Shut the door

door-open

Shut the door.

It’s simple.

One of the most common problems among disciples I meet is this: we don’t shut the door enough. If people would just go into the secret place and shut the door, new worlds of experience would become possible. Every session behind the shut door is like a bite-sized Sabbath. When we enter into his rest, we then come out and move in his power.

It keeps me from the temptation of hypocrisy.

It guards me from complexity and distraction.

It leads me to my Father. He sees in secret. (What’s up with that line?!) There is some experiential reality that happens in the secret place – behind the shut door – that will not take place anywhere else on earth.

Much of our work is dull and slow because we never got our rest. The shut door experience is to the soul what sleep is to the body. Restoration. Refreshing. Recalibration.

Shut the door!

There is a word that I hesitate to throw down, but I can’t resist because it comes straight from Jesus. Rewards. Father is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. There are gifts. Results. Peace. Joy. Presence. Less striving. If you are going to work toward something, spend your best energy to get into his presence – and then stay there! The gifts and rewards of the secret place far exceed all the toil in getting there.

Today.

Shut the door.

Get in his presence.

And don’t leave until you’re done.

There’s nothing like a long devotion in the same direction.

“Lord, teach us to pray.”


Lord, teach us to pray.
(Luke 11:1)

I dare you to live that prayer.

I love this verse because it shows that this whole prayer thing can be learned. No one is born knowing how to be the perfect husband. Or mother. Or pray-er. You aren’t the first aspiring Jesus-follower to have a hard time figuring this out. I’m no prayer expert but I’ll share a few insights I wish I’d known earlier.

God hears me even when I don’t think I can hear Him.  I’ve often been tempted to think that my prayers were getting nowhere because I could not “feel” something happening.  Or, I have felt like I was being a hypocrite to pray when I didn’t really feel into it.  My love is weak, my heart is distracted.  Yet I have learned that even my weak love and feeble prayers mean loads to our Father in heaven.

Don’t act like a professional. Don’t try to sound cool.  Don’t try to learn the religious lingo of strange Christians you meet.  Just get real with God.

The Bible helps.  I used to separate my Bible reading and prayer.  But something happened when I started to use the Bible to help me pray.

There are many pathways in prayer.  Of course we can pray quietly with our eyes closed.  But we can also pray loudly with our eyes open.  We can write our prayers – or type our prayers.  We can pray in a closet or on a chair, standing or kneeling.  Some people really connect while in nature.  Some connect while singing or listening to music.  Silence is good.  So is darkness. Or a sunrise. You get the idea.

I need both structure and spontaneity.  It’s no mistake that Jesus left us a very sticky, but structured prayer that many call the Lord’s prayer. (Matthew 6:9-13)  I often use that as my prayer prompt. (TRY THIS)  And then I also go completely off-script and pray my heart.  Sometimes I buy my wife a greeting card with structured poetry written by someone else.  But then I add my own words as well.  I use both.

Put God-time on your schedule.  Some people are spontaneous and others are quite scheduled.  Regardless, life has a way of slipping away from you.  Twenty-four hours come and go and you can’t figure out where they went.  If communication with God is going to happen, it needs to make the schedule.  Every single day.  Pick a time.  Avoid giving your leftovers.  Get with God, turn the phone off, and let it rip.

There is a threshold. I can’t explain this scientifically, but I have found that there is something like a threshold in the place of prayer that, once crossed, makes all the agony in getting there worth it.

Hell hates prayer.  Expect every possible distraction to keep you from pursuing your relationship with God in this way.  Depressed people get hope in prayer.  Husbands start loving their wives in prayer.  Children soften their hearts in prayer. So I expect an emergency to try and interrupt my time with Jesus.  I expect a million reminders of things I need to do today.  I expect to become sleepy.  I expect to become bored.  But I press on. And I’ve never been sorry when I endured in the place of prayer.

Why haven’t more of my prayers been answered?

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Let’s be clear.

I don’t deserve for my prayers to be answered.

