All posts in Ministry

  • Some Thoughts on Writing

    As most of you know by now, I announced Tuesday (October 2) that I have signed my first publishing contract. I have been working on a discipleship book since summer 2018 and after a number of rejections from other publishers, I received an enthusiastic yes from Herald Press! My book entitled By The Way: Getting Serious About Following Jesus will be released summer 2019.

    Writing this book and securing this publishing contract has been a long time coming. I have dreamed of the day when a publisher would say  “yes” and extend a contract offer. But it takes more than just daydreams to get to this point. In one sense this has been a 22-year work in progress for me.

    Let me back up the story…

    My College & Seminary Years

    I graduated with an undergraduate degree in Writing from Missouri Western State University in 1996. I began college as a philosophy and religion major, but I changed schools and Missouri Western didn’t offer a philosophy degree back in the 90s. (They do now!) I choose English/Writing because I thought it would be easy and it was. Writing came naturally to me, but I learned a lot about writing while in college. I learned to write for an audience. I learned to “show” and not “tell.” I learned to avoid the passive voice (most of the time). I learned to write simply, to use a smaller word in place of a big word when I could. I appreciate the foundation I received at Missouri Western.

    From 1996-1999 I was a seminary student at Oral Roberts University. Reading and writing seemed like a full time job. I learned to think and write theologically at ORU. My seminary professors commented on my writing ability and encouraged me to continue to write after graduation. I recall a note one of my professors wrote on one of my book reviews that I submitted as a part of his class. He wrote, “Give me the opportunity to write an endorsement for your first book!” I appreciate the encouragement I received at ORU.

    Writing as a Pastor

    In the mid-2000 I began to figure out that writing was a part of my call as a pastor. Much like my hero Eugene Peterson, I saw myself as a teacher, not just in the pulpit on Sundays or behind a lectern on Wednesday nights, but in the delicate art of writing. In 2006 while working on my doctorate degree at Asbury Theology Seminary, I received real clarity on my call as a pastor. I wasn’t called to start a new church as I previously assumed. I was called to “teach, write, and be a voice.”

    I self-published my first book in 2008, ten years ago, a book on spiritual transformation. I received my first rejection from a major publisher too. I didn’t want to self publish, but I had no other options. I ended up using a “author-subsidized” publisher. I paid too much and received too little. I went on to self publish three other books and I received more rejection emails from publishers who decided to pass on me. I also wrote countless online articles mostly as a part of the Missio Alliance writing team.

    In 2014 when I turned 40 while hiking on the Appalachian Trail I determined to remain focused on writing and publishing. I received an offer to write for Missio Alliance soon after that trip. I appreciate writing on this team of talented and thoughtful writers. Writing approximately once a month for over four years helped me form the discipline necessary to grow as a writer.

    Educators have something to teach regarding the art of writing, but good writing comes from writing and writing and writing. To set a good writing pace requires the discipline to keep writing. I started writing my discipleship book last year, but found myself floundering. I found much encouragement from Scot McKnight’s piece: Writing In Your Life where he described the discipline to write every day. Discussing this article with my friend Doug Main spurred me on to stop making excuses and develop a plan to write every day…or at least try to!

    I also found inspiration from Anne Lamott’s instructions on how to write.

    #ButtInChair has become a mantra for me. And it is so true! All writers face the temptation of distraction…sports, Twitter, news, texts, snacks, and on and on it goes. When I sit to write I think of 10,000 other things I could be doing, but alas, I firmly fix my butt in the chair and write.

    Now I have a contract and, more urgently, a deadline. My manuscript is due December 1. I have less than two months to finish writing the book (I have three more chapters to go!) and edit and edit and edit until I am sick of looking at it.

    I’m so grateful to so many of you who have encouraged me over the years. I appreciate it so much. Thank you. I’m also grateful to Valerie Weaver-Zercher at Herald Press for her enthusiasm for this writing project. I am humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to write this book. I can’t want to share it with you.

    I have much more to say, but I have a book to finish! I better get writing.


