Bruce Almighty: Why God Invented Prayer

We have a deep need to practice the discipline of “asking.”

“I feel like I’m just talking to the air when I pray.”

“Why does God never answer me when I pray?  I wish sometimes I could just hear some kind of a response.”

If you can relate to either of the two phrases above, you are like me.  Prayer is one of those mysteries that I’ve always wondered about since becoming a Christian.  I’ve done it countless times and have found it valuable and meaningful, but a part of me couldn’t fully grasp why we pray the way we do… until recently.

Maybe you’ve heard people say, “Prayer isn’t just about saying a ‘laundry list’ of your needs, or asking God to do things for us.  Prayer is about how we are changed in the process of spending time with God.”  I’ve frequently heard that, and it sounded good to me, but I still wondered: “How and why exactly does it change us?”

While in the process of thinking through this blog series on “choices,” a very simple truth came to me.  At its most basic nature, a big element of prayer is identifying your needs and desires (whether for yourself, or on behalf of others), and honestly expressing them to God.  Sound familiar?

Philippians 4:6-7 says:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The Genius Design of Prayer

I believe that God designed prayer the way it is, because He knew just how important — and hard — it is for us to be in touch with our needs and desires.  He knew that:

  • Prayer would compel us to do the reflection necessary for us to know who we are, and to grow and change in the way He desires for us.
  • Prayer would compel us to take the transformational step of vocalizing our needs and desires.  Instead of keeping thoughts to ourselves, prayer requires us to take the proactive step of sharing vulnerably with God and with other people.
    • Prayer would humble us, by putting us in a position of expressing need, and having to wait for a response.  God knew that we cannot grow in the ways He desires for us, if we never come to a place of genuine need and vulnerability.  He knew that having to wait for an answer frustrates us, mostly because we hate not being in control, and facing our fears of the unknown.  However, that is how we learn to trust in Him.  Check out this clip from the movie “Bruce Almighty,” where Grace (played by Jennifer Aniston) comes to a place of complete need and vulnerability.  This is what touches God’s heart:

  • Prayer would compel us to take ownership of our needs and desires.  God knew that if prayer was a two-way dialogue, we’d find some excuse to not take responsibility, but say, “God told me to do it” or “God spoke, and I had no choice but to obey.”  We’d find every conceivable way to twist and manipulate the message of God… after all, isn’t that what people do already, even without proof that God spoke audibly to them?

Who would’ve thought something as simple as prayer could be this challenging, and this “involved?”  Still, if you think carefully about all four of these points the next time you pray, I believe you will find them to be effective and rewarding, in allowing the practice of prayer to transform you.

Four Practical Ideas For Transformative Prayer

Here are some practical ideas that I’ve found helpful:

  • Take 15 minutes to reflect on what you tend to pray for, and about.  Write it down.  I’ve found that reflecting on what kinds of things I ask for in prayer, reveals what is important to me.  And as I’ve become more aware of that, by simply thinking about what I am asking for and why, the kinds of things I’ve asked for has changed.  I’ve grown as a person who cares about different things, and thus prays for different things, as I learn and mature.
  • Don’t just pray by yourself, but arrange at least 1-2 times a week when you can pray with a friend or your spouse.  It can honestly be as short as 10 minutes, but it makes a difference to have to vocalize your prayers out loud.  I encourage you to actually make those prayers personal and as vulnerable as you dare… don’t just pray for other people, but express your needs and desires to your prayer partner.  And if you can’t meet up with somebody during a particular week, pray over e-mail.  Write out your prayer requests, or even the prayers themselves in paragraph form!  It’s better than not doing anything at all, and you’ll also have a written record of your prayer requests.
  • When you pray, pray for a couple of things that you normally take for granted.  Ask God to provide them.  For instance, a good friend of mine sometimes prays that God would provide him three meals during his day.  That’s something he can easily arrange for himself, but praying for it reminds him to stay humble, knowing that God could take away everything we have in a moment’s notice.  It changes his perspective and orientation in prayer, to one of dependence.  Plus, God delights in providing for our needs, so it honors God that we acknowledge that He provides for our every need, even when we forget it’s He who is doing the providing.  We are always “in need” — not just when we are desperate or hit “rock bottom” — whether or not we remember that truth.
  • Seek to “live out” your prayer requests on a day-to-day basis.  Incorporate them into your personal goals for the year, or even your job description if that is possible and appropriate.  Don’t wait for God to do something drastic, but look for Him to provide as you take action and live your life with intentionality and purpose.  Also, when we check in with your friends or prayer partners, ask each other for updates based upon your last time sharing.  This is much easier to do if you keep a written record, like looking at an old e-mail, an online collaborative (i.e. Google) document, or prayer journal.  Encourage and hold each other accountable to what you’ve shared.

