Lifeblood is about Tapping Into Jesus as the True Source of Renewal

Tapping Into Jesus as the True Source of Renewal

Out June 26

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Lifeblood: Tapping into Jesus as the True Source of Renewal
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Disclaimer: This chapter cannot be used for any reason without express written permission from the publisher.

 

1
The Lifeblood in Our Personal Lives

My body felt like a lump of coal. I was swimming by myself in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. My college roommate had suggested we take a camping trip together, but he liked to sleep in. I liked to do things impulsively.

Ask anyone who has suffered from hypothermia, and you will get an earful. Hypothermia is not fun. When you have it, your arms feel like logs. Your legs go catatonic. That's what happened to me on a warm sunny morning, just ten feet from shore. I felt as though I was about to sink. I gasped for air. I questioned my decision-making ability.

I had a few interesting (and what seemed like final) thoughts:

How did this happen?

Why didn't I bring a rope?

Look at those clouds!

I wondered if my last thoughts on this blue spinning orb would be so surreal and random that I'd be thinking about how the clouds looked like bunny ears. I thought about whether my roommate was still asleep. And I started to really hate the Boundary Waters.

Hypothermia is a fairly common problem in the great northern area of Minnesota, just below Canada. The lakes in this area are particularly chilly, even in the middle of summer.

Here are a few scientific facts about hypothermia. First, when you have it, your body starts to lose heat faster than you can produce it. Doesn't sound good, does it? Your blood starts to congeal, and you can't think clearly. In fact, when you have hypothermia, you don't really know you even have it. That's the most dangerous part, because it feels as if you're just fine.

After a few seconds of experiencing the above-mentioned difficulties, I yelled. Then I yelled again. I edged closer to shore. My body felt heavy. Things didn't look good.

I floated for a while, then I looked up. My friend was looking down at me with a quizzical expression. He had appeared out of nowhere, and he reached out to help. I somehow managed to lunge forward and grab his hand. He pulled me up to a rock outcropping and started making a joke about picking the wrong time to go swimming. I couldn't talk. I just sat down and felt numb.

"You okay there, John?" he asked laughingly in his thick Kentucky accent.

Not really. I had never experienced anything like that. It took me a few hours to recover, although I wonder to this day if I was as close to death as I'd felt at the time. All I knew then is that my body was not cooperating with my mind. I hadn't been able to get my arms and legs to propel me toward the shore. I hadn't been able to do what I'd wanted to do because I hadn't had the ability or the strength. My thoughts had been clouded. I'd known the goal—to get to the shore, climb out of the water, eat breakfast—but I'd been sinking fast.

I wonder at times if the spiritual life is like that. I wonder if it is exactly like that. Our lives don't match up with our ambitions. We know what we want to do, we set goals, but we don't always cooperate with those goals. We aren't even aware we're sinking, yet our commitment to Christ starts to falter. I wonder if there is anything we can do about that.

There are a few pat answers, of course. We can read the Bible more. Pray. Find other likeminded Christians. Sadly, these simple answers to complex questions don't always work, do they? The Bible seems stale. Our prayer lives are routine. People in church act like jerks. Between periods of total isolation and loneliness, we get distracted by the allure of worldly things—and I'm talking about more than just the iPhone. We're sinking either because we're alone and we have no one to save us or we don't quite realize that our blood is congealing. It's like we don't even know we have spiritual hypothermia, even though many of the signs are present. We try to do things in our own strength. We share our faith with others, but we're not even sure our own faith is strong.

I know all about this, because I tend to have these struggles myself. Some days I can't find Bible passages that make me go "wow" the way they did before. I pray with my wife, Rebecca, nearly every day, but some days I'm guilty of dropping the ball—I just skip our prayer time and go to work. Some Sundays I struggle to find deep relationships at church and deeper meaning in the message. This struggle has a generational name: a few years ago the phrase "the done" came to describe people who were done with church but still called themselves Christians.

There are no easy answers to this problem. As with everything important in life, it is hard to deal with spiritual deadness and break out of spiritual patterns we've developed over decades. Change takes effort. Yet we can find joy in our spiritual lives. We can find life again. The secret is in the blood.

*****


I have a confession to make.

