Join us today for Part 1 of the Interview with author, coach, and podcaster Brian Russell...
This is Part 1 of the interview I had with author, coach, and podcaster Brian Russell
In today’s interview with Brian Russell, I ask Brian about his journey towards faith and discovering the power of centering prayer. I also ask Brian to share how he’s had some deep crises of faith and how he journeyed through a “less than perfect” walk. Brian also shares the power and differences between centering prayer and other prayer types or meditation.
Join in on the Chat below.
Episode 1156: Invest in Yourself - Interview with author, coach, and podcaster Brian Russell â€“ Part 1
[00:00:00] Scott Maderer: Thanks for joining us on episode 1,156 of the inspired stewardship podcast.
[00:00:07] Brian Russell: I'm Brian Russell. I challenge you to invest in yourself, invest in others, develop your influence and impact the world by using your time, your talents and your treasure to live out your calling. Live by faith. Be known by love and be a voice of hope.
[00:00:23] Those are the keys in one way to fuel those, that kind of life is to listen to this. The inspired stewardship podcast with my friend, Scott.
[00:00:33] Scott Maderer: and I
[00:00:34] Brian Russell: just remember thinking, oh, thank you for the sun gets up every day so I can get up. And I looked back and that was like one of those moments. I would say, if you're really stock, the first thing you can do, I call it triage is find something that you can be grateful for.
[00:00:51] Scott Maderer: Welcome and thank you for joining us on the inspired stewardship podcast. If you truly desire to become the person who God [00:01:00] wants you to be, then you must learn to use your time, your talent and your treasures for your true calling in the inspired stewardship podcast. We'll learn to invest in yourself.
[00:01:10] Invest in. And develop your influence so that you can impact the world
[00:01:17] and today's interview with Brian Russell. I asked Brian about his journey towards faith and discovering the power of centering prayer. I also asked Brian to share how he's had some deep crisises of faith and how he journeyed through a less than perfectly. Brian. It also shares the power and the differences between centering pair and other prayer types or simple meditation.
[00:01:41] One reason I like to bring you great interviews. Like the one you're going to hear today is because of the power in learning from others. Another great way to learn from others is through reading books. But if you're like most people today, you find it hard to find the time to sit down and read. And that's why [00:02:00] today's podcast is brought to you by audible.
[00:02:02] Go to inspired stewardship.com/audible to sign up and you can get a 30 day free trial. There's over 180,000 titles to choose from. And instead of reading, you can listen your way to learn from some of the greatest minds. Out there. That's inspired stewardship.com/audible to get your free trial and listen to great books the same way you're listening to this podcast.
[00:02:30] Dr. Brian Russell is an award-winning professor of biblical studies and a transformational coach for pastors and spiritually minded entrepreneurs and professionals. His personal mission is to seek out study and embody the deepest truce so that he can share them compelling. Lovingly and transformationally with others.
[00:02:51] He is the Arthur of invitation, a Bible study to begin with aligning with God, reading scripture for church and world and [00:03:00] centering prayer sitting quietly in God's presence can change your life. He is also the host of the deep dive spirituality conversations podcast. Welcome to the show.
[00:03:10] Brian Russell: Thank you, Scott.
[00:03:11] It's so great to be here today.
[00:03:13] Scott Maderer: It's great to have you. And we talked a little bit about the intro of you've had a bit of a journey and done a lot of different things. Can you share with the listener a little bit about your journey towards faith and how you eventually came around to working with centering prayer and kind of feeling that was an important component?
[00:03:36] Brian Russell: Yeah. And I had the real privilege of great parents. And so my brother and I just have one brother, we've my parents began taking us to church at a Methodist church when I was five years old. And I think my brother must've been three and a half or four by that time. And so I was nurtured in one local church up until I ended up going to seminary and just to.
[00:03:58] Rapidly take that [00:04:00] forward. Faith became super important to me. I went to Sunday school when I was a kid vacation, Bible school, all that stuff, but I had. I made a real commitment to following Jesus when I was in 10th grade, which would have been like 1985 at this point. And from that point on, I was, which in my own mind, I was all in.
