Palm Sunday, John 12

Posted: April 14, 2019 in Theology, Tim's Sermons

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Image  —  Posted: April 1, 2019 in Media, Theology, Tim's Sermons

Life, Edited

Posted: March 17, 2019 in Theology, Tim's Sermons

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Chris Traeger and Ben Wyatt. In Parks and Rec, Chris Traeger is enthusiastic and positive and loves every idea and every person. So the state of Indiana hired him because he’s an encouraging even when he disagrees. But they partnered him with Ben Wyatt, who is a numbers cruncher and shoots down any idea that isn’t feasible. Ben said, “Chris came in and got everybody pumped up and feeling great and then I came in and slashed their budget to ribbons.” When I rough draft, I’m all Chris Traeger. But in the real world, we also need a Ben Wyatt, and that’s my editor.

Editing is addition by subtraction. The goal in editing is to cull the herd until everything that’s left is good. But usually the creator gets excited and says, “Ew, Ew, gimme the wheel for a minute, I got something…” So often in the edit the work actually grows.

Editing attempts to see the whole, how does this part serve the whole? If it does, where does it fit to best do that? If it doesn’t, it’s gone, no matter how good it is.

The editor must be ruthless and not fall in love with the paragraphs. Because they may need to be sacrificed for the whole. That scene or chapter or paragraph or character, if it doesn’t improve the quality of the whole, needs to be removed, no matter how much work you’ve put into creating it. People refer to this as “killing your darlings.” (If it helps you, and it does me, save that work in a new document, perhaps it will grow into its own thing later.)

Some editing guidelines…

  1. Introductions say why
  2. Conclusions are crescendos
  3. Don’t tell me, show me. (Stories and word-pictures are louder and stickier than accurate explanations.)
  4. When in doubt, leave it out
  5. A single, unifying thread
  6. Read it aloud (I use a teleprompter. This does many things. It helps flow of thoughts and transitions and alerts to monotony and flow of ideas and overall length, precise word choices become so much clearer. It helps with style, clarity, flow, length, and tone too.)
  7. Pacing – have we gone on too long without an attention getter? The best attention getters are there to communicate, not just draw readers back.
  8. Is this boring? (If you can’t keep their attention, you don’t deserve their attention.)
  9. Length: Is this short enough to be clear and focused? Is this long enough to get the message across? Is anything essential left out? Is anything unessential left in?
  10. Jargon, explained or removed
  11. Redundancy removed
  12. Antecedents replaced with their referent (this, that, it’s, they etc.)
  13. Trust the process

From ok, to good, to awesome. The difference between the high end product and the economy product is not usually basic function, but materials, fit and finish. In other words, the edits. You can upgrade an inexpensive guitar and make it amazing. That’s editing. But it takes time and skill.

You might think that if it’s God, it is beyond edits…but I suspect that’s not the full picture. Jeremiah has been edited from the Hebrew by the time the Septuagint was produced in Greek. And the New Testament tends to exclusively quote the Greek, though our modern Bible’s translate the Old Testament from the Hebrew. Many bible books were revised in the telling and remembering, before they ever made it to the page. We can see the evidences of editing in the gospels too (Matthew is Mark’s gospel reworked and expanded.) The issue is that the Holy Spirit is in both the first draft and the edits. Did you know that nearly all the scholars agree that the woman caught in adultery story in John chapter 8 wasn’t in the original version of John’s gospel? So does that mean it isn’t true? I don’t think so. According to many people’s ideas about how inspiration works, it should be thrown out. It was added in the edit. And I think John’s gospel is stronger with it included. Do you believe that the Holy Spirit can brood over you during the edit just as strongly as in the original moment of inception?

Collaborating with others is often a big part of what makes editing effective…as well as scary. The identity conversation gets loud and can shut down the objectivity quickly. If you’re a writer and you have an editor who reads your manuscript and marks it up and suggests rewrites…then even though they’re your ally, the process often feels like they are your sworn enemy. It’s one thing for YOU to kill your darlings, something else entirely for another person to suggest doing so. Don’t invite them into the edit unless you’re serious.

When the movie credits are rolling, sometimes I want to know just how much freedom the editors had in the cutting room? How much of the final movie is the director, and how much is the editors? I’m curious. Because with the little videos I’ve made I know that the majority of the work is done in the edit. Every minute of video seems to cost me an hour of editing. The ratio of impact on the final product is probably 30/70 with the edit being the 70%.

Never become your own follower. Be humble enough to contradict earlier versions of yourself. Don’t be too proud to edit your work. Some people would feel foolish to publicly say, “I’ve changed my mind.” They think that’s an admission of failure. In politics they call that person a flip-flopper. Now, if you flip and flop based on what sells or what benefits you in the moment, just to please a crowd or make money and avoid disapproval, yeah, that’s bad. But when a healthy moral compass and due process of arriving at truth is what informed and formed the decision to change your mind, that’s not a flip-flop. That’s you refusing to foolishly become your own follower, and to keep following the truth instead.

Always reforming/editing. One principle of the reformation is “semper reformanda,” always reforming, always revising, always changeable, always learning. I refuse to become my own follower.

LIFE, edited. What if there are creative cycles in our lives that macro and micro this principle of creativity and editing? What if we create in some seasons of life and revise or edit in other seasons of life? What if we took time to edit our thoughts and measure our words before releasing them out into public? What if, instead of giving people our crappy first drafts, in the name of being real and authentic, we gave them our best work, once it’s finished? I think that’s what Scripture consistently means when it talks about being slow to speak, and measuring our words carefully.

The crisis of reading the editor’s remarks. And what about that frustration and identify crisis and despair and deep fight or flight desire to quit that the writer experiences when the manuscript comes back marked up in red pen? Two days of eating ice cream straight from the tub, and calling your friend to pout and rant…and then finally, getting up the head of steam to begin tackling the rewrite of a book you already thought was exactly how you wanted it. What are some life applications of that process? You know the author invited the editor into that process because the author already knew the best chance for the publisher to run with it, and the best chance for the readers to love it, is to submit it to the scrutiny of the objective third party whose judgments you trust. But it’s still horrifying and feels like death. I wonder how many of us simply run away from that process as much as possible, and how much poorer our lives are as a result.

First half, last half? I wonder if we create in our first 40 years of life and edit in our last. I wonder if some of us go through marriage after marriage because we refuse to believe what the editor is telling us.

The biblical word “repent,” is a form of life-editing. It doesn’t mean to apologize or to feel horrible over something you did, though often those things come along for the ride. The real word means to rethink on the way to a redo. Meta = change. Noia = mind. Change your mind. Think again. Rethink. You’re an author and you’re writing a  story with your life. Repentance means to edit your life. To rewrite the parts of the story that aren’t serving the plot and the character development.

The greek word for sin, hamartia, means to miss the mark. Like when you shoot an arrow, and you don’t hit the target. If you miss it, you were to the left and down, so you adjust based on that shot. That’s repentance; that’s an edit.

Editing is an essential part of the work, and life. You sit back, go over what happened and what we chose. And we make adjustments. We make changes. It isn’t done, even after it’s done. You may be done for today, and out of steam. But that doesn’t mean it’s done. Come back to it when you’ve taken time off. Revisit it later. What works? What doesn’t? How do we adjust?

Live a better story. I’m permanently captivated by the idea that we are the authors of our lives, and we’re writing a story with our choices. And I’m fascinated by the idea of living a better story. Would you want to read the story of your life? If you could read that book, what changes would you want to make to the book? What would you edit out? What would you edit in?

Sometimes we want a life that wouldn’t make a good story. In real life, the difficulties are the things we wish would go away. In the story, the difficulties are the necessary things that provoke the characters to make hard choices, bad choices, or good ones. A story about things going well is not worth writing, but we assume that’s the ideal life, and it isn’t. We were made to rise to the challenge, and do hard things, not be carried away to paradise on beds of comfort and ease. Every good story involves things falling apart. But that’s not the ending. That’s the beginning of the real story. The story of paradise is only given a couple chapters in the bible. The rest is about what the characters choose after things fall apart.

What might this look like on the daily? The careful meditation and reflection at the end of the day doesn’t have to necessarily be written down to matter. We’re sitting back letting the Lord edit our lives. We don’t need to worry…tomorrow as we go up to “preach without notes” what he and I talked about together the evening before will affect what flows out of us. I don’t have to memorize it for it to go with me.

