How to Not Hear the Holy Spirit

“I feel like the Lord is leading me to do it.” Those were my friend’s parting words to me. I told him not to follow this leading, but he’d had an experience he “really felt was from the Lord.” I tried to explain what the Bible had to say about his choice. In fact, many had. But, he had an experience, and he wasn’t budging. So off he went—into his error, out of the church, and away from Jesus.

This situation it so common in churches across the spectrum that you could probably fill in details from similarly painful conversations. Add to that our culture’s commitment to an expressive individualism that exalts actualizing our desires above conforming to God’s, and we’ve set the stage for rough times when trying to convince someone that what they “feel led to do” may not be the Holy Spirit at all.

No wonder some respond to this problem by simply denying God’s Spirit speaks to us today. My point here is not to debate that point, since others have done so (e.g., here and here).

Regardless, the Scriptures admonish us to keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). And there are some ways we should all be able to agree one cannot do that. Here are four.

1. Without the Bible

Attempting to follow the Spirit’s leading without the Bible is foolish at best and sinful at worst. As I’ve written before, we may learn much here from our charismatic friends. But if one argues that the Spirit has led them to a conclusion, action, or emotion the same Spirit has condemned in Scripture, that person blasphemes. Perhaps you think that’s too strong a word, but consider this: Such an insistence tacitly accuses God of double-mindedness, calls into question the authority of his Word, and makes the believer the final authority in matters of life and practice. That’s blasphemy.

The Spirit wrote a book, so being led by him starts there.

It’s entirely possible that someone had a profound spiritual experience that led him or her to no longer trust the Bible. That’s deception. The Spirit himself tells us we’re to expect such deception (2 Cor. 11:14). The Spirit wrote a book, so being led by him starts there.

2. Without the Church

A sure-fire way to not walk with the Spirit is to try to walk by yourself. There is simply no evidence in Scripture that we should expect to faithfully live a Spirit-filled life if we’re not being led into and among his people. God—at the infinite cost of his life—has given us not just a spiritual relationship with himself, but also with each other.

This is why broken fellowship within the body is such a big deal. We are members of one another. Tearing away from Christ’s body while trying to be faithful to his Spirit is like severing your arm while expecting it to keep operating the remote control. When you feel led to do something, it is wise to run such promptings by your trusted fathers and mothers in the faith, particularly in the context of your local church.

3. Without Wisdom

Proverbs aren’t promises, but they are proverbs. That is, the same Spirit that now resides within God’s people inspired Solomon to write down many words of wisdom. Paul prays that we’ll be filled with the Spirit of wisdom—the Holy Spirit.

If you “feel led” to do something that seems foolish to you, your trusted advisers, and your Bible, your feeling is likely just that.

4. Without Faith

Without faith we cannot please God (Heb. 11:6), much less follow him. Keeping in step with the Spirit, then, means trusting that God can and will lead you. You trust and follow, and he guides and leads, often to do seemingly impossible things—raising godly kids, remaining faithful in a difficult marriage, trusting him for evangelistic opportunities, planting churches, and making disciples.

None of that comes naturally to any of us. It all requires Paul’s prayer—that our eyes be opened to the Spirit’s powerful working—to come true. And it will, if we believe.

Sitting Ducks for Deception

Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful at convincing my friend. He’d had an experience. He’d shut his Bible, shut his doors, shut out wisdom, and, therefore, shut out God. And tragically, he’s not alone. We must learn to hold on to the Spirit and to Scripture—to personal faith and to spiritual family. If we do so, we’ll set ourselves in a good place for the Spirit’s leading. If not, we may be sitting ducks for deception.

So before we say, “I feel like the Lord is leading me,” let it be said of us that we’ve been listening to his Word, his people, his wisdom, and his ways.

Miscellanies: How I'm Beating Anxiety

There's a future version of Adam Mabry that I'm working to become. He's better, smarter, wiser, more loving, and host of other things that I'm not at the moment. You probably do this, too. Heck, the Bible does. The Scriptures hold out the hope of resurrection and the perfect, glorified future that goes with it. But in a city full of do-ers, in a country full of do-ers, we can become quite discouraged that we haven't yet gotten this one done. It's discouraging to think that you're not yet what you could — or should — be.

Enter anxiety, depression, sadness, and self-loathing. How do we beat this?

The Psalms give a clue, many of which are simply poetic reminders of what God did a long time ago — parted the red sea, made the world, established the kingdom of Israel. I can imagine being a faithful Israelite in, say, the 5th century B.C. could be depressing. On the one hand you had promises of a coming messiah, on the other a present situation that looked more like Hell than Heaven. But here's their genius that is helping me:

Past Providences Fuel Present Praise.

Instead of freaking out about the gap between what is and what is to come, they rejoiced at the journey from what was to what is. Instead of wondering if God would be faithful tomorrow they remembered that God was faithful in every yesterday.

