Podcast

Episode 139 – John Mark Comer, The Elimination of Hurry

Some book titles just say it all. Ready for this one? The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: Staying Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in Our Current Chaos. Who on earth doesn’t need every page of that!? To talk about his book is author and pastor, John Mark Comer. Today, he and Jessica talk about what life in lockdown taught us about protecting our time. And what some of our newfound gains in rest and margin can teach us about living in the new normal.

TRANSCRIPT

Jessica: Hey, everyone! Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact  fashion brand Noonday Collection. Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.

Okay, today’s guest is actually one of the big inspirations behind this series, “Decide, Don’t Slide,” John Mark Comer.

He’s the author of the wildly popular book, “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World.”  If you haven’t read it yet, you’re going to want to read it, because this is the time to anchor and hold on to and protect any sort of gain that you got around rest.

You’re going to hear from him. I asked him, “What’s the one thing you would counsel someone who is beginning to practice the way, practice these spiritual practices, what would it be?”  And he’s like, “Rest. Take a nap.”

I think it’s so important for us to identify what is rest, what does bring restoration. And if we can lean into that, that is what can truly change our lives. I believe that. And I believe that that is one of the main practices that is missing for modern-day Americans.

We had such a great conversation, as you will hear. We have a lot of similar interests, and he is a Richard Foster fan. And when I read his book, I was like, “This is a modern-day Richard Foster book.” Richard Foster  was hugely influential in my own life. He wrote books around spiritual disciplines.

You know, I’m an Enneagram 7. We talk about the Enneagram on this podcast, which was super fun. And I think because we are known as sort of living outside the lines and having a hard time saying “no,” I’ve always been drawn to boundaries and practices that kind of create boundaries for me. I know that I need that, and when I’m living into that, I am a much healthier person.

So, we talk about that, our love for Richard Foster, and we talk a little bit about monasticism, guys. Modern-day monasticism. That might be something new that you didn’t know about me.

Are you a fellow modern-day, desiring the monastic modern-day life?

I have often wondered, “What’s my last chapter going to be? You know, my last 30 years. And, man, if it was living the modern-day monastic life as we describe it, even John Mark’s movement he’s starting — I would be all in!

So, do I have any fellow searchers out there who would wanna do this with me.

I’m curious. I’m super curious. Let me know on Instagram. Although, usually you know, modern-day monastics are not on Instagram, that’s what makes them probably healthier human beings. But if you are, I am so curious if you have the same interest, because we should gather up. We should start talking to each other.

Alright, this is a really great conversation with John Mark Comer. Let’s give it a listen.

 

John Mark Comer: The Elimination of Hurry 

Jessica: Al right. John Mark Comer, so excited to have you on the show. It’s great to finally meet you. And for someone who values time as much as you do, I know that this is a weighty “yes” that you’ve said to come serve our audience today. So, thank you for that.

John: No, it’s an absolute joy and honor to join in your conversation. Based on what I hear you’re talking about, it sounds, right up my alley.

Jessica: Yes, it is. Okay. So, we share the same publisher, and your publisher sent me "The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry,"  I think, a couple months before it came out. And as I skimmed it, it absolutely grabbed my attention because Richard Foster. I love Richard Foster.

John: Yes, come on.

Jessica: He is my man. He played such a formative role in my own "Spiritual Formation," "Freedom of Simplicity," "Celebration of Discipline." And so, I’m like this is… we’ve been needing a modern-day version of this. And he ended up speaking…

John: Oh, that warms my heart. I, like, dream of becoming like a wannabe Richard Foster. That’s like warms my heart.

Jessica: No, that is exactly my takeaway. And I actually ended up going to one of his early day conferences called Renovaré. And he prayed for me and spoke some of the most prophetic words over my entire life that anyone has ever. And I was not expecting that from a little Quaker guy. I mean, he’s like the short Quaker man. And, I mean, he came. I mean, it was, yeah, powerful, powerful.

John: Wow, what a gift. It’s so interesting. Aside, I was recently in of all places in Wichita, Kansas, at Friends University, and I was doing some teaching in their graduate program. Long story short, did an interview with James Bryan Smith, who was kind of younger but was kind of a mentee to Richard Foster, and Dallas Willard, and those guys. And I’m starting a new nonprofit called Practicing the Way, which is all about creating discipleship resources for the Western Church.
So, I asked him, "Hey, like, would you pray for me?" Because he was there when they started Renovaré. So he took me into the room where he, Dallas Willard, and Richard Foster signed the, like, incorporation papers for the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that became Renovaré. And he stuck me in the Dallas Willard chair, which is literally a chair that has the logo on it, and I asked him to pray a prayer of impartation over my life that what they carried, God would allow me to pick up their baton and carry it for the next generation. That was a cool moment for me.

