Monthly Archives

August 2016

What Are We Yearning For? (Leighton Ford)

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guy on rock

Writing recently in the New York Times, Roger Rosenblatt made the point that a writer may have a respected “body of work” and never really be satisfied.


“Good or bad, a particular piece of work does not say anything lasting to us. We finish the poem, novel or memoir, send it into the public air, and think about what to do next. The collected work…says a great deal about us. It usually says we have been weighed in our own balance, and found wanting ….Our body of work is an expression of implied yearning.”

I note the phrase “implied yearning”.

For what are we yearning?

I think of C. S. Lewis writing that before he was a believer – even all the way back to childhood – he sensed a great “yearning” which is at the heart of all seeking for joy.

“Sensucht” is the German word he used to describe this elusive joy. Writing about Lewis’ experience later, Frederick Buechner wrote that it is as “notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it”.

Rosenblatt concludes his musings with this: “Sometimes, when you are in the act of writing, you feel part of a preordained plan, someone else’s design. That someone else might as well be God. And then one day you rear back and survey everything you have in mind and think, Is this all God had in mind? But it’s all you got.”

All we have?

How wistful. Missing that for which we are yearning. And missing something full of hope.

Leighton Ford

The Contemplative Who Couldn’t Sit Still (Leighton Ford)

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henrinouwen skateboarding

The writings of the late Henri Nouwen often speak to the condition of my own heart, and to countless others, not least because he opened up his own inner struggles. Yet the man who ministered peace to so many was himself a restless soul.

His friend Parker Palmer recalls an experience with Nouwen at a retreat:

“I was conscious of being in the company of a world-class contemplative and I was expecting to have an extraordinary experience sitting next to him in worship. But as we sat….I realized that the bench was jiggling. I opened my eyes…and saw Henri’s leg working furiously…As time went on, the fidgeting got worse. I opened my eyes again only to find him checking his watch to see what time it was”

Sometimes Nouwen would become so desperate for companionship that after he spoke to an attentive crowd, if his hosts did not invite him out for a late supper he would go to his room and stay on the phone for hours calling friends in distant places.

In one of Nouwen’s first books he described the movement from restlessness to restfulness. There is first the admission of being incomplete, the owning of our own pain. But then, he writes, we need to give up our illusions, our ‘Messianic expectations’ that anything in this world will complete us.

“To wait for moments or places where no pain exists, no separation is felt, and where all human restlessness has turned into inner peace is waiting for a dream world”.

What then is the cure for our restless souls?

Not to move outward but to take the difficult road of conversion from loneliness to solitude. Can I sit still long enough for restlessness to turn into restfulness?

Can we?


Adapted from Leighton Ford’s The Attentive Life (2008, InterVarsity Press)


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A Blessing (Poem by John O’Donohue)

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Blessed be the longing that brought you here and quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease to discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
May the forms of your belonging – in love, creativity, and friendship –be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
May the one you long for long for you.
May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.
May a secret providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.
May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.
May your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.
May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.


John O’Donohue

Maybe The Faith Doesn’t Leave Us (Leighton Ford)

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Templeton Graham

When I was a young preacher-in-the-forming I had two heroes – Billy Graham and his peer and friend Charles (Chuck) Templeton, who led Toronto Youth for Christ.


He and Billy were two of the first Youth for Christ pioneers to visit Europe and represent that youth ministry there.


Chuck was perhaps the most gifted speaker I had heard – eloquent, artistic, creative, able to speak in word pictures that came alive.


I was much younger, we were not friends, but he was always kind to me. I observed his career path when he eventually went to Princeton Seminary, then held large evangelism rallies across North America.


So you can imagine how disappointed I was when he announced he was leaving ministry, and wrote a book called Farewell to God.


In later years he became a national figure in Canada as radio and TV personality, newspaper editor, novelist, inventor and aspiring politician. Married three times, he finally succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer’s.


I just recently learned that he became friends with a Salvation Army officer named Beverly Ivany, who read his book on leaving the faith and began a correspondence and ongoing telephone conversations with him.


Despite his loss of faith, she learned that every Good Friday he would meditate for three hours on Jesus – his goodness and selflessness. (“How many Christians do that for three hours?” Ivany wonders).


When he died, his third wife Madeleine invited Ivany to his wake. After Beverly expressed her sympathies his wife told her about his last words.


“Madeleine, do you see them? Do you hear them? The angels! They’re calling my name! I’m going home.”


What do we make of that? More important, what I wonder does God make of one who for so many years called others to come home?



