Lost that lovin’ feeling?

Ever feel like you’re further from God now than you were a few months ago? Maybe you had that deep sense of awe before God in every aspect of life…and now it is as if that moment in time was just a whisper.
As the theologians “The Righteous Brothers” penned

You’ve lost that loving feeling
Whoa that loving feeling
You’ve lost that loving feeling
Now it’s gone…gone…gone…who-oh-oh-oh-oh

Though they may not have directly been speaking to their spiritual lives, it seems an apt description of our relationship with God in different seasons. We felt close to God…then we wonder where that closeness has gone, gobbled up by life, kids, careers, hobbies, “religion,” and even by our spiritual disciplines.

Now it’s gone.

image via Tim Pirfalt, Creation Swap. Edits and quote mine.

image via Tim Pirfalt, Creation Swap. Edits and quote mine.

And the answer to getting it back isn’t found in trying harder. Because the harder you try, the further you’ll find yourself from the presence of God. A lack of feeling isn’t fixed by a mere flurry of doing. [Tweet “A lack of feeling isn’t fixed by a mere flurry of doing. “]

My friend Jamin Goggin, with Kyle Strobel, has written a book that addresses just this issue. It’s called Beloved Dust: Drawing close to God by discovering the truth about yourself. It’s really good, striking a hard-to-find balance between being rich, full, thoughtful, deep…and being accessible and helpful and readable. Many books aim at, but few find that balance.

I asked Jamin a few questions about the book, and I think you’ll find his answers helpful.

Ben: What are some of the most common ways you see people try to get closer to God? What’s so empty about those pursuits?

Jamin: In Beloved DustKyle and I explore common ways that Christians seek to grow in their relationship with God. We argue that some of them actually lead us down the wrong path. Ultimately, they are the result of very sneaky idolatries. One of these idolatries for example is “experience.” What we have found in our own journey is that it is incredibly easy to worship an experience from God rather than God himself. Often times we hit seasons in our spiritual life that feel dry. Worship feels boring, the Bible is uninteresting to us or maybe we just feel bored in prayer. We don’t like this feeling of disconnect from God and malaise in our spiritual life, so we look for solutions. We want to feel the way we used to feel in prayer or at church. This may lead us to try a new technique in prayer or maybe we will find ourselves looking for a new church that can make our spiritual life feel exciting again. Whatever it may be we are on the hunt to get back those old feeling we used to have. We want excitement. We want a “mountain top high”. We want an “aha moment”. The problem of course is that we don’t truly want God himself, but rather a felt experience. We want God for how he makes us feel. Thus, rather than going on the hunt for those old feelings or trying to generate an experience for ourselves, the call of God is to be honest with him about how we feel. Quite often God leads us into these kind of desert seasons precisely to show us our idolatry for experience. He is inviting us into a mature love, which does not love for what we get, but for who God is.

Ben: What’s something that a person could do right now to begin actually growing deeper in their relationship with God?

Jamin: What we are seeking to emphasize in Beloved Dust is that all of life is to be lived with God. We seek to dispel the notion that there are some activities that are “spiritual”, while most of our lives are lived on our own. Rather, our hope is to cast a vision of life with God that points people into communion with him in their work, their play and their home. The Christian life is about being with God who is always with you. As a result, the primary way we grow in intimacy with God is prayer. Prayer is our means of being with God at all times. Prayer is not merely another spiritual discipline, but is the very heartbeat of the Christian life. That being said, let me take a stab at actually answering your specific question. As we cultivate the habit of praying (being with God) in our everyday lives there are certain habits of heart that we can practice in prayer to grow in our relationship with God. Habits of heart are relational postures we embrace while we are praying. For example, one habit of heart is honesty. If we desire to grow in our relationship with God then we need to cultivate the practice of being honest with God; inviting him in to the truth of our heart amidst the vicissitudes of our everyday life.

Ben: There’s a tension between “doing” and “being.” Is it possible to find “being” in the “doing”? How?

