I’m hoping that there are some out there that can relate to the strangest phenomenon out there when it comes to voluntary physical weakness: the hurty-brain. In my weariness I am astonished how much I use my brain on a daily basis - and then, at certain points in the day, I’m just done using it. I’m wrung out. I’m finding as I meander along on my journey that mental exertion is just as real and taxing (if not more so at times) than physical exertion. To say it differently, me no wanty thinky any more. It’s not like I’ve found some beautiful place of blissful barrenness by which I anticipate the in-breaking of waves of grace to sustain my yearning heart. It’s nothing that awesome. No, my brain just hurts.
It’s so unromatically lethargic in its expression that any romantic notions one could hold about the glory of fasting must be cast aside immediately for the inglorious weirdness of the hurty-brain. I was having a fine time talking to the Lord and articulating thoughts when suddenly, when I opened up this page to journal some heart stuff, WHAM! The ol’ brain gave me a dose of reality. I’m wondering if anyone out there could break down the science of this - are there nerve endings attached to stimuli in my brain that I am completely unaware of? How could there be a correlation to mental exertion and head-hurting, dull, frustrating sludge mixed with a healthy dose of mushy “ugh-ness”? Is there a scientific term for this one-two punch of blah?
Maybe I’ll come to a bit more with clarity and flesh out some of the good heart stuff later, when my head clears a bit. Right now, I’m going to stare off into space a bit and wait for the fog to lift. I am convinced of this, however: the guys out there that don’t connect with the gift of tongues as a helpful gift related to prayer surely don’t fast. In times such as this, I really am thankful that I can lean back in my chair, close my eyes, and mutter words from my spirit to God that edifies my soul and connects me in my weakness to His heart. So, without any further ado, I’ll do just that.
July 7th, 2008
How much do I talk because of my loneliness?
Since I recommended it this past weekend to the teens, I’ve been thinking about Henri Nouwen’s Clowning in Rome. It’s a fantastic book meditating on solitude and reflection and the power of solitude to form authentic community and intimacy amongst believers. There is more to the book, of course, as it is a rich, deep, flavorful piece of meat that is worth chewing on for long hours as you take in its ideas and thoughts. It can be a helpful transition to the prayer room reality that we live in here in which socially-driven, lonely creatures longing for comraderie and community descend upon a room which has, simultaneously, much of both and none at all.
It is Nouwen’s contention that the richest community flows from intimate solace in which one first communes with God. I happen to agree with that contention. It makes perfect sense to me, of course - only in the place of quiet prayer and meditation on the word can one apprehend the necessary tenderness of heart to begin to love and appreciate those whom you may have written off, ignored, or overlooked as potentially glorious comrades in the race that we run together. As my heart comes alive in God, it prepares the way for deeper connections and conversations than I ever could have had from the dry well of my own boredom.
Which leads me to wonder - how often do I seek connections and companionship because of my restlessness? How often do I initiate conversations simply because I am lonely and searching for an escape or a salve? How many wasted conversations have I had in my life, simply because I longed to be heard? I am stirred on this issue because I feel as if I am on the verge of gaining real ground in a seemingly unrelated area of my life if I can find grace in this area. The area I am looking to conquer in my life is my speech. I want to do more than restrain my tongue related to negative or wasted speech - I want to train my tongue to be a precise instrument with words that have true, measurable impact on my own heart and the lives of those around me.
My tongue is an untamable and unruly evil, full of deadly poison
It is the tongue that commands the attention of the apostle James in his letter. I wonder if there was a specific circumstance that led James to address this issue so strongly with his brethren in that day? In my thinking, the way that James arranged his letter leaves us with the tongue and the issue of speech as one of the premiere issues on his mind as it relates to wisdom, sin, obedience, faith, pride, lust, humility, and patience, and particularly prayer. The issue of speech is critically related to the issue of sin and lust. If one can restrain the speech, one has hope in restraining all manner of wickedness. If one is overly free with their speech, one is providing fuel to a fire that threatens to consume our lives in the fires of hell.
It is thus one of the central issues of our lives. The manner in which the tongue is “ordered” or “set among our members” is that it is, in God’s perspective, the rudder that steers the ship. It has the ability to defile the whole body in a manner that is unique amongst the other members of the body. This reality is why James asserts a “stricter judgment” upon teachers: the teachers function as the “tongue” of the body of Christ, and as such can defile entire congregations or movements if they are not precise and measured in speech. This is why James urges us to pursue “the meekness of wisdom” in 3:13. The fruit of righteousness in our lives and the lives of those around us is sown in peace by those who make peace.
The road forward, then, is “peaceful speech” that lacks contentiousness, bitterness, or boasting. Gentle speech, willing to yield in a dispute, with merciful words and good fruit borne of true love not partiality or hypocrisy must be our continual goal in prayer. This is partially due to the fact that prayer, praise, and proclamation are the instruments that will fuel our devotion and intimacy with God forever. As difficult as it is to imagine, there is a coming day for us in the age to come in which 100% of our speech will be God-ward, holy, pure, and filled with immeasurable power. Every conversation, every word whispered in prayer, every truth proclaimed about the beauty of God will cause the heart to melt love and affection for our King.
