Everything That's On My Mind (Almost) - Pastoral Wisdom

Just over a month ago our family moved to Michigan and began working with Woodside Bible Church to launch the tenth and newest campus in the city of Plymouth. It’s been a great season for us so far and we’ve seen the deepest works of God’s grace. Yesterday was our “All Staff” meeting where all the staff from the ten Woodside campuses gather together to hear vision, build up one another, and see how God is at work all over Woodside. Yesterday’s meeting also included our Senior Pastor, Doug Schmidt interviewing the pastor that he followed, David Anderson. One of the things that I value most is learning from older men in ministry. As David spoke he fired off tweet-like counsel and reflections that were a deep benefit for me. Here’s a few of the nuggests of his counsel that I gleaned yesterday:

  • Time is your friend, lead well by building consensus. 
  • Pray more - you will never regret spending more time in prayer.
  • Train individuals - don’t just leave your disciple-making to the pulpit.
  • Be prepared - start working in the word now!
  • You can sheer a sheep many times, but you can only skin a sheep once.
  • Be careful and wise as a pastor.
  • You have a ministry, not a job. Job’s are 8-5, ministry is 24/7
  • Build trust wherever you can. People need to know they can open their heart to you.
  • Invest in people, don’t use them. They are not stepping stones to build your little kingdom.
  • Love your family well.
  • Go on vacation.
  • Do the next obvious thing for the glory of God.

I love these thoughts and am grateful for opportunities to learn from faithful and fruitful pastors who have run the race well. May that be true of me as well. 

The Answered Prayer of 2014

At the beginning of this year I posted a hymn that would by my singular prayer appropriate to anchor me as I looked forward; “Guide me, O thou great Jehovah!” I was pretty anxious but also excited about the year that lay ahead and was eager to trust the Lord for wherever he was going to guide me. Little did I know what 2014 would hold.

Frankly, it was the most difficult year of my life, even beyond all my our family went through with mom's illness. The pressure, assaults, and trials of this last year leave me eager to be done with it. I feel no sorrow that 2014 is over. In fact, just the opposite. “Good riddance!” Yet that doesn’t mean that God hasn’t been faithful, and that he has not been wise in leading me in the way in which he did. It just wouldn’t have chosen the path I was taken on at all.

In His wisdom, I have seen the truths of this hymn unravel throughout the year. The Bread of Heaven has fed me and sustained me through the trials. The Strong Deliver has been my strength and shield. The defeater of death and hell has lead me safe so far.

If anything is true of 2014 it is that I have been safe in the Lord’s leading. He has guided me and done it for his glory, and my good. The truth of “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” is that is the one who will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, so we have nothing to fear. He will guide, care, protect, and love all those who trust in him. Whatever may come from his sovereign hand, we can trust his wisdom. I will continue to robustly affirm and sing this song as a way of issuing “songs of praises” to the one who is so great and so kind. 

I do not look fondly back at 2014, but I see the evidence of a God who has safely guided me through the troubled waters. I'm praying for green pastures and still waters in 2015, but whatever the case ahead he will guide me well. 

A Plan For Prayer

At the conclusion of every year I always see a handful of posts about reading the Bible in a year. I have no problem with this and want to encourage you to plan and practice reading through the Bible on a consistent basis. However, Scripture intake alone is not the means by which we grow as a Christian. Just as we have a means to hear God from his Word so we also have a means by which to respond to or “answer God” back in prayer. Calvin remarks, “To call upon God is the chief exercise of faith and hope; and it is in this way that we obtain from God every blessing.”1

Just as we have plans for Scripture intake, we need plans for praying. Perhaps you might feel that this turns something that should be spontaneous and relationally organic into something dutiful and forced, but I would actually argue the opposite. We are not natural prayers, quite the opposite in fact, we neglect prayer often. We aren’t predisposed to talking with God and communing with him. We fill our lives with distraction, noise, hurried business, and anything and everything but prayer. If we want to see prayer become something that is a delight and not a mere duty we must work at it. A plan will help us in this.