[00:04:20] I love listening to the missionaries that would come to the church, my pastor, who was a long time pastor at our church. So he was there for all my teen years up until I ended up going to seminary later. He said, Hey, Brian, you've ever thought. Being a pastor and he came and he mentored me and he let me preach.
[00:04:37] So I preached my first sermon. I was like 18 years old, which is crazy and went into the first
[00:04:43] Scott Maderer: one when I was 12. So gosh,
[00:04:45] Brian Russell: that's amazing. Yeah. So I was super grateful. He let me be his assistant one summer when I was in college and got a taste for it. And I shifted from, cause I was always good at math and science.
[00:04:56] I switched from engineering to more of a liberal arts cause I was going to go to [00:05:00] seminary. So in my like 19 hours, Be a pastor. I married at that very early. I married when I was 21 to a a woman that I grew up in the church with and w went to seminary and I went to Asbury seminary when I was 22, back in 91.
[00:05:16] Went right through graduate in three years. And the professors there saw something in me and they invited me to essentially teach Greek and Hebrew for two years after I graduated. And then they were encouraging me to get a PhD. I was originally going to be at local church pastor in the United Methodist church.
[00:05:35] I am ordained in the Methodist church to this day. But I've took the academic. Basically again because of mentors and I've always been super good at school ever since I was a kid, I started reading young and so it was a natural piece. And it's in a sense, I go back to my earliest dream when I was a little boy, I wanted to be a historian again, that shifted the more theology, but I always had the academic send me, [00:06:00] I had the PhD and I ended up going back to Asbury.
[00:06:02] By the time I was 31 years old, I got was hired when I was 30, started with 31. So I was like one of the youngest professors at. And I've been at Asbury now for, this is my 22nd year of academic teaching in a row. And so I was on a trajectory. I got tenure fairly quickly. I was still in my thirties. I served a couple of churches, but then this gets to the, really the heart of your question.
[00:06:26] Looking back, my marriage was very difficult and in 2010 at the 20 year anniversary mark, essentially again, I always careful how I say this. But. Know, my former wife didn't want to be married anymore and essentially just laughed. And we had to chop two fairly small children. They were still both in when I just started middle school, the other one was still in elementary school.
[00:06:53] And. Basically went and became a single father, got divorced really quickly. And [00:07:00] that was like a crushing blow to me at some level. And I went into this period of what you could call it a dark night of the soul. I would just call it a personal train wreck. Th all that stuff, it was financially devastating.
[00:07:13] It was personally devastating, hurt my children. And even here I am, I'm a pastor. I'm a seminary professor. I'm divorced. And so there was a lot of shame and guilt on that. And so my faith basically turns off I'm teaching pastors, how to preach, read the Bible, and I literally feel nothing. And I went through multiple years where I couldn't even sing a song in a chapel service or in a church service, just so much pain.
[00:07:39] And. A couple of really interesting experiences, which we could, you can, if you want me to say more about them, there's tons of stories, but interesting experiences that kind of let me know God isn't finished with me, but my heart was just seared so much. I had no real feelings about faith and I was just running on fumes and [00:08:00] it's at that point.
[00:08:01] I actually discovered new types of spiritual practices, which again, they're not new, but they were new to me because I didn't grow up in the tradition. So I I discovered contemplative spiritual practices, which are basically done alone and in silence, which is exactly what everything felt like to me, because everything was silent on the inside.
[00:08:21] And I discovered centering prayer, which is silent, meditative prayer. And as I sat in silence, I like to say I found silence, but really silence found me. And then in that silence I rediscovered the God who loves me and it basically changed everything for me. And I got to the point where I realized a lot of my past had been.
