Visit Dr. David McDonald’s website at www.shadowinggod.com Visit Samizdat Creative’s website at www.samizdatcreative.com Shadowing God: living with dignity and humility in God’s image Copyright © 2010 by Dr. David McDonald. All rights reserved. The author retains sole copyright to the materials Author photo and design copyright © 2009 by David McDonald. All rights reserved. ISBN-10: 0982612419 ISBN-13: 9780982612415 Published in association with Westwinds Community Church, 1000 Robinson Road, Jackson, MI 49203 Published by Samizdat Creative, 5441 South Knox Court, Littleton, CO 80123. All scriptures used in this Atlas are taken from the NIV translation unless otherwise indicated.
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This book was written primarily for the people of Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, Michigan. It is part of a series of similar books called “Teaching Atlases,” which supplement David’s sermons during the weekend worship services. They are part study-guide, part reminder, part artifact. Additional Atlases can be obtained through the oﬃce of Westwinds Community Church (www.westwinds.org) David is also available for guest teaching and lecturing and can be booked through his personal assistant, Norma Racey (email@example.com). The set-up costs of each Atlas are privately donated by a Westwinds’ parishioner, thus enabling extensive self-publishing at a reasonable cost. The proceeds from each Atlas are designated by the donor for a specific project—such as installing wells in developing countries, providing artistic and educational scholarships for children, or financially supporting pastors and missionaries around the world. If you would like to donate to the Atlas project, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
table of contents Forward Introduction
PART ONE: THE PROJECTION OF GODâ€™S IMAGE
Human becoming Phantoms and shadows In:God:ed Mythos Out of chaos The Elements of Spiritual Formation
16 22 29 37 41 48
PART TWO: THE APPARENT MAGNITUDE OF OUR ABILITY TO SHADOW GOD
Intermission: what you need to shadow God More on the 5-degree Fail The Contextual Intelligences: Listening Listening to scripture Listening to conscience Listening to God through others Listening to God through the world Attentiveness Pay attention to nudges Pay attention to discoveries The Interior Intelligences: Conviction Conviction for salvation Conviction for transformation Self-awareness
59 62 68 77 82 88 92 98 105 108 112 115
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Be aware of your limitations Be aware of how you come across to others Discernment Discerning your destiny Discerning God’s will for your life Discerning between Spirits Discerning what’s really going on The Elements of Spiritual Formation
118 125 129 133 137 141 145 150
PART THREE: THE SILHOUETTES WE LIVE
Intermission: how to shadow God in real life Cast your shadow in the Way Look around Keep yourself in line with the Light Follow the obvious route Reflect The Elements of Spiritual Formation
154 158 162 165 167 171 174
foreword I began writing Shadowing God three years ago, hungry for a new way to talk about Christian spirituality. I have drawn great encouragement from the spiritual classics within our myriad traditions. But I recognize that the people at my church and in my life by-and-large found the Desert Fathers unapproachable, the Spanish Mystics incomprehensible, and the Classical Theologians undesirable. I wanted a new way for our people to talk about God, and more importantly, to understand how they were supposed to live because of the Spirit’s work inside them. I wanted to ground our local language in theology, yet colloquialize the conversation enough that soccer moms and bankers, single dads and school teachers, could all “talk the talk” that helped them “walk the walk.” I wanted the huge amount of spiritual wealth and wisdom of the best Christian mystics to be available to the regular folks of Jackson. And not just available—I wanted it to become part of our language, our culture, the currency of our spiritual expression. I needed shadowing God to become part of our collective vocabulary, so it could become part of our collective identity. This book is about how to follow God inside us. It’s about how to sort out which impulses are His and which are Oprah, Deepak, Mark, Brian, or Rob. It’s about figuring out what it means to be spiritual – not to have spirituality, as if it were something we could paste into our scrapbook or add to the collection of our consciousness – but to live in such a way that our very actions, thoughts, and verbs work like performance art, saying: I am human being, that matters, I house what’s Holy, and I make sacrifices for the good of the world, because I belong to God.
dr david mcdonald This book is for them (and for me), to help them (and me) in the muddy times of ordinary, everyday life when we’re not sure what God wants, or what He’s up to, or even if He does indeed have some kind of plan. After three years and about 30 revisions, I want you to know that Shadowing God is for you as well. Driven by theology, honed through practice, and cultivated in friendship, this book is my humble oﬀering to those who want to live now the way we’ve all been told we’ll live in Heaven later. The book has three components: the first is theological, the second is practical, and the final component concerns the application of what we will have learned. I want you to know what the Bible has to say about what it means to be a human being, as it is the basis for all my beliefs about shadowing God. I also want you to know that shadowing God takes some practice, some intentionality, and you will need to develop some basic spiritual competencies in order to see any lasting results, transformation, or worth. Finally, I want you to see how shadowing God really works in every day life, so I’ll give you some hints, tricks, tips, and nods, to help you figure out what God actually wants to do in you, with you, and through you. Some of what appears in the first section has been previously published in Cheer Up: It’s not the End of the World, my treatise on Genesis 1 & 2. That text is available through the Westwinds’ bookstore. I had thought to begin this book by simply talking about how to shadow God, but realized in the end that some background on the imago dei was necessary. Please forgive any redundancy.
introduction Nang Ta Lung is a form of Thai puppetry. It involves making intricate puppets and then having them dance behind decorated screens. The puppets are backlit, so what you actually see are intricate shadows dancing in a field of light. The allure of Nang, however, isn’t just the play itself but about the freedom to walk around back during the performance and see the puppeteers. From here you can see what the puppeteers see—their manipulation of the puppets, how they switch characters, and play with the light. You can also see the audience and their responses to the performance. Over the years I’ve come to think about Nang theatre as a spiritual metaphor. Contrary to popular belief, spirituality is not about the stuﬀ in front of the screen – it’s not about worship services and Sunday suits, about public piety and Christian television – it’s about what’s going on behind all that, behind the veil of flesh. It’s about what’s inside–which isn’t to say that the stuﬀ in front of the screen doesn’t matter (it most certainly does), just that the control room of the soul is backstage, not in the front-of-house. 8
dr david mcdonald Nang theatre is a good reminder that we see God in the shadows. Like Moses, we can never look God fully in the face, for fear we would be burned. We have got to teach ourselves to look for the subtleties of the Spirit, the nuance and the stencil of God’s movement just behind everything we see. We’ve got to learn to see what’s happening in the wings, in the control room, in the mind of the Director. This book is about how to follow God inside you. He’s in you, just as he’s all around you, but most of us miss him most of the time because we’re looking at all the stuﬀ in front of the screen instead of peering a little closer. What I mean is that we tend to imagine all spiritual moments as being hugely successful enterprises and endeavors – two words that too often represent the quality of our spiritual fantasies – and, as a result, miss out on the everyday moments in which the infinite caresses the ordinary. All we see are cars and ads, screens and mobs. We miss the beautiful gestures that live inside of the cars, the counter-cultural prophets who challenge the ads, the provocateurs who reinvent the screens, and the mobs of people focused on the good instead of intoxicated by the degenerate. We miss the incarnation. We’re not the first people to have this problem. The ancient Hebrews expected a Messiah – a conquering king, a prophet of power, a pious priest – but they missed God-made-flesh, come in a lowly lunchbox and shoved into a backwater barn. 9
Shadowing God They expected the Divine to show up Vegas-style, and so they missed God when he showed up in Bethlehem-chic. We expect God to blow our minds, and then miss him when he’s present with our kids on the rug playing toy cars and dolls. We look for God in the parting of the Atlantic and the sundering of false gods, and then miss him when he’s coaxing us not to overspend at Christmas or help us talk to our fathers. We look for God to be glitzy, and so we miss him when he’s dirty, earthy, and present in real-life scenarios. But once we pay attention to what’s happening backstage, in the wings, in the shadows, we realize that the success everyone can see is not the success we need. God wants to do more in us and with us than for us and to us. I want to help you see and taste and touch and feel God and his magnificent presence, and I want to make him proud. I also want to live life looking past the screen and ask what the puppeteer is doing. I want everyone to know what’s backstage. I want you to see the clockwork, the wheeled-hamster, and the beefy heart that sweats for Christ. But following God inside you is hard. Of course, nobody wants to admit how hard it really is. When you go to the bookstore or read blogs on the internet it seems like the ancient wisdom of our spiritual heroes is easily boiled down into Six Keys for Success or a tidy rhythm of worship. But, truth be told, when we actually take time to read these masters we feel stupid and clumsy, the apes of prayer. That’s why I’m writing Shadowing God. It’s a book about how to follow the God inside you. It’s not a fancy book. It’s a book for amateurs. It’s not written by a Great for Pros. It’s pop. Pulp. But it’s the book I need and the gift I’d like to share with those who want to figure out what God wants and live like it matters. 10
dr david mcdonald I want something that helps treat the people I love with greater regard… that frees that love from any desire to control… that causes me to live with little instead of lust for more… that regenerates health and wellbeing, kindness and concern, joy, peace, faith, hope, and love… This is the animus of Christian spirituality: that we are continually transformed, looking less and less like the broken-down, ramshackle skin suits we used to be and more like the glorious and blameless God who created us… that we grow into the image and likeness of Christ… that we more outwardly bear the image of God within. My prayer is that as you seek to know God and more faithfully follow him-in-you, you will live diﬀerently, enjoying life as he intended it—a midnight ride on the dark horse of identity, sacrifice, and surrender. My prayer is that you learn to pay great attention to the Light of the World alive in you, and find great meaning as God casts you as his shadow.
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the projection of Godâ€™s image
human becoming God is our Creator. God made us in his image and likeness. Therefore we are creators. He gave us a garden to till and cultivate. We became cocreators by our responsible acts, whether in bringing forth children, or producing food, furniture or clothing. The joy of creativeness should be ours. Dorothy Day, 20th C Activist and Journalist Learning to shadow God requires us to acknowledge some key facts: firstly, about who we are. Fundamentally, we are spiritual people. We are spiritual insofar as we understand that we are part of something larger than ourselves, something comprehensive, holistic, and immaterial; and we are people (flesh, bones, blood, brains), made by God to be like God. Because we realize that the things that make us truly, fully, human are the invisible connections â€“ the nonmaterial reality â€“ that sew us together, we also understand that our worth is not measured in Gross National Product or investment-return. 14
dr david mcdonald Our worth is measured in humanity. The more humane we are, the more invaluable we become to the people around us. They know they can count on us, they know they can trust us, and they know that we are committed to them as fellows upon this earth. In order for us to be truly human, which is also to say truly spiritual, we have to have our dignity and humility intact, and we have to act with authority and responsibility. Because God lives in us, because we live and move and have our being in him, we have to be diﬀerent. Any real progress in this life requires that we become saturated in the source of our humanity, namely, the image of God. We’ll define “image of God” a little more later on, but for now recall that the underlying premise of Christian spirituality is that we all need to be formed, reformed, and transformed into the people God made us to be. We were formed like God in the beginning, but our sin has fractured us. We need Christ to re:form us. We need the Spirit to transform us back into the people we were first created to be – partners with God in shepherding the world – full of distinction and meekness, duty and ability. Shadowing God requires us to revert back to our original programming, our true selves so to speak. We all share this same basic spiritual DNA – the same image – 15
Shadowing God even if we suppress it, ignore it, or disregard it as superstition and fantasy. It’s this programming, this divine imprint that theologians refer to as the imago dei, and it’s the diﬀerence between us and the animals, or life-like robots, or even between us and some other carbon-based life form on some other divinely-storied planet. We have been made as shadows of God—like him, but less. We are mirrors, prisms, and shades. Our humanity is god-ly. We find out who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing by finding out more about who he is and what he’s always been doing. God has created us to be like him, and that resemblance, that godliness, is comprised of four elements: authority and responsibility humility and dignity We need to recover our authority, responsibility, humility, and dignity in order for us to be the people God originally intended for us to become. That might seem like a heady concept at first blush, but let’s take a few moments and unpack it. God gifts us with the ability to create like him. We create out of the authority He extends to us. In the Garden we see that Adam is given the creative task of naming the animals, implying an authority over them and also an intimate knowledge of who they are. We were made as stewards over the world, equipped and called to create the future at the behest of our creator. Likewise, we conserve the world as he has given it to us; that’s our responsibility. God tells Adam and Eve that they are to fill the earth and subdue it, to rule and to enjoy this good creation. Yes, it’s an ecological responsibility to 16
dr david mcdonald look after Planet Earth, and at the very least, to care, but it’s also a cultural responsibility. It’s not just about how green the earth is, but it’s about how just we are one to another. It’s about how much we look after people who can’t look after themselves. It’s about how we take care of this world. Similarly, the imago dei refers to the humility and dignity every person has. Human beings are like God. We’re like God. We’re like God. We are like God, hence, our humility. We’re not gods; we’re not little “G” gods. We’re not somehow looking towards enlightenment. We’re not at some point going to become Jesus Junior. That’s not in the cards. We’re like God; we are less dimensional copies and also, strangely, carriers of God, like franchises, because God is alive in us. We also have great dignity, because human beings are like God. We’re not like bedroom slippers, cucumbers, gardens, or advertisements. We are like God “above whom there is none other.” The singularity, the prime intelligence, and the unmoved mover— 17
Shadowing God we are like the Lord of Heaven and Earth. How we treat others is how we treat God, and we intuitively know this. We know we ought to treat one another as people like God. That’s why when you see all that garbage on CNN, it hurts. When you see people starving, it feels bad. When you see people mistreating one another or when you see people getting picked on, it feels bad, because you recognize they are just like you and even though they were born over there and you were born over here, you’re the same. The dignity you have is also the dignity they have. It doesn’t come from being American, or from being wealthy, or from being employed. It comes from the fact that they are people dying, hurting, and suﬀering at the hands of other people who themselves have forgotten the humility of humanity. And so God is at work inside of us, growing and growing, eating up the empty space inside and transforming us into faithful emissaries and dignitaries of his mission to heal the world. And we invite the Spirit to shape and transform us to better cast his shadow in the world. God’s presence is everywhere we go so long 18
dr david mcdonald as we stay in step with his designs for the world. We’ll talk in greater detail about those designs later on, but for now it’s important simply to grasp that our task is to invite the Spirit to re:form us into the people he originally intended. This re:formation process is a never-ending story, a spiritual song sung in rounds. It never ceases… But that’s what it means to be human, not who we are now, but who we were created to be and who we will be once again. Not human beings, so much as humans becoming.
phantoms and shadows Some of our most fascinating stories have to do with life. Frankenstein, most famously, is about a genius doctor with the will to (re)create life. Junior, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (before he became the Guvernator, but after he started faking his accent), is about a scientist trying to bring new life into the world beyond the capacities of male biology. Even Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen asks questions about life, when Tyrese Gibson wonders: if God made us in His image…who made the Autobots? These movies ask questions about life–about where it comes from, and about what it’s supposed to look like. They are spiritual questions, being as the spiritual maturation process largely has to do with cultivating the image of God. The image of God defines who we are as spiritual people. We are made to be like God. Scripture tells us we’ve been made in the image and likeness of our creator (see Genesis 1.26-27, 5.1, 9.6, 1 Corinthians 11.7, James 3.9). This “image” doesn’t have anything to do with being bipedal, Anglophonic (a native English speaker), 20
dr david mcdonald cheering for the California Angels or against the New Jersey Devils. Properly translated, the word “image” (tselem) means “phantom,” or – as it’s rendered elsewhere – “shadow.” We are God’s shadow. Genesis 1.26-28 Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” This is a fairly important piece of scripture for many reasons, but – before we get too deep – I want to point out that: when God makes man in his image, he speaks to him directly in the first person plural— this is the only time in the entire book of Genesis that God calls himself “we.” This ought to hammer home that humans are special somethings, and not just special to God, 21
Shadowing God but special because they are given power over the non-human world, and it’s not just men that get this power, the image is male and female… together. Now, regardless of how you spin the etymology, tracing the history of words and where they come from, the point that seems to be popping up in Genesis, is that there is something in us like him— something special, some quality that is unique to humanity that reflects him, recalls him, reminds creation of him, and reminds us that we are more than merely the talking pets of a cosmic celebutante. The problem is that we don’t know how to be spiritual…we don’t fully understand what that entails. And so we run daily back to the scriptures looking for instruction and for wisdom about how to continue the spiritual process of transformation that God’s Spirit has already begun within us. We do this in an eﬀort to try and figure out what spirituality is. We’re trying to look more like our true selves – more like who we know we really are – rather than the way we often appear to ourselves, to God, to others, and to the world. We try to live in such a way as to make God’s image obvious. And that’s where shadowing God comes into play. The more we follow God, the more we connect with him. The more we connect, the easier it becomes to walk in step with him. Once we’re in sync, his Spirit begins to infiltrate us and we become absorbed until – at last – we find our true selves in him. Confusing? Don’t worry, this book begins with theology and then moves onto practice and application. Some of these concepts might sound a bit heady now, but later on we’ll talk about how to live diﬀerently and give you some advice to help make sense of this in real life. For now let me remind you that idea of shadowing God is not necessarily a new one. It comes from the ancient doctrine of the imago dei (Latin for “image of 22
dr david mcdonald God”), old-hat to the theology masters of yesteryear. Just because it’s old, though, doesn’t mean it’s headed for knowledge-nursing home; rather, this is the Shelby Cobra brand of old. Like wine and cheese, the doctrine of the imago dei just keeps getting more palatable as the clock keeps ticking. The imago dei refers, specifically, to our ability to recognize ourselves as co-creators with God. It is the term we use to talk about the fact that we are spiritual people. It is the term we use to talk about our relationships with God, ourselves, other people, and with the world. It is the term we use to talk about our role in this world as God’s shadows— namely his “looking after” creatures. Let this marinate: the words imago dei mean “image of God;” though, more specifically, they mean “idol of God.” We typically steer well clear of the word “idol” and perhaps for good reason. Idols are typically thought of as false gods, made by human hands as objects of worship. We make idols, in part, so that we can retain our absolute power; we make the gods we can control…until we learn, too late, that all our gods control us eventually. So, instead, we prefer the word “shadows” (also a legit translation of tselem) because it reminds us that we are not God, just his incubators. Similarly, it reminds us that we’re not God’s refuse or his afterthought, but that we’re connected intimately to him. And, it reminds us that we’re not shadows of someone else, either some momentary fame-hound or political revolutionary, and we have dignity as divinely authored beings. 23
Shadowing God Remember Nang theology? The thing behind the screen of our sacred humanity is not covered in glitter and spilling around in four-inch heels. God is in our machine. Heâ€™s behind the screen of our humanity. Itâ€™s worth underscoring here that the Hebrew Bible is crystal clear that no idols are permitted among the people of God. Verboten! Exodus 20.4 You shall not make for yourself a carved imageâ€”any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Indeed, during their time in captivity and exile, the prophets were resolute that nothing in this world can or should represent God. God should not be made out of stone. God should not be carved, or cut, or hammered, or molded. Ezekiel 36.26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from you and give you a heart of flesh. Deuteronomy 4.15-18 You saw no image of any kind when God spoke to you out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. 24
dr david mcdonald These actions diminished the image of God, not enhanced it. The reason the prophets spoke so harshly against those who made idols was because they knew that the very character and nature of God was insulted by their attempts. Instead, the Hebrew people were commanded to act as God’s idols. How? By proclaiming the freedom of God against the dark and oppressive forces of this world. It was the freedom of God that gave the exiles hope to endure the brutal empire around them during each of their many exiles—to Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Rome. Those empires were controlled by idols. Israel was not. Kings used idols to show their authority. Priests used idols to visualize the divine presence. But with God things are diﬀerent: God’s idols are people. God’s Kingdom is his people. His Temple is the Earth, Home for his people. In contrast, the idols of this world are signs of corrupt authority and imperial oppression. God cannot be reduced to a bobble-head deity. Instead, the people of God were meant to recognize the image of God in one another. They were meant to recognize their human dignity. They were meant to recognize their human responsibility. They were meant to recognize hope for the future. They were meant to recognize the Spirit of God coaxing them into promise, prophecy, and freedom. God wants idols that move. He wants images that act. He wants shadows, phantoms, and imitators that mirror his ambitions in this world. The only way God wants himself represented to the world is through you. All the idol-smashing (or iconoclasm) in the Bible – every instance where the 25
Shadowing God Hebrews are instructed to destroy foreign gods and idols â€“ should be interpreted as a measure of protection for the dignity of real people. God doesnâ€™t want you to idolize something else because in the process of idolatry you allow yourself to settle for something less in this life. You lower your standards. You excuse yourself of responsibility. You place your hopes and dreams on a movie star or in a press box, instead of cultivating the Spirit of God within you. There is only one way in which God is imaged in the world and only one: humanity! Walter Brueggemann, 20th C American Theologian But even today we insist on making new idols. We idolize other people, making them out to be gods themselves rather than shadows of the one true God. We put them on pedestals and give them special status and privileges. We worship our rock stars. We adore our childhood prodigies. Yet anytime we set up these inane hierarchies we are only diminishing ourselves. Everyone one of us is an image-bearer of God Most High. Even the best and brightest among us are only shadows of something better and brighter. That, again, is what it means to be human.
