I’m writing to inform you that Keith went to be with Jesus yesterday, Sunday January 22nd 2012, at 3:00 pm. Keith’s last few weeks here on earth were peaceful. He was visited by many friends and relatives whom he was always pleased to see. Andrea was holding Keith, her beloved husband of 33 years, when he drew his last breath. Keith loved you all so much and I know that he would want you to know.
Thank you for your fellowship, comments, love and prayers through this last part of Keith’s adventure here with us.
We hope to continue to post Keith’s insights and wisdom here in the future so please check back. While we grieve the loss of a great man we can rejoice in his everlasting life with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Psalm 23 (The Message)
1-3 God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
4 Even when the way goes through
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.
5 You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
6 Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.
Lord, thank you for Keith and the beautiful life he led. His transparency and authenticity were a breath of fresh air to so many of us and we are so grateful that we were able to walk through some of this adventure with him. Please cover Keith’s wife, Andrea, and his entire family with your mighty comfort and peace. We ask all this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Blessings to you all,
Friend and Assistant
John Keith Miller—Obituary
John Keith Miller, 84, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma and a resident of Austin, Texas passed away on Sunday, January 22, 2012. He was born on April 19, 1927 in Tulsa, the son of Earle T. Miller and Mable Davis Miller. After graduating from Tulsa Central High School, he served in the U.S. Navy and then entered Oklahoma University, Norman, OK. In 1949, he married Mary Allen Hess. At O.U. he was a member of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity and played on the O.U. Men’s basketball team. He received a B.S. in Business from O.U. in 1951. For the next decade, Miller worked in the oil exploration business in Texas and Oklahoma. He left the oil business to study theology at Berkeley Divinity School (at Yale) and Earlham School of Religion, Richmond, IN, receiving a Divinity Degree in 1964. In 1971 he earned a Master’s Degree in Psychological Counseling.
In 1962, Miller became the first director of Laity Lodge, an Ecumenical Christian retreat center in the Texas hill country. Howard E. Butt, Jr. president of the H. E. Butt Foundation and Foundations for Laity Renewal, the founder of Laity Lodge, said that Miller was known for introducing a new kind of honesty in which clergy and others were encouraged to share not only their spiritual victories, by also their spiritual struggles. “His work marked a decisive change in this element of religious culture, cutting across a broad swath of church life.” Butt concluded.
In 1965, his first book, The Taste of New Wine, which sold over one million copies, was published. He spent the rest of his life communicating hope and faith with people through his writing and speaking. All together Keith has written or co-authored 24 books on subjects including Christian living, addictions and codependence, the process of spiritual transformation, discovering and achieving one’s vocational and life dreams, devotions, and business. Other works include three DVD series, “A Hunger for Healing,” “Wrestling with Angels,” and “Write from the Heart.” His deep friendship and partnership with Bruce and Hazel Larson and many others influenced the way the Christian world understood and lived out theology. They helped establish “relational theology,” living out one’s Christian faith as an Adventure through a relationship with God that affects how one lives and relates to God and others. His commitment to the Adventure and the Story gave many others a way to know Jesus and live a life of faith.
In 1976 Keith and his wife were divorced. Several years later he married Andrea Wells who became not only his partner in life, but his partner also in ministry, writing and the Adventure. Keith continued to speak, write, and invest in the lives of those around him until the day he died. He was a passionate person who loved intensely and who wanted to reflect the light of Christ to the world. In 2009 he received the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest, a reflection of the mark he had made on the church. In November of 2011 he was awarded the Peacemaker’s Award for International Dialogue by the Dispute Resolution Center of Austin for his work in conflict situations in several foreign countries during the past twenty years.
He is predeceased by his parents and his brother, Earle P. Miller.
He is survived by his wife of 33 years, Andrea Wells Miller of Oak Ridge, TN now living in Austin, and his three daughters, Leslie Williams and her husband, Stockton of Kerrville, TX, Kristin Huffman and her husband Mike of Houston, TX, and Mary-Keith Dickinson and her husband Karl of Hunt, TX. Leslie’s children include Jerre Williams and wife, Jessica, and Caroline Williams. Kristin’s children include Lizz Provence Swanson and her husband, Chris, Mark Provence and Becky Provence. Mary-Keith’s children include Mitchell Dickinson and Mary-Blair Dickinson. Keith also had five great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be sent to one of the following: Austin Recovery, 8402 Cross Park Dr., Austin, 78754, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 8314 Mesa Dr., Austin, Texas 78759, The Kroc Center, 201 Holdsworth Drive, Kerrville, TX 78028, or Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship/Light of Hope, 7132 Portland Ave. Suite 136, Richfield, MN 55423.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, February 4, at 10:00 a.m. at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 8314 Mesa (Steck & Mesa) Austin with a reception following the service.
This post is really different for me to write. It is about the process of making the transition from a life of faith in the God Jesus called, “Father,” to the end of that life in the process we call “dying”.
As I am writing this draft, Andrea and I are now in the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and have received the news that the cancer is in so many crucial areas of my body (liver, pancreas, lymph nodes) that finding a “cure” is not one of my options.
For almost ten days I couldn’t eat or drink anything without gagging and throwing up. Not only that, some bile came up into my throat due to a blockage in my upper intestine so everything I tried to swallow tasted like feces. I Finally contacted my doctor about my concern and was immediately sent to ER, put on a stomach pump to relieve the pressure from trapped fluids in my stomach, IV’s for hydration, and put on the schedule for an endoscopy to try to correct the problem.
In the meantime my three daughters arrived and along with my wife, Andrea, we had a “love-in.”
During all this time I have continued my practice of walking through my days and nights thanking God for all the advantages and blessings that have given me the freedom to love people and help them become what God created them (particularly) to be, and to spend time writing and playing with Andrea, and other members of what has become our new “extended family.” and others on our ‘team.’
One of the main blessings on my continual gratitude list had been my health. So when that was failing, I became grateful for the clinic I was able to get to, and for my friends who began to step up and help us get in to see these remarkable medical specialists.
But all this unexpected serious information and experience began to depress me and affect my positive attitude and practices. When I got to my lowest point, a visiting friend took me to a meeting in the hospital area. Simply being honest and sharing my fear and my experience, strength and hope got me through a very difficult time, and prompted me to write the e-mail getting honest with my physicians about my inability to eat or drink.
All this, and my family’s arrival, interrupted my description of the inner process of dying. With the family and a few friends here filling my life with love, my faith was concrete, my loving listening and gratitude were intact, and my awareness of God’s healing presence intact somehow.
The night before the family was to leave I began to pray alone in the dark hospital room. I asked myself what I believe about a “life after this one.” I realized with a shock that I really hadn’t spent a lot of time learning about “heaven.” Fear suddenly gripped me. I calmed myself by surrendering my entire life, death, and future to God. And then I became aware of what I have come to believe happens when some believers die.
My conscious focus during the past few years had been on learning to live and share the self-limiting love I have experienced from God in the present “Reign of God” that Jesus announced, described and inaugurated throughout his entire life and work. I’ve done this because it is what I saw Jesus doing.
When he did speak to his disciples about how they and their lives would be evaluated in the last analysis, he referred mostly to how well they had replicated the LIFE of self-limiting love he had given them. And for me that included the way Jesus had referred and deferred to his loving Father as “Daddy” in a continuous dialogue.
But then, in that dark night alone, I suddenly thought, “What’s going to happen to me and my relationship to God that has come to fill and inform my entire life?” And I almost panicked. Compared to what I had already received and experienced in this life with the Father as Daddy, the pictures Christians had developed about Heaven seemed pale and insignificant. I had moments of thinking maybe I should stop and do a crash course on “Heaven” with someone I knew. And finally, I once again surrendered my life and my entire future to God and went to sleep.
The next morning I just happened to talk to a Christian who’s spent a lot of time studying about Heaven. I suddenly remembered Jesus and what he did in his own life as it was drawing to an end. He simply trusted his Heavenly Daddy, did and said what he could determine was what God wanted Him, Jesus, to say and do. And at the last of his life, in the Garden of Gethsemane, with nothing in hand to assure him in advance that what he had to do would turn out for him personally as he hoped things would, Jesus decided to take the first steps alone—even if all his own followers deserted him.
