My spiritual journey continues

Rankin Wilbroune with John Gunter in Asia

Rankin and I here in Asia this past week. He is has been huge in helping me think through all of this.

I began this “journey” about a year or so ago.  I had been living in bad patterns for probably two years at that point, but it was finally catching up to me.

This journey really began when I noticed that I had been getting more easily irritated with small, insignificant things in life.  It then came more too light when my friend Michael Gregory brought up my growing irritability over lunch one day.  That day was a good start for me realizing that I was “off” and needed to figure out what was going on internally.

Second, my dear sister Becky mentioned it to me about a year ago.  “John, you just don’t seem like yourself and haven’t for a while.  It’s not awful, but you just don’t seem as happy as you used to be.”  This concerned me.  I agreed with Becky, asked for her prayers, and then asked God about this myself.

Third, in the vein of “better is the wound of a friend than the kiss of an enemy”, it happened again.  It was last summer when I was visiting my friend and brother in Lord, Rankin Wilbourne, in Los Angeles.  Rankin and I have a wonderful, mutually sharpening relationship.  It has also always been filled with gut-level laughter.  Last summer, Rankin brought a concept to me.  “John, there is a difference between good tired and bad tired.”  The implication was that I had slid into the latter.

And so this journey continues. . .

I am someone who has been blessed by doing professionally what I have always sincerely loved.  I am passionate about the things I have been able to do for my entire professional life.  I understand this is unusual and I have ALWAYS been grateful to God (and my employers) for this reality.

Embedded in this “gift” is the propensity to overwork.  You see, when your work is often enjoyable, when your life passion is also your way of making a living, it is easy to work well beyond levels of what God (and my employers) would have of me.

I have written about my burnout in the past, but this is a little different.  This journey that I have been on the past few years seems to be asking a broader, deeper, more poignant question.

“Am I spiritually healthy?”

As God always seems to provide what we need when we need it, he brought Rankin back in my life the past few weeks to help me process all of this.  Both in America and here in Asia, we have overlapped these past few weeks and it has been massive for me.

In the process of a few long walks and car drives between cities, Rankin has helped me in FINALLY tying these last few years of this “journey” together in what God is trying to teach me.

I think I now have the framework of evaluating my personal spiritual vitality and health.  It comes down to three simply gauges based in three basic questions, the first two are Rankin’s and the third is one I have been thinking about.

Three questions to gauge my personal spiritual health:

1 – Am I chronically tired?

It is ok and even good to be tired from time to time.  The Apostle Paul actually speaks of being “poured out as a drink offering” and of “finishing the good fight”.  There are good fights AND there are good tireds.  However, fatigue should be in seasons and not as a chronic way of life.

Some good ways to determine if my fatigue is “good or bad tired” is in answering the following questions:

  • Does this fatigue induce frustration OR inspire determination?
  • Is the result of this fatigue discouragement/despondence OR hope?
  • Am I irritated towards others OR loving?
  • Am I anxious OR content to trust in God in the midst of my “tired”?

When my life exudes frustration, discouragement, irritation towards other, and/or anxiety, I know that things are off track and must be addressed.

2 – How is my personal prayer life?

As Rankin says, this question is one of the best “tells” of our spiritual health.

When my prayer life is lacking, it is a sure fire indicator that I am living in my own strength and not in that of Christ’s.  When my soul is not crying out for help and guidance from my Savior, then it means that I have slid into the place of being my own personal savior.  This always ends poorly!

When I think of a healthy prayer life being indicative of a healthy spiritual life and understanding of God, I think about the words of C.S. Lewis.

“I pray, because I can’t help myself.  I pray because I’m helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all of the time; waking and sleeping.”

When my prayer life is shoddy and weak, as it has been for much of the past few years, this indicates a much deeper issue.  I have pushed Christ out of the center of my life and I have placed myself there.  This is why my personal prayer life is such a good indicator of my overall spiritual health.

3 – Am I experiencing the “fruit of the Spirit”?

