The Importance of Ritual

Greetings!

I had hoped to write a bit more over the Christmas break. Time is precious these days. Trying to blog once a month is probably more realistic.

School is in full swing. I am taking Spirituality & Worship, Liturgy, and Prayer, Contemporary Spirituality, Psychology & Spirituality, auditing Christian Anthropology, and learning Koine Greek. Beth and I have also been busy writing new GROUNDED material every month. If you haven’t visited for a bit, you should check out the website at www.GetGROUNDEDForLife.com. The site is a complete redesign and we are generating monthly content for Youth & Family Ministries.

SO, the Pocta family is in transition.

I wanted to share briefly about the importance of ritual. For some, the word ritual carries a negative. This is primarily true for my Protestant, Evangelical, and International Church of Christ friends. In these circles, ritual often gets associated with unhealthy traditions.

It can be defined:

ritual – a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone.”

Ritual is a neutral word, inherently not positive or negative. Rituals create space for important practice. Rituals are repetitive, which threatens the authenticity of such practice but does not negate its power. The solution to heartless ritual is not ridding ourselves of it, but rightly engaging in it’s practice.

For example, I have a ritual of brushing my teeth every morning and evening before I go to bed. We would all likely agree that this ritual has value. I have a ritual of reading my Bible and praying every morning to start my day, a ritual of going to bed at the same time as my wife every night, and a ritual of paying my credit card off every day. You don’t have to agree, disagree, or imitate my rituals, they are mine. Ritual does serves an important purpose in our lives. It helps us to build fruitful discipline, healthy routine, and authentic practice. Let’s unpack authentic practice.

Authentic practice requires engagement; heart, strength, mind, and soul. Without wholehearted engagement, ritual can easily become empty. To experience authentic engagement the partaker needs to mentally engage the ritual. What does the ritual symbolize? What emotion is it intended to solicit? How does this ritual feed the soul? Authentic practice creates awareness of what the ritual is intended to mean and do. It is intended to slow people down to cherish and savor what it represents.

Let’s take an example from a conviction I gained last night.

At our midweek service, our minister, Mike Taliaferro, taught a lesson about ownership, particularly ownership of money. He shared scriptures instructing that everything comes from God. When we give, we acknowledge that God is the owner of all that we have and the source of our wealth. I have always personally used Leviticus 27:30 to guide my thinking about giving.

Leviticus 27:30 (NIV) A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.

I know, I know . . . many people believe that tithing (giving a tenth) was a practice for the Israelites and is no longer binding today. As I stated above, you don’t have to agree, disagree, or imitate my rituals. Follow me and see where I am going with this.

Knowing what our monthly income was, I generated a monthly electronic payment to the church. It was set up to repeat every month unless I interferred. My rationale explained this practice as healthy. It was God’s money. The tithe belonged to him. I never was tempted to spend it on something else because it would automatically be given.

But last night made me aware of something that was missing in my practice. When we broke up into our small groups to discuss the lesson, a friend of mine, Sunil, shared the importance of physically writing a check every week and choosing to give it to God. For a couple years, his family was supported by selling real estate. Their income came sporadically, in the form of commission checks on home sales. They could have easily written one check and given it every time they received a commission rather than spreading it out, but Sunil believed it was important for his heart to write a weekly check and give it during the worship service.

His practice really struck me! There was an important ritual that I was depriving myself of. That ritual was coming to worship God with something in my hand to give. I am reminded of God’s instruction to the Israelites when he was teaching them to engage in three ritual feasts, the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Tabernacles in Deuteronomy 16:16. He states, “No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed.”

 

Our conversation last night helped me to rethink the value of ritual in this worship practice of contributing to God’s work. I want to come to worship with something in my hand for God’s people. I want to think about the act of physically placing that money in the basket. I want to experience the weekly reminder that everything I have comes from Yahweh. I need that reminder. I need that ritual. It benefits my spirituality.

The primary purpose of this article is not giving, it is ritual. Giving serves as example. We could unpack, at great length, the ritual of the Passover. The Exodus event was one of the  pinnacle moments in our spiritual history. God commanded a ritual be performed every year to engage and remind Israel of his sovereignty and power. The practice of this ritual was intended to clean up gratitude that might have gotten dusty and reminded God’s people of the nature of their covenant relationship with him.

We could certainly talk at length about the ritual of the Lord’s Supper every week. Some call it communion, some call it the Eucharist (εὐχαριστία or eucharistia was Greek, meaning “thanksgiving”). It is a ritual that Jesus commanded Christians to practice and is universally celebrated across Christian churches. This ritual has deep and significant meaning. It represents the death of the son of God. It connects us to the lamb of God (notice the imagery of the Passover) who takes away the sin of the world. And when we celebrate this ritual, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes in his glory! Authentic practice engages the thoughts, emotions, and memories of the Christian. It reminds us of our baptism and the forgiveness of our sins that was secured on the cross. It dusts off our gratitude and reminds us of our covenant relationship with Yahweh.

Ritual empowers and revives significance for those whom authentically practice it. There are clear rituals that God commands and other rituals that are healthy for our spirituality. Take some time to evaluate ritual in your life. Are you authentically practicing the rituals that you have? Are there other rituals that you need to begin?

Let us embrace the value of ritual and understand its role in our spirituality!

 

What is Spirituality?

Yesterday, I turned in my final paper for the first-semester school. What a journey since August! I spent the first couple of months completely overwhelmed. I did not have the vocabulary to even have conversations with professors and other classmates, I realized how inadequate my background in philosophy and history was, and I had never written anything appropriate for doctoral level work.

If I am going to devote my academic future to the study of spirituality, I wanted to understand the scope of its meaning and the legitimacy of the academic discipline that I was entering. I posed the research question, “Has the academic discipline of spirituality matured into a legitimate field?” The process of uncovering the development of spirituality in academia gave me a lot of confidence about my future. Yes, the academic discipline of spirituality is alive and well. If you are interested in reading this paper, feel free to reach out to me. I am happy to share my discoveries.

I have been asked by many people over the past few months, “What is spirituality,” “Why are you studying it,” and “Why are you going to a Catholic school?” I thought I would take some time to answer those questions.

What is spirituality?

To begin with, it is essential to set out critical distinctions before attempting to answer this question. Spirituality has a broad range of definitions. We need to start with the difference between spirituality, Christian spirituality, and biblical spirituality.

Spirituality – a relationship or connection to the transcendent that transforms life, ethics, behaviors, and practice.

