Earlier this year, Cornerstone began a partnership with Leadership Transformations, a ministry founded eleven years ago by Steve Macchia whose passion is to see spiritual transformation in pastors, leaders, teams and the churches and organizations they serve. LTi is based in Massachusetts and Steve loves to observe the beauty of God’s New England creation, especially along the seacoast. When at sea, a wise sailor is always reading the winds seeking to distinguish between good winds and ill winds. In speaking at a dinner to celebrate the ministry of Leadership Transformations, Steve framed his remarks around the question, “What are the winds that blow toward your soul and seek to extinguish your inner flame for God?” What follows are highlights of his remarks.
Wind one: Our enemy, the devil. The devil hates God and all who are God lovers. He is the author of lies, the purveyor of hatred, and the greatest contributor to strife in our world today. He is keenly aware of our areas of weakness and vulnerability, and is seeking daily to trip us up wherever, whenever possible. The last thing on earth the enemy of your soul wants is for you to grow close to God.
We need to lean fully on the spiritual weapons provided to us for battling against the principalities of darkness. Don’t underestimate the power of the devil and don’t assume you can fight this battle alone. Trust in God and co-labor with him in the Spirit and with spiritual friends and mentors in community who want to join you in living fully for Jesus.
The enemy wants to extinguish your inner flame of intimate love for God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore, in prayerful perseverance and joyful thanksgiving, press on, lean in, stay alert, hold fast, and trust deep. And, never forget, “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Wind two: Our pride, the root of our self-absorption. As believers in Jesus, we are called to just the opposite: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2: 3,4).
In what some would label as “the age of the sovereign self” we are continually looking out for #1: me, myself, and I. Life is all about my needs being met in ways that satisfy my wants and wishes. When self is priority, we will do everything possible to protect, provide and please our prideful ways. We will control, manipulate, and strive toward being the center of attention, the focal point of interest, and the intriguing envy of others. One of the great inhibitors to the kindling of our inner fire for God is our ever-present, pervasive, persistent focus on self.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to consider the needs of others more important than our own. Humility instead of pride. Grace instead of judgment. Mercy instead of punishment. Love instead of fear.
Wind three: The idols of our heart or anything we cling to more intimately than God. Idols, or attachments, are those attitudes, possessions, people, and/or activities that we find more pleasurable than the worship, generosity, relationships, and service that God calls us to embrace. We crave money, sex, and power, being right, in control of outcomes, living securely, and comfortably entertained. We want to have all that this world affords, often for the cheapest and quickest cost.
When we pursue daily longings that lead us away from God, we are feeding our propensity to idolatry. As a result, the idols and attachments of our lives need to be open-handedly surrendered to God. We need to seek the forgiveness of Christ, release the grip of our attachments, and find freedom in submission to the work of God’s Spirit deep within us.
Wind four: Busyness. What is the status of your daily busyness? Are you so entangled by the need to be active, productive, and effective that you’ve lost your zeal for the quieter more spacious place of listening prayer and living more attentively in partnership with God?
Unfortunately, most of us today are choosing the life of a “human doing” rather than a “human being.” We’re driven almost to distraction by our constant flow of activity, noise, and chaotic confusion. We simply don’t know any other way, and we keep running on the treadmill of constant movement as long as we can sustain it until we hit our wall of exhaustion and cry out “enough!” from the core of our inner most being.
When we lack a quiet center, without any ability or opportunity to listen for the still, small, beautiful, and inviting voice of God, we are living life consumed by the cares and concerns of this world. To such anxiety, Jesus is very clear, “The pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6: 32,33).
Wind five: technology. The plethora of technological distractions available to 21st Century Christ followers is a far cry from the simple rebuke that Jesus once gave to Martha for being distracted by a handful of household chores.
What Jesus was concerned about with Martha was in sharp contrast to the one thing that mattered most to her sister Mary…to sit at the feet of Jesus and pursue a richer intimacy with the Savior. Technology is by far one of the greatest hindrances to that “one thing” today.
Does technology have a grip on your soul? In an average day, how much do you depend on your iPhone or Blackberry, iPad or Tablet (and their respective apps), laptop, video games, cell phone, gaps, texting, tweeting, Face book (just to name a few)?
For all the good that technology offers (and there are plenty of positive impacts), we need to be cautious of the potential for excess. Monitoring and minimizing our use of technology, maintaining healthy moderation, is a discipline worth pursuing. It’s not that we must eliminate it completely, but instead be sure that it’s not becoming an idol of our heart. Kindling your inner fire for God on a daily basis will include taking regular Sabbath rests from the constant stimulation offered by technology.
Wind six: Sabbathlessness. Rarely do we shut down long enough to take a deep breath, relax, reflect and be renewed out from under the frenetic pace of life. The Lord himself finished his work of creation in six days, so that “by the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2:2,3). As a result, we are not only commanded to keep the Sabbath holy, but we are invited to do so as well. It’s a joy and a privilege, a gift and a blessing.
The rhythms of God-honoring Sabbath include ceasing (fully stopping anything that reflects our work life), resting (putting our feet up and relaxing our normally active bodies and minds so that we can attend to God’s Word, will and ways), celebrating (worshipful life in all its fullness as a community of dearly loved children of God) and embracing (affirming our gifts and calling as mission focused believers). Out of this Sabbath lifestyle, attitude, mindset and purposefulness we enter fully into living intentionally and humbly for Christ’s glory.
Wind seven: The inability to listen well…to God, to others, and even to ourselves. A closed or clogged up soul is unavailable for and inattentive primarily to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Is your soul a listening and attentive soul? To listen well is to give heed to, pay attention to. It’s at the heart of the gospel message, for God the Father said of Jesus, “This is my son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7). Jesus told his disciples, “Pay attention to how you listen!” (Luke 8:18, NRSV).
So how is it that we pay attention to the voice of Jesus? We are his followers, and he is like a shepherd to us (John 10:14). Therefore, we’re invited and instructed (as his wooly followers) to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and not to a stranger’s voice instead. So often the eyes and ears of our heart get distracted by the images and sounds of other influencers of our soul. Each of us are susceptible to those influences that lead us out of a posture of attentiveness to God and entice us instead to be led into pastures that keep us from flourishing in heart, soul, mind and strength.
All of the previously mentioned “winds that blow toward our soul and extinguish our inner flame for God” – our enemy the devil, our prideful self, the idols of our heart, our busyness, the abundant accessibility of technology, and our Sabbathlessness – lead us into the inattentiveness of our soul and the invitational voice of the Good Shepherd.
The prayer of my heart is that all who are called by God into an intimate fellowship with him will indeed listen attentively to the loving, forgiving, grace-filled, life-transforming voice of the Good Shepherd. Jesus longs to lead us beside quiet waters, refresh our souls, and guide us along right paths for his name’s sake (Psalm 23).
Steve Macchia will be leading Cornerstone’s Soul Care Pastors Retreat September 19-20, 2012 at Quaker Ridge Camp and Conference Center in Woodland Park, CO, near Colorado Springs. Click here for more information about the retreat and to register.