Paul Simon’s beautiful song, “Rewrite”…

I’m workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right
Gonna change the ending
Throw away the title
And toss it in the trash
Every minute after midnight
All the time I’m spending
Is just for workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right
Gonna turn it into cash

I been workin’ at the car wash
I consider it my day job
‘Cause it’s really not a pay job
But that’s where I am
Everybody says “The old guy
Workin’ at the car wash?”
Hasn’t got a brain cell left
Since Vietnam

But I say Help me, help me
Help me, help me Ohhh Thank you
I’d no idea That you were there
When I said help me, help me
Help me, help me Ohhh Thank you
For listening to my prayer

I’m workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right
Gonna change the ending
Gonna throw away my title
And toss it in the trash
Every minute after midnight
All the time I’m spending
Is just for workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right
Gonna turn it into cash

I’ll eliminate the pages
Where the father has a breakdown
And he has to leave the family
But he really meant no harm
Gonna substitute a car chase
And a race across the rooftops
Where the father saves the children
And he holds them in his arms

I said Help me, help me
Help me, help me Ohh, Thank you
I’d no idea That you were there
When I said Help me, help me
Help me, help me Ohhh Thank you
For listening to my prayer

Workin’ on my rewrite

Good writing is just normal writing that has been edited. A good life is just a normal life that has been edited. Invite the Holy Spirit in. Make the changes. Keep after it. Trust the process. 70% of the magic happens in the edit…

 

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Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Hebrews 12:1-3, MSG)

Running has taught me a lot. I’ve run in the rain. Hard rain. Rain so hard that the UPS driver said, whoa brother, that’s intense. Run so hard that muscles I didn’t know I had hurt from how heavy my shoes became as I ran through inches of water. I’ve run in the snow where my forehead is screaming in pain from the cold wind and my moustache and beard are covered in ice from my breath freezing and hardening. I’ve run in blistering heat — that’s by far the worst. I’ve run through my stupid hypoglycemic blood sugar crashes where I can’t go on and every muscle is shaking and I’m thinking, “If I pass out how long will it take for my wife to come looking for me?” The reason I run is not because I like it. I run because I’ve found it to be one of the single most effective tools to fight my body’s chemical imbalance that leads to crushing depression. I say NO to letting that enemy steal my life while I stand by watching. I’ve run in the mountains of colorado, the treadmills of Redding California and Lancaster. I’ve run in the black asphalt of seaford, after midnight. I’ve run, my favorite place of all, in the woods. I’ve run in circles on the track. I run hurt. I run tired. I run weary. Sometimes I run well. Lately I’ve been running with a torn hip flexor muscle. I’m sure it would heal faster if I’d back off. But if I get to choose between depression and muscle pain, that’s not even a choice.

And do you know what’s harder than running? Making the choice to put on my shoes and go out the front door. The choice to actually show up is a more pernicious enemy than the fight that awaits me when I do. Whether we’re talking about prayer, writing, running, or any other thing you’re called to, the real fight is the fight to show up and begin. If you win that fight, you win.

So showing up is the deal. And in between you and showing up is the real war. It’s the war of your life. It’s the war against the universal demonic forces that fight every calling of God on every soul made in God’s image. In between you and showing up stands the war.

Resistance and Divine help…

The Misery of soul that comes of giving into resistance, missing your calling, and how we can see the evidence of it ALL around us in our society and in our own lives.

Family sabotage when you are faithful to your calling. Drama, drama, drama. No one can fulfill their calling because they are too busy blowing up their or each others lives with endless drama.

And so many different forms of fear. What if they leave me? What if others reject me? What if I bring hurt on my people, shame on my family? What if it doesn’t work? What if I’m wrong? What if it’s too late? What if I’m a fraud? What if it’s too hard for me? And then the greatest fear some of us fight, what if I succeed? What then? What if success comes to me and proves that I really am accountable, responsible, capable? What if I succeed and then I lose all my well worn comfortable excuses? And then would I have to keep living up to success? So many fears. So many reasons to not show up.

Legitimate failure vs illegitimate success. Most people fall the first time, so success means starting by having your first legitimate failure. Failing in the path of calling is called a legitimate failure. Better a legitimate failure than an illegitimate success.

Get up tomorrow and win again. And what do you do the day after you win the fight and showed up? You beat that enemy the next day again.

What do after your greatest success? My climbing hero, Alex Honnold, free soloed El Capitan in just under four hours. Unbelievable. What did he do that afternoon? He trained on his hanging fingerboard. Pull Ups designed to give exceptional strength to a climber’s fingers. “Just another day. Keep pushing.” That’s a warrior’s mindset.

Validation comes from doing the work. It comes from the pleasure of God in the act of creation, not how the work is received or rejected.

Genesis 2 implies that eternal life was doing God’s good work in the physical world, partnered well with your spouse and family, and then resting and relating to God intimately when the day’s work was done. I’m not gonna lie, I’m super happy that heaven isn’t going to be an endless church service, and I love church services, but not as much as living normal life in the path of the vocation for which I was born. Some people think of heaven as a never ending song set. I think of heaven as waking up, showering, put on my shoes, and get to my work beautifying the world, bringing order from the raw materials. Learning. Creating. Relating. And resting. Looking. It’s good. Let’s pack it up for the day. Let’s do it again tomorrow. Good life. Good work. Good God. Until earth looks like heaven. Heaven on earth is my calling. It’s also my destiny. It’s my eternity. And I’m already living in it now.

Rationalizations. Like, “One of these days.” One of these days I’m going to get in shape, write that novel, take that guitar out from under the bed, crack open that Bible, take that kid out fishing, start my resume and go after that job. One of these days I’ll go back to college. “One of these days” is what we tell ourselves so we don’t have to face our self. “One of these days,” sounds better than, “not today.” “One of these days,” sounds easier than admitting that we’re clearly choosing NOT to follow that path.

Start, inspiration or not. If you wait for inspiration to carry you, you only start occasionally. Very rarely, actually. But if you show up and start, inspiration seems to eventually join the activity.

Heaven’s aid. In fact, though inspiration, that thing we can’t produce by force of will, that grace of God whereby we become sails propelled by a wind we don’t control, but can ride, inspiration rewards the disciplined. Inspiration is out there looking for vessels to give her flesh in the world, and when she finds one laboring at their post, already working, already available, she finds a vessel through which she can take on flesh in the world. A womb through which to be born. Inspiration rewards the disciplined.

Somerset Maugham was asked if he writes on a schedule or only when inspiration strikes. His reply? “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at 9 o’clock sharp.”

Lamps trimmed and burning. Jesus said the kingdom is like a groom who could return at any time, and some of those waiting were ready, lamps with oil and trimmed, burning, others were asleep, no oil, unprepared. I submit that the Lord has visited many of us and we never even found out, because we weren’t awake, at our post, laboring in the work we were born for. I know that parable has been used to scare people to say a salvation prayer before Jesus returns to send all the unconverted to hell, but I think it’s Jesus describing what the reign of God is already like right now. When we’re at our post laboring, God sees us and is moved with desire and delight, heaven bends to fill and speak and brood over the one who shows up, inspiration or not, and begins.

Jude reminded believers to build themselves up in their most holy faith by praying in the Spirit. Fascinating. As we do what we can do, God does what we cannot. As we take Godward action, God fills our steps with divine strength. But he won’t’ make the choice for us. And we all know what it feels like to be working “on our own.”

It’s better to fail in the path of your vocation than to succeed at anything else.

I’m in the arena! On your worst day, when it’s falling apart, and you’re feeling like a failure, like quitting, like getting out, if you’re doing what you were made to do, then be grateful. You’re in the arena. The right arena. Do you know how many souls are in the wrong arena? Be grateful you have put yourself out there to be spat on and rejected, a.,2            postle Paul, be grateful you’re in prison and made a spectacle while others get their faces on billboards as great heroes. Because you, Paul, are known by God, and you are proclaiming the gospel as he called you to do, and you can sleep tonight in this prison in Philippi in peace knowing that you are doing what you were born to do.

In season, out of season, be about it. You can’t treat your calling like its a hobby if it’s a calling. You’re either about it, or it’s gnawing at you, like a divine discontentment grinding away at your core. If you’re a writer, it’s writing, if you’re a builder, it’s building, if you’re an intercessor, it’s actually praying, not talking about praying, not going to conferences about praying, not listening to sermons about praying, not even saying prayers, but praying. A kind of praying that comes from that part of you that’s saying, “Can we please get to work?”

2 Crappy pages. 2 crappy pages per day. It’s a little trick I learned from Annie Lamott. In her book, “Bird by Bird,” she said you have to write crappy first drafts or you won’t write anything at all. There’s too much fear of failure to start if you think what you’re writing has to be good. You’ll never write anything good with the crushing pressures of needing to write good things. Your goal has to be doable. Realistic. And I can’t guarantee that if I make myself sit down to write every day that it will be good. But I can set a realistic goal. Two crappy pages. And you already know what happens then, don’t you? If you said, “It’s crappy.” You’re right! I succeeded at my goal!

Gimme your bad ideas. Sometimes nobody speaks because they are afraid others will scoff at their views and shoot down their suggestions…so we say — I hope we say — “Give me ideas, any ideas, bad ideas, I want your worst ideas!” Why do I say “I want your worst ideas?” Because I want to take the pressure off and break us out of the stuckness of perfectionism and fear and get our minds moving and imagining and working. I want to get us playing in the sandbox as a kid, not performing before judges who will grade us. I know the only way to do “great” is to do terrible and until we hit on “maybe good” and then sweat and labor over it until it’s “great.”

“Get the rust out.” Ed Sheeran said he writes songs every day. Every day. He writes like two songs per day. Can you imagine how many songs that must be by now? No wonder he has so many good songs. He’s written so many crappy ones. He said you have to get the duds out. You have to get them out because they’re in your soul, and they have to be excreted to get out of the way for the good stuff. He said it’s like the rusty water in the pipes. It must come out so the clean water can flow. The failures in the path of your calling are successes, because they are what must come first so that the successes can come. They matter as part of the process of your calling. You hear me. Failure in the path of your calling is success. Falling down by walking toward faithfulness is faithful. Everybody falls down who walks. Not everybody walks, and that’s a greater tragedy.

