Intentionality

Intentionality.  “Very few people have a conscious plan for developing their spiritual lives. Most Christians are not intentional, but rather functional, like cars on autopilot.” Peter Scazzero

Moses and the Ten Commandments.jpgFrancis Shaeffer, the great evangelical scholar of the last century, thought that up to 50% of church attendees in the West were not Christians.  I suspect one of the reasons for his estimate had to do with the lack of intentionality on the part of most of the people he saw in our churches.  Consider that most nominal “Christians” think in terms of being cultured, democratic, egalitarian, kind, and “nice” (whatever that means).  We evaluate ourselves and others based mostly on what we and they do not do: Do not swear, kill, steal, commit adultery, or lie, and if you are reeeeally good, then you will also not worship any other gods, not make idols, honor your parents and not covet (whatever that means).  Oh, and maybe you will keep a “sabbath” of some kind, you know, go to church on Christmas, Easter and your sister’s graduation, and get married by an ordained minister.

When I was a kid, the joke was,
“We don’t drink, smoke, cuss or chew,
And we don’t go with girls who do.” 
This is what being a Christian meant . . . and some actually believe this.  Be a nice person and God will let you into Heaven when you die.  Oh, at some point you had to “accept Jesus into your heart,” but that was easy enough, too.  Just do a simple telepathic communication to God that, yeah, Jesus was okay and really nice to pay for my sins (we called it “the sinner’s prayer”).  “Say this prayer after me, but only if you mean it . . . ,” and you were golden.  Your sins were forgiven, you would live forever, now just keep being “nice!”  Don’t beat your wife, don’t steal from your boss, don’t kill anybody, and if you do happen to slip up and murder someone, God with all His grace will let a couple of dings slide.

Emotional Healthy SpiritualityAs Peter Scazzero points out in his excellent book, Emotional Healthy Spirituality, chronological adulthood is relatively easy: just don’t die.  But emotional and spiritual adulthood is a completely different animal!  Consider these adapted lists of emotional children/adolescents vs emotional adults:

Emotional Children/Adolescents:

  • Are content only when they get what they want
  • Are easily hurt
  • Complain, withdraw, or manipulate to get their way
  • Are threatened by criticism
  • Look for others to take care of them
  • Are usually preoccupied with themselves
  • Have difficulty listening to another person’s pain
  • Are critical and judgmental

Emotional Adults

  • Are able to ask for what they need or prefer
  • Take responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings
  • Can state their beliefs under stress without belittling others
  • Give people room to not be perfect
  • Appreciate people for who they are – not what they can give
  • Accurately assess their own limits, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Able to discuss these with others
  • Can enter into the feelings, needs and concerns of others

I wish I could say that I am an emotional spiritual adult, but looking at Scazzero’s lists, I still have some work ahead of me.  The good news is that God’s grace actually does cover a multitude of sins and the sin that is so clingy to us (Hebrews 12:1).  Here again, “sins” are the actions resulting from our “sin” that is part of our falling-shortness (Romans 3:23) before a perfect God.  By His grace He does forgive us, even when we murder . . . if we ask, and repent of it from our hearts.

Emotional Baby.jpgHis design however is that we go on to spiritual maturity, and not continue as newborn babies.  Babies are always cute, even when they cry, but how unfortunate for a parent to take care of a 45 year old son who never develops past a two year old brain.  Even sadder is a God who must coddle and stroke His children who refuse to grow up into the men and women He created us to be.

“Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” (Hebrews 6:1)  And further, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:24)

The best plan to avoid being a 45 year old Christ-follower with a two year old brain is to do just that: make a plan! 