“I asked him to pray a prayer of impartation over my life that what they carried, God would allow me to pick up their baton and carry it for the next generation.” John Mark Comer 

Jessica: Oh, I have chills. That’s crazy because he really spoke with commissioning over my life. He didn’t know me at all, and he said, "Never scorn the rich. Never glorify the poor. Walk in the Holy Spirit." And he kind of said, like, there’s a Mother Teresa’s spirit here where she was unaware whether she was with the rich or whether she was with the poor. She was a bridge between the two. And that’s what I’m doing with my life. I mean, this was when I was 22. It was the craziest thing. Your book, I just felt like a kindred soul. So then I started stalking you as we do on the internet.

John: First off, can we just talk about the fact that you skimmed my book on slowing down?

Jessica: No, no, no. Listen.

John: That’s not a criticism. It makes me feel more human. So, thank you for that.

Jessica: Well, I’m a seven on the Enneagram. But listen, I did not skim your book. Listen, I’ve gone on now thanks to you. I camped out in "Never in Lack," the Dallas Willard book, the Psalm 23. I’ve basically taken your reading list. And so, no, I’m a reader.

John: Oh, good.

Jessica: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I’m a reader.

John: You got under Rolheiser. You’re reading Rolheiser.

Jessica: Yes, I am. I haven’t resonated quite as deeply as Willard. I also got "Live Not by Lies." Is that one of the things you…?

John: That would be Rod Dreher’s book.

Jessica: Yes.

John: It’s different though. It’s in a very different vein but yes.

 

A Patchwork Spiritual Journey 

Jessica: Okay. Anyway, lots of things. I’m following you. I started listening to your podcast, your sermon series, and I’m like you’ve got a daughter from Uganda, and we have a son from Rwanda, and you live in Portland, and we live in Austin. So, when I think of my own spiritual journey, I think of it as this beautiful patchwork quilt. And, I mean, I grew up a Episcopalian. I’ve been influenced by Quakers. I was part of a super hippy-dippy Holy Spirit prophetic church in college, and then I ended up marrying an Anabaptist from the Midwest who was part of a tiny offshoot of Mennonites. So I have…

John: Gosh, that’s crazy. Of all the things!

Jessica: I have this crazy… Of all the things. And then I start getting to know your background. That’s how I wanted to start off is what is your spiritual quilt? Because I see you as this, like, contemplative, justice-oriented, Bible-believing with a dash of monasticism, a love of certain aspects of a Catholicism, a giant dose of Holy Spirit prophetic throne in there and I’m like, "He’s got this quilt, and I don’t meet many people that have quilts." So, tell me how your quilt came to be.

John: Yeah. I mean, I didn’t grow up in that stuff at all. My parents are first-generation followers of Jesus. I grew up in the Bay Area of California. Quintessential story, my dad was playing in a rock band in the late ’60s, and his girlfriend invited him to a Billy Graham crusade. He found himself walking down the aisle to receive Christ at the end. And started going to this church in Silicon Valley now and started playing drums for the choir, and ended up as the worship pastor, and became a pastor like quint beautiful kind of 1960s, ’70s Jesus movement story.

Jessica: I love those Jesus movement people.

John: Oh, come on. So, anyway. But it wasn’t so much the hippie Jesus movement thing. It was a little bit more… So I grew up in one of the first mega-churches in America kind of that West Coast non-denominational Bible church. That was kind of the movement I came up in. It wasn’t full-on cessationist. They would say open but cautious, which basically means closed to the Holy Spirit. That’s a little finicious. I don’t mean that in a slam. But not very much but just kind of very suburban evangelical West Coast kind of theological stream. I didn’t discover any. So, very strong Christian home but very much that kind of one stream of the church.

And I didn’t come into the other stuff until much later partially through Willard and Foster who were such a gift in that they were ahead of their time. Now this is much more normative. But in that they were both theologically very orthodox. I mean, Willard grew up as a Baptist. But yet they were ecumenical in the best sense of that word. Some people say ecumenical and all they actually mean is like unitarian or liberal. They were actually ecumenical, like the broad stream of the church, not just around the world, but down through history. Especially for Foster, that was a major part of his life work was reintroducing the ancients to kind of late modern Western Christians in the protestant or evangelical traditions that were still living off of the kind of animosity of the Protestant-Catholic divide a couple of 100 years ago.

So, I think through… they were maybe my gateway drug , whatever. And now, yeah, just deeply influenced by old school, not modern at all, but like 19th century Quakerism, Anabaptist kind of Sermon on the Mount, discipleship life and community. Jesus was a teacher. He didn’t just die for us. He lived for us, and he taught us how to live as well. He taught us how to die as well. Deeply influenced at a theological level by Eastern orthodoxy. Like probably theologically, I look nothing like an Eastern orthodox priest. I couldn’t grow a beard if I wanted to. There are no icons in my house. I don’t wear black robes, just black t-shirts. But theologically, their kind of way of… Really, they’re the modern kind of descendants of the desert fathers and mothers of the third and fourth century.

