We can learn how to act quickly without hurrying. Quickness is an attribute of action. Hurry is an attribute of the spirit. First, we need to recognize when we’re being drawn into hurry. At that point, stop and take time out. Then we go over how God is with us and we’re acting with Him at our side.

Hurry involves the idea that something is out of control and we must take control. Hurry is an act of unfaith.

Silence, solitude, fasting and Scripture memorization train us to respond differently to events when an immediate response is required

~Dallas Willard
in “Apprentice To The Master: Interview With Dallas Willard” by Jan Johnson

Developing Intimacy with God

Aronis, Alexander Basile. 2003. Developing intimacy with God : an eight-week prayer guide based on Ignatius’ “Spiritual exercises”. 1st ed. Makati City, Philippines: Union Church of Manila. (book review)

The book has developed out of the author’s dissertation about Ignatius’ “Spiritual Exercises” as a model for spiritual direction 20 years before writing the book. During this time the author refined his understanding and teaching about ‘Devotional Prayer’ by serving as a spiritual director for many people.

The book includes prayer exercises for every day of the eight-week period, teaching and using different types of prayer and skills necessary to reach the goal:

“increase your love for Christ, broaden your self-understanding, connect you with vital spiritual principles, intensify your desire to become more like Jesus, and strengthen your commitment to serve him by serving others.” (1)

It can be used by individuals or by groups. Ideally an individual working through the book could have a mentor or spiritual director for feedback, but the book is written in a way that it can be used as the only spiritual guide.

The author defines ‘Devotional Prayer’ as the objective to develop “intimate knowledge of Christ that I might be with him, become like him, and live for him.” This theme of “with – like – for” him helps to keep the perspective. The threefold perspective is reflected in nearly every exercise.

The book is divided into five parts:

Part I – seeing yourself as God sees you (week 1)
Part II – the life and ministry of Christ (week 2-6)
Part III – the suffering of Christ (week 7)
Part IV – the resurrection of Christ (week 8 )

Every week starts with some introductory teaching about different prayer styles and related topics, which are then practiced during the exercises of the week. Each daily exercise focuses on a biblical passage using different ways of reflecting on it.

For example, in one week the author explains the different types of prayer, such as preparatory prayer, meditative reading, imaginative contemplation, heart prayer, prayer of petition, prayer of adoration, prayer of rest and infused prayer. In another week he introduces the reader to four types of insight – principle insight, attachment insight, interior insight and detachment insight. Another time the author expands on themes such as the “Four Degrees of Humility,” why we experience desolation, or how to rest in the Lord. Every week finishes with experiences from “Friends on the Journey” which can help answer certain questions or responds to problems many people have.

Listing these concepts may sound very theoretical and overwhelming, and it can be difficult to remember the different terms. However, since they are introduced gradually and practiced for one week before other new concepts are presented, one is able to grow into them and absorb them into one’s personal practice. Not every style is for everybody but practicing all the styles for a time helps to discover new approaches to prayer and find out which ones are most beneficial for oneself. The goal is not theoretical knowledge but real intimacy with God so as to reach the objective:

“be with him, become like him, and live for him.”

The book has been a real blessing to me and I recommend it highly. I believe that every individual working through it will grow in their relationship with Christ, even though the effects will be different for each person.

In closing, I want to mention and underline one aspect that I found especially interesting:

When reading the Bible or listening to a sermon most insights fall into four categories – principle insights (general principle, fundamental truth), attachment insights (something that inspires me to love God more), interior insights (increases self-understanding), and detachment insights (things that we need to let go of, that hinder our devotion to God). We need all of these types of insights, but it is the Attachment Insights that we need most because they motivate us to become more like Christ. Many of us, especially pastors and teachers tend to focus on Principle Insights but spiritual principles will not lead to increased delight in or intimacy with the Lord during prayer, and therefore not have the same transformational effect as an Attachment Insight. The reality of Christ’s love and presence shines best through people who know how to cherish Attachment Insights.

Does this surprise me? No, not really but until now I had not made this connection. It is nothing new that rules and principles rarely lead to transformation but relational modeling and healthy attachment can do that. Therefore we are more likely to grow in our relationship with God and be transformed into his image when we let our hearts be attracted to the person and work of Jesus than when we just focus on general principles.  In practical terms, this means if a text triggers different types of insights in us, and we sense no special guidance by the Spirit to focus on one of them, it is best to focus on an Attachment Insight if you want to become more like Christ.

