Re-Hacked #5: How Do You Hear From God

To mark the one-year anniversary of the beginning of this blog, I am re-posting some of my favorite posts from the past year. This post first appeared on Nov. 22.

Sometimes I teach a small group session on discipleship and spiritual growth.

English: David praying the Lord. A Georgian mi...

Image via Wikipedia

A question that I often get is “How Do You Know When You Have Heard From God?” This is difficult to answer but I can speak out of my own experiences.

  • Your next steps will confirm what you just heard – When my wife and I felt called to leave our comfortable existence in a small town with quality jobs and low-cost of living to begin working in social ministry in a larger town with no assurance of adequate compensation, we found our confirmation a few weeks later when I was able to secure a job at a local university. My kind of vocation, academic librarian, isn’t that widely available but God seemed to provide exactly what we needed when we needed it. This demonstrated to us that our original word from God to go was for real.
  • The words will sound familiar – This is where your relationship with God bears incredible importance. Many people fail to hear from God because they have no relationship with him. I know my wife well enough to know that when she says certain things in a certain way I need to pay attention and respond appropriately. Through experience with God and a relationship that has grown over the years, I start to recognize that what I am experiencing or hearing (though it seems more like a thought) is coming from God and not from my own prejudices or whims. This kind of relationship takes work, and familiarity with God’s word,  but with time and understanding, recognizing God’s voice won’t seem to be such a random phenomenon. This is where step number three comes in.
  • Careful and thoughtful guidance will validate the words – I am an introvert and rarely enjoy speaking just to speak so when I need advice or help with a decision, the advice better be good or at least thoughtful. Christians are so bad at giving advice. We think we have all of this wisdom but what we really have are opinions that we try to spiritualize to look good.                                                                                                                     Parker Palmer has written extensively on the value of a “clearness committee” that listens, asks non-leading but helpful questions, and brings the person needing guidance to a place where they can more clearly hear the Holy Spirit. I like the freshness and simplicity of Palmer’s approach. Christians need to seriously rethink how they help those needing guidance and direction from the Lord. Pray first, speak tenth.

If none of the three items above are happening and confirming what you thought were words from God then maybe you need to ask for more direction from the Lord. You can hear from God but sometimes what we think we hear needs fine tuning and consideration.

Re-Hacked #4: Slow Burn

To mark the one-year anniversary of the beginning of this blog, I am re-posting some of my favorite posts from the past year. This post first appeared on Oct. 28.

Lakeland 15 mile road race - held at Tyrrellsp...

Image by Peter Mooney via Flickr

The biggest mistake a beginner in any new venture can make is starting too hard and too fast. In our zeal for getting started and our grand imaginations about what we are able to handle, so many of us start a new thing way over our head. We get up at 5 a.m. to workout even though we haven’t gotten up that early in 12 years; we start a blog even though we barely have the time to respond to emails; we read three chapters of our Bible when one would have been just fine. What marathon training has taught me is the idea of slow progress.

I know one lady at my work that has completed a marathon who, when she began running, set her goal to simply run to the next light post. How do you go from running as far as the next light post to running 26.2 miles? Slow progress. I didn’t start my training by running a 10K, instead I started running for 20 minutes and some of that was walking as I focused on maintaining a certain heart rate. Most training programs call for building miles upon mile until you are able to run 15-20 miles. But you do not get there unless you first can run that first mile.

So many Christians need to take to their spiritual practices like they would a marathon training program. Maybe their “light post” strategy should be to memorize one verse once a week or read five verses every other day or pray intently for one minute. Once you complete this small effort, you add on one thing that is doable and then after you do this, you change up the plan to keep it interesting. Savor your slow growth in Christ. It took the disciples three years to understand who Jesus was and how they could serve like him. Jesus was patient with them, he will be patient with you. Start small and grow. It is the best way to becoming who you want to become.

Re-Hacked #3: Why Your Current Plan For Spiritual Growth Doesn’t Work

To mark the one-year anniversary of the beginning of this blog, I am re-posting some of my favorite posts from the past year. This post first appeared on June 7.

