Sample Chapters: Live Deeply

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Introduction

I’ve changed.

I’m not the person I once was.

In my twenties I was primarily focused on my purpose. My goal was to discover why God had given me the gifts, skills, personality and opportunities I had been given. I wanted to ensure that I lived from a sense of calling, that I was clear about my assignment and that I was moving forward with a clear sense of purpose.

In my thirties my focus began to shift. I started to concentrate on my performance. I wanted to be the very best leader I possibly could be. I wanted to be better than those around me. I became consumed with numbers and statistics. Those numbers and statistics informed my identity; how I felt about myself.

In my forties something changed. I began to focus on presence. God’s presence. My primary goal became the creation of a way of life and an approach to leadership, where the pursuit of the presence of God became my ‘one thing’. I started to create healthy rhythms where I would arrange my life around practices and activities that fostered a deeper intimacy with God. To be clear, I still had a definite sense of purpose and a God-given assignment. I still worked hard and wanted to maximise the gifts and opportunities I had been given. But there became a less-than-subtle change in how I tried to live and lead.

Performance-driven leadership has its benefits. It gets the job done. The organisation advances. It elevates the leader into the limelight. The leader gets the applause. It creates energy, momentum and movement.

But there’s a dark side too.

When I was solely performance-driven, I found my mood going up and down depending on the stats. I found my drive for excellence easily tipped over into perfectionism, and I became easily irritated when my performance (or the performance of others) wasn’t faultless. I found that I would be drawn into comparison and competition with other leaders, other churches and other organisations. I would get the job done, but my heart suffered.

Learning to live a presence-led life has changed me. It’s changed how I lead. I’m learning to stay in my lane and love the assignment I’ve been given, rather than comparing my calling to the guy or girl who has greater influence than me. I’m learning how to lead from a posture that is devoid of fear, panic and striving. I’m learning to be the non-anxious presence in the room. I’m learning to live from a foundation of gratitude and thanksgiving, rather than complaint and grumbling.

I’m learning to live deeply.

In Luke 6:40, Jesus taught that His followers go through a process of growth until they are ‘fully trained’. He hinted that there are stages of discipleship where a person moves from ‘starting out’ to ‘partially trained’ to ‘fully mature’. We should not be surprised that we don’t arrive at full maturity overnight. In fact, that goal may never be completely realised. But as the years pass, and as we become increasingly surrendered to the Father’s will, we engage in a slow process of becoming more like His Son, Jesus. It takes time.

That’s been my story. After a couple of decades of pursuing lesser goals, I set my heart on something of greater value. I had become increasingly concerned about the incongruity of trying to lead people into the depths while I was paddling around in the shallows. I could hear the invitation of the Father to go deeper. I started to find ways to order my life around what matters most. I tried to figure out how to live a life that was in line with my deepest desires. I began to learn what it looks like to live deeply.

I wrote this book at the commencement of my fifties. I am a long way from being ‘fully trained’, but I have also taken a few steps toward maturity. Although I am a leader, and from time to time I will write from a leader’s perspective, I am primarily a follower. I am a disciple. And so this book is written for followers. It is written as an invitation to those who want to know God deeply and serve Him fully, with hearts that have been shaped by His presence. It is written for those who long for something more.

This book wasn’t written just to be read. It was written to be reflected upon and even discussed. Some readers may choose to pull out their journal after each chapter, reflect on the content and then scribble down their thoughts. Others may prefer to read the book with a small group of friends and then discuss their observations, share the ideas in the book that create resonance or resistance in their hearts, and then pray for each other. Whether you’re reflecting or discussing, I’ve added a short prayer and some questions at the end of each chapter that are designed to be a springboard from which you can dive into deep waters!

What is offered here is not a comprehensive vision of the deeper life; it is my simple observations and experiences of what it takes to step out of the shallows and into deeper waters. I pray you’ll sense the smile of your heavenly Father over you and that your heart will be ‘strangely warmed’[1] as you hear His invitation into a new way of living.

 

Live Deeply

As I write these words, our world is still feeling the effects of the many challenges that a global pandemic brought. Of course, COVID-19 had a profound impact upon almost all spheres of our society. Education, healthcare, social care, financial markets, hospitality, retail and many other sectors failed to escape the reach of the pandemic.

Since I spend a large proportion of my life in church-world, I have found myself having multiple conversations about the effects of the pandemic on local churches and on the faith of those who follow Christ. There were many predictions that people would leave the Faith, leave the Church and leave orthodox Christian teaching. As I listened to those projections, I started to wonder what would be the defining characteristics of resilient Christians. Those who would remain faithful and fruitful in the aftermath of the pandemic.