Practicing God’s presence

Practicing God’s presence

The term Practicing the Presence of God goes back to Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a Carmelite brother, who was born as Nicolas Herman in French Lorrain in 1611 (or 1614?) and died in February 1691. Some call him the ‘kitchen saint’ because he worked in the monastery kitchen for most of his life. Despite his lowly status, many were attracted to him by his passionate relationship with God and came to him for advice. These conversations and letter exchanges with people of his community were later collected and published by Father Joseph de Beaufort. [The quotes and pages numbers in this post refer to the book ‘Practicing His Presence‘ by Br Lawrence and Frank Laubach]

Br. Lawrence defines Practicing the Presence of God as living consciously in God’s presence every moment of the day by continually talking with him, and “referring all that we do to Him” no matter which task is at hand. In the beginning this practice needs diligence but after a while

we shall find His love inwardly excites us to His presence without any difficulty. (46)

As a result Br. Lawrence admitted that

My set times of prayer are not different from other times of the day. Although I do retire to pray (because it is the direction of my superior) I do not need such retirement nor do I ask for it because my greatest business does not divert me from God. (47)

His interaction with God was marked by simplicity, a desire to please God in everything and never let himself be diverted by thinking “of trifles and foolish things.” (42) It resulted in a holy freedom and familiarity with God, and a deep assurance of God’s presence and goodness.

According to Br. Lawrence devotions are only the means to an end where being in God’s presence is the end, which makes devotions useless once you are living in God’s presence. He goes even so far as to say that

I have given up all forms of devotion and set prayers other than those to which my state obliges me. My only business now is to persevere in His holy presence. I do so by simple and loving attention to the Lord. Then I have the experience of the actual presence of God. To use another term I will call it a secret conversation between my soul and the Lord. (77)

Frank Charles Laubach (1884-1970) in his search for a more complete surrender to God developed a similar praxis 200 years after Br. Lawrence’s death. He was a missionary among Muslims in the Southern Philippines when he started at age 45 the practice of abiding in Christ’s presence. He chronicled his personal experience in letters to his father, which were later published as “Letters by a modern mystic.” Like Br. Lawrence he testifies that it is possible to continuously live in and experience God’s presence. Laubach’s efforts seem rather legalistic and forced at first when he tries to think of God every few seconds but fails for most of the day. However, eventually the effect made it all worthwhile:

This concentration upon God is strenuous, but everything else has ceased to be so. I think more clearly, I forget less frequently. Things which I did with a strain before, I now do easily and with no effort whatever. (15-6)

I remember how as I looked at people with a love God gave, they looked back and acted as though they wanted to go with me. I felt then that … I saw a little of that marvelous pull that Jesus had as He walked along the road day after day ‘God-intoxicated’ and radiant with the endless communion of His soul with God. (19)

Laubach recommends in the beginning to

try to call Christ to mind at least one second of each minute. You do not need to forget other things nor stop your work, but invite Him to share everything you do or say or think. (30)

Which is why he called his fresh approach to Br. Lawrence’s “Practicing the Presence of God” also “Game with minutes” and gives very practical suggestions on how to go about it. He assures people that

the results of this effort begin to show clearly in a month. They grow rich after six months, and glorious after ten years. (30)

The Celtic Way of Evangelism – Book Review

The Celtic Way of Evangelism

Hunter, George G. 2000. The Celtic way of evangelism : how Christianity can reach the West — again. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

I have already quoted once from this book (here). As many people celebrated St. Patrick’s Day this week, it seems appropriate to write a book review.

The title of this book might give the impression that when you read this book you will finally know how to evangelize successfully. I am always a little bit hesitant if somebody thinks he has “found it.” However, the content of the book does not fall in this trap. It is an interesting analysis of what might have made St. Patrick’s mission to Ireland so successful and which of these factors might be useful for today.

The aspects that the author underlines are in itself nothing new, and there are certainly many other books on the market who say the same thing. Nevertheless, I found it interesting, especially the comparison between the Celtic and Roman Christianity and their approach to evangelism. Hunter, similar to J. Philip Newell (whom I have quoted recently), are not claiming that one is better than the other, but that both are poorer without the other. In this sense it is unfortunate that the Roman church fought and suppressed Celtic spirituality.

So, what can we learn from St. Patrick?

The basis of his mission was laid during a time of enslavement. He was a Briton from NE England, coming from an “aristocratic family [that] had gone “Roman” during the Roman occupation of England.” During his enslavement by Celtic pirates as a teenager, several changes happened:

  • a personal experience of God’s presence when he was herding cattle in the wilderness, a growing faith;
  • a deeper understanding of the Irish Celtic people, their language and culture, as you can only learn it from the ‘underside’;
  • a love for and an identification with his captors to the point of feeling they are his people.

Through divine intervention he was able to board a ship and regain freedom after six years of enslavement. He trained for the priesthood and served as a parish priest in England until his “Macedonian call’ to become a missionary to the Celtic people in Ireland at age 48. This calling went totally against the general opinion of the Roman church of his time, because the Celts were regarded as ‘barbarians’ and as not enough ‘civilized’ to receive the Gospel. It was considered impossible to evangelize them.

