by Jan Johnson
Foreword by Dallas Willard
Amy Courage of www.Christianbook.com enjoyed Invitation to the Jesus Life so much, saying it gave her quite a lot of food for thought and some ideas to experiment with in her walk, that she chose to interview Jan for the website. Here’s the interview:
Where did the idea of Invitation to the Jesus Life start? Was there a particular question you wanted to answer, or an event that sparked your interest?
I’m concerned that much is made of spiritual disciplines or practices such as: Have you read your Bible today? Have you prayed today? These practices are not to be elevated and checked off for the sake of doing them (as the Pharisees did) but they are wonderful means of connecting with God. Knowing God is the point, not just doing practices.
I wrote this book to put Jesus front and center and to help people meet the Trinitarian person of God as revealed in Scripture. Then at the end of each chapter about Jesus, I offer 15 or so practices that help us connect with God today.
What makes your book different from others that address similar topics of spiritual formation and the spiritual disciplines?
While I have written a great deal about both, I want Jesus and the kingdom life that Jesus offers us today to take a front seat.
Can you give any advice to folks who have difficulty finding time to be still and connect with God?
Don’t try too hard. Take a walk. Do something slow you like to do. Enjoy just being with God. Don’t even try to hear God. Just be still and love that God is God.
You talk about how “For Jesus, listening was a vehicle to love people.” What do you think this demonstrates about Jesus’ character? About God’s character?
First, all three members of the Trinity are relational. They listen to and love one another and invite us into that circle of love. They teach us that loving others is about submitting ourselves to each other in the form of listening deeply without thinking of what I want to say next. They put each other first; through listening to each other, we learn (with difficulty!) to put one another first.
Please elaborate on how God uses our tears to develop compassion. How can this become a spiritual discipline?
A weeping heart—whether this manifests itself in physical wet tears or an inner mourning—comes from God. God wept and mourned for the nations throughout the Old Testament prophetic books. Today as I read the newspaper or the internet news I must not do so just out of curiosity, but out of a concern for the world God so loves. I read so that I may know how to pray for this world. Closer to home, a concerned heart for my neighbor with cancer makes me pray for him and act to help him have what he needs today. Weeping becomes a discipline when we pay attention to what breaks God’s heart in a society that wants only to be happy.
You give suggestions at the end of Chapter 11 to help the reader “absorb the fearless courage of God.” Many of these exercises involve reading, meditating on Scripture or visualizing yourself as the participant in a Biblical scenario—how does focusing on the Word calm our fears?
It does so as we immerse ourselves in the activities and phrases of the passage. If I can be in that boat that’s about to capsize and turn to Jesus for help, I’ll also do it in life. I need to imagine Jesus speaking to the wind and sea and absorb the truth of that. I need to be mesmerized by the image of Jesus walking on the sea in the moonlight, terrified that my friend Peter is going to do it too and then finally wish I’d had the courage to try it! I need to relish repeating throughout my day from the deepest part of myself: “Dread nothing! The Lord your God, who really is present with you, is great and awesome” (Deuteronomy 7:21). When my plane is late and I’m worried that I’ll miss my speaking engagement, I need to live inside the idea that the Lord really is my shepherd and I really do have everything I need (which is why I’m the strange person mumbling at the airport).
Would you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert? Do you think personality types or traits figure into learning to become “slow to speak?”
While I am an introvert, I have directees who are introverts and extroverts so I know we all struggle with being “slow to speak.” While the extrovert processes out loud and so finds it difficult to be quiet, the introvert is processing inside (often non-stop) and has to pause that inner conversation to be quiet before God. Being “slow to speak” is about that pause. Can I abstain from speaking and trust that God will work without me rushing in with my fabulous insights?
You touch briefly on the importance of beauty in Jesus life, such as when He’s anointed by Mary in Matthew 26:10. There seems to be a strong connection between beauty and worship. How does beauty figure into our expressions of worship today?
First, we need to understand that Jesus as the “beautiful shepherd” showed a deep inner goodness that was beautiful and attractive. One way beauty then figures into our worship is to present Jesus as simply beautiful. Rather than hurrying into application, we need to pause after reading a gospel passage and say, “What a beautiful thing for Jesus to do! I want to be like Jesus!” Contemplating God’s beauty helps us worship. When I hike, I find myself bursting into “Holy, Holy, Holy” because of the beauty around me. Beauty in our gathered worship space also helps us celebrate God. Imitating our God of creation, we can worship with art work, fabric, poetry, dance and dramatic reading—as long as we focus on God and not on performance.
How can we avoid becoming overwhelmed in our journey to become more like Christ?
My job is not to become Christlike. The Holy Spirit does that in me. My job—this year, this week and in the next ten minutes—is to connect with God in ways that God is leading me to do because they make sense to my way of being. That’s why I love to say, “You do the connecting; God does the perfecting.”
What do you hope your readers will take away from Invitation to the Jesus Life?
I’m praying that reading the book will help pull back the veil of ordinariness about Jesus and help readers see Jesus’ wise, exquisite, radiant being so they’ll be caught up in and bathed in the love and power of God. I’m eager for readers who have let that happen to try the experiments at the end of the chapters and see what happens to them!