Praying to a God who Knows You (Psalm 139)

It’s hard to be known. It’s hard to let people in. If we’re honest, when it comes to life and relationships, it’s easier to hide. It’s safer to hide.

Many of us in relationships hide. We are afraid. We keep things to ourselves. Some of this is out of fear. We are afraid of what people would think if they knew everything about us.

We don’t want to disappoint people. We want to be liked, to be known, to be seen as having certain abilities.

Some of us jump into relationships and become dependent on the other person. We need to be needed, we need them to validate us.

Sometimes as we hide, we manipulate people to get what we want, to get them to think certain things about us.

Sometimes to be known, we’ll isolate ourselves so that someone will chase us. This tells us we are worth it. We’ll become detached in relationships so someone will say, “I need you.”

Sometimes to protect ourselves from being known and to feel safe, we’ll jump from relationship to relationship. We’ll change gyms, small groups, where we get coffee, we’ll change social groups, all in an effort to hide. I have a friend who the moment they get too close to people, they pull back.

Where does this come from?

From our earliest moments as a baby, we have a desire to be loved, to be known.

We also have a deep desire to be safe.

These desires travel with us into being adults. To the point (and often rightfully so) that we will do whatever it takes to be safe in relationships.

Ironically, for many of us the destructive patterns of isolation, hiding, manipulation and living out of fear or co-dependency are how we’ve learned to be safe.

We then take this to God and think, “This is what worked with my mom, my dad, my teacher, my boss, my spouse, and this must be how I relate to God.”

What if bearing ourselves to God is the only way to be safe? What if sharing our deepest hurt is the only way to move forward in our relationship with God and ourselves?

As one of my mentors says, “Whatever we don’t own, owns us.”

So how do you own your past? How do you own what has been done to you? How do you own your anger? Bitterness? Loneliness? How do you move forward in a way that brings about freedom instead of keeping you stuck?

The answer is prayer.

Philip Yancey said, “An important purpose of prayer is to let our true selves be loved by God.”

Prayer is a window into God’s love and God’s heart for us. It is a chance to give our heart and hurt to Him. It is a place to remove our fears, doubts and hurt.

Psalm 139 tells us that not only does God know us, but God is everywhere and is not scared of what He knows about us. God will not leave us.

What a promise.

What a reminder that freedom comes from no longer hiding.

How does this work in prayer?

Bring to God your hurts. Say out loud or in your head, “God, this is my fear. This is my pain. These are my doubts.” Name them. Naming things often takes away their power.

Invite, like the psalmist in Psalm 139 does, for God to know you. In fact, using Psalm 139 and simply praying that to God might be a great next step for you as you name things and invite God into this place (even though He’s already there).

I often find that thanking God for knowing me and not leaving me is a powerful prayer moment. It is an amazing reminder.

Family Devotions, Train Wrecks, Praying as a Couple & the Grace to Move Forward

If you’re a man and attend church, you’ve heard a pastor say, “You need to be leading your family spiritually.” Yet many men struggle with this. I know I do.

On a regular basis I’ll sit with a man and he’ll ask me, “How do I lead my wife spiritually? When I’ve tried, I’ve been terrible at it. How do I start?”

Family devotions sound incredibly intimidating and scary for many men. Most men look at their spiritual lives and that of their wife and think, “She’s more spiritual than I am. She’s smarter than I am. She’s more mature spiritually than I am.” There’s a good chance that if you are like most couples, she is.

Now, before giving some ideas, let me say up front that this is hard. Devotions for many couples and families are train wrecks. Kids don’t sit still, they go on tangents, it feels stale or simply feels like you aren’t moving forward at all. The picture of the couple who rises at 5am, drinks coffee and reads their Bibles together while holding hands is not reality for many people. Kids who sit still and listen is also not a reality. (I have four boys, and keeping them in their seats for anything can be monumental.)