I hope these ideas, and this perspective on prayer, are helpful in some way to you.  Feel free to share any insights and tips you’ve found, as well!

Prayer and Self-Absorption

One last thought about “knowing yourself” and faith.  You may gather from reading this post that I believe expressing our needs and desires is integrally related to spiritual growth.  But maybe you’re like me, and you’ve grown up seeing people (including myself) acting incredibly self-absorbed, and only praying for themselves, rather than for other people.  Or perhaps you see Christians using prayer to only grumble cynical sentiments, rather than express thanksgiving and gratitude to God.  So let me set the record straight.

Prayer is not only about yourself.  It’s about praying for other people, and things bigger than our lives.  Prayer is not just about asking for things, but expressing affection and thanksgiving to God.  But we cannot overlook how important prayer is simply between us and God, in how He uses it to change and grow us (the Lord’s Prayer is a good balance of all of these things).

Prayer and Over-Spiritualization

Too often, I’ve seen the tendency of Christian culture to “over-spiritualize” things.  It’s frowned upon, or at least incredibly difficult, for some Christians to simply say, “I need this” or “I want that.”  Rather, they feel pressured to say, “This is what God wants” or “I want this for God’s kingdom.”  Christians can dichotomize our desires from God’s wishes, and say they that they are serving out of “obedience,” although they really don’t want to do what they are doing.

I personally can understand this viewpoint, as frequently God calls us to do things out of our comfort zone.  It is dangerous to make our desires the sole guiding force, apart from God’s direction or wisdom.  However, I’ve frequently seen Christians go to the other extreme, so that they make decisions based upon where the biggest needs are (obedience) — apart from their unique personalities and desires.  Such experiences, while they can be helpful and stretching in the short-term, usually do not result in long-term sustenance or motivation.  That usually comes about when there is clear choice and ownership, after discerning the intersection of our personal honest desires and God’s deep desires for us.

There’s intentionality and purpose to how God uniquely created each of us, and being honest about our passions and needs is part of honoring God’s handiwork and design, that has been built into the fabric of our lives and being.  God is weaving together an incredible storyline in us, and understanding ourselves is a foundational step to discern how we can best serve Him, other people, and the world.

Jesus Expressed Needs and Desires

Keep this in mind, too — Jesus Himself knew His own needs and desires, and didn’t hesitate to make them clear to His Heavenly Father, or to His friends.  Just last week, our work team reflected on Matthew 26:36-56 in preparation for Good Friday and Easter:

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

First of all, notice how Jesus distinguished between His will and the Father’s will.  Ultimately, He submitted to the Father’s will, but He didn’t deny or downplay the fact that He himself had a will!  Jesus didn’t just say to the Father,”You and your desires are the same as mine.”  No, He was in agony at the thought of what it would mean to obey His Father’s will.  Even in one of the most intimate relationships, Jesus was able to differentiate His own needs and desires from the Father and His will — while staying fully connected and obedient to His Father.

Second, the passage goes on to describe how Jesus asked His disciples to stay watch two more times, and He also prayed to God the Father two more times.  Our team marveled at how Jesus knew His prayer requests might not be granted, yet He still expressed an honest desire multiple times.  Although He knew the disciples might not stay awake, and that He might be betrayed, Jesus persisted in telling them what He desired.  He kept asking. 

“Asking” opens you up to the possibility of being hurt, and Jesus made Himself vulnerable by expressing his needs and desires over and over again.  That was how He chose to relate and love in His relationships.  If the God of the universe is comfortable expressing His honest needs and desires, and asking for them… how much more do we need to learn to do those things?

How Do You Pray?

So how do you pray?  Are you in touch with your own needs and desires when you pray? 

Are you being fully honest with yourself, with other people, and with God?

Prayer matters, but not just praying in any random way.  How we pray makes the biggest difference, in how we can grow, be transformed, and draw closer to the heart of God in the process.  So the next time you pray and feel like you’re talking to the air, know that God designed prayer to be the way it is for our own good, as frustrating as the silence may be.  It was no accident.

We have a deep need to practice the discipline of “asking.”  But God is with you, waiting intently for you to share vulnerably from a place of honest need, and joyfully anticipating how He will provide for your every need, and more.  He wants you to ask, so that He can provide, and so that you can receive fully.

