A Question to Begin
Hi, I'm Matthew Kelly, and welcome to our journey through I Heard God Laugh. Life – it doesn't turn out as we expect it to. That's true for me. That's true for you. That's true for everybody. And sooner or later, we have to decide what we're going to do with the unexpected life that we've been given. In some ways, life exceeds our expectations. And in other ways, life disappoints our expectations. We all have expectations when we're young about what our life will be like. We adjust those expectations at different times in our lives. And still, many of our hopes and our dreams do get disappointed while some of our hopes and our dreams do come to fruition. Wherever you are in life, there are parts of your life that we're expected. There were parts of your life that were unexpected. There were parts of your life that have disappointed you and parts of your life that have exhilarated you and brought you great joy.
Every journey begins where you are. I know that may seem like a statement of the obvious. But working out where you are right now is so important to the journey we're about to make together. Being honest, brutally honest, about who you are and where you are right now is critical to the journey we're about to make together because every journey does begin where we are right now. And in order to orient ourselves towards where we want to go, where we feel we could go, we have to have a really clear understanding of who we are and where we are right now. And so, no matter how life has surprised you, no matter how life has disappointed you, no matter how your life has unfolded the way you thought it would, the way you expected it would or hasn't, it's important at this moment that we think very clearly: Okay, who am I? What am I here for? Do I have a sense of where I'm being called to? And if I don't, am I open to where I'm being called to at this moment in my life?
I have a question that I use fairly regularly in my own life. It's a question that I use to work out where I am, to work out how things are going. The question is, "Is your life working?” Is your life working? Usually, when I ask the question, some aspects of my life are working, and there's usually some aspect or a couple of aspects of my life that I realized, "Wow, I really need to work on that." And so, that's the question I lay before you as we begin this journey together. Is your life working? And are you willing to go into the classroom of silence today for a few minutes and take an inventory of your life? Take a look at your life. Take a good, hard, honest look at who you are and where you are because it is out of that that God will call us to new and wonderful things.
The Missing Piece
One of the most astounding aspects of you is your soul. People very rarely compliment each other's souls. We say, "You have beautiful eyes," or "I like your shoes," or that sort of thing. But one of the most extraordinary aspects of you as a human being is your soul.
Are you taking care of your soul? Do you pay attention to feeding your soul on a regular basis? It's easy for us to ignore our soul because our souls don't grumble like our stomachs grumble when they get hungry. What stops the soul from growing? What prevents us from making great spiritual growth?
There's a few things.
I think one of the things is that we can't live without hope that things will change for the better. We cannot live without that hope. That hope is essential to the growth of the soul. It feeds the soul. It encourages the soul. It waters the soul. It nurtures the soul. And it is very easy to fall into hopelessness. It is very to lose that hope that, yes, things can get better in any aspect of our lives, in every aspect of our lives.
Very often what dampens that hope or smothers that hope is that we get lost in the past. You're not a victim of your circumstances. You are not what has happened to you in the past. You're much more than that. And very often, it is our past and especially perhaps the things which we're not proud of—maybe even things we're ashamed of in our past—that stifles the hope and stops us from believing that things can change for the better, that things are about to change for the better, that something wonderful is about to happen. That's why it's so important that we feed our soul every day, that we nurture our soul, that we take care of our soul because your soul's hungry. The soul's hungry and the more you feed your soul, the more vibrant your soul will become. The more you feed your soul, the more that hope will begin to infuse every aspect of your life. And as that hope infuses every aspect of your life, you become more and more aware of everything that's happening within you and around you. And that awareness is a beautiful spiritual gift—that rising consciousness, that elevated consciousness, that awareness of what you're feeling, what it means, what other people are feeling, how are the people reacting to your presence, to your words, to your actions—that awareness is a beautiful spiritual gift.
You're a human being. What's a human being? There's so many ways to describe a human being, but you have a body, yes, but you also have a soul. And your body and soul are carefully linked by the will and the intellect, and so you're able to direct body. You're able to direct soul through the will and the intellect. You are an incredibly delicate and complex being, a human being. Very often we pay a lot of attention to our bodies, but now it's time to pay attention to our souls. It's time to pay attention to integrating your whole person physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually because God is interested in you as a whole person, not just one part of you. There may be people in your life who are only interested in one part of you, but God's not that person. God's interested in your whole person: physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. And the more you pay attention to soul, the more you feed your soul, the more you nurture your soul, the more you realize it's the soul that integrates our lives. It's the soul that harmonizes every aspect of our lives. And it is the soul that reorients us toward what matters most.
So wherever you are in your journey—maybe you feel a little bit lost at this moment, that's okay—pay attention to your soul. Start to care for your soul. Start to feed and nurture your soul and it will reorient you toward what matters most.
The subtitle of the book, I Heard God Laugh, is A Practical Guide to Life's Essential Daily Habit. If you ask people what are the most important habits in your life or what is the most important habit in your life, you hear all sorts of things. Some people say working out. Some people say reading. Some people say working hard. Some people say spending time with their significant other or spending time with their children, with their families. You hear lots of different things. But these are not life's essential habit. And life's essential habit makes all of these habits better. Life's essential habit elevates everything. So what is life's essential habit? Life's essential habit… life's essential daily habit is prayer, is spending time in prayer. The tragic thing is most of us have never been taught how to pray. We talk a lot about prayer at church. We talk a lot about prayer in Christian circles. But most of us have never really been taught how to pray.
The question I lay before you today is: have you ever really been taught how to pray? And before you answer it, I want you to really think about it. I want you to really think about it. Have you ever really been taught how to have an intimate relationship with God? How to really talk to God? How to have the type of relationship with God where on one day in some place, you might hear God laugh. Have you ever been taught to pray like that? The tragic thing is most of us have not. And while that is tragic, the beautiful thing about that tragedy is that it means that there's still a whole world of opportunity before you. And so this journey we're making together is about learning how to pray, learning how to establish life's essential daily habit at the center of our lives—not on the periphery of our lives, not something we do at the end of the day if we feel like it or we have time to do, but something that becomes a sacred priority in our day for however much time we decide to commit to it. For many, many years, I've been challenging people, encouraging people just to start with 10 minutes a day. Set aside 10 minutes a day. This habit will change your life.
We live in a noisy, busy, crazy world. Sometimes people ask me, "Why do you pray?" I pray because I don't know how people can live out there in the crazy, noisy, busy world without a little bit of silence and solitude each day to focus their lives, to center their lives, to re-establish what matters most, what matters least, so that we can go out into the world with clarity—clarity about who we are and what we're here for. And so while there are many ways to feed your soul, the way I really want to challenge you to focus on here in these days is the habit of daily prayer. Sitting with God and just talking to God.
I'll teach you how to do it. I will teach you how to do it. But the truth is, once I've taught you how to do it, you'll probably realize you knew how to do it all the time. Nobody actually ever showed you, inspired you, encouraged you. But if nothing else, in these days, find a quiet place and sit with your God. Sit with yourself. Sit with your God for a few minutes in a classroom of silence each day as we make this journey. What will you discover about prayer? Prayer elevates every human experience. Prayer elevates every human experience because it changes our awareness of ourselves. It changes our awareness of life. It changes our awareness of the world. It changes our awareness of God. And all of that new awareness elevates the way we experience everyone and everything in our lives.
Finding Your Reason
One of the most important things that we need to do as we make this journey together is establish your reason, establish your why. Why are you going to pray? Why is prayer important to you? Other people can tell you their reasons, and I will share some of mine with you. But that's only so that you can work out what your own reason is or what your own reasons are. The clearer you become about your reasons for prayer, the more likely you are to establish this essential daily habit as a key touchstone in each and every single day of your life.
In the beginning, when I first started praying, I was in my mid-teens, and I started stopping by at church on the way to school each morning for about 10 minutes. And of course, that's the origin of the 10 minutes a day. Why do I encourage so many people just to start with 10 minutes a day? Because it transformed my life. It changed my life. And when I first started praying, I didn't have elevated theological reasons for praying each day. Quite the opposite, in fact. I mean, my reasons were pretty practical and, in many ways, very self-centered. I noticed there was a difference between the days when I prayed and the days when I didn't. The days when I pray are better days. I got 30 years of data now. There are still days when I really struggled to pray even though I know, without question, the days when I pray are better days. And so in the beginning, that's why I kept praying. That's why I kept stopping by the church on the way to school for 10 minutes each morning because the days when I prayed were better days. And I recognized the days when I was too lazy or I slept in or I couldn't be bothered or whatever reasons or justifications I gave myself for not stopping in and spending 10 minutes in a classroom of silence with my God, I realized those days I didn't have the same peace. I didn't have the same purpose. I didn't have the same direction. I didn't have the same drive, the same movement toward what is good and best for me and best for others.
Over time, I've developed other reasons why I pray, why I love prayer. The second reason I think is because, prayer, it teaches us how to live and it teaches us how to love. And these are lessons we don't get in school. These are lessons that are rarer and rarer in our society to come by. Who's going to teach you how to live? Who's going to teach you how to love? The reality is God wants to teach us how to live and God wants to teach us how to love, and he does it through prayer. And these are very practical aspects to a very spiritual experience. How does that happen? How does that work? Well, I think one example is patience. Prayer teaches us to be patient. We become more patient people when we spend time in prayer. And everything in life is improved when we are patient. Patience improves everything. Patience improves my relationship with my wife, my relationship with my children, my relationship with the people I work with, my relationship with any person who crosses my life at any moment in the day. If I'm in a patient place versus an impatient place, that can make the whole difference. And prayer teaches us patience. Patience, of course, is also essential. It's a bedrock, foundational element of love. There's a reason in 1 Corinthians that Paul begins his litany, "Love is patient." It came first. It was what he decided, "I'm going to give this whole description of what love is, but what love is first is patient." And prayer teaches us to be patient by having the courage and having the discipline to sit quietly in solitude with our God for a few minutes each day. We simply become more patient people, and that is enough to change everything.
Habit and Potential
One of my dreams for you, as we make this journey together, is that you become convinced once and for all of the power of habit. Habits have an incredible power in our lives. Often we think about the power of things we cannot control or the power of things beyond our influence. Often we think about how powerfully circumstances affect our lives, good or bad. But habits are more powerful than circumstances. We measure character very often by the way people deal with the unexpected, good and bad. When unexpected things come along in people's lives, how do they process them in their lives? How do they absorb them into their lives? A lot of that depends on habit. And very often we get caught up in sort of the misery of circumstances that are beyond our control, that we find disheartening, or that suck our hope away from us, we find discouraging. At those moments what God is really calling us to do is to focus on the habits that can overwhelm the circumstances. The habits that can triumph over the circumstances of our lives.
