How Losing My Sight Has Helped Me to See More Clearly

This is NOT another blog about General Conference!

BUT at the beginning of May, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church met to review and make decisions regarding the our now, truly, global denomination. Every four years, UM pastors and lay people from around the globe gather to reflect, pray, work and provide leadership for our denomination for the next four years. It is hard work but it is good work. But every time emotions and reason tend to go to battling each other. I want to encourage you to visit and learn more.

But there was something different going on. An emphasis existed, something more covert than the overt plenary sessions or public worship. During this General Conference, Hearts on Fire, the Fellowship of United MethodistSpiritual Directors were present for delegates seeking after God in the midst of their work. This practice of Spiritual Direction is nothing new to the Church, it is actually quite ancient (you can read more about it here). Spiritual direction is about assisting people on their spiritual journey. The real work is done by the Holy Spirit.

Jim Wallis, founder of The Sojourners, said at a conference I attended, “Faith is personal but it isn't private.” How true! What the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives, effects the Kingdom of God, even in the smallest of ways. It is so easy to dis-count ourselves and our lives in comparison to God, though we have no problem in puffing out our chests regarding our importance to our small, tiny, personal kingdoms (like vocations, family, hobbies, etc). But Jesus taught us the very opposite. Jesus described it saying, “... if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. (Matthew 17:20).”

I must say thank you for the faith and prayers of so many here at Cumming FUMC who have focused on God's Kingdom . Not only have I seen the power and faithfulness of the prayers in other people's lives, I have experienced it in my own. During the first weeks of February, as I lost vision in my right eye, the Intercessory Prayer Ministry and the church began praying. As the vision got worse and my doctors continued searching for an answer, your prayers continued and I began receiving cards and notes from far and wide. I received an incredible camoflauge blanket from the Happy Knotters and Prayer Shawl ministry that reminds me daily of the prayers of God's people.

What was hardest during these days was not having a diagnoses. I kept asking, “God, please just let me know what is going on!” In April, I received a diagnosis that I have a vascular disease effecting my optical nerve. A blockage occurred in the veins going to my optical nerve that caused the swelling (the disease is called Ischemic Optic Neuropathy) and subsequent vision loss. It shouldn't get any worse but then there is also no treatment for my vision loss.

So while there has been no improvement in my vision, I have found a dramatic improvement in my spiritual vision that was unexpected. I have seen and heard God in so many places.  One of those places was in my recent sermon series which has been based on our upcoming Vacation Bible School theme, “Sky: No Matter How You Feel...Trust God!” It is the story of Daniel. On the day he got word that his prayers to God were outlawed by King Darius, he didn't stop praying, nor did he increase his prayers, “...he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days. (Daniel 6:10).”

As we move into the summer months, what “customs,” what habits are you performing or setting aside to seek after God? Don't stop! And let me encourage you, if you aren't sure about trusting God, get out there and take part and take part in VBS (especially if your church is doing SKY).  Here at Cumming FUMC, I will be helping at VBS all week, June 4-8 (I can't wait) telling Daniel's story and the stories of others who trusted God. 

 You see, I've got this tiny faith and I need to trust more. Won't you join me on that journey?

Why Won't God Do My Laundry? Further Thoughts On Spiritual Formation

Most days my kids have no idea what my wife and I do as parents.  I realize that because when I was a kid I didn’t either.  Besides the work piece (which is always funny when I hear about take your kid to work day  - really?!? I am a pastor – my kids go to work with me once a week), my kids seem to have selective amnesia about what happens around the house.

Yep, before you are 18, your laundry automatically shows up clean.  Your food magically appears at each meal.  Your shoes walk by themselves into your bedroom.  The electricity comes automatically into the house as does the wireless internet. 

Honestly, it never occurred to me to talk with my folks about this (though I know they told me about it), not until I needed to have lights at my first apartment and wanted to have heat come winter time.  Then it became real important and in time, I realized just how important having good conversations with your parents is.  Today, my parents are two of my best friends and I know I am so blessed to still have them with me.

Funny thing is, we often look at God in the same way, we take God for granted as though God exist to get our laundry done.  I always wondered when we really started taking God for granted (and granted, it can be argued we always have).  In his book, “A History of Christian Spirituality," Urban T. Holmes, remarks that it came about around the 18th century.   In Holmes examination, it came about alongside Jonathan Edwards’ work.  As moralism was becoming the main influence on the infant USA religious landscape, Edward’s preaching on piety, that we should be obedient to God as the all-powerful father, was sentimentalized into this moralism.  As a result, “God became the kindly grandfather, whom we can expect to satisfy our every whim (138).” 

As Holmes notes, this was certainly NOT Edwards’ theology or teaching (though Holmes is no friend of pietism either).  Nevertheless, our Christianity in the USA was tainted by this assimilation.  That assimilating and the resulting view of God, has left us with something far less fulfilling than what most of us have been looking and longing for in our faith journey especially here in the 21st century. 

This is not a fulfilling understanding of God for me.  Of course, it was sufficient for a time...far too long a time I might add.  Yet, it is this view of God that often appears, regardless of preacher, theology or denomination,.It is an underlying approach to God in our modern Christian thought.  It misses completely the unique life of Jesus and his call to his follower, his friends.  To view God in such a bland, banal fashion is simply not what I hear in words like,

29  “… "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time--houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions--and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first."  Mark 10:29-31 (NKJV)

Our Christianity has grown comfortable with this approach to God.  As I study for certification in Spiritual Formation, the attachment in some of our modern spiritual writings to this limp version of God is like tasting the stench on our tongues from stagnate pools of what once was living water.  So while Father Thomas Green is writing about our attachment to possessions, I think the words are also relevant to our beliefs namely, “It is not what we possess but what we are attached to – what possesses us – which makes us unfit for, incapable of inheriting the kingdom of God (168, When The Well Runs Dry).”