  1. IMG_2559Decide now when and how much you will read in the Bible.  Make a Bible-reading plan that will cover the entire “library” in one or two years.  Thirty minutes per day will do it for most of us; if you are a very slow reader, plan for two years; if you are a fast reader, you can cover the library in a couple months.  See for part one of a three part series on Marked by Bible Reading and Bible Study.
  2. Decide now when and how much you will pray.  Consider the Praisedifferent types of prayer and develop a plan to grow into a rich prayer life.  ”If you want to have a great prayer life, just show up every day!” (Margaret Therkelson)  See   for a “Catalogue of Prayer,” part of a series on Marked by Prayer.
  3. cropped-over-bregenz21.jpgDecide now how you will begin various disciplines of the Spirit-led life.  Don’t try to do them all at once, but think clearly about when to begin each one and grow them into the garden of your life.  See for the first of 20 Disciplines of the Spirit-led life ending on .

Most of all Practice the Presence of God every day.  Let His Presence permeate all that you do.  Allow Him to fulfill His promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  And grow into the man or woman He created you to be . . . intentionally.

Practicing the Presence (Reprise)

You may recall on August 20, 2016 and August 28, 2016 I blogged on the Practice of the Presence; this is a way of recognizing that The God Who Is There is really here, at all times, in every situation, in all places.  As David prayed in Psalm 139:7-12,
“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
    even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’
    even the darkness is not dark to you;
        the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”

In Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Peter Scazzero notes there are different approaches to God based on our emotional maturity.  We begin by “talking at God.”  This he describes as copying our parents prayers, such as mimicking a prayer over a meal.  As we become more comfortable with prayer, we ‘grow’ into using our own words, “talking to God,” rather than simple recitals of memorized prayers, but these prayers are still very self-centered; requests for blessing, provision, answers that we want.  And this, sadly, is where many of us get stuck, never growing up any more, and always coming to Him with our begging and whining, “gimme, gimme, gimme.”  Like little children we have no goals nor ideas beyond our immediate needs for love, provision and comfort.

But there are other levels of communication with God.  The next Scazzero addresses is “listening to God.”  This is where we begin to recognize that prayer is a two-way communication.  Yes, God speaks to us primarily through the Bible, and you can be certain nothing He “says” to you in prayer will contradict that.  For example, if the Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:23), He will not tell you in prayer to dump her or walk out on a marriage.  But there are many details of life not addressed in the Bible where His particular guidance can be helpful and is available if we learn to listen (see October 2, 2016).

Finally Scazzero takes us to “being with God,” a place of emotional maturity which is not dependent on activity or disciplines of the Spirit-led life.  This is a place of simply enjoying being together, the way lovers behave when they do not need to talk, but simply rest in each others’ arms.  Make no mistake, the devotional practices of the disciplines of the Spirit-led life get us centered on who God is, how He interacts with us, and what His personality is like, so these lead us to a deeper understanding of what it is like to be in His presence, but it is the “being” there that matters.

Like a marriage, if a person thinks he or she can do anything they want and maintain a good relationship, theirs will be headed for serious problems.  But when a man and woman are engaged in learning about how to please each other and how to provide for each others’ needs, theirs can become the most satisfying relationship apart from the inner practice of the Presence of Him whose love we are imitating.

In the same way, the relationship with Father requires attention to Him, time spent with Him and sharing of one’s life with Him.  The life lived outside of that relationship becomes empty, pointless, and in the end deadly, with a deadness that must be understood in terms of spiritual death like Adam’s and Eve’s (see December 6, 2015 ).  While they appeared to be “living” they had become “dead in [their] transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), separated from the Source of Life.  And when we have wandered into the wrong road, one that takes us further into death and away from Life, the fastest way back into that relationship that will ultimately satisfy us as no other, is to turn around and head back the way we have come.  It is possible to get too far down that road that leads to death to recover much of what is lost, and it is even possible to get so far down that road that return of any sort becomes impossible.

But if one does return, like lovers separated as teenagers reunited in old age, who may be able to rekindle their love and find some satisfaction in “the remains of the day,” they must wonder at what has passed.  How much time was lost, how many moments of love were missed, how much influence on others was destroyed, that can never be recovered because the time has passed them by?   God can bring life to dead bones, but how much of life was missed by those one day resurrected, if they had continued in life all along? (See Ezekiel 37:1-14)

So do not wait for too long to find His presence in your life.  He is always here, but where are we?  Walking with Him or in a valley of dry bones?  Do we Practice His Presence?