I really hate flying. It's not that I have any fears about crashing into the side of a mountain in a ball of flames. I don't even mind the stress of flight delays or screaming babies. As hard as this is to admit, the reason air travel is so annoying to me is because I tend to be a controller. I hate waiting. But I don't have a choice. If my flight leaves at seven, it's not like I can walk up to the attendant and insist the pilot leave early so I can get to my destination faster.

I imagine such a conversation would go something like this:

Me: "My laptop died, and I'm a little bored. Can we leave an hour early?"

Attendant at the desk: blank stare into empty space.

Me: "No, really. Most of us are here already. Shouldn't we get a head start?"

Attendant: considers picking up the phone and calling security.

Me: "Okay, I'll just go find a smoothie instead."

On one business trip I was particularly agitated as I sat on the plane waiting to take off for Boston. Maybe I was unhappy with the interior decor of the jet or the novel a preteen next to me was reading. Maybe I was just hungry. When the pilot announced a slight departure delay, I felt personally offended. Was the airline not aware that I was on board? Had they even checked the manifest?

When our plane finally pulled back from the gate, I decided (uncharacteristically) to pay attention to the announcements. Maybe I thought they'd be soothing. A few of the instructions seemed a bit simplistic: My seat can act as a flotation device? So can my sofa at home. We have to keep our seatbelts fastened? Tell that to the executive next to me who thinks it's very optional.

Then the attendant said something profound.

She mentioned how, in the event of a water landing, we should always fit the oxygen mask over our own mouths before assisting anyone else. This woman had nothing on Soren Kierkegaard. She could have taught a class on advanced philosophy at any university on the planet.

Her comment got me thinking.

How often do we try to live like that as Christians—as if we are not primarily responsible for our own spiritual condition? We tend to assume our growth is a result of external circumstances, even to the point that we criticize the worship time or the sermon in church when we feel a little cheated: "How dare the pastor deliver a half-hearted message when that thirty-minute period is when I'm open to what God has to say and not checking Facebook? Does anyone around here realize I had to get up earlier than usual this morning?"

Yet Jesus gave us this simple command in Luke 10:27 for a reason: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself." Who knew, right? Our personal growth starts with loving God. That's a recipe for spiritual success.

It's backed up nicely by this passage in Hebrews 12:11–13:

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed (NASB).

A close reading of this passage reveals that it's talking about our own spiritual condition. We have to get healthy first before we can help anyone else. (In case you're wondering, that's also the passage you can use to justify a spiritual retreat to Colorado with your wife and let your kids wonder why they're not invited.) It's okay for us to focus on ourselves. It's called finding strength so we can walk. It's called making our paths straight. We need to make the path straight for our feet. We need to fit the oxygen mask over our own mouths.

Has anyone ever questioned why you're taking an extended break? People seem to forget that even Jesus retreated to the woods to find solitude. If they'd had Caribou Coffee back then, he would have ordered the coffee cake and the big mug (the one you can refill for free).

Think about how the "oxygen mask on you first" works in marriage or friendship or in raising kids. As Louie Giglio has explained in his messages, our primary concern when considering a future spouse is to prepare ourselves to be the person someone else wants to marry, not think we are so amazing that we get our pick. Jesus said we are supposed to love God first. We're supposed to figure out how to become better conduits of his grace, first and foremost.

The truth is, God cares about our own spiritual growth, and the person we marry or that new friend should help us grow the most, not be the person who meets all our needs.

For some reason, young adults don't always understand this. When they were younger, my kids (mostly my three girls but also my son) used to talk about how they thought there was one special person out there for them. They viewed a spouse as someone God had specifically selected out of a billion available options. Instead, it's better to be that person. The greatest fulfillment I've found in marriage is in having my wife sit me down and tell me the truth about myself and set me straight, even though it isn't easy or fun. My best friends in life have been those who were not afraid to chew me out. In a church context I've found the most connection with people who show love in ways that are not always perfectly smooth.

Here's a good example of how this works. My wife always knows when I'm cranky. Usually the solution is to give me food. That seems to work. When I work too hard and get distracted, she knows I have a serious lack of protein flowing through my body. I must have a certain look that says "needs pizza" that she can spot from a mile away. Yet if I really want to be the husband she wants me to be, it might be a good idea for me to eat more regularly. I need to fit the oxygen mask over my own face before I try to help her.

