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Ask Me Anything (Spiritual Formation, Prayer, Blogging, and more)

Ask Me Anything

I recently ordered the book Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul by Hannah Anderson. I wanted to ask for your feedback on a concern I have regarding this book. I was lovingly warned by a friend that this book falls into the “spiritual formation movement” category of which, until recently, I was totally unfamiliar. I was also lovingly warned for the same reason about another book I recently ordered, None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) by Jen Wilkin. Would you be able to provide your feedback on these concerns?

The “spiritual formation movement” is something of a hazy category, so we need to be careful how we define it and what we include within it. On the one hand, spiritual formation can be a perfectly helpful category that refers to spiritual growth according to God’s means of grace. At its best, spiritual formation is simply growing in Christian maturity. You might also hear it referred to as biblical spirituality.

However, the term is also used to describe practices that owe as much to mysticism and even outright paganism as they do to Christianity. This brand of spiritual formation is closely associated with Richard Foster, Ruth Hayley Barton, and InterVarsity Press’s Formatio imprint. There are very valid reasons to be concerned with these authors and what they teach.

When you hear the term, you need to be sure how it is being used. As far as I know, neither Hannah Anderson nor Jen Wilkin are associated with the spiritual formation movement. Their books are designed to help Christians with spiritual growth, but they do not fall into that concerning “spiritual formation” category. Both authors are clear that their authority is the Word of God and they anchor what they write in Scripture. You can read them with confidence.

I am hoping you can shed some light on a balance/concept I have been struggling with. Recently, I have been looking into prayer (reading Tim Keller’s Prayer and also implementing some organization suggestions from some of your previous articles. These resources have been both helpful and enlightening, but I still have a question that has gone unanswered. There are times when I pray in which I “feel” disconnected from God. The word “feel” is a dangerous thing to bank on, but still, there seems to be an emotional detachment. Of course, the Lord commands my obedience, not my emotions, yet I struggle with this concept. Is there validity in my obedience if my emotions do not match? Is God glorified; is He pleased?

I think most Christians can identify with what you describe here. There are times that all of us experience that sense of disconnection and when we wish our feelings were more obedient to our desires. We proceed obediently, all the while wishing our feelings were better aligned with our convictions. You are not alone here.

I might push back a little on your statement that God “commands my obedience, not my emotions.” Emotions are powerful and, like our minds and bodies, are to be brought into subjection to Christ. As time goes on, our emotions, too, should become sanctified. They, too, need to be tempered by truth.

Is there validity to your obedience if your emotions do not match? I think there is. But that does not mean you can be complacent. I encourage you to speak to God about those emotions. Remember that God is your Father and you can speak to him as his child. So as you pray, talk to God about your emotions. Admit to him that you feel detached. Tell him that you want to feel what you believe. Plead with him to sanctify your emotions so they are in alignment with what you know to be true. But most of all, just pray.

How does one know when it’s worth starting a blog? For every vibrant blog there are probably twenty that shouldn’t exist. A blog doesn’t make much sense without some readership, yet you don’t know if you can build readership unless you try. More importantly, how do you gauge you have something worthwhile to share, and thereby justify the time it takes? Thanks!

Looking back, I’m quite sure I was not ideally suited to blogging when I began. I was lacking in character. Too much of what I said in those early days was too forceful, too immature, too obnoxious. If I could go back, I would do a lot of things differently. I have repented of a lot of that and, at times, apologized to people I offended. So God sometimes uses us despite our lack of preparation or lack of worthiness.

I suppose a lot comes down to why you blog. Do you want to blog to elevate yourself or build yourself a platform? That word platform is used quite a lot in relation to blogging and many people see blogging as a necessary stepping-stone to gaining wider influence. They are told to start a blog, gather a following, sign a book deal, and then go on to fame and acclaim.

Or do you want to write to serve others? A person who will only blog for a large audience is like a pastor who will only preach for a large congregation—you have to wonder at his motives. There is nothing wrong with a small church and there is nothing wrong with a small blog. Far better to influence a few people deeply than many people barely at all. I am convinced we write best when we write for the good of others rather than for the good of ourselves.

When is it worth starting a blog? When you have something to say that you believe will be a blessing to others. When it is not worth starting a blog? When you want to use others to gain glory and fame for yourself.

In a recent Bible study, several class members expressed their opinion that it is okay to be mad at God, since he can take it. This seems to be a common saying among evangelicals these days. Can we be mad at God?

In short, no. It is never right for human beings to be mad at God.

This is not to say that we cannot be mad about things that happen within God’s world. This is a world full of terror and pain. We are constantly subjected to sin and endlessly witness the effects of depravity. If God hates injustice, so should we. If God is infuriated by sin, we should be too.

Yet we cannot be mad at God. In fact, to be mad at God is the very height of human arrogance. When we shake our fists at the sky, we indicate our belief that we could do better than God. To suggest we could do better than God suggests we know better than God. No longer are we saying, “Thy will be done,” but “My will be done.” To be angry at God is to want to swap places with him, to improve upon his design.

God’s actions are inseparable from his character. Thus, we cannot sinlessly disapprove of what God does, for that is to disapprove of God himself. Abraham had it right when he asked rhetorically, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Of course he will. Our faith in him allows us to believe it, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

What is your opinion of audiobooks? If I am doing the 2017 Christian Reading Challenge, should books listened to be included with books read?

I love audiobooks and listen to them often. And yes, you can definitely include them in the Reading Challenge. I’ll give one piece of advice: Use audiobooks for fiction and lighter non-fiction, but use printed books or ebooks for heavier non-fiction. The benefit of audiobooks is that they can be listened to wherever you’ve got access to a device capable of playing them. I tend to listen to them in the car. The trouble is that the medium doesn’t allow taking notes or adding highlights. That keeps me from the actions that retain the key points. For that reason, I’ve sometimes regretted listening to books instead of reading them. I enjoyed listening, but realized that if I wanted to remember them, I’d need to read them again in a different format.

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