  • Book Review: People to Be Loved by Preston Sprinkle

    people to be lovedI have been anticipating the release of this important and timely book for some time. I have followed the author’s blogs on the subject and listened to him talk about the project for a while now. Understanding how to love our LGBT neighbors is an extremely important topic of discussion for Christians in general, and for evangelical Christians in particular. Preston Sprinkle has gone to great lengths to ground People to Be Loved not only in exegetical and theological research, but also in the real-life stories of LGBT people, stories of people who have suffered insults and isolation or worse throughout their lives. The result of his work is an honest, and at times heart-wrenching, look at what the Bible says about the sexual ethics related to those who have same-sex attraction. The strength of the book is in its ability to challenge people on both sides of the discussion. Far from fueling the culture wars over “gay marriage,” this book has the potential to bring people together in conversation as Sprinkle leads us in taking a fresh look at Scripture.

    rainbowI read the book over a three-week span. One night when I grabbed my copy of People to Be Loved, I saw something sticking out from book like a bookmark. My six year-old had drawn a rainbow and tucked it into the book. I took it as a sign! I finished my reading of the book with hope for the church, not that we will all agree, but that we can find a way forward to love one another despite our differences. Let me be clear: this book is not simply a pragmatic tool on how to carry on a debate about sexual ethics. Rather this book focuses on the Bible, and not merely what the Bible says, but what it means. Sprinkle argues that the debate surrounding homosexuality is not about what the Bible is saying, but what it means, because the Bible is clear in what it says. This claim is a bit over-stated as Sprinkle’s own exegesis shows. What the Bible is saying, the words it uses, is deeply entrenched in layers of cultural meaning requiring much effort to understand the key texts in this discussion. Thankfully Sprinkle has done solid work in grounding key Greek terms like pornia, malakoi, and aresenokoites in their historical context, a context which is debated among scholars. The book is itself a conversation with others who are writing on this topic, those who are also wrestling with Scripture to determine what it means and how it informs how we love and how we live…

    Read my entire review on the Missio Alliance blog here:


  • Teaching Christians to Speak Christian: 12 Essential Words

    Nicene-Constantinopolitan-CreedOne of the things I enjoy about distance running is the time it gives me to think. While on a long run this morning, I began to think about our task of making disciples of the Jesus way. I was thinking these things not because I am employed at a church and the word “Discipleship” appears in my title. I was thinking about these things, because I have been baptized into a community marked with this distinct vocation—to go into all the world and make disciples. On my run, I was specifically thinking of something I read from Stanley Hauerwas. In his new book The Work of Theology, he tackles a number of subjects including the connections between theology and ministry. As a self-proclaimed “high-church Mennonite,” Hauerwas cares deeply, and has written widely, about the importance of the church. Those who have been given the task to lead churches, we who are pastors, ministers, priests, and ordained clergy, are by nature theologically-driven people. Theology is after all what we say and what we think about God. Theology has (or should have) everything to do with our pastoral vocation.

    In the context of the connection between theology and ministry, Hauerwas writes, “one of the essential tasks of the theologian is to teach speech; it is to teach Christians how to speak Christian” (The Work of Theology, 111). I am surprised I had never thought of this idea before. Hauerwas is quite right. A part of my job as pastor and a member of the church Jesus is building includes teaching Christians to speak Christian. Words are important after all. Words have the power to shape the world we live in. We are a storied people in that we are the stories we tell and we are the stories we believe. While it may be theoretically possible to tell a story in images, good stories, well-told stories, are communicated with words. Learning new words give us the capacity to think in new ways, opening up new possibilities. In order to help Christians grow as true disciples, which includes a renewing of the mind, a reshaping of one’s worldview and beginning to think Christianly, we need to teach Christians the essential language of the Christian faith.

    So what are the core words that form the essential Christian vocabulary? I began to compile a list in my mind while running. I couldn’t keep all the words in my head so I grabbed my iPhone and used Siri’s assistance in recording the first couple of words that came to mind. I then took to social media and I asked my friends and followers a simple question: If the task of disciple making includes teaching Christians to speak Christian, then what are 10 words Christians should have in their vocabulary? Here is the master list I complied thanks to the help from my friends online:

    Salvation, Trinity, disciple, faith, hope, love, resurrection, Christ, Lord, Grace, church, surrender, Paschal mystery, relinquishing control, redemption, incarnation, transformation, justification, reconciliation, the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, Father, intimacy, Eucharist, servant, Bible, prevenient grace, justifying grace, sanctifying grace, proper theology, formation, Jesus, fruit, repentance, holy, mercy, ministry, communion, apprentice, humility, covenant faithfulness, baptism, justice, peace, praise, Maranatha, and theodicy. Also mentioned: tithe, transubstantiation, and Shibboleth which were all jokes except “tithe,” that one was half joke/ half serious.