Here are a few ideas:

1. Do something. Most couples and families suffer because they don’t do anything. Just do something. You’ll see in a minute that trying different ideas might be a good idea, but simply do something. Even if it is asking, “What is God teaching you right now? Where have you seen God at work recently?”

2. Find what works for you. What works for one family and couple may or may not work for you.

When Katie and I got married, we probably got at least 10 couple’s devotionals for our wedding. We read through many of them, laughed at many of the ridiculous questions they asked and then handed them off to another couple (sorry if you got one). They just didn’t work for us. Neither did rising at 5am to drink coffee and read together. These work for many couples, and that’s great.

Whatever you do, find what works for you as a couple.

For Katie and me, we don’t do couple’s devotions. We often don’t read the same parts of the Bible at the same time or even the same books. We sometimes do, but we often talk about what God is teaching us. We’ll listen to a podcast together, or I’ll find things she should listen to or books she should read.

For us, our spiritual journey together is often debriefing. This keeps us on the same page and keeps us growing together.

3. Decide doing something consistently (even if mediocre) is better than doing something inconsistently that is incredible. More than likely, especially when it comes to family devotions, it will feel mediocre at best and a train wreck at worst. Don’t quit.

Have the long view on this.

Also, and don’t miss this, kids catch more than you think. I am continually surprised at what my kids catch, pick up and remember. That conversation you think they slept through (and if you have teenagers they may have slept through it), they may have picked up 30% of it.

So, build on that.

4. Give some grace. Regardless, give yourself, your kids and your spouse some grace.

One of the things Katie will often encourage women when it comes to this topic is to be okay with your husband fumbling his way through this. Most husbands (even pastors) are not very good at leading their families spiritually. They have a picture in their mind of what it should look like (but it rarely gets there). They feel like they are failing their wife, boring their kids and failing God. They also feel guilt because they should be doing this and doing it better than they are.

So give grace. Celebrate doing something. When it was a train wreck, say it was a nice train wreck. We survived. Our kids heard the gospel and we tried. And we’ll try again tomorrow.

Links for Leaders 4/7/17

It’s the weekend. The perfect time to grab a cup of coffee and catch up on some reading. Here are 4 articles I came across this week that I found helpful as a leader and parent and hope you do as well.

John Maxwell has noted, “There is a difference between problem solving and problem spotting.” While we need people around us to point out problems, we benefit for them being on the solution side of the problem and not merely ones who make it their mission to uncover problems for other people to solve. How though? Eric Geiger shares 3 problems leaders face and how to handle them.

Easter is coming. Most churches have planned well and are ready for the surge of guests that will come, but many churches are not. Brandon Kelley has 3 vital pieces for planning your Easter services well.

Many leaders are tired, worn out, their head is spinning with all the ideas they have and the things they need to do. They pour themselves out in sermons, classes, counseling sessions and meetings. They are constantly producing and trying to keep up with what is next. The solution? According to Charles Stone (and I’d agree) it is silence and solitude.

Pastors face enormous pressures. Some of them are from their family of origin, from their churches, their spouse, their own heads and some are even imagined pressures. The reality is, if you don’t learn to deal with those pressures, they will destroy you and your ministry. This is a powerful reminder from Brian Dodd and has one of the most powerful quotes I’ve ever read: “Fatigue is from claiming promises that weren’t yours to claim.”

How to Ask God for Help (Psalm 121)

For most of us, prayer bounces between a plea for help, a running conversation or to-do list with God, a reassurance of God’s power and presence in our lives, a wishlist or a shouting match with God, down to wondering if God has forgotten us.

One of the most common ways we pray is a prayer for help.

Eugene Peterson said, “Trouble is what gets prayer started.”

And that’s true.

We pray out of desperation. We pray because we aren’t sure what else to do. We rend the heavens in hopes that God will hear, that God will move. We pray through tears, mumbling and bumbling from a place of helplessness.

We pray for health, for healing, for relationships to be mended, for kids and parents and spouses to be saved, to be changed. We pray for jobs, for finances. We pray for those close to us who are destroying their lives. We pray for wisdom in decisions.