The most Biblical, clearly defined indicator of my personal spiritual health is one I have thought of much these past few years.  It is simple, yet profound.  When one becomes of follower of Christ, the Spirit of God actually inhabits your body.  Powerful, powerful aspect of the Christian life.

I don’t understand everything about matters of faith and God, but this I do know; God changed me through the Gospel of Christ Jesus and He now dwells within me through the Holy Spirit.  There is no other way to explain my change in heart, character, and motivation short of this awesome reality.

In the Galatians 5:22-23, we see the characteristics of the Holy Spirit living within a man.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

So my third indicator is based on this concept of the “fruit of the Spirit”.  If I am not seeing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. growing in my soul in everyday life, then something is wrong.  Something needs to be addressed in my life.

When this happens, I have stopped living “life in the Spirit” and I have begun the slippery slope of living in my own strength.  I have pushed Christ out of the center of my life and placed myself there.  Again, this will always end poorly.

I would LOVE your thoughts on this.  Are there ways you have that are “tells” of spiritual health and vitality, as Rankin calls them?  These have been extremely helpful for me.  Are there others which have been particularly helpful to you?

Please pray for me in this journey.  I feel like there is still much to learn and grown in.  I will pray for you, also!

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Comments

  1. Laura says

    My first clue is also usually anger/frustration. IF I pause to examine my heart in those moments, I’m mad because I don’t have control (which means I thought I did or should have control). In my ‘right mind’, I know I’m far better off resting in Gods control. May your joy (along with other fruits) be renewed as you delight in the Lord, John!

    • says

      Thanks Laura, great hearing form you!

      Yeah, the control thing is big. I really don’t like it when I feel I am not sovereign. Oh well, I guess I need to get used to this reality!

  2. says

    SO TRUE AND I RECOGNIZE MYSELF IN THESE WAYS TOO…PRAYING BOTH OF US STAY ON TRACK WITH JESUS AND SHINE HIS LIGHT IN THIS DARK AND DYING WORLD. LOVE YOU AND THANK GOD THAT YOU ARE IN OUR FAMILY.

  3. erin says

    Very insightful. So glad that God’s been revealing this to you over the last couple years and has lovingly been telling you through your friends! It seems like it’s finally time to break the yoke of “work” and give it back to Jesus.
    Your sections on prayer and fruits of the spirit in this post are good questions to ask myself. Thanks.
    Miss you!
    -gates

    • says

      Erin, thanks for your encouragement. So grateful for the time with you and Kevin last month. Tremendous finally getting more than 5 minutes with him!

      Look forward to the next time. Thanks for your friendship, encouragement, and prayer!

  4. says

    There may be one reason or several in combination. I have to agree with your spiritual analysis above: it seems very sound. I’m being overly simplistic here, but the old saying, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Maybe you are overworking yourself and not allowing free time for hobbies or maybe other means of relaxation? It might also have some root in a physical cause. Brain and/or body chemistry is very complex and probably changes over time. There is such a thing as Christians who suffer from depression (medically diagnosed). It could be you are isolated for too long stretches of time. Our dietary needs may change over time. you may have some kind of deficiency. All this to say that I pray that the Lord gives you peace and helps you figure out the root causes of your emotional struggle and helps restore your emotional well-being.

    • says

      Thanks for your thoughts and input here! All great things to think about here. Thankfully I have several close friends and colleagues which can help me stay balanced. I’m prone to run too fast for too long often.

      Thanks for chiming in here with some great thoughts!

  5. Mitzi says

    Thank you John….again and again…..what you write is always inspiring and refreshing…..and in this case – exactly where I was! Back in December I was confronted about where my spiritual life was…..by an unlikely soul…a 4th grader. She said, “Miss Gresham, are you angry or sad? You aren’t like you were.” I was spiritually punched in the gut by a 9 year old. I hadn’t realized. But then I should have. My new job (plus 2 other jobs I have…that’s another story) has turned my schedule upside down. My time in the Word….different….deafened….shortened…..gone. Being in the Word quenches my thirst, it arms me, it sets my path straight, it grows my fruit, it sets the pace for my prayer. I was no longing soaking it up. There was no excuse – I couldn’t blame it on my schedule anymore. I needed to find the “old” Miss Gresham for that little girl…get her back….and better!! God is good, isn’t He? He’ll get our attention in any way He can. Thanks for writing John…..keep at it!! Hope it is well with your soul!! :)

    • says

      Mitzi, thanks so much for letting me know you read, enjoyed, and then even had a chance to join me in applying this stuff! Very, very cool.