The anxious temptation to reject God because I don't see what He will do is subverted by the memories I have of what He has done. His past providences are like gasoline on the fire of my present praises. My present praises shape my heart to trust God's future graces ... Graces that one day will be past providences.

3 Reasons I Don't Believe God

When someone I trust makes me a promise, I believe them. Why isn't this true when God makes me a promise? I believe in God, but sometimes I don't believe God. Believing in God and believing God are not the same. In prepositions lie the power of life and death.

I Don't Know Them

I can't believe promises I don't know. Now, everything in the Bible isn't a promise. Proverbs aren't promises. Descriptions of terrible sin isn't a promise. But the Scriptures do contain literally thousands of promises from God, should I bother myself to find them. But if I never read them, I'll never know them.

I Don't Remember Them

There's a hole in my soul, and out of it seems to fall so much of what is good, right, and true from God. I can't just read the promises, therefore. I have to keep reading them and commit them to memory. Further, I have to be around men and women who will remind me of what my situations help me forget.

I Don't Say Them

So much of the Bible was written to be read aloud. The promises of God are confessional. The greatest promise of all — that God will justify us by faith in the gospel — is only accessed by confession. "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord ... you will be saved." (Rom 10:9). We need to be people who confess these promises aloud.

Here's an action item for you to consider. Download this short list of promises from God. Read them. Remember them. Say them. Then, repeat that process for about 30 days. I dare you. Tell me if it doesn't move the needle of your trust in God, make your more fruitful, and cause you to grow.

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 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:19-22)

3 Reasons We Must Fight for Joy in God

“To the world, the dejected Christian seems to accuse God and His service, as if he openly called Him a rigorous, hard, unacceptable Master, and His work a sad unpleasant thing… You are born and new born for God’s honor; and will you thus dishonor Him before the world?”   Richard Baxter, 1830. I'm going to risk offending someone with this, but it must be said.

Nowhere in the world have I ever lived or visited where the residents seemed more regularly dogged by depression, anxiety, and unhappiness. In my church full of young, bright, healthy people this most obvious. Now, there are really good reasons to experience sadness — injustice, death, tragedy, to name a few.


Many of us walk around with pursed lips and furrowed brows for some bad reasons. Maybe we think it suits our temperament. Or, maybe we've erroneously thought that Christians should be serious people — so serious, we're horribly sad. Maybe we just like the attention we get. Baxter has a point that we can't qualify into oblivion.

Unjustified Sadness Tarnishes God's Glory

Key word: Unjustified. Christians are not to be people who fake smile their way through life. The Bible says that there is a time to weep. It's just not all the time. When we're dour for no reason we tarnish the glory of God. Christian, you're ineffective at spreading the good news of the gospel when you unceasingly act as if it's bad news in your life.

Unsought Victory Minimizes God's Power

While the Bible clearly teaches that human beings are sinners in need of grace, it also calls Christians overcomers. But merely practicing a few spiritual disciplines with faith, how much victory could we experience! But when we don't seek victory over sadness, we minimize God's power. We say with our lives, "God's really sorry, but he can't help you right now."

Unmixed Sorrow Forget's God's Future

Sorrow is real and appropriate many times in life. But sorrow cannot be the lonely only emotion we experience. God is bringing about a world that, even in the darkest of times, we're never to forget. That's why Christian sorrow should always be mingled with invincible joy. Heaven is real, and it is coming. Sin is real, and it is defeated. Jesus is real, and he is victorious. God's future is forgotten when our sorrow goes unmixed with deep joy.

Get up, man of God. Fight your folly.

Woman of faith, resist your sadness.

Christian, take hold of your Bible, engage your faith, confess what it says about you. Seek pray from others and practice the pursuit of joy. Much depends on it.


3 Trust Issues We All Have

Trust is a sticky issue for most of us. In bygone days, we weren't constantly bombarded with story after story of human untrustworthiness. But today our feeds are filled with clickbait-laden stories of how everyone is really quite untrustworthy. Small wonder, then, that when it comes to trusting God or anyone else, we struggle. Romans 1:17 says, "The righteous shall live by faith." But that greek word "faith" can be just as easily translated as "trust." And when I switch the words, suddenly I see all the ways that I don't trust. Suddenly I'm aware of my trust issues. Here are three I think we all have, and we all can get past with Jesus.

"I Can't Trust God."

This is the big one. When you and I hear that the righteous shall live by faith, we probably think, "Oh, I'm a man of faith. I have faith in God." But when we replace the word faith with its close synonym "trust," then the verse becomes a whole lot more difficult. Trust is active, present, and continuous. Trust is relational. Trust means, "Hey God, I trust you."