I saw that for me—if I am really to follow Jesus, I am going to have to step up to the doorway of death that I am facing right now—the end of all I know of life and human experience. I must stand before that doorway with the same faith of a small child as Jesus did, doing what he thought his daddy was asking him to do–regardless of whether his own followers (and in my case what other Christians) may think. Although I am in the midst of my family and those of you who are a part of life’s family too, I am all alone.
All I can think of to say as I approach that door is, “Daddy who is in Heaven, it’s me, John Keith. All l I have to give you is the life of love that you have given me! All the rest of the material possessions and public attention that came about as a result of the life I built for you as a Christian—all that has gone somehow. All that is left is this little boy who loves you as his Daddy. And I’m knocking, wanting to come in and let you continue—in whatever way—to teach me about how you made us to be when you created us way back in the beginning in the garden. But if this is not your plan, or whatever you have for me (or don’t have), whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) I’m knocking on this huge Dark Door of Death, wanting to come in and say ‘Thank you,’ and ‘I love you, Daddy.’*
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? John 14:1-3
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7:10-12
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:20-22
And prayers come with these words for all of you who have become so dear to me.
(Note: Since writing this post Keith has come back to Austin. He will begin chemotherapy next week. Your prayers are appreciated during this time and we are certainly grateful for the kind words and prayers you have offered thus far. Thank you.)
* This account is not “the way” any Christian (or others) “should” think about approaching God at the time of his or her own death. But this was my honest experience the other night as I was realizing that my own life—as I have lived it—is coming to an end. Not being an expert of any kind, this is just part of my own “experience, strength and hope.” I miss you all and love you very much! –John Keith
After several days of medical procedures and tests we were told last Thursday (October 20th) by my Gastroenterologist that the internal blockage that has caused recent discomfort is the result of the bile duct being squeezed shut because of a tumor pressing against it. The tumor is right next to my liver. Because of its location it cannot be removed—too many other things in the area.
On Friday I went into surgery where a stent was inserted into the bile duct to allow it to drain so poisonous bile will not be backed up in my system. They also took a biopsy of the tumor and the liver to see if they have been “communicating.”
I was in the hospital overnight and most of Saturday. This past Tuesday, Andrea and I met with my doctor where we learned the tumor is malignant. The doctors could not give us any information about a prognosis at the time.
This has been a sudden shock, since I have been dealing with a neck issue. The neck discomfort was resolved a few weeks ago and then pain in my stomach increased.
We are processing the abrupt change in our lives because of the inoperable aspect of the problem and the fact that all our plans that included me will possibly be canceled.
Many of you have been so loyal to us in your reading and responding to these blogs that we thought the least I could do was to be honest with you about this unscheduled confronting of my own death, since this is a big part of the adventure with God.
Andrea and I are very much in love and closer than we thought two people could get, so we’re experiencing the biggest shock I could have imagined—although, having buried all my “growing up” family by the time I was 28, I should not be so surprised, but I find myself in a new world of “reality.”
Last Thursday, when I told a dear friend about what’s happening he said, “I’m coming to town in January and I’ll look forward to a visit then.” I had to gently remind him that “I might not be alive by then.” This is just a vivid example of what we are experiencing in every relationship we have.
Since we have been working full time on a book for five years that includes a trip clear through the Bible I am going to try to tell the story on video. We will report on our progress on this in the future. And as my commitment has been to you all along, I’ll try to continue to respond to your questions that come up as we are walking through our adventure with the Lord and each other.
Bottom line of all of this: We will appreciate your prayers for healing if possible and for continuing to live for him in either case.
I am extremely grateful not only for the amazing life I’ve had, but for friends like you who are reading this.
This is not something we would normally write, but since the last part of this life is a part of the adventure of living with God and with each other, I’ll see what I can do.
The most important thing on my agenda is the people I love—which includes more people than I ever dreamed it would and certainly some of you who are reading this.
After a long day at the hospital on Tuesday Keith came home and enjoyed a wonderful evening with his family. Then early Wednesday morning Keith woke up with a fever and discomfort and was taken to the emergency room. There the doctors were able to reduce his fever and he is feeling better. Keith is staying in the hospital for a few days to make sure that any infection is eliminated. The next step, after Keith comes home, is to see an oncologist about possible treatments for this tumor.
We invite you to leave your comments, thoughts and prayers for Keith and Andrea and all of their family here. As they are able they will check in and read your comments.
We thank you for your prayers.
Lord, thank you that you promised to prepare a place for us, beginning now, so that we may be together with you always.
“…I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2b
Photo © MaxPaul Franklin 2011
Dear Keith, I don’t know what the matter with me is. I have a good job and a caring family, but inside my head when I’m alone I seem to have some sort of secretive and self-defeating mental/emotional disease. I find myself drinking and eating too much, and masturbating while looking at pornography. And I’m a church-going Christian.
I can’t bring myself to go for professional help because I feel like I couldn’t deal with the shame of admitting these behaviors to another person. But I’m getting more and more isolated and frightened because I have nearly gotten caught at one or more of these habits several times recently.
I feel like I have a terminal disease that is out to kill me. I know that’s ridiculous, but it feels true. Do you have any ideas about what I’m describing?
Oh yes! Although the specific behaviors vary a lot, the disease beneath the behaviors you described so clearly is the experience of virtually all people on a serious spiritual journey. The apostle Paul describes the way it worked in his life near the end of his ministry.
“I’m full of myself…what I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for me and then do it, it becomes obvious that…I need something more! For I know the law but still can’t keep it, and the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions such as they are don’t result in action. Something has gone wrong deep within me, and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that its predictable…Parts of me rebel and just when I least expect it, they take charge.” (Romans 7:15-23)
Although there isn’t space here to describe all that happened to me before I got to the place of powerlessness you described in your question, but I finally did. I went for help to a treatment center, faced this spiritual “disease,” and although I’d been a sincere converted Christian for years, I discovered how to surrender to God the parts of my life that I was afraid to face with anyone and enter a process of spiritual transformation with a group of other people who wanted to face their conflicting inner lives and desires.
That was twenty-six years ago. All I can tell you is that one day at a time—sometimes one hour at a time, I have learned how to face the hidden inner urges and pain that is part of every spiritual life. I wrote three books about things I learned that have helped me face the powerful inner compulsions that once seemed impervious to change (The Secret Life of the Soul, A Hunger for Healing, and Compelled to Control).
But I believe the most striking thing about this spiritual disease (that Paul called sin and that others call the addiction disease) is that even though the kinds of things and solutions that can bring you all the help you need are available by admitting you need help and surrendering to God—the disease “tells you” that these things will NOT in fact help YOU.
To let you know how strong the negative message coming from this spiritual disease is, after twenty-six years in a spiritual recovery program that has changed virtually all my relationships and ways of letting God transform my life, last Saturday morning I almost did not go to the men’s group that has been most helpful to me for years in facing my problems and finding new solutions. Recently I have been dealing with pain in my neck and right shoulder that is evidently connected with a broken neck I experienced in a car wreck when I was nineteen years old. Now this pain is not even about something sinful or bad but it has been keeping me from sleeping. I was starting to isolate and believe there was no help or support I could receive from the group. (After all my issue was about physical pain that I could not get to stop, not compulsive behavior.)
But at the last minute, I went to the meeting and shared what was happening to me. As I did so, I addressed some of the young men saying, “One of the worst things about this spiritual disease we share is that it tells us that meeting together will not help us. But I want to tell you that in the next 30 days some of you will be tempted not to come share what is happening to you. But if you listen to the disease and don’t come and share, the disease is just waiting to get you to believe that only what it tells you to do (like drinking, over-eating or compulsive selfish thoughts or sexual escape) will bring you relief. And that’s the way it will finally ruin your life and kill you.” When I had shared, I sat quietly and realized that I was calm and that the pain had quieted somehow.