      Funny how this stuff happens so often. The ‘ole “walking in the power of the HS” seems to be as applicable as ever. Never something we graduate from.

      Thanks for sharing about your student and the clear, yet “close to home” reminder of all this!

  6. says

    I just discovered a book that so far I am finding extremely helpful and encouraging in my spiritual journey. Much of it is what I have known before but organized in what is a very helpful way. It’s called “An Infinite Journey” by Andrew My Davis. He intertwines the internal journey of personal growth with the external journey of gospel advance. Very helpful.

    • says

      Roger, thanks for the suggestion! I’m about to have a few months of down time (very well placed), so I am looking to get a few good books to read in this area.

      Thanks for putting out here!

  7. Dave Dish says

    Hey John, thank you for sharing your struggle. I feel like I’m totally there too. My fatigue / anger / impatience have been such a struggle lately that I feel like God’s been letting me hit a spiritual crisis point. In mildly challenging circumstances, my heart throws a tantrum. I spend a lot of energy trying to hide my inner anger / impatience.

    Instead, I want to have a heart that naturally, automatically remembers the love of Our Father, and reflexively turns toward him during adversity.

    How to do this has been a question I’ve been asking lately.

    I think I’m onto something — I’m experimenting with 3 disciplines: solitude-silence-rest, fasting, and scripture memorization. I’m a total novice, mostly working on the solitude-silence-rest thing. (I got pointed towards these by Dallas Willard, http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=57).

    After just a couple of weeks working on these disciplines, I sense a small progress, a hope / memory that My Father knew what I was like when he was adopting me, and like he’s going to be patient in growing me.

    I’m still very far from lavishing time in delighting in the Lord. It takes time to grow. But I want this crisis in my life to bear fruit for my remaining years, so I can be one of those “old guys” who just exudes the flavor of a life spent walking close to the Lord.

    I’ll pray for you brother. Looking forward to seeing the fruit of this time when we’ve been there ten thousand years, and in the meantime too.

    • says

      David, man, great input here. It really is amazing how the more we learn, the more we realize we already know what the “keys to life” really are. It’s funny, as I find myself in the exact place. . . only a few weeks behind you. I’m also being challenged in the solitude area, but specifically with Scriptural memory. It is a discipline I have not done well for many years. Great to hear you are jumping in and seeing grow and fruit after just a few weeks.

      I just uploaded the Dallas Willard article. Thanks!

      Hope you are well, my friend, and thanks again for adding this input here. Very helpful and edifying to read.

  8. says

    Reading your powerful post, the story of Nicodemus came to my mind, especially verses 7 and 8 in John 3: Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    Unlike me and many, Nicodemus was a champion in doing the right things, still it looks like the Lord gave the old respectable Jewish teacher’s righteousness a big fat F… :) I don’t quite understand what Jesus meant by His words, but I think He always aims for the heart – if God is not always present in heart and mind, our spiritual “inner being” is dead or, let’s just say it’s not born yet.

    So, my daily quest is for this presence of the Spirit of the Lord, at all times. OK, I read the Bible daily, I pray at least three times (grace for meal excluded ;)), but there are times when I am out of God’s universe, so I bring myself back by setting “God reminders” and “tying” them to ordinary things I normally do on a day. The examples are too “secular”, but I guess this is the point. So I have come to think of God more often than before, more dearly, and I hope I am falling in love with Him forever.

    I couldn’t agree more with Dave Dish: “I sense a small progress, a hope / memory that My Father knew what I was like when he was adopting me, and like he’s going to be patient in growing me.”

