Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus

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Sacred Pathways

I’ve been reading Gary Thomas’ book, Sacred Pathways. His premise is that we’re all wired differently in terms of how we relate to God and express our love for Him. For example, many of us have been taught that having a “Quiet Time” is the best way to do that. It’s usually about 30 minutes long and composed of prayer, worship, Bible reading, and maybe even journaling. But, for some, having a Quiet Time quickly moves from delight to drudgery, as it can become mechanical. Thomas says, “There are certain foods I really like, but I don’t want to eat them every day. I have certain running routes and workouts that I earnestly look forward to, but I wouldn’t want to run the same route, at the same speed, the same length, every time I run.” He confesses, “Certain parts of me are never touched by a standardized quiet time.”

Thomas argues that the reason for this is that we all have a different mix of spiritual temperaments, therefore, connecting with God differently. The book identifies nine spiritual temperaments or sacred pathways. These aren’t to be confused with spiritual gifts or even personality types, although they’re certainly related. Most of us will have a predominant temperament but also resonate with a few others. Here they are:

Naturalists: Naturalists prefer to go outdoors. They want to leave the books and lectures aside and pray to God by a river or on a walk in the woods. They might learn more from staring at an ant colony than listening to a sermon.

Sensates: For these folks, the five senses are the most effective inroads into their hearts. When they worship they want to be filled with sights, sounds, and smells. It might be incense, architecture, music, or even liturgy that sends their hearts soaring.

Traditionalists: They’re drawn by the historic dimensions of the faith: rituals, symbols, and sacraments. They want to live a disciplined and ordered life of faith with regular church attendance and predictable worship.

Ascetics: Ascetics want to be left alone to pray; to remove all the trappings of religion and left alone to pray in silence and simplicity. They tend to live internally and introspectively.

Activists: These folks love God through confrontation. They define worship as standing against evil and injustice and calling sinners to repentance. They’re energized more by interactions with others, even through conflict, more so than from being alone. Needless to say, Activists love the story of Jesus clearing the temple!

Caregivers: Caregivers love and serve God by caring for others. Mother Teresa exemplified this. She wrote, “God died for you and for me and for that leper and for that person dying of hunger and for that person on the street. It’s not enough to say you love God. You also have to love your neighbor.”

Enthusiasts: These folks thrive on excitement and unpredictability in worship—they’re inspired by joyful celebration. They want to have their hearts moved and experience God’s power. They want to clap their hands, shout “Amen!”, and dance with excitement.

Contemplatives: Contemplatives think of God as their Father, Bridegroom, and Lover. They focus not on serving God or even obeying God, but on loving God with the deepest love possible. They identify most with Mary of Bethany, who sat at Jesus’ feet in worship and listening.

Intellectuals: These folks love God most with their minds. Their minds need to be stirred before their hearts come alive. They love to study God’s Word and biblical doctrine. Intellectuals live in a world of concepts. Faith is something to be understood as much as it is to be experienced.

Do you see your dominant spiritual temperament in this list?


Does God Heal?

I think most of us who call ourselves followers of Christ would affirm that God can heal. Certainly if God could raise His own Son up from the grave, He can also heal any of our infirmities.

But the real question that often divides believers is not can God heal, but does God heal? Some claim that God will always heal if we just have enough faith. Others claim that every once in a while God might choose in His sovereignty to heal someone, but this is rare.

I have always been in the latter camp. I suppose I still am, but recently I have become much more open to the idea that not only can God heal but He does heal.

For some time now I have struggled with a bad knee. About ten years ago, I had knee surgery, and then about five years ago the same knee flared up again. I went to the doctor and he said I needed more surgery. I had to wait to have the surgery until after I returned from the Philippines where I was speaking at a pastors conference. While there, a fellow pastor saw me limping and asked if he could pray for my knee. Of course,” I said, thinking this is one of those kinds of pastors. He grasped my knee and prayed for healing. I walked away, not thinking a whole lot about it, but within a few days my knee pain was mostly gone, and I never returned to my doctor for his prescribed surgery.

Okay, I was convinced that sometimes, in rare cases, God does heal.

Fast forward five years. My knee pain was back and I am thinking that it is time to see the doctor again. After preaching one Sunday, I was standing in our church lobby. A woman I had recently met approached me and asked if she could pray for me.

Of course,” I said.

Then she said, I think it’s your knee.”