In closing, here’s one more clip from “Bruce Almighty,” where “God” is asking Bruce to pray.  It’s a great illustration of authentic prayer and some of the principles listed above.  Enjoy!

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What did you see?

What did you see in me, when we met?

Was it the way I dressed, or carried myself?

Was it the stories I told, or the words I wrote?

Was it something you saw on the outside, or in?


Because I still wonder and doubt

Up front, or behind the screen with trembling hands

My words and heart exposed


What will you see?


And in that moment, Your words echo in my mind

And I lose myself in You, with only a prayer remaining


That whatever perceived as competence, would be seen as dependence

Whatever perceived as confidence, would be seen as love that rejoices in truth

Whatever goodness in me, would point to the grace You first showed me

Whatever strength in me, would shine forth as weakness made strong in You


My Creator and Sustainer, the source of all I know to be good and true


What do you see?


I hope that instead of seeing just me

You saw His love for me

In the people around me


I hope you saw… and see

The kingdom of Christ around

And in


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What Gets in the Way of Taking Responsibility for our Choices?

“I wish the ring had never come to me.  I wish none of this had happened.”

“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

- Fellowship of the Ring

We have a deep need to practice the discipline of articulating and vocalizing our needs, desires, and challenges to others.

I want to flesh out more of what was discussed in the last post, and give more examples of how these principles impact our real life situations, day to day.  But before that, I want to address maybe the biggest question of all:

How Do We Learn to Do This?

What enables us to know our needs and desires?  How do we learn to vocalize them to others and take appropriate responsibility?  What gets in the way of our ability to do this?

The answer is not to “just suck it up,” or “get your act together.”  Sometimes as we begin to learn to do some of these things, we may have a tendency to become overly eager to do things well or perfectly, or our expectations for other people may rise.  That’s not a bad thing, but we do have to remember that we are all in process, and these are not easy things to do.

I believe we can only truly learn to do these things as we grow, in relationships with others and with God.  Growth is key: if we are not growing and letting people and God into that process, we can’t expect to learn to do these things.  Dr. Henry Cloud, in his Changes That Heal and How People Grow, outlines three key ingredients of growth — grace, truth, and time.

It takes time to grow and to learn to know our needs and desires, and to express them to others.  When we burst into this world as helpless babies, we are naked and utterly vulnerable.  We have countless needs and desires, whether it’s eating food, getting changed, staying warm, being soothed to sleep, or having the attention and care of a parent.  But in the very beginning of their existence, babies only know one way to communicate… scream!

It’s the job of adults to “read” their kids’ behaviors, and figure out what they need and want.  Part of parenting is to help children gradually be able to identify their needs and desires, and express them clearly to other people.

By the time we are adults, most of us have learned to do this in many areas of our lives.  We are able to know that we are hungry or thirsty, and feed ourselves.  We know when we are tired, and how much sleep we need. We understand that nobody can know better than us when we have these needs.  We have grown over the process of time, and with the help of our parents who have given us both grace and truth.

Cultural and Familial Influences

However, as we grow older, our needs and desires have become more complex — and a multitude of challenges stand in the way.  Some people have grown up in households that weren’t so healthy, and didn’t model unconditional love or appropriate boundaries.  Some grew up in cultures that didn’t encourage the sharing of emotions, or saw “neediness” as weakness.  Some grew up with parents who took care of everything for them, so they never learned to do such simple chores as washing dishes or doing laundry themselves; they never had to initiate or be direct in communication, because all of their needs and desires had already been anticipated.

Still others were abused or neglected, or faced negative societal messages regarding ethnicity, gender, or socio-economic class, and never believed in their own worth.  All these influences and experiences are challenges that should never be minimized!

This was the case with Will Hunting.  It wasn’t an accident that he became a closed-off young man with so many fears and insecurities — we learn in the movie that he was an orphan, and abused as he moved around from one foster family to another.  It takes time for him to come to grips with this, and vocalize these hurts to Sean.

But time is not enough.  Growth also involves grace and truth in relationships.  Without Sean’s honesty, compassion, and desire to know Will as he truly is, who knows how much longer Will might have remained in his defensive shell?  Without Skylar’s love and his friends from Boston, Will would never have taken the step to go after what he really wanted in life.

All three of these ingredients (grace, truth, and time) are key for authentic growth to happen.  Dr. Cloud writes (original source here):

For God’s system to work, you have to have all three. Grace and time together, without truth, will make you comfortable in your stuckness. Truth and time together, without grace, will discourage and break you. Grace and truth together without time will give you a vision and then not have you reach the completion of that vision. They must go together.

