Benner Points to God

David Benner, Sacred Companions
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

David G. Benner. 2003.  Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction.  Downers Grove:  IVP Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The term, soul mate, is often bantered about in the popular media without a clear definition.  Usually, a soul mate is simply a photogenic member of the opposite sex who understands you. In seminary a friend spoke intriguingly about spiritual friends who: nurture the development of each other’s soul (16). This definition sounded remarkably like the relationship I shared with my best friend in high school who went on to become a pastor. When I learned that my friend took his comments from David Benner’s book,Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction, I immediately ordered a copy.

Introduction

Some books are good for information; others offer solace in life’s journey. Benner’s work clearly falls in both camps. He writes: The essence of Christian spirituality is following Christ on a journey of personal transformation…Spiritual friends accompany each other on that journey (26). Reading along I discovered things about myself that had never previously been expressed in words.

Spiritual Direction

One such point was Benner’s comment about spiritual direction.  The objective in offering direction is not to provide counsel or even react to things said, but rather to point friends to God’s work in their personal lives.  Benner writes: spiritual direction is not primarily about theology. It is about personal, experiential encounter with God (155).  Soul care consists, not of advice or disciplining, but of compass reading.  Disciplining focuses on first steps while spiritual direction focuses on later stages in the journey (28).

Jesus modeled this focus saying: I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3 NIV). Only someone well along in the journey of life needs to reflect back on childhood experiences.  Paul likewise appeared to position himself primarily as a spiritual traveler rather than teacher.  For example, Paul writes: Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8 ESV).  As a fellow traveler, Paul’s work as an evangelist placed him in the position of a guide pointing the way to Christ.  A guide travels; a teacher waits for students to appear.

This “compass reading” objective of spiritual direction and spiritual friendship is critical in offsetting the idolatry of individualism.  Normally, a preoccupation with holiness is critiqued by our society as “navel gazing” or becoming all churchy.  While is certainly possible to become obsessed with the programs and trappings of the church, becoming sensitive to God’s work in our lives normally has the opposite effect.  God is unseen and speaks through people and things seen.  When we become sensitive to God’s work, we become more fully aware of everyone and everything else in our lives.  This sensitivity accordingly strips away the pretense of individualism.  Compass reading has the effect of providing us a better set of priorities because God moves closer to the center of lives.  Jesus focused on children, in part, because they are more sensitive, not less sensitive, to what is happening around them than most adults.

Background and Organization

At the time of this book’s publication, David Benner was a Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Spirituality at eh Psychological Studies institute in Atlanta, Georgia.  His book is written in 9 chapters:

  1. The Transformational Journey;
  2. Hospitality, Presence, and Dialogue;
  3. The Ideals of Spiritual Friendship;
  4. Demystifying Spiritual Directions;
  5. Soul Attunement;
  6. A Portrait of the Process;
  7. Becoming a Spiritual Director;
  8. Spiritual Accompaniment in Small Groups; and
  9. Spiritual Accompaniment in Marriage.

The first 3 chapters focus on spiritual friends; the next 4 focus on spiritual direction; and the last 2 focus on combining the two.  These chapters are introduced with a lengthy preface and followed by an epilogue.

Assessment

If our faith in Jesus Christ is more caught than taught, spiritual friends play a critical role in our walk with the Lord. Reading Benner’s book was a key point in my journey.

Benner Points to God

Continue Reading

Called Again: Of Bovine and Boxers by Reid Satterfield

Reid, April, and Emma Jane Satterfield
Reid, April, and Emma Jane Satterfield

Called Again: Of Bovine and Boxers by Reid Satterfield

This morning’s guest blogger, Reid Satterfield, writes about a learning experience as a missionary in Uganda.  Reid hails from Charlotte, NC.

Reflection on Cows

One evening—when we still lived in Northwest Uganda—April and I were awakened by the sound of footfalls just outside of our bedroom window.  Alarmed, I jumped out of bed, grabbed a tire iron, and rushed to our front door.  At that moment I was aware that the source of the noise was on the other side of the door.  Bracing for the worst, I opened the door to—of all things—the rear-end of a cow.  Peering around his hindquarters, I could see him munching on our grass, oblivious to me and to the fact that he’d just desecrated my doorstep and—nearly—my feet.  Agitated, I traded the tire iron for a walking stick and laid into that mangy cow.

As the cow galloped away, I returned to bed, satisfied he would not return and grateful for the ebony walking stick—a gift from an elder of a nearby clan.  Sadly, I enjoyed my satisfaction only a moment.  Within minutes the cow had returned and, again, I had to chase him out of my yard.  This cycle was repeated.  The third time he returned I was so angry that I ran outside, stick in hand, and chased that cow for about 100 meters.

Unexpected Outcome

When I came to my senses, I found myself in overgrowth—where recently I’d had a Wild Kingdom experience with rats and a large black mamba (an aggressive and highly poisonous snake)—wearing only boxer shorts and flip-flops. Chastened, I returned home to a rather amused wife and with another “teachable moment” to ponder.

Following Christ is not always glamorous…it can be downright degrading.  But, these little humiliations that we endure in Christ highlight an oft-overlooked truth that self-regard and humility do not go together.  Following Christ is a “downwardly mobile” pathway [1]. To serve Christ is to count yourself as the least among many; to serve Christ is to put other people’s needs ahead of your own.

So brothers and sisters, accept life’s many humiliations as Christ’s provision for the journey; a journey from self-regard to humility. 

The Apostle Paul’s Words to the Church at Philippi

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:1-8).

Biography

I grew up in Hampstead, NC, a small fishing community located in the southeast corner of the state.  Here I spent endless hours outdoors, fishing, hunting, camping, and exploring the salt marshes of the barrier islands. Through conversation and commitment, my mother and father introduced me to Jesus Christ.

During my last two years at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, I committed myself to a life of following Christ and got involved with Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF; www.intervarsity.org).  Here I developed an inner joy in being discipled and discipling others. My wife, April, and I met in IVCF and we ached to serve Christ in overseas missions. When we married in June of 1996, we were already on our way becoming missionaries.

Mission to Uganda

April and I were missionaries with the African Inland Mission (www.aimint.org) from 1998 to 2001.  Our daughter, Emma Jane, was born  in northwestern Uganda in August of 2000.  Working among the Aringa people, an unreached tribe along the Congo and Sudan borders, our dream was to share Christ’s love with people previously familiar only with famine, war, and exile.  We loved our little mud-brick house in the bush and planned to make it our life’s work.

In January 2001, rebel troops ambushed, shot, and left for dead a friend and I.  We survived miraculously, but my wounds forced us to return to the states in February.  A year later I entered Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (www.GordonConwell.edu) in Charlotte, NC and later (2004-2012) coordinated of the Pierce Center for Disciple-Building for the Charlotte and Jacksonville campuses.

St. Patrick’s Anglican Mission

Today, I serve as the Coordinator of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation at St. Patrick’s Anglican Mission (http://StPatricksMission.org). I also serve as a certified lecturer for Perspectives, a nationwide organization that provides churches with educational resources for engaging in world missions and provide spiritual direction to various leaders in and around the Charlotte Metro area.

[1]  Henri Nouwen.  2007. The Selfless Way of Christ:  Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life.  Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books. (www.HenriNouwen.org)

 

Also see:

Reid Satterfield Commencement Address at GCTS 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

Continue Reading