There is no reason she would have known about my knee. So, I thought, Lord, again? What is it about this knee that you care so much about? There are far worse problems you could fix besides my knee!”

She prayed for my knee right then and there. With so much to do that day, I completely forgot about her prayer until two days later. While descending a stairway (something that had been hard to do for a while with knee pain), I stopped dead in my tracks and thought, My knee pain is gone!”

Again, my knee is not perfect, but it is way better.

It’s quite interesting that the “spiritual gift” of healing found in 1 Corinthians 12:9 is actually plural in the Greek. It is literally translated “gifts of healings.” So, it is not like someone has the “gift” of healing with a guarantee that he or she will always be able to heal anyone they desire. But God does distribute gifts of healing—individual instances where He chooses to use someone to heal.

I am not sure what to make of all this, but I am convinced of a few things:

  1. God really does care about my knee.
  2. Not only can God heal, but He does.
  3. I have often limited God.
  4. I am thankful for people who listen to the Lord and step out in faith.
  5. Healing doesn’t always mean perfection.


How to Pray for Our Nation

Much like our nation as a whole, the Church is divided over our new President. One of the things we can all agree on is the need to pray for him and for our nation. Yesterday, in view of both President Trump’s inauguration and Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, many churches prayed for our nation. Adam Darbonne, High School Director at Central Peninsula Church’s North Campus, led us in prayer and I believe this is a fine example of how to pray for our nation at such a time as this.

Almighty God, Creator, Redeemer, Ancient of Days, we bow before you this morning, our only King, and the sovereign God, who rules with perfect justice and love. 

You have commanded us to pray for all those in authority, and as we have prayed for President Obama over the last eight years, we now pray for President Trump. First and foremost we pray that he would repent and believe in your resurrected son. We ask that you would convict him of sin, and bring him to his knees in repentance. That you would humble him under your mighty hand, and lead him by your glorious light. Until then, we pray that your will be done in the government. Surround our leaders with your wisdom. We ask that you would use the government to restrain evil, bring justice in our country, especially to the downtrodden, hurting, and vulnerable.

We also pray that you would use us, your church, to be salt and light in the world, that we would be a voice and force for justice and love in our country and around the world. And as Paul says, teach us to lead peaceful and quiet lives, godly and holy in every way, for this is pleasing to you. As we pray for justice for the vulnerable give us the courage and compassion we need to live as faithful advocates for human life—in all its expressions. How we long for the Day when “death shall be no more”—when life will flourish in the new heaven and new earth. Today we especially think about the lives of unborn children and the constant threat to those lives—even as we cry out to you on behalf of all kinds of women in all kinds of situations who are carrying those children in their wombs. Lord Jesus, we pray for the courage to stand up and care for the voiceless and vulnerable—those whom you are knitting together in their mother’s womb. Lord Jesus, may those here today whose stories are marked by abortion know your love, compassion and forgiveness this morning.

Finally, Lord, make us a compassionate church. Jesus, show us how to love and care for those women and men whose stories are marked by abortion. May we be a church who cares extravagantly for women in crisis. Lord, we long for your justice, compassion, forgiveness, and love. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

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What Are You Waiting For?

One of the hard questions we often ask is, “Why doesn’t God answer many of our prayers?” Have you ever wondered that? Some point the finger at the one praying: “You’re praying with wrong motives.” Or “You don’t have enough faith.” I suppose sometimes either of those things could be the problem. But do we really have to prove ourselves worthy of answered prayer by perfect motives and unwavering faith? Don’t we all pray as fragile, broken, imperfect people?

This is a painful subject because over and over in the Scripture God invites us to pray. Why would he set us up for such disappointment when he doesn’t respond to our requests? We often turn to God in our most vulnerable moments with a desperate need only he can meet. Why does he sometimes remain silent?

One of the things I’m learning is that God’s silence is often a call to wait. I have also  noticed that good things happen in my heart as I learn to wait on Him.

Habukkuk was a prophet who learned this lesson. He served during troubled times. Israel had been split in two. The Northern kingdom of Israel had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Now the Southern kingdom of Judah was being ruled by a wicked king and they were being threatened by the Babylonians. In the midst of this, Habukkuk directs two questions to God. First, How long? How long will I cry out for help and get no response from you? I pray and pray but nothing seems to change. And then the second question: Why? Why do you let all this go on and on when you have the power to stop it? Why do you sit up there in heaven and not do a thing?