Timothy Keller’s latest book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God has been an enormous help for me in developing a prayer plan, as well as Eugene Peterson’s book Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. Keller has included a plan for morning, midday, and evening prayer that I feel will be a helpful and good start in developing a stronger prayer life this next year. Here is a summarized version of his plan:2

Morning Prayer:

  • Pray through Psalm 95
  • Read two chapters from the Robert Murray M’Cheyne daily reading plan
  • Meditate on favorite verses within the daily reading
  • Freely pray in the categories of “Adoration” (who God is), and “Supplication” (what our concerns are)

Midday Prayer:

  • Pray through Psalm 103
  • Paraphrase the Lord’s Prayer
  • Self-examination
  • Free prayer for the challenges of the day and moment

Evening Prayer

  • Read and pray through two Psalms, working through the Psalter.
  • Confession and repentance of sins.
  • Intercession for family, friends, the local church, your neighbors, and city.
  • Thanksgiving

Two other suggestions that come to mind in developing a prayer plan are Joe Thorn’s prayer guide through the Valley of Vision. The other is to buy a journal of some sort (I prefer a Moleskine) and write out your prayers. This can force your mind to stay focused on speaking to God and give you a direction in praying so that you don’t mentally wander off.

In any regard having a plan to pray this next year is just as helpful as having a plan to read through the Bible. I would encourage you to develop or borrow a prayer plan for 2015 and grow in your desire and delight in speaking to our Heavenly Father.

What are some of your plans for how you will pray in 2015?

  1. John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 340.
  2. See the appendix on pages 263-266. 

The Best of 2014

As we wind this year down (thankfully) and get ready for 2015 here are some of my categorical favorites from this last year:

Best Album

Borderland — John Mark McMillan

This album continues to get playtime in my earbuds and continues to haunt me regularly. Several songs off this album are especially excellent, first among them is “Future/Past.” McMillan sings:

And you,
You are my first
You are my last
You are my future and my past

Honorable Mentions

  • Page CXVI — Good Friday to Easter: Their original song “Roll Away The Stone” is my new favorite Easter song. I will be strongly advocating that we sing it together at Woodside this Easter.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1: True, none of these songs are 2014 natives, but the album as a whole set the tone for the film, and they are fun classic rock tunes. Great summertime road trip music.
  • U2 — Songs of Innocence: It’s U2. Fantastic album. Free album! (Stop your petty whining).

Best Film

The LEGO Movie

While this film is a gigantic marketing piece, it’s also a brilliant, funny, engaging, and enjoyable film. The humor, pace, and story of the entire film is worth-while and I think well done. Plus, LEGOs. So we have that going for us. Everything, in this film, is awesome.

Honorable Mentions

  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Chris Pratt’s other film in 2014. It was a refreshing twist on the super hero formula. Well done Marvel.
  • Interstellar: I am still thinking about this film from Christopher Nolan. There were some things I didn’t like about it, but the fact that I am wanting to see it again says a lot.
  • Captain America: Winter Soldier: The best spy-thriller movie since The Borne Supremacy.

Best Book:

The Psalms by Crossway Books, English Standard Version

It might not be fair to include an entire book of the Bible as the “best book” of 2014 for me, but this book gave me words this last year. It gave me words to talk with God about all that I was going through and enduring. It gave me words to properly cry out for help, justice, healing, and praise. The book of Psalms was exactly what I needed this year. Thankfully Crossway released a “Psalter” that is beautifully set and bound and will last as a prayer book for me for decades. This book has been with me all year long.

Honorable Mentions

  • Make, Mature, Multiply edited by Brandon Smith: A solid anthology of articles on various aspects of discipleship. An excellent resource from my friends at GCD.
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: Yes, I know it wasn’t written this year, but I read it a few weeks ago and loved it. Such a surprising and excellent story.
  • Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright: A remarkable and well researched book on the resurrection and our hope in it. I don’t always agree with Wright, but his work in this area of theology is sounds and precise. 

What were your best albums, films, or books this last year?