Christians have an especially difficult time believing that going to church can help them. And of course, if you attend a church where neither the clergy nor the congregation is dealing openly with the real areas of life that need healing, it may be very difficult to find a safe place to share. But Jesus spent a great deal of his time alleviating the pain of the people with whom he worked and taught and I believe he was telling us that surrendering our lives to the God he called Father is the beginning of a life of healing.
Dear Lord, Thank you that when we have the courage to face who we really are, you can accept us and help us to become the persons you designed us to be. Help us to find and walk with others walking with you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
“Nothing, I suspect, is more astonishing in any man’s life than the discovery that there do exist people very, very like himself.” C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
“How often we hide behind masks and hug delusions with compulsive passions, because we are afraid to be known, to be loved. … We cannot really respect a person unless we know him. We cannot love what we do not know.” Fr. William McNamara, The Art of Being Human
I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (Romans 7:24-25)
Keith, After I decided to surrender my life to God, how should I go about finding my vocation?
Good question. At first I didn’t know what to do. I was a land man for a major oil company. It was a good job but hardly considered to be a training ground for Christian disciples—which I definitely wanted to be after finally trying to turn my life over to God.
I prayed about what to do and at that time there seemed to be only one way for really serious players to go: go to theology school and become ordained to be a full time Christian minister. So I studied the Bible and theology and the history of the church and preaching under some good professors. Along the way I sat with my parents when my older brother was killed and with my father when he died of a heart condition and with my mother when she died of cancer—all before I was 30. All during this time I was praying and reading the Bible and the lives of the saints—the people in the past who had given their lives to God.
I decided that the playing field I was called to in which to help people find hope and real love was in the ordinary life I was trying to live as a businessman. I made a decision that God had my address. Instead of spending all my time “deciding what I would become for God,” I would treat my own ordinary life as a father and husband who commuted in a car pool twenty miles one way to work five days a week—that I would commit that life to God and to learning how to live for him all day long.
I made that decision because I simply didn’t know any ministers at that time who talked, preached or shared individually about having real problems in their own lives and relationships with their spouses, children, parents or fellow clergy. I was still in my thirties and just couldn’t believe that I was the only committed Christian who wrestled with lust, jealousy, and the many faces of fear of failure. None of these pastors seemed to have that terrible three-day silence warfare with their spouses or had to be right in arguments with a spouse or feel like a wimp, or worry at night about developing a retirement plan or squeezing in vacation time. In fact, since I did wrestle with all of these things, for a number of years I thought I must not be a good Christian.
But at another level I was learning that the way out of the fears for me was not courage, which I’d prayed for, but love. When I was worried, I discovered that if I helped someone else, my fear left me—and that maybe Jesus was right (J) when he said that it is “love that casts out fear.”
At twenty-two I had met a man who encouraged me to keep a journal about the things in which I was interested. He helped me write a small book of ballads. And after a few years of talking to lay people about the hope I was finding in an intimate relationship with the God Jesus called Father, I began writing books about the simple yet agonizing discoveries concerning what it might mean to try to live one’s whole life for and with God.
As I’ve written in blogs before, I kept trying to be open to finding out the truth about my own character defects. And that process has made me face many of the denied self-centeredness and control issues with which I had never before been confronted—either in church or school. But because I’d learned a lot about Jesus and his life, teaching and self-limiting love, I knew that when I learned about my sins and character defects, to confess them to some Christian men also trying to live for God. And I began to see how I’d hurt many of the people I love most.
The incredible thing to me is that in spite of my flaws—many of which didn’t surface until I had become a best-selling author and lecturer and had traveled in many foreign countries around the world, teaching about how God can change our whole perception of what it means to live intimately with him and other people. The bottom line about the discovery process is that I would have bet anyone that I would not do the immoral and hurtful things I wound up doing. And they happened to a man who was very disciplined and had “kept the rules” all his life. I was baffled. And when I faced and admitted what I’d done, it was too late to mend some of the fences I had charged through.
What does this have to do with finding a vocation? For me, a great deal. After having a number of best-selling books translated into many languages and having trained with and learned from many powerful and wealthy people as a young man, I finally realized I am just a person. And that I can sometimes love and help people who are struggling with the questions of life and who have discovered the hard way that they are powerless on their own to change their lives at a deep level.
I go to group meetings of people, some of whom I have known for twenty-five years, with whom I share the pain and joy of trying to live for God. When guests and new people come, we discuss our scariest and most fearsome problems. I was writing books and lecturing in different places in foreign countries, but for twenty years I didn’t find it helpful or necessary to tell them that I was a writer and lecturer. But lately, since many of the people who read my books are very old or deceased, I have told some of these people I love and meet with that my vocation is being a writer and a sort of talent scout for God—helping a few people discover the vocational dreams they buried along with their self-centeredness and control issues. That’s come to be the focus of my vocation.
The short answer to your question about choosing a vocation as a Christian is that since God seems to want loving representatives in every culture and every financial, political, educational and medical field, it doesn’t much matter what you do vocationally as long as you love God and surrender the center of your life to God. So I’d advise you to pray about it, ask God’s will, and then pick something that you really love to do. Then go and find out if you can do it.
Will there be pain and sorrow? Of course, but you will find that in the long run your ability to navigate through pain and still be loving will have more effect in spreading the Good News into other people’s hearts around you than all of the sermons you could preach and all the books you could write.
Lord, help me to keep listening for your voice in the pain of other people’s lives and in my own. And thank you that you let me fail enough to wake up and see that I don’t have to “win” to be the person you will love “someday,” but just to open my eyes and see your loving presence in Andrea, our families and the other people we get to walk with on your crazy adventure. In Jesus’ name, amen.
“This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice.”
-Jesus to the Twelve in Matthew 10:42
“But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!”
-Ephesians 1:18-19, The Message
“Always continue the climb. It is possible for you to do whatever you choose, if you first get to know who you are and are willing to work with a power that is greater than ourselves to do it.”
-Ella Wheeler Wilcox—American Writer (1850-1919)
“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
-Theodore Roosevelt—26th President of the United States (1858-1919)
Keith, what if we have let God in our lives and into the driver’s seat and nothing happened? I still have the same struggles that I have always had. Is there ever a way out? I am really wondering and feel as though I am constantly in a spiritual battle between God and the devil. Thanks, R.
This is a question that most Christians don’t have the guts to ask. And yet for anyone who has consciously and seriously tried to put God in the driver’s seat of her or his life, it is the question to ask.
There are a couple of times Jesus dealt directly with that question. “What’s necessary to put God in the driver’s seat where the decisions are made?” One is recorded in Matt. 19. A rich young man came to Jesus and told him that he wanted to quit being a listener and start being one of Jesus’ committed disciples—which in terms of our conversation would be saying, “I am ready to put the God you call Father in the driver’s seat of my life.”
Jesus said in effect, “Great, “If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you.”
The young man said, “What in particular?
Jesus said, “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself.”
(R., can you say that you are following what Jesus says? I suspect you are from the tone of your inquiry.) Anyway, the young man said in effect, “I’ve done all that.” (I’ve put God in the driver’s seat and am willing to keep all his commandments.)
Then Jesus must have looked at the man and said, “This young man is a serious player.” But then Jesus says something completely of the wall. He asked the young man to give up the thing that was really most important to him that wasn’t even a “bad” thing, but was the thing that bottom-line motivated and determined his most crucial decisions (what was really in the driver’s seat of his life—but he had never seen it that way.) Jesus told him that if you really want to trust God with your whole life, then, “go sell all your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.”
What I think Jesus is saying to the young man, and what I heard him saying to me (that for years stopped me in my tracks) was that I already had a god sitting in the driver’s seat of my life—in fact several as it turned out–and until I was willing to see and admit that something or someone who was not God was the most important thing in my life (“in the driver’s seat determining my private decisions”), I could not really surrender my whole life to God at all.
The young man in the story’s response was: “That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.”
What Jesus does still, it seems to me, is to help us see that when we come and want to follow God totally, we already have a god we do not realize is a trump card to our attempts to put God in the driver’s seat (or maybe several gods that we obey when they call.) The young man’s god was his money, or possessions. And until we see and admit that these gods which unconscious to us are already in the driver’s seat, we are not free to surrender our whole lives to God and are baffled that we are constantly in internal battles we don’t understand.
