A Rebooted (Better-Than-Ever!) Faith: Leap of Faith 2020

Thousands of people have found a revitalized faith through Lenten Leaps of Faith. This is the most powerful one yet.

This should be fun. 

Some years back, Grace and I and our friends in Cambridge stumbled across a way to invite us all into a richer experience of God. People just loved it, to the point that they pleaded with us to run another experience like it the next year.

So we called it a “Leap of Faith” experience that brought fresh oomph to the historic season of Lent, which itself was designed millennia ago to prepare us for a yearly burst of faith come Easter time. 

And yet it turned out it had one key element missing that it took years to discover.

Jesus offers some intriguing perspective on why this thing can work so well.

One delightful component of these Leaps of Faith has been a chance to, in a very enjoyable, guided, low-bar way, experience sections of the Bible together. Perhaps the best of all the many Bible guides that have been produced for Leaps of Faith is from Mark’s gospel. 

Grace and I (and many of our friends) have some rich history with Mark’s gospel. A national college Christian group leads intensive, interactive, months-long encounters with Mark, which Grace and I have both participated in more than once, and which I’ve led several times. 

In Cambridge, we hired one of the most-gifted of these Mark teachers. Among his many responsibilities was to invite as many people as possible into all his deep Bible knowledge. With Kristina Kaiser’s help, Brian Acker Housman’s Leap of Faith Mark Bible guide--compiling all that rich perspective on Mark that was honed on all those campuses all over the country--is now available as an easy-to-read, inexpensive Amazon Kindle book or as a paperback. Those of us who would like to participate in the Leap of Faith will be enjoying Brian’s Mark guide together.

Mark’s gospel is a remarkably faith-building journey with Jesus into a life we couldn’t have anticipated. It tantalizingly begins: “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written…” 

Here’s what Brian says about these opening lines: 

“In these first several verses, Mark is connecting the new story he is about to tell with the stories of God’s relationship with God’s people in the Old Testament. These verses are packed with references to the old stories. More than anything, what Mark is trying to communicate is that the stories that have been told for so long, and that seemed lost in a golden past, are coming alive right in front of their eyes.”

Pretty great start--both to Mark’s gospel and to Brian’s guide--right? 

But what if that’s a key part of what Mark is trying to say to his readers ever since? That all of us who’d read a book like Mark will have heard great stories from godly people from centuries back… but that the Holy Spirit is inviting us into “stories coming alive right in front of our eyes.” 

I think that was the heart of the enthusiasm we got from those first Leap of Faith participants. Was that in fact happening for them? Mark hits this theme of a rebooted, better-than-ever faith throughout his gospel, later using this metaphor of wine and wineskins to the effect that, if we’re being offered something this good, we’ll need to find a new faith structure to put it into.

And what do you know? That’s some of what we’ve been exploring together.

In Mark, Jesus suggests (at minimum) three areas to look for our revitalized faith.

1. He encourages us to believe him for things in our own life that we really care about. 

(For example, Mark 11:23--“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”)

2. He encourages us to believe for some people around us.

(Mark 1:17-18: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.)

3. And he encourages us that what brings it all together is to believe him, with our friends, for something bigger than any of us. 

(Mark 8:35: “Whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”)

Before detailing how we’ll address each of those three faith-rebooters during the next forty days, let’s touch on how this fits in with the historic, but all-too-rarely taught view of pursuing a life in God that we talk about together. I wonder if this will point us towards the “new wineskin” that can hold this kind of revitalized, better-than-ever faith.  

Here’s a visual of how the great spiritual masters talk about faith.

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We all, they teach us, start from a baseline, pervasive reactivity, as if we’re just a bundle of raw nerve endings which, when poked by anything at all, instantly react. Someone shouts at us in traffic and we’re flustered and defensive. A teen son or daughter slams a door in our face and our heart races and we pound on the closed door. Our beloved sneaks up behind us and gives us a kiss and we flush with delight. (Reactivity can feel good too!) But where reactivity ultimately leads all of us--permanently unless we make some key spiritual choices!--is being, as Jesus describes us, “helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd.” 