Discipline = freedom. I read a beautiful book by Jocko Willink called, “Discipline Equals Freedom,” which I love. It’s about how his little victories over weakness and procrastination each day create the momentum for him to be a person who can be free. Start your day with little victories. He gets up early to workout with weights. I feel like that when I read my bible and run. Little victories where I act against my resistance, my weight, my excuses, my distractions. I act. And momentum comes. God comes. I love that book. Read it. He’s hardcore.

One of the Beastie Boys’ dad was a playwright. His example of discipline greatly impacted his son, who said that dad would get up, shower, have breakfast, put on his suit as though he were going to work at a law firm or an office full of professionals, and then go into his study at home, shut the door, sit down at his desk, and write for 8 hours a day. No one was to disturb him during work hours. His work was creative and his craft artistic, but he approached it with utter discipline. He could have easily stayed in socks and a t-shirt or pajamas, unshowered, all day. Would it have hurt the writing? If it hurt his mental approach, yes. His approach reveals gives us clues to what separates the person fully engaged in their vocation from a hobbyist. He’s all in. His routine reveals that.

The clay bowl experiment. Rob Bell wrote a little book called “drops like stars” about the creative process. He mentioned a study where people were assigned to work with clay. One group was assigned to make a perfect bowl. Another group was assigned to make as many bowls as you could make in the same amount of time. The group assigned to make a perfect bowl made one. The other group made as many as ten bowls. And here’s the interesting thing. Many of the bowls the second group made were much higher quality than the “be perfect” group. Because they had the benefit of hundreds of tiny adjustments they didn’t even know they were making as they churched out bowl after bowl. Show up. Work. Repeat. Don’t hang your hat on today’s performance. It’s a day. Tomorrow is another. Did you show up? That’s success, my friend.

10 to 1. So how many songs do you have to write to get 10 or 12 good enough to make it on the album. Some people say the ratio is 10 to 1. So get on with it. Nowadays people post everything they think on the socials…which means 90% of it should probably be in the trash can. Just saying.

Victor P. My Old Testament professor from College, Victor P. Hamilton told us that when he researches and writes his biblical commentaries, 80% of what he learned in his research doesn’t make it into his books. But, he said, the 80 percent that doesn’t make it in greatly enriches the twenty percent that does. The waste of the creative process isn’t wasteful.

10,000 hour rule. Malcolm Gladwell made the 10,000 hour rule famous. That states that the determining factor in terms of excellence in a given field or skill is not as simple as aptitude, though that’s a very important factor. The determining factor that separates good from great is how much time someone has put in. The magic number of hours to become very proficient was identified at ten thousand hours.

Kobe Bryant is called the Black Mamba. People talk about the Mamba Mentality. His coaches said he was there before practice, practicing. He was there after workout, working out. One day, I think it was Tracy Mcgrady’s team came to play the Lakers and he thought he’d get in an early workout. Kobe was there alone, shooting. Not just shooting. Moving real moves. Breaking a sweat. No one was there. Tracy worked out. When he left, Kobe was still there. They played a game that night and Kobe put up huge numbers. He admitted later he noticed his opponent come in and he was going to win the mental battle by showing him, “I’m outworking you. No matter what. I’ll do more.” https://www.nba.com/news/kobe-bryant-quotes-oral-history-kobe-bryants-work-ethic-unmatched/

Judah Smith’s dad was always on his knees beside the bed, praying. They went around preaching, and he brought little boy, Judah along to share testimony. He’d make him kneel next to him, and his dad would kneel and pray for soooooo long! Judah was restless and bored but dad was pressed in. His dad would ask him before he let him testify, “Did you have your time with God today son?” He’d say, “yeah dad, but why is that important, I always just share the same testimony everywhere we go and I have it down pat?” “Did you or didn’t you?” “Yeah dad.” That IMPRINTED Judah with so much more than I know how to explain.

Conclusion: This week I was busy, as usual. I had made pages of handwritten notes on unlined paper with my fountain pen and inkwell. I had also read an excellent book by Steven Pressfield, called The War of Art, about the resistance to us starting. That was incredible, I highly recommend it. But when it came to sitting down to put my rough ideas together, it seemed so heavy. But I made myself start, and very quickly I found myself sitting and feeling totally engaged with my work, in that state of flow we’ve been talking about in this series, focused, everything else decreases its volume and time fades away and my typing struggles to keep up with this thought as the thoughts almost graciously slow down for me to keep up. “Hey can I talk to you about,” from my wife gets a hand up, my face doesn’t even turn away from the page, “Not now.” It isn’t rude. It’s about preserving the sacredness of this state.

And then this other thing begins to happen as I type. I know what all people of all kinds talk about with flow. This is different. This thing that happens to me while I’m writing is different. The presence of God manifests, and I feel his pleasure in what I’m saying. He hovers over me and seems to increase when I say something he and I both love. I took a break to run, and while I was running I realized that this thing that happens to me when I write is all I need out of life. If I can pay the bills and get there, I have what I mainly need out of my daily schedule. Because that is the fulfillment of my calling. That thrills my soul. Co-laboring with God, and putting in sweat and challenge at my highest level, and feeling his pleasure in it. And the cool thing? When I sat down to do it I did not feel like doing it at all. AND I knew I am internally prepared enough through the meditation I probably don’t need notes that badly. BUT, I also know I’ve committed that this sermon series serve as the chapters for a book. So I forced myself to start, and just like I’ve been saying, heaven was drawn to the effort born of faith in the divine call.

I don’t know what you are called to. I really don’t. I do know that is a matter between you and God. Maybe you’re called to prioritize being a mom to your kids, or start a new business, or prioritize working in that part of your business that you are passionate about and your success has actually pulled you away from the thing you shine in the most. Maybe you’re called to serve the homeless or you’re called to work in counselling others to emotional health, or maybe you’re called to teach, or maybe you’re called to paint, or web design. Maybe you’re called to farm. I don’t know what you’re called to do. You might be a champion for a particular mission field or justice issue, the kingdom is broad and deep and diverse and has never seen whatever kind of creature you are before, so what you’re called to do is a deeply personal thing between you and God. But whatever you’re called to, you must begin.

I feel like some of you are like Abram, before he was Abraham. And you’re hearing the call to leave your land, and community, and father’s house, and go to a land he will show you. You’re beginning to hear that call, but you’ve not yet made up your mind to follow it.

Others of you are crystal clear on whether you’re living out what God has for you. You aren’t. And you’re miserable. And in your misery you’ve turned to destructive coping behaviors.

Others of you are on the path, and this sermon is just cheering you on. But I’m pleading with every one of you to not ignore your calling, to not live under the resistance, and to show up. We need you. The kingdom longs for you. And heaven is yearning to come to your aid and put wind in your sails. Please. Please. Show up. Please don’t waste your one life living someone else’s dreams. Please, I’m begging you to show up.

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I have a friend who gets up every morning at 4:30am and writes. He’s a hip hop artist and he did it originally as an experiment to see what would happen if he wrote one song per day for a year. I asked him what he’s learned, and he said, “I’ve learned that writer’s block is a lie.” What a beautiful expression of discipline! His year and his thoughts contain many things that I’d like to revisit at a later time and corroborate a lot of what I call, “Showing Up,” which will be a separate message in this series. “Showing up,” is about working in a routine instead of waiting for inspiration to strike. Showing up believes that lightning strikes those who are best positioned most often and most reliably. Inspiration rewards the disciplined. Again, that’s a talk for a different day.

So he said, “Writer’s block is a lie.” I love that. Of course, for the first 8 years of my preaching, I would have agreed with that. I never once experienced a blank soul. For the first several years of preaching, I was getting out a full decades worth of pent up messages. Then after that, it was more like a travelogue of whatever the Lord was teaching me then or he and I were exploring together. But then one day…8 years into the work, right at the beginning of the year, something new happened. It wasn’t that I didn’t have thoughts. It wasn’t that I wasn’t learning. It wasn’t that I wasn’t in love. It wasn’t that I couldn’t preach. It was the absence of something I just sense as normal and for me essential for preaching, an eagerness to preach leading up to it and a pleasure and drive in the preaching. As more of a prophetic teacher, I experience a “burden” of the Lord for a topic and the goal of a message is to transfer “the burden” from me to the people…Perhaps another way to put it is, I’m moved by the Lord, and if it works, they’re moved by what moves me.

Not even deadline panic? In terms of preparation, the Lord communicates objective information for my task in subjective aspects of my awareness. Over the years the Lord has taught me that the place he speaks to me for what to say to others is in “my heart.” But two years ago, for about a month, when I put my heart in that place of asking, “What do I want to say to the church this weekend?” The answer was a calm, peaceful silence. Nothing. Not anger. Not depression. Not hopelessness. Just nothing. Perfectly calm pond. No need to say a thing. Nothing to prove. Nothing to earn. Not enough deadline panic to get me going. Wow!