I was absolutely shocked when I tried to see what was really most important to me—because consciously God was number one. Some of the things I have had to admit were keeping me from surrendering my whole life were—at different times—financial security, sexual fantasies or actions, the love of my wife or one of my children (more than anything), my vocational success, drinking too much, my reputation as a fine Christian man, and my writing and speaking ministry. A mentor helped me realize that each of these things was at times more important than God, when I would spend time thinking about and doing one of them to the detriment of my clear duties as a father, husband, and Christian man “surrendered wholly to God.” Many of these things were not even “bad” things, but they kept my focus on me and what I wanted, instead of what I knew was the priority of God for me, and were detrimental to my growing up to be the man God had in mind for me to become.
But after many years of meeting with other men and women wanting to follow Jesus and be his people, I finally realized that although I can’t just “put God first,” I can tell him that I am willing to, and give Him permission to show me those things that I have consciously and unconsciously put in the driver’s seat of my life and relationships. In fact working with individuals and small groups to help them –and me—to discover, confess and commit God those other hidden gods, so that together we can uncover and achieve the dreams and vocations God has for each us—this became my life’s work for God.
These positive changes in direction came about when some bad decisions I made because of obeying some of the competitive gods I had not faced caused me such pain that I became willing to surrender my entire life to God, realizing that only He could give me the courage and insight to even want Him that much.
But the other part of what happened when I specifically set out to give God permission to sit in the driver’s seat in my life was that I agreed to start doing the disciplines that could help me learn how God wants me to live. For me this has entailed learning all I could about what Jesus said the Father wants us to do in the new Kingdom (Reign) of God in his people’s lives. I read the scriptures, concentrating first on the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-2), the parables, and the teachings of Jesus describing the character and purposes of God, realizing that God wants us to live out of these same characteristics. That includes loving the poor and marginalized people, but also Jesus said people will know we are his followers by the way we (Christians) love each other. (John 13:35) And I prayed almost every day about what I was learning, asking God to show me where my life needed to be different, and to help me to stop clinging to my old ways of running my life as I learned how to let God be in control.
And when I saw how Jesus said God wants us to live, I examined my life and saw not only the false gods in the driver’s seat, but also self-centeredness everywhere. And when I discovered I had hurt someone I had to learn to confess to God, then go and confess to the person I had harmed and make amends to that person. All of this became part of a running conversation with God about the life of loving I was discovering that I’d always wanted to live but was afraid to try because I might look “pious” or “holier than thou.” Now I don’t care. I just want to love people and learn how to use the gifts God has given me in the process.
And all I can tell you is that what has happened to me has made me more loving, aware of my good traits as well as those which derail my best intensions and conscious motivations.
I started not to tell you all this, but since I found that God accepts us the minute we come to him in as complete trust as we have, I have discovered the life I always suspected might be out there somewhere for me. I am still only a child trying to obey his intimate heavenly “daddy.” But I also care enough about you to tell you these things, whatever you may think me. And that—as anyone who has known me many years will tell you—is a real miracle.
“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”
“I am talking about a revolutionary way of living. Religion isn’t something to be added to our other duties, and thus make our lives more complex. The life with God is the center of life, and all else is remodeled and integrated by it. It gives singleness of eye. The most important thing is not to be perpetually passing out cups of cold water to a thirsty world. We can get so fearlessly busy trying to carry out the second commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” that we are undeveloped in our devoted life to God as well as neighbor”
A Testament of Devotion
“We live in a world of unreality and dreams. To give up our imaginary position as the center, to renounce it, not only intellectually but in the imaginative part of our soul, that means to awaken to what is real and eternal, to see the true light and hear the true silence…. To empty ourselves of our false divinity, to deny ourselves, to give up being the center of the world in imagination, to discern that all points in the world are equally centers and the true center is outside the world, this is to consent…. Such consent is love.”
Waiting for God
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which use to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”
Third Edition, page 83-84
P.S. If you want to check out a way a Christian or group of Christians can use the 12 Steps as a guide to spiritual wholeness see A Hunger for Healing: The Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth.
 If you want to see a case in which Jesus did the same kind of helping someone see the ‘god’ that was already in the driver’s seat of her life, but upon seeing that god was ready to put Jesus’ God first, see the story of the woman at the well—and what happened to her life when she made the decision to put God before her secret god (i.e. Relationships with men—or sex.) See John 4.
 R. – I am not suggesting that you have any particular ‘gods’—just sharing what happened to me when I faced this very question.
Keith, Are there specific ways of dealing with the awful feelings of guilt and shame that come over people sometimes in the middle of the night and prevent sleep, etc. Also, if one has these feelings, does it mean that he or she really isn’t committed to God?
That is a great question. I don’t know how many times I’ve wrestled with feelings of guilt and shame in the middle of the night, and wished I could find a way never to have to deal with them ever again. But I’ve come to believe that they’re really helpful experiences, warning systems for all human beings to help us to become what God wants us to be. And there is a way to work through them and learn where we may be off track concerning the way we’re living our lives.
Let’s just imagine that you have a warning system in your mind, like a burglar alarm. When the alarm goes off and you look at it, there are two panels; one is “guilt” and one is “shame.” The feeling is very similar—one of having no value, or as if you’ve been bad, are a bad person, that sort of thing. First it’s good to figure out which panel is giving me the signal: is it guilt or shame?
Andrea and I learned about these two emotions from Pia Mellody. Andrea wrote Pia’s first three books with her, and I consulted with them about connections to psychological literature that had already been written. According to Pia, in Facing Codependence, “Guilt is an uncomfortable or gnawing feeling in the abdomen about an action or thought that transgresses our value system, accompanied by a sense of wrongness. Guilt is often confused with shame, which is experienced as embarrassment and perhaps a flushed face, accompanied by a sense of fallibility.”
For example, if I lie to somebody, or steal something, the resulting feeling is guilt. If somebody saw me spill my coffee all over my lap and the floor, the resulting feeling would be shame—I’m a fallible human being who makes mistakes, and mistakes can be embarrassing. The more you think you should be perfect and never make mistakes, the more likely you are to feel shame whenever a mistake becomes known to other people. In fact, trying to avoid feeling shame about a mistake (breaking a valuable vase, or damaging a car, or getting somebody’s name wrong at a party) often motivates people to try to conceal or camouflage mistakes by lying, blaming someone else, or omitting certain facts when explaining what happened. And in some instances, if a mistake is pointed out to a person, that person may react with anger and rejection because of being in the throes of what we call a “shame attack.” So if truth telling or treating others with respect and kindness are moral/ethical values, the hiding or raging often lead to feelings of guilt—which combines with the shame, making a roiling tide of painful emotion.
Dealing with Guilt
So if your alarm system goes off and you determine that the panel giving you a warning is the one marked “guilt,” you’ll be able to recognize what you’ve done to transgress a law or value. In this case, Christianity has a very specific way of dealing with guilt. You confess to God that you have broken the rule, being specific about what you’ve done, such as stolen something or lied about something or cheated on your wife. And that’s step one. The next thing to do is to make things right with that person. If you stole someone’s lawnmower, you take it back, and say “I’m sorry I took your lawnmower. I’ll pay you if I’ve damaged it in any way.” Jesus was pretty specific about this. He said that it’s more important to handle this feeling of guilt than it is to worship God. In the 5th chapter of Matthew, he said if you bring your gift to the altar, and you remember that somebody has something against you—that you have hurt or damaged someone in some way, then you leave your gift at the altar and you go and get things straightened out with the person first, and then come back and worship God. Because if you don’t get the guilt handled, you won’t be able to really worship God. It’s that important, Jesus said. (Matt. 5:23-24)
The Twelve-Step program has a wonderful way of handling guilt. There are definite steps whereby you surrender your life to God and then you recognize you’re powerless to handle guilt by yourself, as well as any addictions or compulsions you may have. Then you make a decision to turn your life and will over to God. Then you specifically make a list of all the things you’ve done as far back as you can remember that have broken the rules, ways you’ve hurt people, cheated, lied, stolen been disloyal, and things like that. Then you read that list to another human being—a sponsor or minister. Then there is a process for going to the person you have offended and making amends. It’s very important not to harm people by confessing to a misdeed to them or their families, or business associate. But when you’ve done these steps, the guilt is almost always gone. You transgressed a moral, ethical or spiritual value, you’ve recognized it, confessed it, and done everything you could, and then you’re clear.