    These words are good, but I want to condense this list down to the essentials. Maybe 10 words is too limiting, so I am going with 12. These are essential words in the Christian vocabulary. There are more words to learn, for sure, but these are the essentials, the big overarching words, every Christian must have in his or her vocabulary.

    1) Jesus
    God’s Son, Israel’s promised Messiah, and the world’s true Lord and Savior; fully God and fully Man

    2) Trinity
    The one God of Christian worship revealed in a holy community persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

    3) Disciple
    A follower of Jesus who learns from him, obeys him, and lives according to his teachings

    4) Church
    The gathering of disciples devoted to worship, community, and justice

    5) Grace
    God’s expression of love in the world to sustain and transform

    6) Salvation
    God’s act of rescuing people from sin and death and bringing them into his covenant family

    7) Humility
    A lowly mind, thinking of other people as more important than yourself

    8) Ministry
    Finding greatness by serving the church and others according to the gifts one has received

    9) Formation
    Becoming like Jesus in thought, character, and action

    10) Forgiveness
    Removing a person from the penalty they deserve to promote healing and wholeness

    11) Love
    Seeking the good and well being of another with heartfelt devotion

    12) Resurrection
    The victory of God in raising Jesus from the dead and our future hope

    My description of each word is not intended to be complete, but to open up conversations about the essential words of our story.


  • My New Book: Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright is Here

    bookcoverI am proud to announce the release of my new book: Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright: A Reader’s Guide to Paul and the Faithfulness of God. It is now available in paperback and on Kindle.

    Everyone has heroes. When I was growing up, mine was Michael Jordan. I idolized him. My bedroom was a shrine to his basketball awesomeness. Like Mike. If I could be like Mike. Then I grew up and faced the facts: I wasn’t a very good basketball player. I also grew up in my faith. As a teenager I began to take my faith seriously and my heroes began to change.

    In 2007 I found a new hero and he wasn’t a basketball player. He actually grew up playing rugby.

    I was a young pastor, serving my first church, and I was on a bit of spiritual journey. I needed new heroes and I found one across the pond, a then bishop in the Church of England, Tom Wright or as he is better known in North America, N.T. Wright. He is currently professor of New Testament Studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland. He is, without question in my mind, the most important and influential voice in the Church today. He also writes a lot of books and some of them are pretty big.

    I had a chance to meet him in 2014. He was lecturing at Christ Church Anglican in Kansas City. It was a ticketed event. I found out from one of the organizers that I was the first one to  purchase a ticket after they went on sale. I felt like a 12 year-old girl going to a One Direction concert. After the morning lecture I was able to meet him briefly at a book signing and although I was told he was not taking pictures, I snapped this picture with Tom.


    The book he was signing was Paul and the Faithfulness of God, a two-volume, 1,700-page densely-packed scholarly work on the theology of Paul. Tom has been working on this book for years or as he said in a recent interview, he has been working on Paul his whole adult life. It is a stunning academic accomplishment laying out in footnoted-detail what Paul was saying in his letters and what he was trying to accomplish. It is an important book, but I fear those who need to read it the most will have a tough time plowing through it. I took four months to read it and I ended up nearly 200 pages short. I had to take a break, before finishing it up.

    I have written Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright to make Tom’s work accessible. This book is like a road map to help you navigate through all the twists and turns as Tom works to reconstruct Paul’s world and his worldview, so we can see and understand what Paul has said about God, God’s people, and God’s future. These topics are massively important. Paul didn’t write philosophical discourses full of abstract speculation. He wrote real letters to real churches instructing them in the ways of life because something unbelievable had happened! The God of Israel, who is the God of all creation, had returned to his people and his work of new creation had begun! God has renewed his covenant and was in the process of renewing the minds of his people according to the new things he was doing.

    Paul wrote what he did because new life was springing up all around him and he wanted these small fledgling congregations loyal to King Jesus to begin to think Christianly, because God’s work of new creation is centered in and through his people. I could go on, but I really want you to read my book…and I need your help.

    My book is published by Doctrina Press, which is me. “Doctrina Press” is my own imprint. I have self-published this book, which means I am (among other things) the marketing department. I would love to have your help in promoting the book. Here are some things you can do:

    1. Check out the book on The book is available in a paperback and Kindle edition.
    2. If you have friends who are interested in N.T. Wright and/or Christian theology, or who are serious students of the Bible, send them a link to the book on Amazon.
    3. Use your social media accounts to direct people to the book.
    4. If you have a chance to read the book, leave an Amazon review.