You might question this logic. Having a "me first" mentality is selfish, right? Don't we grow more by serving others? As the Bible says in Matthew 10:39, don't we have to lose our lives first? Isn't it all about sacrifice? Yet it's easy to forget the last part of that verse: "Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it." The secret is in finding our lives. That's the first step in learning to depend on lifeblood.

The idea of sacrificing our own physical needs might make sense at first, but we tend to shift that thinking too quickly and assume that the strong Christians are the ones who forgo their personal growth and get busy doing the Lord's work. They serve, but then they falter.

Giving up physical needs and then immediately trying to serve doesn't work. Our growth stalls because we forget that the basic building blocks of spiritual maturity happen in the quiet moments of our daily relationship with God. If we forget about Jesus, we forget the basic truth of Christianity: that we are to love him first with all our hearts, souls, strength, and minds, and then we are to love others. It's in that order for a specific reason: to equip us properly.

The solution is to tap into the lifeblood. That's where we'll truly find the strength we need. As we will see over the course of this book, this lifeblood is critically important.

It's why Paul said this in Colossians 1:29: "For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me" (ESV). Even Paul—who wrote much of the New Testament—was keenly aware that spiritual maturity was all about how much we allow the power of Christ to change us and then rely on that power to help us in ministry and in life.

*****


It's hard though, isn't it? The reason so many Christians struggle to grow in their faith, the reason they fight habitual sin, the reason they just attend church rather than connect with other believers on a deep emotional level is that they are faking their way through the Christian life. The heart changes when we confess Christ, but it also changes day by day when we seek him consistently. And I don't mean morning devotions for only five minutes. The idea with lifeblood is that we swim out into the deep end in our faith because we are having deep personal communion with Christ and so begin abiding with him in the wellspring of our daily routines. It means our every word and action flows from this communion, not from our own effort. When we commit to this kind of communion with God, our hearts change, the lifeblood flows, and our actions become a result of our commitment to rely on God's power.

It's amazing how many Christians don't spend time with God. We get a little conceited, and we get bored reading the Bible each day. But when this happens, our view of the spiritual disciplines is rooted in false thinking. We think the disciplines themselves will help us grow; we don't realize that the disciplines must always have a root in a relationship with our Savior, which is the critical component of this communion.

In fact, it's possible to read a book like Richard Foster's seminal work from 1978 called Celebration of Discipline, nod in agreement, meet in a study group, tell people you've read the book, announce you are a prayer warrior, and even attempt to follow the instructions about prayer and fasting, among other things, but to make it all a rote exercise or purely intellectual. What's missing? Utter devotion to our Savior. Life-changing faith in Jesus.

That's what's so great about lifeblood thinking. It's not about a scheduled activity. It's not about a scripted prayer. It's not about a Sunday service ritual. It's 100 percent total abandonment to a deep and abiding relationship with Christ that always takes center stage. We can't wait to get up in the morning and meet with Jesus, because we need the spiritual energy. We can't wait to go to church, because we need a message of hope flowing through our veins. We can't wait to go out on the mission field and share our faith, because our faith was renewed that very morning. It's not about "let go and let God." It's let God, then go.

The opposite of this thought process is a little frightening and much too common: doing everything in our own strength. We connect with people at church because we're amazingly gifted socially, or we lead worship because we have a voice like an angel. We even read books (not this one though!) looking for conviction that will cause us to make changes and become a little more serious about serving, tithing more of our money, or loving others. These aren't bad things unless we focus only on the action. The phrase "there is power in the blood" means that the power comes from Christ's blood as our source of spiritual strength. Too often we focus on the action because that's what we can control. We see the immediate outcome.

I've lived that. I've picked up Christian books with the intention of being convicted enough to do something different in my life and somehow change my attitude about Christianity. It's an act of desperation, yet it's still an act—it's still something I'm trying to do instead of just seeking more communion with Christ. Yes, it's important to think about our motivations: Do we really want to learn more? Do we want to be convicted? Do we want to act differently? Do we want to think purer thoughts? Do we want to attain a new level of maturity? But all the things we try to do as Christians to grow in our faith pale in comparison to just finding a deeper bond with God. All the knowledge we can accumulate fails in comparison to developing an abiding love for a Savior. Then, when we tap in deeply, we are propelled by him, not ourselves.

