Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Catching Father's Gaze

She was 19 years old, a slender young girl who was our server in a Texas-style restaurant in Sydney, Australia. She introduced herself as Amanda, and proceeded to take our initial orders for tea, soft drinks, etc. I will never forget her introduction, "Hi, I am Amanda and I am your server tonight. I am 19 years old, and I am pregnant"! But we were deep in our discussion about how to do the best training possible for the pastors who had gathered in Sydney for the training conference, so none of us caught the plea that lay underneath Amanda's rather unusual greeting.

But God is persistent and patient with us, especially when He is wanting for us to catch His Father's gaze upon one of those He treasures, so when Amanda returned a couple of us came out of the fog of our "important discussions about changing the world" to ask her a few questions about her life. And Amanda opened up, right there at our table. Amanda was single, working hard and very frightened about her pregnancy. She was choosing to have this child, rejecting the easy way out, but she was afraid. And at the end of the meal we were able to touch her, reassure her and promise to pray for her. To this day, I am convinced that Father was wanting to do more, but at that time I had no real grid for what was happening.

The next day during the training I told Amanda's story to the group of gathered pastors and asked those in Sydney to pray about following up on her. To his credit, one man did indeed attempt to contact her at the restaurant, but he ended up leaving a tract and contact information without connecting. I grieve over that, but at that point I would have done the same thing. Today, I know that I am to listen to God and persist with someone until the connection bears whatever fruit Father intends.

Why do I tell this story? First, because I have never forgotten Amanda. No, I don't pray for her all the time, and I don't even remember what she looked like. But I remember Amanda and looking back I recognize now how Father's gaze was so clearly fixed on her. And I ask Him to please keep me so fixed on His face that I won't miss His affectionate gaze upon the next "Amanda" to cross my path. And the second reason I tell this story is because I am struck by the irony of how a group of us could be talking about the Kingdom while missing the Kingdom's activity right in front of us. No condemnation here--just a reminder to live so tender, so surrendered that we cannot help but catch the Father's gaze.

Just pondering...

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It Can't Be That Simple!

Wayne Jacobsen ( was in town a couple of weekends ago, and I joined several folks to hang out with him. It was a wonderful time to be reminded of just how simple this Jesus journey can be (and how “religious” I still can be at times!). I smiled when someone new to the journey said something like, “It just hard to believe that it can be that simple!” in response to Wayne’s repeated emphasis upon living loved, listening to Father and just being family. I didn’t say it at the time, but I thought, “Yes, it not only can be that simple, it has to be!” Consider the following passage of Scripture.

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." (Luke 10:21 NIV)

Jesus here is rejoicing because His Father had made the things of the Kingdom simple! Wow. By its 
very nature, religion sets up obstacles, makes things complicated and tends to exclude, but Jesus came to set us free from religion as well as from sin. He also came to make the Way to the Father so simple that anyone could make the journey. Indeed, it requires the simplicity of a child even to enter the journey, and as I now realize, it requires continuing childlike simplicity to stay on the journey! It's gets even simpler as we go along, not more complicated!

So if it is "complicated," I am already suspicious! And if it in some way excludes the child, the simple person, I am more than suspicious! I am already convinced that it's not God if it is exclusive!

Now you probably realize that "simple" does not necessarily mean "easy" in the sense of choices of the heart! Living in surrendered, childlike trust is highly counter-intuitive, especially for those of us who have learned to try to be "sophisticated" and competent! But it is possible for every human being on the planet to enter this journey--that's why Jesus came, right? To make the Way available to all? Hmmmm.

That's why my philosophy of "leadership" requires me to live simply. I believe that I must always live and communicate a life that causes anyone, even a child, to say, “I can do that!” This is counter to our culture and even most church culture, where "leaders" are supposed to competent and capable and... you get the picture! (I put "leaders" in quotes because the NT is not about leadership but about servanthood, but that's a topic for a later time).

Now I haven't by any means "arrived" at a place where I am living this out all the time. As recently as last April I wrote the following in my journal.
"Pai, my friend writes something about my needing to let go of something while I am in the waterfall of your love. I am thinking that that refers to my need to understand, the illusion of control as opposed to the childlike trust you have called us to. And I also sense that this highly counter-intuitive walk, with all its simplicity, is so important because it is something that you want me to teach everyone who has ears to hear and that it is simple for the very reason that you have always intended it to be available to all people."

Yes, I am still learning, but it is that simple! Because it is that important, it is that simple!

Learning to be childlike,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Childlike Wonder

She sat with her mommy on the front row in the lecture hall where I was speaking on intimacy with Jesus, a precious little seven year old girl who had known much sadness and trauma. Her mommy had returned to the Lord with great zeal a while back, but not before this little child had experienced many father wounds and other types of pain. Yet there she sat, peacefully and quietly coloring while I spoke. I could hear her softly whispering, perhaps at times singing to her mommy (it was so cute!).

Then right in the middle of my sharing, I felt strongly led to share a quote from the brilliant German theologian, Karl Barth. I told the story of how one time when someone had asked him how he would summarize all of his great theological work he had replied, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so." As I finished sharing this story, the little girl's face suddenly lit up with wonder and joy, so much so that I asked her mommy what was going on. To the amazement of the entire class, her mommy said that at the same moment that I quoted Karl Barth her little girl was singing "Jesus loves me"!

As we heard this, all of us became deeply aware that God was incredibly present, and we were drawn into a wonderful moment of basking in God's Father love. We may have even sung the song--I can't remember for sure, but I remember the weight of God's presence filling the room with His goodness.

