Change Your Brain through Silence and the Daily Office

In our current hurried, multi-tasking culture, an increasingly large numbers of Christ-followers are not spending time to cultivate their personal relationship with Jesus. They are Christians but are stuck, living on a spiritual auto-pilot.

I am teaching the EHS Course at New Life this Fall to about 130 people. It has been an eye-opening experience for me to dig deeply into people’s spiritual practices around spending time with God, and calling them to an intentional rhythm with God integrating silence and the Daily Office (through the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day book).

Not surprisingly, silence is the greatest challenge for most people along with the cultivation of a rhythm of stopping to be with God. My stopping to be with God four times a day is indispensable for my life. (In a future blog I will describe my rhythms). Let me invite you to watch this 3-4 minute introduction on the Daily Office and download a digital version to your mobile device from Amazon , Christian Book Distributors or Barnes & Noble.

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Silent prayer goes back to the first century as a central way to enter into the contemplative dimension of life. As Henri Nouwen said so well: “Without silence it is virtually impossible to grow spiritually.” I agree. It is an invitation to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Silent Prayeris a state of being in direct contact with God who dwells within us. It is about intention, that is, being totally open to God. It is the boot camp of the Garden of Gethsemane (“not my will, but your will”) as we consent to the presence and the action of God within us.

The following are 3 guidelines that I have learned from the Trappist monk, Thomas Keating, and his ministry of Contemplative Outreach to help me with my times of being still before the Lord (Ps. 37:7).

  1. Be in faith and love to God who dwells in the center of your being.
  2. Take up a love word towards Him (e.g. Abba, Father, Lord,) and let it be gently present, supporting your being with God in faith-filled love.
  3. Whenever you become aware of distractions, simply gently return to the Lord with the use of your prayer word.

Research with Buddhists and Christian monks has demonstrated conclusively how the practice of silence transforms the neurochemistry of the brain. That is true, of course. Why? Silence was always meant to be part of Gods’ plan for transformation of our lives.

So let me invite you to change your brain and change your life. How? By venturing on this exciting journey with silence and the Daily Office.

 

Ten Principles for Exercising Power and Wise Boundaries


I have been working hard in these months writing The Emotionally Healthy Leader (Zondervan, 2015). The following is a sidebar from a chapter on power and wise boundaries that I trust you will enjoy:

  1. Do an honest inventory of the power God has granted you.
    To be faithful we need to be profoundly aware of the various sources of power God has granted us. We are at risk to use it poorly if we ignore or minimize our power.
  2. Unresolved family of origin dynamics that are buried alive resurface when joined with power. The workplace and church are key places where our triggers and “hot buttons” will emerge.
  3. Enlist wise counsel to monitor dual relationships. Mentors, therapists, wise elders and mature friends give us perspective and counsel. It is critical we know our limits and defer to others discernment.
  4. Watch for early warning signs of danger. People change. We change. The church changes. What works now may not work fifteen years from now. Have honest conversations about the risks, drawbacks, and challenges before you.
  5. Be sensitive to cultural, ethnic, gender and generational nuances. The cultural differences around power, authority, age, history is vast. Be a learner. 
  6. Release people (paid and volunteer) in a Christian way. First, determine if the person’s role can be redefined. Secondly, see if they can be reassigned. And finally, it may become clear they need to be released. Once that is determined, be honest, fair, caring and clear about their strengths and stress points in this present role.
  7. The burden to set the boundaries and keep them clear is on the person with greater power. Even though a person in our ministry may manipulate a situation, the greater burden falls on us. Why? God has entrusted us with greater power.
  8. Be friends with friends, a pastor to parishioners, a mentor to mentorees, and a supervisor to volunteers/employees. Monitor and avoid dual relationships as much as possible. Ask yourself, “What role is dominant for me in this relationship? Who am I for this person in the relationship? Who are they for me?”
  9. Meditate on Jesus’ life as you encounter the suffering and loneliness of leadership. It is lonely and a suffering to exercise the self-discipline needed to exercise your power in a way that liberates others. Take extra time to monitor the movements of your heart in reading the life and passion of Jesus.
  10. Ask God for grace to forgive your “enemies,” and yourself. You will make mistakes and hurt people. Jesus prayed all night and called Judas. People will feel betrayed by you; you will be betrayed. I have yet to meet a Christian leader who has not experienced betrayal like Christ. “A servant is not greater than his master.” 

5 Levels of Transformation

Explore how the 5 Levels of Transformation impact change and leadership in this months Emotionally Healthy Leadership podcast with Pete Scazzero and Rich Villodas. This 13 minute conversation examines learning and the slow process of personal transformation and transforming church culture.

Click the image below to watch on YouTube or click to listen to the podcast on iTunes.

 

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How Emotional Healthy is Your Planning and Decision Making?

For years I wondered, “How is Christian planning and decision-making different? How do I safeguard we are “carrying out plans” that are God’s and not our own (Isaiah 30:1)? The integration of the word Christian with planning and decision-making was much more challenging than I imagined.

