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Spiritual Practices that Bring Life

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Welcome to Defining Moments. At a recent Summit we got to know a leader whose very presence created a holy moment at the conference. Mama Maggie Gobran is the founder of Steven's Children Ministries, an organization that reaches out to the poorest of the poor children and their families who live in the Garbage City of Cairo, Egypt. She has been called to do a ministry in a tough place and as a leader she has sacrificed much to follow that calling. During her talk, she shared ways that she has been able to persevere and maintain a very connected heart to Jesus. It was evident that this was a woman who walks closely with God and who embeds spiritual disciplines into her life as a lifeline. I think it is critical that every leader figures out how to engage the spiritual practices that are most effective at stopping the natural flow of sin in their lives and in their leadership. Let's take a look at this clip and then Bill and I will have a conversation about it. My soul magnifies the Lord for he has done great things for me. A beautiful young woman selling corn in the middle of the narrow street she was dressed in rags, shivering . When we started talking she said since I lost my husband nobody ever cared. Tears came to her eyes and mine. A few minutes later her beautiful daughter came from after school to take over for her mom so that the mom could go and serve the other four children. It was winter time and the little girls' shoes were wearing out. I took her to get new shoes. She chose a very nice pair and then she said wait can I take an adult size instead? I said yes but why? She said my mother has no shoes and that left me in shock. I went back home thinking I could have been in this mother's place. My children could have been in her childern's place. Do you know we do not choose where to be born. But we do choose either to be sinners or saints. To be nobody or heroes. If you want to be a hero do what God wants you to do. Do you know Christians, Christ was born in the Middle East. And from Egypt I call my son, this is what the Prophet said. And Christians in Egypt paid the highest price for defeat. Egypt is the country that has sent to heaven the largest number of martyrs in all history. Land of tears and blood. Land of prayers and love. And I am a product of this land. Twenty-five years ago I heard my tough call and I never imagined what I was going to see. Lord Jesus took me step by step. The first step, He told me that everyone who is carrying the fragrance of eternity has to experience the dark valley of death. For me it started by losing my sunshine, my spiritual mother who taught me how to pray in spirit. She was fully committed to read the bible and serve the poor all her life. I felt called to read the bible starting to read and finish it every year and I did with God's grace. I felt God was breathing with his holy spirit upon me. I felt in love with the word. Today we put the bible in every home we visit Jesus said my words are spirit and life When it is really tough I call Jesus. The second step was to sell everything and follow him if I really want to be his disciple. As the youngest daughter of a doctor I enjoyed an affluent lifestyle. God has blessed me so much. I always like to have music, singing, playing, sports, traveling to Europe every year to get the best fashion dress, wearing jewelry and I always liked to be elegant. Later I found to be elegant comes from inside is to love. And true love is to give and forgive. To give until it hurts. Forgiveness is not between you and the other. Forgiveness is between you and God. He is holding that account. I was teaching at the American University in Cairo. I had the best and smartest students in the whole country. When God wanted to promote me he said leave the best, the smartest and go to the poorest of the poor. At that moment I could not believe... I am the least. I am the last one who could fit. Do you know people laughed when they heard. Because I am the one who was forgiven much but love so little. I thought I am so disappointing to God. How could He choose someone like me? With God's grace I left everything and I found Him shining, waiting for me with a crown of love. Was not he born is such places. It is the moment when you die to your self-interests. When you discover the beauty, the power in you. I can still remember the feeling in the room as she was speaking. You could have heard a pin drop. You had to come up on stage afterwards. How did that session impact you? We have been doing Summits for over 15 years. We have never had a moment where a faculty member's countenance completely gripped a 7,200 seat auditorium. Before she said the first word her countenance had affected the whole room. That never stopped through her whole presentation and I have joked with you and others that the longer she had that holy presence on the stage the worse I felt because I had to go up after her. I kept thinking, you go. I am not going to follow that. That was a learning experience for me. To have someone so filled with the spirit of God that you could feel it by someone's countenance. She was in the backroom with us walking the hallway. We even felt it there. Whatever that is I do not have. She has it. She is so full of God that you can tell it when you are standing around her. Bill, I am an introvert and I naturally gravitate toward silence and retreat to replenish myself. But I think she is talking about silence in a way that I am not sure I experience as an introvert because I am experiencing that to get replenishment. She is talking about silence in a different way. Almost with a spiritual intent behind it that is much more than retreat or replenishment In your leading