Ryan M. Miller is the author of Stepping Stones: A Pathway Into His Presence. I had the opportunity to ask him some questions:
I think a lot of Christians don’t pray often because they feel like they don’t pray well. I think a lot of people have repeatedly tried and failed to develop a habit of spending quiet time before God. Not wanting to accuse God of being boring, they blame themselves and give up on ever having the deep prayer life they long for. What would you say to someone like that?
I had to smile after reading this first question. You were describing me, and my prayer life. Except I did get mad at God from time-to-time!
Most of the time, when I prayed and it felt like nothing was happening, I did get mad, or disgusted, with myself. However, there was a time I describe in the book where I was at the end of the proverbial rope, so to speak. And, I admit, I got mad at God.
Stepping Stones is laid out in three sections: waiting on God, manifest Presence of God, and the voice of God—both hearing and sharing.
Probably the biggest take-away from section one, on waiting, is that you keep going, you keep waiting. This book talks a lot about the teaching of both Wade Taylor, my mentor in the devotional life, and Walter Beuttler, who was Wade’s mentor. I struggled for a long time until I met Wade, who had a strong prayer life. I watched and asked lots of questions. Now, five years after his death, I am sharing with others.
I wrote this book for those who have some stirring of hunger, and have responded, but feel stuck—or not good enough. Maybe even, as I felt, defective.
It was a huge “revelation” to me when this man I saw as a spiritual giant, Wade Taylor, told me flat out—when I finally got the courage to ask—that there were many times when he prayed that he felt absolutely nothing.
I figured he always, instantly felt the manifest presence of God. But that was not the case. The difference between Wade and those of us who got mad at ourselves, or God, and gave up, is that Wade refused to give up. He pressed through, knowing there was a process.
I found this quote by Walter Beuttler, “Believe me, folkses (this is not a spelling error, that is how he talked), that waiting period, when nothing seems to happen, is the Lord’s workshop in which He is doing a work within us that cannot be done in any other way.”
The waiting, the silent times are part of the process. We have nothing to depend on, or lean on, aside from our “raw” faith that He is there.
I put a lot of encouragement and practical steps in the first section on waiting, but, like I wrote, my biggest lesson, probably, from Wade, was simply knowing that there does not have to be “bells and whistles” every time. There is nothing wrong with you or God if it feels dead. It is just part of the workings of God. But you have to keep at it to get to those times of experiencing His presence in prayer. There is so much more I could share about this, but I know you have limited space.
Again, though, that is section two of the book. It talks about how to respond when there is even the faintest sense of His presence. And that touches on your first question too. I think sometimes we expect lights and jots of electricity. This can happen, but His coming is often very subtle at first, and requires some type of response from us for increase.
Would you say that having a mentor is different from having an instructor, a teacher, or a pastor? If so, where does the difference lie? What makes a mentor a mentor, and how important is it that a minister of the gospel have at least one genuine mentor?
To be honest, I am not sure which term is actually best, or if it matters, between teacher, mentor, or whatever.
Most of my pastoral ministry has been bi-vocational, with me working in the human/social service field. I am also a certified life coach. I could technically parse out some meaning, with differences, for each.
When I speak of Wade, I will go back and forth between spiritual father and mentor.
Joan Hunter wrote the forward for the book, and she refers to Paul’s comment about many teachers, but not many fathers. Of course, she is the daughter of Charles and Frances Hunter, so she really did learn a lot from her natural parents, spiritually.
I grew up under a very sincere, but deeply legalistic pastor. I had some incredible male relatives in my life, but no natural father in the home. It was not until I was in my thirties, and pastoring, with no real denominational support, that I encountered a strong male who showed interest in me for the sake of seeing me grow and succeed—Wade Taylor.
He never pushed, but always made himself available—and encouraged ongoing contact. He was well-known, highly respected, and very busy. However, I had direct contact via cell phone, and an open door, anytime I needed him. I did not have to go through a secretary or “point person.” If, for some reason he could not take a call, he always called back. I kept his name in my phone long after his passing. It was just a comfort because he was so stable in my life the season that he was.