How does that work? In many ways, it starts with an intentional attitude. When we cross the threshold of our churches, we should go with the attitude that we have a deep desire to tap into the lifeblood. We are there to put on our own oxygen masks and then help everyone else with theirs—after we have the power to actually impact them through Christ. We must see our personal lives, marriages, families, jobs, and churches as opportunities for us to both receive and show spiritual depth—that's the sign of a changed heart. It starts with us changing our perspectives about why we are even doing spiritual things in the first place and is followed by actions that come from a place of true devotion to God and not false allegiance.

As Christians, many of us don't like to talk about the blood of Jesus. It sounds weird. In fact, I know a few Christians who don't even like to talk about communion. A few chalk it up as an ancient ritual or an old-world superstition—something that doesn't apply anymore. They say that it's better to see communion as a thought experiment. You should remember Christ's death and resurrection. They leave out the bread and the wine (aka the grape juice). Jesus didn't really intend for us to see any real meaning behind it, they say. We're not supposed to drink anything or eat anything. Communion is more of a concept than a practice. It's no longer relevant.

I understand why people get grossed out by the idea of the body and the blood. When we read the communion passage in 1 Corinthians 11:23–26, it does seem a bit outdated or even weird:

I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death.

Wait, really? Drink the blood? Eat the body? For this reason early Christians were called cannibals. It's true that the blood of Jesus is all over the New Testament as a reminder of his sacrifice for us on the cross. Yet I think there is a second meaning that's more than mere remembrance, more than something we look back on with a fond memory.

My view is this: the blood of Jesus is supposed to be life changing. And that life-changing communion is supposed to be daily. It's not a ritual. It's a way to live our entire lives.

What if Jesus was serious in John 6:56 when he said we are to drink his blood? Not that serious—we're not supposed to be vampires. Yet the story behind this act of consuming the blood of Christ that leads to eternal life has a deeper meaning. No, we don't take the blood as a way to earn salvation. Rather, we are supposed to live as though we are exchanging our blood for his. We're supposed to act out of a changed heart, not act without first seeking him with our whole hearts. We're supposed to actually rely on the blood of Jesus.

Yes, this act of remembering is profound. But it is even more profound when we remember daily, which is what some of us have lost in our Christian journeys.

A believer once told me he was surprised people would reduce the Christian life down to a simple daily devotional and prayer life. He insisted that true maturity was more about learning the advanced teachings of Scripture. What he seemed to forget is that this "simple" devotional and prayer life is where we develop maturity. We're meeting with the God of the universe over coffee. That's more important than anything.

Here's the whole passage from John 6:53–57 that explains it all:

Jesus said to them, "Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me."

Do you have this life in you? Do you have this lifeblood? That's what this book is about. The lifeblood is about more than just an act of remembering. It's about living as though we actually believe what we are trying to remember. Lifeblood living is also more than praying a prayer of salvation. It's praying daily to live as though we have Christ's blood flowing through us and in us. The lifeblood is more than a song (as Sonicflood once sang about). It's something profound coursing through our veins in such a way that we can't help but be wholly devoted to the one who gave us lifeblood in the first place.

In addition to that, lifeblood living is an exchange. We need a daily transfusion, not just on Sundays and not just when we happen to pull out a Bible and read a verse. We get caught in this trap of thinking about the blood only when we take communion or when the pastor at church talks about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. But that's dangerous, because it's too easy for us to go back to old patterns of thought: we battle temptation, we try to do good, and we crack open the Bible on occasion. We don't accept the possibility that deep life-altering communion with Jesus is possible every minute of the day.

Wait—every minute of the day? Seriously? It doesn't make sense, right? We have jobs to do and kids to feed. There's golf on Saturday and hockey practice tomorrow night. No one can live 100 percent fully committed to Christ in every word and action. It's just not possible. But what if it is? What if the measure of true spiritual maturity is not how much we know about the Bible or how many times we go to church? What if it is more about how much we are transformed by the blood of Christ and how much we lean on him for every decision we make in life? What if the true measure of maturity is more about how much we've been totally transformed by the blood of Jesus? What could we accomplish then?