But Jesus took what I deserve. This is the gospel. He lived the life I should have lived and died the death I should have died. He was treated as I deserve so that I could be treated as he deserves.

Jesus deserves for His prayers to be answered.

So pray.

Pray the kinds of prayers Jesus would pray.

Pray like you believe the gospel.

Why haven’t more of my prayers been answered? Because I have often prayed more like a doubting, condemned criminal under law than an expectant, beloved son under grace. Sons believe their Father.

If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. -John 15:7

You are in the gifted program

gifted-pencil

Earlier this week I had a conversation with a little boy who was tested for the “gifted program” in his elementary school. Ever experienced this? They take the kid into a room, give him a barrage of tests to assess his mental aptitude, and make their recommendations. My heart broke to find out the boy would not make the cut. You’re not gifted; you’re just normal.

It got me thinking.

Scripture says that you have gifts. Some of these gifts are what we call natural talents. Some of these are acquired skills we pick up along the way. Still others are supernatural abilities that become activated when we start walking with God. It’s quite accurate to say that if you belong to Jesus you are in “the gifted program”.

Don’t underestimate your gifts.

When you are using your gifts, it feels like life.  When you do something else, it feels like strife.

Blessed is the man who does not waste his life trying to do things he was never wired to do. Blessed is the woman who accepts the reality that she has only been called to do a few things.  When she gives herself to those few things it feels like life.  When she tries to do something else it feels like strife.

Blessed are you when you wrap your life around your gifts.

This is one of the reasons I love the David story so much.  I know we usually see the pictures of pint-sized David with an under-sized slingshot taking down the super-sized giant.  But before he ever dealt with Goliath he had to deal with himself. On his way to the battlefield we find a scene that’s almost comical: Size XL King Saul tries to lend his massive armor to a size small David. Nice idea with a fatal flaw.

It didn’t fit.

I wonder how many of us live lives that don’t fit.  We go to school and major in subjects that fit someone else.  We apply for jobs with all kinds of benefits, but they fit someone else.  We join churches and clubs and organizations that plug people into positions that fit someone else.

There was nothing wrong with Saul’s armor. But it didn’t fit David. There is nothing wrong with being a teacher or an engineer or an organizer or a manager. Unless it doesn’t fit.

Are you living a life that fits?

He gave gifts to men. -Ephesians 4:8

Apparently one of David’s “gifts” manifested itself with a slingshot. And when it was time to take down the giant, he did not need the armor of men; he had learned how to roll with the gifts of God. There is something about the gifts of God. They’re always enough.

It’s almost counter-intuitive because we assume that our greatest achievements will come from our greatest labor.  Yet when we start flowing in our gifts it usually feels so natural that we wouldn’t even call it work.

We assume our greatest progress will come by working on our weaknesses.  Yet our greatest potential lies not in improving our weaknesses, but in really developing our strengths.  Your greatest contribution won’t come in trying to learn Saul’s armor, but in mastering the slingshot that has your name on it.

I know your slingshot doesn’t seem as impressive as someone else’s armor.  I understand that your mind may seem insignificant next to someone else’s genius. I realize that there is a little boy in every one of us that longs to have somebody tell us we are gifted. Well, someone has, so resist the urge, drop the armor, and pull out your slingshot.  Because when you wrap your life around your gifts you will come alive.  It fits.  It’s life.   But when you start trying to fit into a life that is not your own, it’s strife.  Frustration.

I dare you to believe the truth:

When you use your gifts:

God is most glorified.

You are most satisfied.

And others are most edified.


* For more ideas on how do discover your gifts and focus on your strengths may I suggest: (1) Jump into community. That’s where your gifts will rise to the surface. (2) Talk to elders or leaders in your life and ask them to pray with you about your giftedness. (3) Read more about giftedness. Check out 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4 for some lists of spiritual gifts.

Playing it safe is folly

fear1What if playing it safe is stupid?