When hard times come, we feel that is somehow evidence that God is untrustworthy. "If God were good," we say to ourselves, "then He wouldn't allow this." Or maybe you do this as you read the Scriptures. Coming upon a hard passage you balk, "No God who says this could be trusted," so you walk away.

"I Can't Trust Them."

Our trust issues with God extend to people. If I had a dollar for every person who walked through the doors of my church who said, "Oh I love God, I just don't trust the church. Organized religion, man, it's where all the problems are," then I would have many dollars! Church hurt breeds a lot of mistrust. Perceived church hurt probably breeds more.

Here's the thing — trusting God inseparably entails trusting people. Why? Well because God became a person. Then, he put his Spirit in many other persons. Those people are called Christians. Refusing to trust others (especially other Christians) is a sign of a trust issue, not of a deft personal relationship policy.

"I Cant' Trust Him/Her."

Trust issues with God and with the group of God's people always trickles down to trust issues with an individual. And when we refuse to trust individuals for whatever reason we cannot carry on any kind of relationship with them. This is tragic for a million reasons, but perhaps the most tragic among them is because our mistrust of them means we can't properly love God.

You see, the Scriptures tell us that loving God means trusting people. That's what 1 Cor. 13 means when it says, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, eendures all things." Did you see our word? Belief. Or, you guessed it — trust. To love someone means to extend trust toward them, even if it is hard for us to do. To maintain a posture of cynical unbelief toward someone is to, in some way, be unable to love them.

Getting Past My Trust Issue

So what's a cynic like me to do? Back to the Bible. Back in Romans 1 we read that in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed, and the whole thing begins and ends in faith. Or, to use our word of the day, trust.

The gospel — the story of what God has done in Jesus Christ — is the ultimate proof that God is worthy of our trust. That's why Paul says that the whole kettle of fish starts and ends with trust (v. 16). To get past my trust issues, I've got to start by realizing that God has gone to an infinitely great length to prove his trustworthiness to me. Not because he had too. God doesn't have to do much. But because he loved me enough to want to. Getting past my trust issues starts with getting stuck into the story of the gospel, and letting my cynicism melt.

I'd invite you to join me. That is, if you can trust me.

The Wonder of Weakness

Like you, I feel constant pressure to look better, stronger, and more successful than I actually am. The world likes the strong. We root for them. We pay them millions to be stronger than others. God, however, seems to be drawn to the weak. "Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted ... you do see, for you note his ... vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless." (Ps 10:14-15)

Three simple observations that are really helping me today.

  1. God isn't attracted to my success, but draws near in my not-enough-ness.
  2. God sees my troubles. Therefore I don't need to whine about them, or sulk in self-pity.
  3. God is the refuge of the weak. The weak commit themselves to God, in part because they have no other help.

Strength is great, but deceptive. Success is wonderful, but worrisome. Only Jesus is the kind of God who displays the wonder of God in the weakness of man. I'm glad I don't have to become strong enough for him. He became weak enough for me.


For whatever reason, we have a tendency to complicate spiritually simple matters. One such simple matter is prayer. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he didn't write them a book or hold a seminar. Nor did he launch into a really long sermon. He simply said, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'”

Three verses.

Jesus is a genius, because in these scant 37 words he gives us everything we need to pray really well.

How Not to Pray Like Jesus

Maybe you already pray well, but I sure find in myself a tendency to pray poorly. Two errors usually come up in my heart which I must resist. See if they sound familiar.

  1. Praying Like a Pagan We pray like pagans when we think that the words we use or don't use some how manipulate God into giving us what He otherwise wants to withhold. This often sounds like saying, "In Jesus' name," after asking for something we can all be reasonably sure Jesus has no interest in giving you. It also sounds like repeating all of the names of God you can think of, over and over again and being wordy.God doesn't listen to our prayers because they're wordy, creative, or special. This prayer, not an incantation. And, He certainly isn't manipulated to cough up a blessing like a cheap date begrudgingly paying for the bill.
  2. Praying Like an Atheist This is simply prayerlessness. Sure, we may lob up the odd, "Hey God, I really need..." but not much more. Some pray little because they have an unbiblical view of the sovereignty of God. "Well, if God knows the future," they say, "why pray?"Look, Jesus prayed. If the Son of God felt it necessary to pray, you need to pray. Further, the Bible commands you to pray. Stop trying to sound smarter than God. "Well Lord, I know you're really so sovereign that your desires will certainly be accomplished. So ... um ... I'll just be very spiritually watching Netflix." Stop it.