We need to always be growing, to be able to do the things we are describing in this series.  What gets in the way is that we sometimes neglect to see our need for continued growth.  We can assume we already know enough, or that we don’t need help.  Or perhaps we don’t pursue relationships that will give us the appropriate amount of grace and truth.

Fortunately, we can do something about this!  We can start to build these kinds of relationships by starting to express some of our challenges to people in our lives, and asking for honest feedback.  We can start this off by talking with people who are more mature, who know us, and who we know will tell us the truth in love.

How to Apply These Principles in Many Contexts

So along those lines, here are some ideas for how to apply some of the principles we’ve been discussing in this series within practical contexts we may face:

1)  First, write down what it is that you want and need.  For example, say you are organizing a conference, and realize you can’t do it all by yourself.  Make a list of the areas that you need help in, and what would make your experience a good one.  Even if you don’t like writing, it is a great step that requires us to think about our needs and desires, before we bring anybody else into the process.  Plus, it gives us a written record that we can use in later conversations and projects.

2)  Next, write down the 2-3 biggest challenges that make the process hard.  For instance, maybe you’re not used to asking for help, or there is a shortage of manpower, so you feel like you’re being a burden.  Or perhaps you are a perfectionist, and it’s hard for you to give control to others.  Be honest, but don’t get carried away here.  The top 2-3 challenges will give yourself and others a good picture of what you’re dealing with, without becoming overwhelming.

3)  Next, make a list of what you think you personally can do to meet your needs and desires (in 1 and 2).

4)  Finally, make a list of what you think others might be able to do to help meet your needs and desires (in 1 and 2).

Then, it’s a matter of communicating these things honestly to the appropriate people.  In some cases, that’s an organized e-mail to your coworkers.  In other cases, it’s a phone call to a family member before a vacation.  My wife and I usually have multiple conversations about our needs and desires before traveling, so that we can both do our best to make the experience as good as possible for one another.

One note here: I believe all of these principles and steps are crucial, no matter what our personality or cultural background is.  It may look different how we choose to take these steps, but I don’t believe it’s right to avoid taking these steps at all simply because “introverts or internal processors are not as expressive” or “Asian Americans are indirect communicators.”  I do believe these principles are fundamental to healthy human functioning and interaction, across the board.  “How things are done” is open to cultural diversity, but “whether or not they should be done” is not a question in my mind. I know there are a variety of perspectives and angles on this topic, though, so feel free to weigh in with your own!

It’s About Honest Communication, Not About Always Getting What We Want

I want to acknowledge here that expressing ourselves does not mean we will always get the totality of what we want and need.  We often have to sacrifice and compromise in life.  However, the key is our ability to identify and vocalize what we do want up front, and also what our challenges and honest hesitations are.   What is hard for us?  What are we sacrificing to make this decision or choice?  When we can articulate and vocalize these things early on, it brings invaluable clarity to ourselves and to other people.

The point here is that we can’t expect other people to know all of the challenges we face, internally and externally.  How could they know the whole picture?  Ultimately, we are most responsible to do our best to sort some of this out, and make our realities known to others.

For many of us, the source of our challenges may run deep, and we may have to make a sober assessment of the challenges we face — whether it’s acknowledging our familial or cultural upbringing, or the unjust systems of society that marginalize certain groups of people or perspectives… and so on.

For some situations, it won’t necessarily be too difficult or complex.  Sometimes honestly communicating our challenges and realities is just telling somebody that we are tired, busy, stressed, or even lacking motivation!  It could be as simple as your husband asking you to cook dinner one night because he is craving a particular dish, and you responding:

“I really would love to make that dish for you.  But the kids got sick today and I’m exhausted, and don’t think I’d be in good shape if I cooked tonight.  Why don’t we pick up food instead at one of your favorite restaurants, and then I’ll mark it down to cook that dish you want sometime next week?  What do you think?”

Empowering Others With Upfront Clarity

One truth that can’t be overlooked in the process above, is that we are doing it not just for ourselves, but for the people we love and want to serve!  We are helping them to know us and our unique challenges better.  We are letting them know how they can love and care for us, as we do the same for them. We are creating mutuality.

Some people will look at the process outlined above and think, “Why be so ‘needy’?  We just have to serve without complaining as we do things.  We need to be humble enough to think of ourselves less, and be strong enough to be okay if our needs and desires are not known or understood.”  Often, this attitude is associated with being a self-sacrificing servant.