I should be clear about what I mean when I use the word ‘resilient’. Before the pandemic I would picture a resilient person as being a bit like a brick wall. Immoveable, unshakeable, they just stand firm. In recent times I’ve changed the analogy. I’ve started to see the resilient person as being like a tree that can be blown around in a storm but, because of its deep roots, it can bounce back to its original shape and position once the strong winds have passed. I’ve started to ask myself what followers of Jesus can do that will increase their levels of resilience in a time of great pressure and upheaval.

At the point of asking those questions, I found myself reading the New Testament letter of 1 John in my personal devotions. It was written at a time in history when people were also leaving the Faith, leaving the Church and being tempted to abandon sound doctrine. The apostle John takes the opportunity to write to those early believers and teach them how to live a resilient life.

I find Eugene Peterson’s rendering of these verses so helpful:

Stay with what you heard from the beginning, the original message. Let it sink into your life. If what you heard from the beginning lives deeply in you, you will live deeply in both Son and Father. This is exactly what Christ promised: eternal life, real life!
Live deeply in what you were taught.
And now, children, stay with Christ. Live deeply in Christ.
(1 John 2:24-28, The Message, my emphasis)

John writes to a fledgling church, to new believers who are under significant pressure to walk away and quit the Faith. His advice is both profound and embarrassingly simple: ‘Live deeply.’

Their resilience in the storm was dependent on each of them living deeply.

Now, let me be honest with you. I have an uncomfortable relationship with that word ‘deep’. First, because almost every pastor I know has been criticised by members of their congregation because their preaching isn’t deep enough. Even the greatest preachers throughout history would testify to congregants approaching them to ask for ‘deeper teaching’. I’ve been there too.

I have also arrived at a conclusion that when people ask for deep teaching, they really want to hear something they don’t understand so that, after the sermon is finished, they can turn to the person they came to church with and say, ‘I didn’t understand a word of that. It was so deep!’

For me, the request for deep teaching has become an occupational hazard, and when someone thanks me for preaching a simple message that everyone can understand, I secretly think to myself, ‘Oh no! I’m not deep enough!’

And second, I feel uncomfortable with the word ‘deep’ because I know that one of my greatest temptations in my walk with the Lord can be summed up by two words that are the opposite of deep: shallow and skimming.

I have found that it is possible to live such a full and busy life with so many distractions that my spiritual life, and specifically my devotional life, can become dangerously shallow and I end up skimming the surface of what should be a deep relationship with God.

As I reflect on my childhood, I have many fond memories of visiting British seaside locations for summer family holidays. Annually, my dad would help me scour the beach for the flattest stones and would then teach me to throw them at maximum speed so that the flat surface of the stone would skim along the surface of the sea, and we would then count how many times it would bounce before it disappeared from sight.

It’s a perfect picture of one of my greatest temptations.

And I don’t think it’s just me.

Our lives become so full of activity, with so many digital distractions, that we end up reading our Bibles like we’re scrolling social media, we end up praying like we’re creating a soundbite, and we end up building a surface-level relationship with our Father in a rush. It means that the words ‘shallow’ and ‘skimming’ accurately define our connection with God.

And yet, John tells us that if we are to live a resilient life, we must live deeply.

So what did John actually mean when he wrote, ‘live deeply’? Well, if we look at the same text in a different version of the Bible, it may help us:

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in him.
And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.
(1 John 2:26-28, NIVUK, my emphasis)

For John, living deeply requires us to prioritise these two things. Remain in Christ. Continue in Christ.

To remain in Christ describes an intentional lifestyle where we rearrange our lives to deepen our connection with Him. It’s all about staying close to Jesus.

To continue in Christ describes a desire for our character and our conduct to be shaped by His presence in our lives. It’s all about becoming more like Jesus.

That’s what it means to live deeply.

And before we go any further, I should be crystal clear: deep is not the same as serious. Deep does not equal boring. Deep does not equate to legalistic, sombre, pessimistic or solemn. People who are living deeply are usually joyful, content, creative and at peace. Deep people love to celebrate and sing. In fact, they are often found with a smile on their faces because they have a relationship with the happiest Being in the universe!

Deep people have learned to ‘remain’ and ‘continue’ in Him.

And that’s what the focus of this book will be. Later we’ll be unpacking what it means to ‘continue in him’ by examining four heart postures that are required of us if we are to live deeply in this world with the character of Christ. But first, we’ll dig into what it means to ‘remain in him’ and how that can produce a deep life.