Why are habits so powerful? Because they have the potential to unlock our potential. Habits, they have the ability to unlock our potential, and that's a beautiful thing. When we look at children, we talk a lot about potential. When we talk about children, we see them doing new things every day. We see them just brimming with potential. The truth is that you and I, regardless of our age, are still brimming with potential. But somewhere along the way we stopped thinking about it. We stopped talking about it. But God never does. As the Divine parent, he looks at us, his children, and he sees astounding potential.
You see, you're a human being. You're a human being, and philosophers love to talk about being. I love the concept of being. And one of the ideas I love around being is that the being of something changeable is not just what it is but also what it still can be. You're a being, a changeable being. You're not a static being. And a being of something changeable is not just what it is but what it still can be. And that's what I'm interested in. That's what God's interested in. That's what I'm trying to get you interested in: is who and what you still can be, your astounding potential. What prevents us? The past. You are not the things that have happened to you in the past. The past is dead. The past is dead. The present is alive. No man, no woman can change one moment of the past. Every man, every woman can change every moment of the future.
So, once again, I encourage you to make a standing appointment with God, to step into the classroom of silence and sit down with your God for a few minutes each day, to make that a sacred commitment, a sacred moment in each day of your life. And allow God to open your eyes to the fact that you are absolutely brimming with potential. Brimming with potential, regardless of what anyone else might have you believe. You've heard me say it before: our lives change when our habits change. And no habit will change your life more than stepping into the classroom of silence each day, sitting down with your God, and spending a few minutes in prayer and reflection.
More than 20 years ago now, when I was writing The Rhythm of Life, I spent six months in an old monastery about an hour north of Vienna in Austria. Next to the monastery there was this enormous field, and it had all these trees in it. But right in the middle of the field was this one enormous tree. And one night this great storm come blowing through the place, and when I woke up the next morning, the trees were everywhere—I mean, been blown out of the ground, enormous trees. But this one big tree in the middle of the field, it looked like it hadn't even lost a leaf. It became a great reflection point for me over the years, became a great point of meditation for me over the years, because I started to think about, okay, what made that tree different. All these other trees got blown over, limbs blown off. Why was this tree able to stand so strong and tall in the midst of the storm?
The conclusion I've come to over the years is that a tree with strong roots can weather any storm. Now, in your life and my life, the question is not, "Is there going to be a storm?" I'm afraid that is not the question. The wise person asks the question, "When is the next storm getting here?" It isn't a matter of whether or not there's going to be a storm. There are going to be storms in our lives. The question is, "When is the next storm going to get here?" And when the next storm gets here, it's too late to sink the roots. The habit of prayer sinks deep roots into our lives. It grounds us, and it allows us to weather the highs and lows of life in extraordinary ways, extraordinary ways.
My challenge to you today is to challenge yourself to 21 days of prayer—21 days of prayer, 10 minutes a day, 21 days. They say it takes 21 days to create a new habit. I want to challenge you. If you haven't already started, why haven't you started? You probably got reasons or excuses or justifications, but it probably just comes down to resistance. It's hard to get that momentum. It's hard to break through resistance. You got to break through resistance to wake up in the morning, to get out of bed in the morning. And it's going to take breaking through resistance to establish a habit of daily prayer. So break through that resistance. Establish the habit of prayer. 10 minutes a day, 21 days. It will change your life.
As you go through these 21 days, I want you to make some notes. Jot down how your day's different. How are your days different because you started with prayer and reflection? How are your days different because you started with a little bit of silence and solitude? Jot it down so you can see the journey you're making. So you can refer back to the journey you're making. You have the heart of a lion, okay? You have the heart of a lion. You might be distracted. You might have been discouraged. But God wants you to get back in touch with the heart of a lion that you have so you can live life boldly and courageously and celebrate the-best-version-of-yourself at every turn. And all of that begins with prayer.
The Invitation: Ten Minutes a Day
One of the most epic spiritual quotes of all time is from Augustine. He said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, o Lord." Our hearts are restless, every day, every week, every month, in different ways to different degrees for different reasons. One of the invitations of the spiritual life is to locate your restlessness, is to locate your discontent, is to locate your dissatisfaction because God is speaking to us through that restlessness. He's speaking to you through that dissatisfaction. And we all experience this. We experience it in our work, we experience it in relationships, we experience it in general about ourselves and the direction of our lives. What are you restless about? What are you restless about? And how are you going to work that out? Are you likely to work that out in a crazy, noisy, busy world in the midst of constant distractions? Or in order to work out what you're really dissatisfied with and where restlessness is coming from, do you need to go into the classroom of silence and sit down with your God for a few minutes each day and really pinpoint that discontent, that dissatisfaction, that restlessness? If we don't do that, the restlessness doesn't remain. It grows. The restlessness grows. It will grow and grow and grow. And as it grows, we tend to become irritable. And that affects everyone and everything in our lives.
And so our restlessness really is an invitation. It's an invitation to think about our lives. It's an invitation to think about what we are dissatisfied with. And it's an invitation from God. What's it an invitation to? It's an invitation to grow, it's an invitation to improve, it's an invitation to leave behind yourself of yesterday and to embrace yourself of today and tomorrow, to turn away from your-lesser-version-of-yourself and to embrace a-better-version-of-yourself. In religion and spirituality and theology, this process is referred to as conversion. And what is conversion? It's a process of changing from one form to another. Changing from one person to another? No. Changing from one form to another, one form of yourself, a lesser-form-of-yourself to a better-form-of-yourself.
The thing about conversion— I mean, you look at conversion in many, many aspects— the danger we can make is to think that it's something we are doing to ourselves. In reality, it's something that we're allowing God to do within us. It's something we're allowing God to bring about within us, to make happen within us. In our religion, there are these epic conversion moments. Augustine had an epic conversion moment. Napole had an epic conversion moment. And there's dozens of them, hundreds of them. And we look to these moments and the danger is to think that conversion is a moment when we give ourselves to God, when we surrender once and for all to God. But it isn't. It's an ongoing process. And as we explore this prayer of the heart, which is the type of prayer we're going to explore in our time together, what we will discover is that the reason most people don't pray, the reason most people stop praying, is because we aren't willing to participate in the conversion of the heart. Because prayer of the heart always leads to conversion of the heart. But it's an invitation that we can accept or reject. And so the question is: are you willing? Are you ready to accept God's invitation to go deeper to go to a better place to live a better life? Are you ready to accept that invitation?
The First Surrender
When I first started making prayer a part of my daily life, in the beginning, I would pray, I would have clarity about my day and my life. I loved that, and I would come back again the next day and pray. And those first few weeks were fairly smooth sailing and a time of great joy and great peace and great clarity in my life. But a few weeks into it, I found myself in a place where we find ourselves very often in life, and that is with a decision to make. I had to make a decision. I didn't know what to do. And I remember one morning, I'm walking to school, I stop in the back of church and used to sit way down the back, and I just remember saying to God, "Listen, God, I got a problem here. I got a situation here." And I remember describing the situation to God in just a conversation, just like you talk to a friend. This is the situation. These are the circumstances. This was what's going on. This is how it came to be. And then, unconsciously, I just tripped over this monumental question of the spiritual life, and I said to God, "God, what do you think I should do?" And it seems like just such an ordinary question, but it is a question that will change your life. God, what do you think I should do?
It's interesting because we make a lot of choices in our lives. We make a lot of decisions in our lives. And when we have a bigger decision to make we usually seek counsel from people in our lives. What's interesting and tragic, is that we usually seek counsel from just about everyone who knows just about nothing about just about nothing compared to the Advisor that we leave on the bench in our lives. And that advisor is God, who knows everything about everything, whose got all the answers to all of our questions, but very often we don't consult him. We let him sit on the bench while we're talking to family and friends and colleagues and asking them for their advice. And Jesus is sitting on the bench and saying, "Put me in the game. I got the answers. I can help you. I want to help you. I want to help you make the best decision possible. I want to help you make the right choice."
And so I stumbled upon this question: God, what do you think I should do? What do you think I should do? I don't know about you, but I've got a decision I need to make in my life right now. Most of the time we do. You've got a question that's preoccupying your heart right now. How are you going to deal with that question? How you going to wrestle with that decision? And who's going to be your best advisor to help you make the right choice, to help you make the best decision?
And so today I just want to invite you to give that question a place in your life. Just turn to your God, sit with your God, step into the classroom of silence, and say, "God, what do you think I should do?" In this situation, in this relationship, in my career, with the rest of my life. God, what do you think I should do with the rest of my life? Because that question will take you on amazing adventures.
The Day My Life Changed Forever
There are some events in our lives that stir our soul so deeply that they change us. They change our lives forever. I've had a number of those experiences and one of those experiences was in my sort of mid-teenage years, was when someone taught me how to pray. And it was one of those days that I'll never forget.
I was going to a basketball game with a friend of my family's. And we knew each other really well and we played basketball together. And we're going to play, and he was the one who had challenged me to stop by church for 10 minutes a day on the way to school each morning, and we're driving to the basketball game, and he said to me, "Have you done your 10 minutes today?" And I said, "Yeah, I have." And he says, "Well, we're a little bit early, why don't we stop by church," and we stopped by this church. It's beautiful church. And we went into church, and just before we went in, he said, "Listen, when we get in there, I'm going to take you through an experience of prayer that I found really helpful to me." And we get in there, and we sit down. And he opens with a prayer, and then he reads a short passage from the Gospels. And he explained to me that he would read short passages every two or three minutes and encouraged me just to talk to God about whatever in that passage sort of touched my heart or stirred my soul or challenged me or encouraged me or whatever. And he did this for about 30 minutes. At the time, it felt like nothing. Time passed effortlessly. And it wasn't until we came out that I realized we'd been in there about 30 minutes. And he'd read this series of passages, and then I just talked to God about what was in the passage. And it was an astoundingly profound experience. It was a truly life-changing experience. And we use that phrase often, but often we use it in ways that don't truly represent what it can be what it should be.
As I look back on that day, I realized that we were running early for reason, and the reason was he had planned this. He had planned this. He had planned for us to stop there. He had planned to teach me how to pray, and it changed my life. I can't imagine my life without prayer. I can't imagine my life—looking back—I can't imagine my life without that day. Because the lesson that he gave me that day was astounding. I mean, just there are no words. And he had planned it, and I think that's a beautiful thing. I mean, to give somebody that gift is incredible, but to plan it out and to make plans to make it happen is extraordinary. We talk about the idea of evangelization. Wow, it's a profound example of that.
