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March 28, 2013

Banishing Spiritual Loneliness

Three practices for leaders (or anyone)

I want more of God. Although I write and speak on spiritual formation, work with other Christians, have friends who encourage my faith, am married to a Christian man with whom I’ve raised Christian children, I still sometimes feel lonely. Not just emotionally lonely, but spiritually lonely—disconnected from God and my faith.

Leaders walk a lonely road. The leader of any enterprise, from a corporation to a small group, must ultimately make decisions that may be unpopular. Even if they consider others’ opinions and feelings, leaders, by definition, must take responsibility and make decisions. That can feel lonely.

A position of spiritual leadership can add another layer of isolation. When you are caring for and mentoring others, guiding them spiritually, questions often nag at the back of your mind: Who’s mentoring me? Where do I take my questions and doubts? If I’m supposed to be a role model/leader/encourager, who does that for me? And there’s nothing like doubt to make you feel alone.

Banishing spiritual loneliness begins with being honest about the fact that you feel lonely to begin with. Acknowledge your feelings, then move forward by engaging in spiritual practices that will help you and those you lead.

Here are three strategies to combat spiritual loneliness as a leader.

Slow Down

Do you ever feel as if you’re moving so fast through life that you don’t really see the people around you? Or you do see them, but you feel annoyed at them far too often? Do you feel that you don’t have time to really connect? Ironically, busyness (even with an overabundance of connections) can be isolating.

Slow down. For a day, or even a morning, try this: Do one thing at a time. Use “time chunking”: allocate a chunk of time to one task, then move on to the next “chunk.” Multi-tasking actually decreases efficiency.

Take time to look into the eyes of people you’re meeting with, noticing their non-verbal communication. Listen without composing your next thought. Pause between tasks. Delegate some tasks, maybe. Or just let some things (which you might possibly be micromanaging unnecessarily) just go undone. (Could that be the reason you’re so busy? Hmm.)

Our hurry can even taint our time with God—prayer becomes another item on a to-do list. We get more out of checking it off the list than we do actually being with God. Take time to slow down with God, even if you don’t have a lot of time. Meditate on God’s promises of love and acceptance. For example, start with 1 John 3. Focus on your identity in him; you are a deeply loved child of God.

Spend Time in Solitude

It may seem counterintuitive, but the antidote for loneliness can sometimes be found in solitude—especially when we define solitude as not simply time alone, but time alone with God. God can fill our spiritual tank. But just as you can’t fill a car while driving it down the road, spiritual filling requires us to slow down and connect with the source.

Be sure to understand the distinction between time alone being with God and time spent alone doing tasks for God. There’s a big difference.

Leaders are people who get things done. We’re task-oriented. While that’s helpful, it can fuel an underlying belief that God’s approval is related to our accomplishments, even contingent upon them. That’s another way of saying we believe God’s love is conditional.

When we simply take time to be alone, and to be with God, without tasks or even an agenda (such as study, memorization, lesson prep), we affirm our faith in God’s unconditional love. Does he really love me when I’m not doing something for him? The only way to find out, and thereby truly experience that deep, unconditional love, is to stop doing for a while. Just be with God and know him (See Psalm 46).

Seek Community

This may seem like the opposite of the previous strategy. But if you look, for example, at the life of Jesus, you’ll see that he engaged in both solitude and community. We need time alone with God, but we also need others to minister to us, to encourage us. God designed us to live in community with others. He can speak to us through others and in the quiet of our hearts.

If you find this challenging, you may need to ask yourself, Am I keeping people at a distance? Am I willing to risk revealing my need for support or encouragement? Am I valuing tasks over people?

Seek out other leaders, or friends who have some emotional distance from your leadership position. (In other words, people who are in another organization or are not your direct reports.) Look for friends who will support you but also be willing to tell you the truth when it’s not pretty.

Be willing to seek spiritual friendship in which you can both be honest, where you can take off the leadership hat and just be yourself. Jesus did ministry in community, and we’d do well to follow his example.

Other people who lead in other environments often can provide the understanding and support you need. But you have to be brave enough to ask.

Loneliness is inevitable at times. Rather than avoid it by getting busy, let that quiet ache in your heart push you toward God. Use these three practices—slowing down, solitude, and community—to experience his presence and to create some space for God in your life.