    • says

      Wow, really great comments throughout on this article! Thanks for putting energy towards and adding your thoughts to this post. Very helpful, Iulia!

      Nicodemus is a great example in this context. A great example! I also love your thoughts on additional reminders throughout the day. Great stuff!

  9. Bo Simpson says

    Hey John,
    This is good. I’m encouraged at this work you are doing. It’s important to be an attractive and compelling example for the sake of the Kingdom. Al used to preach about Christ holding the office of both hero and victim. Whenever I sense that I am pushing myself too much, I find it helpful to remember that God doesn’t call me to be either of these (hero or victim) and that God’s name is Jealous and I should not consider myself a competitor to either of these offices, which, since I belong to Christ, I see as His alone. However, I find that as I follow Him and let him use me, he will show me those offices and what that looks like (crucified with Christ). But I deny myself those titles every day. Also, I have been learning about letting the results of any effort be entirely in Gods hands. That is hard but I have come to call it “letting go without giving up”. I discovered (to my shame) that when I gave up on several hard struggles, God finally moved and brought incredible change. I later realized that I needed to let go but not necessarily give up. These have been a helpful framework for me lately. -Bo

    • says

      Hey Bo, great hearing from you! Man, it’s been a long time. Hope you guys are well.

      Really good to remember Al’s teaching on the “hero and victim” mentality which we can fall into. I know I can swing between both, much to my peril.

      I love your thoughts on “letting go without giving up”. . . seems counter-intuitive, but rings true to both the Gospel and in my soul.

      Thanks Bo and great hearing from you!

  10. says

    Emotions are bridges to your soul/heart/brain – like the spagetti conjunction in Atlanta, bringing together what is happening below the surface.

    I have been blessed/transformed/healed over and over (it’s a continual process man!), and use, as a counselor, material on emotional healing taught by Mike Plunkett, an Alliance Pastor in NYC. The name of the church is Risen King Alliance Church…. I could share a few of the teachings w/ you if you are interested. It’s very helpful in understanding anxiety, anger and depression…. Plunkett weaves in what he teaches in that particular series, into his messages a lot. Give it a try!

    Grief is a big part of all this too. It’s messy, mysterious and worth the journey.

    May His light illumine the darkness…

    • says

      Hey Tammie, great input. If you could, please post a link or two to Mike’s work here in the comments section. I would love to check his material out, as others might also.

      FYI, I grew up about 5 minutes from Spaghetti Junction, so your comment made me smile.

      Thanks!

      • says

        Morning John!
        I figured you would know what Spagetti Junction was :-) I have traversed over, through, in and out of that pile of pavement many times!!

        Here is the link to Mike’s church: http://www.risenkingalliance.org/

        His messages are full of emotional healing related themes. The emotional healing teaching is a special 12 week series. You can call/email the church and ask for it. I hope someday to use that series to lead small groups in the journey to know healing and transformation and maturity in Christ. It’s powerful stuff, yet simple at the same time.

        Like the Gospel… Jesus came to give us Life and life abundant. Life is full of suffering, pain, grief, etc. We don’t have to live entangled by anxiety, anger and depression, yet so often we perceive these emotions/moods as personality, part of our “cross” or “just the way we are.”

        As you pointed out, we are Children of the King, and the Fruit of walking by the Spirit doesn’t really include anxiety (in fact, Jesus preached much about NOT worrying, NOT being anxious; being angry and Not sinning) and depression… can be chemical and cognitive all in one…) There is freedom and healing to be found!

        It’s rather exciting … !!!

        Maybe someday we will be at Spagetti Junction at the same time, and share what God has done – that would be fun!

  11. Ashley says

    First of all, I genuinely respect your openness about this struggle of pursuing Spiritual Health. You are not alone. It is so wonderful that you have Godly community around you who have gently pointed out their observations to you because they love and care for you. This really is a perfect example of why it is SO important to have and pursue Godly community. It is crucial for us all. Praise God that you are open and aware to the very truths that you have written above. Being AWARE I think is one of the first steps you can take in your journey of assessing your spiritual health. You seem to be headed in the right path…Proverbs 3:5-6.