Dealing with Shame
If you really can’t think of any specific law or value that you’ve transgressed, then the alarm panel marked “shame” is giving you the warning. For example, when I was a kid, I used to come home from parties and often cringe because I’d think I’d made a fool out of myself. There wasn’t anything specific. I just thought I’d been too brassy or silly. I thought my nose was too big, my ears were too big. Physically I wasn’t what I thought I ought to be. It was just a feeling of “not being enough” somehow. And this feeling chases people through life even if they are very attractive and very successful.
Dealing with shame is a different process because there isn’t anything to confess or make amends about. I have come to see that God specializes in handling shame through a community of people on his spiritual journey. And it seems to involve a process done in a group based on honesty and caring love. But unless you find a group of his people who are committed to sharing their lives honestly with respect and love, you may not find relief for shame. This may be why groups based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous may have constituted the fastest growing spiritual group in the world in the twentieth century.
I got in a group about twenty-five years ago. It was a Twelve-Step group. At first I didn’t want anyone to know anything bad about me so I tried to look like I just wandered in to check the meeting out. After a few meetings I heard people say that their healing and transformation began when they started to get honest about their problems and began to feel relief. I realized that if I wanted to get well from my addiction, then I had to face my problems by revealing myself. In these meetings I heard people tell about what they had done: how they had drunk too much and lied and hurt people, what their addiction caused them to do. At first I couldn’t reveal very much. The fact that I had done so many things that transgressed my value system brought a strong wave of shame over me every time I even thought about them. And telling other people about them seemed impossible—the wave of shame threatened to overwhelm me. But I noticed that no one laughed or looked disgusted or lectured anyone else who talked about these things. They listened with a quiet respect. So I began to talk. It was sort of like pulling a thread out of my mouth, something small enough that I could stand the shame. I looked around afterward and nobody looked away. They just nodded. So at a later meeting I pulled out a little more vulnerable admission—like a string attached to the thread I had started with. And then over a period of time of listening to honest sharing in a matter of fact way, I pulled out a rope, then a chain and then a whole bucket of things I’d made up my mind I’d never share. After I’d done this for some time, I realized that I didn’t feel so bad about myself. The shame had subsided, and I didn’t feel like a bad person any more.
These people seemed to love me more when I was honest about the fact that I’m very self-centered and have had some unethical and immoral behavior in my life that I’d never faced before. And the more they found out about me as I worked through the steps of the program with a sponsor, the less I felt alienated or not enough.
Having been a seriously committed Christian for more than fifty years, it seems to me that Christianity at its best is more equipped to handle guilt but doesn’t deal much with shame. And there may be a lot of Christians who wake up at night feeling awful—shameful. They feel their children don’t love them enough; they’ve been a bad parent, or whatever. It’s a more amorphous feeling of being a bad or inadequate person, or that one’s life is going by and amounting to nothing. But these thoughts that lead to shameful feelings are often not based on reality. That’s a firm conviction that I’ve discovered in biblical Christianity—that everything God created was good.
So now when my emotional alarm wakes me up at night (or any time it goes off), I look at the red blinking light and say to myself, “There’s something wrong I need to tend to.” I ask myself “Is this guilt or shame.” Often a picture will come up of something I’ve done, which indicates the feeling is guilt. And then I know what to do. I’ll confess that to God and share it with a small group of Christians I meet with and make restitution when possible.
And if I can’t think of anything specific, I’ll recognize the feeling as shame. Then I’ll identify the thought or attitude about being less-than, or having looked like a fool or made a mistake about somebody’s name—whatever I can locate. And I’ll surrender my entire future to God again, and remind myself that we’re all sinners, or so we claim, and go to a meeting and share—or share with a sponsor or friend on the spiritual journey. One definition of sin is that we have failed to hit the mark of perfection that we’re shooting at. We miss the mark and according to both programs, “all have sinned and fallen short” of God’s best for us.
But if we don’t face our own sins as Jesus advised us to, we have obviously decided that Jesus made a mistake in telling us how important it is for us to learn how to (as James put it) “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other, so that you can live together whole and healthy.” (James 5:16)
That’s just a very brief picture of our (Andrea’s and my) experience of guilt and shame and how these things can be handled in spiritual programs like Christianity and the Twelve Steps.
Lord, thank you for your consistent love even when I take control of my life and try to make it work on my own. Forgive me for the ways I hurt others and myself (and you) during these times. Thank you for the feelings of guilt and shame that alert me to the fact that I have gone off on my own. Help me to pay attention to them when I feel them. And thank you for the loving welcome I receive when I get honest with you about what I have done and surrender to your guidance once again. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift.
– Matt. 5:23-24 (NIV)
Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.
– James 5:16, (The Message)
“The difference between guilt and shame is very clear—in theory. We feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we are.”
– Lewis B. Smedes, Shame and Grace
“A guilty mind can be eased by nothing but repentance; by which what was ill done is revoked and morally voided and undone.”
– Benjamin Whichcote, Moral and Religious Aphorisms
 Page 95
 There are important guidelines about finding a trustworthy person with whom to share this part of your life.
 See Steps Four, Five, and Nine, pages (pp58-103) Alcoholics Anonymous, Third Edition.
 If you want to read more about handling guilt and shame and how if not dealt with they can lead to serious control issues and relationship breakdowns—you may want to read: Facing Codependence and Compelled to Control.
Keith, you talk a lot about prayer being an important part of your life over the past forty-five years, particularly since you made a decision to try to surrender your whole life to the God Jesus called Father. I have two questions. First, how and when did you get introduced to praying? The other question is about whether the way you pray has changed or evolved over these many years. If so, how?
These are perceptive questions. I could (and may—but not now) write a book to deal with them. But for now I’ll just start by telling you about a time when I was a little boy, probably four years old. One night my mother was putting me to bed, and she changed our routine. She always sat on the edge of the bed and would leisurely ask me about my day and we’d visit. Then she would say a prayer. I have no memory of what she prayed about, but I loved her being present, and the sound of her voice.
But one night after the sharing time, she said, “Johnny*, God is listening for you to pray, to talk to him.”
I said, “You mean God is actually here in this room with us??”
Seeing the look of apprehension on my face, she said, “Yes, and he knows all about you, has forgiven you of your sins, and loves you very much.” Then, smiling, she kissed me on the forehead, tucked me in and left, leaving me in the dark with a thin shaft of light from the almost-closed door.
I looked up in the left-hand corner of the darkened room (somehow placing God there) and pulled the covers up to my neck. All I could think of were the nasty things I’d done in that room when I’d thought I was alone that I certainly wouldn’t have wanted God to know about. But then I remembered that mother had said, “…and he knows all about you, he’s forgiven you for your sins and loves you very much.”
So finally I whispered, “Thank you very much.” And my prayer life had begun.
As to how my prayer life changed during the next seventy-nine years, I don’t know when I realized various things about God and about myself. But I can say that for years, praying was something I did, mostly at night. But after the last member of my family died and I surrendered my entire life to God (not realizing how little I knew about my behavior and its effect on other people) my prayer life changed from just expression of gratitude and requests for help. I now wanted to be God’s person, so I began to ask God to let me know what I should do and to help me do those things. Later, after I wrote my first book and it was published in eleven languages, a lot of my prayers had to do with gratitude and a desire for guidance.
Then when I was forty-seven years old, there were serious problems and conflict in a marriage of twenty-seven years. I prayed for “solutions”—that would (I now realize) change my wife—although consciously I thought I was praying for our marriage to change. But I had developed a strange blindness that made it difficult (impossible) for me to see the extent to which I was out of touch with my own reality. I found myself giving God “weekends off” somehow.