Where the spiritual masters tell us we want to arrive at is quite similar to what modern psychologists would call flow--in which we’re immersed in the day God has given us, even the moment God has given us. The psychologists tell us that this feels better than anything else, that it feels purposeful and enjoyable and hopeful. It makes life worth living, and if we’re to believe the experts, flow is very, very, very hard to achieve for more than brief flashes. But the great spiritual teachers have their own words for this and have suggestions about how to live in flow. John Cassian, one of the desert fathers of the fourth century, called it “being pure of heart and so seeing God.” Many Eastern traditions talk about it as enlightenment. It’s the state of heart that we’ve all been created by God to experience. 

Some of you will be familiar with what many of us have called “Stage 4 Faith,” which majors on this move towards flow.

So how do we get there? Spiritual leaders historically have focused on one of two pathways--through faith (believing that, if only we have sufficient belief, the loving, all-powerful God can get us what we want and need) or through spirituality (letting everything go except God in this present moment). 

They seem pretty different! And, indeed, in the Christian tradition, apart from brief moments (like the one we see in the desert fathers and mothers), faith was the all-but exclusively taught pathway… right up until the bubonic plague of the fourteenth century killed half the English population and a third of the European population, and all those tools of faith weren’t addressing the desperate needs of the faithful people going through it. So an explosion of great teachers (Julian of Norwich, Thomas a’Kempis, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Catherine of Siena and many more), looking for how faith in Jesus could survive such a cataclysm, rediscovered the deep, biblical pathway of spirituality.  They understood that, in the long run, an interactive blend of faith and spirituality is Jesus’s prescription to actually get from the bad, harassed human condition of reactivity to the good, joyful human condition of flow. 

And, even as we look at the three initial sorts of belief that Jesus encourages in Mark, perhaps it’s worth noting that all three encourage us by way of the faith side of the chart. That might explain why many people, despite Leap-of-Faith-like encouragements along the way, run aground before finding their way into flow. Perhaps a “rebooted” faith will need to understand how these encouragements can interact with the spirituality side of the chart. 

That said, let’s look at how this interactive pathway of faith and spirituality might create a new wineskin that can empower each of Jesus’s initial three areas meant to revitalize our faith.

  1. Jesus encourages us to believe him for things in our own life that we really care about. 

If there was any particular genius to those first Leaps of Faith, it was in the interaction of three key questions from the faith side of the chart that we invited each participant to ask each of the forty days.

What do you want Jesus to do for you?

What do you want Jesus to do for your six?

What do you want Jesus to do for his grand cause?

This section looks at the first of these. For the forty days, we’ll invite you to get still before God in order to discover, in that stillness, what would you like to ask Jesus for right now.

Here are a few ways people have seen such prayers answered in past Leaps of Faith. 

The Leap of Faith was an amazing experience for me. I asked God to give my brother a job (who was unemployed for 2 years) and for my parents/family to find some kind of happiness after a terrible car accident. After the Leap of Faith, in the same week my brother got a job, I got a job and my parents bought a new house—a sign from God that, despite trials and tribulations, he still has enormous blessings awaiting us.

Four or five years ago during the Leap of Faith, you asked: What would you do for God if there were no limitations? After a few moments of quiet time, the answer came instantly and obviously: I would care for orphans. I’d worked with kids for years, so it didn’t seem too far off-base, but this was different, more personal and more persistent. I spent eight months fleshing out the idea myself, with God and others. Fourteen months later I met my daughter and fourteen months after that she became my daughter in the eyes of the law.

During a Leap of Faith several years ago, I prayed for a suicidal friend who had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. About half way through the forty days, she suddenly ceased to experience the symptoms she had been dealing with (constant fatigue, no will to live, depression, unbearable despair) and to this day, though she has occasionally felt very tired, those chains have been broken off her. She is a healthy, lovely 23-year-old wife and mother of two and one of my closest friends. Praise Jesus for her ability to live and enjoy her life abundantly!

I was part of an adulterous relationship, but couldn’t find a way out. I was plagued by not having the power to stay away and prayed for the Lord’s strength to help me. Glad to say I have not been in any contact with that person in four months.