For faith and church to be more than platitudes, acrostics, and bibliolatry, we must have a holistic approach and understanding of what has gotten us to where we are.  For us to go forward, we must examine more than our theology and our productivity.  When he writes regarding the politics and the church, Dr. Frederick Schmidt targets us Methodists when he says…

"Methodists are fond of talking about the resources of Christian theology as lying in Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. That list is inadvertently read as a list of two resources unique to the church (Scripture and tradition), alongside two resources shared in common with everyone else (what goes on inside our heads and what goes on in our lives). But when Christians talk about reason, we are talking about reasoning with the church, and when we talk about experience, we are talking about the experience of the church." (from  Winning the White House and Losing Our Souls)

I think he rightly targets those of us who claim the praxis theology of John Wesley.  We do have an approach that is more than just balanced and unique.  It is an approach consistent with the spiritual practices of the Church going back through the centuries.  It is an approach that can be argued, crosses the lines of West and East. 

It hit me when I finally listened.  I heard God when I truly learned what John of the Cross meant when he told about the “dark night of the soul,” not from someone’s interpretation but from John’s own writing.  It became personal when I stopped just praying with my mind but through what Holmes describes as “intuition.”  All began to be clear and happened for me when I heard God say, “You’re not my servant, you’re my son.”

And that led me to prayer.  Not in general but more specific, more traditional, more scriptural.  I know more of the history and practice of the prayer known as “The Jesus Prayer” through other sources and especially from reading “The Way of Pilgrim.”  But I always knew it as something else.  I knew it as the prayer of the tax collector…

 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."   Luke 18:9-14 (NKJV)

In the next few posts this is where I’m going to sit for a while.  In Jesus’ words and his stories, in the lives of his followers and in my own, I believe there is more here than we have mined.  There is more of God here in  these words than we have yet to know.  And I grow more and more convinced as I pray this prayer, we need more of God and far less of us.

No Matter What Other People Do...Trust God

Now that you've seen the story I will be talking about today, let me add a twist, another story.  It is a story which I have grown to love through the years.  Usually, it is told in relation to businesses, how the corporate world works, that kind of thing.

            Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.
            Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.
            Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth.
            Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.
            After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana.

Of course WE'RE NOT MONKEYS and this isn't a corporate environment!  Nooooo, course not.  But living our lives, putting our faith, putting our trust in God is, unfortunately, not something people want others to do.  Just consider for a moment the disdain and anymosity expressed toward both quarterback, Tim Tebow and point guard Jeremy Lin during this past year.  Look back over the years, and you'll see others.

History is full of those labeled extreme in their faith, and who found people trying to pull them back down.  Since her death, an attempt has been made to trash Mother Teresa.  How many tried to pull down MLK, Jr.? John Wesley and Martin Luther faced constant threat of death from other Christians.  But let us be real honest, we follow the ultimate person to go after God with a passion.  For his passion, Jesus was not merely drug down but he was finally hung up.

Sometimes it is in little ways that we face the struggle to put our trust in God.  I felt some of that same sting from friends in high school and in my own family as I wrestled with my call to ministry.  Others said things, did things to show their disdain for me as I struggled to trust in God.  And in David's story we find the example of one who, no matter what others did, he trusted in God.  For David it came from three places: The Brother, The Boss, and the Bad Guy.

The Brother,
There is probably no greater punch in the gut than when your family doesn't believe in you.  Even though David was anointed to be king, his brother, Eliab totally dissed him

...Eliab's anger burned against David and he said, "Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your insolence and the wickedness of your heart; for you have come down in order to see the battle." But David said, "What have I done now? Was it not just a question?"   (1Sa 17:28-29 NASB)

That had to hurt worse than anything to come.  It usually does when family is involved.  My wife and I have always tried to make our home a safe place, to work to be the best cheerleaders and not pull each other or Logan or Jillian down.  Look at the evidence and then – not matter what brothers or sisters or family does – trust God.

The Boss
Bring your resume to every job interview, but always recognize you need to grow.  That is what David did.  It is unfortunate that when the story is told today, we drop out the most important piece - how David viewed God.

Then Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth." But David said to Saul, "Your servant was tending his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. "Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God."   (1Sa 17:33-36 NASB)

The David and Goliath story is common in sports analogies but it is a tragic misrepresentation and terrible theology!  David isn't overcoming long odds to defeat Goliath, he doesn't think the odds are long at all!  They are totally in his favor.  You could chalk it up to youthful enthusiasm as David will later know a great humility that often comes with age.  But you and I need the reminder, look at the evidence and then – no matter what bosses do, trust God.

and the Bad Guy
And let us not forget our enemies.  Our enemies may not be a giant 9 feet tall but there are people who are enemies nonetheless.  And make no doubt, our enemies are just as real.

The Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine also said to David, "Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field." Then David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted.   (1Sa 17:43-45 NASB)

And here too is the solution, here is what David did on this day and on the many days to follow in his life.  When Saul wanted him dead.  After committing adultery and ordering murder.  After the collapse of his own government and his greatest despair, David still trusted God.  He followed what he knew.  He prayed.  He worshipped.  And his works which make up the majority of the Psalms are his testimony to wrestling with and trusting in God.

Have you?  Will you trust God regardless what other's do?  

May I Ask?  Have you ever trusted God when dealing with other people?  How did it go?  What did you learn about you?  What did you learn about God?

May I Suggest?  
Read David's full story in 1 Samuel.  What do you learn from his life?  OR take time and talk with someone who you know trusts in God, ask them what they've learned and why they continue.