experience, have you done much discipline around silence and solitude and if so how has it affected your leadership? I would agree with you that the kind of things that she was driving at is at a whole different level than what we usually mean when we say spend some time in solitude. What we usually mean is withdrawal from the crowds and get to a quiet place and quiet your spirit so that you can get rid of the noise in your head to begin to reflect on things of God. I think she is in a different league. Sometimes you talk about being on the boat alone for hours. What happens in you when you do that? The first thing is there is a lowering of RPMs. It is hard to describe but when I talk to other pastors they get it right away. I say do you know what your on switch is and your off switch is. In my world, when I walk on this campus, my switch has to be on because I get stopped 2 or 3 times from where I park my car to my office and I have to be ready to minister to people and listen to people. Every meeting I am usually in on mode and then around services I am certainly in on mode and I talk for an hour after services with anyone who wants ministry or prayer and I have to be in on mode. At home if my children or grandchildren are there I have to be in on mode. Because I want to be present. I want to be adding value in all of these situations. Sooner or later I have to be in an environment where I can flip that switch off and say okay now I need to be quiet. I need to get out of on mode. I need to let the RPMs of my life slow and if I lower the ambient noise of my life and quiet the noise in my head that is when whispers of God become clearer to me. That is when the self awareness of how my life is going. That is when I do my journaling is in solitude. Not between services. Those are increasingly important times in my life and I do my best scripture reading, my best praying, my best confessing of sins, my best long term planning under the gracious hand of God in those moments of solitude. Bill, I see you as one of the most activistic kinds of leaders that I know. Many leaders would reflect that activistic DNA inside of them. Has it been easy for you to carve out and create the systems for you to do this? It has never been easy but I took great encouragement from something that Dallas Willard said one time in an interview situation where I was talking to him about this and he said if you are serious about solitude you will realize that you have to pay the price of disappointing everyone in your life. And I thought That is it! That is why it is so hard for me because when I tell my family I need a day where I go off and be alone with God Lynn says, I would rather have you around here and my kids say where are you going dad? Can we come? No you can not come. This is something I need to do alone. I tell my direct reports and friends around the church that I will be out of contact for a while. They will say, we had five things to ask you. Soon you will say I hate disappointing everybody. For some esoteric internal need that I am trying to get met and if you are not resolute enough to say I know I am going to disappoint everybody but bad things are going to happen inside of me unless I pay the price of disappointing for the higher objective of getting some internal work done or some work with God done. Bill, what are some of those consequences? What are some bad things that happen when this part of your life is not thriving or fed? This RPM thing that I am talking about, high capacity leaders will understand what I am saying. You can get a RMP spin going if your on switch is on long enough to where every single thing you are doing in your life you do fast. You want fast conversations, fast prayer, you want a message from God's word to leap out. You do not want to reflect on something and go through a long discernment process. You want fast promptings. You want to do fast confession of sin. Everything speeds up to a point where you are hydroplaning over some of the most important things in life. One defining moment I had was back in my study at the house. Shauna came back from school and she said, dad do you have a couple of minutes? I need to run something by you. And I said I have just a minute so if you can net it out for me, go ahead. And without any animosity in her voice she said how about I come back when you can listen slowly. As she turned to walk away I thought I do not listen to anybody slowly anymore. I want meetings shorter I want people to get to the point quicker Your life can get that way. The richest things that happen in life happen in unhurried ways. If you think the most important decisions you have made, the most precious time with spouses and children, the time with staff and friends and colleague where you say it does not get any better than this. That rarely happened at mach two. It happens when you have a little bit more time in the bandwidth and you can have an unrushed conversation as opposed to a netted out conversation. So what solitude does for me is it breaks the addiction of every increasing RPMs so you go into solitude and look back and say what were all of those RPMS about. How did I let them spin to that level? Then when you are of sound mind with your journal out and bible open then you think I need to order the next few weeks of my life out differently. That is where I get my clearest thinking done. It is not at mach two but at the confines of my study or out on a boat, where no one can get at me and I can spend a considerable amount of time downshifting. Bill, the other day we had a conversation about a statistic I came across and I wondered if you could talk about it a little bit The statistic was 80% of church leaders, the only time they spend in scripture is when they are doing sermon prep. I was reflecting it to you as a bad thing. Can you talk to