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in:God:ed Now the seed of God is in us. The seed of a pear tree grows into a pear tree; the seed of a hazel tree grows into a hazel tree. The seed of God grows into God. Meister Eckhart, 14th C German Theologian For He was made man that we might be made God; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the Unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality. St. Athanasius, 3rd C Bishop of Alexandria My wife is a big fan of two special words. Other men have wives with special words – I love you, you are my honeybear, my sexypants, etc… Carmel’s special words are these: So what? 27
Shadowing God So what if we’re idols of God? So what if we’re the prophetic antithesis to corrupt Mesopotamian imperialism? So what if we can dissect the qualities of the imago dei? So what does this mean in real life? Well, consider the preceding chapters to be a prologue–this is about why the imago dei matters to us in the here and now as spiritual people. This is about how the imago dei turns the suck nob to the left. In order for anyone to see God’s idol – to know that they are in the Kingdom God has created, that they are in the Presence of God – we have to clear away all of the stuﬀ that keeps it hidden. That clearing away consists of persistent repentance and spiritual attentiveness. We must always be asking the Spirit for insights as to the behaviors, judgments, and postures that cause us to eclipse Christ instead of shadow him. When we do clear away the stuﬀ, however, we uncover our “new humanity,” as Paul calls it. That new humanity speaks to the very heart of this issue of spiritual transformation, because, as the saying goes, once out with the old, back in with the new. We need to purge ourselves of sin and welcome the redemptive work of the Spirit. We need to get rid of our old selves so the Spirit can further the work of our new selves. To be transformed means to be less like the person you are now and more like the perfect image of God, to every day be trading away those parts of you that aren’t humble or that don’t have dignity, that have sold your authority or outsourced your responsibility, to be trading those things away 28
dr david mcdonald to live more and more and more like God designed and created you to be. We need examples to do this well, not only the example of Jesus Christ, but also the example of people who have been faithfully shadowing God. We need presentday flesh and blood examples in order to better understand what a shadow of God looks like. For instance, when I think of what it means to be a good friend, I think about my friend Vince. He ignores my idiosyncrasies, but yet calls me on my sin. He laughs with me and celebrates with me. I get to be a better and better friend, because I’ve got a great example of what a great friend looks like in Vince. Or, take spirituality, I look to my mom as my example for devotion to Jesus. As a little kid, I used to always walk into the kitchen and see my mom there with her hair in curlers, dressed in her bathrobe, drinking coﬀee and chewing spearmint, while reading the Bible and just sobbing all over the pages. Tears smell when they hit the Bible. Her tears have waterlogged her Bible, because all she wants in the world is to make Jesus glad. So, I know what it’s like to love Jesus, because I’ve had it modeled for me and I know what it’s like to love the Bible, because I see my mom love the Bible. I know what it’s like to keep short accounts when people hurt me because I share an oﬃce with the world-record-short-account holder. John Voelz, more than anyone else I’ve ever met, has a supernatural ability to forgive. Sometimes in our job there’s a little flack we take here and there. Typically when I take a little flack, I like to nurse that grudge, feeding it little treats under the table and harboring my bitterness for many years, but not John. Working with John and seeing him day-in and day-out forgive everybody is convicting. I use those examples to echo the words of the Apostle Paul, who says, “[shadow] me as I [shadow] Christ.” 29
Shadowing God So, I shadow Vince as he shadows Jesus and I know how to be a better friend. I shadow John as he shadows Jesus and I know how to be more gracious and more forgiving. I shadow Mom as she shadows Jesus and I know what it’s like to be more deeply in love with him and his word. What’s more, is that we’re not just given the example of Jesus, but we’re given Jesus himself as he invites us to share in his nature. 2 Peter 1.4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. Being “participants in the divine nature” means more than simply living a moral life or enjoying spiritual blessings in heaven. It means, literally, that Christ has moved into our souls and into our bodies, into our mind and hearts, and into our dreams, loves, and hopes. How is this done? Paul tells us in Colossians that we have traded our old selves for new ones, renewed in knowledge in the image of our Creator. We are no longer the same people we were before we were reunited with Christ. Now we are participants with him, and he lives in us, with us, and through us. Christ casts us as his shadows, and the more we stay in line with him, the more light we can shed in the world. We are like franchises of Christ and his kingdom, for his kingdom is inside us (Luke 17.21), and he, also, is inside us (Colossians 1.27), and the lives we live now are new (Romans 6.4), and no longer under any of the old powers 30
dr david mcdonald of death or corruption or the suicidal impulses of gloom and violence (Romans 6.1-15). This, of course, is what I’m referring to when I say that shadowing God means we learn to follow God inside us. He is not out there somewhere. He resides with us, in us, and works through us to transform us and through us, transform the world. Immanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with Him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendor. C.H. Spurgeon, 19th C British Preacher To be a participant in the divine nature also means that we fully participate in our human nature – just like Christ did – and involve ourselves in the concerns of everyday life, albeit with divine authority and perspective. The more holy we become, the more humble, self-renouncing, self-abhorring, and the more sensitive to every sin we become, the more closely we cling to Christ and are transformed into his image. When Paul speaks about the glory of the children of God, he is talking about the restoration of this image within us. He’s talking about us becoming better versions of our true selves. This is what it means to be holy—accepting the energy of the Spirit as it gives you power to change. A sure warrant for looking forward with hope to the transformation of human nature is provided by the incarnation of God, which makes man god to the same degree as God Himself became man. 31
Shadowing God For it is clear that He who became man without sin (see Hebrews 4:15) will divinize human nature without changing it into the divine nature, and will raise it up for His own sake to the same degree as He lowered Himself for man’s sake. This is what St. Paul teaches mystically when he says, ‘...that in the ages to come He might display the overflowing richness of His grace’ (Ephesians 2:7). St. Maximus the Confessor, 6th C Theologian, Monk, and Scholar We should be constantly working in cooperation with the Holy Spirit to ensure the light of Christ is on display. We need to be in:God:ed: Full of God, full of God’s mission to heal the world, to save it, to restore it to its original, Edenic, paradise and to see ourselves restored to full humanity in the process. We are always looking for ways to partner with God in His dreams for us, for the world, for the other people of the world, and for the other inhabitants of this world. The good news is that the more we shadow God, the closer we get to God, the deeper we travel into him, the more in:god:ed we become, the more we recognize our own transformation from the fixer-upper version of who we used to be into people who accept challenges, deal openly with others, fight with integrity when conflict is required, and work tirelessly to heal the world. 32
dr david mcdonald The more comprehensively the light of Christ grows within us the more active we’ll become as his shadows working to find out what He wants to have happen in our church, in our relationships, in our soul, and in the world at large. And God is so incredibly busy in the world right now. He’s feeding orphans in Haiti, South Africa, and Peru. He’s orchestrating revivals in South Korea, Columbia, and the Belgian Congo. He’s healing the planet in the Pacific Northwest, Japan, and Northern England. He’s putting marriages back together, reuniting children with their parents, and healing broken hearts and giving hope to lonely outsiders. He’s teaching people to read and learn, become competent in new and better jobs, helping men and women towards self-reliance and sustainable income. He’s present with those who are suﬀering, listening to their sadness and authenticating their pain, reminding them again and again that they’ll never be alone and that He will ultimately bring reprieve. God is using his people to accomplish his purposes. Everyone who shadows God does the work of God, and the more we shadow him the more work we realize there is to do. If we are committed to working alongside God in his redemption of this world – shadowing him, as it were – then we must ask him to fill our minds and our spirits with big dreams for a better world. In order to accomplish this, we need a better understanding of the opening chapters 33
Shadowing God of our Bible – the chapters that I’ve come to regard as God’s transformation manifesto. Because we tend to think of Genesis as simply a historical text, we miss the lessons that Genesis teaches us about how to shadow God – how to emulate him, act as his stewards – and about how to countermand the false gods in our world. So, now that we’re equipped with a good understanding of what the imago dei is, we’ll take just a few moments and discover what the imago dei does.
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mythos Once upon a time... A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... In the beginning... These words have a mythic quality to them, don’t you think? I don’t mean that they are all – equally – myths, just that the way they sound makes me feel like I’m about to learn something important about who I am and why I’m here in this moment. They are framing words – words used to set up everything that comes after them. “Once upon a time” precedes the damsel in distress. “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” comes before Luke and Leia contend with Darth Vader. “In the beginning” presages the fantastic true story of the downfall of humanity, our redemption through Jesus Christ, and our return back to our true selves in him. 35
Shadowing God Everything that weâ€™ve talked about so far has its fountainhead in Genesis chapters 1 + 2. This is cool. Genesis, after all, is the book of beginnings and it makes sense that the beginning of our understanding of Jesus Christ and his entry into our lives and into this world would begin at the beginning. These words set the stage for all that we know to be true about Christian spirituality. But what of these words? And, how are we to take them? Some may choose to take them as history. Some may choose to take them as oral tradition. Some may choose to take them as description. Some may choose to take them as poetry. But Iâ€™ve come to read (and re-read, and re-read) these words as something else entirely. I read Genesis 1 as a kind of criticism. Criticism of the disorder in our world; of the selfishness and vanity of our world. Criticism of the emptiness of our worldâ€™s lies; and of the promises those in power make to keep them believed. Criticism of any system that removes people from other people; and from their shared world and all who live in it. And how does it criticize? By name-calling and rough speech? No. Genesis criticizes by telling us that in the beginning everything was created as it should be...and when we look at the way it is now we know that something has changed; something has gone wrong. 36
dr david mcdonald That is the critique: reality. I don’t think that the Creation poem was written as a pre-scientific description of how the world was formed; rather, I believe it is a prophetic critique of the brokenness of this world. I believe it is a theological statement that speaks of God the Creator authoring the world in perfect love. I know for some of you this seems like a foreign concept. Many were raised to understand Genesis as one of the books of Moses, chiefly written to tell us God’s version of science and history, but this understanding is likely based more on tradition than solid biblical scholarship. Others have written much on this topic (Walter Brueggemann and Richard J. Middleton just to name a few) and this is not the place to get into an academic discussion about authorship. Suﬃce to say, however, that the book of Genesis was not designed to contradict 9th Grade Science lectures on evolutionary biology. It has a completely diﬀerent purpose. Genesis 1 was likely written by a priest living in Babylonian exile. Priests, in those days, were understood to be mediators between God and humanity. They were the voice of the people calling on God to save them and to honor Him. Priests would have had their work cut out for them. Conquered by Babylon and held in captivity by this foreign power, the people of Judah (separate now from the people of Israel) would have desperately needed saving. But sometimes, a priest made a kind of crossover. Sometimes a priest took on the role of a prophet. Prophets, like priests, were mediators. However, whereas the job of the priest was to speak to God on behalf of the people, the job of the prophet was to speak to the people on behalf of God. 37
Shadowing God In this “prophetic” voice, the author of Genesis begins to communicate the truth of this world’s origins via the creation poem of Genesis 1. It was a counter-narrative to that of the oppressing forces of Babylon–Holy Propaganda, if you will. The Babylonians believed they had every right to hold the Hebrew people hostage. Their religion was one of violence and fire. Their beliefs authenticated aggressive and hostile action against their neighbors. For the Babylonians the old adage proved true that “might made right.” Since they could conquer, the Babylonians saw it as their god-given destiny to conquer so completely that their god would be honored in victory. By writing the creation poem, the Priest is calling the Babylonian god a liar. He is calling the Babylonian people fools. He is calling GOD to remember His nature and character as one who brings order-out-of-chaos. We should be doing the same thing. There are many false gods in our day, and we should be naming and challenging them as a regular part of life. We don’t always need to be explicit about this – just by living the way God wants us to live instead of the way our love-for-money-andindulgence culture does – but we certainly need to be aware that there is always a war going on for our souls. It’s an ideological war as much as a spiritual one, and it requires us to constantly be aware of the anti-god powers in this world, just as it requires us to defy them. Our defiance of the false gods in this world – gods of commercial and material wealth, gods of empty sex and falsified intimacy, gods of power and dehumanization, gods of worthless allegiance and broken promises – should also be accompanied by a steadfast grip on the True God. We need to remember that God works to heal the world, just as he works to equip us to do likewise.
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out of chaos In college, I had two African friends with whom I played rugby. They once told us a story about growing up as missionary kids in the veldt (African bush). They said that the African tribesman often became afraid of dark spirits in the night, and so they would chant in defiance of those spirits. Their chants would list all of the evils of the darkness, followed quickly by a rhythmic shouting of the word â€œAWAY!â€? Wickedness and sin AWAY Pride and jealousy AWAY All injustice AWAY Every heresy AWAY Every evil deed AWAY All corruption AWAY All corruption AWAY 39
Shadowing God Their song was a powerful testimony to the prophetic quality of music and speech. Prophetic, you say? Absolutely. The word “prophecy” means, “to speak forth.” It’s used in two ways in scripture: to foretell an event in the future; and also, to declare boldly. While the African chant against the darkness held no forth-telling component, it certainly boldly declared who was in charge of these people. It was not the darkness. It was not the corruption. It was GOD, maker of heaven and earth, before whom all other powers tremble. What we have in Genesis 1 is a prophetic declaration. It is not a description of how the earth was cooked in a cosmic crock-pot. It is focused on God’s intent, not his technique, proclaiming a supernatural newness that it pleased God to bring out of nothingness. It is a redefinition of the world. Genesis 1 was written in defiance. It depicts a truthful, god-honoring, poetic account of the creation of this world. That account focuses on who God is and who we are in relationship to him. As such, it would have been understood as a profoundly subversive and defiant text essentially calling everything into question about the dominant way of life in the world. For example, in many Babylonian stories the serpent was seen as a symbol of the gods’ favor. One of their gods, Tiamat, was even a serpent; so, when Genesis 3 portrays the serpent as evil the Hebrew people were defying the gods of the Babylonians – essentially saying everything good was actually bad. It would be the equivalent of an Iraqi political cartoon showing the iconic American eagle with horns slathered in blood on its head …or some kind of anti-Canadian propaganda portraying the devil as a giant, fluﬀ y, beaver. 40
dr david mcdonald Think of it as the cultural equivalent of American G.I.s flying their helicopters in Vietnam, blasting rock and roll music out of the chopper, or those nutty Scotsmen blaring their horrid bagpipes in fury at the devil-English. But Genesis was more than just an irritant. It was written specifically to undermine and to challenge everything the Babylonians considered good, right, and holy and named their way of life as inherently evil. Perhaps another example will serve to make this all the more clear. In Genesis 1 the 7th Day is considered holy – a day of rest for God and his people – but in Babylon the number seven was unlucky. For the Babylonians, any grouping of seven was to be avoided, and they didn’t work on the 7th day of each week because they were afraid of being cursed. In contract, GOD demonstrates for his people that rest is holy, that rhythms and seasons of life are something to be celebrated. The Hebrew people turned the assumptions of the Babylonians on their heads. With God there is no such thing as a cursed or unlucky day. Furthermore, the 7th Day was the day he rested, and we assumed our governership of Earth. Every other day in the creation account ends except Day 7. Why? Because we’re still living in it—one perpetual 7th Day of rest and worship before God. We’re given the Sabbath to honor and worship God, to come before God, to protect ourselves from burnout, and to keep our lives in balance, but in Genesis 1, that 7th Day of rest isn’t for us; it’s for God. The 7th Day is where God says, “See, all of Creation is finished and now I invite you to take your proper place alongside me and look after it.” In many ways, the account of the 7th Day in Genesis 1 is like God giving his kids a puppy. “Okay, here you go. Grow it up; look after it.” God doesn’t abdicate his responsibility to the world. He invites us to participate with 41
Shadowing God him as his representatives, as his looking-after creatures. The message of Genesis 1 is this: God made the world and loves it. The violence and fire of Babylon is a distortion of the world God made. We are prisoners. We are in chaos. This will end. God brings order out of chaos. God always brings order out of chaos. We are in chaos now, but God will set things right once again. Knowing this, we need to open ourselves up to the true meaning of the Bible’s beginning: God is in control, he always has been, he always will be, and though there are other powers – powers that work to create chaos – God is greater than these false and lesser powers, and he is using his power to create order, harmony, and peace. This is the reason I think it’s so important for us to understand Genesis 1 + 2 in context of learning to shadow God. Because Genesis is a manifesto for healing the world. If we only read these words as cosmogony, or a theory about how everything came to be, then we miss the instructions they contain. God gave us these chapters to tell us how the world is supposed to be; it’s not that way now. Because of this, we need to cooperate with God in the redemption of the world. We need to live in such a way as to shadow God, to listen to his nudges and promptings about world-healing, harmony-bringing, chaos-reducing, wholeness-generating lifestyles that penetrate the postmodern nihilism and western consumerism. In these chapters God shows us that he has equipped and empowered us to make the world this way again. 42
dr david mcdonald That’s why we are his idols – to proclaim his presence to the world around us, boldly declaring: it’s not supposed to be like this. Wake up. Heal. Love. That’s why we have his authority and the responsibility to use it—so that our God-given dominion can be exerted over the forces of darkness and violence and oppression; so wrong things can be made right, crooked things can be made straight, fractured things can be made whole, and dark things can be brought to light. It is an aﬀront to our dignity to allow the world to remain as broken as it is, an aﬀront to the dignity of our fellow men and women on this earth to stand idle while they suﬀer from absentee deity syndrome and cosmic separation anxiety. We must work hard to heal the world as cooperants with God, and we must do this with great humility knowing that all our eﬀorts are merely the just and required tokens that invite and rouse the Spirit to show up in strength and save. Knowing all that we do about how the world is, in contrast to how the world was made, gives us a big clue about what it means to act as God’s shadows. It gives us our first orientation, our first heading, our first dropped hint as to the direction we are supposed to be facing in order to permit the light of Christ to cast his shadow on us, through us, and with us. We are supposed to heal. We are supposed to heal the world. We are supposed to heal others. We are supposed to heal our old wounds, old hurts, and old fears 43
Shadowing God by allowing the Spirit to make things again the way they were designed.