I used to struggle with the instruction in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 that says we are to "pray continually." Huh? How is that possible? Yet I've come to realize that having the lifeblood of Jesus means we really do pray constantly, because we are constantly tapped into him as the source of our spiritual fulfillment. When we are tapped into this source, we can overcome sin. We can pack our bags and head overseas and work with orphans in Uganda. We can humble ourselves enough to stop and seek forgiveness from a spouse who feels neglected.

Of course, the big question is how. We can agree with the idea of spiritual transfusion as a concept, but how do we make it a reality? It might seem like a nice idea to let Jesus guide our every decision all day long. It might seem fine to live with utter spiritual conviction. Maybe we agree with the core concept that maturity comes through the exchange of our actions, our thoughts, and our ambitions to become those of our Savior. The hard part is figuring out how to do that in a genuine way. The hard part is living that out even on the days when we feel miserable. Yet when Jesus told us that he is the bread of life, it wasn't just a nice idea.

We're supposed to believe that and live as if eating the bread is important. We're supposed to live for the bread. We're supposed to take it seriously.

Lifeblood is a way to examine the actions in our own lives against the truth of our own transfusions. Every decision, every act, every thought—they all have to be fueled by genuine transfusion. We won't ever change in any tangible ways if we don't see the act of daily communion in our lives as critically important to the Christian life. We will be stuck with the same old blood. We will sink to the bottom of the lake with spiritual hypothermia, our oxygen depleted and our souls disconnected from the only real life giver.

As tempting as it might be to jump in and start talking about the lifeblood in our churches or workplaces, the act of spiritual transfusion starts with our own thought lives. It starts with our own devotions. It can start with nothing more than our own silent, life-changing prayer in the morning or studying one passage and meditating on what it really means. As we will see, the lifeblood branches out from there to our friendships, marriages, and families and eventually to a wider circle of influence—our churches, workplaces, and communities.

*****


Lifeblood is highly personal.

Did you know that breathing and blood circulation are closely tied? When hypothermia kicks in, blood oxygen levels dip below normal. Breathing becomes difficult. A certain amount of oxygen needs to flow out to the arteries from the heart. Doctors can place a small clip on a person's finger and find out if the oxygen level is normal (about 95 percent or more). If the blood oxygen level is below 90 percent, there's a pretty serious problem: the person has hypothermia. He or she is going to die.

The same condition exists for Christians. We suffer from spiritual hypothermia when we forget to wear a spiritual oxygen mask. We can't breathe in God's Spirit, and we can't breathe out his blessing. We're blood sick. The first step in solving that problem is to breathe more deeply. We have to get personal about our spiritual transfusions before we can help anyone else.

Remember that college roommate I mentioned earlier, the one who pulled me from the lake? There's something else you need to know about him. He played a role in my spiritual transformation as well. His name is Doug Traylor. It's been thirty years since I first met him, and I've lost contact with him, but Doug made a profound impact on me.

I went to a Bible college in the Twin Cities and initially got stuck with a jock the first semester who was there to date the ladies and drink beer. I think he was confused about the purpose of Christian education.

Fortunately, he left after the Christmas break, and my RA shifted me to another room. I felt like he knew I needed the change. Doug gave me a hearty welcome, and we connected on multiple levels. He even taught me a few things on guitar. This guy also understood lifeblood. I usually woke up to the sound of the crinkling pages of his Bible turning—and turning—and turning. He studied that book relentlessly, and I wondered why he made such a fuss about it. He didn't seem to care that all that crinkling woke me up.

I tried to maintain my distance though. (After all, he was from Kentucky.) He would disappear for an evening and come back saying he had led a few people to Christ up at the mall. Wow, and he'd bought a new pair of jeans too? The guy was a rock star. Something emanated from him. I didn't know it at the time, but it was the Holy Spirit coursing through his veins. He had something. I had nothing. We were a match made in heaven. He used to tell me that I was a heathen and going to hell while smiling from ear to ear. I didn't think Christians could be that direct. Maybe it was a sign of immaturity that he could be so brash, but I'm glad he was so confrontational and made me think about all my bad choices.

