Ford Attends to the Inward Journey

ford_review_09242016Leighton Ford. 2008.  The Attentive Life: Discerning God’s Presence in All Things. Downers Grove: IVP Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning as I washed a coffee mug and looked out the kitchen window I saw a leaf twirling like a top above the fence in my back yard. Now, I guessed that it was suspended by a spider’s web, but I was curious how that might come to be. Of what interest to a spider was a dried up old leaf? I quickly finished washing the mug and hurried out to the backyard to take a look. Sure enough, above the leaf was a spider’s web—the spider had spun its web among many leaves in that branch. Only this one leaf, however, was dried up and had fallen there below to hang in the wind and grab my attention, like a small burning bush in a busy day.

In his book, The Attentive Life, Leighton Ford writes:

“This God creates, playfully, purposefully—out of nothing—space and stars, sun and moon, light and darkness, dandelions and donkeys, whales and kingfishers, and a handsome couple. And then he doesn’t get bored: he sees everything that he has made and takes delight in it.” (29)

In what do you take delight? In this book, Ford invites us into his own attempt to slow down and begin paying more attention, writing:

“My work has largely focused on evangelism—‘making friends for God,’…but a change has taken place…now is a time to pay more attention to my own heart, to deepen my own friendship with God and to walk with others who want to do the same.” (10)

So Ford invites us into his own journey, structured along the “Divine Hours”, a contemplative journey linking the hours of the day to the seasons of life.

For those unfamiliar, the Divine Hours are prayers undertaken roughly every three hours, 24 hours a day, following prescriptions first articulated in the 12th century by Saint Benedict and followed to this day in monasteries around the world. The traditional names of these prayer times are: the Vigils (also Martins), Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline (21).[1] After an introduction and a chapter describing attentiveness, Ford write 8 chapters following the Divine Hours, followed by an epilog.

Chapter 2 is most revealing of Ford’s character as a writer and willingness to share. He describes the Virgils, the prayers at 3 a.m. as—“The Birthing Hour: Time before Time” (50)—and starts his discussion by sharing his experience at Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist Monastery in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.[2] Like the unborn child, the Trappist monk is silent, not by necessity, but by an oath of silence. Like an unborn child is vulnerable—especially in a society so prone to abortion, Ford shares his experience of learning at the age of 12 that he was adopted—“chosen in love”, according to his adoptive mother (54). In the pre-dawn darkness, the Virgils remind us of own vulnerability and of God attentiveness to us in spite of our weakness in the dark, in an unborn state or even a state of sleeplessness.

Ford employs this sleep motif to expand into a spiritual metaphor—how are  sleep deprived workers to pay attention to God? The sleep deprived are modern zombies, unaware of themselves, unable to love either neighbor or God. Sympathetic to the sleep deprivation of young seminarians, Ford invites retreat participants, not to long lectures, but to take long naps (6). Having experienced this gift of rest first hand at a retreat with the Pierce Fellowship at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS), I member feeling shocked and amazed to receive this unexpected gift of rest.

Ford’s influence extends directly into my seminary experience in other ways. Not knowing who he was until a bit later, for example, Ford and I shared lunch a couple years back at a GCTS pig roast in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I was a student at the time. More generally, Ford heads his own ministry, Leighton Ford Ministries,[3] which “seeks to help young leaders worldwide to lead more like Jesus”. He is best known as Billy Graham’s brother-in-law, but he is an evangelist in his own right.

I am not sure how I learned about this book or why I purchased the copy that I bought sat on my book shelf for several months. But knowing Leighton Ford’s reputation, his book, The Attentive Life, started calling my name. When I finally found time to read it, I was not disappointed. If you are inclined to explore the contemplative life, this is the book for you. If not, step out in faith and try it—you will not be disappointed.

[1] Interestingly, Ford notes that “Benedict’s Rule” was written, not for clergy, but for lay people (21).



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Prayer for Attentiveness

October table setting of praise and thanksBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Eternal Father,

The days pass quickly like leaves turning color before their time.

Where did the summer go? I am not ready for fall; I am not ready for cooler breezes and shorter days.

Lord, help me to be attentive to the times and seasons, to lift my head from my computer screen,

to listen for the sirens warning me that I am neither alone, nor as good as I might imagine in my dreams.

What was it that I missed while I struggled in spring and summer days to learn all my lessons and to earn enough to support a family?

Lord, help me to be attentive to the slower pace, the changing roles, the weeds that need to be pulled, the fruit in need of picking in the garden that I have so carelessly planted and left for others to tend.

Why is it quieter now when all I remember is commotion and running and shouting? Is it not enough to rest my soul, to draw nearer to you, and to not fear empty hours?

Lord, help me to be attentive to the things and the people and the feelings that for so long seemed only nice to know.

Lord, help me to see your face, to feel your presence, to know your Spirit, and to become more like your Son. In Jesus precious name, Amen


Leighton Ford. 2008. The Attentive Life:  Discerning God’s Presence in All Things. Downers Grove:  IVP Books.