    Here are a 4 thoughts in how I relate to this topic:

    1. About a year and a half ago I believe that God revealed to me my lack in faith and trust in him in some areas in my life, specifically in my future, the unknown, my desires that have not been met and will they every be? There is a series called BELIEVE by Louie Giglio that is all about Faith vs. Fear. These teachings really helped me to recognize when I am thinking and acting out of fear or rooted in Faith and believe in who God says he is. I encourage you to watch or listen if you can find it as a podcast.

    2. Scripture Memorization: A lot of the comments before mine have already touched on this but I just wanted to say that I think having key verses memorized is the game changer when it comes to changing your habits and walking in the path the Lord had set before you. When you are stressed, tired, angry…I really do believe that the Holy Spirit will bring to mind his Word if he is at the center of your life. Here are a few verses that I have memorized to help me when moments of anger, worry, anxiousness and weariness come…and they come often:
    -Psalm 34: 3-8
    -Isaiah 41:10
    -Romans 8:6 & 15:13….(one of my favorites)
    -Ephesians 6: 10-18 Sometimes before my day starts I literally stand up and ask my self..Do you have your armor on? Have you put on the breast place of righteousness? Do you have the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God?
    -Philippians 4:4-8
    I encourage you to ask the Lord to show you what scripture you could memorize, actively write them out, pick one to memorize a week, and tell someone about it who will keep you accountable and quiz you on your verses. My mentor does this with me and it is awesome when you prove to yourself that you ARE CAPABLE of meeting this life enhancing goal that we Christians know is crucial to our walk with God.

    3. I am currently going through a bible study called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero. He speaks about the very things that you wrote on. Maybe when you have the time you could look into if it seems interesting to you.

    4. One of your commentators wrote a little on checking on your physical health and how that can enhance a lot of fatigue if you are not well…especially if you don’t know it. About a year ago I was told that I had hypothyroidism…which means that your thyroid does not produce enough of its hormone. Some if its side effects are fatigue, tiredness, depression and it kills your metabolism. I kind of hit a wall around August and was just tired and unusually high and low. I have found a few doctors that have been awesome and have really helped me understand more abut the thyroid and I am moving in the right direction and feel less of these symptoms. Sometimes you just never know unless you get checked out.

    I am praying for you and your journey in this. It sounds like your break coming up is just what you need…when does it start? Are you going to get to spend some of it with your family?

    And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1: 6

    • says

      Ashley, as always, tremendous stuff. Thanks for taking the time to comment in such an extensive way!

      Two things really stick out to me as I read this. First, Scripture memory. . . it is a disciplines that HAD been a part of my life which has gone by the wayside the past few years. This needs to always be there. Second, the “Healthy Spirituality” book has now been recommended 3 times in these comments alone. I think I need to learn from this!

      I was actually given the book a few years ago by a friend, but put it off on the the ole shelf. I need to get it off and read it.

      Thanks again and can’t wait to see you and the others in a few weeks/months!

  12. says

    Praying for you, John. I was reading in Matthew the other night where Jesus says for us to come to Him for rest and that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

    Then I had the visual of walking with Jesus on a journey. The burdens He would give us would be like a lightly filled bag or back pack, not a heavy, back-breaking load to manage step after step and mile after mile.

    How amazing that God is more concerned about your rest than you even are! And He sent loving, trustworthy people to speak into your life.

    I have an appreciation and gratitude for the smallest of blessings when I’m walking in the Spirit. Blue skies, my nephew, and conveniences I usually take for granted all become opportunities to worship. The entire day is a “thank you” to my Father:)

    For me, the fastest way to realign my heart when it’s wayward is to simply sit in the Lord’s presence. Everything electronic is turned off, even lights, and with only a candle or the light of the stars or city, I just “be.” I absolve myself from the “effort” of praying the right thing, singing praise songs, reading scripture, etc. Instead of taking the responsibility aka: burden of recalibrating my own heart, I let HIM do it. It feels awfully lazy but it’s so much more efficient this way!