Keri Wyatt Kent teaches and writes about spiritual formation, leadership, and discipleship. Connect with her at

March 25, 2013

Get Thee a Sisterhood, Part 2

A network of female friends is an irreplaceable lifeline in ministry

It doesn’t take a doctor to confirm that males and females have different needs. What is true in nature is also true in ministry.

Ministers, whether clergy or lay, need ministerial network groups, as discussed in my previous post. Female ministers, I say based on personal experience, particularly need to be in contact with other sisters of the cloth and call.

Yes, we have much in common with our brothers, but ours is a unique ministerial experience. How does one negotiate maternity leave and prepare her church for her absence in the pulpit while she heals from labor and delivery and nurses her new baby? How best is a female minister to handle herself when the church treasurer is faithful about paying all the church bills but too often negligent with her salary and benefits? How does she discern whether latent sexism or patriarchy is at work in a conflict with a congregant or staff member? Will she be supported in determining this? In a congregation that allows women to serve only in certain roles, what is a sister to do when she feels called to a role typically “reserved” for men?

While I served in congregational ministry, I met at least monthly with sisters in ministry. Sometimes it was only one other female pastor and me, while other times a group of us gathered. Our time together may not have been worthy to print on the front cover of a newspaper. But it was a balm to our souls when they were weary, an affirmation to our hearts when church life was going well, and a hallelujah chorus when we were reminded that God is worthy to be praised, which was often. We loved each other, we needed each other, we understood each other and our vocations, and we expressed this to one another regularly.

Even online communities of female ministers can serve a world of good. My denomination has a secret Facebook page for female clergy. A sister posts about a challenge, and we rally around her. Another asks a question about how to proceed with something, and those who know answer quickly and thoroughly. Yet another announces her long-awaited ordination service, and the line of congratulations and welcomes to the sisterhood grows by the minute. We are spread across the country, but not a day goes by on that page when at least one woman doesn’t express gratitude for her sisters in ministry.

For newly ordained minister Rev. Susan Hetrick of Scottsdale, Arizona, her network of female clergy is like an oasis in the desert. “I love connecting with my sisters…reading and praying about their ministries, offering advice when I can, and sympathizing when I can't,” she says. “Sometimes we just need to know that someone else knows what we're dealing with. And somehow, the guys don't get it. Not that there is anything wrong with male clergy—they just don't see what the big deal is if a parishioner makes a sexist comment or you're trying to juggle a sick child, sermon preparation, and cooking dinner—all at the same time. There are some things only a fellow female pastor can relate to.”

Indeed, there is nothing like a sisterhood of ministers. My soul has proclaimed, “Yes! Finally!” many times when a sister and I have connected. I find rest in understanding and being understood. Simply knowing I am not alone—that there is another creature out there like me who is called to do what I am doing, anointed by the Holy Spirit to share words from the Lord, purposed by God for holy work within the church and community—is buoyancy enough for sailing the smooth and rough waters that ministry brings.

I pray the same for every woman in ministry. If you have yet to, this year gift yourself, your ministry, and even your congregation: Get thee a ministerial sisterhood.

It’s not about solidarity in numbers or the battle of the sexes. It’s about integrity, friendship, and as the Na’vi people in the movie Avatar understand, about being “seen” for who you really are.

Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta is a writer and an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). She served in congregational ministry for six years. A member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild, Angie blogs at “Woman, in Progress…” and on the Church Herald Blog of the RCA. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Godstuffwriter.

March 21, 2013

Get Thee a Sisterhood, Part 1

A network of female friends is an irreplaceable lifeline in ministry

Even though I expected this question, my heart felt as if it would beat right out of my chest. I stood before the group who would either affirm or confirm my “outer call” to ministry, as we Reformed-tradition folks say. Based on the essays I wrote and upon how they experienced me that day, these fine people would determine whether I could become a candidate for Minister of Word and Sacrament. I prayed that God would help me not to see them as gatekeepers or judges to impress, only people who loved God, the church, and me enough to examine my fitness for ministry. Nonetheless, I wriggled with anxiety.

Giddy with idealism, and seeing ministry through rose-colored glasses, I gushed my answer to the question.

“I love God, I love God’s people, and I want to serve, love, and do mission with God’s people in Christ’s name.”

The biggest smile ever to cross my face took control of my mouth. I struck a confident-yet-humble pose. A passerby seeing my nonverbals may have mistaken me for a Miss America contestant. I dug into the people’s eyes and searched for approval.