Prayer for Attentiveness

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Hickman Explains God’s Presence

Hickman, Closer than Close

Hickman Explains God’s Presence

Dave Hickman. 2016. Closer than Close: Awakening to the Freedom of Your Union with Christ. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Since I graduated from seminary in October 2013, I have spent increasing time working as an author alone. In my early seminary years, I was working as an economist full-time and traveling to classes once a month; later when I retired from government, I traveled to classes twice a month. Before and during seminary, I was a perpetual motion machine; now, I am still busy, but now I am busy alone. What’s different? I now longer feel a need to have music playing—I am content to work and live in silence. I share my day with God and am mostly at peace, even in the midst of daily chaos.


David Hickman, in his book, Closer than Close, writes:

“After years of striving to be close to Jesus, I stumbled upon the shocking reality that Jesus was already as close to me as he could possibly get. It was then that I discovered, in the words of Philip Yancey, ‘Jesus I never knew.’ Striving was replaced with abiding.” (xv)

When Jesus talks in the seventh Beatitude—Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God (Matt 5:9), he refers to the Jewish concept of shalom, where shalom (שָׁלוֹם) means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002) and not the more limited idea of reconciliation, which remains more familiar. Hence, Hickman can say: “union with Christ has long been considered to be the central message of the Gospel” (xxvi) embodied in the word abiding and in the idea of being children of God—we are all brothers and sisters of our father in heaven.


Stilling, abiding is more than being members of God’s family. Hickman writes:

“What if the union I longed to have with my son was but a pale reflection of a ‘oneness’ I always longed to have with Jesus? What if Jesus never wanted to have a ‘close relationship’ with me? What if he always wanted to be ‘one’ with me instead?” (18)

This abiding is not a new idea, it is a very old idea that has its roots in the unity of God in the Shema (25-26):

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5)

In some sense, the unity modeled by the Trinity abides most clearly in the Gospel of John.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:4-7)

Being Close

Obviously, Hickman wanders into the deep end of the pool here—I know that in my own experience, this sort of relationship with God “just is” and is hard to talk about it when people ask. How do you talk about the most intimate relationships with anyone else? It feels like something between bragging and betraying a confidence.

Hickman’s discourse on the union with God organizes around the meta-narrative of the Bible: creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. However, he recasts the biblical narrative in terms of union, disunion, reunion, and promise of perfect union (48). Stated in this way, our union with God models after the Trinity and models into our faith journey.

While many aspects of theology can come up, I found Hickman’s implication for the spiritual disciplines the most interesting. He summarizes his comments under four topics:  doing nothing, praying simply, staying attentive, and being led (104).  Let me focus on each in turn.

Doing Nothing.

Hickman writes: “it takes more faith to believe we are loved and accepted by God when we are doing nothing than when we are doing as much as we can for God.” (105) Repeat that ten times. Our salvation depends wholly on the work of Christ and does not depend on anything that we have done. Hickman uses the example of a child in the womb—the body of the child matures naturally as the child abides in the mother’s womb and has nothing to prove or do (107). This concept of abiding in Christ immediately affects our attitude about prayer.

Praying Simply.

Hickman makes a profound statement: “prayer is more about who we are praying to than what we are saying.” (109) Again, he draws on an analogy to one of his children.  Before he could speak; he asked for a bagel by pointing to the bagel and then pointing to his mouth (113). Prayer reminds us of a child pointing at things needed throughout the day.

Staying Attentive.

Hickman notes that “the question is not whether God is fully present in our lives, but if we are living fully aware of God’s presence.” (115) Of course, sometimes God needs to draw our attention a bit more dramatically than usual, because of our inattention.  Hickman refers to these as “love letters” from God (115).[1]

Being Led.

Hickman describes spiritual direction as: “The discipline of being led [which] involves the willingness to entrust yourself to someone else’s care.” (124) Spiritual direction is not counseling; it is not teaching; it involves having someone point to God’s work in your life and helping you find your true self in Christ.

David Hickman’s book, Closer than Close, is a fascinating exposition of the nature of God’s union with us. The New Testament discusses this relationship but details seldom appear elsewhere. In my case, Closer than Close gave me a framework for discussing my own faith journey. Words matter. If you are serious about your faith, then this book is for you.


Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

[1] I have sometimes talked about God’s little Easter Eggs in reference to scientific discoveries that God has placed in our path so that we would find them.  Hickman’s love letters focus on God’s revealing of himself.