One day Doug told me he was heading home for a few days. Maybe he had to feed the chickens, I'm not sure. I had the room to myself. This created the perfect setting for the Lord of the universe to pay me a visit right then and there and bring me to my knees (literally) on the dorm-room carpeting. I prayed my first real prayer ever. It went something like this: "God, I'm really sick of you hounding me. Enough already! Can you please bug someone else? I wish I had never met this guy named Doug. He's a little crazy. And who are you to— What? You want what from me? Everything? I have no idea what— My entire life? I don't know what to say. Yes? I'm ready. I want to follow you. I want to be like this Doug guy. Please?"

That was my official prayer of salvation. I still remember the rug burn. I had an open, honest conversation with the God who created me. It wasn't that I wanted knowledge like Doug had or to learn more. I wanted the same blood he had. I heard God's voice, not audibly but in a way that was even more real and vibrant. God reached down and put life into my veins.

Early in my Christian life, I felt so connected. I was plugged in. My prayer life had never been so genuine, so spontaneous, so constant. When I became a summer-camp counselor the first summer after I got saved, I led every person in my cabin to Christ every week. I led so many kids in the prayer of salvation so many times that I could almost have done it in my sleep, and I may have done just that a few times. I prayed about dating relationships, finances, the kids at camp, the camp dog—anyone and everything.

Prayer became part of my daily life. I haven't always been perfectly consistent since then. For a period of about ten years in the nineties, when I was climbing the ladder of success in the corporate world, I thought I didn't need a spiritual transfusion anymore. I didn't need to pray that often. I didn't need to spend time in the Word. I lived by remembrance of the blood, not through the blood. I acted on previous transfusions in my life. (This doesn't work too well when you are still trying to go to church and even trying share your faith with others.)

This idea of having Jesus be our lifeblood starts with just us and him. Of course, it literally starts when we give our lives to him. Spiritual transfusion is not possible for those who are not Christians. They have the wrong blood type. Stick the needle in, and nothing happens. Fortunately, for a Christian, receiving a transfusion of Christ's blood is always possible. The Spirit can move at any time and for any purpose, according to Philippians 1. In many ways we don't even have a choice. God, who started his good work in us, will "carry it on to completion" (as it says in Philippians 1:6), which means he will figure out a way to transform our thoughts and actions one way or another. It's all on him. Don't mess it up!

We have a great need for daily communion. I don't mean the sacrament of partaking of Christ's body and blood, although that could help. In the early church communion was not on the first Sunday of the month, and it didn't take place at eleven forty-five right after a condensed sermon. From what I understand, the sacrament was a habitual and common occurrence. What I mean, though, is that we have to have daily communion with God, and the only good example I have of how this works comes from my own life: I have to become real with God every morning and break bread with him. I have to pray in an intimate and honest way. I have to confess sin and express hurts. I have to open up my spiritual veins and let God do the hard work of transformation in me.

The first time I ever did this in an authentic way was in college. I used to have my devotions at night after everyone else had gone to bed. It was too hard to do them in the morning when I had to rush off to an early morning class. I used to get a big bowl of cereal and sit down with an open Bible. After pouring out the Lucky Charms, I'd pour out my soul. I'd say, "I'm hurting, God. I'm lost. I don't have a plan for what to do after college. I don't even have a plan about what to do tomorrow. I'm not getting good grades. I dropped out of another class. Who do you have picked out for me to marry? Am I even supposed to get married?"

The next day my roommates would sometimes tell me they had heard me whispering and sobbing. I'd try to explain that I'd been having my devotions, but they thought devotions took five minutes and only involved a brief reading in Our Daily Bread, if that.

I realized way back then we're supposed to be devoted during our devotions. I viewed those fifteen minutes as a way to commune with God in a vibrant and honest way. I decided I was not going to mess around. Time was short. I wanted my devotions to count.

Fast-forward thirty years, and I still have a "come to Jesus" moment every morning. I hear God speaking to me in ways I can't explain. More importantly, it's a two-way conversation. I ask questions, I talk about challenges, I admit my failings. Then I listen. This is a form of worship. I ask God to help me because I know he can answer me in times of distress.

Just recently I woke up one morning and asked God to help me with a situation that was out of my control.