They smiled, nodded, and went on to the next question.

Looking back, I wish they would have done more. I wish they would have told me about the great paradox of ministry: that those who follow God’s call into it are those with a heart for people, and conversely, that the pastoral leader is often the loneliest person in her congregation.

Author and pastor M. Craig Barnes confirms this in a recent article. He writes about a “holy distance” that the church creates when it ordains a person to ministry. The elders who lay hands upon a pastor at her or his ordination are led by the Holy Spirit to push the reverend away, says Barnes. “They [are] essentially saying, ‘We are setting you apart to serve us. So you can’t be just one of the gang anymore. Now you have to love us enough to no longer expect mutuality.’”

I would argue that the same is true for all pastoral leaders, clergy and lay. Ministry is a demanding vocation. Ministers, like the Hebrew prophets of old, carry the weight of the presence and word of the Lord and the cares of their people with them at all times. Sometimes nights are restless because ministers do not lay down these holy burdens as they lay themselves down to sleep and pray the Lord their souls to keep. There are few who truly “get” the life and plight of the minister. As much as church members want to “get it” (and maybe believe that they do) and be there for their pastors, they don’t and they cannot.

And as for ministers, as much as they may want to be friends with their congregants, it is not to be because of that “holy distance.” Still very much human, pastoral leaders need friends and accountability partners outside their churches, people to whom they can bear their souls and not hold back.

This is where a minister’s network comes in. It is a group of like-professioned and similarly-faithed folk who gather regularly. Here the minister can be who she truly is: a human being called by God to fulfill one of the most difficult tasks on earth—serving God’s people. She can speak honestly of struggles; complain (if need be) openly and authentically of church processes and people that are vexing and hurting her; find companions who are journeying the same path she is—people who “get it”; describe situations as case studies and check her actions as her colleagues respond to her; and gather ideas for worship, pastoral counseling, youth group activities, Sunday school curriculum, and so on. The possibilities are endless.

While I served in congregational ministry, I was blessed with two network groups: one that was coed and another that was female clergy only. Both were lifelines for my ministry. My colleagues kept me grounded, they kept me sane, and they helped me to remain in love with God even though I occasionally struggled with loving God’s work and people.

There were times, though, when my needs were more specific. I needed people who innately knew the language of my soul’s deepest groans when I could barely speak for good or for ill, people who “got” me.

Ain’t nothin’ like a sisterhood.

To be continued in Part 2…

Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta is a writer and an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). She served in congregational ministry for six years. A member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild, Angie blogs at “Woman, in Progress…” and on the Church Herald Blog of the RCA. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Godstuffwriter.

March 18, 2013

Finding Support in the Lonely Days of Leadership

Among the greatest gifts we can give others is a healthy version of ourselves

If I could name one word to describe the most surprising characteristic of life as a leader, it would be the word lonely. It’s not a word they prepare you for, by the way. Yes, I had heard people say that leadership was lonely, but I didn’t really believe them. The leaders who said they were lonely always seemed to be surrounded by plenty of people. They were needed, respected, and frequently sought out for wisdom and counsel.

Then one day I experienced it. With more leadership responsibility than I’d ever had before, I couldn’t shake the aching loneliness I felt. I too was surrounded by people, lots of them, but most of them needed me for something I could do for them. My circle of people who just wanted to be with me without needing me was shrinking fast. I didn’t want anyone and I wanted everyone at the same time.

Loneliness is a dangerous byproduct of leadership. One that can start to demoralize and diminish your effectiveness. The higher up you go in the leadership ranks of your organization, the more isolated you can become. It doesn’t have to be this way, but loneliness and isolation are the natural destinations for leaders who haven’t purposefully charted another course.

Part of the maturity of leadership is recognizing the potential for loneliness and isolation, and building in protective measures to combat them. In our book, Just Lead!, my co-author Sherry Surratt suggests that we need to have two kinds of people in our lives: encouragers and challengers. “The encouragers always have kind, affirming words for you that refresh you and keep you going. The challengers always make you think further, work harder, and push you to grow into all that you can be.”

In addition to your encouragers and challengers, you need safe friends and family who don’t need you because you’re a leader. I’ve even had to learn to create new boundaries and expectations with my family. As a natural born leader, I have always been the one to take charge and make plans. A few years ago when my leadership capacity increased significantly, I realized I was avoiding hanging out with my family because I constantly felt the pressure to lead. Rather than relaxed and comfortable with the people who know me best, I was anxious and feeling tremendous responsibility. In an effort to run from those feelings, I drifted further into isolation, perpetuating my feelings of loneliness.