After he’s poured out his heart to God, he says, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint” (2:1). This is where his prayer ends. It’s like he runs out of breath and decides to be like the watchman who stations himself high on the ramparts, ready to report anything he sees to the people of the city. He decides to wait for God to sort it all out. The crisis isn’t over, but he’s done fighting and he is going to watch and wait to see what God will say and do next. That’s a good place to be, but it’s not easy.

Watching and waiting is hard. It’s hard because it takes time. We want answers now. It’s hard because we’d rather do something. It feels so unproductive to just wait. And it’s often such a lonely job; the watchman normally waits and watches by himself. It’s hard because we have to stay focused and there is so much to distract us. Waiting and watching is hard because it means we have to be open to correction. Our big problem is we want God’s thinking to be in line with ours, but when we wait and watch we learn to get our thinking in line with God’s.

It reminds me of something I read in a book called, Peace like a River, by Leif Enger. He tells the story of a family of four: Jeremiah, the father, and his three children ,Davy, Swede, and Rueben, who narrates the story. Davy gets himself into serious trouble. He’s arrested and put on trial. Knowing that the jury is about to convict him, he breaks out of a county jail and flees. A few weeks later the rest of the family piles into an Airstream trailer and goes in search of him.

Jeremiah, the father, is a praying man. He’s humble and discerning. But he can’t understand what God is up to. He senses God wants him to cooperate with a federal agent who is hunting for Davy, but he doesn’t want to betray his son. So he decides to have it out with God. He stays up all night and wrestles with God in prayer. While this was happening, a friend named Roxanna sat in the hallway and overheard the argument. She, of course, only heard Jeremiah. She wasn’t privy to God’s voice, though she sensed God was speaking and fighting back.

Enger writes: “At this Roxanna covered her mouth, for it occurred to her with Whom he wrestled. Having long ago accepted the fact of God, Roxanna had not conceived of going toe to toe with Him over a particular concern. Make me willing if you can, Dad cried, a challenge it still shakes me to think of. What Roxanna heard next was a tumble like man thrown.” The conflict between God and Jeremiah continued through the night. Roxanna eventually fell asleep in the hallway. When she awoke in the morning all was quiet. She went into the kitchen and found Jeremiah sitting at the kitchen table. He was at perfect peace.

Someone has said that prayer can do one of three things. First, prayer can change things. It really can make a difference in what happens. Second, prayer can change God. It won’t change his nature, but it can change what he chooses to do. But, finally, and perhaps most importantly, prayer can change us. One thing I’m certain about, waiting on God changes us.

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

Psalm 27:14

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What’s The Good of Prayer?

This is a question Oswald Chambers asks in his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. I thought his reflections on this were insightful and helpful. Here are a few nuggets:

“It is not part of the life of a natural man to pray. We hear it said that a man will suffer in his life if he does not pray; I question it. What will suffer is the life of the Son of God in him, which is nourished not by food, but by prayer. When a man is born from above, the life of the Son of God is born in him, and he can either starve that life or nourish it. Prayer is the way the life of God is nourished.”

“We look upon prayer as a means of getting things for ourselves; the Bible idea of prayer is that we may get to know God Himself.”

“Give Jesus Christ a chance, give Him elbow room, and no man will ever do this unless he is at his wits’ end. When a man is at his wits’ end it is not a cowardly thing to pray, it is the only way he can get into touch with Reality. Be yourself before God and present your problems, the things you know you have come to your wits’ end over. As long as you are self-sufficient, you do not need to ask God for anything.”

“It is not so true that ‘prayer changes things’ as that prayer changes me and I change things…. Prayer is not a question of altering things externally, but of working wonders in a man’s disposition.”


Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry

In an article in Leadership Journal, John Ortberg tells about a time he asked Dallas Willard how to be spiritually healthy in the midst of a demanding schedule. After a long pause, Willard said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

After another long pause, John responded a little impatiently, “Okay, I’ve written that one down. That’s a good one. Now what else is there?” John wanted to cram as much spiritual wisdom into a short phone call.