    I sent a PDF copy of the book to Tom not expecting a reply, but one day later I received a response. For me Tom Wright is a rock star, so getting his response was like getting an email from Bono. He thanked me and congratulated me for “ably summarizing” his big book on Paul. He said he was grateful, which made me happy. He also said that he wished I would have sent him my manuscript before I published it. He would have been happy to clarify some things. Dang! I should have emailed him earlier. He also said he would be “delighted” to meet with me if we were ever in the same part of the world at the same time. I have to find a way to make that happen.

    Anyway…check out the book, tell you friends, and let me know what you think.

  • Lent 2015

    lent_2015Lent comes early this year. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season, is tomorrow. Christmas Day is the same day every year on the calendar. Easter moves around…something about the phases of the moon. I’m not sure. Lent has been a part of the Christian tradition for a long, long time; I have only been observing Lent for six or seven years. My mistake.

    Lent has become a regular part of the year for me. I look forward to it, not in the same way I look forward to Christmas or Easter (Have you ever tried frozen peeps!). I look forward to Lent because it has been a time-tested practice of the church to grow in faith and identify with Jesus. Lent is a season on the church calendar the 40 days before Easter that helps us to prepare for Easter. It is designed to be a time of confession, prayer, repentance, fasting, and “giving something up” in order to identify with the sufferings of Jesus. Every Sunday is a mini celebration of the resurrection, but Easter Sunday is the ultimate celebration of the resurrection. For those of us following Jesus resurrection is a BIG deal. So for many of us the season of Lent has become a big deal. Lent is important as a way to prepare for Easter, because…

    You cannot know the joy of the resurrection without enduring the sorrow of the cross.

    Lent gives us a slow, winding, meticulous way to reflect on the sufferings of Christ culminating on his death on the cross. Lent is not convenient. Lent is not comfortable. It does not fit our consumer-driven sensibilities. It does help to form us in Christ-likeness. It does help expose our idols. It does help us to grow up.

    At Word of Life Church, we are venturing out into the Lenten season with four Ash Wednesday Services (7 a.m., noon, 5:30 p.m., and 7 p.m.) and then we are praying every day (except for Sunday) in our Upper Room prayer chapel at 12:15 p.m. These prayer gatherings will follow a Midday Prayer Liturgy that will sound and feel the same every day. We are baptizing people on the first Sunday of Lent and we are offering Lenten Small Groups on Sunday morning immediately following the worship service. We have also put together a Lenten Scripture Reading Guide to focus your Bible reading on the sufferings of Christ.

    For me personally, I am reading three books: Simply Good News by N.T. Wright, Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers compiled by Andrew Louth and Maxwell Staniforth, and Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words by Rod Bennett. I try to pick books to read during Lent with a particular focus on Jesus. This year I wanted to read from some of the writings of the church fathers. I threw in an N.T. Wright book in the mix just because.

    I invite you to join us on this Lenten journey. Pick some meals or days during the week and fast. Give something up. Seek out silence. Repent. Give yourself to prayer. Join a small group. Read. Read slowly. Read contemplatively. Expect things to change. And most of all, look for Jesus.

  • Reflecting on 2014 with Just a Little Patience

    As I sit here waiting for some friends to come over to the house for our New Year’s Eve celebration, it’s a good time to reflect a bit on the calendar year that is passing. I was recently asked to recount what had happened in 2014 and share any aspirations I had for 2015. The first thing that came to mind about 2014 was a little truth that became real for me this year. I think I am further down the road in becoming a patient person. What I have learned is this:

    Almost all wisdom can be summed up in patience.

    I have known for quite some time that patience is a Christian virtue, a fruit of the Spirit, the calling card of the aged sages. I have never really been a patient person. I have been in a hurry for seemingly all my life. When I was 13 years-old, I wanted to be 16. When I was 16, I wanted to be 18. When I was 18, I wanted to be 25. It was not until my early 30s when I begin to really practice the patience I had heard about for so long. In my early 30s I was pastoring a church and learning the slow, difficult process of loving people on the way to becoming more like Jesus. In my vocation as a pastor I adopted patience as a philosophy of ministry; it is the way pastors love and serve their congregations. We do so with patience.