One of the greatest gifts we can give those we lead is a healthy version of ourselves. As Sherry wrote, “We were created to live in community. Hebrews 10:25 reminds us of this: ‘Don’t give up the habit of meeting together; instead let us encourage one another.’ God created us with the need to lean into him and to others. Ask God to send those encouragers into your life and for the courage to be vulnerable and admit when your encouragement tank is running low. God also reminds us in Proverbs 27:17, ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.’ Ask God today to send the challengers you need and the wisdom to seek their input.”

Where is leadership keeping you isolated? When do you feel lonely? Your health and strength as a leader hinge on your awareness of how this byproduct of your leadership can inhibit you from leading well. Pray for God to show you the encouragers and challengers you need to invite into your life.

Jenni Catron is executive director of Cross Point, a mega-church in Tennessee. She is the founder of Cultivate Her, an organization dedicated to connecting, engaging, and inspiring young women leaders.

March 14, 2013

Are You Wearing the Wrong Clothes?

Knowing what not to wear can help you embrace your calling

I like fashion. When I am away with my family and retreating on vacation from the mundanes of life, I gravitate to the style shows. One of my favorites is the show What Not to Wear. The show begins with a human project, someone whose life is not reaching its full potential because of the inappropriate way she physically presents herself to the world. The human projects are recommended to the show by family members and friends who love these fashion misfits. They know the hearts of the misfits and are concerned, knowing that many people will not take time to look beyond the physical and really get to know their loved ones well. So they arrange a fashion intervention which reinvents the human project’s closet: out with the old wardrobe and in with the new.

The entire experiment begins with two stylists informing the human project of what not to wear and why. After several years of ministry and as I enter my final full year of seminary, I have often thought about the concept of this show. One of the common questions people ask seminary students is “What do you want, or plan, to do after seminary?” For a while, I simply answered with “I don’t know,” but now I’m beginning to ponder more seriously. Questions of vocation and calling should not be taken lightly. Unfortunately, in the ministry, I observe too many leaders who walk around like fashion misfits—good-hearted people wearing the wrong “clothes.”

As a young minister, I don’t want to put on the wrong clothes. As a fellow servant in Christ, I encourage Christian leaders to consider which wardrobe or ministry items should be abandoned. The Bible has a term for this principle: pruning. In the gospel of John, Jesus referred to himself as the vine and his father as the gardener. “[God, the Father] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:2, NIV).”

In their various vocations, Christian leaders can bear good fruit. Going from a vocation to a place of true calling, however, requires a divine intervention. Through the “vine and branches teaching,” God essentially says we must be willing to let go of some of those old clothes, shoes, hats, scarves, and accessories that may be outdated or simply don’t fit us anymore, so we can better see our true selves, accurately present ourselves to others, and allow him to offer us free gifts and create new opportunities in our lives. Trusting God in this way is necessary if we are to embrace our true calling.

Trust the Transition

Embracing one’s calling can be risky business, but that’s where trust sets in. After giving the lesson on what not to wear and criteria for appropriate fashion pieces, the two stylists set the misfit loose on a shopping spree with free money. The stylists sit behind the scenes and watch the shopping experience on camera. Before long, the misfit is gravitating to her old shopping habits, grabbing for those inappropriate items—these are the familiar items, the ones that make her feel most comfortable. In a fashion state of emergency, the stylists rush in to save the shopping day. They pick items for the new wardrobe and give the fashion misfit a complete makeover, including hair and makeup, before launching her again into the world of relationships and responsibilities.

Our God is much like those stylists. No, he is not simply concerned with the window dressings of our wardrobes, but he is very much concerned that what he puts in us is reflected properly to the rest of the world so that he is most glorified in our work. Sometimes our vocations are comfortable places to cover up. They give us a false sense of security when God is saying, “Trust me. I have your heart. I have a divine calling in mind for you. Not only that, but I’ll dress you up and prepare you for it.”

Do you trust God well enough to move out of your vocation and into your true calling?

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is a full-time student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC campus (Christian Leadership). She also serves as co-director of the women’s mentoring ministry at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is a blogger, a writer, and the founder and president of His Glory on Earth Ministries. You can connect with Natasha through her blog, Twitter, or Facebook.

