Book Review: The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

September 7, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

New feature here at  I will periodically recommend books, blogs, and podcasts that have been particularly impactful for me, and I believe could do the same for you.  I probably won’t blog about the books that I have read and don’t like. That just doesn’t seem cool.  It seems more like trolling.  You might could talk me into it though if you thought it would be helpful.  We will start with a book that I have already read once with our staff and a small group.  3 years later, I am reading it again with our staff.

Book: The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears (Click here to buy on Amazon)

circle maker

Author: Mark Batterson, Lead Pastor of National Community Church

Why You Should Read It: Batterson challenges way too common Christian approaches to praying that I have struggled with for much of my Christian walk.  I pray timid prayers.  He says that a big God is honored by bold prayers and is bothered by timid ones.  God doesn’t want us to hedge our bets when we pray. “God please do this, but if you don’t then make me happy with that or whatever you are going to do.  Never mind.  Sorry to bother you.”  By using stories from his life, others lives and powerful Biblical stories, Batterson makes a strong case to believe that God wants to do big things through your life and in your life. If you will pray with confidence and persistence, you will see God show up in much bigger ways than most people see.

Why Some Would Say You Shouldn’t: He uses as his primary metaphor a story that doesn’t come from the Bible from the time between the two testaments of the Bible.  Honi prays that God will bring rain during a drought by drawing a circle in the sand and says he won’t come out until God answers.  Since the story is not from the Bible it is dangerous to build a case around it.  Even when it is paired with other stories from the Bible, it is dangerous because it could lead to “name it, claim it,” and us arrogantly believing that we can tell God what to do.

Why They Are Wrong: It’s a story and a metaphor.  That’s it.  His metaphor is drawing circles around your prayers which means confidently believing that God will answer.  Any metaphor would work, he likes this one because he likes Honi and that story.  As far as name it claim it goes, Batterson does a good job of giving examples of unanswered prayers, but he is not timid in saying that if God wants it for us, we should boldly pray and expect God to do it.  Most of us need to hear that message because we have come to expect a God that doesn’t intervene in our lives and doesn’t want to do big things.

Questions to consider: Do I believe that God wants to do big things in my life?  Why do I pray timidly? Is it really because I don’t want to offend God or is it just that I am timid?  Why do I believe that God did big things in the Bible, but I settle for small and ordinary in my life?  What big dream has God laid on my heart that I am afraid to pray passionately for?

Conclusion: Buy this book.  While your at it, buy anything that Batterson has written.  He is a great author with a refreshing take on what God wants to do in your life.

Success: All the More Reason to Pray

February 3, 2012 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

Here we are, day 6 of Setting the Course.  For me it is 6 days without sugar and TV.  Throw in a full day food fast on Wednesday and it has been quite a week.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and praying this week.  It has been good for me personally, and for you Grovers out there, I hope it has been good for you as well.

I’ve been reflecting over the last few days about where we are as a church and what we want to see God do in our church and our hearts, individually and corporately.  Wednesday marked our 18-month anniversary at The Grove Church.  It has been an incredible 18 months. The church has more than doubled in attendance.  We have seen 20+ people give their lives to Jesus Christ.  We’ve seen God heal marriages and draw people closer to him.  We’ve seen missionaries sent out and orphans adopted.  I could go on and on with stories of what God is doing and has done this last year and a half.

I say all this not to brag on me, the church or you.  I don’t mean this as a boast at all.  In fact, as I have been reflecting this week, it feels more like a warning.  It feels like a reminder of how desperately we need God.  People often feel the need to pray when things are not going well, when they are struggling, when bad things happen.  Then when life turns around, we go back to living life.  We feel that we only need God when we need something.

What success can do to us is help convince us that we are fine, that we can be self-reliant.  My concern is that is where we may go.  That we believe that we have this “figured out.”  We are winning.  However whatever success we have can only be attributed to God being with us.  What we need is more of Him.  A building would be nice, more room for kids, more parking and more seats in the worship room.  Better finances would be nice as well.

All of that is meaningless if God is not leading us and filling us.  So as you pray over the next week, please pray that the leadership would be dependent on God.  Pray that there would never be a time where would say, “Remember when God was truly blessing us?”  Pray for humility.  Pray that we would not be victims of our own success.

God has tremendously blessed us, is tremendously blessing us.  We do not want to switch from that to “I’ll bet we can still do well.”  We want and need God’s blessing and leadership over everything that we do.

Well, Now What?

September 20, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

That is perhaps the most important question that should follow any sermon.  If what we have just heard and talked about doesn’t make any difference in our lives 5 minutes later, then we have wasted time. The hearing of God’s word should propel us to be different people, more like Jesus in what we do and in who we are.