the uniqueness of a pastor and leader that has to do message prep which is a solitude exercise and whether it is enough. And how do you know if that is enough to do the good things that this spiritual discipline does in your heart. I have heard many people quote statistics like this and sometimes they do it for shock effect. They will say did you know that most pastors only read their bible when they are doing sermon prep. They do not read it devotionally. Your response to that is supposed to be those terrible pastors. So often times when people interview me about statistics like that I say just stop for a second. If I am studying a very rich passage. A few months ago I spoke put of Psalm 34 which is one of my favorite Psalms, 'taste and see that the Lord is good' and it has all of these classic verses in it. I was able to be in that Psalm for ten days in my prep for teaching on it at Willow. Being in it and reflecting on it and praying through it and outlining it and building a message on it was so incredibly edifying and life giving . It would have been absurd for me to finish that and to say okay now I am going to have a separate quiet time as though that did not count. That was a gourmet meal. I do not need another meal. I can argue that side of it . That if you take your message prep seriously and you are digging into the scriptures and you are applying it to your life before you try to apply it to other peoples’ lives to me that can keep a pastor fairly healthy. Now if your preaching is shallow and you are doing self help stuff and your mind is not dwelling in God's word richly then that is a problem. If I feel that the kind of message prep I am doing is really helping God's word dwell richly within me I do not have to do a second one but if I find that it is not then I do. How after multiple decades do you keep disciplines fresh from not getting tired and ineffective in your life? That is a very pertinent question and usually I like to compare it to physical disciplines. If all you ever do is eat the same things, run the same route, practice the same physical disciplines you will burn out on them. And pretty soon you will say I can not put those shoes on. I can not run that exact route. I can not eat that lentil burger one more time because you have overdone something. Serious athletes do cross training. They vary their training so that it stays fresh and they stay challenged. Same thing applies in your spiritual life. I will employ a spiritual discipline until the discipline is not helping me anymore. And at that point it becomes mechanical and defeating and so as soon as it starts going stale I do not abandon scripture. I abandon the way that I am inputting scripture A couple of times I have purchased the CDs where someone reads the scripture. I can listen in my car or out on the boat or someplace. Sometimes I will try to memorize scripture instead of reading through it. I have spent an entire year in Romans 12 because I wanted to do saturation scripture ingestion. That was one of the most powerful things I did. Romans 12 is on the inside of my eyeballs ever since. I see the world through Romans 12. That idea came because the other way I was reading the bible at the time got stale. However you are praying, when that gets stale change it up. Pray a different way. Pray in a different place. Pray in a different method. It is our responsibility to keep the spiritual practices fresh. Another thing I tell pastors and Christians is that spiritual practices change throughout the various seasons of your life If you have young kids and you have to help your spouse because they are not going to bed or they are not getting up. One of the most spiritual things you can do is be a servant to your family. And count that as your spiritual service to some extent. Let that be a sacrificial offering to God. But then when the kids are old enough and gone to school by 7:15am, then you can go about your spiritual practices a different way. But I say change it up for the seasons of your life, change it up when anything gets stale, change it up whenever you hear an idea that is intriguing to you. I ask people regularly who I feel are alive in Christ every time I am with you it seems like you have just been with God. What practices do you use? I get some fantastic ideas from other leaders or serious Christ followers who tell me what they are doing. And I want to try it for six months. I have never taken that approach before. Why don't I give it a shot. The guy who told me that he took a year off of bible reading and did a year of bible listening I said when you are done with those CDs give them to me. I will try that for a while. It was tremendous. That is fantastic. I resonate with that. I remember a conversation I had with John Ortburg and he was reminding me that the purpose of spiritual discipline is not to become a better "Christian" it is in fact to stop the natural flow of sin in your life. So if the spiritual practice is not in fact doing that anymore then change it up. Do something else. It opened my eyes to not only the classic traditional disciplines that were there but to literally view almost any activity that I engage in intentionally as a potential spiritual discipline if it is stopping the natural flow of sin in my life. Sometimes you pick the long line instead of the short line in the supermarket just to remind yourself that you can be with God for a while in that line. And you do not have to have everything in your life be chosen on the base of efficiency or speed or productivity. Another part of the talk that Mama talked about the power of reflecting on scriptures and we know from the REVEAL findings that across the entire spiritual continuum from seeker all the way to a fully Christ centered person the single most catalytic thing for spiritual growth is not bible reading