Christian Spirituality – a relationship with the triune Godhead and the resulting lived experience in connection to that relationship.

Biblical Spirituality – a relationship with the triune Godhead and the resulting lived experience in connection to that relationship, as directed by the Sacred Scriptures.

These distinctions frame the discussion. For example, a Christian may want to learn forms of eastern meditative practice. How the Christian integrates that method would be crucial to their faith. If they became more contemplative about the love and grace that Jesus provided on the cross or practiced silent meditation, clearing their mind so they could love their children more patiently, fantastic! If these practices become idolatrous or somehow lead them away from God, the practice must be banished.  Christians that use the authority of scripture as their standard would have additional questions to answer. Do I see these types of practices in the Bible? If I don’t, would doing this practice put me in contradiction from something in scripture? Riding a bicycle is not in scripture, but I do not think many would argue that getting exercise is healthy.

Let’s take this a step further by discussing the relationship between theology and spirituality. Theology helps us to understand what we believe. Spirituality is how we put that belief into practice. Theology is doctrine. Spirituality is life. As we read in 1 Timothy 4:16 “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” In other words, theology and spirituality are each a wing of the airplane. Both are needed. Without theology, we could end up praying to sheep. Without spirituality, we would be knowledgeable but empty. Most people actually start with experience, and that leads them to find answers. Something happens in life that requires more in-depth evaluation. We connect with the need for transcendence, something more significant. We search, pray, ask friends, and visit churches. After we find some hope, we learn the doctrinal truths of that community and decide if we agree with their theology.

Many Christians haven’t recognized the depth of their spirituality. Some would say that Christianity is about loving God and loving people. True but how? How do you enjoy God? How do you feed your soul? Of course, we read the Bible and pray but are there other ways in which our soul is fed? Are there ways to read our Bible and pray that we have not considered? How about fellowship? Marriage? Nature? Music? Food? Sports? Excercise? As I have thought about the things that feed my soul, I think about certain friends, talks with Beth, time with my girls, mountain biking, a good meal, my favorite music, the mountains, and learning. And as Christians, we need to always be exploring how to keep our relationship with God healthy and fresh. I am not suggesting that we stop reading our Bibles so we can go to the gym. I am suggesting that when our life gets out of balance and we neglect essential areas it profoundly affects our spirituality.

Spirituality is holistic, meaning it relates to every aspect of your life. How we do everything matters if we are Christians. Our walk with God, our physical health, our emotional health, and our mental health all matter. Remember when Jesus says, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind?” He is calling us to holistic spirituality.

Why are you studying spirituality?

The modern Christian world has many men and women focusing on theology. We are learning our Bibles, have commentaries and backgrounds on archeological digs. Practical Christian living and the importance of our intimacy with God do not receive the same attention. Over the last twenty years, I have often looked for devotional books to help me grow closer to God. There is not a lot out there. There are a lot of books about the outward acts of faith; hospitality, evangelism, prayer, Bible study, and church life. But where is the writing about connection, depth, familiarity, understanding, and affinity? During the middle ages and through religious movements we have learned about mystics. Mystics are those who have devoted themselves to intimacy and have written about that personal connection, that mystery. Very few mystics exist today, men or women that walk with God and explain to others how. This goes far beyond, “Read your Bible for 30 minutes every day.”

I am studying spirituality to grow, change, and know God better. I am researching spirituality to develop the vocabulary and skills to share with others on this critical journey. I am studying spirituality to learn from the early Christians, medieval Christians, and modern Christians what worked and what didn’t work for them. I am exploring spirituality to learn from other Christian traditions what they have learned about spirituality. This leads me to my next question.

Why are you going to a Catholic school?

My original answer to this question was, “Because it is right here in San Antonio.” I began auditing classes last fall, 2016. I was unsure of what to expect. I was raised Catholic and had decided to not be Catholic for many reasons. I wondered if my experience would be reminiscent of my childhood or very different.

I also specifically searched for a Ph.D. program in spirituality. I decided to go to the ATS (Association of Theological Schools) website to see what was offered and where. ATS accreditated schools have very high standards. If I was going to find a job in the academic world someday, I wanted to make sure my degree didn’t close any doors. In searching for a Ph.D. program specific to spirituality, I only found one in North America that was accredited. And guess where it was? San Antonio. I did see other Ph.D. programs where I could study spirituality, but this program was geared precisely for what I wanted to do.

I have been astounded by how I have been welcomed, not judged or excluded, and have even felt respected for my own beliefs. We have lively conversations, but they are in the spirit of learning and getting to know other perspectives. I have found Catholic scholars respectful of Protestant scholars. They do not discriminate Christian tradition when working academically. Good work is good work. My experience with Protestant scholars has been entirely different. Many are judgmental and reject Catholic scholarship. We don’t have to agree with everything to learn from each other! The Catholic church is the largest organization in the world. It has been around for 2000 years. There is a lot to learn. At the same time, I am growing in my appreciation for my faith tradition in the International Churches of Christ.

Stay tuned. I hope to write a bit more over the holidays. Peace.

 

 

Soul Food

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American friends and family!

I have wanted to write this post for awhile. Today it seemed appropriate.

Our family spent 15 wonderful years in Chicago. We had the opportunity to live in DeKalb, Naperville, Oak Park, Mount Prospect, and in the city itself. During our stint in Oak Park, which borders the west side of Chicago, I built many relationships that would forever change me. One of those relationships was with Mark Crawley. A tragedy brought us together. His uncle passed away. I was his new minister and I attended the funeral to support Mark. We became instant friends. This friendship became one of many over the years that would expand my horizon.

Mark grew up on the west side of Chicago. As we got to know each other, we met each other’s families and learned about each other’s lives. Many of the friends that I made during that time exposed me to life realities, challenges, and culture that was new for me.

And we ate.