Of course, when John instructed those under-pressure believers to ‘remain in him’, he was only repeating a command that he had heard from Jesus; an instruction he recorded in his Gospel:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
(John 15:4)

It’s a strange-sounding directive, isn’t it? It may be helpful to offer alternative wording that helps reveal the original meaning:

Stay joined to me (John 15:4, ERV)
Live in me (John 15:4, GW)
Make your home in me (John 15:4, The Message)

Or even:

… connected to Me (John 15:4, VOICE)

Each translation suggests that our spiritual depth and vitality is wholly dependent upon us recalibrating our lives so that we have a life-giving attachment to Jesus.

More than a decade ago now, my wife Helen and I trained as foster carers with our local city council, eventually becoming adoptive parents. During that process we were taught about ‘attachment theory’ and the importance of a child having a secure base from which they then live their lives with confidence. My basic understanding of the theory is that from an early age, a child needs to develop strong emotional connections with significant caregivers (usually their parents), so that they grow up knowing that they are loved, safe, secure and valued. It is from that attachment they can love others, build healthy relationships, act with courage and take appropriate risks. It is the attachment that enables a child to live a well-rounded life.

I believe that what happens in the physical is often mirrored in the spiritual. If we are going to live full and abundant lives (John 10:10), it will require an intentional attachment to Christ. And the obvious question is, ‘How do I do that? How do I strengthen my connection to Jesus so that I move away from a lifestyle of skimming and into living deeply?’

Well, in the following chapters I’ll share with you some practical suggestions that I hope will answer those questions, but before I do, let me paint you a picture of what that intentional intimacy looks like.

In fact, it’s not my picture (and it’s not even Leonardo da Vinci’s!), it’s John’s. In chapter 13 of his Gospel, John paints the picture of the Last Supper. Jesus is talking to His disciples about what is to come. He talks about His betrayal and His sacrifice. It’s incredibly upsetting and confusing for those who have given up everything to follow Him. There is a storm that’s about to blow through their lives.

Where is John at that moment?

He is ‘leaning back against Jesus’ (John 13:25).

At a time of great upheaval, John is leaning back on Jesus’ chest. He can hear His heartbeat. He feels the warmth of Jesus’ body next to his. He is looking out into the world from the perspective of his closeness to Christ.

I believe that this is an almost perfect picture of what ‘remaining in him’ looks like. It’s a wonderful depiction of living deeply. Leaning back on Jesus, so that the peace in our hearts matches the peace in His heart.

We are not leaning back on our news reports.

We are not leaning back on our social media feeds.

We are not leaning back on the opinions of critics.

We are not even leaning back on the things in our lives that are good but are also prone to unexpected change.

We are leaning back against Jesus.

And here’s something I find quite remarkable. While John leans back on Jesus, Jesus is leaning back against His Father.

Here’s what John writes at the start of his Gospel:

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
(John 1:18, NLT, my emphasis)

Similar sentiments that are used to describe John leaning back against Jesus are also used to describe Jesus leaning back against His Father’s chest. It appears that John was as close to Jesus as Jesus was close to the Father.

And if that is true, the implications for us are huge.

John was just as human as we are, and yet he experienced a close connection to Jesus that enabled him to live deeply. I believe we can do the same.

I hear some of you saying, ‘That’s OK for John. He knew Jesus in the flesh. He could actually, physically, lean against Jesus. I can’t do that.’

Well, I am going to suggest you can! In fact, I’ve designed the chapters that follow to show you how. I’ve written them as an invitation to ordinary people like me and you to step out of the shallows and into the depths. An invitation to create a lifestyle of intentional intimacy with Christ. An invitation to prioritise life-producing rhythms that bring us closer to Jesus.

And so, before we turn the page, let’s determine to:

Lean back.

Remain in Him.

And live deeply.

Heavenly Father, I hear Your invitation to leave the shallows and step into the deep water. I am dissatisfied with skimming. I need something more. Take me deeper. I want to make my home in You.
Amen.

For reflection/discussion

  • What is your understanding of resilience? What are the defining characteristics of a resilient person?
  • What is your current understanding of spiritual ‘depth’?
  • In what ways do the words ’shallow’ and ‘skimming’ resonate with you when you assess your current relationship with God? Or do they create a resistance within you? Why/why not?
  • Using your own words, how would you describe remaining in Christ and continuing in Christ?

[1] As John Wesley found. See www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/journal.vi.ii.xvi.html (accessed 31st August 2023).

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  • Duncan Clark

    Duncan Clark is the Senior Pastor of the Elim Pentecostal Church in Coventry where he has served for over twenty...

  • Live Deeply

    Duncan Clark

    Live Deeply offers an enticing challenge to leave faith’s shallows behind and to launch out into deep waters with God. Accessible and reflective, it invites you to put down deep roots in Christ – to ‘remain’ in Him – and to allow your character and conduct to be shaped by His presence – to ‘continue’...