Usually, at our pastor retreat each fall, we run a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis. We do that through the mind of Christ and in a prayerful way, identifying the top 3-4 big rocks and goals for Westside in the coming year.
This year, we felt this pause. We had a prompting—a Voice whispering—
"That’s been a good approach, but just press the pause button. I have something I want to show you, but you’ll need to create space to come and seek it out."
It was a Walk to Emmaus moment for us.
Luke 24:28-29 (New International Version)
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them.
Why did Jesus act like he was going further? Strange, eh? Why the mind game? Why would he pretend to keep going? His refusal was actually an invitation, a question, "Do you want me? Or do you just want more information about me. I have more, but you'll have to come and get it. Seek me."
God is bypassing men and women today because they are too self-sufficient.
So, we built the elder retreat around listening prayer. Three types of listening prayer.
- We began with a prayer of quiet trust. A different kind of spirit descends upon us when we enter into decision-making from this stance. We aren't just entering into a rational decision making process, but a process of Spirit-led discernment. We don't just want merely human effort producing merely human result. The prayer of quiet trust gives us the opportunity to shift back into a position of trust rather than completely relying on our human effort alone.
- Then we moved to the prayer of indifference. This is not apathy. Rather, it is praying that we would be indifferent to everything but the will of God. This means I am indifferent to matters of ego, prestige, organizational politics, personal advantage, personal comfort or favor, or even my own pet agenda. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a model of this. Her prayer “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your will” (Luke 1:37) is a wonderful expression of the kind of indifference we seek as a group of leaders.
Praying for indifference is not easy for us, because most times we enter into decision-making with strong opinions and more than a little self-interest. It takes time, for often a death to self is required before we can see God’s will taking shape in our lives. Here we ask: what needs to die in me in order for the will of God to come forth in me and among us?
- When we have reached a point of indifference, we are finally ready to pray for wisdom, which God promises to bestow generously when we ask (James 1:5). Indifference is an important prerequisite to the prayer for wisdom, because the wisdom of God is often the foolishness of this world.
After hours in prayer, we began to debrief together what we were hearing from the Spirit, the unity and commonality in theme was nothing short of profound.
Two words: First Love
What is the Spirit of God saying to Westside Family Church?
He has First Loved (1 John 4) us, everything is contingent upon us receiving, trusting, and embracing that love. As I get to know the Loving Jesus, I will love Jesus. Quit trying, first receive. Quit striving, first yield.
Jesus showed us the imbalance in our three circles. The "Becoming Like Jesus" circle and the "Sharing Jesus" circles were far larger than our "Loving Jesus" circle. He was calling us to remember that Loving Jesus is always an adjective, before it's a verb. He is our Loving Jesus.
So, although we had the entire teaching calendar planned for 2017, with probably more than 200 man-hours of work put into it, we scrapped it and said, "This is our one thing for 2017...FIRST LOVE."
The first two months, we just wanted to hold up the diamond of First Love and just look at some of it's many facets, just behold the majesty of the unconditional, incomparable, unrelenting, unending, unstoppable love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Invite all of us to just open up wider.
Then, over the last two months, we've focused on those barriers that keep us from receiving First Love. There is never a source problem with First Love, it's alway coming at us full volume. If we're not experiencing the transforming power, the problem is a barrier or blockage on our end. As we scoured and researched looking for the best tools to help us identify and address those barriers, Emotionally Healthy Spiritually came out head and shoulders above all the others many books we looked at.
Over these last months, it is apparent that a First Love Awakening is beginning. This First Love journey is doing amazing stuff in life, the fabric and wiring of who we are as a people. The First Love stories that we've been sharing are remarkable and they are only the tip of the iceberg. You here people using words like freedom and joy to describe what is happened. But, for many of us, it’s also stirring up pain. At this critical juncture, I would encourage our family in four ways.
- Press into the pain. Don’t numb it, ignore it and run from it. Press into the pain. Remember the scratch in the record? Jesus wants to press down on the needle to make a new grove, to get us past the scratch.
- Open up to your community. We’ve talked about the essential nature of brokenness and vulnerability. Whatever is stirring in your heart, share it with your community. If we’re not in one, get in one. We can help you find that community in our Westside Family.
- If you need it, get help. Going for prayer at the end of the gathering or visiting with our counseling team. We are hear to help you and serve you. Whatever it is, get help, don’t do it alone, work through this in community in health. Let Jesus remake you.
- Give yourself time: know that it will take time. Working through the deep issues we're addressing isn't going to happen with a 30 minute message and a little prayer time. Jesus is remaking us, renewing our minds and liberating from deeply engrained patterns.
During this series, some deep-seated issues with shame have emerged for me. I'm sharing that with Michelle, my closest friends, and with my counselor. I've seen a huge breakthrough, but I have to learn some new patterns and I know it's going to take me months and years. I'm in it for the long haul with Jesus on this. I'm going to live free of shame, but I know it won't happen over night. I'm practicing new ways of thinking and new ways of resting in the gospel, it's yielding different behavior. But like with all new habits it's going to take awhile of that to become the new normal.
Next, we're now going to look at the practical implications of First Love on our relationships. For most of us, our relationships are the most important, draining, restoring, confusing, healing and heart-breaking aspect of our lives.
Are you tired of working out of frustration in your relationships? Are you ready to move toward working in 1st Love in your relationship? It’s time for a Relationship Restart.
Think of it this way, each relationship we have is like an app. 1st Love is an operating system. We can keep trying to “update” the app, but until we let Jesus install 1st Love as your new OS, the relationship can’t truly restart.
We dare you to join this Relationship Restart experiment in restarting your most important relationships on the operating system of 1st Love. Get ready for 35 days of practical counsel in a new way of relating based on the OS of 1st Love—35 days to discover how Jesus’ love for us can transform the feel and flow of our family relationships, our friendships, our romantic relationships and even workplace relationships.
This monthly experiment kicked off this week. I hope you'll grab the Relational Restart Guide and use it everyday. I hope you'll decide in advance to be there every weekend and invite those you love to be with you. It's going to be amazing!