Leighton Ford


Photo creds:

The Lifesaving Station – A Parable (Leighton Ford)

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rescue boat

A parable:

Once upon a time there was a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occurred. On that coast was a little lifesaving hut, very crude and with only one boat. But there were a few devoted members who gave themselves day and night, at the risk of their own lives, to rescue those who had been shipwrecked.

Soon this little station became famous because so many were saved. Others wanted to become associated with this very famous enterprise and gave time and money and effort to buy new boats and to train more crews. After a while some members were unhappy with such a poorly equipped center, so t hey enlarged the building and put in better furnishings.

The lifesaving station became a popular gathering place and the members began to use it as a club.

As time went on fewer members were interested in the dangerous lifesaving missions and instead hired professional crews to do the work. But lifesaving motifs were prominent in the decorations and there was even a liturgical lifeboat in the room where they had initiations!

About this time there was a large shipwreck. The hired professional crews brought in the cold, half-drowned, and dirty people and the club was messed up. In response, the property committee had a shower stall built outside where future victims could clean up before coming in.

A split developed among the members at the next meeting. Most of them wanted to stop the lifesaving activities, which were becoming a hindrance to their social lives. Some members insisted that lifesaving was their only priority. The majority prevailed and the minority were told that they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did.

As the years went by, the new station went through exactly the same changes as the old one had. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History repeated itself and on that coast today visitors find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore.

Shipwrecks are still frequent. But most of the victims now end up drowning.


Adapted from Transforming Leadership by Leighton Ford (1991, InterVarsity Press)


To Be Nine Again (Leighton Ford)

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Oh, to be nine again.


We were in the mountains for a few days, and I picked up granddaughter Leighton (just turned nine) to spend the morning with us.


I asked if she wanted to bring a book to read.


“No,” she said, “I will just bring my butterfly and that will be entertainment enough.”


She showed me this beautiful black creature she found with a broken wing on the croquet court the day before.


“I took him to our condo,” she said, “and kept him overnight in my ‘fairy garden’.”


She showed me her tiny garden made out of two rocks and a piece of wood with a coffee tin where she kept her butterfly.


“Why do you like him?”


“He listens to me,” she explained. “When I said stay still, and I went off to do something he was in the same place.”


“Does he have a name?”


“Nectarain. Because he likes to drink nectar. And the little spots on his wing look like rain drops.”


And she showed me how she put a flower where he could drink with his “sippy thing”, and explained to me all she had observed about caterpillars and butterflies, and how their tiny eyes looked like chocolate drops.


On the way to our place he went under the seat, but she found him, and spent the next hour with her fascinating new friend.


In the afternoon Nectarain had a painless end, and she buried him right by the swinging bridge at the top of Grandfather Mountain.


I don’t know how much time I will spend with a butterfly rather than a book.


But I would like very much to have nine-year old eyes again.


Leighton Ford

August 2014


Photo cred: Alexandra Walker

A Letter from Jakarta (Lausanne YGL 2016)

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mentoring comm:YLG

Thousands of young leaders are departing from Lausanne’s 2016 Young Leaders’ Gathering held in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was a strategic and thrilling time and LFM’s influence was felt clearly! Mark Slaughter, an evangelist with IVCF, penned this letter to Leighton and Jean Ford from the conference. Enjoy, and be thankful!



Warm (and humid!) greetings to you from the Younger Leaders Gathering in Jakarta!  I’ve thought of you daily since I’ve been here and wanted to update you.   I know how badly you would like to be here, but even though you are not here physically, rest assured you are here in prayer, spirit, and in influence.  
We enjoyed a wonderful meal and sharing together with LFM and Apple Hill alumni, courtesy of LFM.  Thank you very much!  The pre-conference Mentor Training was outstanding.  Anne Grizzle, Mary Kate Morse, & Raphael Anzenberger, and Ole-Magnus led us extremely well!  Others here include Alan Stamp, Una Lucey-Lee.  The mentors entered in and tremendously appreciated the training.  While you are not here physically, your influence and impact is certainly here physically in so many “Aspens” investing in these amazing young leaders!  I’ve enjoyed finally meeting Roland Werner and Steve Abbott from the Point Group, and seeing Susan Perlman again!  
In the opening ceremony, I was moved as they showed video clips from Lausanne through the years – Billy Graham’s opening address in ’74, Bishop Jack Dain, John Stott, you in Manila, and several more.   This Younger Leader Planning Team has honored the past and introduced younger leaders to the Lausanne Movement, while creating cutting-edge opportunities for examining today’s missiological issues.  
Our corporate worship is clearly multi-ethnic, multi-national, and multi-lingual as younger leaders passionately worship the Lord and Jesus is exalted.  We are immersed in Scripture throughout the sessions, being “United in the Great Story” of redemption, while exploring our own stories through story boarding and drawing them, and then seeing where our stories fit into God’s grander Missional story!  Last night Ravi Zacharias gave another amazing message on “The True Story” along with Nick Hall and others.
Small groups are processing content, practicing Holy & Wholly Listening, and praying for each other.  As I read the profiles of the 6 leaders in our group weeks ago, I was profoundly moved by their stories, faith, humility, teach ability, and significant ways God is working through them now.   Our group alone includes a woman who’s a former atheist from Alabama who’s been a medical missionary in Cambodia, a former Atheist now pastor of a growing Vineyard church in Amsterdam, a woman who is co-pastor of a church in New Zealand, a pastor from Ghana, and a MBB.  What a privilege to walk on such holy ground this week, listening to their stories and helping them pay attention to God’s stirrings in their souls!  
I hope this is encouraging to you and Jeannie.  Please pray for all of us mentors (nearly 200) to listen well both in our groups and in individual appointments where people sign up with us.  For example I have nearly 20 leaders who’ve signed up with me, plus others from my small group and spontaneous people I meet.  