A few years ago during the Leap of Faith I was praying for a job—I found one and got it just after the forty days and it was actually a career-founding job for me.

So, you know, those sorts of things sound good! And there are plenty of Bible passages, in Mark’s gospel and elsewhere, that encourage us to ask for things right in this spirit. 

James 4:2 

You do not have, because you do not ask.

Psalm 116:1-2 

I love the Lord because he hears

and answers my prayers.

Because he bends down and listens,

I will pray as long as I have breath!

Now perhaps, in this sea of positivity, you’re already feeling the possible downside. Namely: 

What if other people do see God give them great things during the Leap of Faith, but the thing I really want doesn’t happen?

And, yes. That. I’ve now led Leaps of Faith for several thousand people, and I can affirm that that’s a very good question. My own batting average might be along the line of a so-so baseball batting average: .250 or so. (Which is still not bad!)

But our graph, above, offers a fascinating response to that question. Because, obviously, we know that many heartfelt prayers don’t get the answers the people praying them were looking for--I just mentioned the bubonic plague, for just one intense picture of that. 

It turns out this is the perfect setting for faith interacting with spirituality. That perhaps, in this area, this is what offers the hope of a better-than-ever faith.

But first let’s start with the question: Check in with God and, after some prayer, write down what  you’d like Jesus to do for you during the forty days.

 

 

Great! During Lent’s forty days, why don’t you pray for this every day, and invite one or two others to pray with you for this? 

In the Bible, when people really wanted God to do something for them, they often fasted in one form or another, as if their sacrifice helped focus their prayers and bolster those prayers with some, to use an old term, “unction.” If such a fast interests you, by all means go for it. (Lent historically has involved small fasts, hence the old question: What are you giving up for Lent? So people might fast from, say, sugar or meat or Facebook. Some people are more aggressive, going vegetarian for Lent or some other such thing.)

But I have a suggestion for your fast for the Leap of Faith. It’s sort of an anti-fast--doing something rather than refraining from something.

Every day during the Leap of Faith, have at least one twenty minute time of silent spirituality (or, even better, two times--one at morning and one at night).

Together, we’ve been looking to learn contemplative spirituality and how it might dovetail with our practices of faith. It turns out that the way to experience the benefits of contemplative spirituality is to diligently practice it daily

Here are a few words about that from the Benedictine monk John Main.

We discover by daily fidelity in our meditation that godliness is full sanity flowing from the full power of God’s love. The early church was utterly clear that our call is to enter into the very life of God. And so when we meditate each morning and evening, we each of us receive, as fully as we are now able to, the gift of God in Jesus. It is the stream of love that flows constantly between Jesus and his Father. I think it is true to say that you will never learn to meditate unless you meditate every day.

The opportunity during the Leap of Faith to meditate every day is to learn to be present to yourself, to God, and to each moment--present to the faith God is recreating in you, present to your doubts, present to the beautiful world around you, present to whatever happens as a unique gift in itself.

This, combined with asking Jesus for what you’re hoping he’d do for you, is a very powerful one-two punch. Some great spiritual teachers call this marrying intention (letting God know your requests) with presence (being still and present to what’s actually happening)--which goes right to the heart of great spiritual practice and to the interplay of faith and spirituality that you’ll see on the chart above. 

It creates a new dynamic to faith:

Ask!

And let it go.

Ask!

And let it go.

Ask!

And let it go.

It’s sort of like the in and out of breathing, right? Yielding the possibility both for delight and equanimity. A new wineskin.

And it’s important to call to mind that you’re “letting it go” for another benefit--the benefit of savoring and experiencing the moment you’re actually in, of not postponing the time when you can really be happy, once you’ve gotten the thing you’re praying for.

We are hardwired to want our future to be better than our present, and Jesus encourages us to lean into that. It’s the human condition! Ask away! But then, having done that, we’re encouraged to get still and discover where Jesus is right in this moment. So, for instance, in Mark, you’ll read the astonishing and perplexing story of what gets called the Transfiguration. 

Mark 9:1-8

And (Jesus) said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” 

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

It starts with Jesus’ promise to his disciples that there’s an amazing thing waiting for them sometime in their future, a more rocking time than they’re currently experiencing even though they’re hanging out every day with Jesus Christ in the flesh.