Try Focusing on God as Common Denominator

(This is final part of my series on connecting with God the past two weeks.  Click here for the original post to start it.
           One of my favorite stories of the desert abbas and ammas comes from Abba Anthony.  He tells of a monk accused of sin who came to speak with him.  When he arrived, another abba, Abba Paphnutius was present and he told this parable, “I have seen a man on the bank of the river buried up to his knees in mud and some men came to give him a hand to help him out, but they pushed him further in up to his neck.”  The brothers who had come, bringing accusation caught the deeper meaning.  So corrected and convicted, they took their brother back to their monastery (from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers).
            In the opening pages of her book, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction,author Margaret Guenther shares this same story.  While we may not all be spiritual directors, we can take the hint she offers to us when people come to us, when we gather together, “whatever we do...we are neither to mess with them nor push them further into the mud (3).”
            Community is part of our Christian journey.  The history of our Christian faith speaks of many different ways for us to connect to God.  In this series on connecting to God, I've laid out just a few of the many but I hope, some that you may not have tried.  Yet, it is important to note that in so many ways, our Scriptures, our tradition, our experiences and our reasoning, keep pointing us back to community – to gathering together – as one of the central means by which we connect with God.
            God did not call out to Abram and say that the two of them were going to have a great time hanging out together.  No, God said, “I will make you a great nation. (Gen.12:2).”  Skip forward to Jesus and the legacy he left for us.  It was to his disciple Peter that he said, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church...(Mt. 16:8).”
 “Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification.  What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God...the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking it's temperature.  Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate (pg 30, Life Together).”
            Seeking God in community is not primarily about what we do but about what God has done in Jesus Christ.  Learning to live in this connection, to relate to and with one another wasn't, hasn't been and will never be easy that I can tell.  As I have often noted to others, take a look at the Book of Acts and pretty much all the Epistle writings.  They record for us the disunity, the struggle and the strife of various churches in the first century.  Almost everything Paul writes is based on the premise that someone or some group is screwing up in some church some where!  You want a first century church?  I think we have always had it – we just don't really want it.  What we want is an idealistic, narcissitic community of spirituality which always gives us what we want.
            But Bonhoffer brings us to a reality that we often overlook.  For just as the Biblical record gives us an honest look into the ugly side of the formation of the Church and churches, it also lays out for us the work of the church in caring for the needy, of sharing the Gospel of Jesus, baptizing new converts into The Way, and for giving hope to a world disconnected from God.  And it is “a reality created by God in Christ...” we didn't do it.
            So when we gather, would it make a difference if we truly focused on God as our common denominator?  More accurately, is our focus on Jesus Christ for that relationship?  I think it is but to connect with God then, in community, I would put forward three questions that I've modified from Rose Mary Dougherty's work in group spiritual direction (see link below).  When you seek to connect with God in community, ask yourself (and all should ask of themselves):

1.Do I come with an honest relationship with God?
2.Do I come with a wholehearted desire to participate in a group process of prayerful listening and response?
3.Do I come with an openness regarding my spiritual journey that I can share with others?

            It seems easy enough to get off track and our focus become less about God and more about us (take for instance the work of General Conference and note that I'm not even going to try and reference this one).  As we take time together, we need to be quick to ask if we have, “...shifted from being present to God for one another to being present to one another with only an occasional reference to God?” (pg 68, Group Spiritual Direction).  We also need to be honest about the reality of our own nature: to be interested in ourselves than in God.
            We would do well to stop colluding with modern practices and reasoning and consider the ancient traditions of the abbas and ammas.  They understood the nature of community far better it seems than we do.  They “got it,” it being that a community in relationship with God was hard work, dirty work, and good work.  Any one of us could be an Abba Paphnutius recognizing that our attempts to "help" often result in people just getting forced deeper in the muck.  Unlike those monks, we may try to cover up our error. But as author Parker Palmer recently said, “We may choose to disempower ourselves but we aren't powerless.”  God offers us a community in which to know Him, but it remains within our power, by grace, to choose the way.

May I Ask?  Are you willing to choose the way of community to connect with God?  Why or why not?

May I Suggest?  Three options: 1) start small with a group of friends focused on God using the 3 questions to guide you,  2) Seek out a group spiritual direction opportunity or 3) Try a church in your area, for that matter try a number of them.  You can go to and use the church finder to find a church nearby.

No Matter How You Feel….trust God Sky: Week 2

(This is part 2 of a five part series on Trusting God. Today's Scripture is Daniel 6:1-7; 10-12; 16-23)

Before we talk about feelings, let’s make sure we understand the playing field: Psychology Today noted that in an analysis of 500,000 adults, men rated just as high as women in emotional awareness. Men and women react differently; she shows her vulnerability and he must remain in control.

Men and women can both just as easily be ruled by emotion but then, we can also be ruled by reason and some are ruled by their physical bodies. We tend to give into everything…everything but our souls.

Moms bring a good balance to us. Think about your mom, grandmother or a caregiver who had an influence on you. What is one characteristic about her that has always helped you?

I know when I was in college, my emotions were getting the best of me. One night, talking to my mom, she reminded me to “think things through.” My mom doesn’t have a degree in psychology but library science but she understood my emotions needed some balance. We all need someone to keep us upright from time to time. Moms tend to be good at that.

As United Methodists gathered for two weeks at our General Conference, emotions got the better of many. But then it could be argued, so did reason! Every four years, leaders from around the globe gathered in Tampa to reflect, pray, work and provide leadership for our denomination for the next four years. It is hard work but it is good work. But many times, this year included emotions and reason tend to go to battling each other. I want to encourage you to visit and learn more. 

We could really use a mom to bring some balance.  But then, we really already have one...

John Wesley had a practice that held to that today we Methodists call the quadrilateral.  It really isn't four equal parts though.  (There are a few other different models.  I prefer Dr. Melvin Dieter's Molecule) Our emotions, our experiences might get the better of us so Wesley put Scripture as the primary means of steadying our faith. Wesley also placed tradition and reason as the two other pieces of the quadrilateral.

Daniel and his friends who were in exile in Persia faced a number of temptations. There was the temptation to be impure starting at the beginning of Daniel in chapter 1. In this chapter, we find that Daniel knew his scripture. He understood the laws of Leviticus for Jews on what to eat. Later, chapters 2,4 and 5 tell the stories of the temptation to be insincere (Daniel 2, 4, 5), to be someone they weren’t. They knew Scripture and their tradition and so held firm and again, trusted in God. (1)
But there comes for us all and it did for Daniel, the Temptation to be Insecure, the temptation to rely on our feelings to determine our faith. For when feelings fluctuate, and they will, what will we have left?