And in all this, we are often very helpless to bring about an answer.

So, how do you ask God for help? How does He hear?

Psalm 121 gives us the answer:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

Here are four things we learn from this Psalm about asking God for help:

1. Admit your need for help. This seems obvious, but to ask God for help means we are admitting our need for help. We don’t do this naturally. We are naturally self-sufficient, self-assured people. We are raised to handle it, to get it done, to be fine, to not depend on anyone.

The writer of this Psalm is helpless and they know it. They need help.

2. Believe God can and will help. Know where your help comes from.

For many of us, once we exhaust our ability to fix something, we still don’t go to prayer. Maybe there is a book, a sermon, a financial move, a google search I can do, a person I can get advice from. Prayer for too many of us is a last resort.

When we get there, we say, “God, I don’t know if you can help. I don’t know if you care to help. So I’ll look around.”

3. Be patient. The writer of Psalm 121 reminds us to go to sleep. This communicates that sometimes our prayers will take longer than we think but that God will fight for us and work on things, while we sleep.

Sleep is one of the greatest pictures of faith in our lives.


The time that we worry, are anxious and replay conversations over and over in our minds is at night. We lie there, staring at the clock, thinking about our bank account, our job, our marriage, our kids, our parents. The problems we experience in relationships, worrying about college, bills, health, the list goes on and on. Yet, in that moment there is almost nothing we can do.

The people we are worried about are asleep, the people we would call for help and advice are asleep. The writer of Psalm 121 says, “Go to sleep.”

4. God is over all things. Why can we be patient and go to sleep? Not only because God is our help and never sleeps, but because verses 7 and 8 tell us that God is over all things.

He watches all things. He is not surprised by anything. Nothing catches him off guard.

It ends with a crucial word, forevermore.

Forever is a long time, and yet that is the scope of our God.

Psalm 121 is a prayer to give us confidence to ask God for help and confidence as we wait for that help to come.

Church Growth and the Work of God

We know that God is the one who makes a church grow, that it isn’t on us. This is both a comfort and a problem.

It is a comfort because we can rest. We don’t have to force things, we don’t have to make something happen. It is a problem because it can make us lazy. It can make us throw up our hands and say, “Well, I just need to preach the gospel and that’s it.” This is much like the Calvinist who doesn’t share his faith because “God will get who he’s going to get”, as one pastor told me.

Those are extremes, but they are important to point out.

Yes, Jesus grows his church. God grows the seeds that are planted. The Holy Spirit draws people, and often times a church grows and God moves with no explanation.

Other times a church grows, and while the Holy Spirit did the work, there were specific things that church did and did not do.

How much are you praying? How much is your elder and staff team praying? Not only for people in your church but for people not in your church? Are you asking God for specific people you are in relationships with? Are you praying that God will send 300, 500 people to your church this Easter? How burdened is the pastor for people who don’t know Jesus? Are there any sins in your church, leadership team or your life that you need to confess that are hindering the work of God?

In your church and in your preaching and worship, are you exalting Jesus and making it simple for people to understand?

Many times I’ll have pastors ask me to listen to their sermons, and all I can think the whole time is that I have to have a seminary degree to understand what he is talking about. Being simple is not being shallow. Being simple is being helpful. The gospel is complex, deep and robust, but it is also so simple that my four year old can explain it to you. Our kids can draw a picture of the gospel, so our preaching should reflect that to a certain degree.

One of the ways we evaluate this in our church has to do with communion. When we move from the sermon to communion, is it an easy transition or does it feel like a hard right turn?

We’ll talk about systems in a minute, but do you have a clear vision, a clear strategy and a clear picture of what you are shooting for? For example, can you articulate in simple terms what a healthy, mature disciple looks like? Many times in our churches, we can’t. I’m sad to say, in our church we waited too long to articulate this, and it did a disservice to our people.