    I had learned to serve God’s people with patience, but I don’t know if I had reallybecome a patient person at that time. I was still unsettled, discontented, and unsure about myself. I pursued further education and began to write books, which were deeply satisfying, but not enough to change me. Then came 2014. I turned 40 years-old. The transition from 29 to 30 came and went without much thought, but turning 40 was a big deal for me. If by strength we are given 80 years of life then I had reached the halfway point. I turned 40 in the most memorable way. I woke up on my birthday at the Hawk Mountain Shelter on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and by the early afternoon I was standing on top of Springer Mountain in North Georgia, the Southern terminus of the AT. By the end of the day, I was standing2014-06-15 19.20.47 under the iconic arch at the visitor center at Amicalola State Park bringing the end to a 17-mile day and a 100-mile hike that had started 8 days earlier in Deep Gap, North Carolina. Long distance hiking requires a lot of patience. I could drive 100 miles in less than 2 hours. By foot, it took me 8 days. I did a lot of thinking on the trail, a lot of thinking about they kind of person I wanted to be in my next 40 years of life. I thought a lot about patience and about being present to the present moment. I think I am getting closer to being a patient person.

    My wife Jenni and I recently (re)watched Seven Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt. The movie reminded me of the great patience and contentment of the Buddhist people. What drives them towards patience and contentment is different than what drives me as a follower of Jesus, but the patience is the same. I can rightly look at practitioners of Buddhism and call them wise as they reflect the patience I see in Jesus. Please do not misunderstand. I am committed to the Christian faith. I am committed to God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am committed to allowing the Holy Spirit to produce the life of patience in me. I am equally committed to admiring all who exhibit patience. I asked my wife if she thought I had become a more patient person. Her hesitation and silence told me all I need to know; I still have a long way to go. She agrees I have become more patient but we both agree I have not yet arrived.

    Now back to waiting for my friends to arrive.

    Waiting. This is what patient people do.

  • Prayer of Irenaeus

    Prayer to God the Father
    A Prayer of Irenaeus

    I appeal to you, Lord,
    God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob and Israel,
    You the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Infinitely merciful as you are, it is your will that we should learn to know you.
    You made heaven and earth, you rule supreme over all that is.
    You are the true, the only God; there is no other god above you.

    Through our Lord Jesus Christ…and the gifts of the Holy Spirit,
    grant that all who read what I have written here may know you,
    because you alone are God; let them draw strength from you;
    keep them from all the teaching that is heretical, irreligious or godless.


    (Taken from Early Christian PrayersEdited by A. Hamman, Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1961, 30-31)

  • Following Jesus: A Brief Look at the Word of Life Church Story

    People are crazy and times are strange 
    I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
    I used to care, but things have changed
    – Bob Dylan

    Come follow me.
     – Jesus

    The Word of Life Church story has been 33 years in the making. It has been a story filled with drama, mystery, certitude, and searching and seeking with an evolving cast of characters. I have been on staff, serving as the Pastor of Discipleship, for only three years, but I know the story. I attended this church in the 1990s during a  time of numeric growth and now I have the privilege of serving this church as one of the pastors during a more mature time of spiritual growth. It has been nothing more than the story of a people following Jesus.

    Our church began in St. Joseph, Missouri without much fanfare in 1981. Brian Zahnd, our lead pastor, was 22 years-old and he, and his wife Peri, hadn’t been married very long when they started the church. Brian had been leading Bible studies since he was 15 and as a young adult he was one of the leaders of a coffee house style ministry in St. Joseph. Brian and Peri started the church because they were following Jesus. They were products of the Jesus Movement of the 1970s, a nation-wide resurgence of vibrant Christian faith among young people interested in all things Jesus. Our church was born out of the hearts of people who were enthusiastically following Jesus. The atmosphere in those days was revivalistic. Jesus was capturing the attention of so many and we wanted so desperately to be a part of what he was doing. The mood was electric among the meager congregation who believed God was at work in our church.

    The close affinity between the Jesus Movement and the Charismatic Renewal led us to incorporate charismatic distinctives into our faith and practice. In the late 80s and early 90s the church began to experience numeric growth which was accompanied by changes. Staff was added. We relocated to a larger venue for our worship services. Our journey through charismatic Christianity brought us into the “word of faith” branch of that movement. We wanted to follow Jesus in what we saw him doing: preaching the gospel, healing the sick, establishing people in the victory of God, and bringing people into an authentic experience with God. By the mid-1990s the atmosphere was thick with excitement. The general tone of our preaching and teaching was one of faith and victory. It wasn’t long before we became a mega church of the charismatic word-of-faith variety. We bought land. Built (through much struggle) a large ministry complex and continued to add people who wanted to be a part of our church.