With his very life on the line following the ruling of King Darius,
… when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days. Daniel 6:10 (NKJV)

Okay, let’s be real honest here. For my life, I always really think about this story in terms of the Lion’s Den. But the crux of this, the decision of Daniel to trust in God happens way back here in verse 10. Most of us either we can acknowledge that reason would seem to dictate the day here but it doesn’t. The temptation to be insecure, to be ruled by experience or emotions has been ruled out based on the past experiences of Daniel and his friends in the first 5 chapters of the story.

Daniel had the lessons of Scripture in the Old Testament, a model for prayer. And he had his tradition of praying and giving things. One note mentions, “Daniel did not increase his prayer out of hypocrisy, nor did he try to conceal it out of fear,” (The Wesley Bible, 1990). You might say Daniel was a model Methodist in his time but also at a time when we need to see that trusting God is more needed than trusting systems, bureaucracy or governments.

Years later, Jesus’ disciples were troubled, they were facing their own "lion's den."  The Greek says, “they were stirred up and anxious.” Down here in the south, think about a hornets’ nest when you hear stirred up. Jesus’ words to them were, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. (John 14:1).”

Our “lions’ dens” are all different. They maybe at school facing a bully or social pressure. For college students, those pressures maybe a tough teacher or social pressure. Those of us as adults it maybe in a work environment that is toxic or a difficult marriage or…social pressure. What we choose to do BEFOREHAND prepares us for when everything hits the FAN.

When he observed Daniel’s practice of prayer, G. Campell Morgan wrote, “The occasional is always affected by the habitual.” What are you doing to beforehand? How will you behave when feelings begin to take over? Will you be defined by them or will your habits determine your faith?

Why do we ask the question about supporting the church with your “Prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness?” They aren’t for the church – they are for you.  These are the habits to help us face the occasions that arise?  Will you?  Will you begin the habits?

(1) Favorite Men Of The Bible, R. Blaine Detrick, CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 1987, 0-89536-850-2

Four Ways to Listen for God In People

Growing up, I remember family vacations as those times for hanging out and listening to the older generations of our family share about the “good ole days.” One of my traditions was hanging out with my Grandpa Hagler when he was chewing on his Red Man Tobacco. I can remember the sweet smell of the brown leafy tobacco (long before moving to eastern North Carolina where our whole town was filled with that amazing smell each fall) and the conversations about government and immigration long before I knew anything about these subjects.

Fast forward a decade and I was 15 1/2 with a newly minted driver's liscence. He and I were standing in the fading sunlight and examining the recent purchase of my first car, a '75 brown, Mustang II. A Red Man foil pack was in his hand (Grandma wouldn't let him chew in the house) as we talked. It suddenly went quiet. I sensed something coming and knew it was a sacred moment. His voice cracked a little as he quietly spoke, “Ken Lee. Make something of yourself. Don't end up like me.” We stood silently for a moment longer, me looking more at the promise of freedom of four wheels and the permission to ride in front of me, than listening.  But God's echo was in those words, giving me permission, I think, to be prepared to go forward, to go after God, to be ready to go where ever the Spirit would lead.

We are not on a solitary journey with God. We do it together with others. The Bible talks frequently about our being a “body” and a “family.” The Old Testament is full of similar words as God formed the people into a “nation.” Ecclesiastes even pointedly says we need each other to survive this life.

Let me give a word of caution or clarification. This is not about engaging in conversation or debate. This is isn't trying to formulate answers. I hope by now you've picked up a theme regarding listening.  If your hope and desire is to connect with God and you're listening for God in others, there is no need to be looking to what to say next. I wonder if we have so much division in this world, not so much because we disagree so vehemently but we neglect to listen so consistently.

I want to suggest four ways of listening to God in others.

1.  Ask Questions of Those Farther on the Journey.

When Philip comes up to the eunuch in Acts 8:29-39, he initiates the conversation. But the eunuch recognizes his need for hearing more from God and so responds to Philip's question with a question...and an invitation. More questions followed. Jesus and the woman at the well reflects this practice too. Ask questions of those farther on the journey whether that is due to age, by wisdom or faith. And on that note...

2.  Pursue the Wise

Sure, follow blogs by Seth Godin and the speakers at Catalyst but that isn't everyday relationships. Pursue conversation, pursue connection, pursue an actual relationship with those you see as truly wise. I have had direct conversation with Guy Kawasaki over twitter, Scott Ginsberg on Facebook and author Janet Hagberg through e-mail. In a digital world, this is was what the Queen of Sheba did in 1 Kings 10 when she heard of King Solomon's wisdom. This was the pattern in the early centuries of the church when men and women sought out the Abbas and the Ammas of the desert. These weren't ordained folks, they were just wise people who sought God.  You may not have to far to find them either. They maybe in the office right next to you.

3. Listen to the Teaching of Those Set Apart

There are those who are have been consecrated or ordained for teaching others the faith. Acts 2:42 tells how the early church took time to be taught by the disciples. Paul outlines in his letters to Timothy and Titus how to be teachers and the rest of his letters, well they help us know how to listen better. What we need is to take the time to actually listen – to understand what God might be saying and not to always have ourselves understood.

4. Listen to Everyday People

Like my Grandpa Hagler, ordinary, everyday people can be the voice of God to us. In Paul's letter to Titus, chapter 2, he talks about older men and women living as an example to the younger folks and teaching them. Some of the most Godly people I have ever met are not ordained. They have been doctors, lawyers, clerks, police officers, professors and even an old oil field worker (Grandpa Hagler) and a high school drop-out (Grandpa Erion).

But those are easy ones.  Can we listen to God when God speaks through the unexpected everyday people?  Can God speak to us though a Muslim?  What about a Buddhist?  Can God's word come from someone in the LGBT community?   Are we ready to listen when an 60 year-old, white, Republican male speaks God's word to us?  Can we listen as well when the voice of God sounds like a young 20-something, woman who is a Democrat?

Remember, if God can speak through Balaam's ass then certainly God can choose to use anyone.