    Psalm 46:10 used to aggravate me but as I’ve gotten older I see the value in silence and not just on my end but the Lord’s too. I take greater comfort knowing He’s there and feeling His presence even in the quiet. It’s actually something I seek now and treasure because I see the value in it.

    I pray God will rejuvenate you and draw you closer to Him in the most effortless ways. For His yoke is easy and burden light!

    • says

      Natalie, thanks again for your time and energy in commenting. Really a blessing to read and process.

      You know, I used to tell people you could judge my spiritual health by the amount of walks I was taking by myself at night. I have traditionally loved just walking and processing life with God in the still of the night. This is one of the many good habits I have allowed to slip away over the past several years of living in the midst of an Asian mega-city. Great reminder!

      Thanks for your prayers and friendship here. Have a great week!

      • says

        I am a lover of night walks too! They’re especially nice in the wintertime when it seems extra quiet and the smell of chimney smoke is in the air. However, last winter I ran into a pair of coyotes (in the suburbs of all places) so my 11pm walk was abruptly curtailed!!

        You’re right it is such a great time to connect with God and I need to get back to doing that myself. The night sky is not only beautiful but a reminder like no other of how big God is and how small my worries/troubles are in comparison. Are there any parks where you live?

  13. Kelly Hope says

    Thank you for this…much needed as I have also recently been struggling with tiredness & find myself just going through the motions of life. I’m finding for myself that my joy increases when I spend time just talking to God & pouring out my heart to Him. The more centered I am, the more my joy increases. And even though I may stay tired at times, it’s a crazy peace-filled tired kind-of-joy…not as the world gives, but as He gives. Praying that your joy will remain.

  14. Alexis says

    Hey, John! Just came across this blog post of a former student of mine. It somewhat addresses what you speak of in this post. I think. http://sanctuarytulsa.com/spirituality-for-busy-people/

    I understand if you are already busy, tired and reading a book with a group of your friends, then one more thing ‘to do’ might seem counter intuitive. But as this is the beginning of the Lenten season and since you seem to be reflective and analytical, like to read…and sometimes have heaps of travel time…thought you might enjoy something else to ponder. And through your joys and sorrows, and the times of ease and challenge may our God and Father continue to grant you grace & peace! Lex

  15. Jami Holland says

    Haven’t visited this blog in a long time but I’m reading your most recent posts, and boy this one is great. #2 especially is what I need to look at right now. Thanks for sharing your story, your struggles. Don’t know you, but as your sister in Christ, ill for sure be lifting you up in prayer here in Fayetteville, NC!

    Love the bridge in this song-> I may be weak/Your Spirit’s strong in me/my flesh may fail/but my God you never will
    http://m.metrolyrics.com/give-me-faith-lyrics-elevation-worship.html.

    • says

      Thanks for re-visiting and leaving two great comments today, Jami!

      I have never heard this song (being in Asia for the past 15 years has caused me to miss a bunch of stuff!), but looks great. Thanks for adding it here!

  16. Colleen says

    John, I just came across your blog through a link from Debra Fileta’s website and I am really enjoying it! I especially appreciated this post – I can completely identify with your third element regarding the fruits of the spirit. It seems that peace and joy are the first things to go when I am not spiritually healthy. I recently had a similar experience as far as a friend pointing out the change in my disposition as my spiritual health declined – she kindly told me that I seemed to be focusing a lot more on myself and wallowing in self pity about my current circumstances rather than deriving joy from serving others. I think self focus is one thing that I would add to your list as an indicator of declining spiritual health.

    I also came across your letter to a friend (girl) regarding dating Christian men and loved it! Thanks for sharing your journey.

    • says

      Thanks for reading and letting me know you are enjoying it, Colleen. I really appreciate letting me know.

      Yeah, I think the whole “loving people well” is perhaps my first indicator of poor spiritual health for me also. As soon as irritation and impatience start taking ahold of me, I know I am in a bad place.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. . . nice meeting you in this internet type of a way.

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