    By the turn of the century, we had experienced success as a church, at least “success” as defined by the church growth experts of the 1990s. In 2004, things began to change…again. In the midst of our outward success, there was a growing longing for something more substantive than we were experiencing. Our lead pastor had for some time been reading historical theology and the church fathers, men who were following Jesus a long time ago. He started with Augustine and then moved on to Athanasius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Gregory of Nyssa, and the other Cappadocian Fathers. He stumbled on a deeper, richer, sacramental faith. We began to remove layers of varnish from the Jesus we were following and we found a Jesus much more compelling, much more challenging than the Jesus we knew. Without the cultural assumptions we had thrust upon him, we discovered a beautiful Jesus and a beautiful Gospel. We couldn’t stay the same; things had changed. So we packed our bags and moved on from the charismatic/word of faith movement. Some people wrestled with the changes and stayed; others wrestled and left. Jesus has continued to be gracious to us and we are beginning to see a depth of growth and spiritual formation we hadn’t seen in years past. It seems like we are growing up.

    So what has changed in the last ten or eleven years? The simple answer is much has changed, but one thing has remained consistent: our desire to take up our cross and follow Jesus wherever he is leading.

    We learned much from the charismatic movement, but we discovered that Jesus’ work is not limited to that one single stream. Jesus has been building his church for 2,000 years and it is filled with diverse beauty. We have come to discover Jesus among the Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Evangelical, and Charismatic Christians. We have rediscovered the central and essential practice of communion in our worship gatherings. We have seen Jesus in his reign over a peaceable kingdom. We have rejected the divisive “us vs. them” way of looking at people and conflicts. We have learned to be quiet and contemplative in addition to being raucous and celebratory. We have grown in appreciation of the liturgical calendar and the ancient practices that have sustained the church from the beginning. We have grown to see God’s work in community within our church instead of measuring success by the crowds at our events. We have rejected certitude and embraced mystery, while being guided by the creeds and ecumenical councils of the church. We now hear the Gospel not as the instructions on how to go to heaven when we die, but a bold proclamation of a new day, a new creation coming with the reign of Jesus as the world’s true Lord. We have learned to love the Bible as the inspired witness to Jesus who is the Word made flesh. We have not arrived, so we continue to pray the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. We continue to learn and grow and struggle as Jesus is being formed in us. So we wait to see where Jesus will lead us next.

    For more information on our journey, check out this interview by Trevin Wax:

  • Why I Don’t Pray for Revival

    Nineteenth Century Methodist Campmeeting

    There was a time in the early days of my faith, in the days of my spiritual adolescence, where I prayed (often) for revival, for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to grip people with religious fervor so that those outside the faith would be compelled to pay attention. I prayed these kinds of prayers for a long time. Recently I realized I don’t pray for revival or spiritual awakening anymore. I still pray, but a request for revival hasn’t crossed my lips for years. As I realized this absent request in my life of prayer, I checked myself: Have I grown cold? Have I grown complacent? Am I backslidden? Does my love for God no longer compel me to desire his work be done on the earth? Am I lazy? Distracted? Unfocused? Have I lost my way? After a prayerful examination of my heart, I must answer “no.”

    So why have these prayers vanished from my “prayer list”?

    The reasons for not praying for revival are many. Before I share these, I must emphasize these are my reasons. I am not implying praying for revival is a bad thing per se. I am not implying you shouldn’t pray for it. Feel free to pray according for to your conscience. I simply want you to consider praying in a different way. Here are my reasons:

    I don’t pray for revival, because I don’t think I ever knew exactly what I was praying for. I can recall many prayers for revival in the past, but I cannot pin down exactly what was in my imagination when I was praying those prayers. I read a lot about the history of revival in North America. I was well aware of the First Great Awakening, Cane Ridge Revival, the Second Great Awakening, the Azusa Street Revival, the Revival at Asbury College in the 1970s. I read Winkie Pratney’s Revival (1984) and the more academic Dynamics of Spiritual Life by Richard F. Lovelace (1979). Good books. I still have them on my shelf, but for whatever reason, the subject of revival was never very clear in my mind when I was praying. Maybe this was fault. In my mind when I was praying for revival, I imagined a large number of Christian people (it was always a large number, always a crowd) repenting of sin with demonstrative, emotional outbursts. For me the emphasis was more on the crowds and the emotional fervor than what God may, or may not, have been doing. Perhaps I had an incomplete or misguided imagination of what revival is. I could be wrong, but I suppose most people think of crowds and emotionally-charged meetings when they think of revival.