If what you are after is to look for God, then remember (paraphrasing Stephen Covey) to seek first to understand and don't worry about being understood. This is about listening for God not other people hearing from you. It is hard to practice but it is worth it. We all need to be reminded we're not the center of the universe – God is. Be thankful!

May I Ask? What other ways have you found to listen for God in others?

May I Suggest? Make a list of four people who fit each of these catagories. Take on one a week for one month. Take time to write out what you hear from God. How attentitive were you to the Holy? How hard was it to listen? What questions still remain?

Sky: No Matter Who You Are...Trust God

Today begins a new series based on our Children's Ministry Vacation Bible School theme. Today is a rearranging of our space to reflect a more community feel for the summer months. Today we're just over two months since we started the 9:51 worship service. And today, we're stepping out, doing things never done before here at Cumming First UMC. You might say we're throwing caution to wind. We've got big dreams and we're trusting God for what comes next.

One of those new things for our family has been discovering the new Sherlock Holmes series by the BBC. It reminded me of a classic joke. The detective Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were on a case and had to camp one night as they worked to solve. They were in they're in their sleeping bags looking up at the sky. Holmes asked, “Watson, what do you see?” Watson replied, “I see thousands of stars.” “And what does that mean to you?” Holmes asked. “I guess it means we will have a nice day tomorrow,” replied Watson. Watson then asked, “Sherlock, what does it mean to you?” To which Holmes replied, “It means someone has stolen our tent.”

We know what we shouldn't do. We shouldn’t eat that Big Mac. We should order water not get a refill on sweet tea. We really need to take the walk and not watch another episode of American Idol. Think about it. What is one of the things you know you need to do or see that you need to do and you keep getting distracted by something else? Take a moment and share with the folks at your table what that thing is and what keeps distracting you.

What if that one thing was something you got a clear message from God about? Would that make it easier to do it? Take a moment and consider 1 Samuel 16:1-13 and the choosing of the next king of Israel.

Samuel had a lot riding on this moment. He understood his role as prophet and what it could cost him if things didn't go “the right way.” Three thousand years ago doesn't seem all that far away when talking about leadership. Aren't we still looking for the smartest, strongest, sexist, and most sociable?

It was hard for Samuel to trust God when Eliab first showed up. Eliab had what the people thought they wanted. He had the qualifications of the former king not the future king. But because Samuel was close to God, he could sense, even hear, God's correction - “Humans look at outward appearances, but the LORD looks into the heart."

God sends Samuel to end of the line, to the youngest of all the sons, the last in the line when we're all looking for the first. But Samuel had heard the correction and knew it was right when God said to anoint the shepherd boy, the youngest of Jesse's sons.

Speaker and author Len Sweet refers to David as one of the “C” people – not necessarily “the best and brightest,” but “...the committed, the consecrated and the compassionate.” Daniel Goleman's book, Emotional Intelligence, expresses the reality that IQ and success rate and happiness don't go together – that the “C” people can do just as well or better. Maybe it was more than a good thing that David Letterman set-up that scholarship at Ball State University for “C” students.

Our potential is as broad and wide and far as the sky itself. No matter who you are...David's life is a testament to trusting in God. He may have been average in most things, but not when it came to faith and obedience to God and humility when he failed. These are what set him apart as Israel's greatest leader = not Saul who was the strongest or Solomon who was the wisest.

Truly, no matter who you God!

An Open Letter to My Gay Friend - Thoughts On Grace and Trust from General Conference

This year, I'm trying to listen in a new way.  As I continue my studies and practices of Spiritual Direction, I am listening more than I am talking and yes, that is a challenge for us preacher folk.  I am used to doing the talking and the writing and the networking.  But as I grow older and my body starts to let me down more, that one skill alone isn't doing me much good.  God is speaking in little, more subtle ways.  Like the dial on my AM radio in that old '75 Mustang II, you gotta 'feel' the right station as much as hear it.  Hearing the holy is much the same.

I tried to listen to the holy throughout General Conference this year.  We sent delegates from all over the world to do the work of the United Methodist Church.  There was a great deal of talking and debating.  There was writing and tweeting.  There was listening to each other and view points shared.  I know what I heard and I read some other posts who, I think, heard what I did such as this one and this one.

Me? I have wondered what to say.

And then I got a message.  It was a message from one of my former students when I was a youth pastor.  He is on his own with a career.  He is a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and happens to be a United Methodist.  He is also homosexual and he wrote to me about his concerns, not so much about the issue of homosexuality, but the issue of grace and as such, could he trust the UMC.  He did have some concerns about how I might respond as he shared with me this part of his life (On an aside, if you are reading this and are not him or me, you haven't read any of our other conversations so please, don't assume you know all of what we have said).

While I have omitted his name, much of what follows is one of my responses to him...

"My friend [name withheld], I can't imagine you would have shared about being homosexual if you thought I would come down on you with religious platitudes. You've been one of my students and today are continuing the journey of faith which is messy, and disappointing as well as beautiful and full of promise. My only reason for not responding sooner is work and reflection. I thank you for willingness to share with me and be a help to me in understanding.

One of the things I am committed to is listening, both the practice of active listening and holy listening. As a spiritual director and UM clergy, I do believe God's grace is sufficient for us all. It is my intent over the next few years to enter into and hopefully facilitate listening sessions with clergy and laity on this issue among others.

What I could 'hear' from a distances is two things:

1. Fear 
Fear from those who do not want to see change for the sake of change or condoning LGBT based on their cultural influences and reading of the Bible. Fear tends to lead to distrust.

2. Pain 
Pain from those who want to see change and feel themselves denied full acceptance of their personhood (or friends) based on being LGBT. They do not want to leave the UMC and go elsewhere but they feel grace does not extend to all and their reading of the Bible is not heard. Pain tends to lead to distrust.

The vote on grace, I think, has to deal a great deal with the fear of the first group. They fear these words will be used to advocate change and so distrust the meaning and motive behind it.  On the other side, talk of leaving has so very much to do with the effects of pain, to get away from the source of pain.  It too, is part of our human condition and likely response.