I think the work of God is deeply connected to our ability to clearly help our people grow. They are connected. If Jesus builds his church and the gates of hell will not prevail, what kind of people will withstand those gates?

Many times churches do not know what they are trying to build in people. They don’t know what a healthy, mature disciple looks like, so they aren’t sure what they are aiming at. For our church, we took too long to define this clearly, and I think that hurt us as a church.


Not only did it not serve our leaders and people well, we weren’t able to ask God for specific things to build into our people. It hinders the ability to focus a sermon calendar on those important discipleship aspects.

Let me leave you with an important question for churches, boards and staffs: What kind of disciples are you building? Is that what the New Testament calls us to? Do you have a clear path to accomplish that?

Links for Leaders 3/31/17

It’s the weekend. The perfect time to grab a cup of coffee and catch up on some reading. Here are 4 articles I came across this week that I found helpful as a leader and parent and hope you do as well.

Speaking is hard work, whether you do it every week in a church, for students in a classroom or once a month if your office. If you do speak, here are 3 ways to cope with the stress of speaking from Dr. Nick Morgan.

Easter is coming and for every pastor and church, that means higher attendance and more guests. Many pastors start planning for Easter too late in the year. If that’s you (or even if you’ve planned ahead), Steve Fogg has 3 communication mistakes to avoid as a church this Easter.

We are about to enter the teen years of parenting and like most parents entering this stage, we are doing so with a healthy dose of excitement and fear. One of the things Katie and I have talked a lot about is what to do when our kids are somewhere else, how to stay in touch, how to help them navigate peer pressure and situations that make them uncomfortable. In short, how to create an escape plan for your teen.

Every leader wants to be productive, to accomplish things, cross things off of their to-do list, but as a leader, there seems to be a never ending stream of things that need your attention, fires that need to be put out and always one more thing to do. For many, we end up wasting a lot of time. Doing what? Chuck Lawless gives us 10 times wasters for most leaders.

Why Dating is Easy & Marriage is Hard

If you’ve been married any length of time, you’ve wondered what happened. Why did dating seem so easy? Why did it seem like it was easy to have fun and connect with your boyfriend or girlfriend while you were dating and engaged, but now that you are married it is like pulling teeth?

Anytime you share your feelings, you have a fight. One of you wants sex, but the other does not. One of you feels satisfied, but the other does not. While dating, you could agree on what movie to watch, what activity to do or where to eat, but now you find yourselves having nothing in common but a last name and maybe a child.

Many couples struggle with this. While you may feel like you are the only one, you aren’t.

Yes, your life has changed now. You are older, have more bills and more history with your spouse than when you dated. You also have stress you didn’t have before. I know, it was hard planning your wedding and dealing with families, but now you are dealing with bosses, teachers, your children and you are still dealing with your families! Everything has simply magnified.

But the question remains for many couples and keeps them stuck.

Why can’t I connect to my spouse like we did when we dated?

One other thing changed that is subtle, and many couples miss it.

It isn’t that you have less in common (although your interests may have changed) or that you aren’t in love anymore, although you may need a refresher on what love is.

There is a word that defined your dating and engaged life. A word that you didn’t discuss. You never sat down as a couple to decide on this word. It just happened.



You were intentional.

You decided in advance. You decided to pursue the other. To work at your relationship.

You decided you would put effort into your relationship and yourself.

You made special plans. You thought through how to wake up early and drive to watch a sunrise. You found out things they liked and sought to make that happen. You surprised them.

You decided to wear things to attract them instead of mailing in your clothes choice.

Most dating couples are incredibly intentional about their relationships, and most married couples expect a great marriage to just happen.

But it doesn’t.

Here’s a great question to discuss as a couple: In what areas of our lives (marriage, kids, career, finances, sex, spirituality, etc.) are we being intentional, and in which areas do we need to be more intentional?

