Archives For Dependence


When we moved into our first house three years ago, my parents bought us a baby live oak tree as a house-warming present. My dad came over and we planted it in the front yard together. We drove stakes into the ground and tied supports to the tree to keep it from falling over. It was probably 7-8 feet tall at the time.

I was pretty excited.

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  1. an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment: Too much ambition caused him to be disliked by his colleagues.

I’m an ambitious person. For whatever reason, I’m driven to succeed. I want to be the best. And not for my own fame or notoriety (primarily) – if I can succeed in church planting and justice work, it will mean that lots of people will be helped and blessed. I want to do well in helping others do well.

Here’s my question for dialogue: is this mentality something to applaud or something to confess?

Many would probably applaud it – what’s not to like about seeking excellence, especially for the benefit of others?

Yet I think there’s something dangerous, insidious and subversive in this kind of ambition, particularly because it can hide behind good deeds.

Ambition for doing good has the potential to be selfishness and pride dressed in holy clothing.

I say this because I know my own heart.

Church planting – a good, people-blessing enterprise – has at times been an idol I’ve put my hope in rather than God. At times I have secretly hoped it would put me on the map, make me a big deal, build my kingdom. (Writing that for all to see helps me to realize how silly it is.)

Paul similarly described some who preached the gospel – a good thing – as doing so out of “selfish ambition” – because they wanted to get him into trouble. (Philippians 2:17).

Elsewhere, when Paul talks about being “ambitious to preach” himself with a noble motive (Romans 15:20, TNIV) – he doesn’t use the same word/idea he did in Philippians 2. Translators decided that “ambition” was the best way to render it. I’m not sure it is, given the way our culture defines the word – as the pursuit of achievement or distinction for oneself. The American brand of ambition seems to be inherently selfish.

So what do we do with ambition for good things? Can ambition be redeemed in the kingdom? 

The words of Jesus come to mind: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:32-33)

Here’s my paraphrase of what Jesus is saying in the terms of this conversation about ambition: Make God your number one ambition. The pagans are ambitious about everything else – food, clothes, careers. But not you. If you seek after God and make it your primary ambition to know him and love him, everything else – food, clothes and careers – will fall into place.

Perhaps there is room in the kingdom for ambition to do good, but only insofar as that ambition is judged, measured and held in check by a primary ambition to know and love God.

What do you think? Please join the dialogue!

The Deep Ground

Charles Kiser —  October 4, 2011 — 3 Comments

I had an insightful conversation recently with Randy Harris about the spiritual life.

Randy, giving credit to the work of Martin Laird in Into the Silent Land, described three postures of discipleship.

“The first operates from up here,” Randy said, moving his hand up by his head. “Here we work out of our brilliance, out of our giftedness, out of our understandings.”

I suspect that most young people (twentysomethings down) take this posture in life and discipleship. Perhaps this suspicion is rooted in my own admission that I’ve lived most of my life out of this posture – and, as you’ll see, it’s nothing to be proud of.

“The second [posture] operates from here,” moving his hand back and forth further down by his chest. “Here we work out of a keen awareness of our own brokenness, our limitations, our struggles and turmoil.”

In the past few years habitual patterns of sin (like anger, pride and lust) moved me to this posture of discipleship. It reminds me of the words of a graduate school professor who said that we twentysomething seminarians needed a few more years of struggling with sin so that we could recognize the depth of humanity’s brokenness (and our own).

“There’s a third way that operates from here, ” Randy said as he moved his hand down by his waist in the chair he was sitting in. “We hardly have language to describe this place. So few find it. It is the deep ground of God.”

“What exactly is this deep ground?” I asked.

“It’s God. It’s God in us. It’s your true self. It’s the Holy Spirit. It’s silence. It’s the place where you stare down your brokenness in silence and tell it to back off. It’s the Center.”

He’s right – I’m not sure even how to describe it. But I think it’s the place where we discover God. Where we encounter God. And after the encounter, where we sit in deep peace.

I’ve only touched the edge of the deep ground’s garment in my life – if that.

The key, Randy says, is to find the deep ground of God in contemplation (silence) and then begin to live out of it in every moment of our daily lives. That journey lasts a lifetime.

Laird adds that “union with God not something we are trying to acquire; God is already the ground of our being.” The real issue in finding the deep ground is to realize that “we live, move and have our being in God” – that we, in fact, are already rooted in the deep ground, though not consciously aware of it.

The extent to which we realize we are rooted is God is the extent to which we live out of the deep ground. Such realization is the work of contemplation and silence.

I’m eager to find this deep ground. It’s exciting to think that the deep ground is as deep as God is big, and that I can spend the rest of my life exploring it.

What about you? In what ways do you identify with these three postures of discipleship? Which posture are you currently living out of?

Church of Two

Charles Kiser —  April 8, 2010 — 5 Comments

I’ve been enriched in the past few weeks by an emerging structure for spiritual formation called Church of Two.

Church of Two – and you can read more about it at the CO2 Blog or – provides a rhythm for listening to God and others. It revolves around two spiritual practices: contemplation (listening to God) and transparency (sharing one’s heart at a deep level and listening to others do the same).

In short, two people journey together over the course of a few weeks. They connect to each other daily (sometimes briefly, other times for longer). When they connect they “check in” by sharing the state of their heart with each other (e.g., happy, sad, scared, anxious, excited, etc. or a combination of several). Each person listens to the other with an ear toward how God might be at work in the midst of their feelings and experiences.