Many, many Christians are atheists unawares. These words have been ringing in my ears all day long. Regardless of what we say we believe, what do our lives reveal about our true belief? The deepest (and truest) parts of me long to pour myself out for the name and fame of the Lion of the tribe of Judah-Jesus. Not the tamed and domesticated Mary had a little lamb, his fleece was white as snow-Jesus.

Every time I hear someone describe the church as a safe place to run and hide from danger, I am sure they are not reading the book of Acts.

And I long for what I read about in the book of Acts.

Nietzsche was wrong. Nobody killed God; we’ve just domesticated Him. We’ve made Him too safe, too dull, too predictable. And the church has followed suit. Few things disturb me more than church – loaded with potential – yet domesticated beyond the point of holy recognition.

I keep thinking about how so many Christians approach Scripture. Did people spill their blood to bring us a Bible that would be treated like Chicken Soup for the Soul? Do we see the stories of holy Scripture as a distant narrative of a fairy tale promised land in an age long gone … or as the active invitation into the life of God and His great drama of the ages? Why are all these average Joes with questionable character and weak moral fortitude used to change history? It’s incredible.  Prideful, lustful, fearful, self-consumed people have this encounter with an invisible God who dares them to live beyond themselves. As if to say, there is no excuse for you and me not to jump in the story.

Everybody is going to die. Few people really live.

Everybody deals with fear. Few people truly opt for faith.

Everybody goes to church. Few people ever become church.

Everybody says they believe. Few people actually try to move mountains.

So let’s go for it. As I sit here at my desk preparing for our annual vision meeting this weekend, my heart is stirred. I long to pour my life into the things that will pass the eternity test. I long to be a part of a movement of people who invest in things that will pass the eternity test. I long for us to subordinate our lives and possessions and desires for the sake our King and his call on our blood-bought lives. When we stand to give account for what we did with our freedom and our time and our possessions and our education and our opportunities, I want to hear these syllables: Well done.

Yet I often wonder if I have what it takes. I’m afraid. I often wander from the God I love. I’m sinful. I have doubts about a vision that includes realities I have never seen with my own eyes. I’m prone to worry about money, and human opinion, and the embarrassment of failure. It would be easier to settle for safe.

But something deep says, if we’ll go all the way, we’ll never be sorry. No playing it safe. No Christian atheism. No fear.

I beg you to pray with me that we will not settle. Pray for us to have wisdom. But then pray that we will have the guts to believe.

For eternity,

Mike Patz

Catching our breath

“Let Us make man in Our image…”

It wasn’t the dust or the fingers or kneecaps that reflected the divine image. It was that invisible part. The breath of life. Because we were made for so much more than we can see or smell. We were made for more than flesh.

We were made for the deeper realities. Deeper purposes. When humans walked away from God the deeper things went dormant and the flesh began to rule. The dust was never meant to be our defining characteristic. When we live by what can be tasted and touched alone we settle for a diminished existence. Something less than the real life. The full life.

We miss the ruach. It’s the Hebrew word for wind, spirit, breath.

It’s not that there is a moral divide between the physical and the spiritual. Biblical faith does not get caught up in the gnostic error of condemning all things physical and elevating all things spiritual. Jesus does not call us to simply pursue the invisible and ignore the earthly. We are to be fully human.

Made of dust. But defined by His breath of life.

When they bit the fruit they really did die. They became fractured. Alive, but dead. Human, but less than. Incomplete. Not just them, but us … missing something we can not put our fingers on.

We lost our ruach, and we’ve been trying to catch our breath ever since.

That’s why the problem has never just been the dust we were made from. It’s the dust without the Ruach. That’s the essence of what the Scripture calls “the flesh.”

And that is why the best news we ever received was when God would take on flesh. Because what the first Adam lost, the second Adam has restored. Fully God, fully man. Recapturing the original intent: made of dust, but defined by our breath of life.

And if you’ll look to the One who lost his breath on the tree we call the cross, you’ll catch your breath, and find your life.