March 11, 2013

Lessons in Confrontation

What I learned in a very uncomfortable meeting

Stomach in knots, throat tightened, and holding back waves of nausea…you might think I was battling a virus. Not so. In my mind, it was something far worse: confrontation. My body was reacting to my emotional turmoil as I sat across the conference table from another woman in leadership. And it was not just the two of us. The conflict had escalated to the point where our husbands and pastors were involved. Uncomfortable, awkward, painful, yes. But the leadership lessons I gleaned that day were invaluable.

1. Humility

Inherent in leadership is the probability that you are going to tick someone off or offend someone to the point of confrontation. Sitting at the conference table, I knew the trajectory of this conversation would be determined by my willingness to humble myself. But how could I humble myself when I felt like jumping across the table and punching her lights out? Here are a few tips I used to prepare my heart and mind.

• I reminded myself that this woman was not my enemy. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

• I prayed that God would bless her family, her work, her ministry. Matthew 5:43-48 says, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” After reading this, I knew I would be no different from a nonbeliever if I didn’t choose to love this woman. Love trumps everything.

• Remember, humility enables you to say, “Perhaps you are right” and keeps you from getting defensive.

2. Forgiveness

I knew that if I didn’t forgive this woman I would be stuck in a prison of bitterness, hatred, and unforgiveness. I had a choice to make. I could either stay stuck in a quagmire or break free and choose to forgive. I chose forgiveness. I wanted to go into the meeting with a heart ready to seek understanding and restore our relationship. The goal was not for us to be best friends, but to have mutual respect and understanding so we could work together. Here are a few steps to aid the process of forgiving.

• I wrote Scriptures about forgiveness on three-by-five cards and kept them in strategic places where I would easily see them: my office desk, my car, my bathroom mirror.

• I read books on forgiveness.

• I reminded myself that forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. I knew I needed to choose forgiveness.

3. Letting Go and Moving Forward

Viewing this person as a gift was the first step in moving forward. Challenges in ministry provide the greatest opportunities for spiritual growth, which in turn enrich our leadership. Prior to this situation, I didn’t realize how much pride, insecurity, and jealousy were lurking in the recesses of my soul. This relational fracture forced me to look deeply at my character and examine my internal life. Here are steps I used to move forward:

• Seeing this leader as a gift instead of an adversary allowed me to examine my heart, revealing character flaws I needed to deal with.

• Giving my pastor permission to address blind spots in my character held me accountable for my attitude.

• Remembering that there is no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) freed me to receive grace, forgive myself, and move forward.

Since that uncomfortable meeting in that conference room, my relationship with the woman is peaceful. Honestly, I occasionally have a negative internal reaction to her, but in those moments I remember that forgiveness and love are choices, and I choose to love and honor her. I have faced other challenging relational situations since, giving me more opportunities to humble myself, choose forgiveness, and move forward.

The leadership lessons I gleaned from confrontation have helped strengthen my leadership. Lessons such as empathizing and helping other women through relational difficulties; identifying and addressing internal weaknesses in myself before they become problems; highlighting the principles of unity, honor, and respect with my leaders; being quick to forgive and slow to offend; and giving people the benefit of the doubt.

A beautiful result from these lessons has been a more intimate love relationship with the Lord. Becoming more aware of my need for him—and his unconditional love, mercy, and grace for me in spite of my soul-deep imperfections—has deepened my relationship with him, causing me to more fully love those I serve.

Julia Mateer is a writer, speaker, therapist, and director of women’s small groups at Bayside Community Church. You can connect with Julia on her website.

March 7, 2013

Stay Focused

It’s easy—and dangerous—to get distracted by criticism

My sport of choice is tennis. I love the game. During the 2009 French Open Men’s Final, a crazed fan leaped over the stands and onto the court to taunt the second-ranked world player, Roger Federer. As you can imagine, it was quite a scene. Tennis, with its air of prestige and sophistication, is not accustomed to unruly spectators. Within those few seconds, the emotions of the fans ran the gamut from gasps of fear to humorous snickers and then cheers as security tackled the man and hauled him off the court.

While this little drama unfolded, I kept my eyes on Roger. Here he was playing one of the most significant matches of his career and what appeared to be a crazed lunatic jumped out on the court after him. I marveled at his ability to stay calm, quickly collect himself, and immediately go back to the game (he won, ultimately launching him back into the number-one seed).