St. Patrick’s approach to evangelism was made possible by his earlier experience:

The fact that Patrick understood the people and their language, their issues, and their ways, serves as the most strategically significant single insight that was to drive the wider expansion of Celtic Christianity, and stands as perhaps our greatest single learning from this move­ment. There is no shortcut to understanding the people. When you understand the people, you will often know what to say and do, and how. When the people know that the Christians understand them, they infer that maybe the High God understands them too.

He worked with a team of people who would set up a temporary camp near a tribal settlement. They would contact the king or leader of this settlement, ask for their permission, and then stay for several weeks or even months, engaging people in conversations, pray for sick and possessed people, counsel and mediate conflicts, ministering to all who appeared receptive. The social dimension of their ministry included crusading against slavery – successfully!

Hunter underlines five aspects of the Celtic way of ‘being and doing church’ that contributed to the evangelization of Europe, a kind of “missionary ecclesiology” of the ancient Celtic Christian movement from which we could learn today:

  • Team approach – in contrast to the contemporary approaches of “Lone Ranger” one-to-one evangelism, or confrontational evangelism, or the public preaching crusade, the Celtic mission worked as a team, including oldtimers and newbies.
  • Modeling – this community provided a setting that prepared people to “live with depth, compassion, and power in mission.”  This included the discipline of solitude, spending time with a ‘soul friend’, being part of a fellowship group, participate and contribute to communal life, experiencing and learning ministry by observing and doing.
  • Imaginative prayer – St. Patrick’s team would use parable, story, poetry, song, visual symbols, visual arts and drama to engage the Celtic people’s imaginations. They took people’s ‘right brains’ seriously and made the gospel’s meaning vivid.
  • Hospitality – the monastic community was open for everybody and their highest com­mitment was hospitality to strangers, seekers, pilgrims, and refugees. It was seen as a ministry to seekers, without any strings attached.
  • Process conversion – they saw conversion as a process.

I found the comparison between the Irish and the Roman model of evangelization conversion very enlightening.

The Roman model for reaching people (who are “civilized” enough) was:

  • Present the Christian message;
  • Invite them to decide to believe in Christ and become Christians; and
  • If they decide positively, welcome them into the church and its fellowship.

The Celtic model in contrast starts where the Roman model ends – with fellowship:

  • You first establish community with people, or bring them into the fellowship of your community of faith.
  • Within fellowship, you engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship.
  • In time, as they discover that they now believe, you invite them to commit.

In case you have not noticed – the Roman model is still pervasive today.

The Roman model seems very logical to us because most American evangelicals are scripted by it! We explain the gospel, they accept Christ, we welcome them into the church! Presentation, Decision, Assimilation.

I would add, not only American evangelicals, but also many European evangelicals follow the Roman approach. This comparison appears to be all the more relevant for today, as several researchers have pointed out that today’s postmodern people often need to first belong, before they can believe.

[John] Finney reports that most people experience the faith through relation­ships, that they encounter the gospel through a community of faith, that becoming a Christian involves a process that takes time. In his later book, Recovering the Past, Finney summarizes their chief finding in four words. For most people, “belonging comes before believing.”

In one of the chapters Hunter analyzes the missionary perspective of Celtic Christianity, which included among other things an optimism and affirmation of God’s presence in nature, a belief in the goodness of creation and human nature, even though both are infected, but not destroyed, by sin and evil.

This is in stark contrast to the emphasis of the Roman church who under the impact of St. Augustine’s teaching insisted on the absolute depravity of humans. The latter often contributed to the complete rejection of other people’s cultures, while the Celtic attitude provides “an outstanding example of a Christian mission moving into a culture and affirming, and building upon, what it can.”

This allowed them to evangelize ‘uncivilized barbarians’ and become a ‘religion- and culture-friendly’ movement. They used critical contextualization; on the one hand, integrating and ‘Christianizing’ places, symbols and festivals whenever possible, by dedicating them to the Triune God, but on the other hand, clearly challenging anything that was idolatry [cf. Boniface felling Thor’s Oak] and not shying away from power encounters.

Celtic Christianity preferred continuity rather than discontinuity, inclusion rather than exclusion.

In summary, I found this book well written and very thought provoking. It is balanced in its arguments and does not give the impression that the Celtic way is the only possible approach to evangelism today, but I believe that there is lots we could learn from them.

Types of Spirituality

Authentic prayer – which is deeply sensible of God, who speaks out of the depths, and in an awareness of the chaos that surrounds us – requires that we move out of the structure into the antistructure. Here the receptive mode of consciousness is operative.

~Urban T. Holmes, III (in A History of Christian Spirituality)

“All true wisdom is only found far from men, out in the great solitude, and it can be acquired only through suffering. Privations and sufferings are the only things that can open a man’s mind to that which is hidden from others.” (Eskimo shaman speaking to the Danish explorer Rasmussen)

The virtue is not in suffering, per se, rather, suffering tears us away from the anesthetization of orderly comfort and forces us into the antistructure with its alternate mode of experiencing God.