Finally through a very agonizing divorce (primarily due to my self-centered, immoral behavior) I continued to pray, but the sense of intimacy with God was no longer real somehow.
After the divorce I began to try to find out who I now was. I had to face the fact that I drank too much and didn’t even want to quit. But finally in 1985 I went to a treatment center and there I learned about my intense self-centeredness, my addictive personality and my unconscious denial of unpleasant personal characteristics. Ironically I was praying the whole time, praying to be able to see the truth that was so baffling to me. Then at the end of treatment I had a gut-wrenching night of reality in which I vividly saw my selfishness and how much pain it had caused not only my first wife, but my children and some of my friends and business associates.
The resulting surrender of my life including all the previously denied “putting myself in the driver’s seat of my life where only God belonged” put me into an entire new place in my prayers. I had become more like a small child not knowing what to do with my life. There was a deeper quality of asking God what I should do and be. In addition to praying, I read the Bible and all kinds of books about recovery and the lives of people who had surrendered to God. And I consciously “took my hands off the wheel” each morning and listened harder for directions. I learned to ask for and trust people enough to take directions, to move toward recovery, and to share the larger awarenesses I was coming to in my daily attempts to live for God one day at a time.
During this period I prayed to discover God’s perspective concerning all of life—and for knowledge of anything else about which I might be in denial so that I could surrender the newly discovered deceptive and harmful thoughts and behaviors to God, asking him to help me remove them.
For about twenty-five years I lived in a world that I had not even known existed as I tried to help other people to find God, people who had never seen their own self-destructive issues of control and self-centeredness and the problems their blindness was causing. And since I was no longer hiding any areas of my behavior from myself or from God, my prayer life was much more tranquil. I felt peace and acceptance inside for the first time ever. During this time I traveled, spoke and wrote books in the field of codependence, control issues, the twelve-step spiritual process and business management. And although these were dramatic years of working with other troubled people in different countries, many of whose languages I did not speak, it was a time in which my prayer life became more who I was than what I did. Communication with God was often all through my days and nights.
Finally, I realized that although I was no longer recognized in airports or when attending public meetings, I was more at home with God, myself and people who were running from God (and secretly hoping God would catch them) than I was with many of the Christians I’d known.
During the last five years my prayer life has become more of a running dialogue with God that seems somehow natural for me. Prayer is not so much a series of staccato cries or requests for help as it is an attitude of intimate listening and sharing in a life in which I am learning how to love other people as I have felt loved by God and some of his other recovering children.
Almost every personal encounter becomes a chance to listen to and learn about the wonderful stories of all kinds of people. And sometimes now as an old man I can see small ways in which I can help some of them see the good things and value in who they are—things which self-centered parents (like me) may never have gotten around to telling them. All this is part of what I now see as my prayer life. And at the end of the day I feel inside like a little boy who has an intimate contact with a Daddy who created the whole game of life, about which I have an insatiable hunger to learn.
Lord, thank you for your invitation into a healing relationship with you. As I move through my days, help me to hear your guidance and feel your love and to learn how to share that life with other people. In Jesus’ name, amen.
“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.”
– Matthew 6:14, The Message
“He who has learned to pray has learned the greatest secret of a holy and happy life.”
– William Law (1686 –1761)
British minister and one of the writers/translators
of the King James version of the Bible
“Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.”
– Sören Kierkegaard (1813 –1855)
Danish Christian philosopher, theologian and religious author
“Prayer may not change things for you, but it for sure changes you for things.”
– Samuel M. Shoemaker (1893–1963),
Episcopal priest, instrumental in the
founding principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.
* My first name is John.
Recently I was reading in the gospel of Matthew and ran across Jesus’ first teaching to the disciples. He starts it out this way: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope because then there is less of you and more of God and his rule.” What in the world does that mean? I mean, it sounds crazy. I thought you were blessed when you succeeded or things went well. What is Jesus trying to say here?
Good question. In fact, I believe an essential question for any Christian who would like to see his or her life transformed. I think the basis underlying this experiencing “powerlessness” as “blessedness” is that Jesus came to announce and inaugurate a new Kingdom of God (or Reign of God) in the people’s lives. The people had tried to have a geographical kingdom through military conquest and they’d tried political conquest. And Jesus was saying, “No, the Kingdom of God is going to be within you, inside your mind.”
If the Kingdom of God is going to be within our minds where nobody can see it, then before the kingdom can come we’ve got to establish God as king there. But our difficulty is that our dominant problem is Sin (with a capital “S”); that is, we put ourselves in the center where only God belongs. And we can’t see ourselves surrendering the driver’s seat (throne) to God. So we try to live our lives using our own happiness, fulfillment and way of doing things as the sovereign criteria for all of our decisions.. And when we’ve tried everything in our power, and we can’t prosper, can’t get what we’re trying to get, or be loved the way we want to be loved—we may get to the end of our rope. But it’s at that point we may get tired enough or lonely enough to be willing to surrender to God, asking God to help us become what we were meant to be as human beings. Also at that point we’re open to the possibility of letting God be in the drivers’ seat of our lives to help, teach, and guide us, since we’ve realized that we don’t know how or don’t have the power to fix our situation.
Jesus says we’re blessed when that happens because “then there’s less of us (and our self-absorbed ways of doing things) and more of God and his rule.” To me, that means that when I get to the place where I can’t handle life and hit a wall, then I can detect a doorway in that wall, with a handle on my side. And if I decide to trust God with my whole life, I can step through that doorway into the Kingdom of God.
Jesus goes on to list other circumstances we encounter when we try to run things under our own power that can be doorways to wholeness.
For example, he says “You’re blessed when you think you’ve just lost that which is most dear to you, because only then can you be embraced by the one most dear to you.” I did lose my success, my minor fame that seemed to major to me, and I had to face the fact that I couldn’t control other people’s opinion of me. I’d screwed up my life in a pretty big way, so I knew that I didn’t have a leg to stand on in terms of being perfect. At that point, I came to the place once again where I was willing to say, “Lord, I surrender my life to you—because it’s now clear to me that I can’t handle it. I am powerless to do this. I want to start over, and be your child. Teach me how to be loving, and how to be culpable.” And he has done these things, at least to a larger degree than I ever dreamed could happen.
As I began to live this way, I gradually began to relax, and eventually saw that I really was blessed, because now I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody (although sometimes I still catch myself trying to do these things). All I had to do was to be honest and culpable about myself and make what amends I could and do the next right thing in my personal and vocational lives. And I have this awareness that God is willing to help transform my life now if I will just come to him and surrender the outcome of my life to him and listen to his guidance concerning my decisions, my wife and children, to him. Then when I fail in any of these areas, he’s there at the end of my rope to guide and teach me, giving me some things to do, and teaching me how to have more integrity and to love and care for other people whether they love or care for me or not. These are things I never could have imagined doing naturally without God—and strangely this way of life has already made me happier and more loving than I ever thought I would be.
Jesus goes on to say that “You’re blessed when you are content with just who you are, no more, no less.” I’ve learned that when I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of my life, I want to be number one. I want to be the best at whatever I do. If I’m going to be a Christian I want to be the best Christian around. If I want to be a businessman, I want to be rich and successful. And I have lots of ideas I want God to help me perform and implement.
But there is a different set of values in the Kingdom of God. Evidently the reason that Jesus came to announce and inaugurate this plan is so we could live in an intimate relationship with the God Jesus called Father, let him transform our lives, teach us how to love other people and tell them about him and his reign. When I’m content with just who I am, then I’m not all the time agitating for something more or better or different. Although I don’t like everything that I am, I’m content with who I am right now. And I want to be whatever God wants me to be. And that’s a switch.
Jesus goes on and says “You’re blessed when your witness to me elicits persecution. Because this persecution will drive you deeper into my Reign and my way of life.” Sure enough, it’s been true. It’s paradoxical that even when I’ve had church officials reject me, I have been calm as I try to hear them and love them because for me this is part of living in the Reign of God.