We have spent the past four weeks talking about who God is calling us to be as a church.  We’ve summarized this into four words–Worship, Reach, Grow and Send.

God has called us to:

Worship him with our lives.

Reach people who are far from God.

Grow deep in our relationships with Him.

Send people into the world with the gospel.

Each week, we took a moment and talked about the “Now what?” Hopefully, there were a few different moments when you heard God nudge you:  “You need to do more than sing on Sunday. You need to worship me with your whole heart.”  “That person at work who is hurting, walk over to them and talk to them.”  “Spend more time in the Bible, hearing what God has to say to you.”  “Step out of your comfort zone and serve the needy in your community.”

Now that the series is over, I’d like to give you 3 more “Now whats.”  Three things that we as a church need to be committed to if we are going to see God move in a powerful way in our lives, our church, our community and our world.

1) Pray.  None of the incredible things that have happened at The Grove Church happened because of great planning.  In fact, much of it happened in spite of mediocre planning.  God has been moving.  We want to continue to see him move in our church.  We need The Grove body to pray.  Pray that God will reach the lost, grow us closer to him and send us out into the world.  This will take us all working together, but without God moving among us, it won’t matter.

2) Serve.  Find a place where God can you use your gifts, talents and passions.  You have a role to play.  God has placed you here, you specifically.  Don’t for one second believe that the mission that God has called us to will be achieved by the staff and a select few leaders.  It will happen when each one of us finds a place to serve.  So find a place on the Dream Team.  Serve in local ministries.  Take the gospel to an unreached people.  When we all “do the good works which He has prepared for us,” we will see God do something amazing. (Eph. 2:10)

3) Give.  I truly believe that the mission that God has given us as His church and His followers is worth giving your life to.  When God uses you to make a difference in the lives of other people, you will experience a closeness and fulfillment that maybe you never have before.  It is going to take each one of us, not only serving, but giving financially as well.  As God continues to reach more people through us, draws more families and students, the needs in the church will continue to grow.  The more people God sends out into the world, the more opportunities we will have as a church to support them.  That takes money.  Prayerfully consider what you are giving and join together with us to watch God change the world through us.

It is a privilege to serve alongside you.  These last 14 months have been incredible.  The next 14 years will be even more so.

What Right Do I Have to Complain?

December 16, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I’m not known as a complainer, maybe a good-hearted, humorous ranter, but not a complainer.  At least I hope not.  However, if I am not known as a complainer, it really is only because I’m not known.  (Wait, what?)  What I mean is that I am a complainer in my heart, it’s just that I don’t want to complain in public and be known as a complainer.  This means that you should pray for my wife, Heidi.  (Wait, what?) Seriously, if you know me at all, you can come up with 50 good reasons to pray for her, not the least of which is how much of my belly-aching she has to listen to.

Anywho, it’s been a while since I have publicly journaled the Loften perspective on the not selling of the house, so here we go.

I have been thinking recently about all of the things that we prayed for as we were getting ready for this transition to the new job pastoring the Grove Church in Fayetteville.  We prayed that the transition would happen during the summer, so that the girls wouldn’t have to change schools mid-year.  We prayed for safety and health for the whole family.  We prayed that we would have favor (Nice churchy phrase that one) at the church and that the church would do well quickly.  We prayed that the girls would do well in school.  We prayed that they would make friends quickly. We prayed that they would find good ways to connect with activities that they really enjoyed.  We prayed that the Razorbacks would have a good season with us up here (Just checking to see if you are really reading or skimming.  Just kidding on that one…mostly)

So, absolutely every one of those prayer requests God has answered, many of which far beyond our expectations.  I could fill up multiple blog posts with the stories of God’s faithfulness and love to us with stories about each of those requests.  However, there is but one prayer request that has yet to be answered (in the way we want)–selling that house.  Mind you, that’s a big one, an expensive one, a frustrating one, but it’s just one.

Furthermore, look back at the list (Hogs excluded).  Which one of those would I trade for the house being sold? My kids health or happiness?  The church’s success?  I wouldn’t trade any of them.  So, here is today’s rhetorical question: What right do I have to complain?  “God you make me so mad, how dare you only answer my top 9 prayer requests?  If you’re not going to answer all of them in just the way I want, then what good are you?”

I’m not saying that we have gotten to this place easily, but we are here.  “God we love you.  Thanks for being faithful to us and blessing us so much.”  We still pray for that house, that we would have closure, that we could settle and nest here.  But we can’t complain any more.  It just doesn’t make any sense.