[00:08:43] Kind of tied up and fear, guilt, shame stuff, and journaling, and then sitting in silence and centering prayer. Basically God began to lift those things up and over a course of a number of years healed me and made it feel as though. [00:09:00] Maybe got was reconverted and basically put me in a place where I can serve now, not out of feeling like I have to, or I should or I should, but a feeling that I can love others.
[00:09:14] And that's the whole purpose of what I do now. And that was transformational. And I can't imagine that. At least for me ever having gotten to that place without going through this really difficult time. Now I will say I had great friends. The seminary supported me. And so I was blessed. I had like tons of pastor friends and had community.
[00:09:35] It was just the insides of me. It just couldn't come up with so hurt, but I had a couple of mindsets that really helped me. And this may help the listeners. If somebody is struggling. And again, I've done a lot of work on myself up until this time, but I decided when I was done when everything went through and I was divorced again, I was shamed, it felt shameful, guilt frayed, but I decided that I was going to get through this and I was going [00:10:00] to be a better man on the other side and not just be a bitter man.
[00:10:03] That was one thing I had in my head early on. The second thing. And this was the more, this is, this was the hard one. I got biblical divorce and so I got a pass on the, and I'm not going to go into the circumstances out of disrespect for my former spouse, but I decided.
[00:10:23] I wasn't blaming anybody and I wasn't going to be a victim. And I was, I took a hundred percent responsibility. I just decided to divorce was my fault in the sense that I was going to make sure I opened myself up to be healed and cleanse. So again, on the other side of this, I could grow out of this. And again, that's remarkable looking back that I was thinking about that now, but I had that, it's I'm going to own this.
[00:10:48] Even if I don't like it. And then part of that is I actually, even though I was struggling my faith, I actually pray to God. I had this affirmation, God bring out all of the shadows and darkness in my life and bring it into your [00:11:00] light so you can heal me. And so I had those three intentions and I think Looking back now.
[00:11:05] And he always, things always make sense, looking back more than in the moment when you're just scared and and it wasn't like I was perfect in this whole thing. And I had real struggles and anger and all those other kinds of things that you go through. But looking back those mindsets and just being open to being transformed.
[00:11:21] Brought me to you, Scott, and I'll just leave that. And I was able to write the end of the book on centering prayer. After I had some time to process and look back up over a number of years of practice, one
[00:11:31] Scott Maderer: the things that I wanted to call out of that, and I think it's important. And and again you and I share some commonalities and that I was raised in the Methodist church.
[00:11:40] I was going to go to seminary. I ended up not going to seminary. My, my challenge. I had a couple of them. And my first one wouldn't was that decision to not go to seminary, came out of a challenge of faith. And, but I think is important to recognize or to call out is your walk in faith, even though it [00:12:00] started young, it's not like this was this perfect relationship with God throughout your life.
[00:12:06] It's changed. It's evolved how. How does that are? How would you share with folks that may be are in the middle of that dark night of the soul? They're there, they haven't come out the other side yet. And they have that anger with themselves, the shame with themselves, the anger with God all of those sorts of feelings.
[00:12:31] What would you share with them is important to, to focus on or pay attention to right now?
[00:12:37] Brian Russell: The F the first glimmer of light that, that helped me was I wrote down what I was grateful for every morning and every night. And I knew about gratitude practices, but I remember. One day I was laying in my bed and I was so tired cause I went through, I couldn't sleep and just stressed out and I knew my kids were on the other side of the house [00:13:00] and I was just like, I can't do this.
[00:13:01] I didn't want to get up. And I if I can imagine what real depression felt like I was it was just overwhelming. I didn't want to get up. And then I just remember living in Florida. And so I just remember on my window, I just saw a little Ray of sunlight busting through the blinds. And I just remember thinking, oh, thank you for the sun gets up every day so I can get up.
[00:13:25] And I looked back and that was like one of those moments. I would say, if you're really stuck, the first thing you can do, I call it triage is find something that you can be grateful for. And then the other thing I would say is, again, depends on where you live. I luckily I lived in Florida, but what really helped me was just a walk get outside.