“I’m just deeply influenced by old school, not modern at all, but like 19th century Quakerism, Anabaptist kind of Sermon on the Mount, discipleship life and community. Jesus was a teacher. He didn’t just die for us. He lived for us, and he taught us how to live as well.” John Mark Comer 

So, really, very much a lover of that kind of whole tradition kind of going back to the New Testament itself and then through the desert of Egypt in the third and fourth century and through the monastic movement in Celtic Ireland, in Italy, in Syria, in Egypt, in North Africa, and then kind of coming to us now through the Eastern orthodox tradition where they’ve really just been the stewards of the best of the contemplative tradition, which has brought me such great life.

But also deeply influenced by my friends in the UK through the charismatic renewal there and the way that they have opened me up to the full breadth of the Holy Spirit. And I live in a Western secular progressive city. And so, I’m deeply influenced by some cultural thinkers like my friend Mark Sayers, or fellow pastors like John Tyson in New York City, or elder statesman like Tim Keller who are just thinking critically in the best sense of the word about Western culture and are exegeting both Scripture but also exegeting the secular narratives that we’re all swimming in to help us kind of sift through and find a way to life.

Jessica: I love it. I love it. I hope you’ve gotten to be friends with Andy Crouch . He’s become a good friend of mine, and he loves Eastern orthodoxy.

John: Genius.

Jessica: He’s my guy. I love him.

John: And he’s a great example too of somebody that’s so theologically sound but yet is… Theologically promiscuous is not the right word.

Jessica: Ecumenical in spirit.

John: He’s ecumenical in the best sense of that word. He’s able to pull what’s still orthodox but from all different streams of the church and even eras in church history.

 

Abiding by a Rule of Life 

Jessica: Yes, it’s so refreshing. I love it. So, I’m reading your book. And by the way, I skimmed it, and then I deeply read it, and underlined it, and dog-eared it, and got my husband a copy, and he read it.

John: It’s okay. I’m just messing with you because it’s too fun not to.

Jessica: No, no, no. Sometimes when I read these spiritual discipline kind of rule of life books, I’m like, "Where does this person live?" And then I’m like, "Oh, okay, he’s urban. Like, his life is full. He’s not just, like, off in, like, the Olympic National Park." But when I think of rule of life, I mean, that’s really to me what the book is about. And first of all, could you just break down what a rule of life is? How would you describe that?

John: Yeah. I would define a rule of life as a schedule and a set of practices and relational rhythms that organize our entire life around abiding in Jesus, living in community, and following the deepest desires of our heart.

Jessica: I love that last part.

John: So, that’s ancient language, not modern language. Well, first, two things need to be said. One is you always have to start with why. Rule of life is a how conversation. So unless if somebody’s been captivated…

Jessica: Right. True, I went right to the how.

John: No, that’s great. It’s great for me. But just for listeners, you have to start with the why. My book on hurry, the first half of the book is all me trying to paint the most compelling picture I can possibly think of for an unhurried life where you slow down to the pace of Jesus. The second half of the book, which is about rule of life and four kind of counter practices from the way of Jesus, is all how. It’s all pragmatic like, "All right. If you wanna do this, here’s how you go from just reading a book and feeling aspirational to actually habituating it into your muscle memory and changing your life from the inside out through partnership with God called discipleship."

So, rule of life is in the second half of that conversation. And if you’re not familiar with that language, I never heard any of that language growing up not until, like, my 30s. Rule of life is ancient language, not modern. It’s very important that you catch that. It’s rule singular, not rules plural, so not rules for life. Don’t think of a list of rules of dos and don’ts. A rule of life. The Latin word is regula. In fact, early, early on before Saint Benedict in the sixth century, way of life and rule of life were used interchangeably. So, your way of life was just your way of following Jesus. And that’s how more and more I think about discipleship to Jesus.

It’s about creating a lifestyle that is designed to facilitate, in Eastern orthodox language, union with God and theosis. Like, deep transformation into the image of Jesus through experiencing his love in prayer and community.

So, rule of life, the later word in Latin was regula. It’s where we get English words like regular or ruler. It meant a straight piece of wood. A lot of historians think that, we don’t know for sure, it was the word used in the ancient kind of Latin Mediterranean for a trellis in a vineyard, which would be really cool because of Jesus teaching on abiding. That’s how you bear much fruit. This is word picture for spiritual formation. Through abiding in Christ, we bear the fruit of the Spirit. If you think about a vineyard… wine country’s not far from where I live in Portland. A vine has to have a trellis, a support structure under it to hold it up off the ground, to index growth in a certain direction, to keep it away from disease and wild animals, and to get it up in the sun in order for it to reach its full potential.

If you just have a vine growing in the mud, it’s going to bear a fraction of the fruit that is capable of. And it’s gonna be really vulnerable to disease, wild animals, getting stepped on, all that kind of stuff. In the same way, our abiding in Jesus, our discipleship to Jesus, needs a trellis. It needs a support structure to hold our life up, to index our growth in the right direction, to keep us from sin, temptation, vulnerabilities, stuff like that, and to really just increase our capacity for growth. And that’s what a rule of life is. It’s like a trellis is to a vineyard, a rule of life is to your discipleship to Jesus.