After another long pause, Willard said, “There is nothing else. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Hmmm. I’ve thought about this a lot. I’m a task oriented kind of guy. I live in an area where the pace of life is notoriously fast. I serve in a church that moves pretty fast as well. Eliminating hurry from my life isn’t easy. But the more I’ve tried to do this, the more benefits I’ve seen in my walk with God and my relationship with others. Slowing down allows me to pay attention to God in the present moment. It allows me to be fully present for those people I am with or happen upon. Eliminating hurry doesn’t necessarily mean I do less. I can have a lot to do on the outside but remain unhurried on the inside.

I like what John writes about this: “If you want to follow someone, you can’t go faster than the one who is leading; following Jesus cannot be done at a sprint. Jesus was often busy but he was never hurried. Being busy is an outer condition; being hurried is a sickness of the soul. Jesus never went about the busyness of his ministry in a way that severed the life-giving connection between himself and his Father. He never did it in a way that interfered with his ability to give love when that was what was called for. He observed a regular rhythm of withdrawal from activity, for solitude and prayer. He ruthlessly eliminated hurry from his life.”

Read John Ortberg’s article in its entirety.


Should I have a Quiet Time?

How important is it for believers to spend time alone with God? As you can tell from what I write below, I believe it’s worth the effort. Since New Year’s is typically a time many of us make renewed commitments to do such things, I’d like to offer a few thoughts that might help.

As I observe the life of Jesus, I see even He needed time alone with the Father. The Gospels confirm He had a lifelong practice of withdrawing from people to be with God (Luke 5:16). While it doesn’t say He was regimented about when He did it and for how long, it’s clear He did this with regularity. He even appeared to have a special place. His times with God were not cluttered with a list of things to do; they reflect a remarkable simplicity. He simply would spend time away from the crowds in prayer. I have no doubt that this prayer involved both pouring His needs and concerns out to His Father, as well as listening to what the Father was saying to Him as He reflected on the Scripture and listened to the Spirit’s prompting in His own heart. One of the most remarkable things about this is that He often withdrew when the demands upon His life were the greatest. While I so often use the demands on my life as an excuse for putting this time off, Jesus saw them as reasons to pursue God more intently.

Each of us needs to find our own devotional style; one that fits with the particular rhythms of our own life. There is no one right time, place, or way to have a quiet time. Many people have found early in the morning is the best time for them because it sets the tone for the entire day. Others can’t see beyond their coffee cup or crying infant in the morning and choose to snatch some time in the midday or evening. It will help a great deal if you have a place where you can truly be alone and free to express yourself to the Lord without fear of being walked in on. Whatever you do, simple prayer along with reading and meditating upon God’s word ought to be the center of this time. Many people have also found that it’s helpful to write down their thoughts, prayers and revelations in a journal. I suggest you try to think creatively about this time too. Some of us need to get out of a routine that has become dry and lifeless. I have often broken the routine by taking “prayer walks” where I spend an extended time praying, singing, weeping, and worshipping the Lord on a nearby trail.

Don’t place yourself under an impossible burden of having to meet with God too early or for too long. The need for discipline in this area can easily become a source of condemnation, especially for those performance—oriented types like myself. Remember that you’re cultivating a relationship, not trying to set a record or impress someone! It’s God who draws you near, not your own spiritual heroism. There will be days when you daydream more than pray. There will be days when you miss. When you come to Him after a series of missed days, just thank Him that He has continued to draw you near and enjoy His welcome.

Be careful about your expectations for this time. Don’t expect the Lord to give you some “lightning bolt” experience in each quiet time. Just as in any relationship, there will be times when you feel close and there will be times when you feel distant and can’t seem to connect. Don’t get discouraged! Keep pursuing Him! Keep showing up! It’s a process. Like putting pennies in the bank, over time, you’ll notice a difference. You will notice yourself practicing and enjoying His presence throughout the day. You will walk together as familiar friends rather than estranged former acquaintances.

I can’t remember who it was that first encouraged me to have a quiet time, but for them I am grateful. Some have let this practice go after repeated attempts and failures. Others are struggling to keep it consistent. Still others are hearing about this for the first time. Whatever your own situation is, commit yourself afresh to spending your best time each day with God. May it be said of us as it was said of Him: “But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness to pray.” Luke 5:16

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Following Christ When it Hurts

A number of years ago, at a conference put on by Young Life in the former Soviet Union, I met Martin Hasik. We hit it off immediately. Martin is from the city of Prague in the Czech Republic. After that conference, he became the first Czech national to join the Young Life staff. He also got married to Jane and they now have two beautiful children. A while back Martin was diagnosed with leukemia. Recently, in a newsletter they sent out, Martin included a short reflection he called “Following Christ When it Hurts.” I would like to share it with you as it provides an excellent example of suffering well. After reading this, I encourage you to lift a prayer up for my dear friend.