My concern? The state of our trust in God.  But I don't say it as a condemnation on our denomination - I say it as a symptom of who we are demonstrating ourselves to be. We are children, still babies some of us. We remain in our early stages of moral and spiritual development, surrounded by symbols of our past successes and our present toys and we worry about whether we will get our way. We are only living out our faith as we have grown into it.  I hope we all realize we're not done growing up yet and that gives me hope.

Honestly, look at what makes up many of our churches.  Our behaviors demonstrate this across our coutnry and denominations.  I don't see much difference.  A good experience on a Sunday morning trumps the experience of the Holy Spirit in our lives daily. The small group curriculum excludes the messy conversations where reason come into play. We strip tradition away so that the mystery and wonder of God is lost. It is no wonder the western church is in the state it is in. 

But then I read Paul.  That Paul.  The Apostle Paul.

I look at his letters to the churches. I look at Acts and the disagreements in the early church. They were filled with the Spirit and they lived closest to the source material! And where is the church in Galatia let alone Galatia as a city today? Closed and gone.  So are the others (maybe only Rome can lay claim to surviving). So who are we kidding? It was a mess then and we live in the mess now and guess what? God is still in this mess and just like them, we struggle to trust in God much less one another.

I am no different and yet, I know I am. I have suffered at the hands of God and I have not grown bitter. I worry but I do not fear. I trust God, it seems, maybe a hair's breadth more than others most of the time, and then again maybe not. Here is what I do know, I know God and so I trust my calling. I am going to continue to listen, I will continue to love and I will continue to preach grace.  Because grace was offered to me, I will offer it to all.  I don't need legislation for it to be so and because it is so, I have hope for Christians who also happen to call themselves United Methodists.  I trust God will be with us in the mess."

6 Ways To Help Look For God All Day

This is the third part in my series on connecting with God.  You can read the previous posts here and here.  It goes without saying, you're trying to connect to God and look for God if you showed up here.

From my experiences as testicular cancer survivor and facing clinical depression, I have had a few challenges that have pushed me in my relationship God.  People had questioned me how my faith stood up to these and I had even wondered about it myself. However you define a "strong faith," I can attribute to certain ideas and practices.  But like so many other people in this world, like so much of life, what you know and what faith you have can be tested in a blink of an eye or in my case, the loss of vision in my right eye.

It is still hard to get used to.  I've lost close to 70% of the vision in my right eye due to what is called ischemic optic neuropathy, a blockage in some of the veins leading to my optic nerve.  I didn't know that in the beginning when I was being sent to Neuro-opthomologist.  I didn't know what it was when I was doing optical mri's or when nurses were drawing all that blood.  I didn't know what was in store when I kept handing medical folks my credit card and insurance card over and over again either!

What did I know?

I knew that even if I couldn't see out of this one eye, I could still see God.  I came to trust in what I 'saw' in my heart as I prayed my breath prayer, "My Father, my God, grant me you."  In those moments, all alone with my thoughts and emotions, I could see God.  The more I saw of God, the more I found peace even as my world changed once again.

If you really want to see God throughout your day, you must realize this is part mind set, part practice, and a whole lot of grace going before you.

1.  One Item or a Buffet Line?
Your day, your week and all your years are full of experiences that will try you and test you.  If you are growing on this journey (Kathy Escobar just completed a great series on this), then you'll need more than one way to face things.  Don't think one thing - think options: Like a buffet!  A magnifying glass, a pair of glasses, binoculars and a telescope all make things easier to see.  So do certain prayer practices.  They are here for you and me to use to see God throughout the day...if we want to do it.

2.  Follow Your Temperment.
You are you and you are not someone else.  I'm going to say this point blank - stop listening to anyone who says "this practice" or "that practice" is the ONLY way you're going to grow in your faith or see God.  Even if it is just implied, go elsewhere.  They are not YOU.  If you have been adopted into the family of God then as a daughter or son (see Romans 8:14-16), God wants you to be you, to relate to you as an individual not as a clone.

3.  Go with the flow.
What is your main interest? What is bugging you?  What is inspiring you?  Go after it, research it, ask questions about it, Google it.  In your life experience, has something on morality, theology or social issues, caused you to be inquisitive?  Then let that interest or question lead you as you look for God.  

4.  Pray the Jesus Prayer.
By the fourth century, the practice of the Jesus Prayer helped followers live out Paul's call to "pray without ceasing."  The Jesus Prayer gave birth to the practice of the "Breath Prayer," which is a personal prayer you create the follows a similar pattern to the Jesus Prayer.  Ron DelBene, author of The Breath Of Life, teaches this form of prayer and has made this book available for free in pdf on his site.

5.  Pray the Hours.
Praying the hours, the Divine hours or the Divine Office, is another ancient practice of the Church.  It is an incredible help to the Christian looking for God throughout the day.  Phyllis Tickle offers a great introduction to this practice at

6.  Use Prayer Beads/Rosary.
The Rosary is a well known practice of prayer for Roman Catholics and if this is your tradition, by all means use them.  Because of theological differences, Protestant churches did not participate in this practice.  That was until the 1980's when an Episcopal priest developed a similar model simply called "Prayer Beads."  Kristen Vincent has a great site outlining the practice of using prayer beads.  The aid of something tangible can be a huge help in guiding and focusing our heart on the unseen God.

The intent of these is to help you throughout the day.  This is certainly not about creating some new law that you have to do them.  These are not tasks on a to-do list.  They are not an end to themselves either.  They are here and have been available for years and centuries.  They are not a creation or gimmick.

If our journey was a road trip, these are some of the modes of transportation to get to the end.  If your journey is as mine, to look for God throughout the day, then pick one and take it for a test drive.  What are you waiting for, it is time to hit the road!   Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.   (1Th 5:16-18 NASB)

May I Ask?  Why DO you want to see God throughout your day?
May I Suggest?  Examine your own wants and desires.  Ask yourself, "Do I want to be seen as good or do I want God?"  After that, move forward with integrity knowing yourself better and I pray, knowing God more!