Jamin: Great question. I actually prefer the language of “being with.” This denotes communion with God. Not just “being”, but “being with.” I think when we use the dichotomy of “being” vs. “doing” we often tend to be imagining very polarizing opposite ends of the spectrum. On one side is the person who is constantly self-reflecting or contemplating. While on the other side is the person who is constantly getting things done and is active for the kingdom so to speak. I think this is a false dichotomy. Jesus makes this clear as he talks about the importance of abiding in relationship with him in John 15. What is clear is that “being with” does proceed “doing for”. The heart of the gospel is not activity for God, but communion with God. However, what is also made clear in John 15 is that if we truly are abiding in Christ then we will indeed be active for the kingdom. Our “doing” so to speak is the fruit of our “being with.” As we participate in the love of Christ we share the love of Christ.

Ben: Is it possible to have a fully-realized prayer life on our own? What part does community play in our closeness with God through prayer?

Jamin: Community is unquestionably crucial in the Christian life. Often I hear the language of “context” when talking about Christian community. It is the “context” in which we grow in Christ. I think this is fine, but I think it misses the depth of what Christian community truly is. Participation in the love of God in Christ by the Spirit is not merely an individual endeavor. As those who are in Christ, the Holy Spirit now lives within us, pointing us on to Jesus and inviting us into God’s life of love from within. However, the Holy Spirit continues to pull us into God’s life of love not just from within, but from without. For he is working in and through our fellow saints. His gifts of love are being poured out uniquely through the body of Christ. You see, being “in Christ” is essentially a communal reality, for it is the church that is his “body.”

So, community is not only the right “context” for growth, it is the place of growth. It is the place which the Holy Spirit is at work.

[Tweet “‘Being ‘in Christ’ is a communal reality, for it is the Church that is his body.’ – @JaminGoggin [via @BenReed]”]

Ben: You’ve got a companion small group guide that goes along with the book. And I love it! Can you tell us what makes this small group study different than others?

Jamin: Yes, thanks for asking. I am really excited about this small group guide. I think what is most unique about is its invitation into prayer. What you will find is that there is work to be done in-between the weekly meeting session. Part of this is reading the book. However, the other part of this is a prayer exercise we call “Being With God.” We invite folks who are going through the study to spend 30 minutes each week opening their heart to the Lord in prayer regarding the specific area they are exploring in their walk with him that week. These prayer exercises include prompts inviting folks to consider reflection questions that invite them into honesty with God in prayer. It is this time of prayer each week that we then invite the groups to share as they begin their weekly meeting. The hope is that this will engender a depth of sharing and intimacy that is uncommon in the small group setting. In other words, each member of the group will take the time to share what came up for them during their individual prayer time.

Lastly, there is one more element that I am excited about in this study guide. If folks choose to they can take a 3-4 our self-guided spiritual retreat when they finish the study. The idea behind the retreat is that it provides an opportunity for folks to pause and reflect over the previous 6 weeks focusing on what God was doing in their lives, and then in turn provides space for them to discern next steps in their journey.


This really is a rich, soul-stirring work. Pick up a copy, or have everyone in your small group pick up a copy, and work through it together.

You can pick up the book HERE and the small group study kit HERE.

If you’d like, here’s a video you can share with your small group that helps them know what the study is about:

 

How to encourage Radically simple, beautiful prayer

“This is your house. You’ve got the floor to pray if you want.” I whispered to my friend as we gathered together in his kitchen, people spilling into the dining room, stirring prior to small group. Lots of people showed up that night, eager to engage in each others’ lives, catch up on the week, and dig into the homemade meatball subs simmering on the stove top.

image credit: CreationSwap user Stacey Lewis

Facial expressions speak much louder than words. Unless, of course, you are screaming into a megaphone, in which case those words speak louder than your facial expressions. But in most instances in life, knee-jerk facial expressions speak what’s on your heart loudly. In this moment, I knew I’d inadvertently put my friend in an awkward spot.

“Umm…ok. Let’s do this” he whispered back, shrugging his shoulders to shake off that nervous feeling of inadequacy and I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing.

He positioned himself so that the full group could see and hear him, and began to tie the laces of the new “spiritual leader” shoes he was taking for a spin around the block. “Well, guys, welcome to our home,” he squeezed through a forced smile. “We’re glad you’re here” he said as he communicated genuineness, making eye contact with everyone looking up. “I’ve never done this before…well, out loud, anyway…but let’s pray.”