Some months earlier my wife and I had decided to move. We had put our house on the market, and it had sold in a week! We did everything we could to choose a new town and new home as wisely as possible. We prayed for guidance. We looked at homes within our price range. We thought about the proximity to a local church, to friends and family, and to colleges for our kids. At the last minute, we decided to look at one more home in a town a few miles from where we had first looked, and we felt God was leading us there.

The place wasn't expensive. But we had to act quickly. We had only thirty days to move. We put an offer in and, after some back and forth, agreed to a price.

Now the hard part. I'm a writer, which means I hate crunching numbers. I'd rather crunch on some tree bark. Yet I added up the costs and fees. I asked questions. I made a plan, and it looked legit. The only catch is we had fallen a bit short of the money we needed. So I started praying—and praying.

I won't paint a picture of myself as a saint with a halo and a shepherd's staff standing by a peaceful river with a big smile on my face, waiting for God to answer. It's more like I was a shivering peasant on the roadside with a three-day beard and my hat tipped down like a hobo's, worried about what was to come next. But at least I was by the road waiting, right?

We had prepared and planned for an imminent move, and God had led us to a town that seemed like the place he wanted us to live. (We've since realized he placed us here at just the right time because it led to a new opportunity for me at a Christian college nearby, and my son also became a youth pastor close to our town.) I had worked and worked and worked—but the money was not there. All the ducks had lined up, except one that had not been very cooperative. We kept praying for an answer. Checks did start coming in, one after the other, yet I still felt stressed. It wasn't enough.

We needed one last check to arrive the week before we were to move. Again, I'm no saint. I was worried. I didn't feel the presence of God in my life. I didn't feel the lifeblood. Yet I still prayed. I bowed my head one morning that week and asked God to solve the problem.

As most of us know, banks like to see upfront cash when a person takes out a mortgage. As I walked into the foyer of the post office that day, I whispered one last time for resolution. I asked God to reveal himself to me in a way that only he could.

I'm not into health and wealth, the well-known view that God wants to provide us nice cars and good health at all times. It's a sad statement about Christianity that we try to marginalize God, the Creator of the universe, into a Santa Claus figure who just wants to hand out cash. In such a transaction who is the god anyway? We confuse the fact that God will bless us because he is a great provider, but we don't quite understand what his blessing means. It is not a BMW or good health. Sometimes it is just a whisper from him: "I got this."

That day God provided for me. The money was there at the post office. I had tapped into the lifeblood and leaned on God for understanding, even though it hadn't exactly been a smooth process. Lifeblood is like that. It's a bit messy. It's a continual transformation.

Acts 12 talks about a time when Peter was in jail. King Herod had just killed James, the brother of John. There are no details about how Peter had gotten arrested, but his imprisonment must have caused some serious stress for the early church. Peter sat in prison waiting for the inevitable, but the church started praying for him. Then an angel appeared to Peter and said to him, "Gird yourself" (Acts 12:8, NASB).

Wait, what? We won't use the word "gird" anymore. It's never used in a Facebook status update or on Instagram. It means to wrap a belt around your tunic. We don't wear tunics anymore either. But why would the angel bother to tell Peter to get dressed? What's the point? Where was this all leading? It turns out that it was leading out of the jail.

When we think about it, the instruction to "gird" ourselves reminds us that we have a role to play in our faith, right? We pray, we lean in, we whisper. We ask God to become our redeemer during those times when we really need redemption.

We need to do a lot more "girding" in our personal lives. The challenge in our marriages, the conflict with an angry boss, the temper tantrums the kids are having. We need to be "girded" for those things. And the only way to gird ourselves is to have a deeper communion with God.

Okay, how does that work? Girding is an intentional process. If you're a student, you should gird yourself before a test. If you are in business, gird yourself before a meeting. Yet we don't really do that. We just rush in to things and hope for the best. We trust in our abilities only.

Girding is more than prayer. It's any act of spiritual preparation.

It works like this: I'm an avid golfer, but I don't play the kind of golf you think. It's disc golf—a game in which players attempt to throw a disc into a basket instead of drive a ball into a hole. I play at least once a week. I might not be ready for a championship tournament, but I enjoy the exercise and the competition. Sometimes I even win. There's sweet satisfaction in chipping into the basket from fifty feet away. It helps that the sport is entirely free and few people are ever on the course.