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the elements of spiritual formation do something for your soul REDISCOVER YOUR HUMANITY – BE GOD’S We all need to be transformed by God’s Spirit and discover who He intends for us to be as individuals and collectively as people following Him. It begins personally by recognizing your need for God and his direction as His image bearer. Read Genesis 1.26-28, I Corinthians 11.7, and James 3.9 in the Bible (check out Biblegateway.com online). How are you God’s image bearer? What does your life say about His presence in it? Set aside time to talk to God about what you read and about your thoughts on the above questions. Pray for transformation to happen and then believe God will bring it. do something for your relationships AUTHORITY & RESPONSIBILITY, HUMILITY & DIGNITY Grab your small group, some friends or anyone else you love getting in good discussions with and talk about the four words listed above: authority, responsibility, humility and dignity. Where is it that you learned what these words mean? What examples of these (good or bad) have you had in your life? What implications have those examples had for you? Also discuss what you know God says about these four areas. Do a word study 46
dr david mcdonald using a concordance to investigate what the Bible has to say (may have to use synonyms). Yep, you guessed it. Discuss the implications of what you read in Scripture, asking the Holy Spirit to guide and teach you as you discover God’s truth. do something for your church BROKEN SHARDS – COLLECTIVE REFLECTION As Jesus followers, every one of us is in the process of being transformed to better bear the image of God. We are like broken mirror shards reflecting His daily presence. When we come together as a body of believers, the reflection is greater and more full. We need each other to smooth broken edges and increase our abilities to rightly reflect God to the world. Consider your role in how the church bears God’s image. Do you support its mission in your speech, time investment, financial support? Do you invite others into the story so that they too may be changed and reflect God’s presence. If not, why? What is holding you back from being part of the collective reflection? Pray about it.
do something for your world A GROUP SHADOW RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE Choose a group of which you are a part…your family, small group, oﬃcemates, etc… Gather the group together and talk about how and what you can do to shadow God in your immediate environment. Try to think of tangible things that will impact the lives of people with whom you have regular interaction and contact. Choose one or two. Make a plan to put your idea(s) into action. And, of course, make it happen. Talk about your collective experience and the implications it is having upon your lives. 47
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the apparent magnitude of our ability to shadow God
what you need to shadow God If you were building a road that needed to travel 1,000 miles, what sorts of things would be important to you? The first (and most obvious) would be that the road was straight. After all, a five degree divergence from your intended course might not make a big diﬀerence over the course of, say, one mile (or maybe even 10); but, over the course of 100 miles (let alone 1,000) that five degree mistake would lead you quite a ways oﬀ course (requiring, then, another road to connect you to your original destination…that is, if you were brave enough to trust your road-building abilities any further). The section you’re about to read concerns the things you’ll need to learn to shadow God (think of these are competencies, or intelligences), and my own confession of how I’d gotten my bearings wrong. For my part I had mistaken assumptions about the diﬀerence between behavior and holiness, about prayer and what it means to be lead by the Spirit—not totally wrong assumptions, you understand, just goofy ones. It can be diﬃcult to acknowledge that you’re five degrees oﬀ course. No one likes to admit they’re even a little wrong. But that five degrees was becoming a bigger 50
dr david mcdonald and bigger problem the further I went in my journey with Christ. At first I felt like a 5-degree-fail was an acceptable margin, but then I came to the realization that the Pharisees must have felt the same way. I’ve got a certain compassion for the Pharisees. They weren’t all bad…just five degrees bad. They refused to change course when it became increasingly obvious that they were headed in a direction divergent from God. Ultimately, their refusal to course correct led to their demonization for the last two millennia. Don’t let the same thing happen to you. Shadowing God is boxing. You take a few blows now and then. I’ve taken my lumps with pride, and this section is designed to share my bruises with you. Christian spirituality in the Western world is five degrees oﬀ center. And if we don’t adopt a posture of humility – if we are unwilling to let the Spirit edit us, unwilling to change course in order to stay in step with God (our Person) – we’re no better than our religious ancestors. Submit yourself to the Spirit, invest yourself in the Biblical text, the more you endeavor to shadow God in the redemption of this world the more you’ll be confident that God is pulling you forward into a better version of your true self for his glory. This next section is broken into two sets of aptitudes: the contextual intelligences and the interior intelligences. The contextual intelligences are skills you will learn to hone in order to better understand God’s movement in the world around you. In interior intelligences are skills you will hone to better learn about the movement of the Spirit within. They are: 51
Shadowing God The contextual intelligence(s) of listening, of attentiveness, The interior intelligence(s) of self-awareness of conviction of discernment Learn them. Practice them. Share them. Cast a big shadow, sharp, clear, of Christ.
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more on the 5-degree fail I mentioned earlier that I feel like western Christianity is about five degrees oﬀ course, especially in regards to “being spiritual.” Many people 5-degree-fail when they treat spirituality as something to do. For example, many people “do” daily devotions, spending 30 minutes or so in prayer or Bible reading. There’s nothing wrong with prayer or Bible reading, but we ought to be careful that we think less of “doing” devotions than simply being devoted. Maybe that seems like I’m splitting hairs – it is, after all, only a 5-degreefailure – but the issue I’m trying to raise is more than just semantics. If we “do” devotions, what happens when we’re finished? In theory, we allow the time we’ve set aside for God to flavor the rest of our day or the day after or the remainder of the week or even the rest of our lives; but, in practice, I’ve found many people to complete their devotions and just live the way any normal, moral, citizen would live independent of God. We also “attend” worship, instead of worshipping with God always in attendance. 53
Shadowing God We go on missions “trips,” instead of understanding that our entire lives are made to be lived missionally. Again, I know it must seem like I’m being awfully picky here, but the diﬀerence between doing devotions and devoting your whole life to Christ or between attending worship and worshipping God in every activity, or between going on missions and treating every moment like an opportunity for service and healing is fantastically vast. When we compartmentalize spirituality we treat it like weight loss, personal fitness, or education. When we want to lose weight we change our diet, but those changes only aﬀect what and when we eat. When we want to be physically fit or sexually attractive we spend extra time at the gym or the beach, but there are only so many hours in the day and the changes we make to get the results we want only occupy a small percentage of our time. When we want to become more proficient at our jobs or more marketable in our field we participate in extra learning, but the changes we make to our portfolio or our C.V. only aﬀect us while we’re diligent. In all these areas – diet, fitness, learning – we must acknowledge that there is “time oﬀ ” from the changes we’ve made. 54
dr david mcdonald And we usually tend to take “time oﬀ ” from being spiritual. This is one of the reasons why I like the metaphor of shadowing God. You can’t take time oﬀ from God when he lives inside you. Everywhere you go, he’s there. Everything you do, he does. You can’t leave him alone, or at home, or hire a sitter for some peace and quiet. I’m not overstating the reality of this; in fact, this is the very reason why the Apostle Paul was so dead set against Christians visiting prostitutes—because whenever they went to the brothel, Jesus got dragged along with them (see 1 Corinthians 6.15). The first real step in acknowledging that every moment is devout, sacred, alive with spiritual possibility and missional ambition, is to change the way we speak about spirituality. Once we stop talking about spirituality as stuﬀ we do, and discipline ourselves to speak of our lives as though Christ were present in each moment, in each conversation, in each relationship, then we will find it much easier to acknowledge that he is not only present always but active always, always leading us, always guiding us, always coaching us on how to act, how to speak, how to behave, and how to act as his representative, his shadow, to the world around us. As such, I want to point out that the way we commonly think of prayer limits 55
Shadowing God our ability to perceive God’s voice. Again, there is nothing wrong with setting aside time for concentrated prayer in a private environment. Jesus did that, Daniel did that, Moses did that, and we too should do that. However, it is also true that we are to live in constant fellowship with the Lord, praying continuously (1 Thessalonians 5.17). That means that we’ve got to be constantly inviting the Spirit to speak to us, and we’ve got to be constantly listening for his voice in case he whispers, rather than shouts, his promptings and encouragements. There is no section on prayer, per se, in this book because everything we do is prayer. Every one of these intelligences – both exterior and interior – is a kind of prayer. Prayer is paying attention to God inside you. So rather than talk about how best to articulate yourself in conversation with God – something I’ve taught on elsewhere and, indeed, feels like everyone else has taught on quite competently – I want simply to talk about the kinds of prayer that never stop. These prayers, we live.
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listening Right now my kids are squabbling about something and – through the vents in the ceiling of my basement oﬃce – I can hear my wife calmly mediating. My HVAC is rumbling to my left and it sounds like a podracer engine throttling. I have a lamp that hums, and a water softener that trickles. I’m listening to David Lynch, Sparklehorse, and Danger Mouse’s brilliant collaborative record Dark Night of the Soul. My dog is panting. That all may sound a little hectic, but it’s par for the course. I’m sure if you stopped reading for just a moment – no matter where you are – and began to quickly catalogue the sound-scape around you there would be just as much going on. We all live in an orchestra pit, beneath a construction site, surrounded by geese. 57
Shadowing God Most of the time life is competing chaos. If my wife calls down to me, which she occasionally does, I likely will not hear her the first few times, which I occasionally don’t. Because there’s just so much ambient noise. Ambient noise makes it hard to listen, hard to hear, hard to pick one sound out from another. Which is what makes listening to God hard. And that’s a problem, because in the spiritual life we rarely are privileged to see God and easily walk behind him. Mostly, God calls us and we’re meant to follow his Word. It’s hard to follow the Word you can’t hear. This chapter is about learning to hear from God, so we can better shadow God. It’s about Listening – a competency we need to cultivate, an intelligence we need to acquire. In order for us to listen to God, it may be helpful just to cycle quickly through the many ways in which God speaks. Some of these ways are infrequent: such as speaking through a donkey (see Numbers 22), or with writing on the wall (see Daniel 5), or through a burning bush (see Exodus 3). Other ways in which God speaks are insuﬃcient wholly on their own, and need to be interpreted and authenticated: such as dreams (see Joel 2), visions (see Acts 2), 58
dr david mcdonald and prophecies (see 1 Corinthians 12 + 14). But there are four main ways that God speaks to us today: through scripture, through conscience, through others, and through the world around us. This section will focus on these four main ways, which isn’t to discount the others, simply that – in order to truly trust a vision or a dream or a supernatural occurrence – we must be conversant with these four ways of listening in order to protect ourselves from fraud or fancy.
listening to scripture What is the Bible to us? The Bible is sometimes referred to as “scripture.” The word scripture is a transliteration of a Greek word meaning “writing,” and comes from the Greek word for book. The Holy Bible means the holy book. The Bible is actually a library of 66 separate books (39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament). It is written in three languages (Greek, Hebrew, and a little in Aramaic) over a period of 1,000 plus years by over 40 authors in three continents. Authors of the Bible include kings, peasants, philosophers, fisherman, poets, statesmen, and scholars. Books of the Bible cover history, sermons, letters, songs, and love letters. It has geographical surveys, architectural specifications, travel diaries, population statistics, family trees, inventories, and numerous legal documents. The Bible covers hundreds of controversial subjects with amazing unity, is the best selling book of all time, and is now available in nearly 3,000 languages. At the root, the Bible is a metanarrative – the Grand Story of God and the World – concerning his good creation left in the care of his stewards who abdicated their responsibility and to whom he has personally returned 60
dr david mcdonald to set things right with them, with others, and with the whole of the created order. Reading, knowing, and understanding the Bible should not be reduced to some kind of requirement for good standing with God or the church. On the contrary, our relationship with scripture is more romance than rote – it actually makes a diﬀerence in our lives, teaching, correcting, and training us how God wants us to live (see 2 Timothy 3.16-17). The Bible is pure, true, flawless, perfect, eﬀective, precious, and powerful (Psalm 119.2). Nothing is to be taken from or added to it (see Deuteronomy 4.2), except (apparently) some maps. For everyone who claims to know and love Jesus, the Bible must be the standard against which we measure every impulse, decision, and desire. All eﬀorts to shadow God must begin with a sound understanding of scripture. The Bible presents to us God’s will, purposes, and designs for this world and anything that contradicts the clear teaching of scripture can be immediately identified as spiritually erroneous. How to read the Bible for all it’s worth First oﬀ, a warning: don’t read the Bible for information, read it for transformation. That is, don’t pick up the Bible and flip through it looking for an answer to life’s particulars – should I marry this person, should I accept this new position at work, should I go on this adventure, etc. – because in all likelihood one of three bad things will happen: 1. You will likely not find an answer to your particular problem in that moment and so you will despair of there being any answers, wisdom, or worth to be found in the scripture. 61
Shadowing God 2. You may find an answer, but it might not be a good answer. For example, you might find a scripture that seems to indicate you should marry this person instead of that person, only to discover later on that you don’t really love them and weren’t really ready for marriage. In that moment, the natural human tendency would be to blame the Bible and blame God instead of acknowledging that there was something misguided about how you came to that answer in the first place. 3. Finally, you may find an answer and it might be a good one, leading you to believe that any time you need such answers you should just open the scriptures and see what’s there which will – eventually, if not immediately – lead you back into either of the first two problems. I might remind us all at this point that the Bible is complex, written several thousand years ago by several dozen contributors under the inspiration of the Spirit; and, in order for us to find answers, we must take a more well-reasoned approach to looking for those answers--weighing in all the appropriate texts, reading commentary and studying context, etc. How, then, should we read the Bible? My favorite image for reading and studying the Bible comes from Columbia professor Walter Brueggemann, who suggests we treat the Bible as compost. In Brueggemann’s analogy we are asked to remember that the Bible is not the place of new spiritual insights. The Bible is thousands of years old and the canon of scripture has been “closed” for some time. Like a compost, the Bible is the repository of old growth, nutrients, and life. The best way for us to read the Bible is to mix it in to daily living by memorizing it, talking about it, telling the stories from within the scriptures to our children or our neighbors, paraphrasing, performing, and playing, 62
dr david mcdonald so that the life of the scriptures fertilizes our everyday lives in an ongoing manner. There are, incidentally, two kinds of composting: active and passive. Active composting, in which the conditions are more highly controlled, rapidly produces basic fertilizer. To continue our metaphor of the Bibleas-compost, when we memorize scripture (or spend time regularly reading scripture) we quickly gain a working knowledge of the Bible and a good understanding of who God is and what he’s like. Passive composting lets nature take its course in a more leisurely manner, but often produces richer fertilizer. In spiritual terms, the more we let scripture pop up in our everyday lives, especially in storied ways – like rehearsing episodes of Daniel oﬀ the top of our heads, or paraphrasing the parables of Jesus to friends over coﬀee, discussing what he really meant – the more saturated we become with the grand Story of God and the World. For my part, I like to tease out complex theological problems with people who aren’t Christians. That’s fun for me. Technically I suppose you could call that some form of evangelism, but I just think of it as a good way to whet their appetite for the Story of God, and to get fresh perspective on whatever the issue happens to be. I also like to tell my kids Bible stories, connecting the dots for them between the prophets and Jesus, or between diﬀerent Old Testament episodes that occur around the same time. It fires their imagination, and it helps anchor our home in the reality that we are part of this same story. For example, last night my daughter kept waking up with these horrible nightmares and so, finally, I climbed into bed with her and began to tell her a story. I felt nudged to tell her the story of one famous dreamer in the Bible, Daniel, and about his dreams in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar. I asked her if she had ever heard of Daniel and she had – knowing the story of the lion’s den by heart – and so 63
Shadowing God we prayed and sang and talked about the fact that the same God who controlled Daniel’s dreams was the same God who rescued Daniel from the lion’s den, and is also the same God to whom we now pray and believe that he is Lord over Anna’s dreams and will protect her like he protected Daniel. She laughed, snuggled, and fell fast asleep with no further interruptions from any monsters under the bed, glowing eyes in the woods, or creatures from the deep places of the earth. That’s what I mean by using the scripture as compost. Let it fertilize life. That, too, is how we shadow God. In that moment with my daughter, I knew, based on my understanding of the scripture, and my longevity as a Christ-follower, that what God wanted in that moment was to reintroduce himself to Anna in such a way so she would be aﬃrmed and grow, that she would have confidence that he is watching over her, and that her daddy is there bathing her with prayers, blessings, thanksgiving, and faith. God wanted to be there for Anna, and so I was there for Anna, reminding her of God – like a shadow. She can’t see Christ, but she can see Christ-in-me. Don’t treat the Bible like a recipe book, a manual, or a self-help guide. Don’t read it like homework, or a contract, or legislation. Do read the Bible like a Grand Story, like an epic, an adventure, a romance. Do treat it reverently, but play with it, sing it, perform it, and keep bringing it up in all those magical moments throughout each day when a little fertilizer is needed. Let the scriptures marinate you. Let them penetrate you. Let them weave in and out of your thoughts and conversations. Once the Bible becomes a constant source of nutrition in your life, you will find that shadowing God comes more naturally. You’ll know the kinds of things God wants, just as you’ll know the kinds of things God does. You will be able to 64
dr david mcdonald recognize godliness when you see it, just as you will be more willing to participate in godliness when youâ€™re needed.
listening to conscience God helps us discern right from wrong Deuteronomy 6.6-7 And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Jeremiah 31.33b I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Let’s be clear: when I refer to “conscience” in this section, I’m really referring to the interior voice of the Spirit. I’m referring to the part inside of us, sanctified and under the authority of God that speaks to us and reminds us of what we ought to do in order to better shadow God in the redemption of the world. We need to listen to that voice inside, the still, small voice of the Spirit. 66
dr david mcdonald In real life the times we need that voice most are times of moral ambiguity, relational uncertainty, stress, and pressure. We don’t need our conscience to tell us not to break the law or harm another person; we all know those things are wrong. We need our conscience to make decisions at work that aﬀect the lives of others. We need our conscience when we end a relationship (or try and repair one, for that matter). We need our conscience during times when the pressures of life compound us and a short cut tempts us with an easy – but ultimately regrettable – solution. We need our conscience when there is no clear answer in the Bible about what we should do, when our friends have no good advice (though that’s no guarantee they won’t oﬀer any), and when we feel like every option presents a lose-lose scenario. The more we give ourselves over to God, the more he transforms us, the easier it is to know what he wants from us and what he wants to do through us and in us. That doesn’t mean every decision will be easy, or neat and tidy, or even work out perfectly but it does mean that – when we give ourselves to him – we’ll find bravery, rest, and hope in the midst of life’s frustration. Perhaps an episode from my own life will serve to illustrate this point. When I first arrived from Canada to work at Westwinds I joined the leadership team, soon after to be called “Coriolis,” consisting of two great and courageous men: John Voelz and Randy Shafer. John was the Bruce Springsteen and Randy was Yoda. We formed a fast friendship, predominantly because the beginning of my tenure here was a rocky time for our church and the three of us had to stick together or we would have been in big trouble, fast. To give you a picture of the disarray, we had 19 staﬀ turnovers in the year before I got there and the first year I worked at the Winds. Without going into any detail, it’s safe to say the place was a mess. Only a year into our Coriolis work, Randy was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. His first leave of absence forced John and I to cover his responsibilities ourselves, which was hard, but we were willing to do so because we loved our friend and wanted the best for him. We believed he’d be back at work soon and so 67
Shadowing God we shouldered the load a while. When he came back, he was in good spirits; but it soon became apparent that we had some ideological diﬀerences. We started hashing these out amongst the three of us…but then Randy’s cancer returned and we had to put those conversations on hold. This leave of absence was a lot longer. Randy encouraged us to cut him loose and free up his salary – times are always tough in the Michigan economy – but we wouldn’t hear of it. We paid him through his illness. But then times got really, really tough and we had to lay oﬀ five of our 12 staﬀ people at Westwinds: Nate, Joe, Cory, Crissie, and Dave. When John and I made that decision after an Elder meeting, we both went into the auditorium and sobbed. I don’t think I’ve cried like that before. I loved these people, they were my friends, and it felt so sick to take their jobs away…especially after all we’d been through together. These were the good ones – the staﬀ who made it through the troubles, the ones who’d journeyed with us into better times at Westwinds – and the only gift we gave them was a pink slip. It was awful. We knew it was the right thing to do. We felt God strengthening us to do it. We felt his presence in and around us as we told them. They all saw it coming. But it was a giant kick in the balls, and I was so mad. I was mad at myself for not being able to fix the finances earlier. 68
dr david mcdonald I was mad at myself for not being able to generate more revenue. I was mad at myself for not demanding a higher level of financial commitment from our people. I was mad at myself for paying Randy while being unable to pay the others even though they were working while he was not; and then I was doubly mad at myself for being so base as to think that doing anything other than what we did with Randy would have been acceptable at all to God or to ourselves. I was mad at all the people who gave nothing to their churches. I was mad at all the people who gave nothing to Westwinds because they thought giving money to a church is a waste. They could, after all, be giving to a charity… though they often don’t. I was mad at all our wealthy college kids who gave nothing because they felt poor but always had new iphones. I was mad in every direction. Thankfully, we got through that season. All five of our friends and former coworkers stayed at Westwinds with their families. All five of them volunteer within the church. All five of them remain our friends, and we love them. I can’t help but compare their departures with the departures of the staﬀ that left during my first year. Most of the first group was angry, stayed angry, and we no longer have any fellowship with them – those bridges have been burned and reconciliation has been rejected. The other group – Dave, Nate, Cory, Joe, and Crissie – was angry, worked through it, and are loving and serving Jesus with new verve, new maturity, and new jobs. Randy came back to work the following year but didn’t stay for long. That was his last stint as part of Coriolis. For the next year or so he engaged God through his illness. He received great care at the University of Michigan hospital – including 69
Shadowing God some encouraging drug trials – but the cancer never left him. He finally forced the financial issue with John and I and told us we were being irresponsible to God and to Westwinds by continuing to pay him. We needed him to say that. God had been saying that to us for some time, but we needed to hear it in English from Randy in order to be able to look ourselves in the mirror. We brokered a two-year deal in which we agreed to look after him and his family on a decreasing scale. He died in the middle. I’m thankful that I got to spend a lot of time with him in his last months. Our friendship ended with both of us longing for the next adventure. He made me promise I would tell people about what it means to be a shadow of God at his funeral, and I did. I’m telling you about all of this because I never knew what was coming next, I only knew I had to stay with God. I had to follow him. I had to stick to the shadow in order to survive. Life is painful, and confusing, and sometimes we’re unsure about what to do. But you can trust the Spirit. You can listen to the voice inside of you, reminding you that – yes – there are hard times, but you can be brave – 70
dr david mcdonald yes – there are trials, but you will endure – yes – there is pain and loss, but eternity waits in the wings – yes – people will get angry and you will get hurt, but there’s enough grace to go around. With all our reading of the scriptures about God writing his law upon our hearts it’s easy to forget that the law in question is not the law of do, and do not, but be strong and courageous…do not be afraid...do not be discouraged, for God is with you wherever you go.