In his infinite wisdom, God made table fellowship an intimate exchange. Meals together have always had significance. God built covenant around tables. Consider the Passover and the Last Supper. These two meals became central to Judaism and Christianity respectively. Sitting with friends over a meal is a very personal exchange. It provides a platform to experience life together. Meals often become memories. “Do you remember that Thanksgiving when…?” “How about that time we went to the restaurant together?” I have many of those moments forever etched in my memory. One of the significant memories for me was the first time Mark invited me over to his mother’s house on New Year’s Day. Mark grew up in a two-flat. In Chicago, these are familiar homes to many. A two-flat is one house divided into two distinct living spaces, one on the first level and one upstairs.

vegan-soul-food-plateFor this epicurean event, Mark’s mother had been cooking for days. As we walked upstairs and opened the door, I saw food on tables around the perimeter of the whole house. And that was not all of it! The downstairs flat had an equal amount of delicacies. This was one of the first times I was exposed to “soul food.” I would come to find out how much soul food was integrated into the culture in Chicago. This experience with Mark and his family was certainly a joy to the taste buds but there was something deeper happening. I was welcomed into Mark’s culture. I learned about his life and upbringing. He shared something very personal with me that day. Over the next couple of years, I experienced soul food in many forms and flavors; ham hocks, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese (not the Kraft in-the-box kind!), fried catfish, smothered rabbit, collard greens, oxtail, okra, hush puppies, sweet potato pie, and peach cobbler. Oh, the peach cobbler! This became one of my favorites. It had to be made with canned peaches, pie crust, and butter. For me, soul food had a double meaning. It was the nomenclature for the food Mark’s family introduced me to, but I realized that food for me (and I know for many) was something that actually fed my soul. Eating different foods, with people from varying cultures, would become one of the many things that God did to spiritually enrich me.

Since that time 20 years ago, I have traveled to many different countries. The lessons learned with Mark and others in Chicago have shaped my perspective. When approaching a different culture, people tend to have one of two postures. Either they put up walls and criticize what is different, or they open themselves up to learning and experiencing something unfamiliar. I have landed on both sides. Most of the time, I am eager to learn, try, and embrace. Unfortunately, there have been other times when I was critical.

When our family moved to South Africa, we were prepared for different. We knew we were going to be living in a different culture and also were aware that we would be the minorities, as Americans and because we were white. Posturing ourselves to experience other cultures blessed us relationally, experientially, and spiritually. I learned a little Zulu. I attended a Pedi funeral and shoveled dirt onto the coffin with the family. I mourned with Afrikaaner friends who lost a loved one. And I ate in the homes of friends that were Xhosa and visited a Kenyan friends family in Swaziland. Living in South Africa was one of the richest experiences of my life because I allowed my soul to be fed by God’s diverse creation.

Unfortunately, when I moved to Texas, I was not prepared to embrace a different culture. I got spiritually lazy, thinking I was moving back home to the USA. I was too comfortable and Texas was different than my Yankee upbringing. I found myself critical for about a year. When I realized my error, I decided to embrace Texas culture. I started listening to country music, bought some cowboy boots, and learned how to smoke a brisket. It was amazing how much different my experience was when I changed my attitude. I now love living in Texas!

Over the last year as I have been studying Spirituality, I have come to realize how many different ways that God feeds our souls. Everyone knows the experience but we don’t often attribute it to God’s goodness. There are certain foods that we eat that feed our soul. There is music we listen to that fills us. There is artwork that moves us. Many of us are inspired by nature; we love the oceans, mountains, forests, and birds. And of course, the greatest way to feed our soul is God’s word. There is nothing like it. Jesus is the bread of life and the living water. As he is praying for his disciples the night before he was betrayed he prayed in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; yourword is truth.”

Today as we enjoy table fellowship with family and friends, God is there. God’s love is felt through our close relationships and our family. Feed your stomach, but make sure to feed your soul. Open yourself up. Embrace what’s different. And as you take time to contemplate the holidays, think about what really helps you to appreciate God’s goodness.

Enjoy some soul food!

 

Alexandrian Spirituality

In my years as a follower of Jesus, I have never taken the time to study the writings or lives of those who have gone before us. I am not entirely sure why except maybe because of the profoundly ingrained cultural mentality of “new is better.” In general, I wanted to read the current scholarship or latest insights into the faith. I also had never taken a course or read a book on church history. I was always interested in it but never made the time.

When I started this doctoral program, the Ph.D. director, recognizing my deficiency, had me meeting with a professor and three other students for a group study on history and spirituality. The first time we met together, we each picked a topic that we would study and present to the rest of the group. None of the areas of study were familiar to me, so I randomly picked “Alexandrian Spirituality.” I didn’t even know where to start, so I sought out a Systematic Theology professor who was becoming a good friend at school and asked him for guidance. He pointed me in the direction of a few books to start helping me build a baseline of understanding. If you are interested, those books were Henry Chadwick’s, The Early Church, Jaroslav Pelikan’s, The Christian Tradition, and Richard Tarnas’, The Passion of the Western Mind. I came to realize how important it was to learn the historical background, the philosophical background, and the theological background to be able to understand the development of spirituality. Again, these fields have been extremely malnourished in my life. I don’t believe I could have given someone the names of five philosophers, nonetheless explain anything they had to say. It has been a sweet, beautiful, daunting, and fulfilling journey to explore these foreign worlds. I have come to have such a profound respect for men and women who have passionately pursued God and his Word while living out their faith in radical measures.

So what is Alexandrian Spirituality? Alexander the Great founded the city of Alexandria in 331 B.C. in Egypt. He sent philosophers, poets, and intellectuals to Alexandria from Greece to import Greek culture (this process is called Hellenism). He did this everywhere he conquered but focused most of his resources in Alexandria. This city became the intellectual center of the ancient world. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Canon, the Septuagint, was translated there. One of the most significant Jewish philosophers, Philo, lived in Alexandria during the time Jesus was in Palestine. The early Christians established a catechetical school, providing religious education for those preparing for baptism. Two critical theologians presided and taught there, Clement of Alexandria and Origen. OrigenWe have access to many of their writings today, although most of Origen’s work is missing. Historians estimate that he wrote between 600 and 2000 books! Both of these men, along with many others, devoted their lives to learning, studying, and developing Christian thought and theological frameworks that many Christians take for granted, including me!

Let me share an example, the doctrine of the Trinity. We understand that God exists in three persons, the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit. We also understand that God is one. In other words, 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. That was a difficult concept for the early church to get their heads around! There were many different beliefs about how the godhead interacted and related to itself. There were also many different ideas about Jesus’ humanity and divinity. How could he be God, and yet suffer? If he was truly human, how could he claim to be God? These debates drove many of the heresies that branched off of mainstream Christian thought.

I hope to share much more in the blog entries to follow. What I do feel developing inside of me is an immense gratitude for those who have gone before us, charting the course of our faith. It is such a blessing to live in a world with Bibles on our phones and in most places in the world, the freedom to express our faith in fellowship and worship. Let us remember to pray for those who do not share those privileges because of oppression.