“Our abiding in Jesus, our discipleship to Jesus, needs a trellis. It needs a support structure to hold our life up, to index our growth in the right direction, to keep us from sin, and to really just increase our capacity for growth.” John Mark Comer 

Jessica: It’s such helpful imagery. And I am skipping straight to the end just because of our series, which is called "Decide, Don’t Slide." But everyone has got to go get this book, "The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry" because you do make it so approachable, and I think that’s what’s so important.

Now, I’m not gonna lie, I went and googled — I am so embarrassed at how much I am admitting to you on the podcast and for our listeners, how much I stalked you on the internet. This is super embarrassing. But anyway, I can’t believe I’m telling you this. I googled, “ What Enneagram number is John Mark Comer?”

John: No.

Jessica: That’s in my search engine. It’s embarrassing.

John: Did the internet reveal my deepest, darkest secrets?

Jessica: The internet told me you were a one. Was the internet correct?

John: How did the internet know that?

Jessica: The internet knew, John. Yeah.

John: Well, yes, the internet is correct, which is ironic because I actually have a love-hate relationship with the Enneagram, and I’m kind of old school. Like, before it was popularized and monetized, you weren’t actually allowed to tell people your Enneagram number. That was against the code.

Jessica: Oh, I know.

John: And there are all sorts of really good reasons for that that, I think, we shouldn’t tell each other our numbers for all sorts of reasons. But apparently, the internet knows mine. There’s no point to keep it a secret now.

Jessica: The internet knows yours.

John: It’s out there.

 

Take a Breath, Rest, and Repeat 

Jessica: Okay. But here’s why. My husband is an Enneagram one, and I call him Jesus with skin on. He just takes care of things. He takes care of our family, our home, our lives, and he has no problem with discipline. He wakes up in the morning at 5:30. He prays. He reads his Bible. He makes the kids lunches if we go on vacation, and he indulges. The moment we get on the plane, he’s like drinking water and eating healthy again. I mean, I’m just like, "This isn’t fair." Sometimes I’m like, "Oh, well, Enneagram’s ones, they’re able to kind of follow the rules." You just have an easier time.

John: Right. Yeah, but rules become our prison.

Jessica: They can.

John: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know your husband. He sounds amazing. I just saw somebody say recently there are two types of sinners, rule breakers and rule keepers. It’s the story of the Prodigal Son, which is a misreading. It’s actually the story of the prodigal sons, and arguably, it’s actually mostly about the older brother, not the younger brother. And the idea is that both of them are lost. The rule breaker, the younger brother, who’s the one that was sermonized in my generation is lost. And so is the older brother who stayed at home but wouldn’t go into the party because he was full of resentment, which is the cardinal sin of an Enneagram one. Tomorrow’s my birthday, and I had a little birthday party with a friend, and they gave me the kindest affirmation. And this is gonna sound like a complisult , but it was the deepest compliment. They said, "You’re like if the older brother in Jesus parable got his act together."

Jessica: Oh, I love it.

John: I was like, "Yes, that’s it."

Jessica: He came to the party.

John: Because I am so the older brother, rule-following, responsible, faithful, arrogant, full of resentment, judgmentalism, pharisetical, self-righteous, tortured by my own neurotic rule-breaking, perfectionistic — that’s my lostness. And so I need to come to the party just like the younger brother.

Jessica: Come to the party where all the sevens are hanging out, which is what I am. So, and you kind of level it down to silence and solitude. I’m coming back to the real-life, guys. My listeners are used to my Enneagram seven bunny trails or rabbit holes, however you wanna call it.

John: Hey, this Enneagram one is integrating to health through them. So, no apologies there.

Jessica: So you’re tracking. Okay. I’m glad you’re tracking.

John: I’m tracking.

Jessica: So, silence and solitude, Sabbath, simplicity, and slowing. I am curious. If you are talking to a beginner, someone who maybe is just introduced to the way of Jesus, and you’re sitting down with her on her first day kind of walking with Jesus. I’m gonna ask you to play favorites. What’s kind of the first rule you’re gonna point her towards?

John: Yeah. Well, I mean, with everything, start where you’re at, go slowly, practice, not performance. You’re not earning anything. You’re just enjoying the love of God. Honestly, the starting place for all spiritual formation is desire. So the first thing I would do is just wanna help her or him tap into the deepest desires of their heart. Not the surface desire of their hearts to go shopping, or watch Netflix, or yell at somebody, but the deepest desires of their heart to experience God’s love, to become a person of love, to live deeply meaningful in life and relationships, to be present to the moment, to be full of wonder, and gratitude, and joy, and peace, the deepest desires. I would try to help her just get in touch with those, feel those, let them kind of come up in her bodily awareness.

Then I would start with rest. I would say, "Don’t even try…" I mean, obviously, prayer, reading Scripture, going to church, these are killer things. I would start by, "Why don’t you take a week and see if you can sleep nine hours every night this week. And why don’t you see if you can take a day or two and turn off your phone and just rest, and sleep, nap, and do a few things that are life-giving for you." Most of us live in a perpetual state of exhaustion, overload, and chronic anxiety. That’s not a great place to begin the spiritual journey from.