How to Pray Like Jesus

If we want to pray well, we simply must learn to pray like Jesus. Here are a few observations we can make from the Lord's prayer:

  1. Pray as a son, like Jesus Jesus said we should call God, "Father." If you belong to Jesus, you come to God as a great dad, not as a cranky boss, angry slave driver, or uninterested acquaintance. Repeat and remember often.
  2. Pray for God to be honored, like Jesus "Hallowed be your name," sounded to me like a weird formality in prayer, a bit like "God save the Queen," in the presence of Her Majesty. These words are actually incredibly missional, not formal. We're asking God to make his name honored where it currently is not. That's huge.
  3. Pray for the mission, like Jesus Like the phrase that precedes it, we pray for God's Kingdom to come down from Heaven and back from the future. We're asking God to extend His presence and power in places that are currently enemy-held territories, both in our lives and in the world.
  4. Pray for provision, like Jesus "Give us our daily bread," isn't just about you. The phrase is "give us," not "give me." Of course God cares about our personal provision, but He also wants us to own, in prayer, the cost of the mission.
  5. Pray for forgiveness, like Jesus On the cross, Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." Jesus came to forgive us of sin. When sin remains unconfessed in our lives our prayer and participation with God is hindered. Bring your sins before God often and ask Him to remove their stain.
  6. Pray for reconciliation, like Jesus "We ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us," is a weighty prayer. This prayer, if prayed, will heal our social fabric. It will restore our broken relationships. If Jesus forgives me, I can't not forgive you. Praying this prayer will transform the church into a family, healed of hurt and free from offense.
  7. Pray for transformed affections, like Jesus James K. A. Smith likes to say that we are what we love. In this prayer, we're asking God to lead our loves — to change our palette, as it were, from enjoying the taste of sin to savoring the sweetness of God. Only when God is more fulfilling than sin will we resist sin well.
  8. Pray persistently, like Jesus Apparently Jesus' prayer life was so frequent and so admirable that his disciples wanted to model it. Then, he went and told a parable about persistence in prayer. If we're going to pray like Jesus, we're going to have to keep praying like Jesus. It's not a one-and-done.
  9. Pray in faith, like Jesus That parable which follows the above verses asks, "How much more will your Heavenly Father give...?" Jesus understood that faith isn't about bluster, but belief — belief that God really is trustworthy, good, and able to do all He has promised to do. When we pray, we pray in faith like Jesus.

I dare you to renew your prayer life in this fashion. I know I will be. After complicating and paganizing prayer unnecessarily, I think I'll try to follow the simple formula the master left us. Seems to me he knew something about the matter, and didn't much feel the need to complicate for us.

What is (Not) God's Love?

God loves you. This is true, good, right, llnd beautiful. But, it's not a rug under which we can sweep all our unrepentant sin, willful disobedience, and excuse-laden, self-aggrandizing determination to do what we want. God loves us, and His love for us is different that we may think.

How God (Doesn't) Love Us

In the modern newspeak, God's love can sound like this, "God love you and accepts you just the way you are. He doesn't want to change you. He wants to surround you with His love and acceptance. So, choose love."

I wonder what you think about that sentence. Here's the thing, it's not untrue, it's just incomplete. The best lies always are. Let's pull it apart:

  1. "God loves you and accepts you just the way you are..." True part: God does love his people, and accepts us into his family just the way we are. When He saved me, He wasn't merely loving the future, perfect version of Adam Mabry. He set his love on me when I was a sinner, His enemy, and an object of wrath.(Eph. 2:1-3)

    Incomplete Part: God does not want to leave us the way we are. He calls us to conform us. He saves us to sanctify us. If we come to God and refuse to allow Him to change anything and everything He wishes to, we're refusing His love. (Rom. 8:29)

  2. "He doesn't want to change you. He wants to surround you with His love and acceptance." True part: You and I are made in the image of God. There is some fingerprint of His divine purpose and image in all people, and no, He doesn't change that. He does wish to love us.

    Incomplete Part: He does want to change you in many, many ways. He wants to give you a new heart (Ez 36:26), reorder your affections (1 Jn 5:2), change lots of your behavior (Jn 14:15), and make you become more and more like His Son Jesus and less and less like the world from which you've come. (Rom 12:2, 1 Pet 1:14) This necessarily means He will confront you in His word, rebuke you, and correct you.

Emotion and Devotion

The ooey-gooey, feckless false love the world around us offers is too low a thing for God. His love for His people is bigger and better than that.

Two words in the Old Testament shed light on the way God loves us. The first word is often translated "compassion," and is related to the Hebrew word for "womb." It is surging, maternal, emotional, and beautiful. Isaiah gives us God's words, saying, "For a tiny moment I left you, and with great compassion I will gather you." (Is 54:7). God has emotional love for his people, to be sure.

We can stop listening after that, however. Because we're such a post-Romantic, heart-driven people, that we think, "Well, if God feels emotional love toward me, He would never want to change me." So, we must keep reading.

For a tiny moment I left you, and with great compassion I will gather you. In a rush of anger I hid my face from you, but with everlasting devotion I have set myself to show you compassion. (Is 54:7-8)

The other word give to us for God's love is the word we often translate as "steadfast," "everlasting," or "devotion." In other words, God's love is His determination — His complete commitment — to fully, completely, and finally love His people.