Wednesday Mind Dump…

  • While I haven’t been preaching over the last 3 weeks, I’ve been in the throws of our hiring process at Revolution Church.
  • While I have loved talking to candidates, I know that hiring is something I do not want to spend the majority of my time doing.
  • Way too detailed.
  • If you’re looking for help in hiring or team building, check out these books: The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues by Patrick Lencioni, It’s Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best and Great People Decisions: Why They Matter So Much, Why They are So Hard, and How You Can Master Them, both by Claudio Fernandez Araoz.
  • I am blown away by the caliber of candidates, both inside and outside of our church.
  • The potential for this role is huge for our church and city.
  • Cory taught a new song on Sunday at Revolution, What a Beautiful Name.
  • It was such a powerful moment.
  • Found afterwards that some reformed pastors don’t like the song because the line “Jesus didn’t want heaven without us so he brought heaven down.”
  • I get the self-centered fear that pastors might have, but being mad about that line makes it sound like Jesus could do without us in heaven or is indifferent to us.
  • Makes God too cold in my opinion.
  • Needless to say, we’ll be keeping that song.
  • I had chills as our church belted out the bridge: You have no rival, You have no equal.
  • Wow.
  • Monday night we pulled together many of our leaders at Revolution and shared with them a clearer discipleship grid for our church.
  • I was convicted last year that we have not clearly defined what a healthy, mature disciple is and how to get there.
  • We are still building it out, but the foundation is there and I am excited about it and the potential growth our people will experience.
  • Our hiring right now is a part of this journey.
  • One of the things I’m most excited at Revolution right now is how healthy our leadership team is.
  • We are stronger, working together better, hanging out, laughing.
  • It is fantastic.
  • This hasn’t always been a priority for me and it has shown in our church and that makes me sad looking back on it.
  • I took Ava to see Beauty and the Beast over the weekend.
  • Super fun.
  • Not everyone will appreciate this, but if you are a theological nerd you will.
  • I’m super geeked out about the sermon calendar for the next year at Revolution.
  • Well, I gotta preach on Sunday, so back at it…

How Leadership Capacity Affects the Growth & Health of a Church

Recently I had a conversation with my leadership coach, and he made the comment, “Josh, Revolution has the ability to grow past 600 in the next five years, but the question is, do you have the capacity for that? Are you willing to do what it takes to make that happen?”

Now, we all know that God is the one who grows a church, but often that church is healthy and growing because of the character, quality and capacity of the lead pastor and leaders.

First, do you have the desire for your church to grow and be healthy? Do you have the desire to see your people become more like Jesus? Many pastors have a desire for a crowd, but that is different. Having a desire to see your people grow in holiness, passion for God and for their neighbor will shape your leadership and preaching.

While desire matters, or I should say rightly placed desires, that alone won’t grow a church.

It will take effort, work, time, and sacrifice.

This will be seen in the time you put into prayer, sermon prep, personal growth as a leader, what you are willing to sacrifice in terms of comfort or even what you’d like your job to be. Some of that sacrifice comes in the day to day of meeting with people, of shepherding and walking with them. Being willing to be a pastor and not a rock star preacher.

Hustle is a popular word in entrepreneur circles and one that needs to get some airtime in pastoring circles. Not in an effort to burn out, but in an effort to work hard for something that matters.

Mike Myatt, in his book Hacking Leadership: The 11 Gaps Every Business Needs to Close and the Secrets to Closing Them Quickly, says, “The difference between good and great often comes down to discipline.”

Are you disciplined in how you spend your time, how you spend your money, what you eat, how much sleep you get? Do you determine who you will spend your time with and who you won’t? All of those things determine your leadership capacity. They determine the energy levels you have, the spiritual reserves you have to pull from when leading and pastoring and the kind of leader you are at home and at work.

When every minute is accounted for and given a name, things get done and less time is wasted.

This doesn’t mean you need to be fanatical, but you have 24 hours in a day, a short life ahead of you and a shorter ministry time, so use it wisely. Honor God with it.