He prayed the most simple, God-honoring, easy-going, authentic prayer I may have ever heard.

There was nothing profound about his prayer. Nothing particularly to note from an outsider’s perspective.

But knowing the internal battle of his heart, combined with the fact that he’d never taken the spiritual lead publicly like this before, it was beautiful. I believe this step of faith he took into unknown (for him) territory has set his family on a pathway to spiritual growth like he’s never known. Though the prayer may not have sounded radical to you, it was a risky, wall-shattering step towards Jesus.

It was our small group that got him ready for this. And I know how we did it.

There’s a way to structure prayer time that encourages prayer. And there’s a way to structure prayer time that encourages people to think you’re amazing and eloquent. One way honors God. One way honors you and your flowery vocabulary.

The more you use theologically technical, complicated words when you pray out loud, the more you’ll encourage people to shut down during prayer time. Why?

Because they don’t have that vocabulary.

At some level, praying out loud is like public speaking. Glossophobia (fear of public speaking) strikes 3/4 people, and we as a culture are deathly afraid of speaking in public. Maybe it’s a twisted form of pride that we need to work through, but the truth remains: speaking publicly strikes a fear into most people’s heart. Combine that with the fact that people don’t know the words you’re using, they’re afraid to appear “immature” spiritually in front of other people. They don’t know what to say, and it’s easy to shut people down during group prayer time through the words you use.

The leader sets the tone

You, the leader, can lead group members to take radical steps of faith by the way you pray out loud. Pray simply. Pray as if you’re talking to a friend…because you are, right? God’s not impressed by your theologically charged language. He wants your heart, not your words that seek to impress hearers. In fact, when you use words that don’t encourage others to unite with you in prayer, you sound a lot like the hypocrite from Matthew 6. You’ve gotten your reward already, and the reward isn’t that God heard you.

Want to encourage others to begin praying?

Pray simply. Use normal language. And keep your prayers short. Pray for a specific request, thank God that He showed up, and move on.

It’s in that process of simplicity that group members begin to think, “This prayer thing…it’s not so hard. Maybe I can try talking to God, too.”

Last time I checked, talking to God for the first time is a radical, beautiful step of faith.

 

 

 

50 things you should tell your children

image credit: CreationSwap user Justin Knight

Yesterday, I compiled a list of 50 things you should never tell your child. Ever.

But that’s only half of the story. While there are plenty of things you should not say to your child, there are also plenty of things you should tell them on a habitual basis. I’d be remiss to leave out that part of the story.

Most of these are applicable no matter what the age. Whether your children are 2 or 60, you can and should speak them.

Some of them may need to be uniquely suited if your children are older than 2, though. And some (like #19) may not work if you’re a single parent.