A Bloody, Beautiful Thing

So, what does God's love look like? This:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 Jn 4:9-10)

The very definition and highest example of love that the cosmos has ever witnessed was the moment with God's emotion and devotion collided with sin and separation on a splintered, bloody Roman cross. Two conclusion follow.

  1. Don't cheapen the love of God to the level of a 7th grade crush by singing songs about it, posting a Facebook meme, and then doing, thinking, and feeling whatever seems right. If God loves you with emotion and devotion then your love for God ought to involve both too.
  2. God changing you means God loves you, not the reverse. The opposite of love isn't hate, it's apathy. If God were apathetic toward His people — uninterested in their growth, progress, and obedience — He would not love us. He shows us this by doing for us the one thing that brings about the greatest imaginable change, dying on a cross for our sin.


Abraham Kept Going

This is crazy to me. Abraham had no Bible, no preachers, no church building ... hardly anything to go on. Abraham was a retiree looking forward to living out his days in the city of Ur, in a nice house overlooking the Euphrates river. Seemingly out of nowhere, God speaks to this man, promising to make him and his name great. Please remember that at this point, Abraham (called Abram) was a childless pagan — not on anyone's list of the 10 most likely candidates to change the world for God.

Perhaps what is craziest to me, however, is not that God chose Abraham, but that Abraham kept choosing God. He — though so much more disadvantaged in life compared to me — kept going.

  1. Abraham kept going, even when he totally screwed up. (Gen 12:14)
  2. Abraham kept going, even when the promises looked impossible. (Gen 17:17)
  3. Abraham kept going, even when his family thought he was nuts. (Gen 13)
  4. Abraham kept going, even when governments were arrayed against him. (Gen 14)
  5. Abraham kept going, even when he didn't understand what God was doing. (Gen 17:17)
  6. Abraham kept going, even through painful loss. (Gen 16)
  7. Abraham kept going, even through family strife.
  8. Abraham kept going, even through a sex-scandal. (Gen 16:4)

If Abraham can keep going — if he can persevere through all this — how much more can we? We who hope in Christ have more than promises. We have their fulfillment.

Abraham kept going. I can keep going.


Never Enough

Sundays are a 17+ hour day for me, and I love them. But, every Sunday, without exception, I arrive home and feel like I should have done more. Awaiting my arrival home are usually emails from folks who thought I didn't/wasn't x enough. Accompanying them are other emails from other folks who thought I did/was too much.

I have conversations and I wonder, "Did I say/do x enough?" I study and prepare wondering if I read and prayed enough. I lead wondering if I led well enough.

Fact: I will never be enough, study enough, care enough, or lead enough for other people.

And then I think about Jesus. Suspended on the cross by rusty nails that executed the Father's will, he said, "It is finished." He was so secure in His work and His words that He exhaled and His Spirit left His body. He stopped. He was enough.

In my not-enough-ness, Jesus is enough. In your not-enough-ness, Jesus is enough. The clamoring critics, the angry boss, the demanding children — you're not going to be enough for them. If you let them, they'll create a black hole in your soul that can never be filled. If you (and I ) lean on Jesus' enough-ness, we can help those who need our help, and when we've done enough, we can be finished. Like Jesus.

The Instructive Power of Anxiety

Anxiety is the emotion of unbelief.  That's what my friend Greg Mitchell likes to say. The more I've lived and thought about it, the more true I've found it. I don't know about you but I feel anxious regularly, about all kinds of things.

Recently, I received some ministry-related news that gave me anxiety. It was the kind of news that made begin to ask frantic, anxiety-fueled questions like, "What about the future?" "What if growth slows?" "What about our image in the city?"

And then I stopped. I breathed. The Holy Spirit spoke to me, took me back to the Bible, and lovingly led my worrying heart back to Jesus. But in the aftermath of that moment, I realized something: anxiety, though awful to experience, can be very instructive.

Anxiety Shows Me What I Love

Anxiety over losing something shows me what I really care about. If I'm so afraid of something being taken away, changing, or moving away from my control, then I probably love that thing more than I should.

Anxiety Shows Me What I Worship

Stress is like a sacrificial offering to a false god — I kill my peace on the altar of false worship dedicated to a thing that isn't God. I'll worry and fear the loss of the thing that I may be living for.

Anxiety Shows Me My Unbelief

As Dr. Greg says, anxiety is the emotion of unbelief. Anxiety reveals the precise location of my unbelief in the gospel, the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, and the power of His grace to heal, deliver, and take care of me.

Anxiety Shows Me Where I Must Believe

Very practically, anxiety then reveals where, precisely, I must repent. I must trust Jesus at the points over which I worry because those points reveal those wastelands of my heart where the refreshing life of Christ has not yet flowed, but should.