 

Spirituality & Aesthetics

Wow. It has been over three months since I posted. Of course, this was not my plan. I had hoped to write biweekly, explaining my new journey. My reality has overtaken me. I have ministry responsibilities until December. Beth and I are trying to launch a plan to support ourselves over the next few years, which has turned into a writing project. And then there is school.

How to describe the last three months of school? My experience has been ebullient, overwhelming, humbling, and invigorating. I often feel like the dumb kid in class. I often question my decision. I regret not having a habit of reading more throughout my life (I actually made it through my Civil Engineering degree at the University of Minnesota without reading a single book because I hated reading). I am realizing the disadvantage of not learning another language earlier in life. And with all of this, I feel immensely blessed. What an opportunity! I get to study for five years. I get to read for five years. I have this wonderful school right in my backyard. I have a wife that supports and encourages my dream. I am surrounded with help, support, and encouragement from friends, family, fellow believers, and faculty. I made the right decision.

I made the right decision. I am thrilled about the journey. This overlap of ministry, school, and building a financial plan has just been staggering.

Over the last three months, I have learned about spirituality and theology in the early church. I have studied the influence of philosophy in the formation of theology. I have become familiar with some of the church fathers. I have started learning Greek. I am striving to write at a doctoral level. I have made some good friends.

As much as I would like to elaborate on all of these topics, today I have decided to share about spirituality and aesthetics.

Each week in our Pro-Seminar, we have a visiting professor. The purpose is to expose us to different aspects of spirituality. We have explored spirituality and history, spirituality and anthropology, methods of research, and spirituality and aesthetics. We will be looking at spirituality and psychology, spirituality and philosophy, and spirituality and theology in the weeks to come.

Dr. Steven Chase was our visiting professor this week. He started by turning down the lights, played some meditative music, and had us look at this painting for ten minutes.

cezanne.pommes-oranges

We then had an open discussion about our perceptions. He asked, “How might we see death bringing life in this painting?” It was a great exchange.

He then wrote on the whiteboard, “spirituality = beauty.” We had a long dialogue about whether beauty pursues us, or do we pursue beauty. We then discussed other artistic expressions of beauty, particularly music.

Each week, one of the students (there are only four of us) presents after the visiting professor on the weekly topic. This week was Benjamin’s turn. He similarly turned down the lights and had us listen a piece of music that has shaped him over the years, Sigur Rós’ Untitled 4. Afterwards, he proposed that we all have a soundtrack for our lives, songs that makeup years or memories. Songs that when we hear them today, they transpose us back to specific places, memories, and relationships.

I personally realized through this experience how much God feeds my soul through beauty: a divine cup of coffee, a photo that captures artistry, a song that inspires, a meal that encapsulates another culture. I love God’s creation. The stars, animals, birds, greenery, and life that you hear every time you step outside. Do you ever do that? Just walk outside and watch, listen. Life is everywhere. Our God is prodigal, he lavishes vitality on this planet. And because we are created “Imago Dei,” “in his image,” our personal creations reflect his glory. We are all so unique. We all bring a different voice, skill, or thought. No two leaves are the same. No two dancers move the same way. God is beyond comprehension. He is ineffable.

As I left class on Tuesday, I drove to a bookstore to find a book of poetry. I realized how little time I had taken to appreciate the outpouring of experience in the written word. I bought Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, Volume One. I have really enjoyed her freeform approach. It has inspired me to incorporate a more creative approach in my relationship with God. I love to read the Word, pray, and journal while listening to music. I want to start adding to my spiritual repertoire. Over the last couple of days, I have written my first poem, describing my view of God and his creation.

Be gentle. I am not a poet. I honestly cannot remember writing a poem before. I leave this with you to inspire you to explore new ways to connect with God!

 

Divine presence enshrines darkness,

Desire manifests for connection,

Unhindered brilliance designs,

Unbridled love drives,

Glory breaks in every direction.

 

Celestial beings unimaginable,

Microscopic life undetectable,

Divine presence enshrines completely,

Motherly doting ubiquitous,

Fertile essence cascades in abundance.

 

Imago Dei, creation’s zenith,

Transcendent adulation divulged,

Apostasy permeates inexplicably,

Reclamation actuated superfluously,

Divine presence enshrines humanity.

My Journey with Depression and Spirituality

Yesterday, Beth’s and my decision to step out of full-time church work became public knowledge. We have served in this ministry capacity for 26 years and have been blessed deeply. It was time to change lanes. Over the last number of years, we have talked on and off about the next phase of our lives. God opened doors, as he usually does, and showed us a pathway. Our hope and plan is to serve God’s people for the rest of our lives, but in a different capacity.

I am beginning a PhD program this fall at the Oblate School of Theology. It will require five years of full-time study. The area I will be studying is spirituality. I have grown increasingly passionate about spirituality. God places burdens on all of our hearts. For us, they have always come about by providence. We never thought about working with teenagers until the year 2000 when we were asked by Byron and Lauri Parson, our church leaders, to lead the teen ministry for the Chicago Church of Christ. It took us some time to accept this new direction and get our hearts around it. We have now been working with teenagers and their families for 17 years. It is hard to imagine our life without this ministry as it has become so much a part of who we are. Similarly, in 2004, we had a visiting professor from Harding Graduate School come to Chicago to teach on the book of Ephesians. Afterwards they invited anyone interested in taking graduate classes to lunch. Before that day, I had never considered grad school. That lunch lead to four and a half years of study. After finishing my M.S. in Bible and Family Ministry, through a series of prayers and divine intervention, God called us to Johannesburg, South Africa. We initially went to help with Youth & Family Ministry. While we were serving in that ministry, Justin Renton, our church leader, asked me to start a Ministry Training Academy (MTA) for the southern African ministry staff. Again, this was never something I had thought about. Over the next several years, we had MTAs across Africa, training church leaders from dozens of congregations around the continent. His ways are not our ways! It is hard to know what waits for us after this five year journey. I only know that whenever he calls, it is best to heed. As Christians, I know that we all try to listen to the Spirit’s call. Doing so has taken the Pocta family into much unknown territory but has always been a blessing. We believe that this decision is also God’s call. It is scary and thrilling at the same time!