However, I think it actually takes more humility and inner strength to let people in to our needs and challenges.  It actually empowers people more to let others know they can play a role in helping us where we are vulnerable.

I once led a project where I wasn’t clear up front with the help I needed, or the challenges I was facing.  I decided to take it on alone.  However, when things started to get overwhelming and difficult, I took out my frustration by wondering, “Why isn’t anybody seeing what I’m going through?  Why isn’t anybody offering to help or stepping up?”  When the people in my life heard me express some of these things to them, they actually felt confused and resentful.  That’s the last thing I was expecting to hear from them!

But I slowly came to realize: they did not know what I really wanted or needed, and I even put up a front of being “strong enough” and wanting to do things on my own.  But then when things got hard, I turned around and was blaming other people for not knowing or offering to help more.  I realized that whether consciously or not, my behavior was actually passive-aggressive.  I wanted it both ways — to get the praise and control for doing the project by myself, and to have help when I needed it.

I saw how unreasonable it was to expect other people to “read” into my situation and be available precisely when I needed help… all without my asking for it!  I expected them to anticipate my needs, without taking responsibility for knowing them myself, and making them clear to others.  It was an impossible task for my friends, and it wasn’t helpful or empowering to them at all.

A coworker of mine passed on a nugget of wisdom from a counselor-writer, who said that when there is an excessive amount of “blame” in a person’s heart, there are usually also many unexpressed needs.  If we are not upfront and clear, not only will we likely become resentful when we don’t get what we were hoping for, but we may take out our blame on other people.    

That’s why the principles and process outlined above are so important not only for ourselves, but for the sake of the people we are working with.

It’s Not on Us to Do Everything

I want to make an important disclaimer, however.  I’m not saying that all responsibility in every situation lies upon us.  Especially when we are asking for something we should expect, but are not receiving from a group or organization, we have every right to expect that people check in with us.  For instance, if we are working for an organization, we should expect our boss to ask us, “What do you need?  How can we help you?”

If we are going on a family trip, we should expect the organizers to touch base with us before the trip.  That’s why high quality customer service will check in with you, before and after your massage appointment, hotel stay, dining experience, major purchase… even videoconferencing call!  How ridiculous would it be for an organization to expect you, the paying customer, to be fully responsible for this kind of communication?  No, instead they ask: “What can we do now to make your experience excellent?  What can we do next time to improve your experience?”

Of course, even in these situations, we have some part of the responsibility, too.  We have the choice and ability to call ahead to let them know we will need a crib or refrigerator in the hotel room.  We can let the managers know that the noise level is too high for us to get decent sleep, and ask them to speak to the guests in the room next door.  So, there should be ownership and responsibility on both sides of a situation like this.

There are things we cannot control, and when we don’t experience the kind of leadership and support we should, it’s incredibly disappointing.  Feelings of blame are sometimes justified, in the sense that we should be upset or disappointed when we experience bad leadership.

But when we do what we can control, and make our needs, desires, and challenges clearly known to others, it can bring a certain level of acceptance and peace.  And it puts the onus on the “other side” to respond appropriately!

What Next?

In closing, it’s important to remember that learning to take responsibility for our choices and lives is not an easy thing to do.  It takes time, and it takes grace and truth in relationships with others and with God.

It’s hard to share our wishes and needs with other people, rather than keeping them to ourselves.  Letting others into our souls makes us vulnerable, and that takes risk and trust.

These are all significant challenges, and we are all still growing in figuring out how to best handle these things, and express ourselves better.  There is grace for those of us in this process… none of us have arrived!

When I think about my life, I’ve had to come to terms with the reality that I’ve faced challenges that others cannot understand or relate to, and some that people will never know.  However, I’ve also had to wrestle with the reality that these challenges do not rob me of my God-given ability to choose ownership of my decisions and life.  In fact, they can help me to grow even more when I do take the appropriate steps towards maturity and choice.

The first step is to know ourselves deeply.  The second step is to grow in making ourselves known to others.  We have a deep need to practice the discipline of articulating and vocalizing our needs, desires, and challenges to others.

This won’t happen overnight, and I will have to keep learning to do these things, through mistakes and failures… and that is part of growth.  But what gives me hope that I’m on my way?  I am committed to pursuing growth in my life, because I know how much I need to grow!  And I think that’s a good place for anybody to start.

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Good Will Hunting: Do You Know What You Want and Need?

We have a deep need to practice the discipline of knowing our needs and desires.