Later, as I reflected on that remarkable moment, I told God how grateful I was for confirming what I was teaching about His love. Thereafter followed one of those gentle but life-changing corrections from Papa! He said simply, "I didn't do that for you, Tom, nor for the class. I did it for the little girl!" And then I understood...and I wept and I worshiped...

Do you understand?

Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. (Matthew 19:13-15)

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:2-4)

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Deeper Change Than We Can Imagine!

Father has had me re-reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice of late and has added a book on parenting that I recommend highly, Loving Our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk. All of these books in one way or another deal with issues of the heart, so it was no surprise to me this morning that God went after mine again as I was praying for some of those I love.

Now that I know (and remember most of the time) that God loves me, likes me, treasures me and is never disappointed in me, I find myself more willing to yield to His gentle but persistent probing! So as I was attempting to pray for one close to me, I stopped when He probed my motives as I was praying. I was shocked to see how mixed my motives were as I prayed! (I know this is never true for you, of course!). Father showed me that I was praying partially out of true love for this person, but I was also equally praying for relief from the anxiety I was feeling. Indeed, if I looked carefully (which He helped me to do!) I found that I was actually praying not from a place of full identification of the other person's needs and concerns but more from my own need to have my worries about this person relieved!

Now believe it or not I was encouraged by this revelation. First because there was a time that I wouldn't have noticed such a subtle mixture of motives even if God had shouted it to me! Second, I was encouraged because I now know that when God reveals, God heals! And sure enough, as I stopped and looked within and allowed Holy Spirit to lead me, I was able to find a place of compassion and petition that was much more oriented towards the one for whom I was praying. Furthermore, I am, of course, going to be more aware of this in the future! God is so very, very good! Finally, I was encouraged because I know that in revealing this to me, God is answering my frequent prayer to teach me to pray in a way that leads to clear and wonderful answers.

Ah, dear ones! God is always after the heart! And much of what "church" in all of its forms seems to focus on is behavior, activity, etc. I wrote my personal story above to give yet one more example as to what this might look like. Discipleship is all about heart and far more about getting heaven into us than getting us into heaven. Why is it so important for us to get this? Consider the following thoughts about this from Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice, chapter 57, that I read this morning (not surprisingly, before I started my prayer time!).

A fundamental mistake of the conservative side of the Western Church is that its basic goal is to get people into heaven rather than to get heaven into people. This creates groups of people who may be ready to die but clearly are not ready to live. They rarely can get along with one another, much less with those "outside." Often their most intimate relations are tangles of reciprocal harm, coldness and resentment -- righteous meanness. They have become "Christian" without being Christlike.

The way to get as many people into heaven as you can is to get heaven into as many people as you can -- that is, to follow the path of genuine spiritual transformation or full-throttle discipleship to Jesus Christ. When we are counting results, we need to remember the many people (surrounded by churches) who will not be in heaven because they have never, to their knowledge, seen the reality of Christ in a living human being. These lives of the "converted" testify against the reality of "the life that is life indeed" (1 Timothy 6:19, paraphrased).

Ouch! Dallas Willard nails it one more time. But again, please read this from the perspective of God's love for you as well as His never-ending commitment to capture your heart with His grace and power!

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Praying As Jesus Prays

I have been reviewing lately some of one of my favorite mentor's words on prayer. Andrew Murray's book, With Christ In the School of Prayer remains one of the best I have ever encountered. I have read it over and over again, and I think I am actually beginning to catch the gist of what this wise lover of God was saying!

Perhaps two of the most important things that Andrew Murray says about prayer are his convictions that a) prayer must begin with an awareness of God as the loving Father and, b) prayer is essentially joining with Jesus in His continual intercession before the Father.

We can pray as Jesus prays only as we "get" that first point. Consider the following quotes from our mentor (and please forgive the dated language!). "The first thing in closet-prayer is to meet the Father. The light that shines in the closet must be the light of the Father's countenance. The atmosphere in which we breathe and pray is God's Father-love, God's infinite Fatherliness." (chapter 3). "The knowledge of God's Father-love is the first and simplest, but also the last and highest lesson in the school of prayer." (chapter 4).

So what does this look like, at least in my life? Well, in the past I would find myself praying without a conscious awareness of God's presence and Father-love, and my prayers sometimes sounded more like begging and whining than confident asking! And even when that wasn't the case, praying with confident trust and expectancy was hard to come by, especially when the needs before me were large and imposing. But now, as I am learning to allow Holy Spirit to lead me into Father's presence, I find that prayer rises from my heart as gentle listening, expectant asking and peaceful petitioning. The difference is remarkable: faith becomes as natural as breathing in the presence of the One who is love. Now the two pictures of prayer God gave me a while ago make wonderful sense.

I may have shared these before. If so, please forgive me. But these pictures are expressions of praying as Jesus prayed with the deep awareness of Father's love and manifest presence. The first picture God gave me was of a small round table, with Him on one side and me on the other, close enough so that we could clasp hands if we desired. Between us I place the concerns of others for whom I am praying and we discuss them as I look into Father's eyes--wow! In the second picture, I am standing in the wonderful, warm and powerful River of God's kindness and life and power. As I stand there I direct the flow of a little piece of the River towards the one for whom I am praying. Again, wow!

And yes, it does take time, sometimes more of it than at other times, for the awareness of God's presence to come (stillness is essential and not always immediately accessible). But I am finding that when I practice what our mentor, Andrew Murray, teaches us, then prayer becomes the peaceful but powerful instrument of God's war on the enemy and God's rich blessing of people that scripture describes.

Learning to pray...

Tom, one Abba's children