ Him speaking to us through His Word and through the time spent listening to Him.

It’s not something I am good at (maybe you feel the same way). It’s not something I can learn quickly.  It’s something I must practice.

I’ve picked up a couple of books to stir my thinking on the subject: Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald S. Whitney; The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg, and The Attentive Life, Leighton Ford.

Perhaps you might have others to suggest.  However, the point is for me, for you, to practice listening to God.

Listening is just hard

Talking is fairly easy, even if one is shy or introverted.  It’s ‘easy’ because we work to convey what is on our mind, what is our opinion about a topic.  Listening, on the other hand, is just plain hard.  It’s hard because listening is not about us, but about othlistening bisers and understanding what is on their mind.

Listening calls for double duty.

For one, we must shut off our ‘answer’ default mode, that is, we must stop thinking about our every response to another’s comments.  The point of listening is to understand the process whereby the other arrived at his/her thoughts.

For another, we must focus on clarifying questions.  In order to understand what another is ‘working to convey’ to you, questions (thoughtful questions) will allow you to sound out another’s thought process.  The fruit of this kind of listening is that it helps the listener know better how to ‘intervene’ in the life of the other.  It will allow the one speaking to actually assess the import and soundness of his/her thoughts.

Listening is a skill. It is a competency that many of us must work on.

I had the benefit of a personal example of skill-full listening the other day.  Two close friends were over for a time of sharing and prayer together.  At one point, I ‘vented’ about some the frustrations I was experiencing.  I made some strong statements, some exaggerated statements.

Our friends did not immediately push back on me, trying to prove me wrong.  They asked numerous questions; at times rephrasing what I said to be sure they had heard what I was saying.  The questions were in no way contentious either.  They were carefully worded, and their impact was felt much later.  Yes, there were some responses on their part.  However, their questions caused me to re-examine what I had been saying and the ‘steps’ I had been considering to take.

I think our close friends had the harder work that night.  It was easy for me to talk.  I know it was hard for them to listen.  The result, however, was that their work of listening turned me back to the ‘everlasting way’ (Psalm 139:24).

Community can happen in a weekend

I just spent the past weekend with a dozen other cross cultural workers and leaders.  They came from all over the globe and are engaged in a variety of ministries.  We ‘thought’ the common denominator was that we all have the same executive coach.community Very quickly, we realized that the same common denominator was (and is) the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sounds obvious, you might say.   However, that common denominator allowed us to rather quickly build community between us.

Author Scott Peck in his book, A Different Drum, argues that community is built in a variety of ways, but that it is not always a function of time. This weekend brought that insight home.

There was nothing ‘fancy’ or complex about how we spent our time together. The first night, we shared with one another our background and family.  The next two days, we each presented our ministries, beginning with a Bible verse that has been meaningful to us.  No big Bible exposition.  The next person presenting prayed for the person who had just presented.  The last night, we shared what are ways to thrive (not survive) in ministry.  There was plenty of discussion around the meal tables as well as when we walked through the city.

The last night, one of the youngest among us said that she was amazed at how quickly she felt ‘at home’ to be able to share her heart; there was ‘safety’ in this community.  People understood the world she lived in and could spoke honestly to her.

We all need community.  One of the elements of our WT Ministry Framework is growing in community.  That community can take many forms and happen in different ‘time frames’.

Let us not shy away from community because it takes time, because it makes us vulnerable to others.  It took ‘time’ to participate in this retreat; not in terms of quantity, but in terms of choosing to spend my time differently than I might have this past weekend. Let us grow continually in community because the fruit will be evident in how we thrive in ministry, how we grow in resiliency.

Wrestling with pride

When you ‘wrestle’ with the flesh, you are taking on an adversary that never stops his or her attack.  At the same time, you can seemingly never get your hands on or around this opponent.  It’s like trying to grab one of the many dishes at a Hong Kong Dim Sum restaurant with chopsticks.  You are a debutant at this and you just can’t get those two chopsticks around that dumpling without it slipping out.   chopsticks3

The ‘flesh’ is another way of talking about pride.  Pride is full out independence.  It is being convinced that you need to do something, and that only you can do it.

The trouble with pride is that it has blinded most of us to its systemic presence and power in our lives.  Sure, we all know we are prideful from time to time. However, we would never admit that the overwhelming majority of our actions are tainted by pride; by our wanting to be noticed, accepted or appreciated.

When you try to ‘address’ pride in your life, it’s like that dumpling slipping between those chopsticks. It gets away from you and pops up somewhere else.

So, is wrestling with pride a lost cause?  You would start to think so after the numerous ‘defeats’ we each have had at the mercy of this adversary.  However, the simple act of calling out for help can be a first step in grabbing hold of that pride and addressing it with the help of another.

Calling out to God (Psalm 139:23-24) provides us with the grace and ability we need to go after pride.  Calling out to a brother or sister in our community of believers gives us the hand that we need to prayerfully engage and overpower our pride (James 5:16).