And then, wham!, they get a picture of how this might be so. Suddenly they get to be not just with mere Jesus, but with some sort of post-Resurrection Jesus and, as a throw-in, with two of the greatest Old Testament heroes--dead Old Testament heroes! However good things were back in those crappy days when they were only hanging out with--pshaw!--Jesus, this is pointing to something really good--of which this is evidently only a taste. So Peter starts futzing around trying to feel useful--and then evidently God the Father directly tells him what he should be doing: being present to Jesus who is right there with him. And then, that said, they’re back in their previous moment with no one “except Jesus.”

Yes, there are great things God wants to give you in what I hope is your very near future! Ask for them! But then settle into this very moment in which Jesus already is very much present with you. 

Ask!

And let it go.

Each week’s group will continue to include coaching and a check in on these things, so make a point to attend each online session during Lent. (For information about how to attend, email mail@blueoceanfaith.org.) And you can find a starter set of short videos about getting going with meditation at the Blue Ocean Faith site here

2. Jesus encourages us to believe for some people around us.

What do you want Jesus to do for your six?

As you’ll read in Mark, Jesus not only says we’d be advised to believe God for things in our lives, but he also invites us to something bigger that evidently scratches a very real itch for a whole lot of people--and that provides us with a key benefit along the way. He invites us to “become fishers for people,” as if involving others in our spiritual sphere of interest is a win for them and a win for us. 

What if our prayers might also help six friends or coworkers or acquaintances whom, best as we can tell, don’t seem to be experiencing much from God? (I’d encourage you to go beyond family members--please pray for them too!--in the spirit that learning to notice and care about people beyond our immediate circle is where a lot of the magic is.) 

Maybe they’re not experiencing much from God because no one is praying for them!  

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about why this is so powerful in creating connections. 

So--for just one example of the sorts of places my mind goes--a few years back I really enjoyed Christopher Nolan’s extreme-physics-extravaganza Interstellar. Did you see this movie? I won’t spoil its many pleasures, but one idea it explores is this thing (I’ve since learned) called “quantum entanglement.” In theory, what this says (my physics professor friend says that, in practice, we can’t make it work quite like this, but bear with me) is that particles which interact in a lab will still interact at any distance—whether a foot away or ten galaxies away. Interstellar pushes this by wondering if we are all particles. And if the way we “interact” at whatever distance is through love. 

Here’s the way the poet Christian Wiman thinks about this in his seminal book My Bright Abyss: “If quantum entanglement is true, if related particles react in similar or opposite ways even when separated by tremendous distances, then it is obvious that the whole world is alive and communicating in ways we do not fully understand. And we are part of that life, part of that communication.”

What if, whenever you pray for someone, wham!, you’re instantly connected to them through all time and space, with the Holy Spirit as the connector? 

Well what if, as you pray for your six, wham!, you’re inviting them into a kind of connection with you and God and the universe that they couldn’t have any other way?  

Last year’s Leap of Faith was the first time I prayed for my six, and I did it almost every day. (I wrote their names on my shower wall, so I would see them every day!) I found that, over the course of Lent, things started happening for many of them – one friend got a surprising and high-paying job after months of unemployment, one was able to enjoy her wedding despite family conflict (she had previously been resigned to a bad experience). Another friend also had several successes in his life. I was surprised at how God was working in their lives!

I felt closer to my six as a result and found that I had more compassion and really cared for those people in my interactions with them, specifically during those forty days.

So who are your six? (If you’re not sure, why don’t you take a moment to ask God?)

  1. _____________________________________________

  2. _____________________________________________

  3. _____________________________________________

  4. _____________________________________________

  5. _____________________________________________

  6. _____________________________________________

People pray in different ways for their six. I tend to pray for spiritual breakthroughs for them. Other friends pray for actual needs they know their six are feeling. Either way, the power seems to come from daily prayer for them. 

3. Jesus encourages us that what brings the Leap of Faith together is to believe him--alongside our friends--for something bigger than any of us. 

What do you want Jesus to do for his grand cause?