“Most of us live in a perpetual state of exhaustion, overload, and chronic anxiety. That’s not a great place to begin the spiritual journey from.” John Mark Comer 
I would start with desire. First thing I would do is not do anything, rest, which is how the Genesis story starts. The first thing that Adam and Eve do on the day they are created is Sabbath, and there’s a whole theological lesson there, anthropological lesson there, the week starts, creation starts with Sabbath. You work from a place of rest, not for a place of rest. Sabbath is the foundation. It is not a break from you. It’s on day seven. It’s the climax of the week. It’s what everything’s building to. It’s not a break in the middle so you can get back to work.

And then I would begin with some very entry-level, beginner kind of practices of some of the core spiritual disciplines or practices from the way of Jesus like quiet, Scripture, community, church. So, basically, just in the morning, whatever you have capacity for. I would get an old-school analog alarm clock for 10 bucks on Amazon or whatever. I have one next to my bed. I’d put your phone in another room and a charger before you go to bed. When you wake up in the morning, whatever is in your capacity. Don’t overachieve. If that’s 5 minutes, if it’s 30 minutes, wonderful. If it’s 5 or 10, great. I would just begin by breathing, smiling out the window. I would read one Psalm. I’d start in Psalm 1 and just start reading to the right through the prayer book in the middle of the Bible. I would say a few gratitudes, and I would just breathe in God’s love, and presence, and joy.

And then if you had time, I’d start working in some reading of Scripture whenever works well for you, just slowly, and then I would be in a Christian community, a form of church, whether that’s a massive mega-church or just a house church, around a table, some kind of community of other followers of Jesus who are actively following him together, sharing meals together, doing life together, where this whole thing is not an individualistic pursuit. So, that might sound like a lot. I’m basically just saying tap into your desire.

Jessica: I asked for one, but that’s okay. That’s okay.

John: Go rest. You asked for one. Then I would say just sleep.

 

An Intentional Life Begins with Prayer 

Jessica: Just sleep. It’s really interesting that you say that though. Andy and his daughter, Amy Crouch… speaking of the Crouches earlier, his daughter wrote a book on technology, and my daughter and I read it together. My daughter did her first podcast interview and interviewed Amy . I thought it’d be interesting to have two teenagers interviewing each other. And when we asked her, "Out of all of your…" Because they grew up very much with the rule of life. And she said Sabbath. That’s the number one thing that’s her cornerstone.

And Andy said kind of something similar, "Just waking up in the morning and going outside first thing and saying, ‘Thank you, God.’" I am refreshed and encouraged that the first thing you said is rest because that is the invitation. The invitation is into rest, and the rule of life is an invitation into rest. And that is what ultimately it does provide. It’s just a place to land, a place for the vines to grow. So I love that you said that.

John: You won’t end up just vegging out because true rest is different than entertainment, or escapism, or vegging out. You’ll actually come out of a place of rest full of creativity and generativity. You know what I mean? You’ll come out with stuff in your heart that you feel God made you to do in the world, but it won’t be this compulsive tyranny of the urgent, distractive, addictive kind of life of work. It’ll be contributive like, "Here’s my contribution. Here’s how I love and serve. There’s this thing that God put on my heart to do." That will, I think, inevitably come out of a prayerful life of rest with Jesus.

“You won’t end up just vegging out because true rest is different than entertainment, or escapism, or vegging out. You’ll actually come out of a place of rest full of creativity and generativity.” John Mark Comer 

Jessica: Okay. I have a big one for you now. You can give your not five-minute answer because it’s a big one. So, I’ve been talking about my daughter a lot that’s because she is obsessed with you. Like, I interview a lot of people on this podcast. Actually, today’s episode was with the founder of Netflix that just came out, and I’m like, "I talk to the most interesting people." But I told her, I was like, "I’m interviewing John Mark Comer." She was like, "You are?" And I just want you to know… so she’s an ISTJ. I know I’m categorizing. I’m using all of the personality tests. They’ve been really helpful for me. She is very much loves the facts.

John: Yeah. Pragmatic.

Jessica: She loves facts. She is so pragmatic. She’s smart as nails.

John: Logical. Yeah. Organized.

Jessica: She shoots it straight like a Texan, but she’s as pragmatic as a Midwesterner. And she’s wrestled with faith. Like, we’re talking fourth grade. She’s like, "I don’t know about any of this." She says it like it is. It’s been a journey, and I am so different from her. So, learning how to kind of walk with her, also learning how to walk with a teenager, and not, like, react to their current reality is definitely my journey of healing. In the latter part of 2020, we’re just all just reeling, and I will have a dinner conversation with you about that sometime. But your sermons were a lifeline for our family and for her, and she’s just like, "He speaks the truth, and he backs everything up."