One little thing I’d like to add. It’s important for me to live in the present moment if I want to cultivate this intimate relationship with God. When I’m at the end of my rope or have lost something very dear to me, or can’t achieve the success I want, then I’m not concerned with little unpleasant things. I’m almost totally focused on the threatening situation that’s going on in the present moment. Somewhere along the way somebody told me that God never did anything in the past or the future. God operates only in the present. Anything that happened in the past was—at the time it actually happened—in a present moment. And so if I want the Kingdom of God and his Reign to be the dominant motivational purpose in my own mind and lived out in my life, then I’ll have to learn to live more in the present moment—instead of filling my present moments with fears about the future or regrets about the past. Whenever I see that I can’t do something in that moment, I can bring it to God and ask if it’s even the right thing to do. If it is, I ask for God’s power; and if it’s not the right thing to do, then I let it go and try to discern something else God wants me to do instead. This has given me a sense of enormous freedom.
I’ve come to realize that God made me in a certain way with certain gifts (and that each person is unique with certain gifts). And the more that I’m willing to surrender to God, the more I’m inclined and able to use these gifts for other people—to love them without trying to make them see and do what I see and do. I ask God to help me to quit counting to see how many good deeds or how many people I’ve helped or who have helped me. This is a freedom to me, and a sense of peace that I never had before because I was so restless and driven and prone to keep score.
These days I am loving the work I’m doing. I realize I’m not the best in the world to do it, and sometimes I feel like God’s made a mistake in having me do this particular kind of work because he could get a lot better people. But he’s let me know somehow that, although I was not necessarily the first choice, he’s chosen to guide me in it because I said “Yes” and am trying to do it. And when I fail and confess that failure or sin to God, he has let me experience his forgiveness and lets me begin again.
So I’d just say to you, Jesus is trying to describe a different, deeper more significant kind of “being blessed” than just having success or enough material goods. The question I’ve had to face was, “are you willing to surrender your life to God and let him be in the driver’s seat of your inner mind and life, to show you who you are and what to do? At that moment when you are ready, you are really blessed—because he’ll do it. At least that’s been my experience so far.
God said, “Heads up! The days are coming when I’ll set up a new plan for dealing with Israel and Judah…. This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper, isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; This time I’m writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts. I’ll be their God, they’ll be my people. They won’t go to school to learn about me, or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons. They’ll all get to know me firsthand, the little and the big, the small and the great. They’ll get to know me by being kindly forgiven, with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean.
– Hebrews 8:6-13, The Message
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way.
Thou art the potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway!
Fill with Thy spirit, ‘till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me.
– Hymn by Adelaide A. Pollard, 1907
P.S. If you are interested in learning how it might feel to actually take God this seriously, the story of how Keith began to take God consciously into the different parts of his ordinary everyday living and working lives is recorded in The Taste of New Wine.
You often talk about trying to find ways to help other people when you feel like no one really loves you. How does your helping someone else help you?
Very good question. Because I am a writer and have written a lot of books about trying to live my ordinary walking around life for the God Jesus called Father, I’ve gotten hundreds of questions over the years about trying to live and relate to other people in my own home or whatever town in which we’re living. In many of these letters people have said that they are so miserable they can’t imagine how helping other individuals could change anything—especially for themselves.
Well, we have been watching a dear Christian friend of ours growing and changing for several years now. She and her husband are in their early thirties and have two children under three. She has been praying about how God could use her and creative ways to get out of her comfort zone to care for people who don’t have the advantages she has.
Not long ago I asked her what she had discovered about helping other people she did not know but who God called her to help. She told me the following story, which I asked if I could pass on to you.
“I pulled into the grocery store over four years ago, prepared to do the mundane task that I did every week: grocery shop for my husband and me. As I waited at the light to turn into the parking lot a young man (who appeared to be in his early teens) walked across the street in front of my car. In that instant some inaudible, but real voice said to me, “Ask him if he needs help.”
My mind raced. I came up with at least a dozen excuses for why I shouldn’t talk to him. I had no idea what I could possibly do for him, so I said, “God, if you want me to help him, he needs to cross my path again.”
I thought I was off the hook but as I entered the store, this same young man crossed in front of me again. I ignored the strong nudge to talk to him and went on with my grocery shopping, looking around for him as I shopped.
As I buckled my seatbelt after loading the groceries into the car, I started sobbing uncontrollably and put my head down on the steering wheel. All my excuses seemed so ridiculous at that moment, and I knew that I had not followed God’s will for my life that day. I was overwhelmed with sadness.
I had just started really living for God, was a part of a small group for the first time in my life, and I knew that this opportunity to help someone else was one that would have brought me closer to God. But fear and anxiety kept me from doing what I knew was right. I asked God’s forgiveness and hoped that he would give me another chance.
Two weeks later at the very same grocery store my next opportunity arose. The previous event was gone from my memory, and I was in a big hurry to get my groceries and then get home where I needed to be. I believe we had dinner plans with friends that night. As I rushed into the parking lot from the grocery store I passed another young man I guessed to be in his early 20’s, wearing very worn, dirty clothes. He looked tired and beaten down, like he had worked all day. As I passed him, I again “heard” the inaudible voice, “Buy his groceries.”
“Buy his groceries? Really?”
My mind raced again as the excuses poured out: surely God does not want me to go back into the grocery store, find this man and his cart full of groceries and buy them; surely he knows that I am in a hurry; surely he knows that we do not have the money to buy this man’s groceries. Surely God has it wrong!
As I began to rattle off my excuses I suddenly remembered the previous incident and that feeling of sadness after I had failed God. But fear still welled up inside of me. As I packed my groceries in my car I argued with God about why it was a bad idea and then ultimately I said, “What am I supposed to say? I am going to look so stupid. I am so scared. And what if he says no? What will I do then?”
And as clear as day, I heard the voice again—so patient and loving, “Buy his groceries.”
Then I knew that I had to go back in that store, find that young man, and do what the Spirit was prompting me to do. My nerves were a wreck—palms sweating, knees shaking, teeth chattering and all. I searched the store and finally found him. It looked to me like he was just finishing, so I waited by the checkout lanes. He found his aisle and I threw up a prayer, “God, please help me do this.” As I stood behind him I noticed that he was buying the essentials— milk, bread, eggs, meat and other items that indicated that he had kids. I stood there trembling, tears rolling down my face, and I heard the cashier give the man the total for the order. ‘This is my cue,’ I thought.
“Excuse me, Sir. Would you do me the honor and let me buy your groceries today?”
The check-out lady looked at me as if I were crazy, and then we both looked at the man as he stared at my tear-stained face. Dumbfounded, his eyes also filled with tears. He said, “What? You want to buy my groceries? Why?”
‘Oh, Good Lord’ I thought… ‘he wants to know why!!??’
I continued, now sobbing, (I’m sure I was a sight at this point) “Sir, my God has asked me to help you today by buying your groceries. I don’t know why but I want to be obedient and I want you to know that He loves you. Please let me buy them. And when you get an opportunity to help someone else, I hope you’ll do so.”
He put his wallet away with a sigh and said, “Yes, please, that would really help today.”
I moved up to the cashier, paid his bill, said “God Bless you and your family,” and ran to my car, still crying. This time my uncontrollable sobbing was a joyous sob. It was crying that was full of love and happiness. My tears indicated to me that I had just done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ and following God’s will was life changing for me that day.
I think each person has to find his or her own ways to reach out to people. But Andrea and I have found over the last few years that when we pray and ask God to show us how to love the people in our lives, it is incredible how situations come up in which it is right and natural for us to care for people and help them in ways we never would have thought of before. But as unusual and off the wall as some of our experiences have been, I can’t think of a time when the act of loving didn’t change our lives, lift our mood, make us stronger in our faith and bring us closer to God and to other people. And hearing our friend’s story this week opened some new windows of hope that my life can become more loving and real.
Dear Lord, thank you for making it so clear that if we want to show our love to you, we can do so by loving the people around us. In Jesus’ name, amen.
“Then the King will say …. ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! …. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me….’
“‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:35-40 The Message)
How have you responded to situations that seemed to be opportunities to help someone else?