Hope you enjoy this upcoming series, and feel the freedom to weigh in if you have any thoughts!  Help me figure this out, since I’ve been noticing this topic seems to be incredibly common and important in what most of us face every day.

Do You Know What You Want and Need? (Choices, Part 1)

I finally figured out the main message of one of my favorite movies, “Good Will Hunting.”  It’s this: the first step in maturing and taking ownership of one’s life, is recognizing what we want and need, and honestly expressing it to other people.

Sound simple?  I’ve discovered it’s much harder than you may think.  However, it’s one of the most important and applicable life lessons I’ve ever learned, because it has to do with choices, those daily decisions we make that shape and define who we are as human beings.  Let’s explore this more.

One of the most memorable scenes from the movie, is when counselor Sean confronts young janitor genius Will Hunting at a park.  He says (in summary): “When I look at you, I don’t see an intelligent, confident man.  I see a cocky, scared kid.  If you want to talk about you, who you are… then I’m fascinated.  I’m in.  But you don’t want to do that, do you sport?  You’re terrified of what you might say.”

Throughout the movie, Will tries every kind of trick and mechanism possible to dodge and distract from talking about himself, and revealing his desires and needs.  During his first meeting in Sean’s office, he walks around, critiquing theories and other peoples’ ideas — to which Sean simply asks, “What about you?  Do you like art?  What do you think and believe?”

When Will realizes Sean won’t let him deflect conversation from personal sharing, Will shuts down and refuses to talk.  Sean sits for an entire hour, letting him sit in the discomfort.  He knows that Will is looking for any excuse to not expose himself, whether to critique or to love.  Will would rather have Sean speak, and then be able to say, “That’s what you said, not me.  It’s not my choice; it’s not something about me that I’m expressing and owning.”

How many times have we done this, and said, “I’ll do it because somebody else thought it was the best idea; because somebody asked me to do it?”

The Courage to Make Your Needs Known

That would keep Will safer; he would be less vulnerable to rejection or loving so deeply that he might feel the pain of loss.  And that is what he faces when his love interest Skylar tells him she loves him, and asks him to move to California with her.  He lashes out at her, because his wants and needs have been exposed and make him vulnerable to pain and rejection.  His wants and needs have taken the form of a person (Skylar) who now holds that power over him!  So he tries to detach himself as a defense mechanism.  Knowing so clearly what he wants and needs, and having it clear to others, is a new experience for Will.  It terrifies him.

That is why he prefers to take a janitor’s job, and critique intellectuals from a distance, rather than choose a job that would actually challenge who he is and his abilities.  Throughout the movie, counselor Sean persists in fighting not only the forces inside, but outside Will that seek to compromise the sanctity of this process of the young man owning his life and choices.  That’s why towards the end of the movie, when Will chooses a job that Sean had concerns about, Sean simply asks, “Is that what you want?”  After Will says, “Yes,” Sean tells him, “Then we’re finished.”

I love “Good Will Hunting,” because I believe this main message of the movie gets to the heart of what we all wrestle with in our lives.  What do we want?  What do we need?  And what challenges come in the way of our taking responsibility for those things?

Is It Selfish To Think About Your Needs and Desires?

To some, these questions may sound selfish and even un-spiritual in light of verses in the Bible that encourage us to “think about others before we think of ourselves.”  I appreciate that mindset and certainly agree with the heart of sacrificial service.

I suppose the way I reconcile it, is that I don’t see asking those questions as being selfish, but rather foundational so that we can make authentic and mature choices that serve other people.  I have just seen too many people who serve out of obligation or “for other people,” without acknowledging that this kind of sacrifice is what they chose to do, because it was worth it to them.  I’ve done this many times myself!

This only can last so long, before we often become bitter or resentful, or passive-aggressive.  We may start to blame people for not knowing how much we’ve given, or act like a victim of our circumstances over which we say we had no control… no choice.  However, at the root of this is also often our inability to acknowledge our needs, desires, and challenges — and to take responsibility for our decisions and their consequences in light of all of that.

Which brings me to my question for you.  Do you know what you want?  Do you know what you need?  If so, have you been honest with the appropriate people, and expressed that?

Examples of Communicating Your Needs and Desires

It could be as simple as telling your roommate, coworker, or spouse that you need more space to be by yourself, or more affirmation for the chores you’ve done around the house.  Or it could be asking your boss for a role change, so that you can operate out of your giftings and better serve the company.