That has happened before, that when I prayed I got nothing, but every other time that happened sharing went long or worship went long or we got snowed out or I forgot that someone else was scheduled to preach or share. And all of those times my first thought was, “Oh no! What’s wrong with me?” And then Sunday would happen and I’d realize, “Oh! Nothing’s wrong! The Lord didn’t put a sermon in my heart this week because he knew what the agenda for the service was. Nothing’s wrong with you.” And through that process happening enough times, I’ve grown to trust what my heart is telling me to talk about, even though I don’t understand why it’s right.

Illegal. So, two years ago in January when my soul was wordless, I wrote down the thoughts I was having about the silence. I wrote a sermon called it, “Learning to play the rests.” And, not catching on to what was happening until afterward, I preached it. The congregational response was warm and positive. “Great sermon, pastor. One of your best!” Uh huh. No. “No it wasn’t. It was illegal,” I said. I felt like I stole cookies from the jar. I knew, but not fully until I preached it and felt the total lack of burden from the Lord. Ew. Just human words. My intuition told me I was to take a month off immediately. So I lined up other people from the church to preach the remainder of that January. This is how we learn. We aren’t under law, so we have no need to experience condemnation. We’re just learning. We try. We fall down. We get up, circle back, clean up our mess, and try again. That’s all we ever do. And we enjoy the learning.  I learned that when my soul is silent, I need to be silent, because God is doing something I don’t know about under the surface.

“What’s wrong with me?” That’s what I often thought when I didn’t instantly burst with ideas and passion. I studied writers and writers block. I questioned if this might be the end of my pastoring…but oddly, I had plenty of prayers for people. Plenty of sincerity on my praises. It was just my voice that was dormant. So I studied writers and writing. It was a deep season of reflection and meditation on the creative process for me. This whole series resulted. It was very important for me. I’m so grateful that I read secular writers who said, “This happens to everyone. Don’t freak out. You’re okay. You’re normal.” I’m so glad I didn’t get stupid charismatic advice about demons or sin or workaholic secular advice about muscle through or just take a vacation. Both of those camps would be right about some things. But neither of those camps would have been the truth for me in my situation.

I once took a Japanese maple sapling from the backyard and put it in a pot because otherwise it would have gotten mowed down. I kept in on the porch and watered it. Then during fall I thought, “You know, I ought to bring it in and protect it from the harshness of the winter. Plus, it would simply grow all year round then and it would be bigger faster!” But then I had a better idea. I should probably research that. I did. What I found was so good. I found that you can do it! You can bring a tree inside and it will skip going dormant. And it will grow year round. But after three years of doing that it will die. It will exhaust itself, because it depends on the seasons changing to set growth and rest rhythms for it that are sustainable. “Holy God, Almighty. You know what you’re doing far better than I.”

I thought something was wrong with my soul. But it’s not dead. It’s dormant. It’s not a sign something’s wrong. I’ve been doing it wrong and my soul knew something I didn’t. I need sabbath. I need work, but I also need rest, and I need the right rhythm of them in order to thrive. And so do you.

Whatever your work, the creative muscles that do it were designed to rest at regular intervals. Rest is tied to recovery so that we can work sustainably. The Lord created us and he knows how we’re designed to flow in the rhythms of life. Breathing in and out is a rhythm. Night and day are rhythms. Seasons changing annually are rhythms. The tides. You get it. And work and rest are meant to be in a rhythm. Adam and Eve worked in the day and walked with God in the evening. That’s fascinating.

Vegetable Police (Kasey Stern) talked about his exercise routine and how initially he just did pushups and situps every day and for the first while he saw really fast gains, but then he plateaued. He had been using a book called “Convict Conditioning,” which is a callisthenics method for use without weights in prison. What that book told Kasey was that he should only work one muscle group once per week, and then move on to another, and work out only about three times per week. That sounds backwards. He thought if he worked out every day, more often, he’d gain more muscle more quickly. But you workout people already know what I’m going to say. He didn’t give his body time to repair and recover and rebuild. All the energy was going to work instead of building muscle. So he pulled back, worked out only three times per week for fifteen minutes, and only each muscle group once per week, and instantly he started beating his personal bests and seeing his body change. That sounds backwards. But it isn’t. Fresh legs get more done. So do fresh minds.

Abraham Heschel said:

“If a man works with his mind, he’ll sabbath with his hands, and if a man works with his hands, he’ll sabbath with his mind.”

Notice several things about Sabbath from this quote:

  1. It isn’t passive. Rest is not the same as passivity. Engagement of a different sort is often more restorative than inactivity.
  2. It isn’t legalism. Sabbath isn’t lauded as a means of avoiding God’s displeasure (legalism) but because it is beneficial
  3. It’s personalized. Heschel’s advice customizes what constitutes “sabbath” to your situation
  4. It’s pragmatic. Thus it implies some experimentation to see what “works”

Henry Miller was a writer. I haven’t read anything he wrote so I have no idea if he’s worth recommending, but I came across him in my reflections on writer’s block. He took up painting, even though he said he has zero natural gifting at it and at school the art teacher told him to not pursue it because it would be a kindness for other people to not have his paintings inflicted on them. But he paints anyway! He does it because he loves doing it, and it brings him joy. When it comes to his writing, he has these seemingly ironclad rules for himself that I’ll probably mention later in my “Showing Up” talk. But even after all the discipline of showing up every day there are times he is blank and it isn’t working.

What more could be expected of me? Like trying to run on broken legs, the instrument of the writer is the mind, and the preacher is the heart. Imagine being a violinist and trying to play beautiful music on a broken instrument. The best plan would be to repair the instrument and then proceed. Sometimes people are giving us the best they’re currently capable of, because their playing on a broken instrument. Sometimes, they don’t even know. They’ve been pushing so hard for so many years that they have become in some sense tone deaf to their own brokenness. And if it’s true of them, then it could be true of you and me too. We might not be fully aware of our condition and we might think, “I showed up, and I tried. What more could be expected of me?” What could be expected is that we arrange our life so that we can thrive, and not just survive.

So back to Henry Miller, he said that when he can’t write, he paints. Writing is wisdom and insight, but painting is joy. They access totally different parts of his personhood. So when the reservoir is empty, he paints while the reservoir is refilling. It occupies the mind. It gives the hands something to do. You can’t make the reservoir refill. You aren’t the source. You aren’t the spring. But you get to steward the reservoir, for you ARE that reservoir. You can’t make it happen, but you CAN arrange your life to let it happen.

“As long as it takes.” Jason Upton told a story when some of us were up at a worship conference a while back, about attending a retreat where an elderly saint who was blind was the key leader of the weekend. He came in, stumbled around for five slow minutes finding his chair, finding his microphone, struggling with each little thing in such a way that they all felt like they should help, but were too shy to say anything, and what if somehow it’s insulting for me to offer, and in the end, that five minutes seemed like twenty. One odd thing was that he didn’t seem to get overly upset though it was nearly comedic, and nearly sad. Finally, the gentleman sat there, disheveled in front of his microphone, and he said one line that I’ll never forget. A line that clearly struck Jason as profound in it’s spiritual applications: “Sometimes, it takes as long as it takes.”

You can’t make the reservoir refill. But you can empty it by not listening to the feedback that is telling you that you’re out of rhythm.

What is the reservoir? Think of it as an inner tank or underground aqueduct of fresh water. Under the surface there’s a supply that replenishes our life. We each have reserves, creative reserves, emotional reserves, physical reserves, setback reserves, willpower reserves. Humans are capable of doing more than we think…for a while. But at some point, the reserves deplete, and then we crash hard and fast. Some of us aren’t living sustainably, but we haven’t figured it out yet because we’ve learned how to operate below optimum capacity and we haven’t learned that hope, joy, and peace are meant to be normal.

St. Francis said:

“Don’t change the world. Change worlds.”

One of the functions of sabbath is for us to swap worlds, stopping the lying narrative that everything depends on us, and receiving the truth that God is our faithful source and supply and all-sufficient provider who will do the heavy lifting as we learn to abide, work from rest, live from belonging, strive from approval, serve from security, and manifest a kingdom that’s already won, rather than imagine that victory depends on how perfectly we perform today. Faith sees things as already eternally done that haven’t transpired in time as of yet. During Sabbath rest we enter into the world of Jesus. When sabbath is over we’re meant to carry that perspective with us back into the work so that we work from rest, not from lack, not from anxiety, not from fear that if we don’t achieve our lives have no value.

Rest in the run. Bryan Hibbs sat down next to me and prayed for a long time with his eyes closed. Finally he said, “I just hear the Lord saying, over and over, ‘There’s rest in the run. There’s rest in the run. There’s rest in the run.’” He was pretty sure it was a metaphor, and it likely is, but what he didn’t know, is that my wife had recently said to me, “You’re not okay. And I need a better version of you, upgrade yourself. You CAN do better, and you WILL do better.” I was in deep grief and lament and depression. I thought, “I’m not blowing up with anger. I’m not acting out. I’m available. I’m expressing emotion. I’m doing the best I can? What does she expect from me?” She said, “No. Are you REALLY doing the best you can? Honestly?” I searched my heart before God and realized. “No. There’s a few more things I know I could be doing.” I started running the next day. 2 miles. No excuses. No walking. Go as slow as you want. But mind over matter, spirit over body. Let’s go. I’m still going. I’ve been going ever since. I started jogging as a way to offload stress to combat my depression and create margin for whatever circumstantial negatives come up in a given day. Running produces an endorphin release that causes me to feel more creative, more hopeful, less negative, and more constructive. Obviously, it also long term stabilizes my glucose and is overall just a healthy move from a cardiovascular perspective. But the primary reason I do it is mental and emotional health. Many times, if I have the option for a nap or a run, I’ll take the run, because I’ve found that what Jesus said to me through Bryan is true, there’s rest in the run.