    I don’t pray for revival, because I have learned the primary purpose of prayer is for me to be properly formed. Prayers for revival are certainly requests telling God what he should do and how he should do it. Don’t misunderstand me: prayer includes making our requests known to God. No problems there, but obsessively praying for revival didn’t form me into the image of Jesus. Praying with a misplaced priority on requests for revival formed me into an irritated, angry, judgmental kind of person. Yuck! I remember the anxiety I felt in praying over and over again for revival and not seeing it! Not seeing the crowds. Not seeing the emotional displays of real love for God. Yes I used the word “real,” because I had become so judgmental that I began to question people’s love for God by how much emotional-affection they displayed. “Why does revival tarry?” asked Leonard Ravenhill. It had something to do with lazy Christians who would rather eat dinner with their friends and occasional sinners! Lazy Christians who would rather go to post-wedding parties where (gasp!) wine was served! Lazy Christians who wasted their time reclining after a large meal with friends instead of praying for revival! (Oh wait. I think I just described Jesus.) Maybe others can pray for revival and not become bitter and aggravated and judgmental. I couldn’t. Rather it seems like I have become more content and less-judgmental, more like Jesus, since I have learned to pray another way.

    I don’t pray for revival, because I came to reject chaotic emotional spontaneity as the de facto work of the Holy Spirit. I celebrate the launching of the church into her mission in the world by the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. I read the New Testament (and the entire Bible) through the lens of the the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit. I depend on the power, presence, and activity of the Spirit in all of the operations of the church life. To be honest, I personally depend on the Spirit’s power and presence to form me into a husband and dad that reflects the beauty of Jesus in my family life. Nevertheless, I have learned the importance of discerning the difference between an emotional experience and a spiritual experience. I do believe the Holy Spirit has free reign over God’s people to do whatever he wants to do in whatever way he chooses to do it. I do not doubt his presence can overwhelm the emotions and work in such a way that by-passes our plans. I have experienced such encounters with the Spirit. My point is we face an inherent danger if we assume this is the only, or even the primary, way the Spirit works. If we pray for a revival, an outpouring of God’s spirit, and the emotional spontaneity is not there, we will face the temptation to fake it. By “fake it,” I don’t mean we intentionally manipulate people for an emotional response (though regrettably such manipulation happens), rather we enter into some strange sort of psychological drama, conjuring up an emotional reaction and calling it “revival.” I want to be aware of, and submitted to, the presence of God’s Spirit, but I don’t want to fake it.

    I don’t pray for revival, because Jesus never commands us to pray for it. Surprisingly Jesus never tells us to pray for what we commonly call “revival.” I know, I know there are many things we pray for that Jesus didn’t specifically tell us to pray for, but throughout the New Testament we don’t see prayers for revival. Yes, we see prayers for the coming of the Spirit, prayers for the work of Jesus to come on the earth, prayers for the kingdom of God to come, prayers for the church, but from my reading, we do not see anything in the New Testament resembling a prayer for a group of people to fall on their knees and cry out for God with tears in their eyes and contrition in their voices. The concept of “revival” was born out of Christendom in Western Christianity, in a place where Christianity was the assumed religion, where Christians needed some mechanism, some construct, to identify authentic Christians from among nominal Christians. I understand that need. We don’t live there anymore. We, in North America, live in a post-Christian, post-Christendom world. We are much more like the pre-Nicene church of the first couple of centuries growing and spreading throughout the pagan empire without a “revival” in the modern sense of the word.

    I don’t pray for revival, because I tend to pray kingdom-minded prayers. So much of my faith and prayer life began to change when I began to see the kingdom, when I began to see the rule and reign of Jesus on earth through the church. I first began to see the kingdom as a seminary student at Oral Roberts University, a school “forged in the fires of healing evangelism.” I began to see the healing ministry of Jesus connected to his proclamation of the kingdom of God. Jesus “performed” miracles not to appease the interest of the crowd or even to prove his divinity. He healed people, often by a miracle touch, to demonstrate the very real presence of the kingdom of God in and among the crowd. Jesus revealed the kingdom comes like a seed not like a circus. I know I am running the risk of constructing a caricature, but it seems like much of the talk about “revival,” particularly within modern Pentecostalism, is loud, noisy, and centered-around the platform. I do not believe this image is true among all Pentecostal/charismatics, but there is at least a few pockets in that movement who see “revival” in terms of a sensational circus built around celebrity ministry super-stars. The kingdom of God is NOT like the sensational circus. The kingdom is like yeast in the dough that makes the bread rise. It is like seed planted in a garden. It is like a treasure buried in a field sought by a man who for joy (an emotional reaction!) sold all he had and bought the field. Prayers for revival are more centered around personal spiritual encounters than the kingdom of God. As I continue to see the kingdom, I continue to pray kingdom-minded prayers. I haven’t prayed for revival for years, but I pray “may your kingdom come” nearly every day.

