Leveling the Praying Field | Influence Podcast


“Too often,” writes Donna Barrett, “prayer looks like an activity on a sports field. You know, a select group of athletes make up two teams who are in fantastic shape, well-practiced, and highly trained. They do their thing at such a level of expertise that the spectators in the stands are awed and amazed. Though a fan may toss the ball around in their backyard, that person knows full well they can’t play at the level of the pros down on the field.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, Influence magazine’s executive editor, George P. Wood, talks to Rev. Donna Barrett about how to level the prayingfield so that everyone in a church can pray. Barrett is general secretary of the Assemblies of God (USA) and author of Leveling the Praying Field: Helping Every Person Talk to God and Hear from God, published by Gospel Publishing House.

P.S. Here is a linkto Ken Sande’s Relational Wisdom website, which was discussed in this podcast.

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Embracing Contemplation | Book Review


If Christian book publishing trends are any indication, contemplative spirituality is a hot topic among Christian readers — hot in the dual sense that it arouses intense interest as well as intense opposition. Proponents claim it is an ancient Christian practice capable of deepening a person’s love for God and neighbor. Opponents counterclaim that it is biblically subpar, smacks of medieval Catholicism, and opens the door to New Age mysticism.

In Embracing Contemplation, John H. Coe and Kyle C. Strobel assemble a team of theologians to assess the appropriateness of contemplative spirituality for evangelical Christians. These various authors examine the Bible, church history, and the writings of contemporary authors and arrive at a measured appraisal of contemplative spirituality. Coe and Strobel conclude: “contemplation and the contemplative life is fundamental to the maturing Christian life.”

This approval of contemplation should not be interpreted as a blanket approval of everything that calls itself “contemplative spirituality,” of course. In his chapter, “The Controversy Over Contemplation and Contemplative Prayer,” Coe identifies forms of contemplative spirituality that are “sub-Christian.” Similarly, in “A Distinctively Christian Contemplation,” Glen G. Scorgie differentiates authentically Christian contemplation from what is found in other religions.

Because contemplative spirituality is often seen as a Catholic practice, several authors show how Protestant Reformers and well-known evangelicals practiced a gospel-based form of contemplation. This includes three “Johns” whose evangelical credentials are not in dispute: John Calvin, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards. See Ashley Cockworth’s “Sabbatical Contemplation?” for Calvin and Tom Schwanda’s “To Gaze on the Beauty of the Lord” for Wesley and Edwards. Of particular interest to Pentecostal readers is Simon Chan’s chapter, “Contemplative Prayer in the Evangelical and Pentecostal Traditions.”

Throughout the book, the authors do a good job of placing evangelical theological commitments at the forefront of the conversation about contemplative spirituality. What is consistent with those commitments is allowed; what isn’t is discarded. This measured approach is better than a knee-jerk rejection or simplistic embrace of what passes for contemplative spirituality today.

Book Reviewed
John H. Coe and Kyle C. Strobel, eds., Embracing Contemplation: Reclaiming a Christian Spiritual Practice (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission. It appeared in the May-June 2019 issue of Influencemagazine.

P.P.P.S. I interviewed John Coe and Kyle Strobel in Episode 175 of the Influence Podcast, which you can listen to below:

Is Contemplative Spirituality Christian? | Influence Podcast


If Christian book publishing trends are any indication, contemplative spirituality is a hot topic among Christian readers — hotin the dual sense that it arouses intense interest as well as intense opposition. Proponents claim it is an ancient Christian practice capable of deepening a person’s love for God and neighbor. Opponents counterclaim that it is biblically subpar, smacks of medieval Catholicism, and opens the door to New Age mysticism.

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to John Coe and Kyle Strobel about whether contemplative spirituality is Christian, and if so, how. Coe and Strobel are professors at Biola University in La Mirada, California. Both are active in the university’s Institute for Spiritual Formation, Coe as the director and Strobel as a teacher. They are the editors of Embracing Contemplation: Reclaiming a Christian Spiritual Practice, published by IVP Academic earlier this year.

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN PODCAST

P.S. This episode of the Influence Podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

The Common Rule | Book Review


“We are all living according to a specific regimen of habits,” writes Justin Whitmel Earley, “and those habits shape most of our life.” Even more, “they form our hearts.” In The Common Rule, Earley outlines a “rule of life” or “program of habits” to help readers fulfill the biblical commandment to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:34–40).

Earley calls this program “the common rule” because it has to do with “common practice by common people.” Its focus on laity rather than clergy distinguishes it from the well-known “rules” of Benedict or Augustine, although its basic purpose is the same as theirs. The common rule consists of eight habits, four daily and four weekly.

The daily habits are:

  • kneeling prayer three times a day,
  • one meal with others,
  • one hour with the phone off,
  • and Scripture before phone.

The weekly habits are:

  • one hour of vulnerable conversation with a friend,
  • curate media to four hours,
  • fasting from something for 24 hours,
  • and setting aside a day for sabbath.

Earley distinguishes the habits along two other spectrums. The first spectrum pertains to whether the habit helps us love God (sabbath, fasting, prayer, and Scripture before phone) or love our neighbors (meals, conversation, phone off, curated media). The second spectrum has to do with embracing the good (sabbath, prayer, meals, and conversation) or resisting the evil (fasting, Scripture before phone, phone off, and curated media).