Dieting with just the notion of eating better doesn’t have deep impact, you must have a plan. Going to the gym and working out without a set idea about what areas you need to work on will result in little overall improvement. And learning a language by just opening up a non-translated book will not get you very far if you have not created a method to learn the language. How far does your money go if you don’t have a budget?

The reason that most of our current plans for spiritual growth do not work is because we have no plan for spiritual growth. Some days we pray a little, some days we read our Bible, some days we sing a few praise songs, and some days we forget all together. But there is no regular pattern, no plan, nothing written down that holds us accountable and reminds us of what we are trying to accomplish. Often times, we are not lacking in good intentions but we fail to put those intentions into action. A strategy for spiritual growth will serve as a motivation tool for us and keep us out of the haphazard practices that often fail.

In this space, I have recommended and detailed the Spiritual Enrichment Workout. When completed, this only takes 15-20 minutes and covers scripture readingprayer, worship, and silence. You can choose to follow this plan or create one on your own but the point is to have a plan for spiritual growth. If you don’t, you will have the same frustrating experiences that have marked many of our half-hearted attempts at getting healthier or learning a new skill. I know it doesn’t sound very spiritual to be regimented about your spiritual life but Christian history dating back to Jesus has shown us example after example of the value of intentional spiritual practices and strategies.

Re-Hacked #2: Discovering Spiritual Activities That Work Best For You

To mark the one-year anniversary of the beginning of this blog, I am re-posting some of my favorite posts from the past year. This post first appeared on Jan. 26.

In the last post, I explained that cookie-cutter advice  for growing spiritually was ineffective. Today, I want to give some examples of activities that fit individual personalities. Perhaps you can relate to one or more of the following types of people.

If you are the type of person who gets more out of the worship portion of the service rather than the sermon, then why don’t you look up the scripture verses where many of the praise and worship songs get their lyrics. A simple Google search for some of the lyrics should provide the scripture reference.

If you are the type of person who prefers working with your hands and creating things, then why don’t you create a cross of some kind. As you work on the cross, think about Jesus’ sacrifice and what it means to you. Think about how Jesus turned an ugly and torturous piece of wood and turned into something beautiful.

If you are the type of person who would rather watch someone read rather than read yourself, then find an audio version of the Bible to listen to in your car or on your mp3 player.

If you are the type of person who would rather play sports than watch sports, then take a Psalm and as you read it, act it out. You may have to do this one when no one else is around.

If you are the type of person who is energized by times of solitude, then take your lunch hour and find a park and just sit thinking about God’s creation and provision.

If you are the type of person who likes writing encouraging notes to people, then why don’t you write a prayer of praise to God.

If you are the type of person who enjoys talking with friends about serious matters, then find two or three who will join you regularly to talk about what Christ is doing in your life.

If you are the type of person who gets more out of the sermon than the worship portion of the service, then take notes during the sermon and review your notes during the next week.

If you are the type of person who learns more about yourself when you are helping someone else, then volunteer with a ministry who serves the poor and envision each person you help as Christ himself.

These are just a few suggestions among thousands. The point is to be creative and be willing to try out new things. Do any of these resonate with you? What suggestions would you add to the list?

Re-Hacked #1: Quiet Time Has Got To Go

To mark the one-year anniversary of the beginning of this blog, I am re-posting some of my favorite posts from the past year. This post first appeared on Dec. 29 of 2010.

I have a confession to make. I don’t have a quiet time. That’s right, the standard for evangelical spiritual growth is not in my

Morning Quiet Time

Image by asha susan via Flickr

vocabulary. Not because I dislike the idea of having a time of the day set aside for being quiet but because the term “quiet time” has turned into something powerless and reeks of church speak (terms that have very little meaning outside the church).

I am sorry, but my time spent talking to, listening to, and learning about God and his kingdom needs a term that packs a little more punch than “quiet time”. This term sounds like something I would do to my daughters to punish them or settle them down before bed.

Also, for anyone who has grown up in the church, the term has been used so frequently and with such “preachiness” that it instantly conjures up feelings of guilt in individuals who have failed to live up to all the requirements of a ‘quiet time’ (at least 15 minutes, first thing in the morning, chapter a day, etc.). I don’t know if I can come up with a better term, but the one that I have started using is “Spiritual Enrichment”.