~Corinne Ware (in Discover Your Spiritual Type)

The ‘receptive mode’ refers to the theory of bimodal consciousness and is contrasted with the active mode; ‘structure’ and ‘antistructure’ refer to Victor Turner’s anthropological theory that all relationships fall into these two categories. Relationships defined by structure, value status and role and go together with the action mode.

Looking into Reality

Spirituality is not about looking away from life but more deeply into it, not about denying the human but about releasing our true selves, and that the life of our truest self partakes of the very substance of God’s life, the One Self that is at the heart of all selves. In Christ, the perfect image of God, we see our truest self.

~J. Philip Newell

in Newell, J. Philip. 1997. Listening for the heartbeat of God : a Celtic spirituality. New York: Paulist Press.

Complex Communication

Cross-cultural communication can be very tricky. Especially when people from indirect cultures communicate with people from direct cultures, and vice versa. The potential for misunderstandings is huge.

This was one of the topics I taught this week. Craig Storti uses the dialogue concept (which was developed by Alfred Kraemer) in his book “Figuring foreigners out.” The idea is to bury cultural differences inside a small dialogue to make people think.

I am especially fascinated by the following dialogue between an American employer and an Asian employee.

Ms. JONES: It looks like we’re going to need some people to come in on Saturday.
Mr. WU: I see.
Ms. JONES: Can you come in on Saturday?
Mr. WU: Yes, I think so.
Ms. JONES: That’ll be a great help.
Mr. WU: Yes. Saturday’s a special day, did you know?
Ms. JONES: How do you mean?
Mr. WU: It’s my son’s birthday.
Ms. JONES: How nice. I hope you all enjoy it very much.
Mr. WU: Thank you. I appreciate your understanding.

One reason I find this one so fascinating is that even I did not pick up on everything. Of course, I am not a specialist for Asian indirectness. But would you have noticed that the first two replies from Mr. Wu are an indirect ‘no’?

Ms. Jones did not realize that already her first opening sentence was perceived as an indirect request. Neither did she realize that Mr. Wu answered twice in the negative, but in his indirect style. He was probably wondering why she does not get it, so he tries to be more direct but without success. I did realize that, in the end, they both thought that they had understood each other, but didn’t. Mr. Wu will not come to work on Saturday but Ms. Jones still thought he would. Not a happy ending.

Since my students were all from indirect cultures, one exercise was to rewrite indirect sentences into more direct ones, so that their colleagues from direct cultures would get the message. I have not yet seen all the papers, but I can tell you that it was not an easy task for them. What they considered very direct was still fairly indirect. I guess it is the same for us, from direct cultures – it is hard to be more indirect, and not have the feeling that this way the message will never come across.

On the other hand, we need to realize that in situations where people from several cultures work together, indirect communication is not a good choice. Indirect communication is also called high context. It works well in situations where people have a lot common. Then it is not necessary to spell things out clearly. A lot can be implied and will still be understood because people have an intuitive understanding of each other because of the shared context. This is not the case in more individualistic contexts, nor in multicultural contexts. In these situations it is better to work towards a more direct communication style to avoid misunderstandings. Hopefully with a happier ending.

Cross-cultural communication can be very tricky. Especially when people from indirect cultures communicate with people from direct cultures, and vice versa. The potential for misunderstandings is huge.

This was one of the topics I taught this week. Craig Storti uses the dialogue concept which was developed by Alfred Kraemer in his book “Figuring Foreigners Out.” The idea is to bury cultural differences inside a small dialogue to make people think.

I am especially fascinated by the following dialogue between an American employer and an Asian employee.

Ms. JONES: It looks like we’re going to need some people to come in on Saturday.
Mr. WU: I see.
Ms. JONES: Can you come in on Saturday?
Mr. WU: Yes, I think so.
Ms. JONES: That’ll be a great help.
Mr. WU: Yes. Saturday’s a special day, did you know?
Ms. JONES: How do you mean?
Mr. WU: It’s my son’s birthday.
Ms. JONES: How nice. I hope you all enjoy it very much.
Mr. WU: Thank you. I appreciate your understanding.

One reason I find this one so fascinating is that even I did not pick up on everything. Of course, I am not a specialist for Asian indirectness. But would you have noticed that the first two replies from Mr. Wu are an indirect ‘no’?

Ms. Jones did not realize that already her first opening sentence was perceived as an indirect request. Neither did she realize that Mr. Wu answered twice in the negative, but very indirect. He probably is wondering why she does not get it, so he tries to be more direct but without success. I did realize that, in the end, they both thought that they had understood each other, but didn’t. Mr. Wu will not come to work on Saturday but Ms. Jones still thought he would. Not a happy ending.