I want to encourage you to dig into two other resources today. I really want to encourage you to read the section in the book that is called “The Day My Life Changed Forever” because it talks about the experience. I go through the whole experience in a lot more detail there. The second thing I want to encourage you to explore is an extra video that we make available to you today, which is from an event that I did in New Orleans a couple of years ago where I took a group of people through a very similar experience using the Prayer Process. And hopefully, those two resources will really ingrain into you how powerful this form of prayer, this prayer of the heart, this conversation with God, can be in your own life and give you answers to sort of practical questions you might have about “How does it work?” and “How do I do it?” because those practical questions are just as important as being inspired to do it. Nothing will change your life so completely and forever like really learning how to pray.
Teach Us to Pray
If you could ask God for anything, knowing that he would give you whatever you asked him for, what would you ask him for? I asked my children this question last Sunday, and I got some very interesting answers. This is a question that we think of as maybe not possible. It's a question that we think of as distant or foreign, not likely to happen. But it does happen. It happens much more often than we think.
In the Bible, we read the story of Solomon. And Solomon becomes king, king of Israel, at the age of 12. What happened? Well, he began to experience two things that are among the most common emotions in our society today: he became anxious, and he became overwhelmed. He was anxious about being a good king. He was overwhelmed by the number of decisions he needed to make, overwhelmed by his responsibility. And God appeared to Solomon in a dream and put before him the question that I put before you: Ask me for anything, Solomon. And of course, Solomon asked for wisdom. He asked for wisdom because he realized that it was wisdom that would help him overcome his anxiety. It was wisdom that would help him overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed. Because his particular form of anxiety was around all the decisions he needed to make. His particular form of being overwhelmed was about all the responsibilities and decisions he needed to make. And so he asked God for wisdom, and God gave him wisdom. And in almost any society today, Solomon and wisdom are synonymous.
Another example we read about in the Scriptures is the disciples. Throughout the entire Gospels, the disciples only make one collective request of Jesus. They come to him asking for different things individually or as smaller groups, but together they came to him and said, "Teach us to pray." In many ways, their request was the same as Solomon's. They were seeking wisdom. They saw Jesus going away to a quiet place each night, each morning to pray. And they wanted to know what goes on. "When you go away to that quiet place, that solitary place, what happens? What do you do? Teach us to pray."
We all have needs, and we all have desires. Some of those needs and desires, we are aware of. And some of those needs and desires, we're unconscious of. We all have a need and a desire to pray. We all have a need and a desire to be taught how to pray. But very often, we're unconscious of that need and that desire. One of the things we're trying to bring into focus in our time together throughout this series is our need to pray and our desire to pray and our desire and our need to be taught how to pray, a need for wisdom is great. We see that at every turn in our lives. We're making choices every single day. We need wisdom to make good choices, to make healthy choices, to make wise choices. God's invitation to prayer is an invitation to participate in a well of wisdom that will serve you well every single day for the rest of your life.
Sharing the Joy
One of the things you'll notice very quickly when you establish a daily routine of prayer in your life is the joy. It's just something about it that brings new joy to our lives. It's something about it that makes things and people that were there all the time be the source of joy in you in fresh and wonderful ways. Joy is one of the great fruits of prayer.
People ask me a lot—they ask me, "Why do you do what you do?" And it's always interesting to hear the question and who asked the question and why they ask the question. And the reason I do what I do, the reason I started doing this work 27 years ago was because of the joy I was experiencing. I had this experience where I was taught how to pray where I came into a unique relationship with God, and—that joy—it just sort of overwhelms, and it overflows, and you want to share it with other people. It was like all of the sudden you see things as they really are, and you realize, wow, that's what I've been looking for. Everything makes sense now. I want to share this other people. I want to share this with as many other people as possible. And that was really the driving force that lead me to speak and write the way I have for the last three decades.
Over those years, I had a great desire to sort of hone the source of the joy, in particular sort of try and bottle these sources of joy so that it wasn't just delivered to people or shared with people in a general way, but it was shared in a very specific way. I knew prayer was an essential source of joy in my own life, and I wanted to share that with as many people as possible. And for many, many years I struggled with the question: okay, if you could only teach people one way to pray, how would you teach them? And what I wanted to do was to develop a method of prayer that would actually teach people how to pray as they use the method because I knew I couldn't go out there to millions and millions of people and sit down with them and explain to them how to pray. And so, I wanted to come up with a system, a process that if people engaged in the process, just engaging in the process would teach them how to pray.
And that's how the Prayer Process came about. I'm telling you, if 153 words can change your life, this 153 words will change your life. It's seven pieces or seven parts of this prayer, each designed to lead you into a conversation with God about things like gratitude and awareness; the significant moments of the last 24 hours in your life; peace and the obstacles to peace and removing the obstacles to peace in your life; freedom; the things that stop you or preventing you from being the-best-version-of-yourself; other people and how we're called to pray for them or how they're challenging us or encouraging us; and then finally, the Prayer Process, the seventh movement in a sense of the Prayer Process is the Our Father. It's an incredibly simple process, but it has taught so many people how to pray. And that has brought them great joy and that brings me great joy.
Why do I do what I do? I do it because I want you and millions of other people like you to experience the joy that I have experienced in my journey.
The Prayer Process
When you look back on your life, are there conversations that stand out at you as the best conversations of your life? I've been incredibly blessed to have traveled the world. I grew up, obviously, in Australia, live here in the United States now, and particularly in the 90s, I visited more than 50 countries speaking, writing. And there were some epic conversations along the way. But most of my best conversations have been in prayer. Most of my best conversations have been with God, and that's what I'm inviting you to. That's what I'm inviting you to discover, to explore. I realize that, right at the moment, that may still seem impossible to you. That may still seem far-fetched or unattainable, but hang in there. Stay with it because, if you do, if you ingrain this daily habit of prayer into your life, and if you do it in the ways we're going to continue to work through in the series, the best conversations of your life will be in prayer, will be with your God. And I have had some epic conversations.
I'm an introvert. A lot of people find that hard to believe. But I'm an introvert. I'm not necessarily that comfortable in crowds. I'm not necessarily that comfortable in social situations. I'd much rather have a conversation with one person than be mingling with 100 people. And because of that, over time, you develop ways of dealing with the social situations that you're in all the time. And one of my favorites is, when I'm at a party, or when I'm at a social gathering or something of that type, I like to find somebody that I don't know, and I like to talk to them, but not just that little chitchat, not just a small talk. I like to find out what is the one thing they know more about than anything else in the world, and I like to talk to them about that. I like to learn everything I can from them about that one thing that they're most passionate about, that they know more about than anything else in the world. And those conversations are always fabulous conversations that stimulate the mind. They inspire the heart. They stir the soul. Prayer should be like that. Prayer should be like that.
And God knows you, and God knows your destiny better than anybody on the planet, and he wants to sit down with you and dream with you and help you develop character and values and virtue. Know your strengths and know your weaknesses and look at the opportunities before you and open your eyes to the possibilities that you don't even see yet. That's why I love the Prayer Process because they meet you exactly where you are. When we began the series, I said every journey begins from where you are. And that's why knowing where you are today right now is so important. What I love about the Prayer Processes is it does something that I've been talking about for decades now, and that is it meets people where they are, and it leads people to where God is calling them to be. It's incredibly difficult thing to do. If you've got kids or you've got grandkids and they're into things and you don't understand the things they're into and you're trying to meet them where they are, it requires real effort. It is much more difficult than most people realize. If you've got a friend who is living a very different life to the life that you're trying to live, trying to meet them where they are can be incredibly challenging.
What I love about the Prayer Process is that it expands or contracts according to where people are. It expands or contracts according to where you are right now in your journey. A monk who has been praying for 75 years could use the Prayer Process and have a powerful experience. Someone who has never prayed before in their life could use the prayer process and have a powerful experience. Think about it. Try it again today. Tell me if it isn't so. It expands or contracts according to where we are in our journey, and it always triggers a powerful conversation between you and God. And that's the prayer of the heart that we're exploring together.
Your Best Days
Life is a collection of days. How was your day yesterday? Or how were your days the past week or so? You look at the last month or the last six months. You realize most days were average. Some days were above average, and some days were below average. But what makes the difference? What is it that makes the difference between our best days and our worst days? Sometimes, it's things that are completely out of our control. But sometimes, it's things that are within our control. The bulk of most people's days are average days. Moving those average days to above-average days is usually very much within our control.
Over time, I've realized that my best days begin with prayer. 30 years after I began this habit in my life, there are still days when I get lazy. I procrastinate. I get distracted. I oversleep. I put it off and always pay the price. I always pay the price. And sometimes, the price is great. And sometimes, the price is not that great. But there's always a price because my best days begin with prayer. I have enough evidence. I have plenty of proof at this point that my best days begin with prayer. And still, there's resistance. Still, this is a struggle sometimes to wrestle myself to live in that wisdom that has been shared with me.
How do your best days begin? And if you try starting each day with prayer, and you make some notes about how those days go differently, perhaps you will become convinced, as I have become convinced, that our best days begin with prayer. This is the gift of awareness. That's one of the great spiritual gifts. It's the gift of knowing what's happening within us, knowing what's happening around us, sensing what's happening in other people, as we spend time with them, sensing what's happening in their lives. It's this great spiritual awareness. As we start our days with prayer, make a couple of notes about how do we feel throughout the day. Do we feel more peaceful? Do we feel less anxious? This is how we grow this awareness of how prayer is transforming us little by little. It will transform us whether we're aware of it or not. But one of the great gifts God wants to give us is this awareness so that we can share this awareness with other people so that, on those days, where maybe we don't feel like praying, it's the awareness that, hey, this is a life-changing habit. This makes all the difference in my days. If I do this, my day will go smoother. I'll have more peace. I'll have less anxiety. It's when we have those doubts. It's when we have that resistance that this awareness becomes a very powerful ally in our lives.
And so, I simply want to encourage you. I've been challenging you to spend some time each day in prayer. Now, I want to encourage you to begin your day with prayer. I realize not everyone's a morning person. Whether you're a morning person or not, I really encourage you. Just give it a try. Just give it a try. What do you have to lose? Give it a try for a few days, for a few weeks. Start your day with prayer, and see how it begins to transform you. Where's it leading us to? It's leading us to one of those great moments in our lives. Where's this all leading? It's leading us to one of those great moments in life. It's the moment when you realize, once and for all, finally, that a life with prayer is better than a life without prayer.
Every time you turn around, someone's being interviewed about the secrets of success. The reality is there are not really secrets to success. If you want to be successful at almost anything, the key to success, in almost anything, is mastering the basics. That's true for prayer, as well.
Interestingly, we don't think that much about success when it comes to prayer. We don't think that much about success when it comes to our spirituality. And I think it's time we need to think a little bit more about that. We think about mastering the basics, of getting really, really good at the basics of prayer. What are the basics of prayer, you know? It's the what, when, where, how, why.