Alone with God. One strange thing is that on the Myers Briggs personality profile I’m an ENFP, but I value solitude so much that I’ve often identified more with the introvert than the extrovert. Part of that is from this deep lived experience that teaches me that the place where “the work” gets done is alone with God. Obviously, I’m drawn to connect to people and I probably have some form of communication with 10-20 people per day, which isn’t that rare, I would assume, but it seems to me that the socializing is pouring out and emptying the reservoir, and the solitude is refilling it. I could be wrong. I’m energized by people as well, but going to a party is definitely something I would pay money to avoid. Small talk? I’m not great at that. Can we just skip that and get right to being real friends?

What’s my point: Jesus often got alone to be with the Father. Throughout the gospels we see that getting away from people to pray was his pattern. Some of us think of prayer as us laboring and giving birth. There’s a place for that. Some of us pray through a list. I’m sure that’s fine if that works for you. Others of us are very mystical and our goal in prayer is to experience God’s presence and hear his voice. That’s fine too.

Experimenting with sabbath…ineffectively. Years ago I used to take every Monday as a hard day off because Sunday wasn’t my sabbath, how could it be? So I tried to take Monday and use that as my sabbath. But all that happened was I would crash hard, and then anything that disturbed my crash was NOT something I had contracted for. I replaced furious adrenaline fueled activity with total passivity. What I saw when we had a young man visit us years ago was that Jesus’ “time away” wasn’t spend doing nothing, or being passive. It was spent actively going after the Lord. His solitude was active, not passive. He was talking to God, asking God questions, taking a walk with the Father, asking which disciples should he pick to be the 12, asking if his work in the hometown region was coming to a close and if it’s time to move on, hearing the affection of the Father spoken over him. “No one knows the Son but the Father.” Everything Jesus did in public was overflow of what he had talked about in secret with the Father.

  • Solitude, in itself, is not enough. Solitude has a purpose. Fellowship with the Father.
  • Fasting, in itself, is not enough. Fasting from food has a purpose, to feast on what God has said and is saying.
  • Rest, in itself, is not enough. Rest is about finding the right activity that is the restorative counterbalance for your soul.

Sabbath is for us. As Jesus said when his disciples picked grain and ate it on a Saturday, “The Sabbath was made for people, not the other way around.” God commanded us to rest and recover, not because he likes rules. He modelled and gave it to us as a gift, because he understands how we’re formed. Jesus didn’t get alone to be with the Father out of duty because he read Richard Foster’s wonderful book, “Celebration of Discipline,” and said, “Oh I guess to be right I gotta do that too.” No. He got with the Father for the same reason you eat food. You hunger for it, and are satisfied by it! Jesus said that he’s the vine, and we’re the branches. But you know what? The father is the sap. And that’s why Jesus lived the exact way he’s inviting us to live. Sap. Vine. Branches. Then let the fruit happen.

Recreation. What an interesting word. To create over again. Play and rest are essential for recovery so that we can work well. Focusing on recovery is as important as focusing on work. It’s interesting to think about the ways God built this natural rhythm into so many things.

The Day: work in the day, rest at night, mercies new every morning, each morning a resurrection

The Week: work all week, rest on sabbath, Each Sunday a mini Easter

The Year: seasons of the year: planting, growth, harvest, dormancy

7 Years: Let the land lie fallow so the soil can recover etc.

50 Years: Once a generation: the Jubilee year where everything goes back to the covenantal inheritance (grace!) no matter how badly you’ve messed it up in the interim

Dealing with what comes up in the wilderness. Sometimes we don’t realize that we’re accumulating stress and pain and “stuff.” And sometimes the scariest thing is to stop producing and performing and proving. We aren’t totally aware of the extent to which we’re outrunning things we’re trying to live down. It’s like outrunning a slow wave. “Everything’s okay, as long as I can still keep producing.”

Outrunning the wave. The only sabbatical I ever had was incredibly turbulent even as it was restorative and enjoyable. It was turbulent because I stopped outrunning the wave. I sat at home after five tours of duty. And stuff came up and came out. It wasn’t all good, and it wasn’t all bad, but sooner or later if you don’t deal with what you’re carrying, it will deal with you. You’ll either own it and work through it, or it will start to own you and work through you. You’ll be mastered by what you choose not to master. Like Luke Skywalker on Dagobah, what’s out there is what you take with you, and you may end up your own worst enemy if you take the wrong things.

Work ON your life, not just IN your life. Stepping outside the work gives us perspective on both the why and the larger what of our lives. All of us spend so much time working IN our lives, but when we pull back and take time apart, we end up being able to begin processing bigger picture perspectives, we can begin to work ON our lives.

“This will be fun!” Not. I have a pastor friend who asked me where to go on Sabbatical was expecting that I would give him lots of fun vacation spots and ideas for fun times with the family. Instead I told him to prepare himself for repressed pain, anger, sadness, grief, and other unsavory feelings and beliefs to emerge. Later Carrie said, “Hey they don’t live in that state, why are they there on fb?” Hmmm. So I called him. He said, “Well, on Sabbatical my wife told me I was either stepping out of pastoring or she was leaving me.” Well, I was right, but not quite.

We each have limits, and if we’re not aware of our limits, we could be accumulating a wave that eventually catches us, destructively.

Don’t feel unspiritual because you have limits. You were created with limits. The Holy Spirit’s power isn’t meant to bring you to the place where you don’t need people and don’t need sleep and don’t need boundaries. This is actually one of the things the Holy Spirit wants to teach each of us. How to live in the rhythms God designed for us to thrive. So if you’re experiencing your limits, you’re normal. If you’ve ever felt burnt out or blank, you’re normal. If you’ve ever let stress build until it broke you, you’re normal. And if you’ve tried to follow these patterns and still experienced seasons of dormancy, you’re normal. And for every one of us, there’s something here to learn.

So what are some signs that we’re accumulating too much stress and not living in the rhythms of rest and recovery? Doctor Sherrie Bourg Carter says we show the stress buildup, the accumulating wave, in three areas:

I.) Physical and Emotional Exhaustion

II.) Cynicism

III.) Feelings of Ineffectiveness

I. ) Signs of Physical/Emotional Exhaustion…

  1. Chronic fatigue
  2. Insomnia
  3. Forgetfulness/Impaired Concentration
  4. Physical symptoms like chest pain, palpitations, headaches, achy and sore muscles all the time
  5. Increased Illnesses
  6. Loss of appetite
  7. Anxiety
  8. Depression
  9. Anger

II.) Signs of Cynicism

  1. Loss of enjoyment
  2. Pessimism
  3. Isolation
  4. Detachment

III.) Signs of Feelings of Ineffectiveness

  1. Apathy and Hopelessness
  2. Irritability
  3. Unproductive and Poor Performance

Dr Bourg Carter says “Burnout isn’t like the flu. It doesn’t go away unless you make some changes in your life.”

Years ago I had taken on WAY too much stuff. I was trying to do all the stuff my predecessor did, some of the things my heroes did, plus all the stuff I wanted to do. One of the elders came to me and told me to make a list of everything I was doing. Then he told me to put a plus by the ones that energize me and a minus by the ones that stress me out. Then he said, delegate all the minuses that you can while still being faithful in your role. That advice proved to be one of the most strategic nuggets of wisdom I ever received, which has born so much fruit for years to come.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Find the stress — and cut it out with vigilance
  2. Find what fills your tank — and do it in a disciplined routine
  3. Learn to say no – create healthy boundaries
  4. Exercise
  5. Be with positive people
  6. Closeness to God is connected to wholeness – sozo, centering prayer, experiential worship, writing, spiritual pathways
  7. Play – everything is spiritual, don’t listen to religious people or you’ll become like them.
  8. Get back to your biggest WHY and your clearest WHAT, and cut the other stuff out
  9. Don’t compare how much you can handle with anyone else. You aren’t them.

Play the rests. In music, the notes you don’t play are just as important and carefully chosen as the notes you do play. When I write without singing, I forget to leave space to breathe. It sounded great in my head, but in practice, it’s doesn’t work. Great guitar players often copy horn players, who have to stop to breathe. The horn players in turn are often copying female vocalists, who also have to use what’s called “phrasing.” Again, the notes you don’t play are as important as the ones you do.

When the conductor tells you to sit out a section in the musical piece, it is because your strategic silence serves the overall music better. Novice musicians in a band simply play at full volume the entire time. Master musicians know that listening is what makes a great musician so great. If you listen, you find a way to serve the music, instead of show off what you are capable of playing. Nobody cares what you are capable of playing. We care about the FEELING of the song. When a great band plays, they have dynamics. The volume and the parts are carefully selected to intermarry feeling and complement each other. Again, what you don’t play is as important as what you do play in creating music. Rest is as important as work in creating a life that is in sync with the music of the master conductor. Learning to listen and play the rests is critical to letting the feeling of the song God is singing come through you.

