I came to the conviction in August that the last stretch of my apprenticeship (which ends in January) would have a different focus than the first part. During the first 12-14 months, I was consumed with ministry contexts and skill development. Julie and I have learned so much from Christ Journey and Sunrise, particularly in the area of creating communal pathways of spiritual formation for followers of Jesus. The Marvelous Light and City on a Hill retreats are two products of that training.
But I had a realization at the beginning of the fall: in the midst of all my labor and productivity, I had neglected my own spiritual well-being. In the process of facilitating spiritual formation in the lives of others, I had sidelined my own.
I’m constantly reminded of Robert Clinton’s thoughts in The Making of a Leader. The gist is that young leaders are often focused so much on ministry fruitfulness and productivity when the most important thing at the time is the image of Christ being formed within them. Yep, that’s me.
As a response to this realization, I decided to press into my own spiritual formation for the last six months of my training. I’ve created a host of spiritual formation projects—things that need to be fixed or formed in me by God.
One of my projects concerns my prayer life. I’ve been reading a book by Larry Crabb called The PAPA Prayer. It’s a guide for approaching God on the basis of relationship rather than on the basis of petition (asking for stuff that I want to get). Crabb’s thesis is that if one makes it his primary purpose to relate to God in prayer, all the other stuff falls in place.
Relating to God, according to Crabb, takes the form of Presenting yourself to God, Attending to how you’re viewing God, Purging yourself of any obstacles to relationship with God, and Approaching God as your ‘first thing’ (thus the PAPA acrostic).
The last A in the acrostic was the source of a spiritual epiphany for me today. In short, I had to admit to God that he had not been my ‘first thing’ in a long time. Other things had taken God’s place: aspiration for success in ministry; desire for happiness in my marriage; concern for my own peace of mind and psychological well-being. If I’m honest, God has been the means of reaching all of those ends; God has not been the end. I’ve been missing the Provider for the provisions.
I can’t tell you how freeing it was to admit that to God, and to approach him again as my ‘first thing’.