It is over a year since my diagnosis of leukemia. God has not left me nor forsaken me. Neither was I guaranteed a safe and rich long life that I enjoyed for 37 years, nor can I claim any entitlement for it now. As the life circumstances changed, He has not changed. My life was changed. My relationship with Him is growing stronger, the false idols are useless and worth dropping off. Not even money can buy the way out of cancer. Giving Jesus my life was a decision to submit to His leading into the ways of His kingdom, not the success in this world. Life looks different from the hospital bed. The line between life and death is thinner, but the ties with Him are stronger. Praying for healing. Praying for remission. Praying for becoming a better witness of the hope that I have thru His love and grace. For the sick Jesus has something more… Praise God for that!


When Tragedy Strikes

I’m so sad about the tragedy that took place in Connecticut today. I can’t imagine the pain those families are experiencing. In our humanity, it’s normal for us to ask “Why?”. In our humanity, it’s normal for us to wonder how God could allow such a thing to happen. I really don’t have any answers, but I’m comforted to know that in the midst of such pain, God understands and offers Himself.

John Stott once wrote, “I could never believe in God if it weren’t for the cross.” His short story, The Long Silence, explains:

At the end of time billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back but some near the front talked heatedly with belligerence.

“Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?” snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured horror…beatings…torture…death.”

In another group, an African-American young man lowered his collar. “What about this?” he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn, “Lynched for no crime but being black!”

Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in this world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, hunger or hatred. “What did God know of all people had been forced to endure in this world? God leads a pretty sheltered life,” they said.

So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered most. A Jew, an African-American, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed child. In the center of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case and it was rather clever.

Before God could qualify to be their judge he must endure what they endured. Their decision was that God would be sentenced to live on earth as a man.

“Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him work to do that even his family will think he is out of his mind to try to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury, and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured. At last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died.”

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled. And when the last had finished pronouncing the sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. Suddenly they all knew that God had served his sentence.

At times like this, we can come to Him with our fear, our grief, our confusion and even our anger. He may not give us a list of answers, but He will give us Himself.


Rivulets of the Soul

Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD.
Each morning I will bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.

Psalm 5:3

I have found that there is nothing more important and more difficult in my relationship with Christ than developing a robust prayer life. But as crucial as it is, I have also found that guilt is a substandard motivation for prayer. Recently, I discovered a way of thinking about prayer that helps me want to pray.

I’m slowly working my way through Ben Patterson’s book on praying the Psalms: God’s Prayer Book: The Power and Pleasure of Praying the Psalms. In his comments on Psalm 5, he tells a story about a man named Jack Sanford who looks back fondly on his childhood visits to the old family farmhouse in New Hampshire. There was an old well in the front yard. The water from the well was surprisingly pure and cold. No matter how hot the summer or severe the drought, the well was always a dependable source of refreshment. As Jack grew older, he often thought of that faithful old well, but eventually the farmhouse was modernized with indoor plumbing and hot and cold running water. The old well was no longer needed and sealed shut.

Years later, Jack returned to the farmhouse and found himself longing for the cold, pure water of his youth. So he unsealed the well and lowered a bucket for a taste of the refreshment he once enjoyed. But he was shocked to find that the well had gone bone dry. He wondered what had happened and so he began to ask several of the locals. He finally learned that wells of that sort are fed by hundreds of tiny underground rivulets. As long as water is consistently being drawn from the well, new water will flow in through the rivulets, keeping them open so that more water can flow. But when the water stops flowing, the rivulets get plugged up with mud and the flow stops. It turns out the well dried up not because it was used too much but because it wasn’t used enough.

Ben writes, “Our souls are like that well. If we do not draw regularly and frequently on the living water that Jesus promised would well up in us like a spring, our hearts will close and dry up. The consequence of not drinking deeply of God is to eventually lose the ability to drink at all. Prayerlessness is its own worst punishment, both its disease and cause.”

What a great encouragement this is to persevere in a life of disciplined prayer. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly. Like King David, I want to keep the water flowing, and perhaps the most important thing to do in accomplishing that is to just keep showing up.