To me, the term Spiritual Enrichment accomplishes two things. First, it helps explain the goal of the activity – to grow, to be enriched, improved. Second, it reminds us that what we are doing during this time is a spiritual activity and not just a time when we try to be alone with our Bible open. We are spiritual beings, that is part of the life that God breathed into us in the Garden of Eden and later at Pentecost. Evangelicals get nervous when talk turns too spiritual but denying our non-physical side is denying what makes humans unique and what made God so proud in creating us.

So, on this blog at least we will not use the term “quiet time” but will replace the idea with the term Spiritual Enrichment. I am not sold on this term so if anyone else has an idea on what we can call it please let me know.

A Year In The Life Hacker

Today marks the one-year anniversary of this blog. Writing and developing the blog has been a challenge but also very beneficial to my own development as a communicator and writer. But most of all, this blog has made me seriously consider how my relationship with Christ is progressing and where some of my faults and blindspots may lie. I hope those of you who have happened upon this blog have found ideas and messages that have encouraged you to grow up in your faith. Also, I hope that readers have realized that real growth in Christ is possible and that small steps towards Christ are just as important as giant leaps.

For the next five days, I will post previous entries from the blog’s first year. If you missed these the first time I hope you will find it meaningful to your Christian life, but if you have read these before, perhaps the Holy Spirit is guiding you back to the ideas and challenges presented in the posts.

Thanks again for reading and feel free to let me know how I can better serve you through this forum.

Scott – Christian Life Hacker

Christmas Greetings From Christian Life Hacker

I would like to wish you a joyous and meaningful Christmas. I thank you for your support and readership over the past year. 2011 has been a good year for me and I appreciate your involvement in it. May the Holy Spirit place a desire in you to become more Christlike in the coming year. Let’s take this journey together.

” The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Memory Skills For Christians

I am reading and enjoying Trevor Hudson’s book Discovering Our Spiritual Identity. In a chapter on developing a Christian memory, Hudson mentions that Jesus’ mother, Mary, is a great example of someone who had developed a Christian memory. In Luke 2:19 and also in verse 51, it states that Mary “treasured all of these things in her heart” and “pondered them.” Isn’t it wonderful to think that the miracle of Christmas didn’t go by without the mother of Jesus appreciating it and reflecting on it. What a mature thing for a young woman to do, especially faced with the huge responsibility of raising God’s son.

One of my biggest criticisms of modern American Christians is that they possess terrible memories. Every crisis or challenge to their faith becomes another opportunity to doubt and fall back on self or alternatives methods of coping. What we should be doing is remembering all that God has brought us through up until this moment. We should be reflecting on how God has been present in our lives and how we have changed since we first encountered him. Here are three ways to make remembering God’s faithfulness a bigger part of your Christian life:

1. Write it down – Journaling is a practice that I think many Christians talk about but few actually do. My suggestion would be to simply make a list of times that day that you felt that God showed up or that you felt close to God. Spend a few moments each week or once a month to look over your daily lists. Even over a months time, you will be surprised by how often you failed to remember what God had done for you.

2. Make a God album – We have photo albums full of family pictures or scenes from our last vacation but why don’t we make one with images that mark key God moments in our lives? In this digital age, wouldn’t it be welcomed to actually create a book with care and thoughtfulness? To have a real book of pictures and items that remind us of God’s work in our lives. Imagine passing this book along to your kids as a testimony of God’s work in your life. I admit, this doesn’t sound like something that I would do but the thought of its impact for future generations of my family could inspire me to try it.

3. Have an anniversary celebration – I recently talked with a colleague who told me about the time he accepted Christ and how it brought his entire family to the Lord. He told me that the family was getting together to celebrate 25 years of life with Christ. I was struck by this idea and was warmly imagining this family together for no other reason but to celebrate what God had done in their life. Are their spiritual milestones in our own life that it would be good to celebrate on a regular basis?

Teaching A Twelve Year Old How To Pray

My twelve-year-old daughter recently expressed difficulty in praying. You never prepare yourself for what you are going to say in these situations, so I told her to keep it real simple and short. I told her to try the following:

Father, we love you and thank you for being our God. Please help me with __________ .