50 things you should tell your children

1. I love you.

2. I will always love you.

3. No matter what you do, you’ll always be my child.

4. I love you, but I’m still going to punish you.

5. Yes, I’ll forgive you.

6. Will you forgive me? I messed up.

7. You’re so valuable to me.

8. Let’s go to church.

9. Yes, I’ll drop what I’m doing to play.

10. No, I’m not too busy.

11. You drew that?!? Amazing!

12. I’m proud of you.

13. You slipped up, but you’re still precious to me.

14. Can we talk?

15. Let’s hang out.

16. You don’t have a choice here. You’re 2 years old.

17. You’re safe with me.

18. Yes, I’ll help.

19. You’re not the most important person in my life…your mom (my wife) (or your dad (my husband)) is.

20. Honoring God is always the right choice.

21. Learning to obey mommy and daddy is important.

22. Let’s pray.

23. Let’s go on a date! (dad to daughter, or mom to son)

24. To boys specifically: Never treat your mother with disrespect. Never.

25. To boys specifically: stand up for yourself.

26. To boys specifically: it’s okay to cry.

27. To boys specifically: it’s okay to be dangerous.

28. To boys specifically: being dangerous can leave you hurt. But playing it safe isn’t what men are called to do.

29. To boys specifically: fight for things that are eternally valuable.

30. To boys specifically: stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

31. To girls specifically: You’re worth far more than rubies.

32. To girls specifically: you’re beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not.

33. To girls specifically: you’re my princess, and you always will be.

34. Love those that nobody else loves.

35. Love others more than you love yourself.

36. Love and respect those who don’t love or respect you.

37. Serve others like your life depended on it.

38. Learn to respect those in authority over you. Life will be much easier if you do.

39. There is no problem so big that you can’t come to me.

40. You’ll never do anything to lose my love.

41. You have so many gifts. Can I help you use them?

42. I will always want what is best for you.

43. It’s okay if you mess up. I mess up, too.

44. No matter where you are or what you’ve done, if something’s wrong, call me. I’ll come running.

45. I don’t care if your friends get to do that. I’m your parent, not theirs.

46. Be a good friend. Others will love you for it.

47. It’s okay to be upset.

48. You can never do anything so bad that God would desert you.

49. You’re a ____ (insert your last name), and ____s (insert your last name again) don’t back down from our convictions.

50. Your mom and dad aren’t perfect. But we love you unconditionally.

Question: 

Anything you’d add?

* image credit: CreationSwap user Justin Knight

 

Prolonging bedtime

image via Naima Williams

At night, the last thing my wife and I do with our son is pray for, and with, him. One thing we always do is ask him who he’d like to pray for, because we want to get him in the habit of praying for people that he knows and loves. And he’s gotten pretty good at remembering people.

It’s a cool thing to be able to tell our friends and family, “Hey, Rex prayed for you by name last night.”

But lately, I think he’s picked up on the fact that the more names he suggests, the longer that “bedtime” is prolonged.

The more names he suggests, the longer mom and dad stay in my room.

The more names he suggest, the longer the light stays on.

He’s even begun naming, and praying for, things like his Mac Truck, the light (which he immediately reminds us that “Daddy” and “Poppy” fixed), his “Chloe” (a stuffed animal dog he likes to sleep with), his trains, and our family car. He’s prayed for fireworks, monkeys (jury’s still out on why he wants to pray for monkeys…), and lightning bugs. He’s prayed for his hat(s), his sucker, and himself. He’ll pray for my truck, “work,” and church.

And after a couple of these “extras,” I always say, “Ok, Rex, that’s enough. It’s time to go to sleep.” And I kiss him on the forehead, turn off the light, and close his door.

Faith like a child

But I wonder…is this really a ploy by my son to become more manipulative? Or is it a great example of the faith of a child?  Faith that says, “God’s provided these people in our lives…hasn’t He also provided these ‘things’ for our enjoyment and benefit?”

It’s reminded me to slow down. Because I don’t pray for the things he’s praying for. When was the last time I thanked God for my truck? Or for the lights in our home? Or for the beauty and wonder of lightning bugs?

When did I thank him for the simple joys of fireworks and…ahem…monkeys?

Have I ever thanked God for fun things like toys?

Or suckers?

I’ve got a lot of growing up to do. Never thought I’d learn that lesson from my 2 year old.

Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” – Luke 18:17

 

 

 

You should join a small group if…

join_now

…you can walk into church without anybody knowing you

…you leave church without anybody knowing you

…you’ve backslidden

…you want to grow in your faith

…you want to help others grow in their faith

…you need a place to serve

…you need a place to grow

…you need a place to belong

…you’re curious about God

…you don’t even know where to start

…you are a new believer

…you are a mature believer

…you are divorced

…you have children

…you cannot have children

…you “have it together”

…everybody else knows you don’t “have it together”

…you have a great family

…your family is rotten

…you don’t have any family

…you have lots of friends, but none that share your values

…you don’t have any friends who encourage you

…you don’t have any friends who hold you accountable

…you don’t have any friends, period

…life has fallen apart

…you know life will soon fall apart

…you have lots of free time

…you don’t have any free time

…you don’t have parenthood figured out yet

…you don’t have marriage figured out yet

…you don’t have singleness figured out yet

…life is tough right now

…you find that living the Christian life is difficult

…you erroneously think living the Christian life is easy

…you can never seem to think of things to pray for

…you have a house (or apartment) that can seat more than 2 people

…your story is still in progress

What would you add to this list?