In the fall of 2016, I hit a wall. After a rigorous and emotional year, I wasn’t sleeping well and felt more and more stressed. By the end of August, I suffered a major depressive episode. I found basic life tasks impossible to do. I was shaking with anxiety. I had a hard time leaving home and being in crowds. This was new for me. I had never experienced challenges with my mental health. With the support and encouragement of friends, I started seeking professional help. I found a counselor and a psychiatrist. I was graciously given three months off from ministry work by Mike and Anne-Brigitte Taliaferro. I started talking medication to help me sleep and an SSRI to help with my depression. I used this time off to rest and read. My spiritual tank was empty. I take full responsibility for getting there! I had been running around “in the name of the LORD” but not doing what I needed to do to stay spiritually strong. During this time, God’s serendipity struck again. My counselor recommended a book called, Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. I also started looking for an accredited doctoral program in spiritual formation or spirituality. I only found one in the USA, and it was right here in San Antonio! I set up an appointment to meet with them. One of the professors at that lunch suggested that during my time off I read any books by Ron Rolheiser. I didn’t know who he was at the time. I ordered some and started reading Sacred Fire. The material paralleled a lot of of Rohr’s writing in Falling Upward. When I looked into Ron Rolheiser, I found out that he was the president of the same school in San Antonio that I had just visited. I went down to meet him the next day and he invited me to attend a class he was teaching on John of the Cross. At the end of the first lecture, he shared that his book, Sacred Fire, and his contemporary, Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward, were modern iterations of John of the Cross’ teaching on spirituality. I was absolutely stunned how all of this came together.

In the spring, Rolheiser offered for me to attend a PhD course on Contemporary Spirituality. Attending those classes helped to push me over the edge with my decision. I knew this is what I wanted to do. I felt God’s hand again, calling me to a new path. Over the last nine months, my mental health has gotten so much better. I have additionally learned that I have adult ADHD and am learning how to navigate this new reality. Of course, most of the people in my life me smile at me when I share my newly discovered mental challenge, as if they have known all along that David Pocta has ADHD.

I have shared my struggles with mental health openly with the church here in San Antonio. In addition to feeling loved and supported, I have learned that many have similar realities. I have appreciated the courage of so many brothers and sisters that have been open with me about their trials. God has taught me so much through this “dark night of the soul” (John of the Cross’ terminology for difficult spiritual times). I have learned empathy for those with mental illness. I have learned what happens to me when I do not drink deeply from the Living Water. I also have come to realize how much energy and passion I get from school and study. Of course, all of this has directed us to the life change that we are making.

Beth and I continue to enjoy a wonderful friendship with the Taliaferros, the Fleurants, and the rest of the ministry staff here at Mission Point Christian Church. They have all been supportive of this decision and have really given us their blessing. I love our fellowship of churches and will remain a dedicated and faithful disciple of Jesus. I want to step back now so that I can give more in the future. My prayer and desire is that through writing and teaching, I will be able to share what I am learning to strengthen our collective love for the LORD.

As I have been letting people know about our decision, I have frequently been asked, “What is spirituality?” A lot of Christians see it as a new-age ethereal experience performed with incense and crystals. For someone who sees their Christianity as following Jesus’ life and teachings, it doesn’t seem to have much relevance.  FORTUNATELY, that is not what spirituality is about. Admittedly, spirituality can be treated very broadly. A definition of spirituality could be “how a person holistically relates to God, other people, and the world around them.” That could be taken a number of directions, and it is. There are Buddhist spiritualities, Hindu spiritualities and New-Age spiritualities. But when we talk about Christian spirituality, we are really talking about the two greatest commandments; how we love God and others with all of our being. I want to learn how to be closer to God and love him more deeply. I want to understand more about my relationships with other Christians and the lost world around me. I want to take responsibility to represent Jesus as his ambassador on this planet. That is what spirituality is about. And as I learn, I want to be able to teach others.

The world around us is changing is so many ways. More and more people are walking away from organized religion. At the same time, there is a rapidly growing interest in spirituality. I see many people, and especially millennials, drawn to loving God and serving people. There is just a increasing distaste for church politics, hypocrisy, and money-hungry ministers…and rightly so. Spirituality programs are multiplying around the USA, as are retreat centers, books on spirituality, and theology programs addressing spirituality.

In my own fellowship of churches, I see a growing need for spirituality. I believe we have excelled at teaching new converts how to walk with God and love people. We are really strong at teaching the first principles of the faith. I do see so many older Christians that lack passion, hope, zeal, and fiery faith. These qualities are not reserved for young believers. Fruits of the Spirit should become more evident in our lives as we follow Jesus over the decades. There are a lot of explainable reasons for this but regardless, but walking closer and digging deeper are certainly parts of the solution. As Paul said in Philippians 3:8,

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…

Why take five years to study spirituality? I hope to help, starting with myself. I am looking at this time as an opportunity to eat the Bread of Life. It will be a spiritual journey that I believe will shape me, not only to love God more with my mind, but also with my heart, soul, and strength.

I dream of us all embracing authentic discipleship, becoming our true selves while empowered by grace, and pouring ourselves out into a world desperately needing Jesus Christ.

That is what true Christian spirituality looks like.

Reunions and Life-Friends

I just returned from my 30th high school reunion.

I went to Borah High School in Boise, ID and graduated in 1987. We had about 600 classmates.

My family actually moved to Minneapolis, MN two weeks after I graduated. My father took a new job there. I stayed in Boise and attended Boise State University for one year. After that first year I moved to Minneapolis in 1988 and have not lived in Boise, ID since then. Without family living there anymore, I hardly ever got back to visit.

Graduation is a dispersion. Classmates scatter to the winds. Even the ones that stay local seem to be finding their new feet. Change happens so quickly. One minute you are walking the halls of high school with dozens of friends and hundreds of acquaintances surrounding you, and overnight you are starting a new life. Life kicks you out of the nest. And for the foreseeable future, you are focused on getting your new life together. You are thinking about your education, your career, looking for new friends, and for a potential spouse. There isn’t much time to reflect on the past as the future demands too much attention.

The ten-year reunion is awkward. It sneaks up on you as you are thrust back into high school memories. Ten years after graduation is the time to test your new life with the old. Many people have chosen their career path and partner. There is a lot of insecurity coming together that first time. Will old relationships still be genuine? What will my classmates think about my life choices? Some classmates are determined to live in the glory days of the past and some have no interest, as they value their lives post-high school much more. It feels competitive. Unfortunately, it is hard not to feel judged or be judgmental…about how people look and what they have done with their lives. I do think most of that is just being 28 years old and immature.

In my case, I did not make the 20 year reunion. My next time seeing everyone was the 30-year. What a contrast! It exceeded all of my expectations.