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer
Thus I want to take the words of Jesus seriously: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but what comes out of it. I must fight to have a heart flowing with God, living waters coursing powerfully within me that flow out with forceful gentleness that refreshes the hearer. I want my life to be a fountain that cleanses and restores, a fire that burns and purifies, a lamp that illuminates and awakens. My tongue must be a ready pen filled with glorious words consumed with the beauty of God. The fountain of my heart can only be purified in prayer and fasting. As fasting cleanses the outer man, it restrains and tempers the inner man as well. When I fast with water, toxins come out - often in a very uncomfortable way. The same process happens within me, as the toxins of my thought life seep to the surface of my thinking, as I lack the strength to supress what is so often hidden just beneath the surface of my desires.
I will not become consumed by Jesus via stimulating conversation. I will not awaken my heart to deeper yearnings for God through the way of empty speech. I am weary of wasted words born from a barren heart. I must conquer the issue of loneliness and satisfaction in the love of God if I am to have any hope that I will lay hold of words that have true power to arrest the heart and captivate the imagination. I long to go deep into the place of barren, dry, dusty emptiness of words so that I can wrestle with my thought life and hold every stray thought captive until my mind fully rests on the glory and majesty of the Risen King. I long for the day in which every thought is about Him and Him alone.
Thus I give myself again to a prayer for grace and power to restrain and redirect my words. I want a social life that is driven by a pierced and tender heart, not a barren dryness longing for companionship, conversation, or approval. I want to have long, satisfying conversations with my Friend and emerge different every time. I want to hear His voice, which means I have to silence mine. No matter how much it hurts on the front end.
July 1st, 2008
(and Other Issues of Life at IHOP-KC…)
Reflection #1: I’m normally on vacation right now
As June comes to an end and July is around the corner, I find myself sitting on one of the most unusually eventful yet stunningly mundane June 30th’s I can ever remember. For years, this was our family vacation time. Going back eleven years, I made a point to take (when I was a staff pastor) my allotted two weeks with my family around the July 4th holiday, so that I could sneak in a few extra days of rest. When we moved to Kansas City, this time of the year always coincided with the end of the Onething Internship that I directed for a year and a half; my wife took over and led the internship for another four years. Last year was really the first time we found ourselves free to take our family vacation wherever we wanted to on the schedule, and to be honest the freedom led to a poorly planned family vacation last year. I’m not sure what our fate will be this year, the proverbial jury is still out.
Taking over this year as the Executive Director of Awakening Teen Camp meant that this time of year was not an option for our vacation. Which, as an instructor at the Forerunner School of Ministry, means that my options for time away with my family are severely dwindling. Which is, in itself, ironic - because if I were anywhere else in the nation I would want to take my family to the prayer room for our vacation. Now, we’re forced to come up with restful options that begin with fleeing the city. Back to the matter at hand, I am now finding that nine months out of the year are now really “off-limits” for vacation time, including the much coveted month of January in which a surprising number of birds fly south during the relative lull in activity. By “lull”, of course, I mean “lack of new initiatives” not “lack of numerical growth” or “lack of activity”, since, as I’ve noted here before, there really isn’t a “good time to get away” in my world.
Reflection #2: Conferences can be both easy and exhausting at the same time
If you’re wondering why my “reflections on Fascinate 08″ is beginning with an extended homily about good times for a family vacation, you probably haven’t led a national conference before. Of course, the conference itself was a surprising amount of fun for myself and those that helped me make the logistics work, particularly the platform logistics of look, feel, and content. As I’m sure you have guessed, a fairly large amount of work and time goes into making these things go; yet at the same time there is a surprising ease to implementing one of these. There are always things that can be improved and tweaked, but I am a bit in awe about how skilled folks around this place are at putting one of these things on. Again, as you can imagine, the labor of moving and seating and navigating two thousand people between three locations (between main sessions, prayer rooms, and breakout locations) is quite an undertaking. I am in awe of the mechanisms that are in place to pull a conference off here and, in the words of the very skilled Lenny Laguardia, how “turn key” all of those mechanisms are.
Thus I found that the conference was both surprisingly easy and still non-surprisingly exhausting. Having found this out, I now am finding myself spending my first day of the forty-day fast staring out into space, trying to figure out optimum family vacation times. Reflecting slightly randomly (but surprisingly intentionally - this submission is filled with paradoxes) this morning leads me back to the most eventful, mundane, strange June 30th’s I’ve ever had. Again, it’s the first day of our corporate fast. The conference is now behind me. Yet we are about to begin session 2.0 of Awakening Teen Camp - and this time we have 400 teenagers descending upon our little missions base. We had 300 for the first session, which culminated with the conference. For most normal people, that would be a fitting conclusion to a succesful season of youth ministry. For me, that’s the beginning of my non-stop summer that doesn’t really conclude with the Call DC, since I have to turn right around and begin my semester on August 18th (the day after my birthday). In case you weren’t sure, I’m really not complaining - I am reflecting…though at the moment I am sure that you are a bit skeptical about that assertion.