Since my students were all from indirect cultures, one exercise was to rewrite indirect sentences into more direct ones, so that their colleagues from direct cultures would get the message. I have not yet seen all papers, but I can tell you that it was not easy for them. What they considered very direct was still fairly indirect. I guess it is the same for us, from direct cultures – it is hard to be more indirect, and not have the feeling that this way the message will never come across.

On the other hand, in situations where people from several cultures work together, indirect communication is not a good choice. Indirect communication are also called high context works well when people share a lot of background in common. This

Are you HSP?

Are you HSP?

Half a year ago I discovered that I am HSP – this means that I have a highly sensitive personality trait. This was quite surprising to me because nobody ever called me too sensitive, more to the contrary. What triggered the insight was my sensitivity to noise and the feeling of being half-deaf in group settings (which seems contradictory). Once I did the self-test in the book by Elaine Aron, it became very obvious – I am HSP. When I read the first two chapters of her book during a flight, I ended up with a list of more than 20 items, unrelated things that I knew about myself and that were mentioned as being typical for HSP. I had lots of aha-moments. Since then I read several other books and discovered more about myself. I also discovered over the last few months that all my best friends are HSP. Interesting!

Here some examples of things mentioned in the self test on Elaine Aron’s webpage:

  • being easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input
  • being aware of subtleties in my environment
  • being affected by other people’s moods
  • feeling the need to withdraw during busy days
  • being overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens close by
  • having a rich, complex inner life
  • being uncomfortable by loud noises
  • being deeply moved by the arts or music
  • trying hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things

For the complete test go here.

Excerpts from HSP descriptions found online:

“HSP is a normal biological individual difference in personality and physiology inherited by about 15 to 20% of just about all higher animals. Those with this trait notice more subtleties and process information more deeply.
“Anyone noticing more subtleties would logically also have to be more easily overwhelmed than others by prolonged, intense, or chaotic sound, sights, etc. (I think that this is probably similar to the problem people have with hearing aids, the natural filtering of important from unimportant sounds is missing and therefore it often becomes overwhelming.)
“The difference is quite profound, affecting everything HSPs do and many bodily responses—for example, as a group we are more sensitive to pain, caffeine, medications, temperature, light, and hunger. We are more reflective, learn more slowly but thoroughly, and tend to be unusually conscientious.
“About two thirds of HSPs do reduce the stimulation in their lives by being introverted—preferring a few close friends rather than being in groups or meeting strangers. But about a third are extraverts. (

“Being a HSP isn’t a flaw. It’s actually a genetic character trait that can be used to your advantage. (

Based on the insights from reading Aron’s book, I started to observe myself and realized that I am actually often “over-stimulated” (term used by Elaine Aron) by sensory stimulants when I previously thought that I am just tired, stressed out, peopled-out, etc. or just being a typical introvert. HSP are also very perceptive to other people’s emotions which is one reason that they easily feel overwhelmed in group situations. I probably experience that more often than I originally thought.

I realized that I have been pushing myself too hard over many years, by trying to be like “normal” people, support as much noise, stress, people, work load, etc. as others. On the other hand, I also discovered that God has helped me make adjustments in my life over the last few years that are just right for HSPs and helped me ‘survive’ in the high-people and high-noise environment of Africa.

  • I know I need more sleep than others do and starting the day with an alarm clock is not good for me.
  • HSP in general need a lot of downtime. I am glad that I have adapted my day to this need before knowing that I am HSP.
  • I need a long time of fellowship with God in the morning before being ready to start the day. For me this means spending time in his presence, not the usual checking off of an activity called ‘quiet time’ consisting of structured prayer times and reading the Bible according to a plan.
  • Time to unwind in the evening after having been out is very important for me.
  • I need a good routine, including regular times for eating, a nap at lunch time and physical exercises.
  • HSP in general have a hard time adapting to change. That explains why I find traveling very difficult and it takes me fairly long to settle back into my routine or adapt to new circumstances.
  • I am working better in a quiet and uninterrupted environment.
  • I can’t handle constant exposure to music, talking or other noise.
  • I drink a lot of water, much more than others, which Elaine Aron mentions as a way to reduce stress. This explains why I can’t go very long without drinking water, even in colder climates. The more I am stressed, the more water I need.
  • HSP are profound thinkers. They have an innate preference to process information more deeply, to compare the present situation as completely as possible to your knowledge of similar situations in the past. This explains why it takes me such a long time to think through things, including analyzing movies or TV shows. The same applies to theoretical problems or tensions in relationships. It also explains why it takes me so long to formulate my contribution to a discussion, when others have already moved on to the next topic.
  • I am realizing that I need to trust my intuition more. So far, when I did not have a good reason or name for what I felt, I disregarded it. Thinking back, I realize that there are many situations where I correctly sensed something but did not pay attention.
  • I enjoy being together with a few close friends more than attending a big party. One reason is the higher noise level, the second reason is that there is often no opportunity to go deep in conversations with people.
  • I think I am a good observers and I am now learning that I do often make correct deductions from the things observed.
  • Being HSP also means being very gifted in different areas (theory building, analysis, artistic expressions, empathy, ..), even though HSPs often underestimate their abilities and sell themselves badly. But these gifts can only develop when we manage to create or find an HSP friendly context. This is an ongoing challenge.

