At Woven, we’ve begun a new series on WORK & SPIRITUALITY, and this past Sunday I dug deep down and preached from the soil between my toes. It was a lifetime opus. Here is the summary of my message in 3 principles illustrating the pursuit of meaning when it comes to Monday to Friday: Continue reading “How Can I Find Meaning At Work? #sanctifyMONtoFRI”
As a transplant, I have come to love the South, to make it my home, to be my place of mission and residence. Its problems I have adopted as my own. Its issues, mine. Its history… mine too. So I take part Continue reading “Let Justice Roll: Stirring Words to the Christian South From MLK”
Prayer. The hardest thing in the world.
Fifteen years ago, I was a prayer fanatic. Having grown up in a holiness tradition in a Korean church, I was all about the early rising, the long hours logged in prayer, the moaning and the groaning and the angst, the knobby knees, the undecipherable words that only my spirit deep within knew.
And then overnight, kaput.
I no longer had the words. And the more I spoke in prayer, the more I seemed to dig myself deeper into the late-stage onset of undiagnosed depression I had. I found I could no longer speak. And the more I tried, actually the darker and heavier and more deeply depressed I felt. Prayer felt oppressive. And this, after years and years of regular – daily – prayer spent on my knees for about an hour, sometimes two.
Fifteen years later I stumble upon this gem of a quote by C.S. Lewis in Till We Have Faces that so adequately summarizes the experience I had:
“Only words, words; to be led out in battle against other words…
I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer…
why should they hear the babble that we think we mean?”
I now know that prayer is not about my words.
I now know that uncritical prayer can mask deeper needs.
I now know that misguided prayer can smokescreen deeper brokennesses.
I now know that prayer is not about an intense hour, but a day-long abiding.
I now know that it is not heroic to bleed out words, but better to conserve them.
It is better to use few words well than many repetitively. Word inflation = meaning deflation. Jesus warned us about thinking we would be heard for our many words (Matt 6:7) and therefore told us not to use “meaningless repetition” as the pagans do. “batta/logeo” is the word there, denoting a word (logos / logeo) babbled about meaninglessly (battabattabattabattabatta). It is believed to be an onomatopoetic reference. I know I have done my share of battabattabattabattabatta’ing. And for that season perhaps it served its purpose. But today I have great difficulty bringing myself to doing that again.
I have learned to pray instead with very few words, but great amounts of silent reflection, and a very actively engaged mind. Not a racing mind, mind you – and there is a difference – but an actively engaged mind. Even when I am not saying anything. It becomes prayer for me when I am deep in contemplation that is worshipful.
Today I still pray, but with different starting motivations. It is not longer to rack up words to get into a spiritual hall of fame. It is not to build a rep. It is to expose my soul. It is to open it up to correction. It is to understand God’s universe and His ways, and to align myself with Him where throughout the day I may have gotten misaligned. And selfish. Or resentful.
Prayer is less about unholy becoming more holy.
It is more about sick taking my medicine getting better.
Constantly having to set ego aside. Take an inventory, do an evening examen. Was I wrong when I shot back at my wife that way? Was that lustful thought worth entertaining? And where am I hungry, anxious, lonely, or tired? Why am I snapping at my children these days? Prayer, prayer, prayer.
Prayer is not a talisman or a charm to get what we want; rather it is about knowing the mind of God even before we ask.
And that’s why we are so often told: “Ask Me again” – because are we sure that’s what we really want?”
And further, what do we really want beneath what we want?
This stream of consciousness are some reflections I am having as I prepare to teach for the next 11 weeks on the subject. I don’t feel adequate. Haven’t mastered it. But I have fought to attain it and can only share in the struggle.
Prayer. The hardest thing in the world.