So, I have noticed in my mentorship of her in the way of Jesus is I’m stumbling a little bit in teaching her how to pray because I’m very different. I am definitely more emotive. I’m very imaginative in my prayer life. I, like, pour a cup of coffee for Jesus in the morning and, like, sit down. I am just real touchy-feely. And so I am finding this challenging. Like, how do I teach her how to pray? I tried to find this in your book because I have accredited you with saying this for the last year. But did you at one point say that prayer is relaxing into the presence of God?

John: I didn’t say. I quote that in the book. That’s a Rolheiser line, "Prayer is relaxing into God’s goodness." That’s how he defines it.

Jessica: Yes. That completely transformed me. That has been, like, the biggest, like, thing that has stuck with me since reading that book, however, year and a half ago, two years ago. How long ago was it did it come out?

John: A year and a half now, the end of 2019.

 

Forging Your Own Path to Enlightenment 

Jessica: Okay. And so I am curious that you’re the first pastor for us to have come on the show. How do you teach a beginner to pray? And I’m gonna go ahead and skew it towards my own personal interest here because I know we have some other ISTJs listening. How do you kind of teach that person how to pray?

John: Yeah. Well, I would say a couple of thoughts, not from the expert. I don’t think I’m any more qualified to answer this question than you are, Jessica. And I’m still a fairly young parent on my first teenage kid. I would say a couple of things. One, you live by example. The teach- us- to- pray story came because the disciples were so captivated by what Jesus was experiencing in prayer, and they were clear like, "Wow, what Jesus is experiencing when he goes off to the desert or gets up early is a whole different category than what we’re experiencing when we just recite the great Shema three times a day. I want what that guy has." So, I think, there’s not a step to it, but if there was a step 1, it’s just pray. Live a life of prayer. Pray for your children. Pray in more than just asking God for things but in a type of prayer that is working but also a type of prayer that is resting, that is relaxing into God’s goodness.

“Pray in more than just asking God for things but in a type of prayer that is working but also a type of prayer that is resting, that is relaxing into God’s goodness.” John Mark Comer 

Second is pray with your kids. So, I’m thinking of the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus says to his disciples, "Come and sit with me while I pray." Now, for me as an introvert, I don’t like doing this. I just did this recently with my oldest son who had a really hard week, and I said, "All right. Why don’t you get up early tomorrow morning," he’s struggling to experience God, he’s struggling with doubt that week, "let’s just pray together." And so I kind of guided him through a time. And was it as rich for me? No, I like the quiet to be alone and just do my own thing in my home office. But it was a beautiful moment where we got to pray together.

Third thing I would say is there’s not a right way to pray. So, there are some basics like start with the Psalms, start where ancient Christians have always started. There’s 150 prayers in the middle of the Bible. Start with those. And when we’re not sure how to pray or what to pray, just start with how God literally has a whole prayer book designed to teach us how to pray. That’s what Jesus prayed. It’s what he prayed in his moments of pain and his moments of joy and hope. That’s a good starting place.

And then help your kids realize, or yourself realize, or the listeners realize that there isn’t a right way to pray per se. I’m thinking here of… Have you had Gary Thomas on the show before? Oh, probably not if you haven’t had a pastor, but that might be a fun episode for you. His beautiful book, "Sacred Pathways," which are about nine different kind of almost like a personality theory for prayer. Like, nine different ways…

Jessica: Oh, I haven’t even heard of him.

John: Oh, really? He has this beautiful book. I probably could not off the top of my head quote the nine sacred pathways, but he talks about, like… I forget. I don’t know his exact language but like intellectuals who they encounter God through, like, reading rigorous books by sultanation, or whoever, and sensates who experience God with candles, and incense, and poetry, and nature, and activists who experience God, like in the middle of a protest for justice or whatever, and communal people who experience God through deep relational connections with other people, and liturgical people experience God through ritual, and liturgical prayers, and rhythms, and rules of life. Basically it just gives you freedom. A naturalist who experience God through nature. When they’re outgoing on a run through a canyon or a park, that’s where they come alive to God.
And just discovering kind of what he calls your sacred pathway for your personality for how God has wired you. If you’re an ISTJ or you’re whatever you are, Jessica, like, how do you come alive with God in prayer? And just finding great freedom or permission and blessing to kind of pursue that pathway, especially in your early years of prayer. As you age, you might wanna kind of broaden and balance yourself more, but especially in those early years, just, man, find the lane that works for you and run in it.

So, rather than your daughter trying to copy how you pray, which might have some great stuff, let your daughter discover her sacred pathway. What does prayer look like for an ISTJ? How does that go forward? I’m thinking of Robert Mulholland’s book, if you read his "Invitation to a Journey" where he goes through the Myers-Briggs personality theory, and he helps you understand, build a spiritual path based on your Myers-Briggs type, "This is how you need to grow. This is what growth looks like for you."

Jessica: Oh, my goodness, I had no idea.

John: Yeah. Beautiful book, one of my favorites.