[00:13:44] Those aren't like super spiritual things. I think the gratitude is about walking and getting outside or just critical practices and then watch in your life. First small glimmers where maybe there's a little root growing. Now. I [00:14:00] always think I'm one of my favorite metaphors. This is a huge tree down in Florida and it's a live Oak, it's a monster.
[00:14:07] And and this thing fell over. I'm going to say 20 some years ago, I've been able to trace it back. It's. Down in the early two thousands, but it has a root ball about 12 feet tall, and this tree literally fell over. It should be dead. And it's sideways. The whole trunk is sideways, but somehow this thing is alive in 2021.
[00:14:26] It's massive. And it regrew the roots off the trunk. So it's remarkable and I've. Last couple of years, I found this tree during the COVID lockdown. I was like, what a metaphor? So many of us get knocked over. In some ways you think you could be left for dead, but this tree somehow had enough roots left. So you have to, when you're doing tree, as you got to reevaluate, what resources do you still have and then watch for any new growth.
[00:14:57] And just focus your attention on that in your [00:15:00] life. That may be a friendship. It may be a hobby, anything that can break you out of just regret of everything that just happened so that you can begin to see it might not be the life you thought you were going to have, and that tree there's no tree textbook where you get a tree lane sideways with a root ball up, but you.
[00:15:18] And that's important for us stuff happens. And you only see the root ball that has been ripped up sometimes in your life, but other people probably won't see that if you hang on in, allow yourself to regrow. And so I don't know if that's helpful, Scott, but the gratitude and then this looking for little signs of life and loving that part a little bit and just saying that's enough is probably the way to start a come back.
[00:15:45] But again, I always say. It took me a long time and I had so many resources. So the one thing I have learned is you don't rush anybody back out of the dark night of the soul. You just got to love them.
[00:15:58] Scott Maderer: Yeah. You [00:16:00] mentioned earlier that you had a few experiences that you saw as change transformational experience, experiences, or key experiences.
[00:16:09] Could you expand on that a little bit, Cheryl?
[00:16:12] Brian Russell: Yeah. And I would say this probably saved my faith, ultimately though it didn't I've always looked back at this, but it wasn't like it fixed everything, but it was like, okay, I'm going to make it through. I was teaching again. My marriage blows up and it was just spectacular blow up in the fall of 2010 and back to teaching at the seminary I'd been on.
[00:16:33] I was writing a book in 2010 when it wouldn't happen. So I go back I'm teaching. And one of the classes I had to teach, I had to travel to. And I didn't teach until April and may. And it was in Columbus, Ohio, and my divorce had gone through in April of 2011. So this was a couple of weeks after I'm officially divorced.
[00:16:52] And I was in this insomnia period and I have to show up and teach. And these students did never met me ever in person. [00:17:00] And I did my thing. I just I'm a pro I showed up, I delivered, they were loving it. And what was interesting. I had to go two weekends in the second week and I got. This was powerful and I'll never forget this.
[00:17:11] As long as I live the guy that was in charge of the cohort. And he was also in the class after I'm done, I'm ready to head over to the airport. After I've done the finished all the teaching, he goes, Brian, I need to talk to you for a second. And I'm like, And this church was it was it was a vineyard church and the vineyards charismatic and they do a lot of prayer stuff and sky goes, my wife and I have been praying all night for you.
[00:17:38] And I don't know if this means anything, cause it doesn't make any sense. And even, cause I said, this might be from the devil or it might be from God because he didn't go there. We have the gift of discernment. We think we have a word for you. And I'm thinking like, oh boy, what's this one guy. And this guy dead flat out, looks at me.
[00:17:55] Brian again. I don't know why I'm supposed to say this. He goes, I'm [00:18:00] going to probably lose. I probably gonna cry. I usually can't get through this once. It's just but he looked me dead in the eye and he said, God knows,
[00:18:08] God knows that you're ready to give up. But he wants you to know that you're really good at what you do and he still wants you on the team. And my goodness gracious, Scott, I mean that, this was almost 11 years ago now. And I, that was like, holy mackerel. So anytime I always joke, it's I wish I was an atheist, but I always say, God doesn't let me.