Just What Is Spiritual Direction? A Dialog of Sorts

As a pastor, I am supposed to be spiritual - whatever that means.  I am supposed to be more in touch with God than everyone else.  From experience though, I can tell you, we don't get a ton of guidance in graduate school in being spiritual - if it all.  On my own, I explored and learned about those practices that were supposed to be okay for us modern-day Christians.  Yet, as I searched, like many others have, I have come to find there is so much more to our spiritual practices (yes, even in Christianity...maybe, ESPECIALLY in Christianity) than we have realized or was past down.
       In a world now inundated with mixed and misunderstood messages on the meaning and purpose of lives, many have begun to seek more ancient paths. One of those paths is spiritual direction. This growing interest in spiritual direction crosses not only denominational lines but religious traditions. For the Christian faith, spiritual direction was practice in our Jewish heritage and has been practiced since the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. While it was part of our beginnings, spiritual direction became a side note to Church history. My own VERY Christian journey, has brought me to enter course work again in gaining Certification in Spiritual Formation in the United Methodist Church, to help others grow in their relationship with God through spiritual direction.  So today, as we return to the practice of spiritual direction we need to ask, “Just what is spiritual direction?”

Evidence of Spiritual Direction in Scripture & Tradition     
     The trappist monk, Thomas Merton wrote, “The whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of a [person’s] life...”  But where did we first get the inclination to do this, to seek out assistance?”  For the follower of Jesus Christ, we can find the beginnings of spiritual direction in the Old Testament.  We see there the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon to learn from his wisdom.  We see it in the counsel of Moses' father-in-law.
        Kathleen Fischer observes that Jesus lived a life offering spiritual direction to others. He did it with Nicodemus and the woman at the well (Jn 3:1-21 and 4:7-19). What is more, this was also patterned in Jesus’ life among the disciples (take your pick of verses!).   This is in keeping with Merton’s own description of what a spiritual director does. This work, “...helps another to recognize and to follow the inspirations in his [or her] life, in order to arrive at the end to which God is leading...” What we have in Scripture is a history of practiced care for other people’s faith and work of God in their lives. This is significant for us as we consider advocating and practicing spiritual direction. It is not foreign to our Christian heritage but grounded in God’s revelation to us.  For those of us who follow in footsteps of John Wesley and the Methodist tradition, I noted recently here, Wesley was a director of sorts to his clergy and in his many letters and journals, his spiritual direction given to laity as well.
        Though the practice of spiritual direction was neglected in more recent traditions and centuries, we must note spiritual direction was a significant practice in the early development of the church. The followers of Jesus Christ in those early years, sought out the desert hermits, the abbas and ammas, for guidance. This seeking for direction in spiritual things continued in the monasteries and convents. The influence of directors such as Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and St. Benedict attest to the lasting effects of spiritual direction on the Church universal.
       The resources available to us today testify to the enduring nature of the practice of spiritual direction. It is the continued, “...working with the Spirit...” on the part of modern practitioners of this ancient practice of carrying for the spiritual journey of others.  Spiritual directors are doing the work of being, in Merton’s terms, “God’s ushers.” 

Spiritual Direction Is Not Therapy 
       More recently, a gathering of religious leaders began working through this very issue of defining what is spiritual direction.  They started with identifying what it most certainly is not. Spiritual direction is not therapy. Therapy is about problem solving. Nor is it pastoral or Christian counseling. Both of these have as their focus a particular problem. These, Thomas Merton notes, are serious issues and should not be neglected. Therapy and counseling is a different work and not the area of a spiritual director. Spiritual directors ought be aware of their role and should be prepared to take steps to refer an individual to a licensed therapist when necessary.

Soooo...Just What IS Spiritual Direction?
        So if spiritual direction is not therapy or counseling; if it is not solving a problem, what is it? At the heart, spiritual direction, “ helping the directee to grow in their relationship with God.” Where the first two practices focus on the problem, it is in spiritual direction that the focus is, in Father Keegan’s words, “ the problem plays out in the directees’ relationship with God.” The real work is done by the Holy Spirit. A director must remember the primacy of the Spirit, for the role of the spiritual director is to aid the directee in helping them tell the story of God’s work in their problems and ultimately their lives.
       I am struck by Merton’s description that, “A true spiritual director can never get over the awe he [or she] feels in the presence of a person, an immortal soul, loved by Christ...”  This is a vital piece of what spiritual direction is about, for it is a humbling and sacred work. Spiritual direction is the work a director does in partnership with the Holy Spirit, to help a directee observe, reflect and respond to God in their everyday.  