God is constantly conforming our thoughts to his Romans 12.2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. It’s diﬃcult to change your behavior. It’s not easy to clean up your language. It’s almost impossible to clean up your thoughts. In high school I was something of a bully. I certainly didn’t think of myself that way – I never beat anybody up or stole lunch money – but I was quick witted and said many hurtful and embarrassing things for a cheap laugh and a wink. At some point it became clear to me that my propensity for mockery was incompatible with the Christian life. I realized that making fun of others, while fun, was not quite what Christ had in mind. It hurts them, it robs them of their dignity, and it always leaves the scoﬀer (myself, in these cases) looking for the next jab, or retort, or one-up. You don’t get any rest when you’re itching for cheap shots. 71
Shadowing God So I began to try not to make fun of others. That was tough. It still is. I like to be teased, and I still tease my close friends, but I decided to draw a line. For the most part, I just found myself talking less and less because I couldn’t – at first – think of anything to say. Then I found myself making fun of movies or TV shows or whatever; but try as I might, it felt impossible to turn oﬀ the inner mockery monologue. No matter what I did on the outside, I just kept making fun of people on the inside. I knew this wasn’t much better than before. Through prayer, I recognized two important things: first, that the reason I was mocking other people was because I was judging them – they simply weren’t up to my standards; second, I was judging people based on the values and virtues of Hollywood and the paparazzi. Those were painful realizations. I was judgmental and corrupted by the world. I began to wage real war against my thoughts – taking every stray and mocking thought captive (see 2 Corinthians 10.5). Every time I had a cruel thought flow through my mind I would stop myself mid-mind and think: no! I am not going to think this way. It took me a long time to win that war, and there have been plenty of similar skirmishes since. The interesting part about that, though, is that the Spirit was working in me in four directions in order to help me better shadow God. First, it was the Spirit convicting me of my inappropriate and dignityrobbing behavior. Second, it was the Spirit coaching me on appropriate behavior, modeled upon the teachings of the scripture. Third, it was the Spirit giving me strength to catch my thoughts mid-mind and change them. 72
dr david mcdonald Fourth, it was the Spirit replacing my old, cruel thoughts with new thoughts about how to heal my relationships. The Spirit spoke to me about how I was speaking, and coached me to speak diﬀerently, and ennobled me to think diﬀerently, and rewarded me with new attitudes. This, by the way, is almost always how things work when we choose to listen to the Spirit. It’s not so much a question of the Spirit saying: do this, or do that. It’s much more a recognition that our whole lives need to change in such-and-such a way. We often fail to listen to the Spirit because we think he only cares about what we happen to be concerned with right then and there. In reality, the Spirit is working in us to change who we are completely. C.S. Lewis had an interesting take on all this. In his book Mere Christianity he writes of the multiplicity of the Spirit’s work, saying: Do not be so worried or surprised if you find the Holy Spirit rather vague or more shadowy in your mind than Christ or his Father…If you think of the Father as someone out there in front of you and the Son as someone standing at your side helping you to pray trying to turn you into another son (sort of into his image), then you have to think of the third person as something inside you or maybe behind you. The Spirit is behind every transformation. When we shadow God, it is the Spirit telling us where to stand, and what to do, and how to be. When we listen to God’s voice, it is the Spirit that nudges and massages us in the right direction. 73
Shadowing God When wrong judgments and attitudes and postures in our lives become apparent it is because the Spirit reveals them to us, and we begin to listen to his voice coaching us and telling us to be diďŹ€erent. In the midst of that transformational process it is the Spirit that encourages us and bolsters our flagging resolve so that we can, in fact, change the way we think just as we change the way we speak, just as we change the way we live.
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listening to God through others Proverbs 19.20-21 Listen to counsel and receive instruction, That you may be wise in your latter days. There are many plans in a manâ€™s heart, Nevertheless the Lordâ€™s counselâ€”that will stand. When I was a few years into my career I got invited to be in a fairly well-known worship band as their new drummer. Everyone who loved me told me not to do it. My Dad told me it would interfere with my job, but I disregarded his advice because he was my boss, and I thought he was acting selfishly. My wife told me not to do it because it would cut into our family time (our son had just been born), but I ignored her because I was sure she was being controlled by her fears instead of by faith. My friends told me not to do it because it felt weird. I was a little older 75
Shadowing God now and in a diﬀerent life-stage than the tour-for-girls-and-Jesus party stage, but I ignored my friends because I thought they had all given in to suburban middle-class malaise. Eventually, the band had to tell me not to do it. That was tough. I had never been kicked out of a band before. They told me my attitude was bad– because I would get cranky when practice would go late, knowing I had to get up for work the next day. They told me I was distracted– because I wanted to be home with my kid. They told me I was trying too hard– because I was aware that I was not a hot rockstar and tried to compensate by being brash. So I got fired. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that God was speaking to me through my Dad, my wife, and my friends. But I didn’t listen, and as a result I was embarrassed and made to feel stupid. In our culture we have romanticized the idea that we can cut against the grain, ignore the collective opinion of others, and take great risks – inviting great daring – because if we succeed we’ll be considered unstoppable, legendary, and great. We think that if we go against unbeatable odds and beat them then we will be heroes. More often than not, however, we go up against unbeatable odds and are beaten. The realization that we are not the hero we had the potential to become is often 76
dr david mcdonald shaming, and our failures sour us despite the fact that we had no sane expectation of victory. Lured by the idea of a victory over impossible odds, we often make foolish mistakes that hurt ourselves, hurt others, and hurt our own credibility. For example, there are many small businesses that start up in our town. Most of these small, independent businesses have no start-up capital, no real business plan, no prepared market, and no advertising strategy. Having spoken to a few of the business owners in their early days, I am always surprised when I hear the same thing: the odds are stacked against us, but who knows! Maybe we’ll be a huge success. Who knows? Everyone knows. It may sound like I’m being harsh, but the truth is that starting a business is an enormous financial hazard that places your family at risk and, in our case, does a lot of damage to a small community. I wish it were just one or two cases but everything from coﬀee shops, to hookah bars, to cupcake and teddy-bear factories and, most famously, the Speedy Burrito, have blown in and blown up in our town, usually within three months. Whenever I hear about another small business going belly-up I always think about my experience with that worship band and wonder: did their Dad tell them this was a bad idea? Did they get any cautions from their wives? Their friends? Why is it so hard for us to listen? One great truth, often overlooked, about Christian spirituality is that God honors the mundane and the ordinary over and above the spectacular and supernatural. God speaks to us through our friends and families – the people who love us – and 77
Shadowing God through them shows us how to live well in the world. Proverbs 1.8 My son, listen to your father’s instruction. Proverbs 23.22 Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. Proverbs 17.17 A friend loves at all times. Proverbs 27.6 A friend means well, even when he hurts you. But when an enemy puts his hand round your shoulder–watch out! If you want to get married and you ask the people that love you if this gal is the one for you, and they all say no that’s more than just majority opinion. The people that love you – selflessly, without any hint of possession, jealousy, or ill will – speak with God’s voice when they speak to your good. Meaning, when the people who love you say she’s not the right gal, then she’s not the right gal (unless, of course, you’ve already married her, in which case she has now become the right gal, and your friends and family need to get on board fast). We have a fundamental mistrust of family in our society, but we forget that God gave us our families and, even though they are all flawed, by and large we ought to at least take their opinions into consideration. Mary, after all taught Jesus; just as Elizabeth and Zechariah taught John. Abraham taught Isaac some tough lessons, just as Jacob learned a few things the hard way from his father. 78
dr david mcdonald I began by telling you about a time I didn’t listen to the wise counsel around me, sent by God to warn me. Other times, though, I’ve been smarter, and it’s paid oﬀ. When I shared with my friends and family that I thought I might do a doctoral degree they all applauded my ambition and supported me through the process. When we decided to move stateside to pastor Westwinds, all our friends and family recognized that this was God’s next arena in which to grow Carmel and I into the people he wants us to become. In these instances, I listened to the people who love me. Had they told me to stay away from the doctoral program, I would have. Had they told me not to move to Michigan, I would have gone somewhere else. Because I recognize that God speaks to me through them. You can trust the people that love you. When they are wholly devoted to God, living in their identity as shadows of God, fertilized by the scriptures, and committed to your wellbeing and to the mission of God to heal the world, you can trust them. God speaks through them. Listen.
listening to God through the world Psalm 19.1-4 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Galatians 5.25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Just as God speaks to us through the Bible, and through others, and through the voice of the Spirit inside us, God also speaks to us through nature, through culture, and through media. I donâ€™t mean that he talks to us through trees and TVs, I mean that there are times when we notice something diďŹ€erent about the world around us, and as we notice that quality, that gesture, or that trend, the Spirit quickens inside of us and leads us to some conclusion, or inspires some thought, or reveals some new truth in a new way about how to shadow God. 80
dr david mcdonald For example, in the 1990s I used to love watching the X-Files. Every Sunday night I would get together with my two brothers at my parents house, and we would all eat pizza and watch Mulder and Scully try and catch the boogey man. It was while watching the X-files that I realized something, something I later recognized as God speaking to me. I realized that the Enlightenment was over. The Enlightenment was the period of human history most in love with logic, science, and human ingenuity. It was also the time during which the supernatural and the immaterial were considered highly suspect. Great thinkers of the Enlightenment looked for ways to disprove our childish beliefs in Christian spirituality. Even our cartoons had an element to them of de-bunking the mystical– Scooby Doo, for example, was a cartoon I grew up on in which every single horror or monster was exposed as a fraud in a suit, which even a St. Bernard could identify as an imposter. But with the X-files, I knew this era of skepticism was over. Everything in the show was treated as though it were real: UFOs, telekinesis, ESP, ghosts, etc. In Chris Carter’s world of spooks catching spooks, we had mistakenly dismissed the supernatural and would pay a price for our pride. It was during the X-files that I realized there were new possibilities for talking about the supernatural elements of Christian spirituality without shame or embarrassment. The world was open once more. As I write this I want to underscore that the manner in which I felt God speaking to me through the X-files was not audible, nor did I slip into some kind of trance that would have fit nicely into one of the episodes of the show, nor did I have some kind of vision. On the contrary, it was simply while watching the show that an impression began to form and take shape, until one day something caught within my spirit. I noticed this trend in a new way and the manner in which I noticed it was qualitatively diﬀerent than the manner in which I notice things like my wife’s hair style or my friend’s new jeep. There was something about this observation that felt like the Spirit. 81
Shadowing God That is what I’m talking about when I refer to the way God speaks to us through media. I’ve had similar experiences while standing at the top of Whistler Mountain in Vancouver, or Table Mountain in Cape Town, appreciating the artistry of our Creator. I’ve had similar quickenings while reading books like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or The Curse of Chalion or The Children of Hurin. God speaks in all manner of ways, and if we’re listening closely enough, we can hear him give us hints, tips, and clues about how to shadow him in the redemption of the world. Jeremiah 22.21a I spoke to you in your prosperity, but you did not hear. All truth is God’s truth, regardless of where it is found. Oswald Chambers, 20th C Protestant Minister There is vast scriptural support for what I’m talking about here – often cited as the Argument from Creation (usually used as proof of God’s existence); but, rather than just citing one or two verses in support of my claims, I’d rather lay a solid theological foundation for why I believe the whole world serves as a witness and a microphone for the voice of the divine. Romans 1.20 Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. In Genesis 1, when we closely scrutinize the language of the creation poem, we come to a startling conclusion: the earth is described architecturally; meaning, God is creating a building. 82
dr david mcdonald A building was a fairly typical, metaphorical description of our world in the Hebrew scriptures (see Job 9.6; Psalm 75.3; 1 Samuel 2.8). In fact, the ancient world often understood the earth as having a roof (or “firmament”), resting on pillars, and founded securely on primeval waters. So the fact that Genesis 1 describes the planet as a work of architecture isn’t immediately mind-blowing. Few, however, have stopped to ask: what kind of building is God making? The answer? A temple. God made this world as his Holy Temple. Psalm 24.1 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; Consider the term “Spirit of God” (ruah elohim). It makes one of its few appearances in the story of Bezalel, the master crasftman who build the tabernacle (see Exodus 31). It was said that Bezalel was filled with the Spirit of God and gained wisdom and skill to build a tabernacle par excellence. The same language is used to describe Bezalel’s creation in the tabernacle as God’s creation of the world. The same God who built the earth empowers his people to build things on and in it. In the ancient world, the temple was a sacred landscape. People thought of temples in much holier terms than we think of churches or cathedrals. In the ancient world, they thought of temples as the houses of the gods. To be in a temple meant you were in the presence of a deity. God made the entire world his temple, designed to testify at all times and to all 83
Shadowing God manner of creatures that they were, and are, and always will be in the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Hosts. This is why I think creation speaks with God’s voice. He made the world as a billboard, an advertisement for grandeur, and a terrarium for the hallowed. The world shadows God, just as we do – and when we speak about the world, we are not just limited to the natural world, but also the things that human beings have created within the world. Just like no temple in the ancient world was complete without an idol, our world was not complete until God put us – literally his “idols” – into this world as his representatives. From the very beginning God’s design was that you and I would shadow him in this world. We are to imitate him, to do his work of loving care in and for this world. Revelation 1.6 [ Jesus Christ] has made us kings and priests unto God, his Father. He has delegated a share of his Presence to us, inviting us to steward and rule this world (see Genesis 1.28). By “rule” though, he doesn’t mean dominate, control, or conquer. Instead, “rule” is a word used for royal artistry. We are called to integrate wisdom and beauty into our dominion of this world. Furthermore, as we are called to “fill the earth and subdue it” we must acknowledge that our rule has certain requirements. We are to develop the world. We are to help transform the world. God has required us, his priests and idols, to model ourselves after him to lead in love, to develop with wisdom, and to bring beauty out of chaos. 84
dr david mcdonald When we are committed to listening to God, even to the voice of God uttered by the world around us, we hear him teaching us through nature, through media, and through culture about how to be better shadows.
attentiveness We are what we do with our attention. John Ciardi, 20th C American Poet Every bush is burning. Len Sweet, 20th C Futurist and Theologian God is always leading and guiding us, but for the most part we’re like little kids at the mall…oblivious to the guiding hand of our parents, distracted by the pretty things in the store windows, and unaware that we are watched over and cared for against evil. We need to wake up to the fact that God is active around us, just as he’s active within us, at all times, in all manner of ways. We need to pay attention to the Spirit, so we don’t miss out on what he’s doing and who he wants us to become. We need to pay attention so we don’t stray from the light of Christ, allowing our shadows to falter. 86
dr david mcdonald We are what we do with our attention. Our spiritual life is comprised of attentiveness. You may be religious because of what you know, but you are only spiritual because of who you listen to. And – in this world of remarkable information and media – it can be so hard to pay attention to anything. But we must. Pay attention to God, who is calling you to live diﬀerently than you are now. Pay attention to the nudges and nuances, the shifts and shades of his Spirit as he leads you into a better life– a more adventurous, fuller, richer existence. Because – if you want to have real meaning in this life – you’ve got to discover who you really are. You have to recover your true self– as a shadow of God, designed to go where he goes and move when he moves. And the only way to do that is to listen, to pay attention, to devote yourself to the hospitality of the Spirit. For myself, I find real worth in asking two simple questions: what is God doing, and how can I help? These two questions allow me to boil all my koo-koo-ku-choo-ness down into ordinary life. They make my craziness manageable. So when I feel like I’m doing a miserable job of shadowing God, like I have no clue what it really means to be a Christian 87
Shadowing God I stop,
take stock, look around, and ask myself questions like: Where do I sense God’s Spirit at work? What things do I see that pleases God? Who is making those things happen? How? In what ways can I emulate that? In what (other) ways is God showing me how to live in pleasing ways before Him?
And then I ask myself really, really basic questions like: How can I help this person who looks lost, or hurting, or in need, or looks like they’re about to do something stupid and irreversible out of desperation? A major problem we all have is that – instead of slowing down a bit and asking these questions – we just live like there’s nothing going on around us. We’re too busy to pay attention. Busyness is the enemy. When we are busy, we drag God along with us on our errands and tell him to hush up while we pick up the dry cleaning or bag the groceries. 88
dr david mcdonald We get ahead of God, instead of shadowing him. We escape. We go out on our own, making up our own minds about everything, trying to force some things to happen by our own initiative, our own will, our own light. We treat God like he’s Peter Pan and we get to stay in the bedroom with Wendy. We’re the shadow, we’re supposed to remain together, but like Peter Pan’s shadow we get distracted and find ourselves frequently away from God. We need to actively engage the Spirit in each moment, instead of resorting to auto-pilot. We need to pay attention. Prayer is paying attention. Praying is listening, listening to God speaking to us now. Prayer is not getting God to pay attention, but learning to pay attention ourselves to what God is doing. We need to learn to pay attention in two ways: we need to pay attention to nudges, we need to pay attention to discoveries. As we pay more attention to the Spirit – in more ways and in more places – we will more quickly learn what it means to shadow God, and heal the world.
pay attention to nudges Isaiah 30.21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying: this is the way; walk in it. Habakkuk 2.1 I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to meâ€Ś Learning to shadow God requires us to learn to pay attention to our surroundings. We need contextual intelligence. I find that most of the time God speaks to me through nudges, or promptings. Theyâ€™re little ideas that pop into my head about something I might say or do, a sortof gentle pushing to step outside my comfort zone or regular sphere of influence. I have learned to understand the prompting of the Spirit, typically, as a sense of direction or a strong conviction that I ought to act in this way or not this way. These nudges always make me think of the story of Elijah, who heard God speak to him in a gentle whisper. 90
dr david mcdonald 1 Kings 19.11-12 The Lord said: Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. The spiritual nudges and promptings we experience are much like that gentle whisper. They are subtle, not overbearing, and it is only through experience that we come to diﬀerentiate between the nudges of the Spirit and our natural inclination to do whatever it is we would normally do. Recently I made my first trip to India. I was going to visit some of the missionaries and pastors we support there, to see their ministries first hand, to teach, and to provide some encouragement. On the long ride over, as I was flirting with sleep in crunched-up coach, I felt God prompting me to pray. After ordering coﬀee and bringing down my folding table (I like to lean my elbows on something while praying), I began to explore what the Spirit was saying to me. I had a strong impression that God was urging me to treat my time in India as a sort of experiment. He was urging me to follow through on every single nudge, or prompting, that I felt during my time away. Normally, I try to be sensitive to those little prompts – just like I was sensitive to the Spirit when I wanted to sleep on the plane, but was stirred into prayer instead – but I felt like this prompting was a little diﬀerent. God was telling me not to second-guess those spiritual nudges so much, but just to obey quickly. You know what I mean by second-guess, right?