What—well, the what is prayer, and we've defined the what as 10 minutes a day as a place to start: going to the classroom in silence, sit with our god, spend 10 minutes a day in reflection and conversation with God. That's the what.
The when—we're recommending the morning, you know, or at least trying the morning and putting our days off to a great start: giving God a chance to clear our hearts and our minds, to give us clarity, direction, as we move into our days, to give us peace and to free us from anxiety.
So the what is prayer, 10 minutes a day. The when is in the morning.
The where—it can be any quiet place, but it needs to be a quiet place, you know? It requires a quiet place. We're reading the Scriptures. Over and over again, Jesus went off to a lonely place to pray. Jesus went off to a quiet place to pray. Jesus went off to a place of solitude to pray. That's the kind of place we need, you know? Maybe all it takes is to close the door. Maybe you've got a quiet place in the comfy chair, and you close the door, and you have the silence and the solitude that you need in order for this experience to thrive. So the where could be many, many places. But I would challenge you at some point—it doesn't need to be today, it doesn't need to be this week, but at some point—I would challenge you to stop by your church, and do your 10 minutes a day at church, each morning, for a week—just a week—to make some notes, to develop some awareness. How is that different? When we stop by church on our way to work, or we stop by church at some point in the day and you do your 10 minutes of prayer, how is it different in church versus your comfy chair at home? What awareness do you have of that difference?
The how is the Prayer Process. There are lots and lots of different ways to pray. But to develop the discipline of one way is very powerful in the beginning. And so let's ingrain this one way deep into your life. So the how is the Prayer Process.
And the why—the why is different for everyone. The why is different for everyone, you know? Henry David Thoreau, he wrote, "I went to the woods because I wanted to live life deliberately." It's a beautiful idea, and I think it's one of the reasons prayer is so important to me: because it helps me to live life with great intention. It helps me to live life deliberately. And I want to live deliberately. So I go to the woods of prayer because I want to live life deliberately.
As we discussed earlier in this series, you have to come up with your own reasons for prayer. My reasons, other peoples' reasons, may be inspiring to you, may help you discover your own reasons. Some of them you may even adopt as your own reasons. But keep digging and looking for your own reasons because if you get crystal clear about the reasons you pray, that will be incredibly powerful, and very, very helpful on those days when you don't feel like praying, when you're resistant to prayer, when you are tempted to put your prayer off and put it at some other time of the day. Get crystal clear about why prayer's important in your life. That will be a great touchstone for you on days when you simply don't feel like praying.
So they're the basics: what, when, where, how, why. People who are successful at anything—they master the basics. They master the basics. The temptation is to get all creative and go off and try fifty other different forms of prayer. There's a time for that, there's a season for that. This is not that time, this is not that season. This is the season to engrain a habit deep into your life with the discipline of one type of prayer. Master the basics, and as with anything else, you will find great success in your prayer life.
What Is Your Image of God?
You've got a distorted image of God. I know how that might sound. How do I know that? I mean, I don't know you. I know that because we all do. We all have distorted images of God. And there are many things that'll happen in our lives, many things we've learnt, many things we've experienced, many things we've been told about God that aren't true or that we've heard in the wrong way, or we haven't heard completely or absorbed completely. And so we have a distorted image of God, and this is a critical issue. If we're going to grow spiritually, if we're going to have vibrant human relationships—and I explain the connection a little bit later—it's so important that we continue to align our image of God with the reality of God.
How do you see God? What's your image of God? Do you see God as a loving father, or do you see God as a wrathful father? Depending on what your own experience of a worldly father was, it could have a massive impact on your image of God as father. Do you see God as close and personal? Or do you see God as distant and impersonal? These are just two ways to explore the image of God. And of course, there are hundreds of ways to explore the image of God. And the way we see God affects the way we see ourselves and the way we see others. That's why the image of God is so critically important. What is your image of God? When was the last time you thought about it? Most of us are collecting little pieces of our image of God, and we put it together in our hearts and our souls, but we don't necessarily ever sit back and say, okay, what is my image of God? Does it align with reality, the reality of who God is? And of course. very often it doesn't.
There are things about our image of God that are projections of ourselves, projections of bad experiences or good experiences from the past that don't necessarily align with the characteristics of God. When we think about the characteristics of God, there are all sorts of characteristics that we throw around all the time. I list some of them in the book: infinite, eternal, good, self-sufficient, ever present, generous, holy, personal, gracious, loving, wise, mysterious, all-powerful, one, providential, righteous, just, transcendent, truthful, eternal, patient, free, immutable, approachable, peaceful, perfect, compassionate, beautiful, praiseworthy, and on and on and on. We have all of these attributes. What I want to encourage you to do is to think about two or three of the critical attributes of God that are important to you. What makes them important? Whatever helps you to connect with God—whatever helps you to connect with God is an important attribute of God at this moment in your life.
Now, we could do the exercise again in three months or three years and very different attributes might be the attributes that help you to connect with God. The beautiful thing about the exercise is that we assume we know God. And what we want to do is we want to set that assumption aside, because the truth is, whatever it is we know about God, however much we've studied God and his Scriptures, however much we've studied theology and religion and spirituality, what we know about God is still just a speck of sand on the beach compared to what we don't know about God. And it's what we don't know about God that we want to explore. It's what we don't know about God that will capture our imagination, fascinate our hearts and minds, and lead us to a new vibrancy in our prayer life, in our spirituality.
I'm trying to work out what is God really like. What is God really like? Not what did my dad say about God or what did my grandma say about God? What is God really like is what we're trying to discover: to have an experience of the living God. Why does it matter, the idea of the image of God or our image of God? Your image of God, it may seem irrelevant. It may seem peripheral, but it isn't. It does really matter. Why does it really matter?
Well, for one, the Scriptures tell us, "You are made in the image of God." You're made in the image of God. And so if we're going to have a healthy image of ourselves—and let's face it, most of us don't. Most of us have distorted images of ourselves, and the reason is because God wants to help us have a healthy, full, wholesome image of ourselves. But in order to hold that image of ourselves, we first have to have a healthy image of God. So our image of self comes from our image of God. So often we meet people, or we look at our own children, our own friends, we think, wow, they really have a little bit of a distorted image of themselves" And we wish we could help them adjust their image of themselves to align with reality. That's what God wants to do for you and me. So image of God matters because it impacts the image you hold of yourself, which has an enormous influence over all of your life.
The second reason is because the image you hold of God impacts all of your human relationships. Every single human relationship is impacted by the image you hold of God because it affects the image you have of yourself, and in turn, affects the image you hold of other people. We'll never have better human relationships than our relationship with God. If our relationship with God is here, we can't expect the relationship with other people to be up here. We never have better human relationships than our relationship with God. And so, if you want to have a better marriage, if you want to have better relationship with your kids, if you want to have better relationship with your friends, the best way to do that is to raise the bar on your relationship with God, is to take your relationship with God to the next level.
The third reason your image of God matters is because nothing will impact your relationship with God more than the image you hold of Him. If you hold this image that God is a distant, anonymous, impersonal, wrathful God, that, of course, is going to have a massive impact on the way you approach God, the way you relate to God. And so what does prayer do? Every single day when we come to pray, prayer slowly but surely aligns our image of God with the reality of God. And very often, that requires some realignment. But every single day when we come to pray, what happens? Our image of God is being realigned with the reality of God so that we can relate not with who we imagine God to be, but with who God actually is.
There Is Power in a Name
One of the most practical lessons that anyone ever thought me around prayer surrounds the names we use when we talk to God. Names are powerful, and they very often represent a level of intimacy in a relationship. So one person could be known as Mr. Jones to some people, he could be known as Edward to other people, he could be known as Ted to other people, and he might be known as Teddy to people closest to him. Same person, many different names, each representing different levels of intimacy. It's interesting, in my own life, sometimes people will call up the office, and they say, "I want to talk to Matt. We're really good friends. We know each other," or sometimes my wife will bump into somebody when she's out and about doing her thing and they'll say, "How's Matt doing? We knew him in college," or, "I knew him here," or, "I met him there." And it's interesting because nobody calls me Matt. In my personal life, nobody calls me Matt. When I was a child, if people called me Matt, my mother used to say, "When he was born, we gave him a name. His name is Matthew, and we gave him that name for a reason. And it means something to us, and we prefer you call him by the name we gave him." So names are very powerful in our lives.
Very often in the Scriptures, when God was giving someone a powerful mission, He gave them a new name. And so, over and over throughout the Scriptures, we discover the importance of name, the power of name. When Jesus encountered the demons, they couldn't even stand to hear his name. That's how powerful his name was. And so when we come to prayer, the name or the names we use to refer to God are very, very important, much more important to you than they are to God. God has a very clear sense of who He is. And what He wants is for you to find a name that helps you to connect with Him. So some people connect very powerfully with God as Father. Some people connect very powerfully with God as Son. Some people connect very powerfully with God as Spirit.
Throughout the Scriptures, God was given all sorts of names: Lord, Yahweh, Spirit of God, Adonai, Father, Son, Jesus, Lord, Messiah. Hundreds and hundreds of names throughout history we have used to refer to the very same one God. And in all of that, what I want to encourage you to do is to find the name that most helps you to connect with God, to find the name that most helps you to connect with God because that name will become a source of strength, a source of power, a source of intimacy, a source of comfort, a source of encouragement. Just that name will become all of those things and will very, very powerfully help you connect with God in conversation each day when you come to prayer.
Have you started yet? Have you started yet? We've been talking about this for two or three weeks now, making this journey together. Have you started dedicating your time each day in your life just to sit down in the classroom in silence and connect with the-best-version-of-yourself and connect with your God? The hardest part of anything is getting started. The space shuttle uses 96% of its fuel during takeoff. And so many of the things in our lives that we feel called to do, that we know are good for us, that we know would create powerful healthy habits, they're difficult to get started. But once we get started, we find that momentum. Once we're in motion, we feed off that momentum, and it's easy to move forward. Get started.
If you haven't already, get set a time today. Set a time tomorrow. Set a time for the rest of the week and make it sacred. Make it something sacred in your calendar that you do every day no matter what. You don't schedule over it. You don't put it off. Better than putting it off is to pull it forward. If you usually pray at 7:30 in the morning, and you know that you've got something at 7:30 tomorrow morning, don't put it off. Bring it forward. Do it at 7 o'clock. Do it at 6:30. As you become more experienced in the spiritual life, I think most people come to the realization that a little bit less sleep is better than missing out on their prayer because prayer has such a powerful impact on our days, on our relationships, on our lives. But getting started is difficult.