Health is best measured on a continuum. Use this brief assessment to get an idea of where you are today. Next to each statement, write down the number that best describes your response. Use the following scale:

5 = Always true of me

4 = Frequently true of me

3 = Occasionally true of me

2 = Rarely true of me

1 = Never true of me

_____ 1.      Discernment and the doing of God’s will is my most important work as a leader.

_____ 2.       I am acutely aware of the temptation to pursue more opportunities than God intends because of my own shadow or the pressure of others.

_____ 3.      I consider the inner preparation of the planning/decision making process (e.g. sufficient time alone with God) as more important than external preparation (e.g. gathering relevant data).

_____ 4.      I allow enough time for a prayerful, reflexive process for planning and decision-making.

_____ 5.      I engage in short-term pain for the long-term good of our ministry and organization.

_____ 6.      I am careful not to engage in important conversations, or make plans and decisions, when I am triggered, upset, or angry.

_____ 7.      My decisions and plans are informed by my marriage/singleness, rhythms of loving union with Christ, and Sabbath practice.

_____ 8.      I take into thoughtful consideration the impact of decisions and initiatives will have on the leaders who serve alongside me.

_____ 9.      I don’t make decisions without prayerfully, and prudently, thinking through the long-term implications.

_____ 10.   I am profoundly aware that my will often conflicts with God’s will.

 
Take a moment to briefly review your responses. What stands out most to you? For a practical example of how to do this with your team, see my most recent blog post: The Woodcarver, a Leadership Team Experience.

The Woodcarver: A Leadership Team Experience

When we do staff retreats at New Life, we create “being” experiences before our “doing” of the actual work. We began, for example, one staff retreat by reviewing Jesus’ rhythms of solitude and ministry (Luke 4:1,11; Lk.4:42-43; 5:12-13; 6:12-18) followed by a discussion on an ancient, Chinese story called “The Woodcarver.” This truth of doing out of our being is so profound that I look for as many creative ways as possible to keep it before us through a wide assortment of mediums.

Feel free to use this with your leadership team.

Slowly read the poem twice, underlining and taking notes on what speaks to you. Afterwards, answer the questions that follow.

THE WOODCARVER

Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
“What is your secret?”

Khing replied: “I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.

“By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.

“Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.

-The Way of Chung Tzu

We asked the entire group: What words or phrases call out to you from this poem? (5-10 minutes)

We then gave them time alone for personal reflection around these questions: (25 minutes)

  1. From what do you need to do to guard your spirit?
  2. From what do you need to fast?

What do you need to forget?

  1. What practices or ways might you use that parallels Khing’s fasting and forgetting to arrive at a place of inner freedom?
  2. Consider the work that is before you. What difference does it make when you approach your work from Khing’s place: “I was collected”?

They then met in groups of three and shared together (25 minutes)

———

As a result of doing this exercise multiple times alone and with others, I have written in the jacket of my journal: “Guard your spirit from trifles. Fast from over-consuming. Forget others. Be a Woodcarver.”

Why Building Deep Must Precede Building High

When we build upward without building deeply, cracks form and churches lean dangerously.

Manhattan consists almost entirely of bare granite, a very hard and strong type of rock. To carry the weight of a 75 or 100 story skyscraper, foundations known as “piles” are used. These are concrete or steel columns hammered into the ground with a massive crane until they penetrate solid rock.

building pilings

Some pilings go twenty-five stories under the ground. The heavy weight of the skyscraper is then distributed through each of the deep “piles” in the ground below. Together they are capable of supporting the structure’s enormous weight.

If the pilings are drilled in poorly, cracks eventually appear in the structure. Entire buildings may lean. Then they must be torn down or lifted completely so the piles can be reset – a costly and time-consuming process.

Why don’t we drill deeply into our own life in Christ, and into the lives of key leaders around us? The answer is simple: It is very hard and very slow work to hammer spiritual pilings into the hard granite of our own lives – let alone into the hard granite of our team.

Think about it.

What are your other choices? How long will it be before the building leans, if it isn’t leaning already?

Pete

 

 

 

Lead Out of Your Singleness

For the first 1500 years of the church, singleness was considered the preferred state; it was considered the best way to serve Christ if you were a leader. Singles sat in the front of the church. Marrieds were sent to the back. After the Reformation in 1517 AD, single people were sent to the back and marrieds moved to the front – at least among Protestants.

Yet the New Testament describes, and deeply affirms, two types of Christian singles.

The first is a vowed celibacy, for those who “renounce marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.” They freely choose not to marry but to set themselves apart in a total, exclusive and lifelong gift to Christ and His church. A very few are invited to receive this grace and gift from him (Matt. 19:11-12).

The vast majority of Christian single leaders fall into the category of dedicated celibates. This term encompasses a broad range of people. Some are single because of divorce or the death of a spouse. Many others have not met someone, or at least the person, with whom they are compatible. A few postpone marriage until they get established in their career.

An increasing number of leaders in the body of Christ are single. That is a wonderful gift desperately needed in the church today. Daniel, Jeremiah, Jesus, Anna the prophetess, John the Baptist, and Paul were all single. They each bore rich fruit for God.