That was the first gift he gave me—access. The second gift was prayer. If we talked once a week, we were going to pray. If we talked three times a day, we were going to pray three times! The final gift, and one I hope to model, was self-sacrifice.
I remember when he ordained me, he wrote me a nice letter and told me our relationship was not about making him look good, but, rather, him being able to serve me. He never asked for a dime, a fee, or monthly support; but he acknowledged every gift, no matter the size, with a letter.
So much of the ministry system is totally set up opposite of that. It truly is about not rocking the boat, serving an organization, and definitely paying a dues system, whatever that may be called. Wade could have been a very wealthy man, but he lived simply, and gave generously.
I remember that on my birthday, the year previous to his passing, that I was in a tight spot financially. However, I wanted to support him, and see him, where I knew he was ministering about an hour and a half away. My secret choice was, my birthday dinner or spending gas to get there and back. So, I took my son and we drove out to see him. In the end, he slipped me sixty dollars, and bought my son and I a late dinner after the service. In the natural, he had no clue, but that remains one of the best memories I have to this day.
I think it is critical, whatever we call the relationship, to have someone like that in our lives—especially ministers. Someone who can give us access, be prayer support, and has our best interests at heart. I had that in Wade, and I pray for God-given opportunities to be that for others, as God leads. It is too rare today, but I believe it is worth seeking God for. It may be one person, for a long time. But, it could be a series of people, for vital seasons, as we grow and mature.
In a way, you give people access to yourself in your book. You include some of your personal experiences, and you do so with transparency. I think this is a necessary part of ministering in the presence of God. It’s part of the price you have to pay. It’s something I struggle with. So my question is, does it ever get any easier?
In short, no. In some ways it does get easier because it becomes a part of your delivery—it is just who you are. However, their is a very mixed reaction to you as a minister when you reveal that you are human. Some are very excited, and want to rush to you after you are through ministering and let you know that they are going through similar things, or asked the same questions. It can open doors to hearts that are ready. But there are also others who send private messages or e-mails and, probably out of legitimate concerns and reasons, are challenged in some way by the reality.
I struggle with whether I should tell certain things, in certain churches when I minister. Sometimes, especially early on, I wanted to appear “put together,” and a man of faith. Now, I better understand that I am the latter, even when I am going through a battle. For example, I had a simple, but profound experience about 1 AM this morning. Nothing, really, that can be put in words, but a wonderful sense of His presence in my room. By mid-morning today, though, I was trying to figure out how some things were going to work out in a situation in my life. We all have to walk this faith out.
That is one of the things Wade taught me more by example than words. His life, even at the end, was not exactly easy. He carried a prayer burden for many people—and he truly prayed. But he also had a wife who was not in good health. He shared things with me, but he never wavered in his understanding of who God was.
To be honest, and I did not put this in the book, but one of my biggest fears is that I am too “real” for most local churches today. I desire to pastor again, but many churches want one of two extremes. They want you to always be struggling, so you can “relate.” Or the they want you to always be “on top” with only testimonies. Life has wonderful mountain tops, and, especially on Facebook, I am very optimistic. I get a lot of positive personal comments about how my pages encourage people. I tell congregations that I preach a great big Jesus and a defeated devil. I refuse to be a victim, or promote a victim mentality. At the same time, it challenges folks to hear you ask for prayer for something and then preach faith.
However, I understand that testimonies require some very real struggles at times. I think you can be honest, in the midst of the struggle, in a God-honoring way. Admitting that your heart is set, but your mind might try to question at times is not wrong—it is often reality. People need to know that they do not have to be “perfect,” and they are not “less” if they don’t have it all together.
Interacting, behind the scenes, with many, many ministers, I can tell readers that I have not met anyone, yet, who is perfectly mature in their Christlikeness. Some more than others, but none of us are there yet. I told the last church that if they saw good in me, it was Jesus. If it was less than good it was this “stuff.” I would pinch myself on the arm and refer to the flesh (which I admit is not a great theological use of the flesh). I am human, and that is a part of ministry. More so than looking good behind a microphone an hour a week.
In the end, my goal is Christlikeness, but I have more than one area that I have to grow in. There is no use trying to “play” perfect. However, that can never become an excuse. It is just part of the journey.