Typical for an HSP, I am very detail oriented and conscientious – which is why it is hard for me to stop here with the list before I have mentioned all the relevant points. 😉 But this is definitely enough for a starter. If you are interested I can recommend reading Elains Aron’s book.

Here is a list of resources about HSP:
Online introduction
If you want to know whether you are HSP, do the self test.

The first and most well known book on the subject is from Elaine Aron “The Highly Sensitive Person.” She also wrote several others, for different sub-fields – child raising, relationships / love, work environment.

A very interesting treatment of the topic from a Christian point of view comes from Carol Brown: “The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity.”

There are several websites that offer help and/or networking for HSPs

There are also several Facebook groups on the topic.

HSP is sometimes misinterpreted as ADD or Asberger Syndrom /Autism. Here is one article that addresses this question.

Now I am, of course, very curious who of my readers is HSP or just discovered it through my blog post.

Boundaries Face to Face – Book Review

Boundaries Face to Face

Cloud, Henry, and John Sims Townsend. 2003. Boundaries face to face: how to have that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

I found this book very helpful and wanted to share a little bit about it. The book is about how to handle confrontational talks but the goal is not to have a confrontation but to improve the relationship between two people. Since reading it, I have started to put several aspects into practice and saw how it makes a difference.

What are the aspects of a helpful ‘confrontation’? The table of contents provides a great overview over the important ingredients:

Part 1 – Why do you need to have that difficult conversation?

  • The talk can change your life
  • The benefits of a good conversation

Part 2 – The essentials of as good conversation

  • Be emotionally present
  • Be clear about “You” and “I”
  • Clarify the problem
  • Balance grace and truth
  • Stay on task
  • Use the formula, when you do “A,” I feel “B”
  • Affirm and validate
  • Apologize for your part in the problem
  • Avoid “shoulds”
  • Be an agent for change
  • Be specific
  • Differentiate between forgiving and trusting

Part 3 – Seeing how it is done

  • Telling people what you want
  • Making someone aware of a problem
  • Stopping a behavior
  • Dealing with blame, counterattack and other problems

Part 4 – Getting yourself ready to have the conversation

  • Why you need to be ready
  • How to get ready

Part 5 – Having the difficult conversation with people in your life

  • With your spouse
  • With someone you’re dating
  • With your child
  • With your parents
  • With adult children
  • At work
  • With people in authority

Let me underline some points that I found especially helpful:

–         The importance of preparing yourself for a difficult talk and not feeling embarrassed about it, but explaining that I easily lose the thread and might say things that I did not mean to say and forget things that I find important;

–         Name the problem and don’t let yourself be distracted, by neither yourself nor your dialogue partner. It happens so easily that you get on a tangent. I often fall into the trap of bring up other situations that are similar, but mentioning them all can get overwhelming.

–         Saying honestly what the behavior of the other person causes in you and be specific. Putting this in words can be quite difficult but if I work on this during the preparation, it is a first step towards a solution.

–         The same applies to concrete suggestion of what need to be changed. This can be a challenge but when I think through this during the preparation and try to be specific, I realize what can I expect realistically and what not. I need to be aware that nobody can change completely from one day to the other. Therefore it needs to become clear to myself what exactly I expect from the other person and what is feasible. Unrealistic expectations only cause frustrations on both sides.

–         Don’t expect the talk to solve your negative emotions. They have to be processed before attempting such a talk, with the help of God and friends. The talk has to be motivated by my love for the other person and out of interest to improve out relationship, not to let off steam.

–         We need to honestly express our wishes and needs but not turn them into demands. I give to leave the other person the freedom and not manipulate. I need to be aware that not all my wishes will be fulfilled. It is important not to expect all wishes to be fulfilled, but to share even those wishes and needs that I know cannot be fulfilled. As long as I leave enough freedom to the other person, that’s ok. “Freedom is the precondition for any good relationship.” To not manipulate is one of the biggest challenges for me. Not all forms of communicating my needs are appropriate.

–         Accepting the No of the other person no matter what. If the point is especially important for me, it is better to bring it up again at another occasion. It is also important to express my understanding for the other position (and not assume that the other person knows that). Some solutions will only develop after we understand why the other person reacts a certain way, or says no, or …

–         Listening and asking back, and really try to understand what the other person wants to express. While at the same time avoiding getting side tracked. It is better to postpone side issues to another talk.

