“NET” Talk at on the With-God Life

This week I had the privilege and honor to speak at the Northwest Ministry Annual Conference. It was a “TED Talk” format so I had exactly 5 minutes to speak. The theme was “With Jesus.” (Right up my alley!) Here is the transcript from my talk:

After 25 years of full-time ministry there came a moment when I had to admit that all was not well with my soul.

Here’s the crazy thing…I was doing all the right things, following all the prescribed formulas for spiritual success, working hard for God. I loved Jesus! Yet I had to face the reality that for all of my pushing and shoving and trying to make the spiritual life work…

…it was not the same as encountering Jesus and experiencing him in a real, interactive, meaningful way

This sent me on a spiritual journey of discovering a different way of living, from which I have yet to recover.

During a season of renewal and change I discovered Matthew 11:28-30. Jesus is speaking and he says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?

Burned out on religion? I was so exhausted from trying to checking off the boxes in which I maintained control over my spiritual life or trying to measure up to someone else’s box.

I love Jesus’ invitation to those who are worn out trying to produce the spiritual life on their own. “Come to me. Get away WITH me and you’ll recover your life.” Recover your life. Those words were like water to my soul.

But…To be honest, I felt stuck. I didn’t know what life outside that box looked like.

Slowly I began to let go of my own efforts to fix and solve and make progress in my spiritual life.

I began to cultivate other things that kept me alive and attentive to the initiative of the Holy Spirit the this new work o grace he was birthing in me.

Of course that same struggle to perform and achieve and produce carries over to ministry. And with so many demands on our time and energy….along with the pressure to “succeed,” the tendency can be to rely on our own efforts, skills and techniques…and the easier it is to put aside the intentionality it takes to maintain enough space for rest, discernment and the daily practices of self care.

Before we know it or recognize it, we are living from a soul un-tethered from its centeredness in God…and we are ministering out of a place of depletion, exhaustion, and emptiness…with little spiritual depth to offer to others.

I don’t think ministry is supposed to suck the life out of us.

There must be a way of pastoral living that is not only sustainable but draws the minister closer to God and His kingdom purposes in more life-giving ways.

 In an interview, Dallas Willard gave instructions for ministry life and he summed it up like this: Aim at abiding. He understood that being WITH Jesus is transformational.

 Jesus said in it like this in the Matthew passage: “Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

It seems to be our real work is not so much how we can make life and ministry work better, but how we can, on a continual basis, keep company with Jesus in such a way as to receive the abundant life Jesus died to give us.

The good news is there is a way of living that allows leaders to structure their life and ministry around the on-going health of their soul.

 But In a culture of hurry and distraction, cultivating a life with God will require an intentional way of living.

The good news is there are spiritual practices that allow us to arrange our lives in such a way that, in the midst of our overly-busy lives, they create the needed space in our lives to keep company with Jesus.

As we partner with the Holy Spirit in the context of these disciplines, they keep us open and responsive to the redemptive activity of God and allows the Holy Spirit to do what only he can do.

Practices such as self-examination, solitude, silence, listening obedience, prayer, Sabbath-keeping, confession, praying Scripture, and so many more…these are the practices that allow us to respond to Jesus’ invitation to work with him, walk with him and watch him.

I’ve included many resources below to help you begin!

I think “Unforced rhythms of grace” is a great definition of these kinds of practices…for when authentically pursued, they engage our souls and throw our lives open to the transforming grace and work of God.

I think this is the best thing we bring to our ministry.

People are searching for the sacred. As we begin to minister from the place of our own encounter we begin to offer those we serve something real and life-giving….rather than the dregs of our exhaustion.



Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton

Dwell: Life With God For the World by Barry Jones

With by Skye Jenthani

The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives by Dallas Willard

Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to a Culture of Now by Walter Bruggemann

Life With God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation by Richard Foster

The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen

An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

On-line Resources:

Keeping Company With Jesus – The On-line 9-Month Journey

(www.keepingcompanywithJesus.com) is a weekly, interactive, on-line resource/spiritual formation tool, created to help us live in such a way that keeps us open to the transforming, creative, redemptive presence of Christ in our lives. Each week includes a reading, reflection questions and a weekly spiritual practice. Designed to be interactive, it is best done in community and dialogue with others. So it’s perfect for groups but can be used by individuals. The “life to the full” that Jesus promised is more then a lofty ideal. The Journey helps us to learn to keep company with Jesus in such a way that the abundant life Jesus promised becomes a reality in our lives.

Keeping Company With Jesus – The 9-Month Leadership Community

(www.keepingcompanywithjesus.com) is for credentialed ministers, ministry leaders, and missionaries connecting with other leaders in authentic community over a 9-month period from Sept. to May. Lead by Gail Johnsen, the Leadership Community is designed to provide spiritually enriching environments through real-life practices, relationships and experiences which allows leaders to participate with God’s Spirit in bringing about the formation of a healthy soul and developing practices that sustain them in ministry for the long haul.









  1. THANKS Gail for your work on this. Your talk made a real impact in my life, and I’m confident it landed with several Tuesday afternoon. Solid content. A compelling personal story. And a palpable sense of the Spirit’s anointing. Way to go!


    1. Thanks, Dan! You are a huge encourager! I am thrilled God used me for this kind of impact. Stay attentive to what God is doing in you!


  2. So worth hearing

    gokowalskis@gmail.com peacefulones.blogspot.com



  3. […] My “NET” Talk at the Northwest Ministry NetworkAnnual Conference […]


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