People can sometimes tell. We often think that we’re letting people down if we slow down or back out of things we had previously been involved with. But we’re often not entirely aware of how we’re actually doing as we go about the things we’re involved with. We can think we’re not blowing up and yelling at people so we must be alright. They can be thinking, “Man. They’re under so much stress and not at peace or happy at all.” But others may be able to recognize your signs of carrying too much stress more quickly than you think. This isn’t an off and on thing, this is a thing with gradations, shades. We can run, like a car in the red zone, in short bursts, but if pushing too high rpm’s becomes a pattern, we can do serious damage.

Margin for setbacks. Every job has the “sweat of the brow” that the Lord told Adam and Even would be the case. If your work is physical, the sweat may be more literal. But no job is without sweat and setbacks. The goal of living with the rhythms of work and rest is that we have margin to handle the setbacks so we work well, so we work effectively and productively, even happily, long term.

Questions

  1. Do you sabbath with your hands or your mind?
  2. Did you relate to the list of burnout symptoms? Which ones? Why? When?
  3. What have you learned about rearranging your life around healthy rhythms of work and rest?
  4. Do you know of some things you should probably offload for this season? What are they? Who are you going to tell so you don’t just keep going?
  5. Do you feel like you can’t offload the activities that are burning you out? If so, please talk to somebody like an spiritual friend, or a counsellor.
  6. Does your work have any version of “writer’s block?” or not? Some don’t! Praise God for that…If so, what has helped you keep creating? What has refilled your reservoir? (help me)
  7. Who do you trust to give you reliable feedback about your stress levels or burnout quotient?

Ask the Lord

  • Have I learned what it means to live and work from a place of rest?
  • What do you want to say to me about rest?
  • What empties my reservoir?
  • What refills my reservoir?
  • Am I able to admit when I’m empty or does it hurt my pride to admit that I’m weak?
  • Are proving, performing, pleasing and producing driving me or am I able to rest in the Gospel and work from that rest?

Selected Scriptures

    • Genesis 2:2-3 On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested[a] from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.
    • Exodus 20:8-11 Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work… 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.
    • Mark 2:23-28 23 One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. 24 But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?” 25 Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 26 He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.” 27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”
    • Luke 5:16 Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
    • Romans 14:5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable.

 

 

 

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The reason I’m talking about this, the reason I care about this topic, is because I see people go into hiding, taking their God-given contribution, and covering it up because it isn’t good enough. Like Gideon hiding in a winepress, or Gideon making a statue to himself, both are from insecurity…When you know whose you are and who you are, you don’t need to make you the topic anymore, because you’re free.

The Preacher Voice. I remember seasons of life when my preaching voice didn’t sound like me. That was more true when I was 19 than now. A preacher voice is now something I don’t want to do. But back then it was what my favorite preachers were doing, a-heh. Yasss! Somebody say amen-a heh because it’s friday, but Sunday’s coming! I didn’t realize I was putting on a persona. You know. Lot’s of enthusiastic and authoritative martyrs declaration passion and the energy of a man about to pop. Nothing wrong with energy if it’s who you actually are! My point is finding your voice is a process. Jesus said that our words come from the overflow of the heart, so what we’re really talking about is the process of walking with God and learning how to become who God created us to be and do what God created us to do with a sense of gratitude for his love and design.

Fly your own flag. For years people say to me, “Hey Tim, can you tell the congregation this or that?” I say, “This is your flag. Do you mind telling them?” “Oh, Tim, nobody cares about what I say. But if YOU say it, they’ll listen.” WOW. So. Who told you your voice carries no weight? Who taught you that nobody will listen to you? That your voice doesn’t matter? Somewhere along the way you’ve been lied to.

First we copy, then we personalize. We find our voice in a similar way to how we learn to speak. First we copy others. We make the sounds they make. We learn by rote.

Rudiments. That’s how a musician learns at first. A drummer will play what’s called, “rudiments,” over and over. Rudiments are specific exercises designed to  teach a whole host of skills that are not readily apparent at the time. Skills like foot-hand independence or right-left hand alternating. This helps the mind detach from the predictable hiccups that will happen if you drum efficiently in alternating patterns. The rudiments free up the drummer to focus on expressiveness, because the underlying skill and control are already established.

Pianists learn scales which in themselves are boring to practice, but later are the building blocks or syntax and grammar used to build sentences and phrases.

What I’m saying is that part of learning the rudiments of life is to copy those who do it well…and then once we can copy their thing well, we can modify. I heard that Picasso said,

“Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.”

Realism and surrealism. First Picasso learned how to draw and paint in the school of realism. Then he used that ability to express his own inner vision. He didn’t paint like that because he wasn’t “good enough to do it the right way.” It actually looks how he wants it to look. His skills aren’t hindering his vision. That’s the meaning of learning the rules like a pro. If you don’t have the tools and skills established, you can’t be expressive. Copying others or learning to work within established convention is a part of developing the rudiments that can then be used for expressiveness. We copy our heroes. But then we also make changes. We adapt. And we combine. Here’s another Picasso quote:

Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”

Plagiarism vs Innovation. If you claim another person’s work is yours and pass it off as such, that’s plagiarism. But if you copy from 10 different people’s work and combine it in a new way, that’s innovation. And that work of combining the things you have collected and bringing them forth to offer the world is going to be as unique to you as your fingerprint or your face. Others would have combined those exact same influences differently.

Comparison is fun and helpful if you compare in order to appreciate differences in how God designed us. But comparison can kill if we use it as a weapon for demolition.

I’ve heard people who simultaneously defend their right to be themselves, and at the same time rail against those who aren’t like them because they’re stuck in an unhealthy insecurity using comparison to invalidate. Insecurity is often loud and defensive. And strict.

“There is a right way to do things.” I worked for a man who used to say that. “There IS a right way to do things.” Guess whose way he believed was right? Truth is there are many ways to do most things, and some of them are more effective than others. Some things are facts, some things are opinions, and some things are simply cultural norms masquerading as right and wrong without divine backing. When we start to pull the thread, it comes undone in the light of God.

Diversity and Unity. It’s hard to live with a “there is a right way to do things” person in community. Because the hallmark of community is to value diversity and to include and appreciate those who aren’t like us. Paul used the metaphor of the human physical body to express the church being comprised of people who aren’t at all alike. We have different strengths, aptitudes, skills, spiritual gifts, personalities, hangups, even convictions and cultures, and yet, yet! Jesus fills each one of us and connects us not only to himself, but to each other.

You are a part of me, and I need you, and you need me, even though we are totally different.

Conformity and Belonging. Often the desire for acceptance and belonging and community is so strong that conformity becomes alluring in order to gain it. Uniformity is counterfeit unity. Conformity squishes conscience. And passive aggressive stuffing or constant relational divorces take the place of connection and covenant strong enough to engage with healthy conflict. What I’m saying is that oftentimes to fit in and find acceptance we knowingly or unknowingly learn to silence our voice.

Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 12 is don’t disqualify others, don’t disqualify yourself, don’t try to be somebody else, don’t view your uniqueness as a curse. Do honor others, do bring your best to the table for the sake of others, do be yourself, do view everybody’s uniqueness as a blessing, including your own uniqueness. Unity is not uniformity. A concert isn’t conformity but harmony. We’re different because we need many things. We’re different by design. Be yourself, everybody else is already taken.

Most of us are really good at recognizing voices. In fact, voices are so unique that people who are good at emulating tone and phrasing and cadence are viewed as having mastered a very difficult and rare skill.

Do I sound like that? Do you remember hearing your voice recorded and thinking, “Do I actually SOUND like that!? Oh no!!!! Some of us just wish we were less like us.

But Saul’s armor will not only wear us down, do I have to point out that it wasn’t even working for SAUL? That story of David and Goliath is filled with wonderful and deep truth. But to simplify a few lessons, love God, trust God, do what’s right even when it’s hard, and be yourself. You as a copy of someone else would not win that fight. You as you, who you are in Christ, has the backing of heaven. Ask yourself, what’s my lion and my bear? What are my private battles that I’m called to win out of intimacy with the Lord? If you win those battles, what you used becomes your sling and stones. And that sling and stones becomes what you have to bring to the public space.

We never really learn where we fit in until we learn how we’re called to stand out. And you can’t learn that until you go after integrity in the secret place.

Each bird has its voice. Can you identify these birds by their voices? And it has a range of songs it is meant to sing. Your voice paired with your song is something that will speak with the “anointing” or “aroma” of heaven.

People have life songs. People have certain truths that are their property in a way. They live them, and they understand them and they have authority to give them away to others. That doesn’t mean that you need to only talk about that one thing. Not at all.

When inner and outer voices match, we have a winner. Your voice is your authentic personality and beliefs shared in such a way that the inner voice and the outer voice sound the same. And your song is that lion and that bear you’ve mastered and now the Lord’s given you a song of praise. Again, your voice + your song = something special and powerful.