This is just a small selection of helpful points in this book. Since reading it several months ago, I noticed time and again how often confrontations are motivated by the desire to blow off steam and the expectation to feel better after doing so. This is basically the contrary of what Cloud and Townsend propose here.


Loving Embrace

Fitting for today’s name saint, a quote from his name sake Nicholas of Cusa:

All my endeavors are directed towards you, because all your endeavors are directed at me. All my looking is focused on you and I will never turn my eyes from you, because you surround me with your imperturbable gaze. You are the center of my love, because you, who is the love in person, has turned so completely to me. And what, o Lord, is my life if not your loving embrace with which you hold me tight.

The Vision of God: Nicholas of Cusa

Through Her Eyes – Book Review

Through Her Eyes

I read a very good book about two years ago. Some time last year I discovered the blog Telling Secrets and started reading it on and off before realizing that the blog author is the same person as the book author. I guess, this says something about my ability to remember names. Embarrassing. Anyway, here is a little book review.

Smith, Marti (ed.). 2005. Through her eyes : life and ministry of women in the Muslim world. Waynesboro, GA: Authentic Media.

The author is a research project coordinator with Caleb project. She collected the material presented in this book while serving in Central Asia with a church planting team. It is a collection of life experiences from several women serving in a Muslim context, mostly Central and Southern Asia.

These stories are organized under 6 topics:

Adjustment and perseverance: being called, equipped and made effective
Relationships: how God is using women to touch people around them
Life under pressure: staying anchored during storms
How should we live: questions of culture, values and money
Singleness and marriage: living the life God gives you
Parenting: family issues, choices, and models

The women contributing to this book are identified by pseudonyms. Most of them have contributed more than one experience, so you meet them again under different topics. They come from different countries, including UK, USA, Australia. Most of them are married but there are also a few singles among them, and some who started out as singles and got married later. All this makes for an interesting mix of experiences.

I guess more than half of the chapters touched me in some personal way, either as an encouragement, or as a challenge, or as a reminder. Not once did it disturb me that they are all sharing about an Asian context. It was amazing how similar their issues and challenges are to life in Muslim Africa.

I can highly recommend this book. I think it could be used as part of an orientation program for new arrivals, but I believe it can be equally profitable for seasoned cross-cultural workers. Come to think, it might be of interest for anybody living among people of a different religion.

Does God still speak today?

In one of our last Bible studies we discussed another chapter of Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God.“ It was on the spoken word of God.

We read a whole series of verses about God’s word and suddenly I realized that we usually assume that these refer to the Bible, even though most of them do not necessarily say that. It’s so easy to hear “God’s word” and think of “God’s Word” as if it was the only word of God.

This reminded me of a book that I had read two years ago, and it motivated me to do a little summary of what I learned through it. The book is Hearing God, developing a conversational relationship with God, by Dallas Willard (1984)

Willard starts the introduction with a story of his wife’s grandmother: When somebody in her house group mentioned that God had spoken to him, she remarked “I wonder why God never speaks to me like that.” She is in good company. Maybe you have had the same question. Many believers like her have a rich interactive relationship with God but are unfamiliar with God’s voice and the possibility of having a conversational side of a relationship with God.

“Our failure to hear God has its deepest root in a failure to understand, accept and grow into a conversational relationship with God, the sort of relationship suited to friends who are matures personalities in a shared enterprise, no matter how different they may be in other respects” (29)

He defines this conversational relationship as telling God what is in our hearts and hearing and understanding the “still, small voice.”

In the following chapters, Willard treats different aspects of this question, misconceptions and arguments why God cannot, would not, and does not want to speak to people. These arguments are partly influenced by “naturalism,” leading people to believe it is unscientific to think that God speaks.

(If you don’t have time to read a long post, jump to the end of the post for the summary.)

Willard is very clear on the question that the Bible is the primary manner of communication. However, the second way as expressed in Ps 32:8 is guiding us with his eyes. This means an awareness of what the other person is thinking. This is what Willard calls the conversational relationship, an outworking of Jesus living in us and his presence in us (Col 1:27, Gal 2:19-20).

Jesus promised us that we can hear his voice (Jn 10:1-16). One aspect of hearing his voice is to receive guidance. He can use dreams, visions, voices, the Bible, extraordinary events, etc but the most important one is the “still small voice” or “gentle whispering” that Elijah heard. It is easily overlooked and disregarded. It can be audible, or a human voice, or through messengers including angels, but most often we will hear it inside our spirit.

Willard addresses some common misconceptions:

– “a message-a-minute view” – every movement needs to be ordained by God, and people are unable to act without clear guidance from God even for daily tasks.
– “it’s all in the Bible” view – leading to the assumption that we do not need to hear his voice today. He also call this “Bible deism” – similar to the Sadducees, there are those that believe that God stopped speaking, but this is a wrong way of honoring the Bible.