It could be choosing to volunteer at your kids’ school, not out of obligation, but because you believe in supporting the educational system and contributing to your child’s learning environment.  Or it could be deciding that getting married or applying for graduate school is what you want to pursue, despite the possibility of rejection and the sacrifices that may come with those decisions.

The applications are truly endless, when we stop to think about things this way.  And we realize that we as humans have choices, every day.  We are faced with decisions about what is important to us, and what we will value as we relate to others around us.  Those choices and decisions shape and define the people we are becoming every day.  In the end, we are the ones most responsible for who we are.

Don’t Our Past Experiences Define Us?

Sometimes it may not feel that way.  After all, we all have powerful influences upon us, from our parents, schooling, ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic background, traumatic experiences of loss and grief, and countless other factors (some of which we’ll explore in the next post).  Much of that we cannot control, and I disagree vehemently with people who minimize these influences, and simply say, “Get over it.  That’s in the past, and now you have a fresh slate to work with.”  No, we must not ignore the past and the way it inevitably shapes us today.

At the same time, I refuse to believe that we are robots who live in a deterministic universe, fated to make certain decisions due to our upbringings and life challenges.  That is the mindset of a victim.  Perhaps the best way to explain it is that our past shapes us, but does not dictate who we are.

We cannot control many of our formative influences, but we can choose what we do with those influences. That is what makes us human — our ability to choose!

We are not victims, but stewards of our life stories.  I believe God gifts us with that privilege, and every day our choices and decisions are stewardship opportunities.  That is the power each of us has — the power to choose.

A Practical Idea to Grow in Knowing Yourself

How well do you know yourself?  Will Hunting thought he knew it all, but when faced with life’s realities, he realized by the end of the movie that he was a kid just starting to know who he was… and longing to be known and loved by other people, whether Skylar or Sean.

Here’s a practical idea.  In the next few months, try taking a personal retreat for one or two days by yourself, without interaction with anybody… and of course, no cell phones or Internet.  Get a feel for what’s going on inside yourself, without the constant influx of information that floods us each day, and without having to process and navigate other peoples’ needs and desires.  It may end up being one of the hardest things you’ve ever done!  But you may find it an invaluable discipline in knowing yourself, so that you can serve others maturely, in a way that will endure.

What we’ve really been talking about is stewardship of ourselves and our lives.  And stewardship begins with knowing who we are, and what we will choose.  We have a deep need to practice the discipline of knowing our needs and desires.  Do you know what you need, and what you want? 

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Back to Blogging (Why I Write)

I really didn’t have time and energy to do any blogging.  Honestly, I didn’t even really want to write.  But…

I couldn’t help myself.  I realize now that I’m compelled to write when there are topics too meaningful and important, to not give voice to.  That’s a double-edged sword for me: on the one hand, it’s great to write about things that are meaningful, right?  I’d rather write for that reason, than trying to stay “relevant” according to what the current trends are, or to gain more readers or popularity.  Maybe that’s the “artist’s” spirit in me.  I write when I feel I can’t afford NOT to write… mostly for my own sake and sanity.  The words must come out!

On the other hand, important topics that burn inside me, are usually complex and hard to wrap my mind around.  So I write in order to figure them out, and flesh out what I believe about them.  But that can be a mentally demanding process.

Anyway, here to follow over the following weeks is a series of topics that have been on my mind.  And here goes my attempt to blog this year, which I suppose I’ll keep doing, as long as it’s the search for truth and meaning that drives me.

p.s. If you want to keep track of these posts, please subscribe to this blog by e-mail, since my time on social media may be limited.  Thanks!

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Why We Contextualize (Video)

What is contextualized ministry and why do it? Why does an ethnic ministry like Epic Movement exist?

A little over a week ago, I had the privilege of sharing at our Epic Movement staff conference on the topic, “Why We Contextualize,” which really in my opinion is the same as, “Why We Do Ministry.”  The subject matter felt overwhelming, as did the guest list, as many prominent leaders in Cru were in attendance — including the president of Cru, Steve Douglass!  However, I do believe God was at work that morning, and I was honored to represent ethnic ministry to the organization.  You can watch a video presentation of the talk here on the Epic resource website, where it was first posted, or directly below.  Hope you enjoy it!

Outline of Talk: 

Introductions and Prayer

Sharing by Epic staff: what is motivating & challenging about contextualized ministry?

Testimony by Epic staff Jessica Lui

Identity: Why We Contextualize

Separate But Connected (Under Pressure to “Integrate”)

Sharing by Epic staff Margaret Yu

The Fruit of Contextualization (“What About the Mission?”)