Shadowing God Is this really God? Or have I just had too much coﬀee? Should I really do what I feel like I should do? Or will that be too weird? Am I really supposed to say that to this person? Or is this my imagination? Is this some kind of a Jesus-fantasy? God told me not to stress out about all that stuﬀ – he wasn’t going to prompt me to hurt anybody – and he reminded me that the risk of foolishness is considerably diminished when you’re in a place far from home. I began to meditate on the following scripture: Matthew 7.9-11 Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! The more I thought about this piece of the Bible, the more God worked on my heart—not just that I should be obedient about these promptings in India, but that I should be more obedient to these promptings all the time. Really, what did I have to lose? I’ve been thinking about this issue ever since. All through my sabbatical, during all our parties and events, even while writing I considered it. Being attentive to these nudges and promptings of the Spirit is one of the main ways in which we learn to shadow God, because we learn to do things we wouldn’t otherwise have the insight, courage, or intention to do without God. 92
dr david mcdonald My trip to India was not only the beginning of my thoughts on the significance of these promptings, but also a generous proof that this kind of attentiveness can be very powerful. I was good to my word and followed every nudge, every nuance, for the duration of my trip, and, as a result, had some profound experiences. One evening, after I had been teaching and praying for throngs of villagers, our host scooted me away to a waiting taxi so I could get some rest. It was well after midnight, and I was exhausted, but the cab driver – a devout Hindu whose name I couldn’t pronounce, but aﬀectionately called “Cabbie” – handed me two cell phones and asked me to pray. His wife, a Muslim, was on the first phone and needed healing. His mother was on the second phone and wanted to listen in to a healing prayer on speaker. At any other time, I think I would have graciously found a way to put Cabbie (and his wife and mother) oﬀ until the following morning. I knew I would see him again – plus I was sick and dehydrated and neither woman spoke any English – and I knew there were plenty of opportunities for prayer in the days to come. After all, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, so a prayer tomorrow would’ve been just as likely to benefit them as a prayer that day. But I felt the Spirit nudging me, and so I began to pray. While praying, the throngs – I’m using this word intentionally – from the earlier meeting began to gather around the tiny cab and shake it. In their desire to receive prayer, they were climbing on the hood and pulling open the windows with their fingers, wedging them into the small cracks at the top and yanking backwards. Cabbie began to yell at them, but again, because of a nudge, I calmed him down and began to pray for the people by stretching my hands out of the window. Then our host began sneaking people into the backseat two-by-part in order for me to lay hands on them and anoint them for ministry. To recap: I was holding a cell phone to my ear with my shoulder, while another cell lay on the dashboard eavesdropping, while one hand was stretched 93
Shadowing God outside the window of the jostling cab, while the other hand swapped back and forth over the heads of four diďŹ€erent groups of would-be-clergical pairs, and all that happened after I had already spent nearly four hours teaching and praying for people outdoors in a village with no running water in nearly 120 degree heat. There are many reasons I am thankful for being so attentive to the Spirit, but none come close to my gratitude for simply being able to be a part of that experience in the taxi. I felt like I was one of the apostles, like the episode came straight from the book of Acts; and I know that several people, including Cabbie, came to faith in Christ because of it. God speaks to us through these nudges, but we must be attentive in order to perceive them. It takes practice to know if and when the promptings we perceive are really from God, but once we get dialed-in, so to speak, acting on these nudges and promptings becomes a massive resource for shadowing God and healing the world. Hebrews 12.25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. John 10.27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 94
dr david mcdonald Romans 8.14 â€Śthose who are led by the Spirit are sons of God.
pay attention to discoveries Psalm 48.14 For this God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end. Isaiah 42.16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. John 14.16-17 I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of Truth…you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. As you more faithfully shadow God, you will likely find yourself in a season of discovery. God teaches us to see the world diﬀerently, and we recognize that the situations 96
dr david mcdonald in which we find ourselves are there to direct us, change us, and help us grow spiritually ( James 1.2-5; Hebrews 12.5-11). Some of these are positive experiences – like new friendships, or business ventures, or missional initiatives – and some of these are diﬃcult experiences, like the loss of a loved on, or the pain of separation, or persecution of some variety. Regardless, when we have the mindset that we are here to shadow God and heal the world, we are able to perceive these situations as divinely inspired, sent by God to stretch and grow us into more faithful shadows. There are two kinds of discovery I’m interested in: opportunity & nuance. Opportunities are those situations in which your skills, or insight, or simply your presence are of value to God, to others, or possibly even to yourself. Nuance consists of recognizing the diﬀerence between things, like noticing that something you previously thought was one thing is actually two things closely joined. Opportunities usually come and go since they are events– but nuances are things we tend to observe over time, and those observations stick with us. In both cases, we recognize that we have discovered something because we have been attentive to the Spirit. God has brought something to our attention, and because we have been inviting the Spirit to help us shadow God, we find that there is some new adventure, some new episode, upon which we get to embark. 97
Shadowing God One observational discovery I made came courtesy of a very courageous group of believers. The thing that most surprised me about the Christians in India was their ability to recognize opportunity, even in the midst of pain. Because the dominant Hindu culture is so aggressive, many modern-day Christians suﬀer violently at the hands of their countrymen; but their faith is so strong and their trust in God is so great that they suﬀer willingly because they know they suﬀer for the cause of Christ. In fact, every single Christian I met while in India has suﬀered some form of persecution, to the degree that the word “persecution” has become a part of their speech. Yesterday I received much persecution in front of my church. I have been persecuted many times, once I almost died but Christ spared me. There are many persecutions on Bhutan border. My brother is persecuted almost every week. One woman had her hands chopped oﬀ at the wrist by her Muslim husband when she confessed she had converted to Christianity; one boy was beaten so badly his palette was irreparably damaged; another young woman was chased by her father, run over by his truck, and lost her leg as a result. Persecutions abound. But the truly remarkable feature of these persecutions was not the pain and suﬀering, but the love and the confidence in Christ that have manifested in the hearts and lives of these Christian people as a result. My friend, Pastor Lal, threw himself in front of an angry mob in order to protect another American missionary who was being beaten by the local militia. Lal, miraculously, survived but came home covered in blood and bruises. When I asked him how he did it, he looked at me – bewildered – and simply quoted the scriptures: 98
dr david mcdonald 1 Peter 4.16 Yet if anyone suﬀers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. Romans 8.36 For your sake we are killed all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. 1 Peter 2.21 Christ suﬀered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps. Turns out, in India, they actually believe what’s written in the Bible. Lal understands that there are opportunities everywhere for us to shadow God, even if that means shadowing God in suﬀering so that the evil within the world can be named, exposed, and exhausted. For Lal, the threat of violence is not accompanied by anxiety or fear – he’s been through several beatings – but he understands that, through the experiences, he has been refined “as though by fire” (see 1 Peter 1.7). Of course, not all the opportunities we perceive because of the Spirit will be negative. On the contrary, sometimes the opportunities we notice will be spectacularly fun – like when my wife and her friends began a ministry for single moms in our community, giving massages and oil changes on Mother’s Day; or when my friend John began making wine and donating the proceeds so underprivileged children could attend art classes; or my friend Steve began working to dig wells in Africa and provide clean water to villagers. 99
Shadowing God The point is not so much about what the opportunities look like, the point is simply that once we start paying better attention to the Spirit opportunities to shadow God and heal the world flourish. Similarly, the nuances we begin to discover while shadowing God could be of any variety. We might notice the diﬀerence between flavors or seasons of prayer, the diﬀerence between wants and needs, the diﬀerence between a biblically-centered faith and a sloppy pop-Christian faith, or the diﬀerence between loving Jesus and being caught up in religion. Again, the nuances themselves are useful and instructive, but the important thing we’re trying to get at here is that the more you pay attention to the Spirit the more nuances you will begin to notice. Noticing these, and acting on them – guarding your emotions and your thoughts – will keep you open and receptive to the Spirit and allow you to more faithfully shadow God. One of the nuances I picked up on a few years ago was the subtle diﬀerence between being a pastor and being a spiritual guide. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t to suggest that most pastors are somehow unspiritual or unconcerned with transformation – just that there is an awful lot of management, leadership, business, and administration that goes along with preaching sermons and developing people. For myself, it was an important nuance to recognize that what I want to do is help people – normal, ordinary, everyday people – follow God inside them. I want to help people rediscover what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God. I want the amateurs to run the show. Another little discovery I made concerns the diﬀerence between giving advice and being a good counselor. People often think of me as a good listener – which is great, I work hard at that – but that doesn’t mean I’m a good counselor. In fact, 100
dr david mcdonald I’m a terrible counselor, not because I give bad advice, but simply because I give too much advice. Instead of helping other people hear from the Spirit on their own (which, again, is what I’m devoting myself to), I often hear from the Spirit for them faster than they do and then get mad at them when they don’t obey the Spirit (or me) right away and smarten up. But because I say all of this to them so gently, and with such charm and grace (you’re picking up on the sarcasm here, right?), instead of being angry with me for overstepping my boundaries, people just keep wanting to come for more counseling which naturally devolves into me just telling them what a mess their lives are and how to fix them…STAT. One final example of the nuances I’ve picked up over the years concerns praying for others. In the earlier days of my ministry I used to love praying with people, even strangers, because of the shared excitement that came from knowing God was paying attention to us. Over time, though, that excitement diminished. I began to feel a pressure from people, especially when they would say things like pray for me pastor, and this pressure came from the implicit expectation that if whatever the thing they wanted was didn’t occur it could be blamed on the ineﬀectual prayers of their minister. I know that to most people this probably seems a little neurotic, but it’s a common feeling among men-of-the-cloth. Sometimes, not always, but enough, people are just looking for someone holy to cast a spell and say the magic words so their dreams come true; and if those dreams don’t come true, then there may just be hell to pay. At any rate, I began to really dread praying for people because I couldn’t cope with the possibility that their prayers might not be answered. I kept imagining their ire when they would come back and demand that I pray harder–or worse, their melancholy when they shared the failure of prayer. But then God spoke to me and reminded me that prayer is really his gig, not mine, that the person praying matters a lot less than the Person to whom the prayers are directed, 101
Shadowing God that he matters in the prayer-equation far more than I do. I am just the excuse for prayer. I provide the occasion. And because of this realization, I am now free to look upon prayer as a gift. When someone asks me to pray with them I gladly do so, and together we approach God and ask for his peace, for his intervention, and for grace. It’s a beautiful thing, but a beauty I can only appreciate because I paid attention to the Spirit and became aware of the nuance between prayer-as-a-magic-spell and prayer-as-a-gift. You will discover all kinds of nuances, too, the more attentive you are to the Spirit, and you will make discoveries and observations about the world that are God’s unique gift to only you. You will find yourself shadowing God in new ways, maneuvering through life’s challenges with new insights born of nuance and subtlety.
dr david mcdonald
conviction Conviction of sin is one of the rarest things that ever strikes a man. It is the threshold of an understanding of God. Jesus Christ said that when the Holy Spirit came He would convict of sin, and when the Holy Spirit rouses the conscience and brings him into the presence of God, it is not his relationship with men that bothers him, but his relationship with God. Oswald Chambers, 20th C Protestant Minister In our backyard we have an electric fence dug into the ground for our Bernese Mountain Dog. It’s attached to a device on the collar he wears, and if he ever crosses the threshold of the fence, the device vibrates on his neck. He hates that. It doesn’t hurt him – we were pretty careful to buy something humane – but it does agitate him, so Flash is eager to stay within the boundary markers. Of course, the boundary markers are invisible, so the dog would have no way of knowing he’s getting close to the fence were it not for the warning beep emitted by the device on his collar. The closer the dog gets to the boundaries of the fence, the more the device begins to beep a warning. When the dog is warned, he backs away from the boundary marker because he doesn’t like what happens when he crosses the line. 103
Shadowing God In many ways the conviction of the Holy Spirit is like the warning beep on that device – the Spirit speaks to us, reminding us of who we are and what we’re supposed to do in this world to shadow God. If we disregard the Spirit, we inevitably end up with results we don’t like. He doesn’t zap us or shock us or hurt us, but the consequences of crossing God’s boundary lines are always unpleasant and include things like broken relationships, broken dreams, and broken hearts. When we refer to the conviction of the Holy Spirit we are referring to that animating energy inside of us – the Spirit – that tells us when we are acting against our nature as shadows of God. It is this conviction that tells us when we sin, either by not doing the good things we ought to do (the sin of omission) or by doing the ill things we ought not to do (the sin of commission). Learning to shadow God requires us to be obedient to the conviction of the Spirit so that we are less who we used to be (because we rid ourselves of our sinful behaviors) and more who God has always been calling us to be (because we practice righteousness). It is that voice inside that says: Wait! I am doing something wrong. I cannot continue to live this way. There are two orientations of the Spirit’s conviction: the first is for salvation, the second is for transformation. In the first case I am referring to the conviction that comes to us while we are still separated from God. The Spirit comes to us and reminds us of who we truly are, beings like God, and the life to which we were called as his shadows. The Spirit convicts us of the distance between us and God, calling us to a place of repentance for our sins and acceptance of the free gift of God’s grace. 104
dr david mcdonald In the second case I am referring to the conviction that persists after we have been reunited with Christ. Despite being aligned with Christ, we still struggle with sinful behaviors, just as we struggle to cultivate righteous behaviors. The Spirit helps us through these weaknesses, by checking us when we are foolish, by reminding us that we are called to live lives of increasing holiness, by urging us to leave our old selves behind, by coaxing us back into our true selves, made in the image and likeness of God. In order for us to better shadow God in his mission to heal the world, it is urgent that we pay attention to the conviction of the Spirit, learning more and more about what our new life in Christ really looks like. 1 Corinthians 2.10b-12 The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a personâ€™s thoughts except that personâ€™s own spirit within? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.
conviction for salvation 1 John 1.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. ‘Conversion narratives’ are stories about people coming to faith in Jesus Christ. In my years as a student I’ve read some wild tales, tales of people being unable to get out of bed because of their guilt before God, of having horrific visions due to their fear of eternal damnation, or even of being chased by dogs, being locked in the outhouse of hell, vomiting, dysentery, blindness, and evil dreams. Those are the bad ones. I’ve also heard fascinating stories about people becoming Christians 106
dr david mcdonald because of the halo they saw surrounding their mother at her funeral, or the glow on the faces of brave Christians as they were fed to lions in the Coliseum, or people who became Christians because their hearts were strangely warmed through prayer, worship, fellowship, a clear walk on a cool night, a dream of heaven, or a voice they heard calling them back to faith. I have a good friend with a startling conversion story. He was a playboy, a philanderer, and a rogue until he was about 28. He never took anything seriously, was always derisive about religion, and made sarcastic jokes about anything pertaining to morality or God. Then one day he visited my church, showing up after the service was over on a Sunday night, and literally collapsed. He fell apart. Tears. Sobs. Heaves. Snot. Moans. The works. My poor friend had finally been confronted with the weight of his sin, the awful truth of his disregard for others, and for God, and for the world at large, and even for himself, and was wrecked because of it. 107
Shadowing God Only Christ can take away the heavy burden of our sin. Only the Spirit can lead us to Christ. Only the Father can forgive our debts as Christ repays them on our behalf. The miracle of salvation is a Trinitarian wonder, but in the midst of the conversion narrative, all anyone cares about it how bad it was before it got good at the end. It always gets good at the end. My friend, and I, and likely you if you’re reading this by choice, experienced the conviction of the Holy Spirit that led us to a place of repentance before God. This is the first kind of conviction in which the Spirit operates, and the most urgent. It is the quality of conviction that is always present in conversion narratives, even when it’s not – at first – obvious. John 16.8 When [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world, and show where right and wrong and judgment lie. He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment. Acts chapter 16 tells an incredible story about the Apostle Paul and his companion Silas in prison. They were imprisoned for preaching about Jesus Christ, beaten, and locked up without a trial. In truly Pauline fashion, they began singing hymns of praise to God around midnight when – suddenly – there was a great earthquake and doors were blown oﬀ their prison cell. Fearing that his prisoners had escaped and humiliated by his failure to retain them, the prison guard tried to take his own life. He was stopped, though, when Paul told him they had not capitalized on the moment and were willing to stay in jail. At that point, the guard fell to his knees and cried out: sirs, what must I do to be saved?
dr david mcdonald Paul replied: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household. That conversion story is suitably miraculous, but reading it always makes me think about my own little miracle. I was six when I prayed with my Dad at bedtime to welcome Christ into my heart. I was shocked that I needed to. I was terrified – though Dad was gracious and not interested in scaring me – at the thought that I might be separated from Christ. It wasn’t eternity without Christ that scared me, it was nighttime. I needed Jesus right then. My conviction was almost cute in comparison to my friend and to the jailor in Acts, but it was no less real, and certainly no less lasting, than either sexy story. What about yours? Have you ever taken time to appreciate the miracle of your conversion, when you were plucked from the wayward quality of a life in which the only shadow you cast was that of your own ambition and desire, and given back your humanity? You should.
conviction for transformation John 17.17-19 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. John 16.13 Yet when that one I have spoken to you about comes – the Spirit of truth – he will guide you into everything that is true. Matthew 3.8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. As you may have noticed, it is entirely possible to be a Christ-follower and simultaneously a wretched, miserable, and horrid human being. That’s not to say that all Christ-followers are wretches, just that the work of the Spirit to transform us into our true selves really cannot begin until after we receive the Spirit through the gift of salvation. This is why there are so many hypocrites – and accurate accusations of hypocrisy 110
dr david mcdonald – in churches. It’s not that Christians are all phonies and fakers, it’s that Christians range the gamut of spiritual maturity and must submit to the will of the Spirit in order to ever be transformed into people who behave and speak and act in the ways God desires. It is the conviction of the Spirit that works the transformation in us to become the people we are meant to be. The Spirit tells us how to live, draws our attention to healthy examples of people shadowing God – as well as to unhealthy examples of people who disdain to shadow God – and it is the Spirit’s empowerment than ennobles us to live diﬀerently when we surrender our will and our desires over to him. For my part, I struggle with anger. It takes a lot for me to get angry, but things do get under my skin and my frustration and irritation grow until I lose tolerance completely. I don’t yell or say hateful things, but I “smolder” (as one of my good friends puts it), sometimes even emitting a “pheromone of fury” (as another of my good friends has teased). Still, even in my anger I am normally self-controlled, except for the times when I lose my cool completely and then employ my ability to make people feel very, very small. It’s not a pretty picture. Twenty minutes ago – I kid you not, it was that recent – I got very angry on the telephone with our bank. I was “super-lightning angry” (as my kids call it), but invited the Spirit to help me calm down, took deep breaths, and was able to make courteous replies to a rude customer service manager and overlook the impatience and arrogance of another employee. I was still angry, but was able to keep my anger in check. I’m honestly amazed I didn’t lose it – it was a horrible experience – but the fact that everything ended okay is testament to the fact that the Spirit is actually alive and at work in me to make me a better man. 111
Shadowing God That probably doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but it is precisely in the ordinary everyday things that we best learn to follow God inside us. We’ve got to practice paying attention to the Spirit, listening to those seemingly small-time convictions that remind us of the people God intends for us to become. We need to be faithful in these little ways before we can have a realistic expectation of remaining faithful in the big ways. Romans 8.9 You are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. It’s these little things that add up and slowly transform us, bit by bit – glory by glory as Paul calls it in 2 Corinthians 3.18 – into better shadows of God. The Spirit convicts us of sin, and leads us toward righteousness so we can cooperate with God to heal the world.