[00:18:32] I, cause I've never been there's no way that guy knew what was going on in my life. And I literally was ready to give up because I couldn't feel anything. And I fought, I can't teach people to be pastors. If I can't feel anything, I'm not going to be a fake. And then I got that again, that didn't fix everything, but I'm like, okay.
[00:18:52] So that I there's a couple of things like that, but that's the one super powerful story. And again, I'm sorry. I just can't say without getting emotional stuff, that was [00:19:00] what it was a gift. It was
[00:19:01] Scott Maderer: just a total gift. The emotions real there. There's no reason to apologize for it. Don't don't don't.
[00:19:07] I guess if my word for you is don't apologize for the emotion. That's not that's not not necessary or wanted or ask for, I think, especially us as guys. I think a lot of times we apologize whenever we get emotional for something and. I that's a bad, that's a bad signal to me.
[00:19:26] It's if it were if we feel it and God gave us feelings too. So
[00:19:32] Brian Russell: now that's a good word too, Scott. Thank you. Because Let's turn a little bit and go a little deeper into centering prayer. You talked a little bit about what it was, you mentioned it offhandedly as you were talking about it.
[00:19:46] Scott Maderer: And even beyond just centering prayer, because by the way, I would argue that walks in are a spiritual discipline. Actually, whenever I get to do them, it helps my heart heal. And when I don't, I. [00:20:00] I feel it it definitely is something that, that I, I would argue as a spiritual discipline. So when you think about cinema of those.
[00:20:09] Different experiences that you were exposed to, including centering prayer. Why do you think those are valuable spiritually? And why are they not looked at as, as, as a spiritual discipline that we should develop.
[00:20:25] Brian Russell: I think there's a couple of things. I think the main thing that throws people off, because I even called it silent, meditative prayer is sometimes it's the word meditation, because that gets associated with other religions or new age types of things like, can doism Hindus and meditate, Buddhist meditate, and people think Christians don't meditate.
[00:20:44] We just talked to God. And so that's probably the biggest piece. So let me just, if anybody's listening, thinking this guy is, he's not really this doesn't sound Christian, this sounds like some other practice. I think the key thing is when we, as Christians do silent [00:21:00] meditative prayer, we're not just focusing in word as a means of relaxing or just noticing what's going on inside our bodies though.
[00:21:09] The. It does happen. The key thing is we're sitting in silence with the intention of sitting before the God who loves us and essentially saying all of the stuff that's going on in my head, all the images, all the different thoughts I'm going to surrender, even those. So I can be with a God who loves. And that's the PR and that's essentially the heart of the practices.
[00:21:37] You just want to be with God. And again, I don't want to suggest to the listeners that every time I do centering prayer, I feel like I'm literally with God, because that's not true. A lot of times you're just scrambling your brain just goes incessantly in thoughts. And, but what centering prayer has done for [00:22:00] me, Is over time.
[00:22:03] It's healed me of fear, guilt, shame, broken up the junk in my life because you realize, wow, all this stuff is inside of me. And here I am sitting with the God who loves me in God knows it. God's known it the whole time, but it's just the process of surrendering. Anything that comes up is the ultimate act of surrender to God that is both transformational.
[00:22:27] And then several different times. I've just sat for Mo in this good. And we're talking about split seconds or moments where you literally just feel like the love of God is poured into your life. And just those couple of times that's happened has been utterly transformational. And it helps us to see that our true identity, which isn't, who we are, what we do on is who we are, but it's not what we do or our roles, our true identity.
[00:22:53] I'm a child of God. I'm a person loved by God. And these deeper contemplative practices [00:23:00] remind us of that key truth. And for a person like myself has always been super driven. Again, loved a work high achievers. That's been freeing for me and is basically unlocked and probably grew my heart and got rid of a lot of junk in my life.