There are people who follow hard after God who don’t have health, safety or 5 cents (think 3rd world countries).  How do I complain when there is that? (But that’s a post for another day)

I have it all.  Everything I need, and everything I want, except one thing, one thing.

What right do I have to complain?

When God Vetoes Your Plan (Prayer and Sovereignty)

August 5, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

If I had known that for the 3rd time in a row that we would move before selling our house, I would have kept a journal or something and recorded those thoughts in a handful of blog posts.  Since I didn’t, these thoughts are going to be a little more reflective and rambly (more rambly? than what? your usual posts?  not possible.  Agreed)  The reason I didn’t keep a journal is that, in all seriousness, I never believed that it would go down this way.

A little history.

The first house that we tried to sell was when we moved from Conway, AR to go to seminary.  The house sat empty for 6 months.  At the time I was a pizza delivery guy and then a Chick-Fil-A night manager with a max income of about $1000/mth.  Meanwhile, I’m a full-time student with two kids and Heidi is a full-time stay-at-home mom.  It was a huge stretch for us.  I didn’t think we would make it.  Meanwhile our only car blows up.  The car we get to replace it turns out to be a lemon.

Result: We left seminary with more money than we came with.  God showed himself to be much bigger (and complicated) than I ever realized.

The second house was when we moved from St. Louis to Cabot to start Fellowship Cabot. That house sat empty for 5 months (We’re improving).  Fortunately, we were going to make more money and felt confident financially.

Result: A builder/realtor that was part of the plant team allowed us to move into a house he built before we could buy it (for free!) until our house sold and we closed when we sold our house.  We lived in a house that was bigger and nicer than we ever thought we would live in.  God showed himself to be in control and had a plan worked out so much better than the one we were praying for.

This brings us to the present and we have not, as of this post, sold our house in Cabot.  We moved to Fayetteville last week.  We have had more showings than we did before, more “almosts” than before, we had it sold for about 14 hours.  However, here we are, where we have always been.  We left a house.  There have not been many things that we have prayed for more than this.  Many people all over have been praying for us.  If you could “pray your way” into a certain outcome, this would be it.  If God’s hand could be forced by faithful, diligent, believing prayers, we would have sold our house 2 months ago.

So what does this mean?  Best I can figure there are two groups that believe that they have prayer all figured out.  First are the ultra-sovereignty (my word) people.  God is going to do what he is going to do regardless.  We pray because God says we should, and prayer changes us, not what’s going to happen.  My problem there is that the Bible says so much about how when we ask in faith we receive.

This leads us to group two.  If you believe and pray, you will get what you ask for.  Not getting what you ask for means there is something wrong with you.  Very clever.  Any time I don’t get what I ask for, it’s my fault.  That way I chase my disappointment with guilt and failure.  Problem here is, Paul, who I’m guessing had more faith than me, prayed for an affliction to be taken away and God said no.  Furthermore, God is not a puppet on a string that submits himself to the whims and wills of sinful people.

So where does that leave us?  That leaves us in the murky middle.  I believe that God is in complete control.  I believe prayer changes the world.  I believe God answers prayer.  I believe God’s plan is better than mine.  Sometimes these truths collide.  Sometimes God vetoes your plan and we are left with a crisis of sorts.

Is there something wrong with me?  Does prayer not work? Does God not care? Is God really not in control?

No, no, no, no.

Is God working out a plan more complicated and better for me than mine? Do I need to learn trust?  Is a good, loving, sovereign God got this?

Yes, yes, yes.

Details to come (soon?) on how God worked all this out.

(BTW, You can find earlier ramblings on this topic here)

Don’t Pray for Patience

I have said this in different contexts, so I feel obligated to mention here on the new blog.  I was talking to our men’s group Wednesday morning.  We are still working our way through the Fruit of the Spirit.  That morning we talked about patience, kindness and goodness.

Here is the trap that we fall into.  We think that we want to be more patient, and we recognize that we need God’s help.  So we pray for God to help us become more patient.  Here is the problem.  The way that God teaches us patience is to put us into situations that call for patience.  Who wants that?  Who wants to be put in frustrating situations?

Here’s the reality.  Life is full of such situations whether or not you are praying for patience or not.  We just become more aware of them as God is putting our need for patience in the front of our minds and hearts.  (All it takes for me is missing a stop light or someone in front of met to go 2 miles under the speed limit in front of me.)  Honestly, there are few traits I need more in my life than patience. I wish that my first responses to what life throws out was grace, kindness and calm. What a difference that would make in my life, my family, my church, etc.  So despite all of the advice that I have given over the years, I am now praying for patience. I’ll keep you all posted.