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self-awareness No one remains quite what he was when he recognizes himself. Thomas Mann, 20th C German Novelist Know thy God (see 1 Chronicles 28.9) rather than “Know Thyself ” is the categorical imperative of the biblical man. There is no self-understanding without God-understanding. Abraham Joshua Heschel, 20th C Jewish Rabbi There is no trait I more greatly admire than self-awareness. I work hard to know my own strengths and limitations, just as I work hard to be courteous to others. I appreciate this quality in my friends, and admire it in new associates. Self-awareness is its own brand of charisma. When you meet someone who understands who they are, what they’re capable of, and why they’re here it is a compelling encounter. Conversely, someone unaware of these things can drive me nuts. If someone drops by my home unannounced, bursts into my entryway, and beings 113
Shadowing God a long, loud story I get annoyed. I’m not a big fan of drop-in visits – just call, seriously, I want five minutes advance notice so I can at least have a shirt on – and I was taught that it is extremely rude to enter someone’s home without them inviting you – we’re all vampires, you know – and my kids are little, they’re light sleepers, and they go to bed at 7:30pm. If you wake them, my evening is over and the next day at school is a Wes Craven movie. On the flip side, if someone needs to stop by my house I love it when they give a quick call and ask about a convenient time, then quietly knock on my front door and wait to be invited to sit down and have a drink, all the while keeping their tones hushed so as not to wake the monsters asleep upstairs. When that kind of person leaves, I’m full of gratitude for their consideration, manner, and desire to value our home. That’s self-awareness – knowing how you come across in the eyes of other people – and it is a valuable skill in learning to shadow God. Self-awareness is a tricky beast to break-in, because our thoughts are constantly competing with the insights and perception of others. What we might think of as jocularity and good humor, someone else might find insensitive. When we think we are being attentive, someone else may find us disengaged and absent from the moment. My friend Elisabeth always tells her husband to beware of ‘one idiosyncrasy too many.’ I love that. She keeps reminding him that, while he may be interesting, 114
dr david mcdonald sometimes people need a break from fascination, wonder, and excitement. Early in our marriage Carmel used to have to keep reminding me to watch my Ps and Qs with people we hardly knew. I’ve always been prone to treating everyone like a life-long friend, but that can be a little much for fresh acquaintances. Over time I’ve had to learn to let others become more comfortable before disclosing the private details of my life or searching to know all their hopes and dreams. Apparently, no one thinks I’m the Wizard of Oz right away – and that’s an important bit of information for me to keep in mind. In this section we will cover two kinds of self-awareness: knowing yourself and your limitations, and knowing how you come across to others. If you neglect the former, you will be stretched too thin to be able to enjoy life and there will be too much going on – too much ambient spiritual noise – for you to be able to hear the voice of the Spirit. If you neglect the latter, you will be ineﬀective as a witness to those outside the faith, as well as a bother for those within. In order for us to be faithful shadows of God we must get hold of who we are now so we are crystal clear about the starting point for who God wants us to become later.
be aware of your limitations Romans 12.3 Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment. Psalm 42.5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? The Temple of Apollo at Delphi, built in the 4th C, famous all the world over for its athletic competitions (a precursor to the Olympics), eternal flame (a torch burning in the heart of the temple), and the inscription on its forecourt: Know Thyself Scholars can’t seem to agree on who said this first – maybe it was Socrates, maybe it was Pythagoras – but sages and philosophers have puzzled over how we might best achieve this lofty goal for thousands of years. We all want to know who we are, and why we are here. 116
dr david mcdonald These are the great metaphysical questions of human existence, the existential ponderance about which we all wonder in the dark when we’re alone. Scripture teaches us exactly who we are and why we are here: we are shadows of God, made with authority and responsibility, dignity and humility, meant to cooperate with him in the redemption of the world. But even once we understand our identity as creatures like God, we still have to figure out exactly how alike or unlike him we are. We have to figure out our limitations. We all have certain limitations – boundaries that, no matter how hard we work we simply cannot extend. Time is a limitation – there will only ever be 128 hours in a week. Aptitude is a limitation – while you may be able to increase your competency in a certain area, you cannot be good at everything. Temperament is a limitation – some scenarios will always bring out the worst parts of your personality and you should avoid them. There are other limitations, but I have found these to be the three that most are most often overlooked, while – ironically – being the most common. We have to ask ourselves: Do I really have time to be involved in this? If I do this, what will I have to rob from something else? I love to play sports. Whether it’s tennis or ping-pong, basketball or volleyball, 117
Shadowing God backyard football or stadium rugby, at all times with all kinds of people I love to play sports. But I’m not in a good life-stage for being in any kind of regular league. I manage to squeeze golf-league in with my friend Craig, but just barely. If I had my druthers, I’d play sports every day of the week. But I can’t. Actually, I could. I am free to play sports every day. No one would stop me. My wife might actually enjoy a thinner me, full of endorphins and adrenaline more than she enjoys the writer, storyteller, basement-cave-dweller me. But the reason I can’t is because of my kids. They’re so young. They go to bed so early. If I choose to play sports every day that would I am also choosing not to be there for my kids. Even if I choose to play sports two days a week it would be more than I could accept because – once you throw in a few late evenings at work, a couple of meetings, some dinner with friends, or a couple of nights a month at church – it would feel like my kids were always coming in second-place. Furthermore, if I jam-pack my life I get nervous that I would be modeling a life of restlessness. One of the most undervalued aspects of Christian spirituality is rest. Rest is good. As we mentioned earlier in section one, the Day of Rest was the only day listed in the Creation poem that never ended. We are still supposed to be living, and enjoying, a perpetual seventh day of rest with our Creator. But most of us don’t do that. Most of us are so busy that we never really take time to slow down. Most of us don’t know how to say “no” to good opportunities, even though saying, “yes” to those opportunities may cost us our families, our sanity, or our friendships. Of course, time isn’t the only limitation we gave. Sometimes we find ourselves with plenty of time, but we wonder if the opportunities aﬀorded us are suitable. 118
dr david mcdonald We have to ask ourselves: Is this really something I should do, or would someone else be better matched for it? If I do this, will I be permitting my true gifts and abilities to atrophy? I used to be a worship leader. I never had long hair or wore skinny jeans, but I was a guitar player and wrote poetry so I possessed at least 50% of the necessary traits to be desirable. I’m not a great singer, but I am a good front man and can manage a department (and a rehearsal) well. I don’t lead worship anymore, however, because it’s not really my gig. I still get opportunities from time-to-time to go and lead worship somewhere, but I almost always decline. It’s not that I don’t enjoy leading worship, but that when I agree to lead worship I am – in eﬀect – agreeing not to do the things that I am best at and love the most. Every time I say “yes” to leading worship I am saying “no” to teaching and writing, just like every time I say “yes” to earning extra money as a graphic designer I am saying “no” to working as a spiritual coach, just like every time I say “yes” to writing a co-authored book I am saying “no” to writing a teaching atlas specifically for the people of Westwinds. The task for me, as for us all, is to figure out what trades we’re willing to make, prioritizing the best-suited opportunities over the well-suited ones. In my case, I want to teach, coach, and write far more than I want to lead worship, design logos, or be famous. Many people fall into the trap, especially early on, of thinking that they have to do what they can do in order to make the world go around. In some cases that may be true, but for the most part it’s not. 119
Shadowing God For example, if something were to happen to John (my partner at Westwinds) and he couldn’t lead worship and none of his people were available to fill in for him, I could lead worship. The thing is, it would be a mistake for me to do so. I don’t have to – the real-world fallout of there being no musical worship one Sunday is actually far less damaging that me stepping in to lead worship. This isn’t because I’m a bad worship leader, but because I have now short-circuited the process for finding a replacement. The next time John is unavailable, people will wonder if I should step in “because I’m the pastor,” or they’ll feel shy about pursuing their own opportunities for leadership because they wonder if they’re now competing. Additionally, it would make things awkward between John and I because anything I did diﬀerent than he normally does would need to be explained to the church as a diﬀerence in style rather than an indictment about methodology. If at all possible, at all times, we should pursue the opportunities that best fit with our gifts and abilities rather than accepting every good thing that comes our way. The last limitation I think we need to be aware of in our search for self-awareness is that of temperament. We have to ask ourselves: Is this really the best situation for me to be in? If I do this, what relationships will I damage and how will I suﬀer because of it? I mentioned earlier that I am sometimes asked to co-write books. If you look on Amazon.com, you can see how many co-authored books I’ve actually written. None. I don’t know what it is about me that makes people think I would be a good coauthor – maybe they know I put out a lot of new ideas and writing, maybe they think those new ideas and writings need a little help and they’re doing me a favor – but already this year I have been asked by six diﬀerent people to collaborate. I never agree. I know myself well enough to know that if I co-author a book with 120
dr david mcdonald someone else it will wreck our friendship. I know that I work long hours, get obsessed with each new project, and am ruthless in both the ideation and execution stages of drafting and editing, while simultaneously being totally impatient with someone else if they are not exactly the same way. The whole time I work with someone on a collaborative project I am desperately begging the Spirit to protect my friends from my craziness, just as I am desperately begging the Spirit to slow me down, keep me aware of healthy boundaries, and honor the contribution of my peers. It’s tough slugging, and nine times out of ten it goes badly, so I usually decline. That way, my relationships stay healthy – which is of paramount importance – and I can focus on my work at Westwinds. This is what I mean when I say that temperament is a limitation. Like the recovering alcoholic who avoids meeting clients at the bar, I avoid high-intensity creative collaborations because I know what will happen if I give in to the temptation. You have got to learn about your own temperament so you can manage your relationships. If you turn into a profanity-spewing bulldozer while watching your son play sports, you’ve got to learn to keep that intensity in check or it will hurt you. If you always recede into the background in social situations involving certain people you’ve got to learn to assert yourself or you will compromise your God-given dignity. If you take oﬀense at comments people make about your appearance, but love to dress in ways that draw attention, then you’ve got to get thicker skin or a diﬀerent wardrobe. Because your temperament is a limitation that will interrupt the goodness and enjoyment of your life unless you get it under control. 121
Shadowing God We need to learn â€“ specifically â€“ who we are so we can better shadow God, and that means learning about the limitations of what we can do, what we can do well, and what we can do well without losing our cool.
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be aware of how you come across to others It is not only the most diďŹƒcult thing to know oneself, but the most inconvenient one, too. Josh Billings, 19th C American Humorist A friend of mine once cautioned me that none of us are ever fully aware of how we come across to others. I experienced about two weeks worth of paranoia shortly thereafter. I kept thinking that his remark to me was a hint that I was coming across like a jerk to pretty much everyone in the universe. Later I discovered that it was his way of apologizing to me for the way he had behaved at an earlier gathering. I was relieved, and then impressed that he would think to mend our relationship even though I thought he had done nothing wrong. The way you come across to others matters. It aďŹ€ects our businesses, our relationships, our churches, and our families. Come across as abrupt and people get shy around you and tend to avoid you. 123
Shadowing God Come across as inappropriate and oﬀensive and people will resent you to tell you to shove oﬀ. Come across as uppity or proud and people will look down on you, examining every fault in order to prove you’re no better than they are. In business this can cost you money or referrals. In church this can cost you friendships, opportunity, even enjoyment. In family this can cause significant tension, filling holidays with dread and regret. How others perceive you is also a significant factor in how you represent Christ to the world. Rest assured, this doesn’t mean you have to be perfect all the time or people will choose to go to Hell just to avoid you; but it does mean that others outside of the faith will often associate your failings with Christianity. Everyone loves to uncover a hypocrite, and Christians are fairly easy targets, so do what you can to acknowledge your shortcomings, make restitution, and extend grace to others. 2 Corinthians 5.20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. If you’re serious about managing your behaviors and making the most significant impact possible on the world around you, you may try what my friend Rob does. Rob picks a diﬀerent friend each year, sits them down, and asks: what are my blind spots? Then he listens. He doesn’t argue. He doesn’t judge. He doesn’t try and prompt or lure his friends into saying something particularly kind. He just, honestly, wants to know what his blind spots are. 124
dr david mcdonald Inspired by Rob, I have done this three separate times. It was mostly innocuous – people are embarrassed that you would trust them with such vulnerability – but there was always one uncomfortable thing. My friend Brad told me my vernacular wasn’t cool, it sounded ‘try-hard.’ My friend Randy told me I was careless. My friend Rob told me I could talk and argue my way out of anything, and as a result I couldn’t be trusted to speak the truth. These things were hard to accept. The latter two, especially, I wrestled with for a long time. I couldn’t believe that my good friends would perceive me this way; but then, that’s the whole point of the exercise isn’t it? We all have blind spots. We will never fully eliminate all of our blind spots, but we can certainly limit them. That’s important. I wish more lovers and followers of Jesus Christ were sensitive to their ‘evangelistic blind spots.’ Somehow, it seems that when we take an active role in sharing the gospel with those outside the faith we get more caught up in the details of the message than we do in the presence of the Spirit or the context of our conversation. For example, I was recently in Manhattan and came across a large ‘witnessing booth’ in Grand Central Station. This elderly couple had stacks and stacks and stacks of tracts, pamphlets, books, and signs that they were desperate to give away to passersby. I stood there for a few minutes with my family and watched to see what kind of response they got. I anticipated that no one would stop and fall on their knees and receive Christ on the spot, but I was a little taken aback that no one even looked at this couple. In fact, it was almost as if everyone made a deliberate attempt to look away. To their credit, this elderly couple was never verbally abusive – like 125
Shadowing God many other soapbox preachers I’ve seen – nor did they get discouraged. They had obviously been on this path long enough to take their lumps with dignity and perseverance, but I couldn’t help wondering if there wasn’t a more eﬀective strategy. Not to be unkind, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, than what these people were selling wasn’t the Good News of the Gospel of God, but the old, old news of poorly photocopied and cheaply bound books that no one wants to read but will be doomed to pass out if they find religion. Don’t mistake me for a complete cynic – I think these people should be applauded for their diligence – but there are other, more eﬀective ways to lead people into faith and help them shadow God. Your best chance to help others along the road to faith is to shadow God with everything you’ve got and invite them to come alongside you and do the same. You’re the best advertising money can buy, the only Jesus they’ll ever see, and the living epistle of the Good News. Preach it by shadowing God, and pay attention to how you come across.
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discernment Ephesians 1.18 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you. Daniel 2:21 He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. Philippians 1:9-11 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christâ€”to the glory and praise of God. Did you ever play Marco Polo when you were a kid, swimming in the pool? Do you remember having your eyes closed, listening to the voices of your friends, 127
Shadowing God trying to figure out where they are and leaning closer and closer and closer before you could touch them? I think Marco Polo is a wonderful picture of the enjoyment we get from shadowing God. We call and he answers, and we lean in towards his voice, always trying to get a little closer so that – maybe – we can touch God. I have traveled extensively to remote and impoverished areas all over the developing world, meeting Christians of all stripes and shapes, and I am always fascinated by their reliance upon the Spirit. Because westerners are typically much more educated than our two-thirds world counterparts, and because Bibles are so cheap and accessible here, we tend to rely far more on the Word than on the Spirit. There’s nothing wrong with our reliance upon the Word – quite the opposite, actually – but there is something wrong with our ignorance of the Spirit. We don’t know how to shadow God, because we rarely pay attention to the Spirit. On my recent trip to India, during which time I met close to a 1,000 Christians, I only ever saw three Bibles. This wasn’t just because Bibles were unavailable to the people, but also because the Bible was incomprehensible to the people. Even if they could get one – which was very diﬃcult – they still didn’t know how to read it or make sense of it. As a result, their whole experience of faith was based upon their connection to the Holy Spirit. They stayed in open conversation with the Spirit throughout each day, prayed intensely together, and made sound and godly decisions based on the input they received. In short, they had to discern everything. I found myself chuckling while I was explaining to them, using the scriptures, about what discernment was and how it worked and how they were already doing it correctly even though they had never studied it 128
dr david mcdonald or been formally taught how to discern. Many Christians think that the Bible is our best guide for how to live. They’re right…mostly. The Bible is our ultimate guide for all issues of behavior and belief, but there are some issues about which the Bible is silent. Furthermore, there are many situations – one-time events, scenarios, and episodes – about which the Bible gives us little or no indication whatsoever about what we should do. Thankfully, the Bible is not our only guide for life. God has given us another Counselor – the Holy Spirit – and it is his job to help us figure out what to do in real life. This process of figuring stuﬀ out is called discernment, a word that means, “to separate or distinguish. “ There are many kinds of discernment: figuring out whether or not someone or something is good or evil, figuring out whether or not someone or something is authentic or fraudulent, figuring out whether or not someone or something is true or misleading, figuring out whether or not the spiritual activity we perceive is godly or destructive, figuring out what God’s desires and designs are for a particular circumstance, etc. Discernment is how we figure out whether or not we should or shouldn’t do such and such a thing, or be involved with this person or that person. When we pray for wisdom to discern God’s will when it comes to choosing a mate, a career, a job change, a move, a home, a school, a friend, a vacation, how to spend 129
Shadowing God money, or any other choice, big or little – whenever there are two or more diﬀerent paths opening up before us and we have to choose – we use discernment. Discernment is an essential skill for shadowing God. It is the Marco-Polo-ness of Christian spirituality. There are several questions I am commonly asked pertaining to discernment: What is my destiny? Is this God’s will for my life? How do I discern between spirits? What’s really going on in this situation? As I respond to these questions, using scriptures and anecdotes, I want you to get a feel for what shadowing God is really like. I want you to understand how – even though there are scriptures that anchor and support what we do – much of our lives are lived moment-to-moment, always trying to figure out which voice belongs to God, where he is, and what he wants.
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discerning your destiny Ephesians 5.17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Isaiah 48.17 Thus says the Lord, Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you by the way you should go. This is a common question – destiny. Everyone I’ve ever met wants to know what they are supposed to do with their life. Everyone seems to have this deep-seated belief that their lives are unique, and that they are here for a purpose, and that there is really only one way they can fulfill that purpose (and, usually, only one person they can fulfill it with). We all think we have soul mates and soul-callings. But we don’t. At least, not initially, though I recognize that that is a diﬃcult thing for some of you to consider. There is a tremendous amount of latitude within the will of God. 131
Shadowing God Let me explain. Some will tell you that we can separate God’s will into two separate and distinct categories: God’s general will for your life and God’s specific will for your life. This isn’t actually taught in the Bible, however, and I suggest we abandon the dichotomy. All of the scriptural passages pertaining to knowing the will of God are really about God’s general will (see Hebrews 10.36; Jeremiah 29.11; Psalm 37.23; Proverbs 3.5; and Proverbs 16.9, just to name a few), and the only times there is any indication of God having a specific will for anyone are those times when God himself shows up to summon a leader for his people. If you add up all of the people that witnessed theophanies – that is, direct, immediate, wholly intelligible encounters with God – you would get less than a dozen people in the Bible. That’s less than 12 people over a period of about +/1400yrs. The chances that God will show up to personally to deliver you a specific, divinelyappointed calling are pretty slender; but if he does, please feel free to ignore everything I’m saying. The truth is that we waste a lot of time wondering about whether or not we’re supposed to do this thing or that thing – become a lawyer or become an accountant, marry Barbara or stay single, move to Germany or stay in Ohio – and we tend to forget one central truth about God: God is more interested in doing something in you and through you than for you and to you. 132
dr david mcdonald To say it another way: God cares more about who you are and how you are than what you are. Your destiny is to shadow God in the redemption of the world. Your destiny is to build the church and heal the world. Your destiny is to steward creation with authority and responsibility, dignity and humility. Your destiny is to be a loving father (if you have children) or mother (if you’re a woman with children), to be a loving husband or wife (if you choose to get married), to persevere in the midst of great trials (whether marital diﬃculties, religious persecution, economic downturn, illness, or grief, etc), and to do everything you can to make Christ proud. That is your destiny. Your destiny is not so much about which job you will have as it is about honoring God through whatever job you have at the present time; Your destiny is not so much about finding Mr. Right and settling down as it is about being Mrs. Right to whomever you happened to have married; Your destiny is not so much about becoming famous or wealthy as it is about using your current influence and aﬄuence to shadow God and heal the world. That is your destiny. Everything else – all those wild dreams and fitful flights of fancy – is fine and good so long as it fits within the parameters of your God-given destiny. Some of you, of course, may find this super depressing. After all, if you’ve spent your whole life wondering whether you’ll become the next Warren Buﬀett, Andy 133
Shadowing God Warhol, or Green Arrow then the idea that you don’t have some special preprepared fame will likely seem like a downer. But the truth is, you don’t have some special pre-prepared fame waiting for you. And the sooner you realize this the sooner you can be freed up to love God and do what you will. Love God and do what you will. St. Augustine, 4th C Bishop of Hippo If you love God sincerely, then doing what you will results in doing what God wills. Peter Kreeft, 20th C American Philosopher If you want to know what you’re supposed to do, simply look no further than the things you love and the things at which you excel. Do those things because you love them. Do those things because you experience satisfaction. Do those things when time and economy permit, and thank God you have the resources you require to do them. And then focus all your eﬀort, all your passion, all your emotion, on shadowing God in the redemption of the world.