Maybe the instructive power of anxiety is part of the reason God allows us to experience it. He loves us enough to show us where we don't yet love Him enough.

How (Not) to Know God

I occupy a weird space in church world. One foot is firmly planted in the historic, Reformed world. This is a world of exquisite theology, great exegesis, brilliant theologians, and more good doctrine than you can shake a stick at.

The other foot is firmly planted in the powerful, charismatic world. This is the world of signs, wonders, and miracles, plus the occasional oddity, as Spiritual fire is released at the cutting edge of the Kingdom of God.

My weird space — somewhere in but out of both these worlds — makes it awkward for me at theological cocktail parties (which don't really exist, but as I'm writing this, they sound like a great idea...). But I love my weird space, because the tension of these two worlds keeps me on the narrow road of knowing God.

One way not to know God is to drift into the extreme of my first foot — that of academic theology — which offers knowledge of God mostly on the basis of doctrines. Is doctrine therefore bad? Obviously not. Knowing great doctrines about God is akin to knowing great facts about your spouse. But in my experience I observe many of my fellow thinkers fall so madly in love with the doctrines that love for God is sublimated. Knowing God is about more than knowing truth about God, just like knowing my wife is about more than memorizing fact about her.

Another way not to know God is to overcorrect from the previous extreme into the other — the extreme of experiential knowledge. This extreme offers knowledge of God on the basis of an experience with him, usually at the exclusion of rigorous study, thought, or examination of the Scripture. It's the Christian equivalent of "if it feels good, it must be right." Because obviously all good vibes are from the Holy Spirit. Right? Knowing God is about more than having experiences with Him, just like knowing my wife is about more than having experiences with her.

It seems to me that knowledge about God and experience with God fuel our pursuit of God. Let's go back to my weird space.

I love thinking hard about God. The intellectual rigor of theology is fun to me. But as soon as I feel myself ascending the high tower of knowledge which excludes me from my less theologically inclined brethren, the Holy Spirit pulls me to Himself in experience. Some prayer, worship, or moment with God calls me out of the library and onto the mission. But, on the field of battle, I realize that I need more than faith and fire. I need to understand God more deeply. So my experience drives me back to the text. And I can't stay in the text long before I am compelled from the text into the world. And on the cycle goes.

The narrow road of knowing God features knowledge and experience — life and doctrine. So get out there and learn something about Him you didn't know. Then, like fresh logs on a fire, let your knowledge fuel your worship and work for the God you're knowing better.


The Exhaustive, Complete List of Everything God Owes You

I've been asked a lot about how to get God to answer our prayers faster, give us our blessings better, and position ourselves to get what we want from God more readily. Hypocritically, these questions annoy me in others, yet feels justified in myself. But, hidden in such questions can be an unhealthy belief that we have some sort of Bill of Rights before the Lord. Such a belief turns prayer into litigation and our suffering into injustice at the hands of God. So, I decided to compile a once-and-for-all, final, exhaustive list of everything the Bible says God owes us humans. Here it is:

  1. Wrath.

That's it. God owes you His wrath. It's the only thing you deserve, and I deserve. This is more-or-less the whole point of Romans 1-3.

Now, the good news is that God loves to give you grace — that's the whole story of gospel. But let's get this really, really clear: you don't deserve grace. You can't deserve grace. That's what makes it grace. It's free for you, but rather costly to God.

It's helpful (for me at least) to remember that what I deserve is wrath, but what I get is grace. No matter what I experience in this life, if it's in this life, then it's better than I deserve.

How To Keep Going When It Sucks

Sometimes, life sucks. You get bad news. You feel depressed. Your kids act up. Your relationship breaks up. You're walking in the promises, alright. Just not the promises you wanted. You're experiencing that oft-ignored verse, "In this life you will have trouble..." (John 16:33).

I get those days. Here's how I get past them:

(Note: Since I'm a pastor, I'm automatically inclined to alliterate. So today's life insights are brought to you by the letter D.)

Don't Pretend

Don't pretend life isn't hard. There's a weird version of faith teaching that seems incapable of admitting when life is hard. Don't do that. That's not faith, that's just stupid. You can still be a man of God and say, "Man, this just really sucks right now."


Decide to deal with it, not to be dealt with by it. Seriously, this isn't some psycho-babble mumbo jumbo. You've got to get up and decide not to be dominated by the demonic forces arrayed against you, your bad habits, someone else's attitude, etc.

Don't Self-Pity

This one's tough. When things go badly, pitying self seems natural. Don't do that. Self pity is a sin. It seems attractive to imbibe in a little woe-is-me. But once you've come close to that siren, she'll eat you. Self pity is not the right way to deal with a rough day, week, or month.