One of Earley’s crucial insights throughout the book is that our habits reflect (and reinforce) our beliefs. He cites the early years of his career as a mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer as a cautionary tale. To keep pace with his colleagues, to take just one example, he would pick up his phone to check his emails and formulate replies even before getting out of bed. As he thought about why he did this, he came to realize that he was drawing his identity and worth from others’ opinions of him. “Unless I’m well regarded in the office, I’m not worth anything,” he writes, describing that period.

By contrast, when he began to practice the daily habit of reading Scripture before picking up his phone, he began to draw his identity and worth from a different source. “Daily immersion in the Scriptures resists the anxiety of emails, the anger of news, and the envy of social media. Instead it forms us daily in our true identity as children of the King, dearly loved.”

Our habits, then, are what Earley calls “liturgies of belief.” Regardless of what we say we believe or value, habits reveal what we really believe and really value. “Our habits often obscure what we’re really worshiping,” Earley warns, “but that doesn’t mean we’re not worshiping something. The question is, what are we worshiping?”

That’s an excellent question, one that all eight habits of the common rule force us to face as we examine our habitual behaviors.

I highly recommend The Common Rule. It is a helpful little volume that will repay careful reading and re-reading, especially if you start putting its habits into practice. The book can be read individually, but perhaps the best way to read it is in a group whose goal is to grow in love for God and neighbor together.

Book Reviewed
Justin Whitmel Earley, The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

P.P.P.S. I interviewed Justin for Episode 163 of the Influence Podcast.

P.P.P.S. Just wrote the cover story for the November-December 2018 issue of Influence magazine: “Habits of the Tech-Wise Heart.” It explores many of the themes of the book.

Praying Circles Around Your Marriage | Book Review


Some books offer advice about marriage, others about prayer.

Praying Circles Around Your Marriage offers advice about both, under the assumption that couples who pray together stay together.“The richness of your marriage will be determined by how frequently and how fervently God is invited into your relationship,” write Joel and Nina Schmidgall. “Prayer will draw you into unity with God and, as a result, with one another.”

The concept of “praying circles around _____” comes from Mark Batterson’s excellent book, The Circle Maker. The Schmidgalls are in-laws of Batterson and work with him at National Community Church in Washington, D.C., Joel as executive pastor and Nina as direct of family ministry. Their book is an excellent addition to the “Circle Maker” brand.

The Schmidgalls identify seven areas (or “circles”) of marriage that couples need to address prayerfully:

  • developing a shared purpose (Vision Circle),
  • resolving family conflicts (War Circle),
  • cultivating personal intimacy (Romance Circle),
  • balancing marital unity with individual interests (Dance Circle),
  • establishing a peer network (Support Circle),
  • responding to unexpected crises (Storm Circle), and
  • impacting future generations (Legacy Circle).

“Of course, the purpose of prayer is not to get what we want from God for our marriage,” the Schmidgalls write in conclusion. “Its purpose is to commune with God and gain His heart for our marriage.”

Praying Circles Around Your Marriage offers Bible-based, common-sense, experience-tested advice about prayer-filled marriages. It’s suitable for private reading but can also be used in premarital and marriage counseling, as well as in book clubs and small groups.

Book Reviewed
Joel and Nina Schmidgall, Praying Circles Around Your Marriage (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019).

P.S. If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com. It appeared in the January-February 2019 issueof Influence magazine.

P.P.P.S. I interviewed Joel and Nina for Episode 164 of the Influence Podcast. Take a listen!

 

The Couple That Prays Together… | Influence Podcast


“What your marriage will become is determined by how you pray,” write Joel and Nina Schmidgall in their new book, Praying Circles Around Your Marriage. “Prayers for your marriage will allow you to claim God-given promises, fulfill God-given dreams for your family, and seize a God-ordained legacy for generations.”

In Episode 164 of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to the Schmidgalls about their book, which offers great advice about prayer, marriage, and family life. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Joel and Nina Schmidgall are on staff at National Community Churchin Washington, DC. Joel serves as executive pastor as well as president of the DC Dream Center, a community center committed to inspiring and equipping youth and adults to reach their God-given potential. Nina serves as director of family ministry. The Schmidgalls live on Capitol Hill with their three kids.

Eight Purposeful Habits for a Spiritually Focused Life | Influence Podcast


Every New Year, millions of Americans take time to write resolutions about who they would like to become or what they would like to do in the next 365 days. Researchers at the University of Scranton suggest that only 8 percent of people keep their resolutions. According to U.S. News & World Report, 80 percent of those resolutions fail by the second week of February.

What if we’re chasing the wrong thing? What if we need new habits, not New Year’s resolutions?

That’s the question I asked myself as I read Justin Whitmel Earley’s new book, The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction, which InterVarsity Press will publish on February 5th. According to him, “We are all living according to a specific regimen of habits, and those habits shape most of our life.” He goes on to propose eight purposeful habits Christians should develop to lead spiritually focused lives.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influencemagazine and your host. In Episode 163 of the Influence Podcast, I talk to Justin about his new book, those eight habits, and what to do when we fail.

Justin Whitmel Earley is the creator of The Common Rule, a program of habits designed to form us in the love of God and neighbor. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because he wrote “Habits of the Tech-Wise Heart,” the cover story of the November-December 2018 issue of Influence. He is also a mergers and acquisitions lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, who previously spent several years in China as a missionary. He and his wife, Lauren, have four sons and live in Richmond, Virginia.