I wanted her to focus on who God is (Father) and that we need to start our prayers with gratitude and recognition. Then, I wanted her to focus on a specific request and ask God to help her with it. Her problem, and mine often times, is that her prayers are too generic. Discovering how God answers our prayers is much easier when you have a specific situation you are needing help with. Asking God to give me a good day tomorrow is harder to track than something specific such as, “Help me approach my role as parent with graciousness and love.” Those were the only two guidelines that I gave her. Address God properly, praise him, and make a request.

What do you think? Do I have my theology mixed up? Am I giving my daughter false ideas of who God is? Or, have I given her a decent starting point to a more effective prayer life. Maybe I should try this for myself.

Father, you have answered so many of my prayers and I thank you. Please help me to have a more consistent and meaningful prayer life. Amen

I will let you know how this prayer turned out.

Christian Life Hacker Guide To Christmas

Christmas 2005 Candles

Image via Wikipedia

Christmas may be my favorite religious holiday. Why? Because it seems to be the only time when Evangelical Christians allow themselves to be spiritual. Most evangelical church services contain so much activity and noise that it is a wonder anyone can muster a spiritual thought. But at Christmas, no one seems to be freaked out by low light, candles, singing about silence at night, and accepting the mystery that is the incarnation of God himself. If you have discovered this blog, you have some interest in the growth of your Christian spiritual life so I have created a short guide to enjoying Christmas and getting the most out of it.

Discover Advent – Think about all of the time you spend preparing for Christmas. Is any of your preparations of the spiritual nature? Advent, which means “coming”, is a great way for you to prepare your heart for the coming of Christmas.
You may have seen the display at your church – the green reef with the white candle in the middle and the four candles surrounding it. Starting four Sundays away, a candle is lit each week until you get to Christmas day. Each of the candles represents an important idea surrounding Christmas such as hope, peace, and joy. In more liturgical churches, specific scriptures are read on specific weeks. I am not focused enough to organize my thoughts around the miracle of a virgin, a baby, stars, shepherds, etc., I need something that will guide my thoughts and scripture reading. Some of the resources that I have used to participate in Advent are: Watch For the Light: Readings For Advent and Christmas (book), Following the Star (online daily devotional), and Advent writings from Jesus Creed (blog from Scot McKnight)

Attend a Candlelight Service– If you have ever attended a candlelight service at Christmas Eve you may not have noticed things happening that never happen during the rest of the year. First, there is always a level of reverence that is not often found on a normal Sunday morning. Maybe, having the service at night has something to do with it. Second, silence is welcomed. In most of the Christmas Eve services that I have been to, everyone has a candle and at the end of singing “Silent Night” we all raise our candle in the air. Almost every time, the preciousness of the moment and the beautiful stillness of it lingers into a holy moment of silence that everyone is willing to hold on to. Even when we do start talking and making our way to the exits, it is in reverent hushed tones. Even the hardest soul seems touched by the mystery of the eve of Christ’s birth. We need more of these kinds of experiences in our spiritual life.

Serve Someone – Being someone who spent four years working in a benevolence ministry, I used to scoff at the Thanksgiving and Christmas “do-gooders” who suddenly want to give and volunteer but would never think of contributing the rest of the year. But, my cynicism is not very productive and may limit those who feel led, during these holiday times, to help out someone less fortunate. I don’t want to rob anyone of the joy of giving and serving another person.

The best moment along these lines, was after a Christmas Eve service at the benevolence ministry I mentioned. We had put together some small gift bags that we passed out to some of the people in attendance, mostly homeless and poor. I was taking some of the homeless people “home” to their camp site when I heard one  talk about how this was a good Christmas. This guy was often belligerent, mean, conniving, and a downright troublemaker. To hear him speak in positive terms was already shocking but then he said,”This is a good Christmas because I got some socks, I really needed these.” We never know how far our small gifts of service will go. We might be surprised.

Embrace the Immanuel Life – This word, Immanuel, means “God with us.” This is a word that you need an entire season to meditate and reflect on. God with us in the form of a baby in a manger, born of a virgin, visited by shepherd and kings alike, pointed to by a star. God with us in the ordinary to provide to us the extraordinary. Immanuel. God with us. That is worth celebrating each year.