I'm convinced that one of the reasons that God lets us go through hard times is to remind us to depend on him. I have to depend on Him. I don't "got this." I'm not a black-belt ninja master at life. I need a savior, and a helper. Dependance on God in the trial is, very often, the point of trial, I think.


Dispel the dark emotions. You can confess Scripture, pray, talk to friends, and tell your soul to worship God, even when life sucks. David did it. "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Hope in God!" (Psalm 43:5)

So there you have it. This is how I deal with the hard days. I hope this handy alliteration helps you when that promise of Jesus happens to you.

Trusting God Means Taking Risks

Trusting God means taking risks. The thought is pretty simple, really. Trusting God means trusting Him, not your ability to understand everything He does. As a pastor, I watch people get confused by this one a lot.

"Where's God right now? What's He doing"

"Pastor, why did He let me experience this?"

"I don't understand what God could be doing in this situation."

We seemed to be convinced that if we can't see what God is doing, then God can't be doing it. But here's the thing: God doesn't have to approve His plan with you. If He did then you would never have to trust Him. You'd simply be approving his plans. And, those are not the same. If you require a comprehension of God plans, you'll never take a risk and step out in faith. Why? Because you'll never do anything that totally depends on God and His character, just on you and your understanding.

What a lame way to live.

Trusting God means taking risks — stepping out in obedience doing things that have unclear outcomes (from our perspectives, at least). If you're afraid of risks, the answer isn't to just manifest some bravery. It's to remind yourself of the nature of God. He's the kind of God who can be trusted with your step of faith.

Jesus said, "Follow me." You may not be sure where you're going, exactly. But, you know you can trust your leader. Take the risk. Trust God.

Will Your Way to Worship (3 Practices)

Today is hard. Money is tight, friendships are lean, you feel emotionally spent, or maybe spiritually dry. Someone just died, or is about to. That special person cut the relationship off. And in the middle of all that you're walking through, here's what God says:

"Worship the LORD with gladness; come into His presence with singing!" (Ps 100:2)

Doesn't He know how hard your life is right now? Doesn't He understand that you just can't authentically create the emotions of joyful worship when life is so challenging? Doesn't God get it?

Yes. He gets it. He gets how hard it is to worship in the middle of a bad day. Try singing Psalm 22 while you hang on a cross. The Son understands how hard it is to will yourself to worship, especially when it's hard. Yet, He did it. He worshipped when it hurt.

Here are three practices I've found from Jesus' life that show us how he willed himself to worship:

Jesus Had a Pre-Existing Practice of Worship

You're not going to sing and shout to God in pain if you've never done so at all. Jesus had a practice of worship and communion with the Father before He experienced pain. (Luke 5:16, Mark 1:35)

Jesus Sang Scripture

Jesus sang the Psalms and so should we. I love great music, new and old. I'm not worship style warrior, hellbent on my preferences. But, Jesus knew how to go to the Psalms and sing God's word over His life. When Hell breaks loose in your life, you need the Psalms. (Matt 27:46)

Worship Shaped Jesus' World

Worship isn't a coping mechanism. We are worshipping, loving creatures, constantly orienting ourselves around that which we hold most valuable. Jesus' worship of the Father shaped his world. By worshipping regularly, we're reshaping the contours of our affections to wrap around the Worthy One. Doing so will change the way we see the world.

Today is still hard. This is when we must will ourselves to worship. God doesn't demand our praise because He's an insecure killjoy. He demands it because He loves us. He knows the only way to walk through the valley is with our eyes on the one whose rod and staff comfort us. Take the steps. Will yourself to worship today. And tomorrow. And the next day. And watch your world get reshaped.

Omnicompetence is the New Pride

"Just as there is no way we can serve both God and money, so there is no way we can (openly or secretly) believe in our personal omnicompetence and at the same time believe in Jesus as the Savior of sinners."(1) When you ask people about pride, few consider it a bad thing any more. School pride, national pride, (insert social cause here) pride ... pride has been moved off the moral no-no list in modern American Newspeak. That makes it very hard to locate. But, locate it we must. Just because we've become more cozy with the sin of pride doesn't make it any less that — sin. And I think I may have found where this particular devil has been hiding out: Omnicompetence.

Omnicompetence is not a word, but if it were it would describe our (my) deep, personal conviction that I can do pretty much anything, and that I need very little help. "I've got this," is its confession. "I can handle it," is its mantra. And, "I'll be alright," is its rather unformed eschatology.

I can see omnicompetence when I skip reading the Scriptures because I'm busy.

I can hear omnicompetence when I lie to a friend who asks how I'm really doing.

I can feel omnicompetence when I'm short-tempered with others and difficult to get on with.

