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 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.

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