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19. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webPrecious Lord,
In our finitude, our sin, our brokenness, we yearn for your righteousness, oh God. As the hungry grasp for bread, as the thirsty cry for water, we search for your justice where no other will do or no other can be found. Through your Holy scriptures, remind us that you are ever-near, always vigilant, and forever compassionate. Through the desert of our emotions and in the wilderness of our minds, bind our wounds and forgive our sins—that our pains would be relieved and our search would not be in vain. Through the power of your Holy Spirit grow our faith even as our strength fails us. Through the blood of the lamb, restore us to your presence. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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14. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webAlmighty Father,

I praise you for your enduring presence in my life—your glory surrounds me. It wakes me in the morning; its spirits my day; it protects me during the night. Empty me of all bitterness, all despair, all feelings that deflate my life.  Help me to confess my weaknesses, my brokenness, my sin to make room for your glory, your mercy, your love. Heal me in your presence when only your presence will do. Bind up my wounds; give me a hope; guide me in your ways that I might see the new day that your have prepared for me and that the past may no longer attract me or divert me from your glorious future and that I may enjoy the blessings set before me today. In the power of your Holy Spirit and in Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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7. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webOh dear Lord,
I give thanks that you are ever near to me—not too proud to linger with your servant and call me friend. Bless me with your spirit of humility and generosity—generous in time, generous in friendship, and generous in sharing yourself. Keep me safe from bad company; keep me safe from pious arrogance; keep me safe from my own sinful heart. Let me always be ever near to you, now and always, through the power of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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6. Prayers of a Live in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webLord of Lords, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Holiness,
We praise you for blessing us with life, a vision of how to live it, and family to share it with. We praise you for your faithful presence on good days and not so good days. Forgive us for our willfulness. Forgive us for sins against those around us and sins against you. Plant in us seeds of forgiveness and the patience to watch them grow. Plant in us the desire to follow you and to prosper your kingdom. Not just asking for blessings, but becoming blessings to those around us. Blessing not only those easy to love but those who are not so easy to love. Grant us strength for the day, grace for those we meet, and peace in all things. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Ever Present, Snow, and Grandpa’s Farm in Iowa

ShipOfFools_web_10042015The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Ps 23:1 ESV)

Ever Present

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Time awake. No tomorrow; no yesterday. A continuous present.

Every waking hour is new; Mom is there.

I am happy or alone. Loneliness is being in bed looking out over the covers.

The alligator under my bed comes out at night after the records play.
The alligator chases me around the room and runs away when Dad comes.


And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. (Gen 3:21 ESV)


By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Snow is for jumping in and for making into balls and throwing.

Mom, why do I need a jumpsuit, a knit cap, and mittens?

… Because the porch is cold and it is even colder outside.

But I don’t like mittens. Why can’t I wear gloves like you and Dad?

… These mittens were a gift made for you by your grandmother—see she made attached them together with a string so that you won’t loose them. When you get older, we will get you some gloves—gloves are made from leather and you can’t use them to make snowballs without ruining them. So for now, you need to use mittens!

Mom, I can put my shoes on myself! …


Now the LORD said to Abram, Go from your country and your kindred and
your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
(Gen 12:1 ESV)

Grandpa’s Farm in Iowa

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I’m going to Grandpa’s farm in Iowa.

Wandering up and down the aisles on the California Zephyr. People asked me and I told them—

I’m going to Grandpa’s farm in Iowa.

From Emeryville to Ottumwa. Snow on the Rockies; the deep ravines; the scary dark tunnel. But mostly, I remembered that—

I’m going to Grandpa’s farm in Iowa.

Why did people always lean forward in their seats to ask me—where y’a going?—and smile when I tell them?

Why did I always smile in thinking about it?

Maybe it was the cats. Married student housing did not allow pets. Besides, cats got to have birds and mice and wild stuff to eat…

Maybe it was the mulberry trees. Berry trees are special and especially hard to find in the city. Somehow, I don’t think city folks even know about mulberries—they seem more like blueberry people.

Maybe it was Grandma’s chicken and noodles or the box of chocolate chip cookies in the fridge. Mom fixed some great macaroni and cheese, but store-bought cookies are always dry and crunchy.

I smile thinking on the farm, ‘cause there were pumps to pump; snow drifts to jump in; relatives to visit; Christmas church services to dress up for. Everyday was an adventure on the farm, but the reason I smile is because on the farm I felt special.

I’m going to Grandpa’s farm in Iowa.


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Prayer Day 49: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Disponible en
Disponible en

Heavenly Father, beloved Son, Holy Spirit. We thank you that you do not leave us alone and that you care for us. Inspire our hearts and illumine our minds so that we can be light in a dark and confusing world. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Padre Celestial, Hijo Amado, Espíritu Santo, te agradecemos por no dejarnos sólos y por preocuparte por nosotros. Inspira nuestros corazones e ilumina nuestras mentes para poder ser luz en un mundo oscuro y confuso. En el precioso nombre de Jesús oramos. Amén.


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Prayer Day 42: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Espera verano 2015
Espera verano 2015

Oh dear Lord. Thank you for answering prayer. Thank you for visions that bring comfort; for healings that relieve pain; and for your presence that instills peace in our lives. Grow my faith. In the power of your Holy Spirit, shape me in the image of your son. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Oh, querido Señor, gracias por responder a la oración. Gracias por las visiones que nos confortan, gracias por la sanidad que alivia el dolor, y gracias por Tu presencia que infunde paz para nuestras vidas. Aumenta nuestra fe. En el poder del Espíritu Santo, moldéanos a imagen de Tu hijo. En el nombre de Jesús oramos. Amén.


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