I want you to know that getting started is difficult so that when you come to experience that difficulty, you realize, okay, it's not just me; everybody experiences this. It's like crossing the room to ask a woman out on a date. There's resistance there, right? Should I do it? Shouldn't I do it? You want to do it. But you don't do it. It's that same thing. It's getting started. It's getting started. In my book Resisting Happiness, I talk about that. That experience is called resistance. It's called resistance. In the opening of the book I write, "The alarm goes off. It's time to get out of bed. This is your first decision of the day. Will you get out of bed or hit the snooze button? You press the snooze button and roll over. What just happened? No big deal, right? Wrong. You just lost the first battle of the day. Resistance just kicked your butt. Resistance has broken your will before you've even gotten out of bed. You'll most likely be a slave to it for the rest of the day. What is resistance? It's that sluggish feeling of not wanting to do something that you know is good for you. It's the inclination to do something that you unabashedly know is not good for you. And it's everything in between. It's the desire and tendency to delay something you should be doing right now." That's resistance. It's the main obstacle between you and a vibrant spiritual life. It's the main obstacle between you and the life-changing habit of daily prayer.
The Longest Journey
For thousands of years, the people of every religious tradition have had sacred journeys. These are traditionally referred to as pilgrimages. People make a journey to a sacred place. They make a journey to a sacred place sometimes because they have a question on their heart and they're looking for clarity. They make a journey to a sacred place sometimes because they want to ask God for a favor.
Life is a pilgrimage. All of life is a pilgrimage. But sometimes we need a pilgrimage to rediscover life.
For decades, I've been making pilgrimages, travelling with groups on pilgrimages. I've seen the life-changing impact of these sacred journeys. The idea is that we go on pilgrimage, but then we bring the paradigm of pilgrimage back to our lives. The truth is, is that prayer also is a pilgrimage. In prayer, we make a journey. We make a journey from where we are to be with God. We make a journey from one place in our heart to another place in our heart. We make a journey. Prayer is a sacred journey. Prayer is a pilgrimage.
Very often, as I've traveled around the world the past 30 years, the MC or the event organizer would stand up at the beginning of an event, and as they're getting the crowd settled, one of the questions they often ask is like, "Who has traveled the furthest?" And people put their hands up and, "I've come from this city," or, "I've come from this state," or, "I've come from this country." They talk about the longest journey people made to be there in that place on that night.
The Native American Sioux people—they believe that the longest journey was the journey from the head to the heart. They believe that this was the longest journey the human being could make. Their wisdom endures today. It's very easy for us to get caught up in our head. It's very easy for us to ignore our feelings and be caught up in our thoughts. The opposite is also very easy. It's very easy for us to get caught up in our feelings and ignore our rational thought. And, of course, God has given us both faculties for very good reason. He's given us both faculties so we can call on them in the best balance at the most appropriate time. But we do live in a fairly heady age. We do live in a fairly cerebral time. If people can't explain it, if it can't be rationalized, if it can't fit into a clear logic, people tend to question things or think that things don't exist. And so we are constantly having to make this journey from the head to the heart.
How are you doing? When you come to your prayer this last few days, do you feel like it's a prayer of the head, or do you feel like it's a prayer of the heart? Or do you feel like you have found that balance? My experience has been, some days, we find that balance. Some days, that balance is beautiful and intoxicating. Other days, we're stuck in our head churning over a problem or a situation.
And other days, we're stuck in our hearts. Maybe we've experienced a heartbreak or disappointment or betrayal, and we're stuck in our hearts and the pain that those things cause us. Other days, we're stuck in our hearts with great joy. But let's continue to take seriously the journey from the head to the heart so that we can participate in this prayer of the heart that we're talking about.
The First Shift: Begin the Conversation
In all the years I've been trying to show up each day and spend time with God in prayer in the classroom of silence, discover more about myself, discover more about life, discover God in new and unique and exciting ways, there've been many great moments. There've been hundreds of lessons. But there have been six seismic shifts that have completely changed the way I've experienced spirituality, the way I've experienced God, the way I've experienced prayer. The next six short sessions, I'm take you through each of these seismic shifts.
I use the word because the definition is enormous. There are many shifts in the spiritual life. But there are some things that feel like night and day. There are just enormous shifts. They're of monumental importance. And these are the six shifts I'd like to talk to you about. Interestingly, they feel very ordinary. Once you hear them, once you know them, you think, yeah, that makes sense. It's not a great secret. It's not a great mystery. But like most things, we need somebody to share it with us. We need somebody to teach it to us. Otherwise, we can be experiencing it and be unaware of it, or not be experiencing it at all.
The first shift is simply begin the conversation. If we want to make that journey from the head to the heart, the best way to do that is to begin the conversation, is to begin to talk to God about our lives, to begin to talk to God about what's on our hearts or what's in our mind or what's stopping us from getting out of our head and into our heart.
At the end of each day, I spent a few minutes with each of my children, just talking to them about their day. I spend this time with them one-on-one. I ask them about their day, and they share things about their day—fascinating things, things I would never know if I didn't have this special time with them. And I ask them questions. I ask them, "Do you have any problems?" It's interesting the things they see as problems, or it's interesting how few problems they have. And then they usually ask me a couple of questions. But this is a magical time in my life. This is a magical time in my day. I look forward to it. It's one of the things I miss the most when I'm traveling, when I'm on the road, when I'm away from home and away from the family.
In many ways, our prayer should be like this. God, as our loving father, at different times in our day, wants to sit down and talk with us: What's going on in your life? What's going on in your life? What happened in your day? Do you have any problems? This is a natural conversation between a parent and their child. It's a natural conversation. When we slowdown from the crazy, noisy busyness of life, this is a natural conversation between a parent and a child. It's a powerful conversation between a parent and a child.
At the end of each encounter with my children each night, I always end with the same thing. I said to them, "I want you to remember something." By this point, some of them, "I know, Dad. I know." "No, it's serious. I want you to remember something." "What is that, dad?" "I want you to remember: no matter what, no matter where, no matter when, Daddy always loves you. And if you ever have a problem, come to Daddy, talk to Daddy, and Daddy will help you work it out." Now sometimes when they repeat it back to me, I'll say, "All right. I want you to remember something." They'll say, "I know, Dad. I know what it is." I say, "All right. If you know what it is, you tell me." "No matter what, no matter where, no matter when, no matter how, Daddy always loves me. And if I ever have a problem, come to Daddy, and Daddy will fix it." And I say, "No, that's not it. No matter what, no matter when, no matter how, Daddy always loves you. And if you ever have a problem, come to Daddy, and Daddy will help you solve that problem. We'll do it together. We'll work on it together. Daddy is just not going to fix your problems." It's the same with God, I think. He wants to be involved in our lives. He wants to have intimate conversations about what's happening in our hearts and our minds in our lives. He wants to help us solve our problems. He wants to help us solve our problems.
The first seismic shift to the spiritual life, "Begin the conversation." Just start talking to him. Just start talking to him. I'm telling you: talk to him, and miracles will begin to happen in the most ordinary things in your life.
The Second Shift: Ask God What He Wants
The second of the great seismic shifts we experience in the spiritual life is when we stop asking God for what we want and we start asking God what he wants. I talked about my great experience of stumbling upon what I call the big question when I was about fifteen and having the challenge, the situation, asking God, "God, what do you think I should do?" This is one of the great questions of the spiritual life. This is one of the great seismic shifts. We think it's just another question. No, it's not just another question. Our whole-world view shifts when we stop just constantly asking God for things, what we want, and we turn to him and ask him what he wants.
You see, most of the prayers muttered on the planet every day are asking God for something. If you had a friend and every time you saw that friend, that friend asked you for something or for many things, that friendship gets old pretty quick. It gets stale. It doesn't engage you. It feels off. It feels distorted. We have to learn to recognize the distortions in our relationship with our God. Is it okay to ask for things? Yes, absolutely. It's natural. It's normal. For a son to ask his father for something is the most natural thing in the world, the most normal thing in the world. But as children of God, if we are well-rounded that will be one part of our relationship with God. It won't be our entire relationship with God.
I'm often fascinated.
People will tell me after they have a meeting with famous people, "I met this person," or "I met the Pope," or "I met the President," or I met whoever—these famous people—and very often the conversation is about what they told the Pope or what they told the President or what they told this person that they met. I'm always fascinated by that. I'm fascinated because they had this moment. They had this opportunity to meet this person, and they took that opportunity to tell that person something rather than to ask that person something. And so, they came away from that opportunity not knowing any more than when they went into that opportunity, and that always strikes me as a tragedy because they had this one moment with this person. They're never going to meet again, the person they obviously admire, and they missed the opportunity to glean something new, fresh, insightful from that experience.
We go to our prayer, the same is true. We don't go to our prayer to tell God things all the time. We don't go to our prayer to ask God for things all the time. Both of these have their place in prayer. But the second seismic shift is when we turn away from asking for what we want. We turn to God and we say, "God, what do you want?" And the reason we make that shift is because—we realize consciously, subconsciously, fully, partially—we realize that God wants to share his wisdom with us and that it's by walking the path that he invites us along rather than the path we set for ourselves, by walking the path that he invites us along, that we will find the peace, the joy, the wisdom, the happiness that we yearn for unceasingly.
The Third Shift: Give Yourself to Prayer
We're making our way through the six seismic shifts of the spiritual life. You don't necessarily experience them in this order. I think everyone experiences them at different times in their journey. But you don't necessarily experience them in this order, and you don't necessarily only experience them once. I don't know about you, but I'm a bit of a slow learner. Some of these lessons I've had to be taught over and over again.
But the third seismic shift is giving yourself to prayer. Giving yourself to prayer. And what happens in the third seismic shift is that prayer moves from something that we do and it becomes something that we experience, move from something that we do and it becomes something that we experience. We stop doing prayer, and we give ourselves to prayer. We give ourselves to prayer. And it's a profound shift to come to our time of prayer and to give ourselves to God. It's like, God, here I am. Do with me whatever you want to do with me. Take what you want to take. Give what you want to give. I give myself to you for this time. Work in me. And He does. And He will. Whether we are aware of it or not, and very often, at the time when God is working most powerfully in us, we are not aware of it. But later we will look back and realize that was going on and I thought this was happening, when in reality, something completely different and marvelous was happening.