A player can take a shot in disc golf in one of two ways. The first is the way most people shoot—no preparation and no strategy. They pick up the disc and let it fly. They don't take the game that seriously because it all seems so trivial—and it's free. A player can decide to stop playing on any hole—which my son does on occasion—and just get a Dairy Queen. It doesn't really matter that much. It's just disc golf. It's just a game. Then there is the way I shoot. To me it's more than a game. I take each shot seriously. I plan what I want to do. I plant my feet, practice my swing, and check the wind conditions. I look for obstacles in my way and what the brush looks like around the basket.

Then I launch the disc. Whoa! Results.

When I plan the throw and think about the consequences, my shot turns out much better. When I fall back into old habits and don't plan anything, my shot goes awry. The spiritual life is like that. As Christians, we often don't plan our approach. In many ways, because we dive right in, we end up failing. We spin our wheels. We get caught up in the world. We sin.

How can you gird yourself today? How can you make sure you are making decisions and acting under the direction of the Spirit in a vibrant way? It starts and ends with prayer. That communion we have with God is a channel, a conduit. It's meant to give us strength.

In the end, the reason we have to focus on our relationship with Christ—to pray continually, to see everything in life as flowing out of a deeper commitment to him—is this: so God gets the glory. When we have the lifeblood in us, others will know that there is only one possible reason we can do anything worthwhile.

When we just go through the motions of the Christian life, on the other hand, they see us—they see our abilities. They give us the glory, not God. We don't live differently from others, we just convince people that we have a spiritual bent and talk like committed Christians. We are good at mimicking the way we're supposed to live, yet we lack depth. When hard times come, the spiritual blood in our veins is so thin that we collapse in a heap. Our energy runs out because we are doing all that spiritual stuff in our own power and ability.

Want more power? First make a personal commitment to commune with God—put the oxygen mask on yourself. Then the lifeblood in you will move to a wide circle of influence: your friends, your marriage, your church, and beyond.


Principles for the Lifeblood in Our Personal Lives

Our intimate relationship with Christ is by far the most important one if we are interested in lifeblood living. That's why it's crucial to take some time to consider the following eight principles that will guide us to a deeper "blood level" faith, a lifeblood faith.

1. Listen up. God is speaking to us. Did you read that correctly? Yes, you did. The God of the universe has something to tell each of us daily through his Word and the voice of the Holy Spirit. When God talks, it's a good idea for us to listen. Lifeblood means eternity has invaded our hearts, so we need to make sure we pay attention.

2. Invest often. This listening is an investment. We must tune our ears to it. Tune our souls to it. When we decide to pursue intimacy with God, we need to make an investment and make it a routine. A sure sign that we want to have lifeblood in our veins is that we become consistent about time with God.

3. Go deep. Intimacy and depth are closely related. When we go to the doctor, we don't just get a pin prick when we need a blood test. The doctor draws a sample—he goes deep. We need to reveal to God what we need to reveal—we must confess our sin. We also have to be ready to expose our deepest longings and hurts.

4. Enjoy God's presence. Once we are at a place of deep surrender, it's okay to bask in the glow of the Savior's love. We can let it overwhelm us; let it consume us. We should live in the moment with the Spirit.

5. Bring the hurt. I mentioned how we should share our hurts. God is listening. Part of the process of going deeper in our communion with Christ is being honest and real, exposing what needs to be exposed, letting his love cover our hurts.

6. Open up. We need to be real about our ambitions, our goals, our plans. We must let God direct them and be careful to avoid letting our plans interfere with his mission.

7. Offer praise. We should thank the Savior for invading our bloodstream, for transforming who we are and what we will become by his grace. We need to praise him for the transformative work he is doing in us.

8. Decide to change. We must let the lifeblood flow. Get personal. Pray continually. When we do, we will become ready to move on to other relationships in life, including our close friends, our spouses, and our kids.

Study Questions

1. Where have you seen the lifeblood in your personal relationship to Christ?

2. What's one change you could make to encourage more lifeblood daily?

3. Was there a time when lifeblood was thin in your life? How did you make changes?

4. What are the most important ways to encourage lifeblood flow?

5. What's the most recent example of the Holy Spirit guiding you?

6. Is it easy to have lifeblood in your veins? Why or why not?

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