Omnicompetence is the new pride. It's the way we modern people have made a virtue of personal utility and a vice out of humble needfulness. It's the rebranding of the one sin that lies at the root of all the others, and makes the heart so hard that it refuses to ask for help. In fact, if you're a devout believer in your omnicompetence, Jesus came to empower you, perhaps, but not to save you. I mean, you've got this, right?



Omnicompetence is the ultimate expression of practical atheism. But, take a minute to examine it up close. If you look deeply into the shiny surface of this idea, you'll begin to see the fissures. Those small, nagging ways we fail, falter, and miss the mark. Omnicompetence has a real problem with recognizing sin, and the humble vulnerability that such a recognition produces. But, like paint over rotting wood, omnicompetence can't hide our true nature for very long. No set of skills, no matter how great, can ever overcome our deep need for help.

For grace.

Lord, help me part ways with the belief in my omnicompetence — my pride. Hold my neediness before my eyes long enough to cause me to voice my need for the Savior.

(1) Alec Motyer, Isaiah by the Day, 93.

The Romance of Regularity

"I stopped reading my Bible regularly because I just wasn't feeling as close to God as I used to." "Nah, we haven't been on a date in a while. The last time we did, we got in an argument."

"I don't know where he'd been. We used to hang out a lot, but then it just trailed off for some reason."


We have romanticized our relationships way, way too much. We've made them center on feelings over commitments — emotions over reality. Here's the simple fact: If you want a great relationship with God, with your wife, or with your friends, regulate it.

I don't mean make a bunch of rules for it. I mean that you must make it regular — scheduled, written, and active. We must learn to detach commitment to a relationship from the floating non-foundations of our feelings — doing something with someone only when it feels right.

Want to hear God? Get up every morning, read your Bible, and pray. Do that most days for a year. Feelings will follow.

Want to have a great marriage. Get up every day, thank God for her. Make her coffee, without the snark, and serve her.

Want a great friendship? Commit to walk out life with someone else. Use a calendar. Make it happen.

This is the romance of regularity.

5 Ways to Friend Well

I'm not sure how it happened, but somewhere along the way I never picked up the "how you're supposed to be a friend," lesson. This has led to me alienating (mostly by accident) people who have tried to befriend me over the years. None of this comes very naturally to me. Despite my disfunction, there have been some men along the way who've stuck it out with me and friended me very well. When I'm around them, I'm better. Here are 5 ways they friend me that really stick out.

  1. Friends Communicate They operate the phone. Not just satisfied with emails and the odd Facebook hi-five, they call me, and we connect. Friends communicate, they don't wait to be communicated to.
  2. Friends Encourage When I'm around my friends for an extended period of time, I feel stronger — braver. I think that's what encouragement really means — to be filled with courage.
  3. Friends Pray My friends pray for me. Good friends do that, regularly.
  4. Friends Play I can be the fuddiest of all duddies, and my friends get that. So, they drag me out of my study and my "seriously-guys-I'm-an-adult-doing-adult-things" attitude and make me have fun.
  5. Friends Build My closest friends are the guys I've built something with. Whether its a company, a church, or a project, friends lock arms and accomplish things bigger than themselves.

So, I'm learning from my friends how to friend well. This is what I've got so far. Did I miss anything?

3 Reasons to Keep Going

You're in the middle of something right now — maybe even something great — and you want to quit. Don't.

Some activities, habits, and attitudes we should quit. I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about quitting on your calling, your relationships, your work — the things you know you should do. Do you ever just want to tap out on those things because they're just really hard?

Again, don't.

Here's three good reasons not to quit on good things:

Your Not Supposed to Quit Things like your calling — your real purpose in life — you're not supposed to quit. You can't tap out of being who God made and appointed you to be. "It's really hard, though," you say. Yes. Yes it is. That's because it's good, and everything good is hard. An unhealthy side effect of our overly-coddled culture is the belief that when opposition comes (or just when the good vibes leave) we must be in the wrong lane. That's not true. If God commands it, you're to do. Don't stop.

Jesus Didn't Quit Let's talk about the archetype for perseverance a moment. Jesus didn't quit. He didn't hang up his gloves because his team still didn't get it. He didn't roll back when his family thought he was nuts. He didn't even quit when the Roman soldiers were ripping the flesh of his back, nailing him to a cross, and watching him die, slowly. He didn't quit.

Maybe you're suffering right now. Suffering doesn't mean you should stop. God uses our suffering to build our character, purge our sin, and make us stronger. I'm really glad Jesus didn't quit when it was hard. Don't quit.

God Gives Persevering Grace to the Persevering God doesn't abandon you when it's tough. The genius of the Christian story is the way God remains omnipotent while entering into human suffering, and overcomes. Because Jesus overcame this world, he can now give overcoming grace to those of us still in it. I know it's tough right now. God gives grace when it's tough. He is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. His grace is there to sustain.

Whatever you're in the middle of right now, don't quit. Show up, ask God for help, keep going.