In my book, The Seven Levels of Intimacy, I coined the term carefree timelessness. I wrote the book at the end of my first decade on the road. And during that time, I had visited hundreds, maybe thousands of high schools. In almost every city I visited I would go to a high school, and I would speak in the high school in the afternoon and then do my general public event in the evening. Spending all that time with these young people taught me many things. A lot of very profound lessons from all of that. But one of the key learnings of the observations that I came out of that was this idea of carefree timelessness. What is carefree timelessness? It's time together without an agenda. Very often couples will say, oh yea, let's get together on Saturday afternoon, spend some time together on Saturday afternoon. And we'll do this, and we'll do this, and we'll do this, and we'll do this, and we'll do that other thing. This is not carefree timelessness. It's good to have time together. But sometimes, it's good to have time together without an agenda: to say let's spend Saturday afternoon together. What are we going to do? I don't know. Let's decide on Saturday afternoon. Let's just see where it takes us. Let's see what happens. Let's have some time together without an agenda. This is the reason young people fall in love so easily: carefree timelessness. It is singularly the reason young people fall in love so easily. Because when we get to know each other, we love each other. The more you get to know a person, the more you love that person. They have this carefree timelessness, they talk for hours on the phone, they hang out for hours, they have this carefree timelessness. And this carefree timelessness is an essential ingredient of love. It causes us to fall in love, with ourselves, with life, with each other. And very often we do fall out of love with life. Very often we do fall out of love with life because our lives have become too busy, too noisy, too stressful. Sometimes we need some carefree timelessness with ourselves. Sometimes we need some carefree timelessness with the most important people in our lives. And sometimes we need some carefree timelessness with God.
The third seismic shift—it's about carefree timelessness with God. It's about giving ourselves to God. Giving ourselves to God. Just letting God do what He wants to do with us, be with us, however he wants to be with us in that time for those moments of prayer on any given day. And when we do that, when we surrender in that way, he begins to work very, very powerfully within us. Again, what we see here is a very powerful connection between prayer and life and love. Prayer teaches us how to live. Prayer teaches us how to love. Carefree timelessness is an essential life skill. Learning to give ourselves and just be in certain situations is an essential life skill whether we learn it, we learn it prayer. Who do we learn it from? We learn it from God. How do we learn it? We learn it by giving ourselves to prayer.
The Fourth Shift: Transform Everything into Prayer
Saint Paul talked about the idea of praying constantly. We obviously can't go into our churches and pray all day and ignore or abandon our other roles and responsibilities. So what is it that Paul was getting at? What was Paul inviting us to? What insight did Paul have that we can benefit from?
The fourth seismic shift is transform everything into prayer. This is one of the most powerful and one of the most practical lessons that I was taught in my spiritual journey. At the time, I was in school, but I also had a part-time job. And I was taught this lesson that every hour of work or every hour of study can be transformed into an hour of prayer. I was encouraged by a friend of my family's to offer each hour of study as a prayer for a specific person. He said to me, "Have a pencil with you when you're studying and just write the initials of somebody in the top of each page you write, each of page of notes, or on the top of each page you read, and just offer the work on that page as a prayer to God for that person. And if possible, for a specific intention. If that person is suffering with an illness, offer that word to God as a prayer for that person who's suffering with that illness. If that person just lost their job, if that person's having trouble in their marriage, if that person's having trouble in their personal finances, if that person's struggling with an addiction, offer that hour of work or that page of work for that person." He told me the same thing around work just to say, "Okay, each hour,"—at the time, I used to have a watch on, and it dinged every hour on the hour, it dinged every hour on the hour—and he told me, “Just when the watch dings on the hour, just offer the next hour of work as a prayer for someone, someone specific with great intentionality.”
The thing is you study differently when you're offering that hour of study to God as prayer for a specific person and a specific intention. You study differently, and you work differently when you offer each hour of work to God for a person, for an intention. You work differently. It has a powerful impact on us, has a powerful impact on our work, a powerful impact on our study, a powerful impact on our soul.
The fourth seismic shift, transform everything into prayer. In the book I Heard God Laugh, I wrote, "God is with us when we wash the dishes, when we change the baby's diaper, when we mow the lawn, when we make love to our spouse, commute to work, have dinner with our family, take care of the sick relative, pay the bills, and work on the budget, talk to our children, and when we hold hands with a friend, always, everywhere, and in everything, God is with us. That's why everything is prayer. Washing the dishes is prayer, changing the baby's diaper is prayer, mowing the lawn is prayer, commuting to work is prayer. Having dinner with your family is prayer. Taking care of a sick relative is prayer. Paying the bills and working on your budget is prayer. Talking to your children is prayer. Holding hands and making love with your spouse is prayer. The fourth seismic shift occurs when we discover that every activity can be transformed into prayer by offering it to God.”
The Fifth Shift: Make Yourself Available
The fifth seismic shift is all about availability. How available to God are you at this time in your life? How available are you? How available is your life? Do you make your life available to God? The fifth seismic shift is make yourself available. Whatever room you give God in your life, he will fill with unimaginably good things. Whatever space you make for him in your heart, in your soul, in your life, he will fill. And your heart and your soul and your life will be better for inviting him in and allowing him to fill those spaces. But we fill our heart, we fill our minds, we fill our lives with so much junk, trash. Our lives are so full of stuff that adds no value or, worse than that, takes away from the great mission we're on to become the-best-version-of-ourselves, to become all God created us to be.
Sometimes I talk to people, and they seem confused or they seemed lost. I ask them, "What is it that you really want?" And they don't seem to know. And sometimes someone will ask me, "How do I work that out? How do I work out what I really want? How do I work out what God is really inviting me to?" There's a lot of ways to explore that, but I think in the midst of our noisy, busy, crowded modern lives, one way is to clear things out of our lives. Truth is you probably have a very busy life. I have a very busy life. Most of us live busy lives. There's good and bad to that. On the downside, there's no room in most of our lives for the good things that God wants to bring into our lives. And so to create some whitespace, to empty some things out of our lives that are unnecessary, that don't add value so that there's room in our lives for God to bring new things and new people, for God to inspire us and touch us in new ways, this is a very, very practical way for us to tune in, in a different way to the voice of God in our lives. Sometimes just clearing up your office or your garage puts you in a completely different mind space, a completely different heart space, a completely different soul space. My wife said to me the other day, she said, "You're getting ready to write a new book, aren't you?" I said, "What makes you say that?" She said, "You started to clean up your office. Everything's getting organized. I can tell you're in that space where you're processing, you're preparing, you're getting ready. You're moving into the zone, and you're about to write." It was a great moment. It was a great moment for many reasons. Why? Because it's a beautiful thing to be known. I think it's a tragic thing to make our way through this world and never really be known by somebody. So it's a beautiful thing that she observes that, that she knows that about me, that she's able to recognize that. We do fill our lives with a lot of junk. We do fill out lives with material and non-material junk. And it is good from time to time to clear that out because in clearing that out, we make ourselves available. We make ourselves available; incredible things begin to happen.
If we don't do that, there's no room in our lives for all the good things that we need and that we want, all the good things we need and want and that God wants to give to us, that he wants to bring into our lives. I talk about the secret of happiness. We hear this phrase all the time: the secret of happiness. I talked about it in the book. I talked about it in the book. Do you wish to know the secret of supreme happiness? Strip away everything in your heart and set aside all in your life that makes you less available to God. The joy we experience in this life is proportional to how available we make ourselves to God.
The fifth shift is about making ourselves 100% available to God. How available to God are you at this time in your life? How available to God are you at this time in your life? 20%? 50%? 80%? 96.4%? And what's the risk? What do you got to lose? Why not give it a chance? Why not turn to God today and say, "God, I make myself 100% available to you." And let's see what happens. Let's see what happens. Let me tell you, you pray that prayer, best get ready. You pray that prayer, something incredible is about to happen because never once in the history of the world did God not use the people that make themselves 100% available to him in very, very powerful ways.
The Sixth Shift: Just Keep Showing Up
A very wise, old, holy priest taught me the sixth seismic shift. I met him when I was in Europe many, many years ago, and he was living in a monastery and clearly was a man of deep prayer, clearly was a man who had dedicated his life to walking with God, trying to know God, trying to know himself, and helping as many others as possible to make that same journey. I asked him, "What is the secret to a vibrant, dynamic prayer life?" He smiled, and I could tell it had amused him, and he said, "Just keep showing up." I expected something different. I think we often do. I thought I expected something more. I said to him, "What do you mean by that? Just keep showing up?" He said, "I'm speaking in plain English. Just keep showing up." He went on to explain that we make this shift in the spiritual life when the decision to pray is no longer a daily decision. We no longer wake up and say, oh, am I going to pray today or do I feel like praying today or don't feel like praying today or what time am I going to pray today. He said the sixth shift is when we just decide we're going to show up, no matter what. It's no longer a decision. It's a decision that has been made, once and for all: we are just going to keep showing up and letting God do his thing and trusting, and believing that God is working in us, through prayer, in prayer, even when it may feel the opposite.
There are times when we go to prayer and we feel ecstatic, euphoric. There are times we go to prayer when we feel that God is far away, that God is not listening, that God is not hearing. And these times in prayer can be incredibly discouraging. But it's a mistake, always a mistake, to judge our prayer by our feelings. How we feel in prayer is irrelevant. There will be days when we feel euphoric and there will be days when we feel discouraged, and God is working in all of that. In every situation, in every circumstance, whatever we think or feel in prayer, God is working in that, in us through that. And so it is a great mistake to judge our prayer, and certainly a great mistake to judge how we think about our prayer or feel about our prayer, to say, oh, I prayed well today. Did you show up? That's the big thing. Did you show up? Are you going to show up tomorrow? Are you going to keep showing up, no matter what? Because the only real failure in prayer is to stop showing up. The only real failure in prayer is to stop showing up. And so the sixth seismic shift—just keep showing up. No matter what, just keep showing up.
So we've made our journey through the six seismic shifts in the spiritual life. You realize, okay, they don't happen in that order to everybody. They happen at different times in different people's lives, but you also discover that you don't have to be a certain age to experience these enormous spiritual shifts in our lives. You don't have to have certain education. You don't need this degree or that advanced degree to experience these six spiritual shifts. They're available to everybody. They're available to anybody. And they're most available to us when we open ourselves up to them, when we open ourselves up to life, to the-best-version-of-ourselves, to God, and to the amazing possibilities that he can see for us, but that we very often cannot see for ourselves. The amazing possibilities that he sees for us and that he very much wants to reveal to us if we will enter into the classroom of silence, sit down with him, be with him, and allow him to guide us, encourage us, and challenge us.
Six Life-Changing Awakenings
When it comes to the spiritual life, God does all the heavy lifting. That doesn't mean it's easy. It isn't. Prayer is one of the most difficult things we can do in this life. It's difficult mostly because it requires us to face ourselves: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It's not easy, but it is incredibly rewarding. Most things that are worth doing in this life are not easy, but the difficult things are often the most rewarding things.