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discerning Godâ€™s will for your life Luke 12.56-57 You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time? Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right? Galatians 5.16-24 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no 135
Shadowing God law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. As I mentioned in the previous section, I think we’re far better oﬀ to understand God’s will as his design for us to act as his shadows and heal the world than as something more narrow like marrying Susan or taking the buyout at work. And yet there are times when we want to know if God has anything to say about the big decisions: Should we have children? How many? Should we tell your parents we won’t stand for that kind of behavior? Etc… In these instances, we find ourselves driven to times of intense prayer and counselseeking. Even once we know we have a tremendous freedom to “love God and do what we will,” we still hope that God can help us make a wise decision that leads us to be better shadows and provides us with opportunities to grow in our adoration for those we love and in our satisfaction with life in general. In these times, when we are evaluating several courses of action concerning a specific issue, we are far better oﬀ to ask: is this consistent with God’s will for my life? rather than wondering if there is a wrong answer to a morally ambiguous question on the topic of which scripture is silent. There are five general principles of discernment you can easily follow in order to determine of something is consistent with the will of God for your life. 136
dr david mcdonald First, always start with what you know for sure. Judge the unknown by the known, and the uncertain by the certain, and the unclear by the clear. Sometimes when we make decisions we allows ourselves to be lured by the possibility that all the unknowns will actually work out in our favor; things rarely turn out that way, so it’s better to make plans based on what you know and expect a few additional snags and tangles along the way. Second, listen to the Spirit. What is God saying to you? What nudges and promptings do you feel? Which of the possibilities excites you more? Gets you dreaming? If you quiet your mind and imagine yourself sitting with God, how do you imagine him describing each of the options and the likely consequences of your selection? Third, be sensitive but not stupid. Let your heart educate your mind. ‘Be innocent as a dove and shrewd as a serpent,’ as Jesus told us. Don’t make a decision simply based on “the numbers,” but also take into consideration the relationships that this decision will aﬀect. No one should marry the mean boy for his money. Conversely, don’t just make a decision based on the positive relational benefits without also considering the hard facts of the equation. You may love your fiancée, but if you could wait until after college to get married you might not have to declare bankruptcy before you turn 24, or move in with her parents, or suﬀer from malnutrition. Fourth, check to see if the spiritual trigonometry lines up; meaning, cross-reference scripture, conscience, family, prayer, and your intellect. If anyone of these things tells you this is a bad idea, don’t do it. For example, if your wife tells you she has a bad feeling about a new job opportunity that’s a pretty good indication that there will be some strife accompanying the position. 137
Shadowing God Finally, test your decision against the Fruits of the Spirit. If you think you’re less likely to experience love – in your heart, for others, in your home, with your family – than this is probably a bad idea. If you think that this decision will bankrupt you of your peace, then it’s probably a bad idea. By cycling through these five principles you’ll have a much easier time discerning which of the available options is best for you. Be mindful while you work through these principles, too, that the Spirit is speaking to you all of the time, leading and guiding and coaching you on how to better shadow God. This is a classic case of the oft-repeated maxim that the process matters. Discernment itself should not be a stiﬀ, brittle, anxious thing, but [instead] loving and joyful and peace-filled, more like a game than a war, more like writing love letters than taking final exams. Peter Kreeft, 20th C American Philosopher While you work through these issues, God is working within you to help you recover your authority and responsibility, dignity and humility. He is making you better and diﬀerent even while you endeavor to make better and diﬀerent choices for your life and for those you love.
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discerning between spirits 1 John 4.1 Do not believe every spirit, but test [discern] the spirits to see whether they are from God. Recently I was reading a popular business/self-help book, by all accounts written by sincere and loving Christians. But something was bothering me, some indefinable quality about the book – specifically about the spiritual nuances within the text – and I started to wonder what I was getting into. Despite citing Jesus and talking on and on about the Bible, this book also placed a lot of emphasis on Abraham. There is, of course, nothing wrong with Abraham, but as I read a little more and with a little more scrutiny I began to realize that who the authors were talking about was not the historical person Abraham – whose life story is contained in the book of Genesis – but a spiritual presence that had revealed itself to the authors and told them its name was Abraham. The authors claimed to channel Abraham – whom they believed to be the historical character from scripture – and claimed that he gave them insights about how to be spiritual and how to succeed in altruistic business ventures. 139
Shadowing God The book, truthfully, had many good things to say about value-centered business, but I could tell that the ‘spirit’ behind the book was not the spirit of Christ – despite the apparent value alignment. How could I tell? First, because the scripture expressly forbids channeling or divination of any kind (see Deuteronomy 18.9-11). God would not forbid something and then use that forbidden means to communicate his truth. Second, because – while the book was very honoring to Jesus Christ, and while the authors spoke highly of his moral example – there was a bit of theological vagueness about Christ which, in essence, denied his deity. The authors clearly thought that Jesus was a god, but they also clearly thought you could name all of the other celestial entities and powers “gods” and they could call you “god” in return. Since 1 Corinthians 12.3 tells us explicitly that every authentic spiritual power must acknowledge the supreme lordship of Jesus, and these writers could not, it became obvious that there was another, alternative and subversive, power at work. That experience is a good example of what it means to discern the spirits, a term Paul uses in his first letter to the church in Corinth. Discerning of spirits is the supernatural ability given by the Holy Spirit to perceive the source of a spiritual manifestation and determine whether it is of God (Acts 10.30-35), of the devil (Acts 16.16-18), of human origin (Acts 8.18-23), or of the world. It is not mindreading or psychic phenomena, but a spiritual gift fueled by insights from the Holy Spirit. Discerning of spirits is done when God speaks to us – sometimes through impressions, sometimes through immediate insights, sometimes through strong emotions – and reveals us to origin of the mystical or supernatural presence with which we are confronted. 140
dr david mcdonald Several times in the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul discerns that the spirits at work are contrary to the Spirit of Christ. For example, Paul meets a young woman who consulted with the spirits of the dead and accurately and boldly proclaimed that Paul and Silas were servants of God (see Acts 16). Despite her accuracy, Paul recognized that this woman was possessed and cast the demon out of her. A similar episode occurred with the Jewish sorcerer Bar-Jesus (see Acts 13), as well as another – this time with the Apostle Peter – and Simon the Sorcerer (see Acts 8). At this point it’s probably obvious – but still worth mentioning – that there are no neutral spiritual powers. There are only those powers aligned with Christ and those powers working to malign Christ. In other words, there is no spiritual Switzerland. The more faithfully we shadow God, the more quickly we will be able to discern when other, anti-god, voices and influences are at work. There are really two ways in which the discerning of spirits is employed: through an encounter with a mystical or supernatural presence; through an encounter with another person working under the influence of a mystical or supernatural presence. The former is a case of first-hand experience – i.e. you, personally, feel or experience something otherworldly; the latter is a second of second-hand experience – i.e. you are confronted with someone else who has felt or experienced (or still feels and is experiencing) something otherworldly. In either case the scriptures give us a clear rubric for testing the spirits to determine 141
Shadowing God their allegiance. We must determine: whether or not the spirits acknowledge Christ as God (see 1 John 4.2-3), whether or not the spirits produce good fruit (see Galatians 5) in the lives of the people they influence (see Matthew 7.15-16), whether or not the spirits work for the good of the world according to the purposes of God (see 1 Thessalonians 5.20-22), whether or not the spirits contradict the clear teaching and doctrine of the scriptures (see 2 Peter 2.1). In some cases, it may be very diﬃcult to determine whether or not a spirit is aligned with Christ. We shouldn’t be surprised at this since Satan himself came dressed as an angel of light, and his servants would easily have learned to masquerade as servants of righteousness (see 2 Corinthians 11.14-15). That is why we always need to be testing the spirits around us, and operating in and around others, against the “gold standard” of the Spirit of Christ that lives within each Christian. In the next section we’ll talk more about how this looks in real life, asking the question what is really going on in this situation, but let this section serve as a brief primer to the invisible world and your need for discernment as you work to shadow God and heal the world.
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discerning what’s really going on Matthew 10.16 Be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. 1 Chronicles 28.9 The Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. Any time you’re working with people on a project – making a film, leading a humanitarian aid trip, doing some work in the community – there are tremendous opportunities for fellowship, conversation, and soul care. You can have a lot of fun, and grow a lot in your spirit, when you’re around good people doing good things together. I used to be a choir director, though I don’t ever want to be reminded about it, and I had plenty of great spiritual experiences with my choir. In between, and before and after, songs and practices and Sunday singing we shared our lives with one another, shared stories, and I was privileged to share much of what I know about shadowing God in all sorts of informal and uncomplicated ways. 143
Shadowing God Proverbs 15.14 The discerning heart seeks knowledge. Every now and then, however, I would find that some person would go a little… janky, weird, goofy, strange. In those moments, I would open myself up to the Spirit and try and figure out what was really going on. I would ask God: Are they just tired? Are they going through a diﬃcult season in life? Is there a way I can calm them down without embarrassing them? How can I pastor them through this hurt? I always had additional concerns in these janky-moments that prompted me to search out the Spirit: Is this janki-ness causing harm to our church? How can I protect our people – especially our newer believers – from this ugliness? How can I model grace and forgiveness? And I would always ask: Do I need to shut this person down? And, if so, how hard and how fast? Please don’t think I asked these questions lightly, or that by asking them I was eager somehow to show oﬀ my positional authority. These are just the questions I regularly ask God in these moments to ensure that I don’t lose my cool, act inappropriately, or do something I might regret – especially when that might harm the church. All these questions are really in service to the big question:
dr david mcdonald What is really going on here, and – God – what do you want to happen next? One time I had someone interrupt a rehearsal with an angry tirade about Bible translations. While I was addressing the sopranos, some of the men were speaking quietly and one of them had quoted a verse from Matthew, telling the others how that verse often encouraged him. Because he quoted that verse from the New International Version of the Bible, and because the man standing next to him believed that the King James Version of the Bible was the only legitimate translation, the King James-only guy began to ramp up, yell, and otherwise derail the evening. As I became aware of this situation I began to open myself up to the Spirit and ask God: what is really going on here? I knew the angry fellow had only been a believer for a few short years, just as I knew he had no real understanding of the biblical translation process or even the diﬀerences between translations. I knew that he liked to assert his own leadership, and could often be perceived as pushy or bossy or controlling. I wanted to be careful not to make any snap judgments, but I felt that in this one instance this man was using the argument about Bible translations as a way to position himself as “the authority” within the choir. He was posturing, looking to shame someone else so he could be perceived as the Alpha. So I shut him down. Sharply, I told him to be quiet. I told him this wasn’t the place for these discussions, that he was being rude, and that he was wrong. I oﬀered to stay after practice and explain the translation process and the diﬀerence between translations, but – of course – he was not one of the 6 or 8 people that chose to do so. I am not in the habit of publicly calling people out. I can only think of one other time I’ve done that in 15 years of ministry. In that instance, though, I was as certain of this man’s selfish motives as I am of the dawn sky. 145
Shadowing God The Spirit reveals things to us when we pray – he reveals the true intention of others, just as he reveals our own intentions. I was very concerned later that evening with the possibility that I might have shut the angry-Bible-man down so quickly and harshly because I was trying to assert my own position – in other words, complicit in the very thing I had seen in him. After some time, I felt released of any anxiety and knew my heart had been, and remained, purse – but it was important to check. It is important to discern what’s really going on around us, and it’s important to discern what’s really going on within us. When we find ourselves acting out of character, that’s a really good time to ask: what is going on? Psalm 119.125 Give me discernment that I may understand your ways. For example, I was at a café about a year ago and startled myself when I realized I was pounding on the table while describing a situation at our church to my friend John. I had gotten so caught up in the emotion of the church’s problems that I knocked the salt shaker onto the floor. I had never done anything like that before and it embarrassed me, and so I began to ask God: What is going on with me? Where does this anger come from? Is this really about the church, or is this about something more comprehensive? Through prayer I discerned that there were two things going on. First, I needed a rest. I had been overworking myself and was losing perspective. Second, I was 146
dr david mcdonald sinning. I had expropriated the responsibility for our church’s well-being and looked on it as my church that I would grow, instead of Christ’s church that he would establish. I was angry because I was tired, and I was angry because I wasn’t in control. Once I recognized these things I began to pay more and more attention to releasing them. I made adjustments to my work schedule – even taking a long sabbatical – and daily repented of trying to take the church back from Christ. Discernment about what the issue really was allowed me to deal with my own sin and failings before God. Had I not stopped and begun searching the Spirit for clues about what was happening, I might still be banging salt shakers. We need to invite the Spirit to speak to us, and to discern what’s really going on in order to be able to better shadow God and heal the world.
the elements of spiritual formation do something for your soul BECOME A LIFE LONG LISTENER… Sin obstructs our ability to hear. A clean and yielded heart is what we need to be able to hear God speak. First step, confess anything that stands between you and God. Expect that He will speak to you and reveal Himself and His desires for you. Be open to the many ways God may choose to speak (His Word, nudge of His Spirit, music, other Jesus followers, dreams…) and then ask a few questions: How does this relate to what you read in Scripture? Is it consistent with the nature of Jesus? Act upon what God is telling you and keep listening…always. do something for your relationships LISTEN MORE, SPEAK LESS! We live in a multi-tasking world and it’s easy for us to find ourselves doing many things at one time, including listening to someone while engaging in another task. Hearing does NOT equal listening so, you will need to make a conscious choice to listen to your children, co-workers, spouse, friends, etc. Be interested in the person. Next time someone asks to speak with you, practice good non-verbal listening skills, like being at the same eye level, facing them, making eye contact, having an open, receptive posture. Make sure you don’t interrupt and speak much less than listening. Actively engage in the conversation, but only after listening. Ask questions of the person, about the person, clarifying what is said. 148
dr david mcdonald do something for your church NO STORY HOGGING – INVITE OTHERS IN We live as changing and transforming people because of Jesus and His ongoing involvement in our lives. Daily, the Spirit is working to intertwine our life stories into God’s story of redemption and grace. Sometimes we forget what it is we have been given and keep it all to ourselves. Not good. The very love and forgiveness we have received should spur us on to live and act in such a way that others feel invited in to the story. How are you inviting others in to experience God and his grace? Do people feel comfortable to ask you whatever questions they might have about God, the church, why and how your life is diﬀerent? Have you brought others to church with you or to be part of your small group? What hinders you in these endeavors? Ask God to eliminate the fears you may have and to put opportunity in your life for you to engage others and invite them into THE story. do something for your world SUPPORT THE TEACHERS Teachers have emotionally taxing jobs. We don’t know if you have ever dealt with a group of kids for any length of time, but it is not easy. If fact, dealing with kids all day, with diminishing resources, requires both mental and emotional stamina. In short, teachers have to be on their toes all day long. As the school year begins and the kids head back to their studies, consider loving on teachers by doing random (or not so random) acts of kindness for them. Either by yourself or with a group of others (your family, friends, small group…), brainstorm some ideas to show your appreciation to local teachers in your district. It doesn’t have to be costly or time consuming. Even an occasional hand written notes would serve as great encouragement. Get your thoughts organized and then put some action behind your idea(s). Again, inviting others makes this fun and engaging, so the more the merrier! 149
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how to shadow God in real life I was in South Africa, out in the veldt, in December 2007 with one of the great African trackers, Callie Roos (callieroos.co.za). Callie is a renounced Land and Sea Survival Specialist, former Special Forces Operator, and Senior Staﬀ Oﬃce in the SA Defense Headquarters. If there’s anyone that knows how to survive out in the bush, it’s Callie – he’ll get you home safe every time. During our time in Tanda Tula, just north of the famous Kruger National Park, Callie took the occasion to teach my companions and me – there were 20 of us – about the basic of tracking wild game. I realize it’s unlikely that I will ever be able to either [a] put this particular set of skills into practice or [b] need to, but I was geeked about the opportunity nonetheless. Callie maintained that there were really only five things you needed to remember once you caught the spoor – which is a fancy African term for “footprint of the giant animal you soon hope to eat.” Speaking with his lead voice through his thorn-like beard, Callie told us to remember the following lessons: 1. Stand square on the track because you won’t have the right perspective until you see the terrain the way the animal does 152
dr david mcdonald 2. Look up! because you need to be aware of your surroundings, your heading, as well as the possibility that something is tracking you 3. Don’t let your eyes wander because the track is easy to lose, as are your bearings 4. Follow the obvious route because when you lose sight of the track – which you almost certainly will for some portion of the hunt – you need only imagine where the animal is likely to go in order to be right 99% of the time 5. Stop & reflect because the worst thing you can do when tracking an animal is panic, or become anxious, or be caught unawares While I was out in the veldt listening to perhaps the most masculine person I’ve ever met, I couldn’t help but feel a little prompting, a nudge, that Callie was on to something with greater application than catching your own fun supper. I began to notice the congruity between Callie’s principles of tracking the spoor and the basics of shadowing God. At that time I had already been playing around with new ways to speak and teach about spiritual formation, and one of the images I loved was that of a detective trying to follow God’s clues, trying to solve the mystery of this life. Callie’s teaching led me away from the detective metaphor, but still scratched that part of me that intuitively felt like God was someone to be followed rather than summoned, perceived rather than found. God is always moving in and around and among us, but we have to work hard to see the signs of his presence, the spoor of the Spirit. In section one we learned what shadowing God is, and you now know what skills and competencies are required to more faithfully shadow God. This final section of the book concerns how to actually shadow God in real life. 153
Shadowing God This section is the ultra-practical section of Shadowing God. It represents my thoughts on (and experiences with) Christian spirituality in real, ordinary, everyday life. Despite my long-standing reluctance to supply points or principles in any of my teaching – I generally feel like those are good memory aids, but do a poor job of imparting real wisdom – I will adapt Callie’s principles of tracking to shadowing God with his blessing and permission. Bear in mind, though, the image of tracking the Spirit through the world. Try to think less of these as “points,” imagining instead that you are out in the wild looking for signs of the Spirit and these words are simply meant to help you remember all that you’ve previously learned and experienced. Remember to: Cast your shadow in the Way – so you’re casting the right shadow in the right direction, a faithful representation of Christ. You won’t have the right perspective until you see life like God does. Look around – so you can see what God is doing and how you can help. You need to be aware of your context, your culture, and your core competencies. Keep yourself in line with the Light – so you are spared the pain and regret of surrendering your God-given vocation. You must realize that the way that leads to life is very narrow, and few find it. Follow the obvious route – so you do not panic when you go through seasons of spiritual dryness, doubt, or confusion. You will need the fortitude to keep shadowing God even when you momentarily lose track of him, so you can be reunited with him again later on. If you are unsure what to do next, just keep doing the last thing God instructed you to do and trust he’ll reveal the next steps to you when the time is right. Reflect – stop as long as you can for as long as you dare and invite the Spirit to speak, to edit your life, to correct your course, and to interrupt your 154
dr david mcdonald plans. You cannot faithfully shadow God if you never pay attention to him. Search him out; invite the Spirit to saturate your life ever-increasingly. My experiences with Callie were deeply revelatory, but not nearly as impacting as the experiences Iâ€™ve had since keeping in mind that I have been created by God to shadow God in the redemption of the world and all I need to do to fulfill my holy vocation on earth is look for signs of the Spirit and join in doing what God has already begun.
cast your shadow in the Way Psalm 25.4-5 Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. I confess I had a brutal time finding any animal tracks in the African veldt. The landscape is mostly hard-packed sand and grassy scrub, with brambles and a few old trees placed like moles on the face of the earth. When Callie showed me a leopard spoor, I had to get right up close before I could actually discern what I was looking at. Then I failed to see the next print just a few inches in front of the first one. But once I got squared up, with my body facing the same way as the leopard, kneeling down to its height with my shadow falling across the animalâ€™s path, I could see exactly where it had headed. It was the most spectacular revelation. 156
dr david mcdonald I tracked the leopard for maybe just 40 or 50 feet before I lost it – an astounding first attempt, if I do say so myself - but it was enough for me to daydream about moving to Africa and rebooting human civilization as the new Adam. I was exhilarated. Knowing God is exhilarating on a completely diﬀerent level. And, for the record, let’s get one thing straight: in order to shadow God, you’ve got to be reconciled to God. If you haven’t given your whole allegiance to Christ and his mission to heal the world then there is simply no other priority for you than that one. Go no further until you have surrendered your life and repented of your disregard, your selfishness, and your sin. 1 John 1.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. By now you’re likely crystal clear on one other important fact: you can’t shadow God on your own; you need the Spirit. John 14.16-17a I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. This is key: Jesus, in communication with the Father, who sends the Spirit. God in communion with God sending God - God is one; God is community. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit comprise what theologians refer to as the Holy Trinity – the central metaphysical mystery of Christian 157
Shadowing God spirituality. Our God is one substance, but three persons. The Father’s will mandates the Son’s mission requiring the Spirit’s guidance. The Son does the will of the Father. The Spirit bears witness to the Son. Yet, there is no hierarchy with God, he is three-in-one.