While significant challenges and pressures come to bear on being single today, God purposes that we enjoy the freedoms, the privileges, the opportunities, and the joys that accompany Christian singleness. This requires we make health a priority over rushing out to lead others without thinking of ourselves. Why? So we can offer Christ to others out of a cup that overflows with his life and love.

The following are my top five recommendations.

First, devote yourself to excellent self-care. Build into your leadership strong rhythms and boundaries for proper self-care. “Watch your life…closely” (1 Tim.4:16).

Secondly, invest in community and at least one or two companions for the journey. Leadership can be lonely, especially after a long day. Jesus had his twelve, as well as close friendships with the family of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Offer hospitality regularly. Create a home with others.

Thirdly, learn emotionally healthy skills to bond with others. Research has also demonstrated that our need for bonding extends throughout our lives – from infants, to young adults to elderly people in their 90’s. Be intentional to learn skills to bond well with others. (See Emotionally Healthy Skills 2.0)

Fourthly, remain open to meet someone.The desire to meet someone is good.  Continue to pray that God will open doors for you to meet someone. Look for opportunities to meet Christians of the opposite sex when possible –whether you are in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and beyond. I have seen God connect couples at all stages of life.

Finally, bear witness to the Lord Jesus through your singleness. This does not mean denying your unique challenges. God intends your singleness to serve as a sign of the how broadly and widely he loves the church and the world. You are not giving your body away. You are not “hooking up.” Why? Because you are married to Jesus Christ and your body belongs to him. Every day you choose to live as a prophetic sign of the kingdom of God to the church and the world.

Take up the leadership role God has for you in the Body of Christ, ministering to marrieds and singles, old and young people –out of your unique vocation as a single person. God does not grant to every person the physical fruit of children, but He does call all of us to birth spiritual children and serve as spiritual mothers and fathers in our communities.

You might also want to view our recent  Emotionally Healthy Leadership podcast – Leading Out of Your Singleness.

Leading Out of Your Singleness

In this month’s podcast, Pete and Rich offer a unique, historical, and theological perspective on the critically important issue of singleness and leadership. Enjoy this challenging podcast on one of the most important topics for the global church today. (A previous podcast treats the theme “Leading Out of Your Marriage“).

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How Healthy Is Your Experience of Living Out of Loving Union With Jesus?

Just as Jesus lived in a relaxed, loving union with the Father, we are invited to a similar relationship with him. “If you remain in me as I remain in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He promises that if we do this, “fruit” always follows. Jesus doesn’t say that we cannot do things without him. He doesn’t say that we can’t lead or build a ministry without him. He does say that, unless these behaviors flow out of a relationship of loving union with him, they are worth nothing.

I name God’s invitation to us loving union. Love captures the way we remain. Union speaks to the depth of the connection. It is helpful to think of the level of our loving union on a continuum that ranges from 1-10. Use the brief assessment that follows to get an idea of where you fall on the continuum.

Next to each statement, write down the number that best describes your response.

1-           2-           3-           4-           5-         6-        7-      8-         9-         10-

Not at all True                      Moderately True                 Completely True

  • ____  I am relaxed and unhurried.
  • ____  I am deeply aware of God’s great love.
  • ____  I appreciate and love one person at a time.
  • ____  I am content amidst suffering and setbacks.
  • ____  I praise and promote others easily and joyfully.
  • ____  I am generous with my time, money, and gifts.
  • ____  I listen for God’s voice and will throughout the day.
  • ____  I forgive and let go of hurts.
  • ____  I am prudent in conversations and discernment.
  • ____  I am playful and able to laugh easily.
  • ____  I get up quickly when I fail or fall.
  • ____  I respond to criticism graciously.

If you scored mostly ones, twos, or threes, you are likely doing too much, perhaps more than God has asked you to do. You may be overloaded. The fact that you took the assessment is a grace from God. What might God’s invitation be to you today?

 If you scored mostly fours, fives, sixes or sevens, then you are making progress, but you are likely still out of balance with not enough being with God to sustain your doing for him. Ask yourself: What adjustments might God be inviting me to make in this season?

If you scored eights, nines, and tens you are in a good place. Your doing for God and your being with him are well-integrated and balanced. Be encouraged.

-Pete

WHY EMBED THE EHS COURSE IN YOUR CHURCH?

Have you committed to embedding the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course into your Church or do you need help convincing your leadership to integrate the course?

Here are 8 great reasons that you should embed the EHS Course into your Church:

1) Offers long-term sustainability for EHS in a church so it is not dependent on the senior pastor.

2) Provides regular testimonies of life-change.

3) Enables leadership to maintain the quality/DNA to newcomers and members to the church.

4) Raises up new leaders and “water carriers” of EHS throughout the church.

5) Serves as a call to deep, beneath the surface, radical discipleship in the church.

6) Cements members in the core values of the church.

7) Moves people from being “consumers” to servants/leaders.

8) Provides a bridge for people into the larger EHS vision found in “Characteristics of Churches Transformed by EHS“.