Jessica: Goodness. So many good gold nuggets. Thank you for that. That’s so freeing. I’m really encouraged by that. Okay. I wanted us to end with… This is a podcast about courage. I write about courage, and going scared is all about being afraid, and moving forward anyways but how we define courage. I think that actually stopping something good takes just as much courage if not more courage than starting something. And you are doing both. You’re leading something good, and you’re starting something that I’m super excited for you to share about. What’s your relationship been like with fear during this discerning process?

John: In all honesty, it’s been a massive struggle. I think fear is a deep-rooted kind of stronghold in my life, even I think in my body, in my neurobiology, that Jesus is slowly but surely over many years liberating me from. Last spring when COVID broke out was one of the most fearful, anxious seasons in my entire life. Of course, that’s a global pandemic and a crisis when you’re a pastor of a church that can’t meet for however long. But it’s very much there, very much in it. And Jesus is slowly but surely, over many years of a long obedience in the same direction and lots of quiet prayer and Sabbath rest, liberating me from my fear. And I’m a different man than I was 5 or 10 years ago, and I have a long ways to go.

So, I absolutely agree with you that stopping something or not doing something is just as scary or more scary than starting to do something that may or may not succeed or fail. And I’ve done it a few times in my life where I took really risky… what felt at the time like major sacrifices and risk that in hindsight by the grace of God were some of the best decisions I ever made, but man, was that scary. And that’s why rest, slowing down, limiting your life, simplicity, these are all expressions of faith in God that the life that we feel God’s put in our heart is not the byproduct of just our compulsive overworking, our ambition, our striving, our hutzpah, our self-reliance. All of those things have a place, but life is a gracious gift that comes to us from the hand of God. That we receive a life, we don’t make one. And we grow a life like a tree, not build it like a house. And there’s something beautiful about that.

 

Changing the World through Christ 

Jessica: Okay. I mean, I’m gonna intro John Mark in the beginning, so he’s leaving as the pastor of Bridgetown Community Church in Portland, Oregon, and then you are becoming, I mean, founder of Practicing the Way. Is that right?

John: Yes, that’s right.

Jessica: Practicing the Way. Tell us about Practicing the Way.

John: Yeah. Practicing the Way started five years ago. This is a whole other podcast, very long kind of backstory to it. But deep driving passion of my life is discipleship or spiritual formation in the Western church, and, I think, it’s abysmal across the board. And a lot of Christians feel stuck, and they, like, reach a certain level of maturity, and then they just kind of hit this plateau or concrete wall, and they kind of get stuck there often for a lifetime, for decades or for years. So, Practicing the Way is a four or five-year journey that we’ve been on together as a church basically an attempt…

Dallas Willard at the end of his life said that the great need of our era is for Christians to become disciples of Jesus, apprentices of Jesus, practitioners of the way of Jesus, which is backed up by statistics. Barnard released a study last year, the widest most comprehensive study on millennials ever done in Christianity, and found that of millennial Christians, not of millennials in general, of millennial Christians, only 8% of millennial Christians are what they called resilient disciples, which aren’t even like saints or superheroes. They’re just like serious followers of Jesus, 8%. So the great need of our era is for Christians, the other 92%, to become disciples or apprentices of Jesus.

And he said what’s needed is what he called a curriculum for Christ’s likeness. In the same way that we have curriculums to learn world history, or learn how to paint, or learn how to do yoga, we need a curriculum to learn how to live the Sermon on the Mount, to learn how to live the teachings of Jesus, to learn how in the language of Matthew 28, "To obey everything that I have commanded you." Not just to know what Jesus commanded, but to become the kind of people who have been so transformed from our inside out that we naturally do the kinds of things that Jesus commanded without thinking about it or thinking much of it at all. It’s just who we become in Christ through discipleship by the Spirit.

So, we’ve taken our church on this kind of five-year journey that was our attempt to write up, teach through, and practice a curriculum of Christ’s likeness. It’s not just a teaching series. It was all practice-based, teaching people the core practices of the way of Jesus that make up a real-life and core principles that make up a lifestyle of discipleship. And we’ve learned so much, did a bunch of things terribly wrong, did some things pretty good, I think, learned a ton, and now we kind of just wanna redo the whole thing 2.0. I wanna give myself to this work fully. And we want to create a curriculum for Christ’s likeness, discipleship resources for followers of Jesus and local churches and pastors living in the Austins and the Portlands of the world to really help people design a lifestyle of discipleship to Jesus that over many years produces just massive transformation, healing, and freedom. That’s the dream.

“We want to help people design a lifestyle of discipleship to Jesus that over many years produces just massive transformation, healing, and freedom. That’s the dream.” John Mark Comer 

Jessica: Is it gonna involve big capital D dream actual places sort of almost like monasteries or, like, a place that you can go to?

John: Yeah. We’ll start as a website, but, yes, absolutely. Down the road, we’re dreaming of a church order of some kind. We’re dreaming about, whether monasteries is the right word or co-housing community, what would embodied residential expressions of this way of life, this rule of life, communities living in this kind of ethos of the way of Jesus look like. I had a meeting just a couple days ago with a huge real estate developer who’s interested. And I said, "Wanna get on a call? I’ll pitch my vision to you and see if you’re interested. Let’s develop a condo tower into a co-housing community."