By the time you are 48 years old, life has mellowed you out. Everyone is more aware of their own brokenness. No one has lived unscathed, as life humbles us all. There are broken marriages, parenting missteps and troubled children, and broken bodies (I cannot tell you how many conversations I had about knee surgeries and aging!). Judgment is overcome by honesty and humility. We have grown up as we can empathize more. As Peter says in 1 Peter 4:8, “…love covers over a multitude of sins.

I was also amazed at how the traditional “class” lines were erased. You know the ones that exist in every high school? They may have different names but they are always there; athletes, preppies, debaters, party-ers, geeks, nerds, or whatever other monicker is used. It doesn’t matter 30 years later. Its just great to see everyone.

It is also neat to see how the ebb and flow of relationships over our childhood comes together down the road. Most of us have different people that we are close to at different stages of life. I had three really close friends in 5th and 6th grade; Kasra, Eric, and Scott. In middle school and high school these friendships were always there but we didn’t always hang out. For example, Eric got really close to his basketball team and I played football. We didn’t spend much time together socially in high school but were always friends. At our 30-year reunion, it all came together. Friends from each life stage were all just friends. We had a big group gathering with everyone Friday night and as the weekend progressed, we broke off to spend more quality time with different people. On Sunday morning, Kasra’s mom sent him a picture of the four of us from 6th grade. The same four guys just happened to be meeting that morning for breakfast, so we decided to recreate the picture from 37 years earlier.

Kasra, Eric, David, and Scott. 1980 versus 2017

What a special morning! It was amazing to see how 30 years had led us all down different life journeys but we immediately reconnected. There is something special about life-friends. It reminds me of Proverbs 17:17,

A friend loves at all times, 

and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

We have all been through so much. Kasra now lives in Seattle, Eric in Denver, Scott in San Francisco, and I am in San Antonio. We are in completely different careers (medicine, finance, technology and ministry) but again, none of that mattered. We are friends.

When I got on the plane to fly home, I ended up having the same flight attendant as I had on my way to Boise. She immediately asked how my weekend was because she told me I was “beaming.” It was true. I was so encouraged and strengthened seeing my buddies. I have missed them. They are such an important part of my life…and not just the three guys in the picture above but all of them. My classmates that were close friends and those who were just acquaintances. They all shaped me. It was challenging at times meeting people that I didn’t remember well. Sometimes it was cumbersome deciphering how we knew each other 30+ years ago, but ultimately it didn’t matter. We shared history at a critical stage in life, our adolescent years.

I once read an article that claimed the music we listen to when we are 14 years old shapes our music tastes for life. There is something about that stage in our development that imprints our fondness of style. I thought a lot about that this weekend. I believe its true of so many other areas of life. Those teenage years are formative in many ways. The people that we experience those years with are also embossed into our personal evolution.

What is my hope in sharing this with all of you?

First, for those of you that are younger, maturity and time really does heal. Unfortunately, our western society seems to value youth over maturity. Wisdom comes with time. Almost all ancient civilizations valued elders, knowing that life changes all of us.

Second, slow down and appreciate what God has given you. It takes time, money, and effort to reconnect. I am so glad that I made this trip happen. It fed my soul.

Third, foster life-friendships. Most people have a lot of acquaintances but few have authentic and intimate friendships.

Proverbs 18:24

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, 

but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

 

It takes commitment to have life-friends.

Who are yours and what can you do to deepen them?

 

Cheers for now!

Coming Into His Presence

Have you ever noticed the internal change that takes place when you approach someone? It certainly is connected to whom that person is. When we see a dear friend we experience a rush of adrenaline. A joy comes over us. Warmth. Peace. We instantly feel safe. Our defensive walls lower. It is so pleasant to just be ourselves. We don’t have to pretend or protect. We aren’t guarded.

Other people may produce a different reaction; fear, insecurity, guardedness, worry, or some other type of stress.

It really is all about the relationship. Our internal reaction is driven by how strong or weak that relationship is. Some of the people that we fear, others feel close to. Likewise, we may be best friends with someone that makes some people angry.

Our view of God determines how we approach him. If we see God as a heavenly disciplinarian, we likely come into his presence cautiously. If we see God as a distant father, we likely don’t come to him unless we are in need or feel obligated. If we see God as patient, nurturing, forgiving, and gracious, we come as we are, with all of our pain, disappointment, and brokenness.

Consider one of the earliest images of relationship that God communicates in the garden of Eden.

Genesis 3:8

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

God was walking in the garden. What was that like? If we take “walking” to be literal, was this a Jesus-like human manifestation of God? Or what if “walking” was communicating God’s presence as he taught in Leviticus 26:12 about the Israelite tent community in the desert,

And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.

Adam and Eve certainly felt something significant in the “cool of the day.” Maybe the sun was setting and they sat down to realize the ramification that had come from their behavior. Their conscience was heavy for the first time. The same weight that we feel from the Holy Spirit when we sin was now upon them. They were ashamed. David described this feeling in Psalm 32:4,

For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; 

my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

They tried to hide from God’s presence. Of course we know that never works. They soon figured that out as well.

Even though we know that God is everywhere, we try to hide from him. We are like the little kid that thinks you can’t see him if he covers his head and cannot see you. We pretend that God is not there. He is in our presence, even if we do not place ourselves into his presence.

We actually have to decide to come into God’s presence. And what does that really mean? We change ourselves. We prepare our demeanor. We lower the walls of defense. We have to let him in. We can only be in God’s presence if we view him as he is, a generous and loving parent. Only then can we be authentic. Even though God knows everything going on inside of us, we have to decide to come into his presence by allowing him into our deepest places. That is when hope is restored, healing happens, and wounds can be healed.

1 Chronicles 16:11 calls us to be in constant pursuit of this,

Seek the Lord and his strength;

seek his presence continually!

It takes a lot of work to be authentic with God. Arguably it is harder the younger we are. When we are young, we often portray a “false self” to people around us, and often even to ourselves and God. We are generally insecure about who we are and the struggles we have. We want to be stronger, more righteous, and well-liked. As we age, this false self fades as we become stronger in the grace of God. We realize that God loves and accepts us with all of our failings. Our real friends love and accept us as well. We get past the relational games and become more content with our true self.

Over 300 years ago, Brother Lawrence wrote a book called, The Practice of the Presence of God. It is a wonderful description of what it means to seek his presence continually!

There is a spiritual (some would say mystical) power in being in God’s presence. Peace. Hope. Contentment. Resolve.

The Psalmist puts it like this,

Psalm 16:11

You make known to me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

 

We must strive to “come as we are.”

We must strive all of the time.