I annually re-post this as reminder to fix my eyes on the prize:
Ten Things To Do Before I Die:
1. End genocide.
2. Stabilize the Middle East.
3. Master a foreign language.
4. Eradicate one disease, pathogen or virus.
5. Alleviate unnecessary human suffering.
6. Write one well-written and scholarly book.
7. Promote racial unity, diversity and reconciliation
8. Experiment with micro-loans
9. Provide clean water for those who don’t have it.
10. Finish school dang it.
Back in 2007, I posted the above “10 Things To Do Before I Die” – a cheeky manifesto and declaration of what I wanted my life to amount to. To date, almost 9 years later, I can say I’ve accomplished one of those items on the list. Of course, some of these things are beyond reach (or are they?) but based out of my reflections on theology and the kingdom of God – I was just starting seminary – not far off the mark.
I like that thinking.
Knocking on the door of my 40’s, I hope I will be more idealistic & activistic than ever – I preached about this this last Sunday at Woven – how this is the one time of year annually where we are compelled to do the greatest good – and that the essence of being a good neighbor (the 2nd greatest command) is not deciding who our neighbor is, and who gets in and who is out, but the extent of what we do in acts of kindness. The world can debate and roil about who belongs and who doesn’t. Let them. But for the Christian in America our first charge from Jesus is towards actions of love, even before the question of who’s in and who’s out. Jesus’ response to the lawyer regarding “who is my neighbor” was to stick the question back to him as if to say “the one who PROVED it“. And by introducing the Samaritan – today’s equivalent of the Muslim Syrian refugee – he shows we hold no corner on the market for kindness.
God-willing let’s see what the next 10 years hold.
Hopefully we can chip away at that list together.
This past November 15th, I celebrated not only my birthday, but the 5th anniversary of the start of my ministry here in Houston. Wow. Half a decade a Texan, having come from the Pacific NW, and before that NYC. I give pause and reflect on two things – half a decade in Houston – and half a decade in ministry. I’ll reflect on the latter first.
Half a Decade in Ministry
Last weekend I shared with an experienced minister and professor that I just finished my fifth year in ministry in one place, and he remarked, “That just about ends the hazing period.” I’ve heard much the same – 5 years is only the beginning of ministry. One thing I wish people knew about ministry is that the job acclimation period doesn’t take a few months, but several years, and if it doesn’t work out, the chronic uprooting and instability can wreak havoc on a family’s life. Longevity and perseverance are required. Some of the challenges are our own – personal shortcomings / unaddressed issues (ministry is not for the unhealthy and unwhole!) but a significant part of it is also due to the systemic strains, leadership challenges, gossip, emotional triangles, vision & value battles. Ministry is not for the faint of heart. I am fortunate to have the congregation I serve in a place that has been very good to my family and I – and that leads to the other piece – half a decade of ministry in Houston.
Half a Decade in Houston – and the Stranger in our midst…
Having lived on the West and East Coast for significant portions of my life, I can truly say the South has continued to welcome my family and I with open arms, and has continually been so kind to us.
It is true that Houston is church-saturated. But it is also true that Houston continues to grow exponentially, drawing from all over the country and all over the world. Never have I lived in a place so internationally diverse as Katy. The world has come here, and the church needs to serve the world. I see the present refugee crisis & Islamiphobia as a test – not for the general public, but for the church in particular. I am one Christian who is not for the anti-immigrant rhetoric. I see the challenges, yes, but I believe the way forward is relationship, not retrenchment; friendship, not fear. This may not make sense to the world, but the church is not called to live by the world’s standards.
I for one, am willing to build concrete and significant friendships & relationships with Muslims and people of different ethnic backgrounds – right here in Katy! I am called as a Christian to do so. For Jesus, the notion of “neighbor” and “good Samaritan” was not so much the identity of the neighbor (the ethnicity of the victim himself is never revealed in the passage) but what it means to behave like a neighbor – and surprisingly, it was the least expected one in the passage to do so. Don’t be surprised, Katy, TX, if the acts of kindness and community activism come from the stranger in your midst.