Reflection #3: I need to get better at my job
Many of you who have been following this space for a while, which means you probably could write this next paragraph. If it seems hoplessly redundant in a strangely Sysiphean way, I understand. Sysiphus was, according to Greek mythology, the Corinthian king who was doomed to roll a boulder up a hill (having it promptly roll back down again) for eternity. I don’t feel that way about my current plight. The plight, of course, for those of you who are new to this space and wondering what I am rambling on about, is my constant fight to carve out a true life in God amidst the noise and traffic of life. It seems that I have written here at great length about the difficulty of serving in a prominent way at a national ministry that also happens to embody everything I’ve longed for in terms of sitting before the Lord. The tension of work and prayer and prayer as work is one of the most magnificent dilemmas I could have stumbled into. I have never been so consistently bad at something in my entire life. I’m in year seven and I still can’t quite figure it out.
The tagline of this particular website does not read, “I’m a conference speaker, and it’s the end of the age” after all. No, I’m an intercessory missionary, and I’m not particularly good at my job. That is how I am feeling on the first day of this forty day fast. I don’t feel exhilarated that the ministry I am a part of was helpful this weekend. I feel the same way about being on television this weekend as I did after my first book was published: nothing. Nada. No sense of accomplishment, no sense of arrival, and no sense of satisfaction. Nope, I mostly feel bad at my job. I suppose if my job was to put on conferences, I would feel thrilled right now. Since my job is to pray and fast, I’m not really excited about my performance review.
Now, the conference itself, in my humble opinion, was exactly what I hoped it would be. I don’t know if I would change much, in regards to the main sessions. Beyond the expected hiccups, how can you go wrong with a conference that begins with Corey Russell, hits the first night with Eddie James and Lou Engle, goes the very next morning to Allen Hood? I mean, that to me is a great first three sessions. That evening was Mike, the next morning was Misty - for me, I was seriously enjoying how things were going. The worship sets were fantastic and intense. The teenagers were hungry, receptive, and persistently joyful. Then we culminated with the final session, and what I thought was the best time of worship at the entire conference with Matt Gilman and Cory Asbury. I can’t even really complain with how my preaching time went, other than potentially offending half of the God TV viewership with some of my blunt statements about the pre-trib rapture, money, the condition of the church, revival, and a small handful of other controversial topics. So don’t get me wrong - I am thankful to the Lord and tender about His zeal for teenagers around the nation. In terms of serving my Friend, I enjoyed myself. In terms of being a true friend of God, however, I have a ways to go.
Reflection #4: I cannot be consoled or comforted
Again, this means that, when it comes to my primary job description, I’m not that happy with myself. My job before the Lord carries a secondary assignment related to the next generation. I am well aware of the implications of doing badly at my first job: it means I end up being pretty bad at the assignments and jobs that flow out of my main occupation. It’s the nature of what I have signed up for - I will never imagine that the succesful event or the great testimonies vindicate my prayer life and lead me to a place of true rest. True rest, for me, is knit to what I preached about on Saturday evening: I will rest when the Lord rests. He will rest when He has found a resting place. Therefore, I will be continually restless until He brings heaven to earth. For some, this may seem like a particularly miserable way to live - I have seemingly signed up for a lifelong reality of deep frustration and discontentedness. For me, the alternative (pretending that successful ministry equals a good conference, pretending that things are fine, pretending that there is no shaking and trouble coming, etc.) seems quite miserable. I refuse to imagine that I am successful until I have the confidence of Paul at the end of his life.
I want my last words to be like his - that I fought the good fight.
This is a lifelong fight to truly walk with God as His friend, His bondservant, and, in the occupation He has chosen for me, His priest. I have signed up, willingly and joyfully, to mourn. He promised me that if I would, that I would be comforted. I would much rather go that route than be comforted now only to mourn later. Such is the wisdom of the hour, as bitter as it may be for many to swallow. And so I will lead and build as I have been commissioned to by the Lord in this season. 400 teens are coming. Thus I must partially fast and mourn that I cannot go deeper. I must partially serve and mourn that I cannot be more effective. I must partially pray, study, and write, and mourn that I cannot be given and abandoned in prayer the way that my heart longs for. As I tug on the natural restraints that the Lord has placed on my life to keep me focused and reigned in, I truly am beginning to feel, a little bit, like a bondservant - constrained and restrained from the yearnings of my heart to put my hand on a plow and not look back.
Reflection #5: I press on
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
- Philippians 3:12-14
Such as it is, I “press delete” on the conference, the last session of ATC, I forget all that was of yesterday to press on yet again. Time to joyfully begin a 40 day fast by tenderly receiving 400 hungry teenagers and attempting to charge them to “follow me as I follow Christ,” though I am not particularly pleased with how I am living that charge. I am thankful for the divine irony and tender at His perfect leadership, which means that, on the first day of this 40 day fast, I am joyfully miserable.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
June 30th, 2008