We must know the value of living in God’s presence.

Then, and only then, we will never want to leave.

Pursuing Spiritual Vision & Dreaming Dreams

Today’s post is written with older Christians in mind. Not that younger followers of Jesus will not benefit but I want to address the importance of spiritual vision for those who seem to believe it was something in their previous days.

Joel 2:28 (ESV)

“And it shall come to pass afterward,

that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,

and your young men shall see visions.”

Joel prophesied more than 500 years before Jesus that the Spirit of God would come onto God’s people, all of them, in the coming Kingdom era. As Christians, this is one of the great blessings of our faith. The Holy Spirit lives inside of us, guiding, prompting, and interceding for us.

But Joel articulated a specific role that the Spirit would play beyond guiding, prompting and interceding. He states that men and women will prophesy, old men will dream dreams, and young men will see visions. What are we to make of these statements?

In the Kingdom era (the time between the first and second coming of Christ…in other words, now) the Spirit brings new inspiration. Christians would no longer be dependent on a spiritual leader for spiritual wisdom and guidance (not that advice is not still important!). In the days before Christ, God spoke through his leaders to the people. Moses mourned this reality in Numbers 11:29 when he was talking with his assistant Joshua,

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”

Moses talked to God and communicated God’s will to the people. And Moses took to response of the people back to God. Prophets and priests served as intermediaries for Israel.

Joel is explaining that something different will take place in the future. The Holy Spirit would open channels of communication that did not exist before. The Spirit would come on “all flesh.” This is intended to communicate broadly. No longer was the Spirit working in a limited capacity with the spiritual leaders in the community. The Spirit was for all. And what would be the characteristics of the Spirit’s work in the individual’s life? Dreams and visions.

Now I do not believe that we are discussing the dreams that happen when you are asleep, nor the visions of a tarot card reader. We are talking about Spirit-filled vision of spiritual ambitions. And how can we be sure that this would be the proper interpretation? We look at the evidence as it played out in the book of Acts.

After the resurrection, a miraculous event happened in Jerusalem 50 days after Jesus’ crucifixion, the Spirit filled Pentecost. The apostles witnessed the Holy Spirit descend on all of them, enabling them to speak in other languages. Peter addressed the crowd, stating this passage in Joel 2 and commenting on its fulfillment in that moment. The Holy Spirit was being released as the New Testament church was beginning. Not only did the Spirit endow the apostles to speak in foreign languages, but everyone that was baptized into Christ received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). And then we really see the work of the Spirit unfold, just as Joel prophesied about. We see these new followers of Jesus living out Spirit-filled lives. We see then using their talents and gifts to advance the Kingdom.

And it shows up in many different ways. The apostles certainly preached and healed but the Spirit was working in everyone. Groups are gathering, fellowship is happening, bold prayers are being prayed, and the needy are being served. Those that had the gift of making money were laying funds at the apostles feet to advance the message.  Those that had the gift of serving were ministering to the needy. And we see thousands getting baptized which means thousands were involved with spiritual instruction. Those that owned homes large enough were hosting other Christians. We get the picture that everyone had a dream or vision of how they could help to advance God’s kingdom.

It is fascinating how life changes things. When you are young and single, vision comes naturally but it is also naive. Young people are all over the place with what they want to do. And that is okay. It is zeal without knowledge. They haven’t had dreams dashed. They haven’t realized that real impact takes investment. Most young people shoot for the stars. They want to be professional athletes, astronauts and doctors. In the church, many young people want to go into the full-time ministry. They want to serve God in the way that makes the most tangible sense from their perspective.

Now in reality, some are gifted to become professional athletes, movie stars, and ministers, but the number that dream about it compared to those that actually posses those gifts are widely different. And with ministry in particular, many have served as interns or in full-time ministry for years, coming to realize later in life that full-time ministry isn’t the best fit for them.

Then what?

This is what I really want to address today.

What do you do when the dream that you had in your younger days ends? Maybe it wasn’t what God ultimately intended on you doing. Maybe it was for a period of time and then it changed.

A lot of Christians look back at their younger spiritual years as the glory days and have a hard time getting a vision for their later years.

Let’s talk about important aspects of seeing God’s vision for your life:

Naiveté gets replaced with wisdom

We learn a lot after getting knocked down. We learn about the causes of our failures. We gain wisdom that can only come from defeat. God works powerfully through mistakes and dashed dreams. As we are forced to stand back up, we are stronger. We pray different prayers. We learn about ourselves and those around us. Our relationships get stronger with some and we come to realize that some relationships were not what we thought they were. We learn about authenticity and ambition.

These experiences make us stronger and wiser. We are more prepared for how God will use us in the future.

The older you are, the better you know yourself

No one really knows themselves in their 20s. In your 30s you really start realizing what you are good at and what you are not. On my 40th birthday, my father shared a valuable insight with me. He said, “Your 40s can be some of your most productive years. You and your peers know what you are capable of and what you are not, and you still have a lot of energy.”

He was right. I appreciated knowing myself better in my 40s. It helped me to know what projects to involve myself with and what choices to make. It helped me to make decisions about where our spiritual energy and passion went.

We actually decided to move our family to South Africa when I was 40. We felt called by God and by the needs there that we believed we were able to meet. We knew after 17 years in ministry that we had developed some skills that could serve the church there. It was a wonderful feeling knowing that God had matched skills and needs.

I believe that the older you are, the more you know and the more skills God has developed in you. This only makes your ability to dream dreams for his Kingdom even greater.

The more mature you are spiritually, the more aware you are of your spiritual gifts

As a young Christian, you jump in and serve wherever you can. Maybe you help with ushering at church or help with Sunday school classes. You get involved in Bible studies and go to conferences. You plug yourself into your teen, campus or singles ministry. You are happy to be needed.

Over time you realize that everyone doesn’t have the same spiritual gifts. Some are leaders, others are not. Some can lead worship, others SHOULD not. Some have a real ability to organize and plan while others do not. As you mature, you learn to recognize your unique spiritual gifts. Sure, we are all called to love, forgive, and pray but everyone shouldn’t be preaching on Sunday. As you learn about your spiritual gifts you are able to have more specific vision for how God can use you.

We had some friends in South Africa that had the gift of making money. I have met a few Christians with this gift. It is amazing to see when they have the ability to make money and have the heart of generosity. These friends in South Africa always gave to the needs of the church but in addition, would use their ability to make money to be a blessing to many. They served families in financial difficulty. They quietly supported projects that benefited other Christians. They were such a delight.