Sometimes we disqualify our voice because of what we don’t know and what we can’t do and what we haven’t experienced. That’s not helpful. What do you know? What can you do? What have you experienced? If you’ve walked with Jesus only one week, that’s one week of walking with Jesus that qualifies you to be a living witness to others of who he is. We’re called to be witnesses, not lawyers. And that’s saying that your voice doesn’t have to prove anything. It needs simply to be a reference point for other travelers on the journey.

We’re not talking about ego. We’re not talking about self in service of selfishness. We’re not trying to say that you’re the good news. But you alive in Christ, on your journey of love have goodness he put in you, and he intends it to make a mark on the world.

Dale on Identity Theft. When Dale Mast was with us he had Carl come up and asked for his wallet. He said that to really steal from carl he wouldn’t steal his credit cards and cash. If Carl can still prove he’s carl he can cancel the cards and withdraw money from his bank. But if Dale steals the keys and the license then Carl has to break into his car and jump it to drive home, and he has to break into his own house. He can’t even access what’s actually his without his identity. Dale told us that the devil is into identity theft because our authority in Christ is tied to our identity in Christ, and CHRIST IS POWERFUL, CHRIST IS LORD. Our power, our authority, even our sense of our value and worth, is intimately connected to Christ. So that’s where the enemy of souls shoots his arrows, his war of attrition, his strongholds of shame, comparison, woundedness, despair, resentments, and bitter victim thinking. Your real life is hid with Christ in God and you can’t find the real you without discovering Christ.

New Doing, New Thinking, New Being. Sometimes learning from Jesus how to do things the kingdom way is how the thinking and being in the world changes. In other words, being Jesus’ learner in training, is a process of doing what he says before it comes all the way from deep down. The way to move things from the head into the heart is usually through the hands. If trust is strong enough to move us to action, then action over time will usually rewire the synapses and the heart follows the treasure. What gets your time and attention gets your affection and connection. Yes, I rhyme sometime.

Heidi Baker is hilarious. She talked about showing up to talk at a conference and all these professional teacher types were there with well researched and rehearsed notes and quotes and she had nothing but her willingness to go up on stage and see what God might want to do moment to moment as she was totally vulnerable before the Lord and the people. But she was overwhelmed with shame and comparison and inadequacy. She thought, “I need notes and quotes too!!!” She never got them. That isn’t Heidi. And what we love about Heidi is her weirdness. And we’re all weird. People are only normal until you get to know them.

Originals are priceless. Heidi was praying over us in the crowd and kept saying over and over, “Originals are priceless, copies are worthless!” Wow! Think about that! Starry Night, by Van Gogh is worth 100 million dollars! I can buy a print of it online for about $50 bucks. And if you’re saying, “Yeah, but I’m no Van Gogh.” Then consider that the worth is estimated by the market value, and it’s clear that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have appraised your worth as the highest price.

If you abdicate your voice, you neglect your purpose, and you waste your life.

“The Accidental Creative” gives us 10 Questions to help us recognize our voice…

  1. What angers you?
  2. What makes you cry?
  3. What have you mastered?
  4. What gives you hope?
  5. What did you want to be when you were a kid?
  6. If you had all the money and time in the world, what would you do?
  7. What, if it happened, would blow your mind? Relationships, travel, business, ministry, etc?
  8. What platform do you already have?
  9. What change would you like to see in the world?
  10. If you had one day left, how would you spend it?

Finding your voice is a lifelong journey of learning, experimenting, and journeying. I’m still finding mine. Jeremy Miller and I often wish we had the other’s voice. But that’s silly. And in our better moments we just enjoy and admire each other without disqualifying ourselves.

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Who is the work for?

Of course the work is ultimately for others. But  it’s maker must first believe in it, and it must be an expression of the maker’s journey, the maker’s heart, the maker’s own best sense of what the work wants to be. In order for it to be worth giving away to others, it must first be for you. This isn’t selfishness, it is a deeply rooted and integrated self in the path of vocation.

The board of trustees was told by the sales dept that their advertising campaign was all wrong. “You guys made the advertisement the way you wanted it, and because of that you’re only going to reach people like you. If you want to reach the target audience you need to let us make the ad the customers want, not the ad you want.”

That is sound advice in that situation: work done in contract for others. But if we’re talking about someone’s life’s work? Such advice could be dangerous and destabilizing. There isn’t a one to one correlation between those two scenarios. An energy drink made by wealthy CEO’s in their 60’s for active male youths in their teens and 20’s should NOT have advertisements that appeal to wealthy businessmen. That much is clear. But the journey and process of the artist’s soul in pursuit of the highest good is a very different situation. In that case the question, “Who is the work for?” needs more precision.

Servants of the work. Ultimately the work is for others, but sometimes in the first stages of creation, the art is for the artist. And other times if you go even deeper, it’s more true to say that the artist is for the art. We become servants of the art and we do it’s bidding, allowing it to become what it wants to be, and listening to hear what it wants to say and watching to see how it wants to look and giving it time and space to grow and develop. Once that is done well, with integrity, then we will discover  who else it is for. How to know who it is for is not the artists concern though in the early stages. The work knows more than we do about many things, and “who the work is for” is one of those things it knows better than we do.

Work from the depth. One reason the work must first be for you is that work done from the surface, work that only engages the skills of the artist, not the soul of the artist, ends up not containing soul either. So the work suffers. And on a deeper level, such work is not readily sustainable or life-giving. We talked about the flow state that musicians, athletes, anyone really, can get into where the skills and challenges and enjoyment of the task are aligned in such a way that time fades away and there is optimal creativity. Such work is renewing and orders the soul. When the work isn’t meaningful to the artist, it becomes tedious busy work. It becomes a job, not a calling. Working that way can feel at odds with integrity; some folk would call it “selling out.” Others would just call it “a job.”

Erik’s Jazz Band. However, there are pitfalls to going to the deep end. My friend Erik Kerr is a fantastic drummer and played in a really hot jazz band back in the day. He told me that the deeper they got into the idiosyncrasies of polyrhythms and atonal scales and the details that kept them challenged and inspired, the more difficult it became for their fanbase to understand and appreciate what they were doing. It wasn’t that they were intentionally making “bad” music to eschew popularity, it was that they were pushing themselves forward, but they had outpaced their audience. To make the music the fans loved was to hold back and not explore and press forward toward excellence. But to bring the fans along for the ride would’ve meant making some adjustments to create onramps for them.

Charlie Puth, a really skilled pop songwriter and singer, recently returned to Berklee College of Music where he studied before his career met with popular success. One of the fascinating things he told the students there is that they need to make their music accessible to the masses, but to also find ways to embellish it with flourishes like interesting chord choices, melodic detail, and arrangement that pushes the pop genre. He told them the rest of the world isn’t like them, wanting to live their lives in a music conservatory, but that doesn’t mean the high level excellence and detail they labor to put into the music won’t be heard and appreciated. They will be heard and felt, and it may even pull them further along into the deeper end of the artistic pool.

The artist’s tension. The tension is between what’s authentic to you, and what’s accessible to your audience so that you can bring them along for the ride. If you only do what’s accessible and what “sells,” you won’t be learning, growing, challenged, and inspired. If you only do what’s meaningful to you, you will find that not as many will be able to “get it.” The issue is not to dumb it down, but to slow down, backtrack and help us catch up. The path you’ve chartered needs some signs to help point the way. The ability to build these on ramps for others is itself both a gift and a skill.

Canadian rock band Rush was criticized by their fans for their changing sound as they continued to put out albums. I take for granted that as people move through life they learn, grow, and change. Change is one of the few constants in life. As they were criticized there was a theme: “You’ve changed.” Fans felt in some sense betrayed. “We gave you are hearts and learned your songs and came to your concerts and belonged to the family! How dare you change!” The story I heard from my high school art teacher was that Geddy Lee responded,

“We didn’t change; you just stayed the same.”

I love that quote! It has helped me for several decades now as I’ve faced similar criticisms over the years.

I haven’t changed, and that’s why I have changed. I don’t preach the exact same message as I did when I started out, but I do preach the same God with the same passion, and I’m on the same journey. In fact, the reason my preaching has changed is because my journey has remained and I’ve gone forward and learned and unlearned along the way. I didn’t change. And that’s why I can’t stay the same. If faith is about a doctrinal statement, then any change is heretical. But if faith is trust in a person who is leading us on a journey, then change is required if faith is authentic. And if our work or art is an expression of and avenue of our own love of goodness, beauty, and truth, then for our work to be authentic, it will involve the journey of discovery and exploration.

Go on your journey. If your work or art doesn’t seek to be an expression of the questions your soul is asking, I don’t really know what you are doing.

The work is an expression of you.  You are in the work, and it must be that way! I don’t mean that all work should be autobiographical, about or referring to you, not at all! I just mean that if your process has integrity, you are fully involved and laid bare in the work. You can’t stay out of it, even if you try. Your voice gets in there whether you want it to or not. Your handwriting is, like your voice and your fingerprint, uniquely you. You can pretend to be another person, but until you learn how to be yourself, your work won’t really maximize its purpose in the world. And because human experiences are universal, and people are really really good at finding points of connection, I find that overexplaining is a waste of words and insulting to the audience. If enough of the artist makes it into the work, the audience will connect with it. If the spark of longing that called to the artist is allowed to have it’s way, that longing will find the audience as well, even if they lack the tools to grasp it all, they may at least say,

“I like it! What is it?”