As we make this journey, there are going to be things that are asked of us. There are going to be challenges. We are going to feel overwhelmed at times. When we feel overwhelmed in life, when we feel overwhelmed in the spiritual life, very often it's because we're trying to do something that it's God's job to do. We're called to surrender, we're called to let go, we're called to allow God to work in us.
If we take a quick review of the six seismic shifts, the first—begin the conversation. Just begin the conversation. Is it easy? No. Is it simple? Yes. The second—ask God what he wants. Ask God what he wants. The third—give yourself to prayer. The fourth—transform everything into prayer. The fifth—make yourself available. And the sixth seismic shift—just keep showing up. And so it is clear that God wants to do all the heavy lifting. So what's our job? Our job is to show up. Our job is to be open to whatever God is calling us to do, to be, and to become. Our job is to make ourselves available, to cooperate because what God wants with you and with me is he wants a dynamic collaboration. He wants to collaborate with you.
If you look at the history of humanity, if you look at the history of God's relationship with humanity, it's a history of great collaborations. Look at anybody who has played a significant role in the history of God's relationship with humanity. They've collaborated with God, they've cooperated with God, they've made themselves available to God. And in many cases, they fell out of that. They stopped collaborating, they stopped cooperating, they stopped showing up, they stopped making themselves available, and that's when things started to fall apart. And we see that in a lot of epic figures who play massive roles in the Scriptures and massive roles in the relationship between God and humanity.
When you think about the spiritual life and when you think about the six seismic shifts, they don't happen at any specific time in our lives. They don't happen in any specific order. They certainly don't happen in a straight line. In fact, a fairly good rule of thumb I think is to realize there are no straight lines in the spiritual life. There are no straight lines in the spiritual life. God is not a big fan of straight lines. As humans, we love straight lines. As humans, we're obsessed with straight lines. If you look at creation, God's creation, there's no straight lines. God doesn't use straight lines. If you look at man's creation, everything we've added to God's creation, straight lines everywhere. We're obsessed with straight lines. God doesn't work with straight lines. There are no straight lines in the spiritual life, and I think it's a really important lesson for us to learn because there will be progress and there will be regression. There will be times when we know we are making great progress, and there will be times when we feel stalled or we feel like we're regressing. But in all of that, God is working. God is doing the heavy lifting. God wants to do the heavy lifting but he wants us to cooperate with him. He wants us to collaborate with him. And that is perhaps one of the most difficult lessons in the spiritual journey.
Does God Have a Sense of Humor?
Have you ever wondered what life would be like without music? I can't imagine life without music. I think that without music so much would be lost from the experience we call life. When people are stranded in faraway places, when people get lost in the wilderness, very often when they come back, they talk about music. They talk about how they missed music. They talk about how they kept music alive in their minds. And how music played a key role in getting them through what was a very difficult experience.
Let me ask you something else. Can you imagine life without laughter? Can you imagine a world without humor? I think that even our most accurate imaginings cannot even begin to understand what would be loss of life if human beings didn't have the capacity to laugh. Didn't have the capacity for humor. Many of the most memorable moments our lives are moments of humor. Many of the most difficult moments of our lives, we get through with humor. Many of the most memorable times we have with family and friends, much of the bond we build with family and friends, is built around humor.
Humor plays a critical role in the life of human beings in this world. Where did it come from? Where did this quintessential aspect of the human person come from? Well, it's just one small glimpse into the genius of God. The genius of God is everywhere. It surrounds us at all times. It's present in so many ways in our lives. But it is especially present in laughter and in humor.
Our God is a God of purpose. He does things on purpose, with purpose, for purpose. And so we are led to believe that the fact that we can laugh, the fact that humor plays such an essential role in our lives and in our health, it wasn't a coincidence. It wasn't a mistake. It was very much part of the genius of God in His creation of the human being. More recently, there's been a lot of research into the effects of humor the effects of laughter on a human person. A lot of the research is surrounded sort of the medical science. In I Heard God Laugh, I talk about this a little bit because I think it is important for us to understand it first from a very human, very practical, very physical point of view.
Modern medicine has discovered that laughter strengthens your immune system, improves mood, and diminishes pain. Laughter is a powerful form of stress relief. It burns calories, eases anxiety, reduces stress and is a natural antidepressant. A good laugh relaxes the body, eases tension, and leaves your muscles relaxed. A good laugh relaxes the body, eases tension, and leaves your muscles relaxed for up to forty-five minutes. Laughter stimulates your heart and increases the number of endorphins released by your brain, which creates an overall sense of well-being. When you laugh, the amount of oxygen-rich air that rushes into your lungs increases. Laughter reduces blood pressure, increases blood flow, and can help protect you from a heart attack. It increases happiness, reduces anger and other negative emotions and increases resilience in the face of obstacles and unpleasant events. Laughter increases our energy and enthusiasm for life. People who laugh regularly are more joyful and have healthier hearts. Humor improves personal satisfaction, strengthens relationships, helps diffuse conflict, shifts our perspective, and attracts other people to us. Laughter connects us with others, makes our burden seem lighter, and can reduce anger and conflict. It creates a sense of belonging and bonds people together. It enhances teamwork and improves productivity. Laughter and humor build trust, encourage collaboration, increase likability, draw people in to listen, improve memory retention, make arguments more persuasive, and increase learning by reducing classroom anxiety. Laughter releases serotonin which improves focus, decision-making, problem-solving, objectivity, openness to new ideas, and overall brainpower. It took some really smart scientists to discover all this, but God is the genius who is alive and well in our laughter. God is the genius who gave us laughter.
Humor is essential to the human being. Many of the most memorable and meaningful moments in our life are humorous. But this raises the question, where is humor in our experience of God, religion, and spirituality? Does God have a sense of humor? Only by going deep into the spiritual life, only by connecting with God on a daily basis, developing a deep well of spirituality do we come to discover that the God who created us with a wonderful sense of humor has a wonderful sense of humor himself. Why we have left humor out of spirituality, out of religion for so many thousands of years is a mystery? If you read the Gospels, there's little evidence, maybe no evidence in the Gospels to suggest that Jesus has a sense of humor, but I have to believe that he had a phenomenal sense of humor. I would have loved to be walking down those dusty roads with him and the disciples. I'm sure there whatever some epic moments of hilarity, great moments of humor and that this bonded them together as one of the most unique groups of people in history and certainly, the most unique team in the history of humanity.
I Heard God Laugh
Growing up in Australia with my seven brothers, all we did, it seemed, was play sport. What sport? Every sport or any sport. Every day, we come home from school and play sports, had training after school, had training at lunchtime. We just loved playing sports. And when I was very young, the sports of my childhood were soccer and cricket. And one of the things I noticed was that when the action of the game came along, everything seemed to slow down. Then I watched back video of the game, and it all happened so quickly. But when I was actually experiencing it, it was like it's happening in slow motion.
As I got older, I've had this experience in other areas of my life. Very often when I get up to speak, I get up to speak. I have an hour to speak, and it feels like it's five minutes and it's over. And I had this similar experience when I get into the flow of my writing, not always, not even most of the time. Most of the time, writing is difficult. It's hard work. If you wait to be inspired, you'll never finish a book. You have to will yourself to write and to write every day. But there are times when inspiration does flow, and it is seemingly effortless and timeless. And this timelessness is a powerful experience that we should pay attention to any time it crops up in our lives because it is telling us something about ourselves, telling us something about our passions, telling us something about our talents and abilities, speaking to us in very, very powerful ways. It's speaking to us in very, very powerful ways.
I've spoken to you about stopping by at church for 10 minutes on the way to school starting when I was about 15 years old. And over the next three or four years, 10 minutes turned to half an hour. Half an hour turned to an hour. An hour turned to two, three, four hours. I would go to church some days in the afternoon. I remember, on the way home from college, I'd stop by church, and I'd just sit there. And I'd sit there for two, three, four, sometimes five hours, and it seemed effortless. It seemed timeless. It seemed incredible, unbelievable, amazing, all those sorts of things. At the time, I didn't know what was going on. I didn't realize it. And looking back, it became very clear to me that I was doing an apprenticeship in the classroom of silence.
In my book, A Call to Joy, one of my earliest, which I wrote in '97, I wrote, "You can learn more in an hour of silence than you can in a year from books." I believe that to be true. I believe that when we spend time regularly in silence, we're connecting with ourselves. We're connecting with our God, that we learn powerful lessons—that we could read for hours and hours and hours and not learn anything as powerful, anything as profound, or anything as practical and useful in our lives. And so silence has always been a great theme in all of my speaking and all of my writing.
Spending time each day in silence, in prayer, in reflection, is a life-changing habit. I hope, by now, you've established this habit in your life, and I hope it's a habit that you will stay with and continue to honor yourself and your God through this habit for the rest of your life. It's an incredibly powerful habit. What does it do? What does prayer do? It teaches us how to live, and it teaches us how to love. It was there in the classroom of silence, spending hours just sitting there in the presence of God, that I first heard God laugh. It was an extraordinary experience. It wasn't the only experience I've had of that. And it's an experience that I very much hope that you will have.
If you dedicate yourself to spending time each day in prayer, if you make it a discipline, if you make it a sacred obligation, if you make it a sacred space in your schedule each and every day, then little by little, you will get to know God in ways that you've never heard about, in ways that you've never experienced. How long does it take? Well, it takes a long time. It takes a long time. It takes a long time to master the principles of almost anything. If you want to be good at anything, if you want to master the principles of anything, it takes a long time. And it's going to take a long time to master the principles of prayer. Some of them are incredibly difficult. And the most difficult principles of prayer to master are the ones that require us to do nothing because we have a bias towards action. We have a bias towards action. And so when we sit in a classroom of silence and God says, "Just be, just do nothing. Let me do the heavy lifting. Let me work on you and in you and with you and through you," it's incredibly difficult. These are the most difficult lessons to learn and to live in the spiritual life, the ones that surrender to God all the power that is His and cooperate with Him humbly for whatever it is He's calling us to in that moment.
The Deep Waters
The spiritual life is a constant invitation to wade deeper out into the waters, to swim deeper out into the waters. Spiritual life is a constant invitation to go beyond the shallow, superficial offerings of this world and to enter into the mysteries of life, the mysteries of God, and the mysteries of self.
God wants you to become the-best-version-of-yourself. This is an astounding dream he has for you. You put limitations on yourself. I put limitations on myself. We come up with reasons, excuses, justifications, why we can't become more. We think a lot about having more or doing more. But our desire to have more and do more are distorted. They're distorted reflections of a much greater desire. And that much greater desire is a desire to become more, to become more of who God created us to be, to become more truly and authentically ourselves.