        Spiritual direction is personal. If spiritual direction does not “go beneath the surface,” little understanding will result nor life change. A directee must make a director aware of their thoughts, feelings and desires. Spiritual direction takes place not in a hurry but in its own time, at the pace of the directee. Releasing in unhurried fellowship the deep parts of our being is in Thomas Merton’s words, the releasing of, “...the Holy Spirit hidden in the depths of our soul.” 
          No hiding or evading will benefit spiritual direction. The benefits, the help of spiritual direction cannot be experienced when a directee holds back. Most often, it is the directee who seeks out a spiritual director. 
In the Wesleyan tradition, this type of direction is part of a covenanted relationship. The character of the spiritual director is key. Rev. Douglas Hardy notes, that the help a directee receives from their director comes, “ virtue of personal holiness and spiritual maturity". This is not all that surprising when noting the Wesleyan faith tradition comes from an Anglican heritage. Peter Ball describes this language as, “ of healing and growth...” and the director who practices brings with them a “...warmth and lightness of touch.” 
         Patience, honesty, covenant and compassion are expressed as consistent needs in spiritual direction. We find words such as ‘process’ and ‘formation’ used in trying to describe a person’s growth in understanding God. It is Thomas Merton who puts them both together in describing spiritual direction as, “...a continuous process of formation and guidance...”  Regardless of all that we say, it maybe the word “continuous” which is most important. Something is always happening in our souls but it is in spiritual direction where we find a ‘holder’, someone to mark time and tell story, alongside a directee as we explore more.
        Spiritual direction need not be conducted by an expert or an ordained clergy. Both a lay person in an informal relationship or a trained director with a formal structure can offer spiritual direction to the Church.  What is more, both lay people and clergy can benefit from being part of some type of spiritual direction, be it one on one or in a small group setting. Merton notes that laypersons with a special calling or ministry ought to be involved in some spiritual direction. However, for the clergy, through spiritual direction they ought to be “...taught the meaning of [their] vocation, its spirit, its aims and its characteristic problems.” 
        Spiritual direction is about assisting people on their spiritual journey. At a time when so much of the attention of pastors is upon leadership skills and church growth, it is no wonder spiritual direction has, in Marian Cowan’s words, received, “...a burst of new life..."    Spiritual direction is all about the spiritual realm. I think a further study of interest would be to find out if what people are looking for in clergy is a more effective leader or a more spiritually-aware pastor. Thankfully, spiritual direction is not something designated as solely the realm of clergy. The “burst of new life” may well be the rescuing the church needs from its swing so far to productivity. So we need to remember Merton saw a need to rescue spiritual direction in his day. With our temptation to develop systems and guidelines and anoint experts, spiritual direction may need to constantly be rescued!
        So while an expert is certainly not required, the spiritual condition of a spiritual director must be considered a vital link in this practice. Simplicity and faith are recommended by Merton.  Personal holiness and spiritual maturity are the characteristics which Douglas Hardy looks for in a director. The practice of personally seeking after God is the deep work which a director must be about if he or she is be a guide to others. I was particularly struck how Thomas Merton describes a contemplative. He writes, "A contemplative is not one who takes his prayer seriously, but who takes God seriously, who is famished for truth, who seeks to live in generous simplicity, in the spirit." In spiritual direction we must address the primacy of God, be it in our own lives as directors or in our lives as directees.
       It is hard to miss a consistent theme of an ecumenical nature surrounding spiritual direction. Certainly the statements coming from Anglicans and Wesleyans show a natural agreement. Yet one can hardly dismiss easily the varied denominations and sects in the articles written and posted on Spiritual Directors International.  The reality is spiritual directors come from many religious traditions even if those traditions do not agree on fundamentals of faith. There is a camaraderie here, even among those in Christ’s Body who have a history of animosity. We dare not avoid recognizing Merton’s thoughts which appear so consistent with both Scripture and this cloud of witnesses. Spiritual direction appears to be a place where the Body of Christ can gather together and truly benefit from the wisdom and experience of others.

May I Ask? What are your thoughts on spiritual direction? Have you considered spiritual direction? Would you consider participating in spiritual direction? 

May I Suggest? Meet with a Spiritual Director to consider if it is right for you. The Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors is a great place to begin as is Spiritual Directors International.

Four Ways To Start Looking To God Each Day

None of us ever have enough time to get done what we would really like to do or at least that is what we tell ourselves.  Mark Shead notes at least 17 things you should stop doing to help free up time or redeem time.  All the time we free up for more important things still manages to disappear somewhere into the void.

Having been in full-time ministry now for 16 years, I've had this one question asked regularly of me and the emphasis is usually as follows:

"How do you have a 'quiet-time/devotional time' everyday?  I don't have any TIME!"

Time noted a few years ago how we use all our time.  The New York Times put together this great little interactive graphic to see are time usage each day.  If you don't care about it, you're not going to put time into it.  If you don't make time do it, then it isn't going to get done.  By all accounts, the most important thing in our lives is the screen in front of you right now or the one in your living room, bedroom, den, kitchen, mini-van backseat or in your hand.

So the answer to the question of time for a devotional time?  Make it.  Only you can.  If you are going to make God connections, you have to start by being intentional about looking to God at some point in your day.

When preacher John Termbath sent his letter to John Wesley saying he was "withering," Wesley's response was emphatic,
O begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not: what is tedious at first, will afterwards be pleasant. Whether you like it or no, read and pray daily.  (The Letters of John Wesley, Vol 4. 103)
In his book, Prayer & Devotional Life of United Methodists, Dr Steve Harper notes that in his studies of over 30 years regarding the spiritual life of saints and followers of Jesus, they included, "...stated periods and acts of formation in the midst of a total life devoted to God (pg42)."  But as monk Thomas Merton noted, "Most of us, unfortunately, are not ready to lay down our lives in martyrdom most days at six o'clock in the morning or whenever our mental prayer may occur...(pg. 90, Spiritual Direction & Meditation)

I recommend four things:

1.  Find a guide or devotional YOU will use.
There are so many devotional and guides available for us these days.  DO an online search or walk through any Christian bookstore (you might consider this one or this one).  DO listen to other people's recommendations BUT DON'T just pick something because someone else recommends it - use what you know you will use.  From my experience, it should have at least three things:
    1) Scripture reading.
    2) Guided thoughts toward God.
    3) Prayer guide.

2.  Set aside the time that works for YOU.
Morning, lunch time, mid-afternoon or right before bed.  It doesn't make much difference BUT pick the time which works best for you to hang out with God.  This is your time with God, not mine or anyone elses.

3.  Pick a time amount that works for YOU.
We're talking about starting here!  You wouldn't start training to run a marathon by trying to run one on the first day.  DON'T start by saying you're going to have an hour with God.  If it turns out that way, great, but be realistic.  A five-minute meditation and prayer is a GREAT start!

4.  Stop and change if it doesn't work for YOU.
If after a few days, you don't get a sense of God's presence, you don't find yourself more connected to God in your day, put your chosen material down and try something else.  DON'T feel like you're stuck with any devotional - it isn't about reading all the way through.  Again it is YOUR connection to God each day.

BONUS IDEA.  Have a notebook nearby each time.
Make notes when you see God make connections.  Whatever comes to your mind or heart, write it down.

May I Ask?  What other things or distractions might get in your way rather than time?  How have you dealt with them in the past when it wasn't a devotional time?
May I Suggest?  Start with using an online devotional that is free (I shared two in item number 1).  Also, try your local public library for other books.

NEXT UP...learning to look for God throughout your day.

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