If you follow along with Brian’s Mark guide, you’ll be swept into the grand adventure the disciples are invited into. This might be the biggest and most-inspiring theme of Mark’s gospel. Jesus sometimes gives that adventure the august name “the gospel” and, at least in Mark, that adventure becomes the great narrative of each disciple’s life, the most important and fulfilling (and, okay, costly) thing they ever do. 

I have a vivid memory of a moment I spent with friends from a very high faith group of young people that I joined right after I decided to follow Jesus, having previously been an outspoken atheist. Four of us had gone to see a movie and then had a deep, meaning-of-life conversation on the drive back. We’d parked to drop off the first person and one of us said, “This is just the beginning. We all are going to be part of something really big for God.” 

I think that moment sticks in my mind these decades later because it hit such a deep yearning for each of us, even keeping in mind how real life has caught up to us in the years since. One is in the middle of an intense journey with cancer as I write this. Life goes funny directions, whatever our intentions. 

So given the uncertainties in store for all of us, Jesus encourages us to “lose our lives for his sake and for the gospel.” That sounds pretty intense! But what if the heart of it is saying something like this? 

“Given that you’re going to connect with me 

  • by asking for your real needs, 
  • by meditating each day so that you can experience me in each moment of your life, 
  • by praying for those around you so that you are not disconnected from their real needs… 
  • why not see your life as being part of a really big story of Good breaking into the world?”

In his introduction to The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien introduces a new term: eucatastrophe. It’s the opposite of a catastrophe--it’s a shocking, unexpected inrush of something good. What if we’ve all been created, at the deepest place, to be a part of a story about the ultimate eucatastrophe?

And for all I know, given our connection to such a good God, maybe we all are. Maybe God fixes it so that, in the end, we each can interpret our lives from this point of view. 

That said, man, there’s something very deep in me that dreams about this. Grace and I realized maybe we had a future together when, over dinner one night, we talked about how each of us prayed each day for the chance to get to be involved in a great move of God. 

Some friends and I were talking a few months back about what’s turned into our online community and about some surrounding elements of it (the Journey On podcast and some elements that are yet to surface) and one friend said, “Well I know what I want from all this. This is great stuff that the world needs and that doesn’t exist in its present form! I want new options for continued growth in Jesus being offered to anyone who needs it, around the world! And I want this thing we’re up to to be at the heart of it!”

So, if you’re game, why not include that into this Leap of Faith together? Why not hope to be a part of something wondrous and big alongside friends? 

And perhaps it’s worth saying that, of all the delightful things many people experienced during that first Leap of Faith, this element, of all things, was what really captivated people. This was what had so many people asking to revisit the experience. Who would have guessed that? But it’s central to the exhilarating experience you’ll discover the disciples had in Mark’s gospel. In the end, this was what motivated their profound sacrifices.

So, as you pray during each day of the Leap of Faith, would you pray that God would take our experience together and leverage it into something pleasing to him that could help the whole world? 

Let’s see what God does in answer to your and my prayers, even during these forty days. 

That’s it! That’s the Leap of Faith for this Lenten season. Are you in? I hope so! It would be delightful to do this alongside you and see what God does in response. 

I’ll summarize this below.

 

A Rebooted (Better-Than-Ever!) Faith

Ask! And let it go. 

What do you want Jesus to do for you? ...for your six? ...for his grand cause?

 

During these forty days of Lent, let’s:

Read the Mark Bible Guide each day.

Each day, ask Jesus for what you’d like him to do for you.

 

 

Maybe pray for the requests of some of your friends as well.

Every day during the Leap of Faith, have at least one twenty minute time of silent spirituality (or, even better, two times--one at morning and one at night).

Ask! And let it go.

If you feel so led, perhaps participate in some type of Lenten fast. 

Pray each day for your six.

  1. _____________________________________________

  2. _____________________________________________

  3. _____________________________________________

  4. _____________________________________________

  5. _____________________________________________

  6. _____________________________________________

Pray each day that God would make our common experience together something that helps the whole world. 

And do your best to join the online community each week at least though Lent, so that you’re not doing this alone. (For more info, email mail@blueoceanfaith.org.)

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