[00:23:16] And so that's why I think this is, these are, this is a critical practice that we probably need to rediscover.
[00:23:23] Scott Maderer: It's in some ways, at least for you, it sounds like it helped you move a little bit from. Feeling like you earned, God's love to you as in it's an active you're earning it. And you have to keep doing it versus no, you've actually already got it.
[00:23:41] Grace has earned versus grace has given mentally. Yeah.
[00:23:46] Brian Russell: And like that sled, like one of my favorite definitions of grace, and this comes from a kind of an unusual source of Paul Tillich, who was a pretty famous theologian, but he's very philosophical. And but he defined he talked about grace as being accepting the [00:24:00] fact that you're unconditionally accepted.
[00:24:02] And I would say again that I think I love that definition. I would say centering prayer, at least for me, even though intellectually, I could have defined grace forever. Easily and. The centering prayer connected my intellectual understanding of who God is with my whole body and really my heart.
[00:24:20] If you want to say it that way.
[00:24:22] Scott Maderer: So for you, what would you see as some of the key differences between centering prayer and. Other types of prayer, because for one thing I don't want anyone to hear this and think, oh, this is the only way either. So what would you share with people on that?
[00:24:40] Brian Russell: Yeah. And that's, and thanks for asking it that way too. Cause I'm not suggesting this replaces other spiritual practices at all. In a sense, when you look at myself, I was a professor of biblical studies and as a pastor, so I already had. Lots of prayer, lots of Bible reading all the different disciplines.
[00:24:56] So this sort of sits on top of those. Yeah, so we still want to do [00:25:00] our regular person. In fact, when I do centering prayer I usually start my centering prayer with an old, with a prayer called the Jesus prayer, which is Lord Jesus Christ. Son of God have mercy on me, a center. I'll end my centering prayer time with some moments of regular prayer.
[00:25:15] When I do it with groups, we always conclude with saying the Lord's prayer together. So this is no way substitutes. It's the differences. The more traditional forms of prayer, we use words we use symbols and the silent prayer is there's no words. We just PR our soul. We just try. Surrender everything's this of nothing separates us from God, even our thoughts.
[00:25:41] And so we even surrender our thoughts and our the things that's going on in the inside. That would be the key difference, but it doesn't substitute. It's a supplement.
[00:25:47] Scott Maderer: You can follow Brian on Twitter as Brian D. Russell, or follow him on Instagram as your professor for life. He's also over on LinkedIn is Brian Russell [00:26:00] PhD. You can also watch some videos that he's got on YouTube as deep dive spirituality with Dr. Brian Russell. That's Dr. Brian Russell, or the best place probably is over on his website.
[00:26:14] Brian Russell phd.com. Of course I'll have links to all of that as the sh in the show notes as well. Brian, is there anything else that you'd like to share with the.
[00:26:23] Brian Russell: Yeah, thank you for all the links and just encourage the listeners to, if you're interested in centering prayer, you can check out my book.
[00:26:32] That's been out since the fall of 2021, centering prayer sitting quietly in God's presence can change your life. And if I can be of any service to you, you can check out all my free resources, or if you want to go a little deeper, just reach out to me. I'd love to see.
[00:26:44] Scott Maderer: Thanks so much for listening to the inspired stewardship podcast, as a subscriber and listener, we challenge you to not just sit back and passively listen, but act on what you've heard and find a way to live [00:27:00] your calling. If you enjoy this episode. Please do us a favor. Go over to inspired stewardship.com/itunes rate.
[00:27:12] All one word iTunes rate. It'll take you through how to leave a rating and review and how to make sure you're subscribed to the podcast so that you can get every episode as it comes out in your feed until next time, invest your time. Your talent and your treasures develop your influence and impact the world.
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And I just remember thinking “Oh thank you for the sun”. It gets up every day so I can get up. If you are really stuck the first thing you can do is find something you can be grateful for. – Brian Russell
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