The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God. But the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, just as the Son is neither Father nor Spirit, just as the Spirit is neither Son nor Father. 158
dr david mcdonald Confused? Don’t stress about it too much – St. Augustine wrote 26 volumes of theology concerning the Trinity and felt like he’d only just begun to scratch the surface of Trinitarian implications for Christian spirituality. The important part is to remember that we cannot shadow God unless we’ve been reconciled to God through trust in Jesus Christ, nor can we shadow God unless we are led by the Spirit. Acts 1.8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Here, then, is how you cast your shadow in the way: 1. Give yourself wholly to God – you won’t have the right perspective on life until you do. 2. Repent of your sin – recognizing that the fundamental brokenness in our world is not so much out there as it is in here, within each of us to be dealt with personally before it can ever be addressed socially. 3. Invite the Spirit to lead you – so that you can shadow God in the redemption of the world. Like my experience with the leopard spoor in the African bush, you can’t track the signs of the Spirit until you get yourself oriented correct to the way. Once you’re positioned properly, your whole perspective will change on who you are and why you’re here in the world. This is the first, and ultimately the most important, principle of shadowing God. 159
look around Isaiah 43.10-12 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.” I’m terrified of spiders. This may actually be the best part about living in Michigan – the wimpy spiders, all legs like eyelashes and bodies like peas. But when I’m elsewhere, then I am always looking over my shoulder, in the cracks of homes or checking corners in restrooms. 160
dr david mcdonald You may think I’m kidding, but my friend Joe Neil laughed out loud the last time we traveled together once he realized that I am always checking, like an obsessive, for my foes. Africa has some big spiders that make big webs. They look like they’re from B-grade movies or John Wyndham novels, and I walked through a few of those satan-snares while trekking through the bush with Callie. Never has there been a more maddened display of spastic kung fu than when yours truly became entangled in the middle of the veldt within the webby home of a black demon. After that harrowing experience, Callie’s rejoinder to always look up and look around became all the more urgent. In the veldt you’ve got to remember to look up so you don’t inadvertently walk into any danger; you’re are always aware of your surroundings. Sometimes that danger may be topographical – a cliﬀ, quicksand – and sometimes that danger may be zoological – like a predator or a protective mother – but in all cases you will want to avoid walking into something unprepared and unaware. Life is like that too, and spirituality. We need to be aware of what’s going on so that we’re not caught unprepared and unawares. To help you better shadow God, there are three things of which you need to be aware at all times: your context, your culture, and your core competencies. You need to know your context so you can determine where you are, what God is already doing, and how you can cooperate with him to heal the world. If you are at work, you need to know there are limits to the kinds of spiritual conversations you can have. If you live in such and such a town you need to know what the real problems of that town are, what is being done to address those problems, and where you might slot in and make a diﬀerence. Context is key. You need to know your culture so you can figure out how to validate the 161
Shadowing God good and beautiful and true things within it, using those things as vehicles for the Gospel. You must learn your place in history, your marketplace, and your local idioms and rituals. God has placed you where you are, at this time, for a reason. You are like Esther – prepared for such a time as this (see Esther 4.13) – and you need to be like the sons of Issachar – who knew the times and knew what they should do (see 1 Chronicles 12.32) – and you have been sent on a mission like Jesus – who came, not to judge the world, but to save it (see John 3.17). Finally, you need to know what your core competencies are – your spiritual gifts, your skills and aptitudes, the things that make you valuable – so you can maximize your gift to the world (see 1 Corinthians 12 + 14). As you endeavor to shadow God in real life – and wonder what you’re supposed to do, or do next, or wonder whether or not you’ll be able to add anything of value – ask yourself these questions: Where am I? What is God already doing here? How can I cooperate with him in the work already underway? Who are the people around me? How is God speaking to them? How can I help them perceive the movement of the Spirit? What do I have to offer? What is my expertise? How can I use what I have to do what the Spirit desires? The answers to these questions will give you clear insights into your own life and the particulars of your destiny to cooperate with God in the redemption of the world.
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keep yourself in line with the Light One of the coolest parts of being out in the bush is getting to know some of the trackers. These are usually young men from surrounding tribes who have been expertly trained to survive in the veldt with all manner of wild things, while simultaneously protecting the soft, pink foreigners who visit, thinking it’s all a big zoo. I remember one particular moment when I felt particularly soft, pink, and protected by our guides. I was seated on the front hood of our Land Rover, talking amiably to one of the guides while the vehicle crawled over the pocked terrain. He smiled and nodded, and sometimes responded to my queries, but he never looked at me. Jokingly, I asked him if this way because I was unsightly. He laughed and said: no, it’s because I am tracking the lions. I don’t need to track you, you are talking beside me. The lions are up there and I don’t want to lose their line. Sometimes in life, we lose the line of the lions. We lose focus, our eyes wander, and we miss vital clues that are meant to direct us to the next step in faith, business, or leadership. 163
Shadowing God Don’t let your eyes wander. Don’t lose the line. As you work to shadow God, you will need to keep yourself in line with the light. Many of us know people who used to be religious, or used to go to church, or used to be professing Christians but now are not. There may be many reasons for this – they were badly hurt, they became disillusioned with leadership, they had doubts about their experiences, they endured a painful divorce, they suﬀered loss – but at the root of all their spiritual instability is this one issue: they lost the line. Somehow, the pain of their lives or the disappointment of their experiences or the misgivings of their intellect caused them to stop focusing on shadowing God, loving Jesus, and being obedient to the Spirit. They forgot – in their very souls – that Christian spirituality is not about issues or gatherings or dogma, but about a Person. This whole deal is about Jesus Christ, but if you forget that – if you lose focus – you will have lost the only thing that matters. Many things will happen to you in this life – some good, some bad – and you must never lose sight of God who gave you life, and gave you new life in Christ through either the haze of the good times or the fog of the bad times. If you want to know how to shadow God, then you must keep yourself in line with the light, in the line of the lion, so you are spared the pain and regret of ever surrendering your God-given vocation. 164
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follow the obvious route Galatians 6.9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. One of the most frequent questions I am asked as a pastor is what am I supposed to do when I can’t feel God anymore? The reason this question is so common is because just about everyone goes through a season of “spiritual dryness.” I’ve been through some spiritual dry spells in my life – in fact, so has every other Christ-follower I know. The surge of newfound faith often rushes less potently, then not at all, and we’re left wondering if everything we experienced was just groupthink, hallucination, or a momentary lapse of reason. During those times we often rely on the scriptures to give us sound logic and solid thinking about the supernatural reality of our lives; but, in my experience, it’s always the spiritually dry times during which my intellectual doubts manifest as well. Caught in a double-whammy, I’ve been left wondering if the faith I thought 165
Shadowing God I had was maybe just a product of my upbringing, or an overactive imagination, or a pleasant fiction I’ve chosen not to scrutinize too closely. But those feelings go away. They go away because they’re fleeting and insubstantial, easily dismissed by careful study of history and narrative. They go away because they’re melancholic, and I’ve had so many unexplainable and awesome encounters with the holy and immaterial that the doubts of the one cannot stand up to the wonder of the other. They go away because they find no resonance within the community of faith, and I see others who have had similar times of dryness testify to the fact that those dry seasons end and are anteceded by times of renewed spiritual vigor, maturity, and power. The question is not whether or not you will have dry spells in your faith – you will – or even whether or not you will come through those dry spells into a second naïveté – if you endure, you will –the real question is what should you do during those dry spells? The best answer, and simplest, is follow the obvious route. When I was tracking the leopard in Africa and lost its spoor, Callie gently came up beside me and asked me: where do you think the leopard would go from here? Straight ahead was a wall of thorn bushes, with a small opening just to our left, barely big enough for a grown man to hunch beneath. Through there, I said. Callie smiled: You know the leopard, he cannot fly and he cannot dig, and there are no trees here for him to climb, in order to go forward he will go through the most obvious route. Discerning God’s will for our lives is not rocket science. We know God, we know 166
dr david mcdonald ourselves, and we know what God wants from us in the world. The obvious route for lovers and followers of Jesus Christ is to shadow God and heal the world. Specifically, when we cannot feel God’s presence and we find ourselves in the midst of a season of spiritual dryness there are three things we ought to remember: 1. Everyone goes through seasons of spiritual dryness. They end. Despite the fact that “you know” this is likely to happen, you are still probably going to be caught oﬀ guard when it happens to you; or, you may simply not recognize what’s happening immediately as being spiritual dryness and may resist that diagnosis because it feels strange somehow. That, of course, is a common experience. Get around others who have endured these kinds of seasons and ask them for help to get through it. 2. Don’t mistake the absence of enthusiasm for the presence of error. Just because things don’t feel as scintillating as they used to doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong or that you should stop doing something you used to believe was right. 3. Persist in doing good. Don’t stop studying the scriptures just because it’s boring right now. Don’t stop inviting the Spirit to speak to you just because you feel like it’s a bit tedious at times. Simply continue along the obvious route – cultivate the competencies you require to better shadow God and do everything you can to cooperate with him in the redemption of the world. If all else fails, and you’re still unsure what – specifically – you should do in the midst of your spiritual malaise you might consider taking the advice my friend Spencer gave to me: just keep doing whatever it was that God last told you to do and when that mess is sorted out he’ll give you something else. At the time, I thought that advice was horribly trite (and theologically, a little lame), but the proof of the pudding was in the eating and Spencer’s advice proved 167
Shadowing God to be very tasty indeed. After all, he was just finding a new way to remind me to follow the obvious route of shadowing God and healing the world.
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ref lect The most important person to track is yourself. Callie Roos, President Institute for Purpose Centered Leadership One of the animals I got to track during my time in the bush was the Black Rhino â€“ a large, aggressive, animal that some theologians believe was the one-horned beast (read: unicorn) written about in Isaiah and Job. Once you get close to the Black Rhino, itâ€™s easy to understand why it made such an impression on the biblical writers. It is a magnificent animal. Led by a single guide (Callie had entrusted me to one of his associates) with a single rifle carrying only a single bullet to be used in the single event of an us-or-him confrontation, I crept quickly through the shoulder-high scrub to see the animal. Because the visibility was so poor, we didnâ€™t see the rhino until it was within 20 169
Shadowing God yards of where we were standing. Thankfully, the 3,000lb animal was facing the other direction, but we were still a little anxious about being so close. My guide turned to me and said: let’s stop for a moment and reflect. Now, because English was his fifth language, I thought maybe he meant to suggest we stop moving and wait, hoping the rhino will move along out and we will be safely out of harm’s way; but his accidental idiom gave me pause. Here, in the presence of great majesty and grave danger, let us stop and reflect. The unexamined life is not worth living. Socrates, 5th C Athenian Philosopher Herein lies the final truth about how to shadow God: you can’t do it unless you stop moving around and reflect. You’ve got to quiet down your life. You’re too busy. You don’t need to do all of the things you do. Until you get your life in check – until you take the time to stop, in the presence of life’s magic and mayhem – you will not be able to perceive the movement of the Spirit. So on your way to pick up the kids from lessons, just stop – for a moment – and reflect, giving yourself wholly to the Spirit even as you drive. Turn oﬀ the music. Put away your phone. Place your travel mug back into the holder. So before you walk in the door after work, just stop – 170
dr david mcdonald for a moment – and sit in your car with the engine oﬀ, inviting the Spirit to transform you into the parent and spouse and lover he wants you to become. So on your lunch break, just stop – for a moment – and remind yourself who you are and why you’re alive in this world. Ask the Spirit to convict you of sin, to guide you with wisdom, and to help you better shadow God and heal the world. Otherwise, you may never fully appreciate what it means to be in the presence of something awesomely beautiful – the Spirit of God, alive and at work in you – something terrifying – the Will of the Father, pressing you to make change – and something powerful – the example of the Son, who gave his life so we might live.
the elements of spiritual formation do something for your soul TRY THE TRANSFORMATIONAL ACT OF JOURNALING Journaling is a great way to learn to hear God’s voice and see His presence in your everyday. You can do this electronically or the tactile way, with an actual journal. We suggest you begin by reading some portion of the Bible (i.e. a Proverbs, a Psalm (try 111), Romans 3.21-21,Galations 1, John 3), asking God to speak to you as you do. Write as you read. Put down what stands out, what you question, what connects to life. Talk to God about what you put in your journal. Ask Him to use it to speak into your life and heart. Also journal about what He reveals to you, His answers. do something for your relationships WHO DO YOU SEE AS SPIRITUAL SALT AND LIGHT Who has been salt and light in your life? What actions, words, attitudes do they utilize? Make a list of those attributes for each person you think of. Contact that person(s) and let them know what role they have played in your life, examples of Godly salt and light. Thank them and tell them how it has impacted you. do something for your church GET INVOLVED IN A SMALL GROUP Relationships make a diﬀerence. They foster the environment for personal and 172
dr david mcdonald spiritual growth, general health and relational care. Being in relationship with other Jesus followers helps us connect the life dots. If you are not in a small group (satellite at Westwinds), why not? What is holding you back? Contact the Small Group Coordinator at your church and find out what is available. You might also consider becoming a small group leader, asst. leader, or home host. Churches are in constant need for more small groups of almost every kind. Again, contact your church group coordinator to learn more.
do something for your world THE IMPACT OF ART Are you an artist (painter, sculptor, drawer, graphic designer, seamstress, photographer, pot thrower…keep the list going)? What are you doing with your abilities and talents to shadow God and change the world? What kind of impact could you have on your community? Get some like minded and hearted people together and talk about how art might change an area, neighborhood in your town. Brainstorm some ideas and ways to give back and speak Jesus into the lives of people. Of course you will need to go through the proper channels for approval and all that. Make sure you have permission for implementation of your ideas. Do you love art, but can’t draw for your life? You can still play a major role in transforming your community through art by helping to arrange something. Maybe you are a land owner and you commission something to be done on your property. The possibilities are endless. We challenge you to pull people together to make it happen. Tell us your stories. We think art is powerful and would love to hear how you have utilized it to make a diﬀerence in the lives of people around you (contact becky@ westwinds.org to share your story). 173
conclusion In the 15th century the Javanese traded spice to the Portuguese and got Christianity in return. More or less. Like their Thai neighbors, the Javanese people were artisans and practitioners of their own brand of shadow puppetry called Wayang Purwa, in which the creation stories of their culture have been passed on and preserved. When the Christian missionaries arrived, the Jesuits quickly began to adapt the biblical narrative to the Javanese art form creating the Testament Wayang, showing the Cosmic Christ as Creator of All. Wayang Purwa follows a strict four-act progression: 1. the creation of the world 2. the lineage of the hero 3. the heroâ€™s quest 4. the final struggle for control. The Testament Wayang follows a similar structure in the re-telling of the Story of God and the world: 1. God made this world and loved it, placing us in charge as his stewards, but 174
dr david mcdonald we forswore our holy vocation and chose corruption over life. 2. God worked through human history and agency to redeem the world, but it was only with the arrival of his son – the perfect image, the perfect steward – that the promise of salvation became real. 3. God’s son exhausted the powers of evil and exposed the forces of violence and corruption in the world, defeating them forever. 4. Now we live in anticipation of the final reckoning in which every wrong will be made right and all crooked paths made straight. This is the Story of God and the World, the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Savior, and Perfect Image of God. In the introduction to this book I told you about Thai shadow puppetry, Nang Ta Lung. The image of these shadow plays, and the freedom to look behind the screens of the performers to see what’s happening backstage, is an image I keep with me all of the time. I want people to look behind my life and see Christ performing. A few years ago I first tried my hand at a little Nang. Some friends and I decided that we’d perform a play on the roof of our local church. We wrote the script. We wrote the music. We cast our other friends, all decked out in sparkles and stardom. We broadcast the play over a low-watt FM frequency to the neighborhood. Since the church was in the middle of a cul-de-sac clover, almost 50 homes had behind the scenes access to our production, our design process, our rehearsals, and our costume changes. It was the stupidest thing I have ever done. If failure had a production company, it would have been the Rooftop Theatre. Maybe I’m being too harsh…but maybe not. The idea was sound in principle, but the execution was so poor the only Nang-Chung anybody got was the privilege of seeing a 360 degree cluster of fluster. We had all the right ingredients, but none of the theatrical mojo to make it good. Our acting was bad, our production design 175
Shadowing God consisted primarily of Styrofoam and cellophane, and when we broadcasted our production it was frequently interrupted with the gay and lesbian call-in show from the neighboring station. Good idea. Dumb play. Lesson learned. Fortunately, I’ve come to treat failure like vitamins. I’ve had lots, and I’ve gotten better at living because of every bitter pill I’ve had to choke down before moving on. My early Nanguish paved the way for me to think diﬀerently about performance art, and even more diﬀerently about faith in Jesus. All my failures, my shortcomings, and my disappointments – while still humiliating and frustrating and painful – I now bring to God, recognizing in them the rough materials through which the Spirit will work to teach and transform me to be a better shadow. Because success is only better than failure insofar as we strive to make even winning a time of great hospitality to the Spirit and honor God for his participation in our lives, because life is about more than thriving or sputtering out in theatre, or business, or church, because God is more interested in doing something in us and through us than for us and to us. May you experience the best parts of shadowing God with gratitude and openness, and greet the chores of daily living with the insight of your holy vocation to heal the world. May you know the pleasures of walking in the shadow of the Almighty, and endure 176
dr david mcdonald lifeâ€™s losses and withholdings with grace and hope. May you live in dignity and humility while exercising authority and responsibility, so as to stand in the Presence of the Light of the World and cast a long shadow.
- david mcdonald, august 30, 2010
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ISBN-10: ISBN-13: Christian Living/Spiritual Growth
Published on Feb 28, 2011
"Shadowing God" is about how to follow God inside us. It's about how to sort out which impulses are His and which are from Oprah, Deepak, Ma...