Our devotions teacher at the CLASS Christian Writers' Conference was Jan Johnson. If you don't know Jan's work, I highly recommend you get some of her books. They are worth devouring. Her message is that of slowing down to connect with God in deliberate and meaningful ways, rather than applying our hurried modern attitude to our Bible reading, prayer, and our relationship with God in general. For over 20 years she has been studying, practicing, and writing on how to incorporate spiritual disciplines into our lives for the purpose of connecting with God, not out of a sense of obligation or as another To Do List item we can check off when done. Her books include, When the Soul Listens, Savoring God's Word, Invitation to the Jesus Life, Spiritual Disciplines Companion, and Abundant Simplicity and more.
Jan was a wonderful devotions speaker. She pointed us toward “hanging out with Jesus” and investing in our spiritual formation in ways that meet us personally, being intentional about our spiritual formation. She gave us an example of an area of difficulty for her, getting grumpy at airports. As a national speaker, she spends a lot of time in airports traveling to and from retreats and speaking engagements. “Lord, help me find something to change my attitude at airports,” was her prayer. Now, at airports her mind is on helping others whenever she sees a need. If someone drops something, she picks it up for them. If someone is struggling with their luggage, she helps. Instead of being grumpy, she's now looking for ways to serve people, hoping to brighten their day. Beautiful! I have never seen or heard of that kind of detailed intentionality in one's spritual life.
My “take-away” word from the daily teaching lab I'd selected was “intentional.” As I mentioned in that post, this word comes with a warning. To use Jan's loving words, the warning is simply this: “Don't you dare do this out of a sense of obligation!” The purpose is not to add on a bunch of dos and don'ts to a spritual regimen. The purpose is to deepen our connection with God. Here is where the challenge lies: making sure the outward activities of my intentionality always begin on the inside, in my heart, and move outward, rather than starting on the outside and expecting them to transform my heart.
Transformation was the topic of our 2011 conference book project. (Last year's topic was "Out of the Overflow.") Those who wanted to participate wrote a short article about transformation to be included in a compilation book published by WinePress, due out around Christmas. The piece I intended to include is all about this “from the inside out” process of transformation. Since I didn't include it for publication in the book, I'll publish it here in a couple days in order to continue my thoughts on intentionality from the heart.