When the Bible refers to the “word of God” without further qualification it usually means God’s speaking, communicating, his thoughts and his mind (Ps 119:89-91). God’s word is powerful and in speaking God created the universe (Gen 1) and through it he rules the kingdom. In the same way that the word of a king is powerful and can have big effects (including heads rolling), the same is even more true for God’s word. This is what the centurion recognized (Mt 8:10) – “just speak a word and it will happen.”

The reality in the kingdom responds to the spoken word! God also gives power and authority to people (e.g. Num 20:8-12). God handed over power to Jesus, and Jesus handed over power to us, “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (Jn 20:21, Mt 10, Lk 9)

There are different degrees of power – sometimes we are called:

– to ask for God to speak a direct word (pray)
– to speak on his behalf (Acts 3:6; 14:10)
– to take action on his behalf (Acts 9:40)

We need to keep in mind that THE word of God is Jesus (Jn 1:10-11).
And the Bible is God’s Word, his written word, and one result of God’s speaking.

Willard makes it very clear that:

“the Bible is the written Word of God, but the word of God is not simply the Bible” (141)

When we examine Bible passages with this in mind, we will discover that

– the Bible is the Word of God in its unique written form
– but the Bible is not Jesus Christ who is the living word
– neither is the Bible the word of God mentioned in many Scriptures passages: e.g. Ps 119:89, Ps 19:1-4; Acts 12:24; Mt 13 – in comparison to 2 Tim 3:15-17 which refers specifically to the ‘sacred writings,’ or Scriptures or 1 Pt 1:23-24 where both are mentioned next to each other.

All of these are God’s word, including when we hear from him individually!

God’s word is portrayed in the Bible, and available to every person through the Bible, but it is not limited to it. God uses the Bible to renew our mind, but it is mainly through his speaking to us that we are transformed in a character for whom listening to God’s voice is natural. This is what our union with Christ looks like (Gal 2:20, Phil 1:21).

In chapter 8, Willard provides detailed answers on how to recognize God’s voice. It is a learning process. We need to learn to discern his voice, both while reading the Bible and when listening to the “still small voice” because even Satan can abuse the Bible. In this learning process it is good to have help from others, who have a close relationship with God. But first we need to accept that God does speak, and wants to speak to us, then we can grow in experience and ability to hear his voice.

On the question how to distinguish God’s voice from our subconscious voice, Willard cites E. Stanley Jones who points out that the subconscious voice argues with you, tries to convince you, but the inner voice of God does not argue, it just speaks (175).

When God speaks we can sense the weight of its authority. This is combined with a spirit of peacefulness and confidence, which is similar to the godly wisdom mentioned in James 3:17. We should test it because it has to be consistent with God’s character and the principles of his written word, e.g., fear motivation does not come from God.

It also helps to accept that there is no guarantee for perfection, or infallibility of discerning God’s mind. It is impossible to never be mistaken and nowhere promised, but maintaining a close relationship to the Bible helps. Willard warns us that this is not the same as scholarship.

“Scholarship does not replace experiencing the living voice of God.”

Concerning fear of not being able to discern God’s will: “God is not a mumbling trickster” (191) – when we are willing to listen, he can make himself understood and is able to communicate plainly.

God can direct us mechanically, without speaking, like driving a car or directing a robot, “but when he guides us with conscious cooperation, he speaks to us.” The necessary conditions are:

– our willingness to listen
– asking him to speak
– being still

We should not be anxious if we don’t hear from God, but trust that he gives us a lot of freedom to determine our life, and sometimes he wants us to make our own decisions.

Concerning the “perfect will of God”: when we follow God’s general counsel of his written word, we are right in the middle of God’s perfect will, and if there is any specific word, we should be obedient to it.
Beyond that we have a huge freedom, because God does not always have a specific plan for each moment – “no ideal, detailed life-plan uniquely for each believer.”

Two final thoughts:

– Hearing God does not exclude risks or suffering.
– The greater goal of listening to his voice is to move beyond it to living in the kingdom (211).

Willard summarizes the book with the following steps (213)

A) Foundational steps

– having entered into an additional life by the additional birth, including the commitment to find out more what is morally right and commanded by God
– seeking fullness of the new life in Christ at the impulse of the spirit of God, growing in faith, moving beyond living in our own strength

B) Steps to hearing God

– meditate on God’s principles of life in the Scriptures
– be alert and attentive to what is happening in our life, mind and heart
– pray and speak with God about all matters that concern us
– listen carefully and deliberately for God’s voice
– if God does not speak

o ask him about possible hindrances
o seek counsel from other believers who live in close relationship with God
o correct whatever comes up
o if nothing comes up, act on what seems best to you.