But rewinding a bit…
One of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, was just a few months ago – to come out of a safe, ethnic-specific context in order to plant a multiethnic church in a place where it is quite segregated on Sunday. It was a scary decision and I spent many a night counting the cost… literally.
But since then, faith has been blessed with fruit as I am witnessing this beautiful community called Woven take shape. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s high-collaboration, and I am learning to be a servant-leader among so many passionate, involved, gifted young people. (and some oldies like me too :)
I work in what has been called THE MOST diverse and fastest-growing county in America: Fort Bend County, Texas. It is a big-surprise that God is bringing such radical diversity to Texas, but it is true. Bigger than striking oil, we are sharing Jesus with this vast immigrant suburban population by planting one of the first multiethnic churches in the West suburbs of Houston in a town called Katy.
I feel like I am planting a church to give it away to the people. Since we are a suburban and unapologetically yuppie community of professionals who commute downtown, my passion is bringing faith to life for a people trying to bridge the disconnect between faith and the 9 to 5.
So if you are in the Katy area or the West suburbs of Houston, and are looking for a church, look up Woven: We are a church with a multiethnic mission and a missional message for the West suburbs of Houston, TX.
It was almost a year ago, back in December 2013 when the thought first entered my mind, and it was not a welcome thought at all.
I was serving at a solid church and had a stable position there as senior pastor, was getting settled in Katy, and together with my wife and kids, were building a life out here in the ‘burbs of Houston. Everything was going right. But on the wrong track, it felt like, and a radical course adjustment was needed. I remember reading the words of Peter Drucker, “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” And while the church is not a business, the principle still applies: if your org is going down a different track than what you envisioned, then either get ready for a long ride, or prepare to make a courageous decision – to get onto the right track headed for the vision you have for ministry.
And I knew that it had to be a multiethnic vision reaching all people in Houston.
So as I faced what was then a daunting task, I put my head down and waded right in. I took a lot of heat and had plenty of sleepless nights. I lost my appetite for a while. My ears itched, a lot. Still, I continued through. I had key mentors assure me I was doing the right thing. That was a big confirmation for me; that if these people – who have no qualms about telling me I’m doing something wrong and in fact have done so in the past – if these people who can tell me straight up can say that I am on the right track, then maybe indeed it is a God-thing, and not yet another of Wayne’s darn-fool idealistic crusades.
So I asked God for the courage to persist – alone, if need be, and to my surprise, I discovered that people were seeing the same vision, the same track, and were even prepared to jump onto it with me. That brought tears to my eyes, often. And even those who weren’t on board with it, understood it, and even blessed it, for which I am never sufficiently grateful.
So on July 20th we began gathering in my living room, a core group of 30 adults and 20 children.
We named ourselves Woven Covenant Church.
We came up with a financial plan, as well as a launch plan for this new church.
We formed committees and task teams, working on location, staffing, hiring, marketing, branding, welcoming, programming, etc.
I stepped back, sat down in my chair and watched it unfold(ing) before my eyes. I didn’t have to do much. The people are doing it. It’s high collaboration, and requires minimal management, because we all are heading down the same track: that of a missional church with a multiethnic mission in the suburbs of west Houston.
I sometimes don’t feel like a church planter. In fact, often. I know my skill and gift set does not match that of charismatic leader who is a strong people-gatherer. I’m more of a Russian novelist. Bookish. Alone. Pensive. Reflective. Introspective. Charismatic church leader? Enter identity crisis. I have a lot of pain about this. Really. And I am trying to come to terms with it; that while I must – and should – build up the weaker parts of my personality, I can only naturally lead with my strongest leg. And I can also allow others to operate out of their strengths, leading in ways that I cannot.
So I am thankful for my core team, in knowing me and accepting me as their shepherd, trying to fumble around figuring out Texas football, with my endless Lord of the Rings analogies, and pie-in-the-sky idealism.