but reflection on scripture. And that kind of turned it for me because for years coming from a Baptist oriented deal I religiously read my bible every day because I thought that was the thing that was going to help me come closer to Christ. But in fact it is the reflection on your reading is where the real power is. Letting it come into your life. Instead of me getting through the bible letting the bible get through me. What are some of things... I know that was a significant Ah-ha as we discovered these REVEAL findings... How has that changed services here at Willow. How has that changed how you want the congregation to reflect more on scripture. It has had profound effects on our service. We bathe our whole weekend service in scripture. Sometimes between worship songs we will keep the music under scoring going on and we will let people read on our screens two or three passages from scripture we will pray through passages of scripture. So much more of what we do at our weekend services is driven by scripture and sometimes we will put a verse up and say this verse will be up for a while. Do what you need with this verse. You can ponder it, you can claim it you can whisper it and reinforce it to the person sitting next to you. You can write it down and put it in your pocket for later. Whatever you want. But you just live for a few minutes with that scripture. We never would have done that twenty-five years ago. There are many reasons why we began this practice. People today are so overloaded with information, with data. The amount of data that you ingest in a 24-hour period of time is mind boggling. What we are trying to do at our church services is we are trying say we all live in the same world as you do. We have 200 emails coming and going all the time too but what we want to do while we are here in this hour and fifteen minutes is we want to load something else into your brain. Jesus said my words are the words of life. Not just data. Another scripture says that God's word is alive and active like a two edged sword. It can cut, it can move, it can correct , it can comfort, it can do all this stuff. We want to get something more than just data into our people's minds and hearts. We want to get the living word of God into peoples minds and hearts. And hopefully when they experience that, when they go home sometimes they will shut the television off, they will grab a bible look at a verse for a while like I did in church and let that talk to me. We are doing a lot of loading of the scriptures into peoples minds. One church that took the REVEAL study found that they were low on that and they decided to use their services times to train people to open up a bible and to physically read it. They had bibles in the pew racks and they opened them up and found out that they were outdated and could not use them. But when they did open them the pages were stuck together. They were brand new, never been opened. They replaced them with new versions of scriptures and in the services they will ask the people to take the bibles out and everyone will open them up together and read the scripture and they have seen an improvement in their spiritual vitality in that church. One of my colleagues was sitting up in the balcony a few weeks ago when the teacher referred to the passage that was being worked through in that sermon and the colleague said he looked down and there were probably 500 ipads that came on because people do not necessarily carry bibles but they carry ipads But it is a new day. People before thought that carrying their bible was an extra item that they has to bring along. Everyone works from ipads these days. And to have your bible with you all the is pretty convenient now a days. You can turn to scripture anytime. You have that at your disposal. Thanks, Bill, for engaging in a really important subject matter. Jesus said in Matthew 16:26 what good would it be for you to gain the whole world and forfeit your soul. Doing ministry out of your own strength and neglecting your soul may be effective short run. It has serious consequences over the long haul. Amidst the heavy demands of leadership the best leaders I know fight. I choose that word particularly because it really is a fight to find fresh and meaningful ways to connect with God overtime. And I will always be grateful to Mama Maggie for showing us a vivid example of what it looks like to walk with God and that effective leadership can come in many different forms and styles. Take some time right now to reflect on your own spiritual disciplines and practices. Do you feel great about rhythms of your daily, weekly, yearly life in staying connected with God? Do you lead in ways that keep your leadership life giving to you and those you lead? Have you ever spent significant time in silence with spiritual intention or disciplines of meditation or listening? I challenge you to take time to think about how you as a leader might create a culture with your staff and with your church where people regularly take time to engage in these often neglected spiritual practices. Thank you again for joining us. I look forward to meeting with you next month.

Video Details

Duration: 33 minutes and 52 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: Willow Creek Association
Director: Willow Creek Association
Views: 182
Posted by: landsm on Oct 16, 2012

Mama Maggie Gobran:
Mama Maggie Gobran serves in one of the toughest areas of Cairo, Egypt. At The Global Leadership Summit 2011, she shared her story of perseverance while maintaining a connected heart to Jesus. In the few moments that Mama Maggie spoke, thousands were touched. Bill Hybels and Jim Mellado unpack this touching moment describing the impact of her countenance, presence, and spiritual intent and challenging all of us.

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