With elections just completed and Thanksgiving creeping up on us, we are in the midst of the screamers on the radio and television talk shows warning us of the “crooks” running for office, or the “blindness and the incompetence” of our elected representatives, and of the failings of our leaders in virtually all fields. However, I want to tell you that we Christians have a deep well of strength, hope, and confidence from which to draw a toast to the future this Thanksgiving in the country in which we live that has more freedom and opportunity than any place the world has ever seen.
By the time I was 28, I had buried all the family I grew up with and I’d broken my neck in a car wreck—which ended my hope to be a basketball star. These events made me realize I am not the center of the universe. I also realized through these losses, some other failures in my life and the resulting fears were more than I could handle by myself.
But it was due to the chaos, pain and doubt of those days and nights that I was driven to the end of myself and wound up parked on a lowly roadside in East Texas. There I made my first attempt to surrender my future, my family’s future, and the future of the world I lived in to the God Jesus called Father.
I drove that stake into that East Texas soil as deeply as I could at the time. I was a helpless little 28 year old boy inside. And that day I turned from surveying the inner turmoil in my life, looked in a different direction—and saw a rim of light on the horizon. It was the beginning of a sunrise I had not known would ever come. I had been facing and living every day a “sunset” of all my hopes for my life. And when I turned my focus around, I realized that God is alive beyond mountains and oceans of my fear if I can but turn around right where I am each time the mountains or oceans threaten to overwhelm me.
Whatever happens outside us, God will be with us and give us the courage and strength to deal with our losses, failures, fears, and difficulties, one day, one hour at a time, as individuals and as a nation.
God has changed my life so much that I am spending my life pointing over my shoulder to tell you there is real solid hope to stand on. Right now—where ever you are!
So for the next few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I am focusing on all that I have for which to be thankful, including renewed hope that comes from the realization that God knows where each of us is and will never give up on us.
God bless you and Happy Thanksgiving (and the weeks of preparation that are leading up to it).
“Just think—you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.” (1 Cor. 1:7, The Message)
Dear Keith, I’m having trouble with my prayer life. I’m not getting a lot of my prayers answered. (And I’m praying “in Jesus’ name.”) He indicated that he would answer prayers that were prayed in his name. Can you shed any light on that? And can you advise me what I can do to have a better average? I am committed to Christ and will work hard to pray right.
These are questions most thinking people have faced—good question.
The idea that the Father will answer our prayers if we pray them “in Jesus’ name” came to me first when I was a new Christian. I was working as a land man in the oil exploration business. One of my jobs was to buy oil and gas leases in a new area. The senior land man told me, “Keith, don’t ever forget that you are buying these leases in the company’s name.”
When I heard the phrase, “in the company’s name,” I thought about Jesus saying that the secret to having prayers answered was to pray them in His name. So I listened carefully to what buying leases “in the company’s name” meant.
“When you buy leases in someone else’s name,
1) you buy them in the location the company wants leases
2) You pay the price the company wants to pay
3) you buy only the five-year term the company wants to buy, etc.
In other words you buy each lease as the president of the company would buy it—the same location, price, and all the other conditions set out in the leasing agreement that the president would use if he were buying leases in each different area. And you need to know what different things the president may want in different places you will be sent to buy leases in his name.”
Later, I thought again about Jesus’ saying that God would answer our prayers if we prayed them “in Jesus’ name.” And it occurred to me that maybe he was saying that God will answer my prayers about any situation if I will learn to pray exactly as Jesus would pray if he were praying about that same particular situation. That way I will be personally representing God in the world as I pray.
If this is so, then in order to pray “in Jesus’ name” I needed to learn a lot more than I knew about Jesus: what he prayed about, what his priorities are, and what he asked for when he prayed. As I thought about this, I realized that the content and tone of my prayers was changing as I learned more about what Jesus prayed for, and as I committed more and more of my life to God. Over the years I’ve noticed that many times I just say about a situation, “and thy will be done,” since I often don’t know what is best for other people. (And I now realize that many of the things I didn’t get when I prayed for them would have ruined my life if I’d gotten them.)
That raised the question: who is “the Father” Jesus always prayed to—and what is our attitude and behavior toward God, the Father, to be? Over the years I come to see that knowing “the Father” intimately would be like relating to a strong, creative, intimate, and loving Father (more perfect than any earthly father could be). And Jesus prayed as he thought his Father would (e.g. in Gethsemane he said about his own death, “but thy will be done.”)
What Jesus Said about How to Begin a Prayer Life, Praying in Jesus’ Name
This passage gave me a cameo picture of the attitude and behaviors God wants us to have, as Jesus described how to begin a prayer life “in Jesus’ name”:
“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
“The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need…” (Matthew 6: 5-13, The Message)
What Jesus Said about How to Pray in Jesus’ Name
In this picture—and many others like it—we see how we should pray, and a little about what it would mean to “pray in Jesus’ name.”
In the passage, just before Jesus gave his disciples the only prayer Jesus ever gave them, Jesus said this about the process of praying to the Father:
“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—’playactors’ I call them— treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.” (Matthew 6: 1-4, The Message)
Jesus then gave his disciples—and us I believe—the perspective that has helped me more than any other. He tells us, I think, that if we want to pray as Jesus would—in His name (as Jesus positioned himself before the Father) then we are to position ourselves differently than I ever had. I had treated God like a business partner ( who had all the money) or like a powerful psychiatrist I would consult (and fire if he got too confronting). But here Jesus gave what for me became the key to learning how to pray (and live) in his name. He said it this way:
“With a God like this loving you (one who “knows better than you what you need!) you can pray very simply like this.” [And he began to pray by saying,] “Daddy, in heaven” and what followed is the prayer that Jesus gave us as a model of how we should pray.
What all this means to me is that if I want to pray with the same approach to God that Jesus had (in Jesus’ name) I need pray as if I were a small child and he was a loving daddy, not a business partner or psychiatrist whom I can fire. And to pray as a small child, I need to surrender as much of my entire life to God as I understand Him, realizing that the answer to my prayer is completely up to God. That way I can learn to listen and watch for God’s answers with the open mind of a child wanting to learn all I can from his father, the intimate loving Father in whose image Jesus was made, and who accepts me warts and all.
I have spent the last 50 years learning all I can in order to more nearly pray as Jesus would pray. These are a lot of words, but I’m dead serious when I tell you that in trying to surrender my entire life to the Father, my prayers have changed in many ways. Some of my prayers have been answered in ways I could not have imagined. And the ones that haven’t been answered…well, maybe they have, but I’m just not able to recognize God’s answer just yet, since the “answers” may have been something I needed to happen so I could grow up in some area—instead of what I ask for.
Some time I’ll talk more about the kinds of radical changes that have come about in my experience of trying to live for God as a small child and what being blessed by God has come to mean.
“In the world humans pride themselves on prudential wisdom, but the purpose of a Christian is to be a child. The child spirit is a goal and not merely a starting point. Though not all children demonstrate it, the ideal child spirit is of one who seeks to learn, because he knows that he does not know, and one who trusts his parent unreservedly. At best, the world of a child is a world of wonder, unspoiled by cynical judgment of others or by the corrosive effect of consciously hidden motives. The end, says Christ, is to rediscover the beginning.” Elton Trueblood, Confronting Christ
Dear Lord, thank you that you have let me experience enough pain through my self-centerdness and sinful bad choices that I was forced to face myself, decide to surrender and live for you and begin to learn how to pray and live in your name. In Jesus’ name, amen.
“Then Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was now necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, submit to an ordeal of suffering at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and then on the third day be raised up alive. Peter took him in hand, protesting, ‘Impossible, Master! That can never be!’
“But Jesus didn’t swerve. ‘Peter, get out of my way. Satan, get lost. You have no idea how God works.’
“Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. ‘Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself?’” Matthew 16: 21-26 (The Message)
‘‘ ‘Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.’
“ Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. ‘The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.
“ ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.’” Matthew 11:25-30 (The Message)
 The word for our “Father” here is Abba which almost always can be correctly translated, “Daddy.”