In my last post, I offered the encouragement that in our journey of discipleship we must prioritize time for quietness, for soul-rest, for just be-ing with Jesus. Today, author Keri Wyatt Kent is here to talk a bit more about what it means to grow closer to Jesus in these ways. Keri is the author of many powerful spiritual formation books, most recently Deeply Loved: 40 Ways in 40 Days to Experience the Heart of Jesus.
Keri, welcome back to my blog! Many of us (including me!) are “do-ers.” We tend to approach Christian faith with a focus on action—on what we need to do in order to grow spiritually. But your newest book reminds us to, first, experience and abide in the deep love of Jesus. Why is it so important for a follower of Jesus to center herself in Jesus’ faithful presence and love?
Even if we give lip service to a “saved by grace” theology, it’s easy to fall into a “stay saved by keeping your nose clean” theology. In other words, we can think that God keeps score and requires us to keep the rules. Certainly, obedience is essential! But abiding is the only sustainable motivation for that obedience. When we know we are fully loved, obedience becomes the logical path for us to take, and the most attractive. Sin becomes less attractive. As Dallas Willard wrote in The Spirit of the Disciplines, “Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do.”
The other key idea is joy. We all deeply desire to be loved. Jesus offers us love. What kind of fools are we if we reject that offer or try to earn it with little accomplishments or rule-keeping? Imagine if someone gave you a birthday present and you pulled out your wallet and tried to pay for it. That’s what we do when we try to earn God’s favor. Just take the gift and relish it with gratitude. Celebrate the relationship that you have — that he would give you such a gift. That’s what practicing his presence does.
When we think about this month’s theme of discipleship, for many of us the first things that come to mind are Bible study and prayer. Your book, Deeply Loved, invites readers to experience discipleship practices we might not think of right away, such as Sabbath rest, practicing God’s presence, silence and solitude, and Scripture meditation. Why do you think practices like these are so important for a follower of Jesus?
Growing up in a conservative tradition, people would ask me, “How’s your walk with Jesus?” It’s a pretty invasive question, if you think about it, but it was part of the culture. And I’d answer based on whether I had been consistently “doing my quiet time” — that is, reading my Bible and praying. The fruit in my life didn’t factor into my answer, just whether I’d checked off that daily practice more times than not that week. And if you think about it, even though “having a quiet time” is helpful, the emphasis was on what I did.
I think there’s great value in Bible study and prayer, but our approach to them is often like mine was: Did I check this off my list? Did I do it? By making our spiritual practices all about us and what we do, we take over control. It’s very easy to get into a mindset where we think: God likes me more because I do this stuff. Or, he’ll be mad, or at least really disappointed, if I don’t. Now, I know from experience that God can show up and speak to us in those moments of prayer and study — absolutely! But I also know that it’s easy for them to become rote, to read and then shut your Bible and forget what you just read.
Practices like rest, silence, simply meditating on Scripture — these have a different flavor. They’re ways that we can create some space, but within that space we have to trust that God will show up. They’re more focused on what God does than what we do. They require more faith; we have to let go of control. We can’t just zone out — we need to ask God to show up, we need to pay attention, to listen. But they feel more conversational. God has a lot to say to us, and ironically, our “quiet times” are anything but quiet — we’re talking (praying) and trying to dissect (or control) a text . . . and we miss that whisper of God.
What might we be missing out on if we neglect spiritual practices like these?
There’s an old book by J.B. Phillips called “Your God is Too Small.” I think when we say the only “correct” way to be a disciple is to do Bible study and prayer, we make God small. We keep him contained.
I want to also say something about the discipline of Sabbath. People, blissfully unaware of the irony, will ask me how to “do Sabbath.” Sabbath is not about doing. It’s about choosing not to do. No spiritual practice has taught me more about the unconditional love of God than Sabbath. Because we can say “God loves me even if I’m not accomplishing or doing things for him.” But if we never stop doing, accomplishing, working, that unconditional love remains theoretical. Only when we actually trust him enough to set aside our work and busyness do we actually get to taste that sweet kind of love. I wish all your readers could experience it!
Tell me more about how Deeply Loved grows out of your own spiritual journey.
The past few years have been challenging financially, relationally, and in many other ways. I’ve had to deal with some profound disappointments and some pretty significant struggles. And yet, God has been faithful. One of the metaphors God keeps bringing to mind is from the Old Testament story of the Exodus. When the children of Israel were hungry and afraid, God provided manna. He didn’t give them a year’s worth of manna at a time, or even a month’s worth. Each day, they were to gather only as much as they could use in one day. They were to gather ENOUGH. If they hoarded, the manna went bad (really bad). They had to trust that God would provide “daily bread.” In a year where we’ve both collected unemployment and paid college tuition bills, God has provided — not a year’s worth or a month’s worth, but enough. It’s been pretty amazing. Experiencing the provision of God in tangible ways has boosted my faith. Even though I still face big challenges I’m sure that God will make a way — by providing manna for today, and tomorrow, and the next day.
What encouragement do you have for my readers who want to deepen their relationship with God in 2013?
You don’t have to earn his love. He loves you like an only child, he adores you and wants to show you his amazing ability to provide — not just for your physical needs but your emotional and spiritual needs as well. There is no thing that you need that he can’t provide. If you simply create some space by slowing down, focusing on him (and not tasks or accomplishments), he will show up in profound ways. That’s my prayer for your readers!
Keri, thanks so much for sharing such meaningful spiritual encouragement with us today.
* * *
Also, if you’re interested in exploring disciplines like silence, solitude, and meditation further, take a tour of the category cloud on the right side of my web site to read more posts discussing these practices.