Boring is a sin. If the artist is bored and disengaged, expect us to be bored and disengaged too. And if the artist hates doing the work, something has broken down in the integrity of the process. Boring preaching is as serious of a sin as heretical preaching, in fact, it is heretical because it communicates the lie that God is boring and life isn’t a beautiful, awe inspiring gift. If you are bored…

  1. step aside
  2. check your pulse
  3. find your soul
  4. get back to the authentic journey
  5. be silent until you do

Then say something once you have something to say that you actually mean. Until then, be silent. When your soul is silent it’s time for you to be silent. Something important happens in those silences. In music it’s called playing the rests. What you don’t play is as important as what you do.

The Soul’s Quest for Book Sales. I remember reading a book back in 1998 titled something really appealing: “The Soul’s Quest for God.” With a title like that I expected that the book would actually be about our human yearning for God, how to respond to that yearning, what that yearning entails, what the quest is, what it’s like, how to walk it, and who is this God we yearn for.  I expected and longed for something as sweeping and awe-inspiring as El Capitan or the Giant Redwood forest, and yet as calm as a pine needle covered path in a quiet wood. Something as peaceful as a sunny summer morning with the dew on the grass and the bugs flitting in the sun. You know. I expected something that spoke to that energy and life that animates every living cell in the universe. I wanted a treatise to both feed and deepen the hunger in my soul and I expected it to have a measure of poetic expressiveness to it. That’s a tall order, I know, but the title implied all of that!

But what did I get instead? I got a dusty and dry Bible teacher talking in the same old tired theological terms about John chapter four where Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. I LOVE that passage of Scripture and it is full of deep meaning. But it seemed like the title of the book was false advertising. I was promised existentialism and all I got was religion. How disappointing. Mainly because the author’s own quest for God didn’t seem to find its way into the pages. It stung because I hungered for God.

At that point I didn’t have words for what I wanted, but what I’ve learned along the way is that the insufficient words used to clumsily express longing are often more eloquent and clear than the well reasoned words we use to dissect and over-explain in order to remove the mystery. I don’t want to remove the mystery. I’m not looking for an answer or an explanation. I’m trying to find words to give expression to what is inside that wants out.

Is that even allowed in church? I’ve noticed that I feel the tension I’ve described between the artist and the audience’s desires. If I preach what I think people expect from me, I would actually just preach the standard “yet another explanation of a familiar Bible passage using the usual terms and concepts that our particular social group has deemed appropriate.” And sometimes I’ve been slow to preach the sermons I want to hear because they feel so intensely particular to my journey and interests and hobbies that I fear it will be in some way overly self-indulgent or myopic or even deemed too secular. Those who know me may be surprised to hear this since my messages over the years have included lots of unusual topics and came from observations on Movie Scripts, Video Games, Deep Sea Exploration, and a whole host of other seemingly non-churchy subject matter.

Macguffins and Zombies. The responses have not always been positive. Several years ago I spent forty five minutes talking about Zombies, narrative macguffins in Hitchcock films, and what constitutes a good story. It was very gospel-centered! I remember I also offered a few nuggets of political critique. As I listened back in my kitchen I and , “That was the most important sermon I’ve preached in five years. I need to re-listen to that until it seeps into my bones and becomes a part of who I am.”

Then I opened my email and received a note from friends who said that the very same sermon that challenged and inspired me was, for them, a bridge too far and they’re leaving the church because, among other things, that’s too many movie references. I’m just “too secular.” Their leaving grieved me deeply…But it was a great sermon. And if I can’t preach sermons like that in the church I lead, then I probably am at the wrong church, because sermons like that are not “a thing I did in my immaturity, but shouldn’t have.” They are an expression of who I am in Christ when I’m fully alive.

Make what you long for. It’s really important to preach the sermons you long to hear. That’s an assignment I would give any preacher or artist:

What work does your soul crave right now? Go make that. If you’re a musician, write the song you long to sing. Are you a builder? Build the home you want to live in. Are you searching for a quote that expresses a thought that’s been nourishing your soul lately? Write that quote.

Paul knew about this tension. Paul didn’t just go out and study culture and do focus groups and do market research to find out what people wanted to believe and tell them that. On the contrary. Paul’s process had integrity. It starts with the artist finding and following the truth. Paul encountered Jesus and found life in those encounters and through them he both unlearned and relearned everything he thought he knew. And those experiences created the content that brought him life. The truth Paul experienced that brought him life was the content of his preaching.

Galatians 1:12 “I did not receive it from any man; nor was I taught it. Rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

Paul didn’t preach what others wanted to hear. He preached what he was compelled to share. And because it brought him life, it came from him with the same Spirit that it came to him; the same creative forces which revealed it to him in secret were upon him as he shared it in public; the deep that once called to his deep now has opportunity to call to others of like yearnings.

In fact, Paul was so fully engaged in his work that he told his people…

2 Corinthians 10:11 “What we are in our letters when absent we will be in our actions when present.”

Living heart first. Talk about being invested in the process and fully engaged in your art/work! Imagine saying, “Don’t you realize that what I am in my music on the headphones when I’m absent I will be in my actions when I’m present in the room.” Or “What I am in the painting I will be in the flesh in the room.” This is living heart-first, with radical engagement and vulnerability. Living heart first is something I think artists struggle with because it’s the call, but it’s also terrifying. It’s terrifying because if your work is an expression of you, and then you put it out there…it can either be received or rejected. Paul would adamantly point out that Paul is NOT the message. Jesus is the message but Paul’s life (and work) is the medium. The art is an extension of the artist.

Onramps for others to see what you see. To bring people along we have to start where they are because the way to wherever we’re going ALWAYS starts where we are now. Paul learned that packaging his message in culturally sensitive methods was required. He used the Charlie Puth approach! Give em something they can sing, but throw those major 7’s, dominant 13’s, and minor 9’s in there!

1 Corinthians 9:22b “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible mean I might save some.”

So the message came from revelation but the shape it took was flexible because it needed to be understandable and accessible for others to get in on the life that Paul was in on. Paul wasn’t for sale, and truth is never for sale, but because we care about the audience, we try to find ways to communicate in language they can receive.

However, that’s not always possible. Not everyone is your audience.

1 Corinthians 1:18, 23 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

This brings up the same question I began with, “Who is the work for? Who is your audience?” For Paul, it was not everyone who was in the crowd listening, but only those who responded and gathered to hear more. This brings up a concept I want to explore a little bit more from a phrase Jesus used repeatedly…

Jesus, against the grain. Jesus was consistently out of rhythm with his contemporaries.

  • When they loved him, he frustrated their expectations
  • When they gathered in huge crowds, he drove them away with hard to understand sayings
  • When they tried to find him, he was alone praying and immediately announced he’s leaving
  • When they tried to make him king by force, he escaped incognito
  • When they asked a direct question, he evaded and reframed the guiding assumptions
  • He almost never spoke plainly, and almost never explained

Where the Rabbis of his time constantly footnoted their teachings by showing what human tradition of biblical interpretation they were leaning on for their assertions, Jesus simply started with his own affirmation of his teachings. “Amen, Amen,” he said at the outset, whereas custom was that phrase is only reserved for the end as a way of saying what has been said or prayed checks out. Jesus is the only historical figure we know of who did this, and it was totally surprising at the time. He wasn’t quoting scholars. He was declaring, as fact, what he learned in his mystical union with God. No one ever heard anyone speak with authority like that. He marched by the beat of his own drum and then he ended many of his little talks by saying, “Let those who have ears, hear.”

“Focus on those with ears to hear.” Years ago I was struggling with discouragement over people who were hostile to the direction of my life reflected in my preaching. The Lord spoke to me and said,

“You’re focused on 100% of the crowd and you’re setting yourself up for trouble. Instead you need to focus on the 15% who have ears to hear.

Parables, Hide and Seek. Jesus intentionally spoke in parables to hide the secrets of the kingdom FROM those who lacked the proper heart orientation, and to hide them FOR those whose hearts had the same hunger and thirst by which Jesus’ heart was led. To the Pharisees he said, “How CAN you believe when you accept glory from each other but not the glory that comes from God?” (Jn 5:44) His point?

“You get what they seek, and your decoder rings are all misaligned.”

Seven times we have record of Jesus ending his parables by saying, “Let the person with ears to hear…hear.” Not everyone in the crowd was really Jesus’ audience. And not everyone who hears your soundwaves with their ears or reads your words with their eyes is really your audience…

So who is your audience? You, and those who have ears to hear. But this raises the final point of this chapter, and it’s a very important one, if you are ever to reach those who have ears to hear, you need to have a voice to speak. And finding your voice is actually a result of you first having an ear to hear the work, and listen to it, and let it speak, and become it’s servant.

Find your voice, find your audience. If you find the voice the crowd wants, it will ring hollow. If you find your voice and your audience, there’s an understanding and a reciprocal relationship of alignment that flows in a way that is irreplaceable. It actually causes acceleration in the pursuit itself. You rise higher together.

So how do you find your voice? You have to first develop your ears to hear. In Matthew 10:24 Jesus said,

“What is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roof.”

The way to be more beneficial to others in public is to become more available to God’s Spirit in private.