So, right now that’s capital D dream, but, yeah, that’s in my heart. I would love to see a kind of neo-monastic ford if you wanna use fancy language, like a new kind of movement back, whatever the future of the church in the West is. I believe that the future is ancient. I don’t think the future is like better social media branding and pastors using TikTok and online church. I think the future is ancient. It’s going back to, like, thicker webbing of community, deep spiritual life and practices, massive value for orthodoxy and obedience to Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, living sacrificially, living joyfully as a counterculture to the West. I think the future is ancient. I think the future of the Western church looks a lot like some of the best moments when the Church was most resilient, thick, deep, wise, and strong in her past.

“I think the future is ancient. I think the future of the Western church looks a lot like some of the best moments when the Church was most resilient, thick, deep, wise, and strong in her past.” John Mark Comer 

Jessica: So good. It reminds me a little bit, I’m a part of an organization called Praxis, which is all about redemptive entrepreneurship.

John: Yes. Love Praxis. That must be how you know Andy.

Jessica: I actually knew him right before he came on. So I know John. He was there. I’ve been involved with him for many, many years now. I’d stay at their place up in New York. But they have this vision for guilds, which is a little different than what you’re talking about, but it’s this idea of Christian renewal in all areas of society kind of based on the Clapham group. Is that what they’re called? Yes. Oh, man.

John: Yep, Clapham Sect. Yep. A global force that ended slavery. They did a couple of things.

Jessica: Is that some of your inspiration there too? Like, how does that fit into your vision?

John: Yeah. I mean, that would be a good example of, like, neo-monasticism, meaning they weren’t monks and nuns. They had families. They had careers. They were politicians. Henry Venn was one of the Clapham Sect. The Venn diagram, that’s named after him. He came up with that. These were cultural elites in that case. These weren’t, like, average people like me. These were cultural elites who wanted to do things like abolish the slave trade, and reform Victorian manners, and end poverty due to industrialization. I mean, like, massive, like, goals, and they were remarkably successful at most of them. And they chose to all in Clapham, which at the time was like a town outside of London, now it’s just part of London, to move next to each other and do life together. And much of their kids ended up marrying each other, and they just lived in this thick web. I don’t know how many people were in it. I think a couple of dozen at the most if that. They were just, like… imagine like a church small group on steroids. You know what I mean?

Jessica: It was very wealthy and influential.

John: Yes. That happened to be, like, the major CEO of Google and a politician or whatever. But they just chose to do life together and to do things together. So it wasn’t just like, "Hey, we’re gonna help each other cope with our life." It was like, "How do we make a meaningful contribution to culture through entrepreneurship, vocation, business, politics, culture of the arts?" So, yeah, that would be a great example of the power of what happens when people live monastically in the adverb sense, not in the noun sense, who have a family, they have a job, but they’re gonna do more than just, "I go to church on Sunday, and maybe five time I’ll be in a small group." They’re gonna absolutely live together, live a deep life of prayer and discipleship, and make a contribution through their work. Those are the kind of Christians.

Culture. There’s this book that impacted me a lot of years ago, maybe Praxis you guys have read it or talked about it, called "To Change the World" by the sociologist James Davidson Hunter who is a Christian, but it’s not a Christian book. And he basically argues that the way culture is made is not how most politicians and pastors think it’s made. It’s not really by like changing the hearts and minds of the majority of the population. Basically, he says, he does all the research, that culture is basically made by a small number of elites who work together in like nodes, he calls them, little groups, to try to influence where culture goes.

And he uses examples like the Jews that are like one point, I want to say 9%, if that, of the population America, massive influence on American culture. The LGBTQ community, very small population, have completely done a 180 on the general population in secularism’s moral kind of view of sexuality. Like, small groups of people can have a massive impact. And you don’t have to be an elite. He’s just saying culture is made by people that live differently intentionally together. And I think there’s a wisdom truth there that we really need to harness and live into.

Jessica: I love that he wrote this book, or that it was released, two months before going into a shelter-in-place. I think everyone needed to go back to these rhythms. I love how he talked about how we are going to be looking back into history on how to live.

And it’s not about the cool church that’s going to be on Tik-Tok. It’s about actually looking backwards into practices like silence and solitude and living in community and living on a mission together.

That brings me a lot of excitement and hope for the future. So, count me in, count me in! Let me know if you’re in, I’m so curious.

Thanks for hanging with me. We went real pastoral with this episode. I got to be my little getting-discipled self, which is fun. And that’s what I love about this podcast.

Founder of Netflix.  Career coach.  A pastor.

I mean, we just cover it all on the Going Scared podcast. And thank you. Because if you didn’t still listen, we wouldn’t have a podcast.

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Thank you so much for tuning into today’s show. We are almost toward the end of this podcast series, “Decide, Don’t Slide,” before we are going to take a little break. And then we have something that I can’t wait to tell you about! I’m so excited about our next series.

Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.