    I don’t pray for revival, because often “revival” does not build up the church. It seems like my prayers for revival began to diminish when my prayers for the church increased. I love the church. I love the church not only for what the church has done for me, but because Jesus loves the church and his work through the Spirit is to build his church. From my experience, “revivals” do not build the church long term. The First and Second Great Awakenings produced undeniable marks on the religious consciousness of eighteenth and nineteenth century America, but what churches were born of those revivals? Jonathan Edwards’ revival in the early eighteenth century was among the Congregationalists, a movement that, to my knowledge, no longer exists. Conversely, the Methodist movement (which was a revival movement of sorts) not only featured open-air meetings, but a methodological (pun intended!) approach to church planting. The Azusa Street Revival did in fact produce lots of churches and denominations. I cannot deny the lasting effects of the seminal modern Pentecostal revival. However, I have heard of too many Pentecostal revivals that draw big crowds but leave the host church devastated. Those who focus their prayer life on revival easily become (as I did) irritated, aggravated, and critical. Too often they end up blaming the institutional church or established churches for the lack of revival and thus become embittered towards the church. They form their separate prayer groups, praying for revival, but they refuse to participate fully in one local church because they cannot find a church “spiritually-minded” enough. The Spirit poured out on the day of Pentecost launched the church and this same Spirit empowers the church. So we pray for the Spirit to come. We pray for Christ to come.

    So how do I pray?

    I pray for the kingdom to come.
    I pray for God’s mercy to cleanse and defend the church.
    I pray for people to seek after and find Jesus.
    I pray for God to bring the nations into his fold.
    I pray for the Spirit to be outpoured on all flesh.
    I pray God would hasten the coming of his kingdom.
    Most of all, I pray that I may be conformed, by the Spirit, into the image of Jesus for the joy of God the Father.

    If by “revival” you mean, like J.I. Packer, an ongoing flow of grace where by:
    1. God comes down.
    2. God’s Word pierces.
    3. Man’s sin is seen.
    4. Christ’s cross is valued.
    5. Change goes deep.
    6. Love breaks out.
    7. Joy fills hearts.
    8. Each church becomes itself—becomes, that is, the people of the divine presence in an experiential, as distinct from merely notional, sense.
    9. The lost are found.*
    …then fine by me, pray for these things.

    But if by revival, you mean something else than the church becoming itself, then I encourage you to pray for something else.

    If you are interested in growing in your prayer life, come join us for our Prayer School with Brian Zahnd, Friday & Saturday, October 17-18, 2014. Cost is only $20. Register here:

    (*List complied by Justin Taylor


  • Prayer for World Peace

    On this day when Muslims, Jews, and Christians are praying for peace between Israeli and Palestinians, I prayed this prayer…

    Prayer for World Peace
    By Sister Joan Chittister of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie

    Great God, who has told us “Vengeance is mine,”
    save us from ourselves, save us from the vengeance in our hearts and the acid in our souls.

    Save us from our desire to hurt as we have been hurt,
    to punish as we have been punished, to terrorize as we have been terrorized.

    Give us the strength it takes to listen rather than to judge,
    to trust rather than to fear, to try again and again to make peace even when peace eludes us.

    We ask, O God, for the grace to be our best selves.
    We ask for the vision to be builders of the human community rather than its destroyers.
    We ask for the humility as a people to understand the fears and hopes of other peoples.

    We ask for the love it takes to bequeath to the children of the world to come more than the failures of our own making.
    We ask for the heart it takes to care for all the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq,
    of Palestine and Israel as well as for ourselves.

    Give us the depth of soul, O God,
    to constrain our might,
    to resist the temptations of power
    to refuse to attack the attackable,
    to understand that vengeance begets violence,
    and to bring peace–not war–wherever we go.

    For You, O God, have been merciful to us.
    For You, O God, have been patient with us.
    For You, O God, have been gracious to us.

    And so may we be merciful
    and patient
    and gracious
    and trusting
    with these others whom you also love.

    This we ask through Jesus,
    the one without vengeance in his heart.
    This we ask forever and ever. Amen