It is always remarkable to see Christians using the wisdom they have obtained and the gifts that God has given them to dream dreams that impact the Kingdom.

Now, we need to talk about something critical to dreaming dreams for God, your calling.

I have been reading a book called, My Utmost by Macy Halford. It is a narrative of her life’s journey as it pertains to Oswald Chamber’s Utmost for His Highest, the famous Christian daily devotional book. In it she says,

Oswald understood something else as well, something it had taken me many years to accept; that if a person received a creative vision and chose not to follow it – whether out of fear or laziness – it would eat away at them. The vision was a gift the artist couldn’t return or discard. “If you have ever had the vision of God, you may try as you like to satisfied on a lower level, but God will never let you.”

God places things on our hearts. He calls us. These visions do not come and go every week. These are deeply rooted and don’t go away easily. I believe these are the Spirit’s work in guiding us where he wants us to go.

I have felt these callings at different times in my life. I felt called to ministry. I felt called to marry Beth. We felt called to adopt. We felt called to move to Africa.

Most of the time, the Spirit’s callings are scary. They usually require sacrifice. They are generally in directions that the crowd isn’t going. They are personal. They are specific. And they are hard to shake. If God is calling you, doors open and opportunities arise. It is a spiritual serendipity.

Today’s thoughts are very purposeful.

We have to heed the Spirit’s call. Or else it will eat away at us.

What lessons has life taught you with dreams of old?

What gifts has God given you and skills has he developed in you?

What are the unique contributions that you can make to his purposes because of who he made you to be?

And is he calling you? Have you been listening to his voice?

Dreaming dreams is important for all of us, regardless of our age or time as Christians.

I believe that the dreams of the older Christians are more focused, refined, and effective. God has plans for us!

 

The Need to Reconnect

Relationships take a lot of work. Certainly the important ones; God, family and life-long friends. If you think about any relationship that is truly meaningful in your life, that has stood the test of time, you will find something in common with all other long-lasting significant relationships, they traverse supreme highs and devastating lows. Life is intense. It is a roller-coaster of experiences and emotions. Our true friends and close family journey with us.

Beth and I have been married for over 25 years. There is a reason that I can boldly claim we love each other more today than we ever have. We have lived life together. We can recollect the fabulous vacations, intimate talks, and life adventures easily. We have moved 14 times together, starting over again and again. In each of those new beginnings we were each other’s best friend as we didn’t have other close relationships in our new locations. We have packed our suitcases with our 12 and 14 year old daughters and moved to South Africa, having only visited the continent one other time. As special as these experiences are, they are not what glues our commitment to each other. It is the hard times; sickness, disagreements, financial woes, angst over the kids, and working through our own sin. It is deciding to obey Jesus and forgive that binds us (Matthew 6:14). It is loving each other beyond sin that unites us (1 Peter 4:8). It is honoring the covenant of marriage, knowing that no matter how distant we may feel or angry we might be, we are in this together, forever, that gives us the strength to persevere.

Relationships are like bank accounts. The health of your account is measured by having more deposited than withdrawn. When our relationship account is low, we have to decide to reinvest. We have to make deposits. We need to give. Relationships break down when the balance is already low and we keep making withdrawals. We want to receive. Our feelings get hurt and we expect empathy.

When God formed the universe, he built this critical principle into all that he created.

Galatians 6:7

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 

I have been thinking deeply about this principle a lot lately. It is integrated into everything. It is as if God put his will into every aspect of creation. I do not believe that God is sitting in heaven, personally rewarding or cursing us based on our behaviors. Life itself rewards or curses us because God is in everything, everywhere. When you live a life of general health, you are healthy. If most of your diet is processed foods, you will struggle with obesity. If you practice good financial habits, you can weather storms when they come. If you live beyond your means, debt and trouble will follow.

This principle is aptly portrayed in the classic film, “Its a Wonderful Life.” The main character, George Bailey, lives by the conviction that taking care of people and being generous is more important than making a profit. When disaster strikes his family, the whole town comes to the rescue. He reaped what he spent a lifetime sowing.

I do believe we are quicker to understand these concepts with people than we are with God. When our marriage is struggling, we scheduled a date-night. When we feel distant with a friend, we make the time to hang out. Unfortunately, Christians infrequently do the same in their relationship with God.

I am sure that you can identify the feelings. Anxiety, disconnect, distance, and lack of motivation are just some of the indicators that we are running low on the Living Water. We all have “loud-speakers” as my friend Tom Nuelle teaches. Sin that creeps up when we are not doing well. It is as if God is saying, “Your bank account with me is low!” Romans 1:18-32 describes this process in detail. Paul says we are turned over to sin, “because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” When we see ourselves struggling more with lust, anger, pride, and selfishness we are supposed to evaluate and go back to the source of our hope, Jesus.

There are other indicators that our relationship with God has a meager balance. I can get clogged up in my head. Too many things start swimming around. The pressures of life come at me in all different vessels. The kids need to see a doctor, the refrigerator breaks, a neighbor gets angry with me, and the emails are really backed up. I can tell when I start getting off balance. I have learned that when I am off, I need God. I need to talk. I need to be in his presence.

I am not saying that most Christians do not pray when they identify with these needs. I am saying that we often do not do justice to the time required to straighten ourselves out and replenish the tank. We may need to carve out three hours on a Saturday morning to really pray. We may need to stay up late, working out our hearts with God. Or maybe, we actually need to get away for a day or two to read, pray, and mediate.

A couple of years ago I took a personal spiritual retreat and told a friend when he asked where I was going. When I explained that I needed some quality time with God he stated, “I have never heard about anyone doing that before.” I was a little surprised. These getaways were a regular part of my annual spiritual diet. I needed times to just dwell in God’s presence, uninterrupted. The more I thought about it, the more I agreed with him. I have hardly ever heard of people taking large amounts of time to reconnect when they felt the distance. I had watched many take weekends away with their spouse and family vacations, but few that spent the same quality time with the most important relationship in their life.

I do not share this judgmentally or arrogantly as it did not come naturally for me either. I was taught early on as a Christian. The man who put me in the ministry used to take these trips frequently. We did some together. He taught me the value of investing in my relationship with God.

I am also not proposing that this is the only way to reconnect when you feel empty. BUT, it is important to do something. Engage, recommit, and invest. Start making quality deposits. Have a little (or big) talk with Jesus. Work it out and reconnect with the bread of life.

This relationship is the most important one to keep a healthy balance in!