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To All Google Subscribers of This Blog: Please Re-Subscribe by E-mail (Google Reader is Shutting Down)

To all faithful readers of this blog,

In just two days (July 1st), Google is shutting down its Google Reader subscription service.  So if you’re one of those who rely on Google Reader to receive our blog updates, you’ll need to subscribe by e-mail, or by using a different reader.  Sorry, but it’ll take just a minute.  We appreciate your readership as always, and please stay tuned this year for many more posts and series to come!

Activate an e-mail subscription through this link or by typing in your e-mail address in the box below:

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Thank you!

- Adrian and Jenny


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What’s Required in Cross-Cultural Relationships?

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned while working in the ministry of Epic Movement, is the value that comes from working with people who are very different from me.  Within cross-cultural teams, it can be easy for those of the more powerful culture (i.e. Caucasian, male, etc.) to unknowingly dominate and dictate an environment, instead of creating space and freedom for differences to be represented.  It can also be easy for minorities to defer to this, or simply try to “fit in.”  What’s truly hard is for both sides to engage one another in a mutual relationship, that persists through the inevitable tensions and conflicts that will arise.  In Epic Movement, we are working to create some resources for helping both majority and minority culture leaders to understand what it required of them, in these cross-cultural relationships.  As a teaser, here is a short 3-minute video of myself and my teammate and friend Brian Virtue, that describes the lessons we’ve learned through working together:

Note: this is an edited video, and the original is actually closer to 5-6 minutes long. Some additional insights we shared include:

  • It’s often hard for ethnic minority leaders to embrace their uniqueness and authority to lead. However, majority culture leaders (or those with greater power in relationships) can play a unique role in actively inviting ethnic minorities to do so. The fact that Brian made it safe for Adrian to be himself, be different — even to the point of disagreement and conflict — made a big difference in the partnership.
  • When ethnic minorities find their own unique voice as leaders, and learn to enjoy what they bring to the table, it creates freedom for majority culture leaders to be themselves. For Caucasians working in ethnic ministry, you don’t have to “become another ethnicity.” This is not the goal, just as assimilation is not the goal for ethnic minorities. Rather, God desires both sides to embrace their uniqueness, so that He might be represented more fully.
  • To that end, there are limits to the extent that we can “listen to God” without truly “listening to each other” in the way described above. If we are not able to develop mutual relationships of learning and trust with those who are different from us, how full can our picture of God really be?

Here are some questions for further reflection or discussion:

  • Think of a cross-cultural (in ethnicity, gender, age, socio-economic class, etc.) relationship that has caused tension or conflict. What does it require of you to truly “listen” and know the other person? What does it require of them?
  • Whether you are from the majority or minority cultures, what are the biggest barriers that could prevent you from working closely with somebody who is very different from you?
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“Culture and Faith” Lecture at Azusa Pacific University (Video)

Last year, I was invited to give a guest lecture on the topic of “culture and faith” at my friend Professor Sarah Moon’s “Cultural Psychology” class, at Azusa Pacific University.  I thought I’d post a video of it (includes a short film clip, the slides and audio from the lecture), as a potential resource.  I prepared it as an introduction to anybody, to the questions “What is culture?  What is contextualization?  How does that impact what we do in concrete ministry terms?  Why is culturally-aware leadership important, and what are the consequences if we don’t engage it?”  Hope you enjoy it!

Rough Outline of the Lecture:

  • Introduction and My Journey of Cultural Awareness
  • The Purpose of Epic Movement (Why Have Ethnic Ministries?)
  • What is Contextualization?
  • Barriers to / Consequences of Contextualization
  • Getting Deeper: Examples of Contextualization
  • Why Contextualization Matters (Stories)
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A Prayer on Easter: From Death to Life

From Death to Life

Dear Lord,

Would you sharpen our sight for the wrongs of the world
Until we can no longer bear to see

Would you deepen our sorrow for those who suffer
Until their tears becomes ours

Would you humble our hearts to learn how we may have caused others pain
To admit how we have served ourselves above others

Knowing that only when we die to old ways of seeing, knowing, and doing
Only when we allow our grief to push us to the brink of despair
Can our minds be transformed and our hearts enlarged
To see and know more of You
And to trust and hope in You

And in all things, whether defending what’s good
Or fighting against what’s wrong
Whether tearing down the old
Or breathing life into the new
May our motive be love


Happy Easter to all.


Photograph: Weeping Easter lily, by Nancy Chow.

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