There's a great story in the New Testament in the Gospels. The disciple's been out fishing one night. This is after Jesus rose from the dead but before the Ascension. And Jesus is appearing to different people and different groups of people throughout this period of time. The disciples went out fishing one night, and they come back. And Jesus is on the shore, and he says, "Well, what'd you catch?" They said, "We got nothing." Jesus says, "Well, why don't you take the boats back out into the deeper water and let down your nets for a great catch?" You think about the humanity of the story. The disciples, they've been fishing all night. They were experts. This is what they were really good at. This is what they knew. This was their profession. This was their expertise. They've been fishing all night. If they didn't catch any fish, they probably believe there weren't any fish to be caught that night. Jesus comes along and says, "Let's try that again." How are they feeling? They're tired. They're frustrated. But what did they do? They get back in the boats. They take the boats back out, not just nudge them off the shore, but take them back out into the deep water. Archaeologically from the type of boats they would have been using, we know what Jesus was asking for here was a three-hour exercise to get the boats out there, to get the nets ready, to drop the nets. Three-hour exercise—the disciples do it. They go out there and let down the net. What happens? They catch so many fish; they almost break the nets and sink the boats. They have to call their friends in other boats to come and take some of their fish so their boat won't sink. That's a great catch.
The older I get, the less things I know for sure. The older I get, the fewer things I'm certain about. But I'm sure about this. In some aspect of your life right now, you're looking for a great catch. It might be in your career. It might be in your health. It might be in your personal finances. It might be in a relationship. In some aspect of your life, you're hoping for a great catch. You're looking for a great catch. You want a great catch. God wants to give you that great catch. I believe that. But this is what I know for sure. You don't get a catch like that in the shallow waters. The catch the disciples got—they couldn't have got a catch like that in the shallow waters. Jesus said, "Take your boat out into the deep waters and let down your nets for a great catch." And I think he says the same thing to us. Go out into the deep waters. Do not be afraid of the deep waters of prayer and spirituality and mysticism. Go into the deep waters. There's life there. There's great catch to be had there.
Don't be afraid of the deep waters because much of what we yearn for, much of what we're hungry for, much of what our soul is thirsty for, cannot be found in the shallow, superficial offerings that the world wants to pass off to us in our quest for happiness, in our quest to discover ourselves, in our quest to become all we were created to be. We yearn for more. And in order to access the richness of what God wants to share with us, we have to be willing to go beyond the shallow and the superficial, to go into the deep waters, to spend some time in the classroom of silence, an expanding period of time in the classroom of silence, to work out who we are and what we're here for and what matters most so that we can live passionately, purposefully every single day for the rest of our lives.
The Delight of God
Five of the great joys in my life are my children: Walter, Isabel, Harry, Ralph, and Simon. I work from home a lot. I work at home some days, and I work at home some evenings and a little bit on the weekends. And if I'm not on the phone, I like to keep my office door open. And from time to time, one of the kids will wander in, and they come for different reasons. But there's a walk they have when they come in and they need to talk. They want to talk. There's something on their mind. They come into the room differently. They walk differently. They sit down differently. They choose different chairs based on what they come in to talk about. And it's always a fascinating experience. Often, they will stumble around a little bit, talking about their day, asking about my day. You can see they're getting comfortable. They're getting comfortable. They're probably taking my temperature. They're probably trying to get a sense of is Dad in a good mood, is Dad not in a good mood, is Dad in the mood to talk, is Dad distracted with his work. And so I've learned to try to step away from work and to come over to the other side of the desk and to sit next to them or to sit on the couch with them and explore whatever it is that has brought them into my office, to explore whatever it is that's going on in their little hearts and minds and souls that's had them wandered down to that end of the house and cross the threshold of my office and take a seat and start talking. And it's always a fascinating experience.
It always makes me think of a couple of things. It always makes me think of a couple of things in chapter eight of Proverbs. King Solomon talks about the delight of God. Now, what delights God? What brings God delight? And Proverbs concludes that the delight of God is to be with his sons and daughters. Nothing brings God more delight than just being with us. And it's a beautiful. It's an incredibly powerful concept. We'll talk a little bit more about it in a minute. The second thing that this always makes me think about is an Eliot Morris song, and the song's called “Anywhere with You”. It's from Eliot's children's album. It has a great beat. It has a great message and essentially saying that what does perfect look like: anywhere with you is a perfect day. Anywhere with you is a perfect moment. Anywhere with you is what brings delight. I always think of these two things when I have these encounters with my children.
But the other thing it leaves me to think about and the thing I really want to encourage you to delve into is a question that I think animates our lives and plagues our lives. It's perhaps one of the most important questions we can ever explore and that is: what do you have to do to be loved? You see, when we're very young, different people in our lives, they teach us if you do this, you'd be loved. If you do that, you'd be loved. If you do this other thing, you'd be loved. And then, the culture comes along on top of that and says, "As long as you do this, you'd be loved. If you don't do that, you won't be loved." And so this question, “What do you have to do to be loved?” becomes central to our lives. It can have a very distorting effect on our relationship with God because the reality is that you don't have to do anything for God to love you. God loves you, okay? He loves you because you're His child. He loves you because you're an infinitely valuable human being. Before you do anything, say anything, accomplish anything, have anything, experience anything, you're already loved. Unfortunately, our human relationships don't necessarily unfold that way. And if we're parents, I think the powerful question for us to ask ourselves: what do our children have to do to get our love? What do our children have to do to be loved by their parents? Because we can set them up for massive success or massive failure depending on the paradigm we set around the giving and receiving of love between parent and child.
The reality is God loves us. It's that thing I say to my kids when they go to bed at night: “No matter what, no matter where, no matter when, no matter how, Daddy always loves you.” Sometimes, things will go wrong: one of the kids will get in trouble, they'll do something foolish or even dangerous, and they need to be corrected. And when I correct them, I have that conversation. We talk it through, try and do it logically and reasonably. But at the end, I always try to say, "Daddy loves you. Daddy doesn't love you less because you did this stupid thing, okay? You're not a stupid person. You did a stupid thing. And Daddy doesn't love you less because Daddy's love is not based on if you please me. Daddy's love is not based on what you accomplish. Daddy just loves you." That is the love that God wants us to experience, and that is the love that God wants to send us out into the world to share with everyone who crosses our path.
Busy Is Not Your Friend
When we began our journey together, I put before you a question: Is your life working? It's a question I use often to explore my life in general to explore different aspects, different areas of my life. Usually when my life isn't working, there's always one culprit that is involved in some way at some level, and that's busy. Usually when my life is not working, I've committed myself to too many things, I'm too busy. As some people say, "Well, is all busy bad or some busy good?" There is, I think, a good type of busy. I think you can come home at the end of the day exhausted knowing that you've done really good important things, and that exhaustion can be very fulfilling. It can't be very fulfilling if it happens every day for months and years. Even that good busy becomes bad if there's too much of it. But the bad busy is when we come home exhausted at the end of the day, and we're not quite sure what we've accomplished. We know we've been busy, we know we've been doing a lot of things, but we're not sure what we've done. And we are sure that what we spend our day on are not the things that add the most value to our lives and to our world, are not the things that engage our souls, that stir our hearts, that inspire our mind, and do the same for other people. It's those experiences of busy that can be very disheartening because they overwhelm us. They discourage us. They make us feel tired and burnt out and worn out and anxious and stressed.
But I think, most of all, the problem with busy is that busy makes us feel inadequate. Busy makes us feel like we're not enough. And that's a horrible feeling. It's certainly a feeling that God doesn't want us to have, doesn't want us to have the feeling you are not enough. He doesn't want us to have the feeling you're inadequate. No loving parent wants their children to feel like they're not enough, like they're inadequate. And in fact, God's message to us is completely the opposite. Not only are we enough, but more than enough, extraordinary image of God, one of a kind human beings, with all sorts of incredible experiences and opportunities within us and before us. And that's what God wants us to explore with Him.
That's why the spiritual life is so important because it challenges us or encourages us or forces us to step back from who we are and where we are and what we're doing and take another look at who we are and where we are and what we're doing. And when we do that, when we do step back, very often we realize, wow, my life is not working. This is not the life I want to live. I want my relationships to be different. I want my career to be different. I want these other aspects of my life to change. I want to grow. I want to evolve. I want to become more of the person God created me to be. I want to become a-better-version-of-myself every single day even if I just become a-better-version-of-myself by tiny, little amount each day. They understand that the incremental improvement of that and the compounding effect of that incremental improvement is massive. And that's what the great people of every age did. They set out each morning just to improve themselves, and improve their life, and improve the world by a little bit. They looked like giants as we look back at them now. But the reality is they were men and women, flesh and blood, just like you, strengths and weaknesses, faults, fears, failures, doubts, dreams, hopes. And they worked with God. They collaborated with God to grow just a little bit each and every single day of their life.
One of the major obstacles between God and his people, between you and God at this moment in history is busyness. And I want to tell you, busy is not your friend. Busy is not your friend. Think about busy for a moment as if busy were a person, okay? Busy is a person and you spend the whole day with busy. And at the end of the day, you come home and a child, or a spouse, or a friend asks you, "How are you?" And you say, "I'm overwhelmed. I'm discouraged. I'm tired. I'm burnt out. I'm anxious. I'm stressed out. And just in general, I feel inadequate." Anyone who loved you would say, "What did you do today?" And you would say. "I spent the whole day with my good friend, Busy." No, busy is not your friend. And certainly, if you had that experience, and you're aware of that experience, and if busy was a person and you spend the whole day with busy, and then you came home and you felt overwhelmed, and burnt out, and stressed out, and frustrated, and discouraged, and anxious, and stressful, and inadequate, you felt all those things, there is no way that you would say to yourself, "I'm so excited to spend the whole day tomorrow with Busy again, and the day after that, and the day after that." Busy is not your friend. Busy is one of the major obstacles between you and the-best-version-of-yourself. Busy is one the major obstacles between you and God. It's time to give busy the gate.
Is it okay to be busy sometimes doing great things? Yes, absolutely. But in general, I think we could all benefit from slowing down a little more, from doing a little less, making room in our lives for God and for the incredible plans that He has for you and me.
So let's slow down a little. Let's do a little. Let's make some room for God. Let's make some room for your most authentic self. And let's make some room for the incredible plans that God has for you and for the rest of your life
About the Author
Matthew Kelly was born in Sydney, Australia. He has dedicated his life to helping people and organizations become the-best-version-of-themselves. Kelly is a New York Times bestselling author, an internationally acclaimed speaker, and a business consultant to some of the world’s largest and most admired companies. He is the author of more than thirty books, which have sold more than fifty million copies and have been published in more than thirty languages.
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