In your book, you talk about some ministers of the recent past, men and women who were perhaps ahead of their time. They talked about prophecy, divine visitations, and other experiences that much of the church in America wasn’t willing to accept, much less celebrate. Do you think there’s a greater openness to these things today than in previous generations of American Christianity?
Yes, Wade Taylor, Walter Beuttler, the Heflin family…
They, and others, are pioneers to what is “in season” now. I listen to folks that are becoming more mainstream, like Bill Johnson, and think, “Wade was teaching that in the 1970’s.” Or, “I heard Ruth Heflin say that on a cassette from the eighties.”
I posted a meme on Facebook that was not even mine, but it expressed my heart. It basically said I don’t want just another church experience, I want a God encounter. It started racking up “likes,” comments, and shares very quickly. People are created for more than most of us have experienced.
Many in the church are realizing it. I know my pastor has talked a lot about prayer for well over a year, and we are having in-breaks, here and there. But I remember him preaching earlier this year about people needing a Jesus experience versus a church experience.
When you experience it, there is no denying it. You can either remain, or go back into a dead church, and “bury” it, but you are “marked.” One church I pastored had maybe 25 people on a good Sunday morning, but people would come out to our Sunday night service because they liked what they “felt.” It was the presence of God. We would often just worship and pray, but pastor’s wives would visit from churches that didn’t have Sunday night services. Often people from other churches would do the same. We never tried to steal sheep, as they say, but I often wondered how they could come out and testify of the touches and encounters they had—literally feeling God with them through the next day—and go back the next Sunday morning to churches (sometimes) where they preached against the Holy Spirit’s work.
I truly believe there is going to be another revival, renewal, or Awakening in America. I have used these terms, whichever was my understanding in my growth, since around 1997. I think I have grown to understand it is going to be a Glory Awakening that will be nationwide, at least. That is not because we are America, or so great (though I think we have a lot of good!), but because God is great and He wills it for us—maybe despite ourselves. People were predicting gloom and doom prior to 2000. I was the young Bible college student saying it wasn’t going to happen. The same thing with all of the “crisis” events since, culminating in the Blood Moons last fall. Yes, there will be bad stuff happening, and there is some horrible stuff happening now, but God is not through with America—or other nations that many have given up on.
So, I have hopes that this message will continue to grow. I feel Wade was a pioneer, and I really felt it was the time to write this book. I really wanted my first book to be on healing, but this was pressed on my heart. All the stuff that is controversial can be faked, manipulated, or used to glorify a minister; but, all of it is real and a part of what God will do in and through us today.
I kind of forgot to advertise it much, but a feature of this book is that it is almost 300 pages, and the reason is that it is actually two books. Mine, in the front, and the full book by Walter Beuttler on the manifest presence of God.
Stepping Stones is available at the links below. I’m sure they’ll be more books to come. What’s the best way for people to stay updated about your ministry?
My dream, more than selling books, is to get this message out there—and to interact with hungry people. The book is the vehicle to do that. It can go anywhere by paper or by media and technology. I love writing, but I hate marketing. My wife keeps saying, “If you want to keep writing, don’t give all your books away.” That is my nature, I just want to get this out there. People are hungry, and they CAN experience God. I struggled with the experience of these things, and still want to grow in them.
The very best way to connect is to go to my author page, RyanWrites, at Facebook. Like it and interact. I really want it to be a community where I can interact with readers, and we just become hungry people, together, not author and reader. IF the page really takes off, I may consider other, more closed, personal ways, to interact with a small community of like-minded people.
I truly welcome e-mails. I want to connect with those my message connects with. SteppingStonesIntoHisPresence@yahoo.com.
My website is pathwayintohispresence.com, and I am going to try to be more faithful to blog there too. We will see how that goes.
But the FB page and e-mail are awesome, and I will interact and respond.
I am hoping this book will open doors for my wife and I to share these truths too.
Thanks for putting us in front of your readers. This book is my heart message, and I really am thankful for another venue to get it “out there.” And, to connect with others who are awakening or already feel like they are ready to burst (in a good way!) spiritually.