It’s such a joy to see so many whom God is raising up in their generation to build off the past, walk with God deeply in the present, and lead the cause of Christ into the future.  

On behalf of the mentors, thank you for investing in all of us.  I’ve attached for you a picture I took this morning portraying LFM & YLG, which I hope encourages you and your “artist’s heart!”  I will do my best to be your eyes and ears some this week when able, and certainly afterwards.  Personally, it’s also been a sacred journey for me, watching God orchestrate a new chapter in my own calling of evangelistic preaching and mentoring… much of which we discussed 5 years ago on a personal retreat!  
Blessings to you and Jeannie!

The Summer of 1946 (Leighton Ford)

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walk woods

That summer, seventy years ago, was very important in my life.

I was fourteen years old, and it had been a very difficult year. My adopted parents had a difficult relationship. I would sometimes lie awake at night listening to them argue.

My mother Ford, although a strong religious influence on me, was also a very troubled person. Early that year she simply left, and was gone for months – we did not know where. Later I learned she had gone to Winnipeg, and lived there under an assumed name, running from her fears. In late spring she returned but the strain in their marriage remained.

That summer I went for a week to the Blue Water Bible conference, a new place named for the deep blue river on which it stood.  I had fun, liked the other kids, but expected to be bored by the speaker, Oswald J. Smith, a well-known pastor and missionary leader. I remember his shock of white hair and piercing blue eyes, and raspy voice.

When he announced his topic as the “Morning Watch” I was sure I’d be bored. Instead, as he told how he prayed, I was intrigued.

“I walk as I pray,” he said, “because I am quite nervous and if I kneel I get agitated. I pray out loud so my mind doesn’t wander. And I read a verse from the Psalms and turn it into a prayer to give me fresh words.”

That inspired me. I could pray and get exercise at the same time!

Early the next morning I got up, took a big Bible my mother had given me, and went by myself to a nearby woods. There I walked up and down, hoping no one was watching, read a Psalm, and said a prayer. What the Psalm was, or my words, I have no idea.

I do know that the presence of Jesus became very real to me. Prayer became more than rote words. I knew that God cared for a lonely fourteen year old and would be with me, no matter how hard things were at home.

That day prepared me for an opportunity to serve and lead which would come suddenly, just a few weeks later, when I was asked to lead a fledgling youth movement in our city.

I revisited that spot several years ago. The buildings are mostly gone. What is left is ramshackle. The grounds are weedy and rough. The woods where I prayed much smaller than I remembered.

But the reality of that morning has stayed with me across these many years.

And oh yes, I met Dr. Smith some years later and told him what that time meant to me. He was astonished.

“At Blue Water conference,” he exclaimed. “I thought nothing came out of that week at all”!


A Reading Before Preaching (Leighton Ford)

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The Diary of an Old Soul (George MacDonald)

While I was rummaging through a pile of books I came across this collection of daily poem/prayers from the Scottish preacher George MacDonald. I had forgotten I had it.

MacDonald was instrumental in the conversion of C. S. Lewis, who wrote “I hardly know any other writer who seems closer or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ himself.”

These will not be to everyone’s taste, with MacDonald’s singular style. But I find they often suit my own soul.

For example on Sunday before I preached at Wee Kirk in the North Carolina mountains I read this:

“In holy things may be unholy greed.

Thou givs’t a glimpse of many a lovely thing,

Not to be stored for use in any mind,

But only for the present spiritual need.

The holiest bread, if hoarded, soon will breed

The mammon-breath, the having-pride, I find.

‘Tis momently thy heart gives out heart- quickening.”

The book I imagine is out of print, but it’s healthy stuff,worth searching out for preachers like me, and others.


Leighton Ford