This Church of Two also shares about how they have been listening to God and what they’ve been hearing. The other person serves as a partner to help discern whether or not what’s being heard is really coming from God or somewhere else (like one’s own ingenuity or the forces of evil).

Sometimes the Church of Two takes time to sit and listen to God together. The group might take time to listen, for instance, about persisting anxiety in one participant’s life.

Church of Two participants also begin the experience thinking and looking for others with whom they might link up. At the end of the few weeks, they branch out and start the Church of Two experience with others.

I’ve had the privilege of participating in Church of Two with Hobby Chapin, my co-worker Ryan Porche, and Paul McMullen over the last six weeks. Hobby, in particular, has been a mentor to me in listening to God and blogs regularly about his experiences here.

The benefits of Church of Two are immense: it has helped me stay in touch with myself much better; I’m learning to listen to others at a deeper level; I’m learning to listen to God and discern what I’m hearing in times of stillness; I’m learning to have times of stillness – period; it’s a great tool for discernment and decision making; it has helped me to connect to old friends on deeper levels; I’ve seen others, like Micah Lewis, use it as a connecting point for disconnected friends who are searching for God.

More than anything, Church of Two has helped me feel like I am in a real relationship with God because of its inherent reciprocity: I share with God, and God shares with me – just like in any other healthy relationship.

Right now I’m wrestling with several questions about how to integrate the practices of Church of Two into my life and ministry:

  • What is the relationship of Church of Two to the spiritual practice of reading Scripture?
  • What is the relationship of Church of Two to the spiritual practice of confession?
  • What is the relationship of Church of Two to the spiritual practice of petitionary prayer?
  • How do we integrate the practices of Church of Two with other structures of spiritual formation in our community – particularly the rhythms of Scripture reading, confession and prayer for the disconnected that takes place in our formation groups?
  • Previous question from a different angle: are the Church of Two and Neil Cole’s Life Transformation Group models for spiritual formation mutually exclusive or can they integrate?
  • What accountability mechanisms exist for discernment in relation to what people hear when they listen?
  • Is Church of Two best suited as a “seasonal” spiritual practice or a regular part of my spiritual diet?

If you want a helpful two-page description of Church of Two, you can find one here.

I’d encourage you to give it a whirl if you’re looking to inject some life into your relationships with God and other people.


Charles Kiser —  December 14, 2009 — 2 Comments

One component of Storyline’s structures for spiritual formation is the retreat setting. Who says youth groups are the only ones allowed to have powerful retreat experiences?

Retreats have powerful potential because they help us break away from our normal rhythms to look at our lives from the outside. They are helpful for evaluation, introspection and goal setting. We form special bonds with others as we grow together in retreat contexts.

To date, we’ve developed three retreat experiences in the Storyline Community.

The first is Marvelous Light, associated with the season of Lent (February), which seeks to facilitate spiritual cleansing, confession and the reception of grace.

The second is City on a Hill, associated with the season After Pentecost (May), which seeks to equip people to live on mission just as the church did after Pentecost.

The third, and most recently developed, is Illuminate. Illuminate is also connected to the latter part of the season After Pentecost (November – it’s a long season!).

My co-worker, Ryan Porche, spearheaded the development of Illuminate. In Ryan’s words, from the Storyline website:

Developing a personal worship life is crucial for a follower of Jesus. And yet, not everyone relates to God in the exact same way. Illuminate is designed to equip followers of Jesus with tools to grow in their personal relationship with God. The retreat introduces a number of spiritual disciplines, and also provides opportunities to experiment on your own. Illuminate is a rich time in the presence of God!

I participated in the first Illuminate retreat with about 20 other Storyliners on November 20-21. In the weeks that have followed the retreat, I’ve felt more connected to God than I have in a long time.

Here are a few personal highlights for me from the retreat experience:

  • Lectio (“lex-ee-oh”) divina (=”divine reading”): I learned a couple new approaches to praying Scripture that I’ve found helpful in the past few weeks. One was the one-step method, where you find a phrase in Scripture and chew on it; another was the four-step method of read, reflect, respond, rest.
  • Examen prayer: an ancient prayer rhythm that entails looking back on the last day in the video player of my memory and looking for places I saw God working as well as times where I might have disappointed God. Great times of praise and confession have emerged for me from this spiritual practice.
  • Breath prayer: another ancient prayer practice in which the pray-er repeats a prayer throughout the day that can be contained within one breath. I’ve found this prayer to be the most accessible way of beginning to “practice the presence of God” in my life. “Holy Father, fill me with your love” has been my personal breath prayer favorite in the last few weeks.
  • Vow of silence: on Friday night through Saturday morning we took a vow of silence. It had been a long time since I’d practiced such intentional silence. What a head clearing practice! It was a powerful experience and left me wanting to plan other times of silence.
  • Practice: I appreciated the way Porche emphasized practicing spiritual practices throughout the weekend, rather than talking about practicing spiritual practices. The lionshare of our time was spent experimenting with different spiritual practices and then processing our experiences with other people.
  • Relationship: Lectio, Examen and Breath prayer have all made personal relationship with God a much more tangible thing. I don’t know quite how to describe it, only to say that “spiritual disciplines” have often been a source of guilt for me – particularly because I didn’t feel like I was very good at them. I guess I’ve just been practicing the wrong ones, because I’ve found some that energize me and feel so natural rather than a task that I have to check off my list so that I can say I’m a spiritually disciplined person. That would miss the point, for sure.

Thank you, Ryan, for your hard work putting this retreat together. I can’t wait for the next one (November 5-6, 2010)!