That’s the power of focus: it’s what separates the winners from the losers, the good from the great. Focus can make or break you.

This episode reminds me of how easily we can get distracted by the taunts of the critics in our lives. Many things are vying to pull us away from the calling and mission God has given us. The most important thing you can do to overcome criticism is to remain focused on your calling. The enemy’s goal is to distract you, and what better way to get you off track than to cut you down with criticism?

How are you reacting to criticism? Can you shake it off and refocus on “your game,” or do you throw in the towel and give up the match? Are you allowing criticism to distract you from your calling or purpose?

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

God has gifted and called you for the unique role you play. He does not promise that your journey will be an easy one, and you will likely have your share of critics, but he will equip you as long as you keep your focus on him.

Excerpted from Just Lead! Copyright © 2013 by Sherry Surratt and Jenni Catron. Used by permission of Jossey-Bass.

March 4, 2013

Be Wonderstruck by God’s Creation

Even the northern lights are merely a glimpse into the vast expanse of God’s love

Several years ago while travelling by ferry overnight in Alaska a scene unfolded that I suspect caused at least one angel to gasp: the expanse of the sky transformed from inky blackness into an infinite canvas on which brushstrokes of apricot, sapphire, and emerald painted themselves into the night sky. Like an oil painting in progress, the colors refused to stand still. The hues danced as if listening to jazz. Iridescent shades sharpened then faded with wild fervor.

Aware of the privilege of watching God’s creation unfold its glorious mysteries, I didn’t want to miss a millisecond of the aurora borealis, or northern lights. Wonderstruck by my Creator, this moment of spiritual awakening stirred in me a longing to experience more of God. If these lights were so beautiful, how much more stunning must their maker be? What kind of God paints the sky in such effulgent hues? For some, the northern lights are a tourist attraction, but for me, they are a portal to the very heart of God. My lips remained motionless, but my soul sang as I witnessed this revival in the night sky.

Despite this and other breathtaking moments of God that I’ve experienced, all too often I find myself like so many of the other passengers on the ferry, deep in sleep, missing the moment. I succumb to exhaustion rather than remain alert to the wondrous displays that reveal more of God.

I recently began noticing this in my life in increasing measure. I no longer waited on God with hopeful expectation. Icy religion replaced the delightful warmth of being a child of God. Though I expressed gratitude at the appropriate moments, in the depths of my spirit, I wasn’t appreciative. Words of praise may have lingered on my lips during worship, but when the song ended, so did any trace of enthusiasm.

The sense of holy awe was replaced by unholy indifference. Hope diminished to a manageable emotion. Love became a fleeting expression in short supply.

Yet God met me there.

God’s infinite nature knows neither beginning nor end; our Creator is like a vast ocean, fathomless and without bounds, an ever-rising tide without abatement, yet in my spiritual journey in the months after our move, I stood ankle deep, baptized only in the shallows of his presence. Yet I sensed the Spirit beckoning me to plunge into the cool, shadowy depths marked by indescribable beauty, those unforgettable moments of life that draw us closer to God. Allured by the Spirit, I lunged forward.

Palms extended, wide-eyed with expectation, I asked God to astound me with himself again. And God did not disappoint. For me, a prayer for wonder asks the Lord to expand my capacity to see and savor the divine gifts all around. Through the months and years that followed, Bible passages that had become stale and flat came alive much like a pop-up book revealing hidden beauty and unexpected surprises.

Often when God answers a prayer for wonder, the tone and tenacity with which we live our lives changes. Holiness beckons. Divine expectation flourishes. Hope returns. Love abounds. In response, we awaken, toss back the covers, climb out of bed, and drink in the fullness of life God intended for us. We live alert to the wonders all around us and within us that expand our desire to know God more.

Will you pray for wonder? Right now, ask God to awaken your ability to see and savor his sweet presence and recognize his divine handiwork.

And as you pray, may you be wonderstruck. With each passing day, may you discover another facet of God’s character, feel the soft pinch of his presence, and step back in astonishment of the one who holds everything together. Along the way, I trust you’ll experience God.

When you lay hold of him, may you never let go.

Adapted from Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God. Copyright © 2012 by Margaret Feinberg. Used by permission of Worthy Publishing 2013. Become a fan of Margaret on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter at @mafeinberg.


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