Start with Amen: Cultivating Spiritual Maturity by Keeping the End in Mind

Start with Amen: Cultivating Spiritual Maturity by Keeping the End in Mind

by Beth Guckenberger


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One power-packed word: amen.

Millions of Christians all over the world say this word every day. Yet few realize what richness, depth, truth, and connection are packed into this sacred phrase.

Throughout the centuries, Christian tradition has taught us to end prayers with amen. But the Bible is full of stories and passages where God’s people started their prayers with amen. Why? As Beth Guckenberger shows, amen is more than just a way to punctuate a conversation with the God of the Universe. Amen is a declaration of who God is and who we are in relation to him. It is a moment of submission and worship, saying “So be it” to a Sovereignty that holds all things, and acknowledging “It is as you say” to him who holds our lives.

In Amen, Beth unpacks all the Bible has to teach us about the moment we say amen to God. Using key scripture passages mixed with fresh teaching and personal stories, she invites readers to experience the richness they’ve been missing.

Amen is more than just a word. Amen is a full invitation from God packed with all that he requires from us and all he longs to bestow upon us as his beloved children. As Beth writes, “He is beckoning us all. Come to me. Learn my ways. You are my child, whom I dearly love and bought with a price. The God of Amen rescued you so you can echo amen back to him. God intended this word to be a moment of intimacy, drenched in reverence, replete with peace—the moment when you rest in him and are rejuvenated by him. There is so much more he wants to give. Amen.”

If Christians long to be truly connected to their Creator, they must begin with amen. For, as Isaiah 65:16 says, “Because he who is blessed in the earth will be blessed by the God of Amen.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718079017
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 05/09/2017
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 651,067
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Beth Guckenberger and her husband, Todd, live with their family in Cincinnati, Ohio, where they serve as co-executive directors of Back2Back Ministries. After graduating from Indiana University with degrees in education, the Guckenbergers moved to Monterrey, Mexico. Since founding the international arm of Back2Back in 1997, they have hosted thousands of guests on the ministry campus. Between biological, foster, and adopted children, they have raised ten children.

Beth is the author of multiple books, including Reckless Faith, Relentless Hope, Tales of the Not Forgotten, and several others. Beth is the recipient of the 2013 International Network of Children’s Ministry Legacy Award and the Cincinnati Christian University Salute to Leaders Award for the impact made on children internationally. She travels and speaks regularly at conferences, youth gatherings, and church services. Her style is based in storytelling and she draws from her vast field experience as a missionary and parent of ten children for illustrations of biblical concepts. Visit her website:

Read an Excerpt

Start With Amen

How I Learned to Surrender by Keeping the End in Mind

By Beth Guckenberger

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2017 Beth Guckenberger
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7180-7901-7



The Posture of Amen

Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

— Nehemiah 8:6

I sat on the Mount of Olives and gazed at Jerusalem's Old City. I noticed the series of gates built and boarded up in the centuries since Jesus walked there. The gates rest on Bible stories we've read hundreds of times, yet the meaning of the architecture seems to have gotten lost. These ancient entryways were once specific points of passage for kings and commoners, for merchants and grand processions, guarded through the centuries by tradition and diplomacy.

Among them was a tiny sheep gate. First mentioned in the book of Nehemiah, it was the entrance for sheep used in sacrifices. The door is clearly much smaller than the other gates, and although no animal was passing through it on that day, I imagined a line of sheep, wrapped around the city, being brought in for major Jewish holidays. Sheep as far as the eye could see. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, almost a quarter million animals walked through the thin gate during the Passover week, the week of Jesus' death.

Imagining Jesus coming down the hill on Palm Sunday, with everyone waving their branches, I wondered where he entered. The Bible doesn't tell us, but I can't imagine Herod would have let Jesus enter through his gate. I stared for a while at the walls. He was a king who became a common man who then became the sacrificial lamb. So how did he enter this city?

Whether Jesus went through this particular gate or not, his was the sheep's gate.

Later in the afternoon, we visited a Greek ruin. I couldn't stop taking pictures of the extraordinary buildings: enormous theaters and coliseums, bathhouses and schools.

I stood on one of those wide roads, mouth open, sketching what I saw, being so impressed with what man could do. My mind flitted back to the scene of the gates earlier in the day, and, for a second, a verse ran through my head.

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matt. 7:13–14)

It was as if God had posed the sweetest of questions. You want to be impressed with what man can do? That's your choice, but it will lead to your own destruction.

If you want life — real life — follow me. I'll be entering the city through the narrow gate.

Together, we will be laying down our lives.

I sighed as I realized that a sheep gate awaits me every day. Above it hangs a sign: "This is the Way. Surrender." Through it I find blessings I never imagined, as sacrifice reveals itself as the entry point for peace. Jesus found shalom in obedience to the will of the Father and has been inviting us to discover the same ever since.

I want the peace. I want to not worry when circumstances or relationships induce panic. I want the latest incident to be my excuse to exercise a growing muscle in me that says, Amen. As I cross the sheep gate threshold, this little word means, So be it. I trustyou. I don't understand, but I surrender. It's in your hands now.


In 1997, my husband, Todd, and I moved to Monterrey, Mexico, to serve orphans and vulnerable children full-time through Back2Back Ministries. Living in a developing country for a long time means you exponentially increase your odds of being robbed. It's not unusual, and you take extra precautions, but the risk is still there. I say this because it was a ridiculous purchase. As a missionary, I had long carried purses that looked like a combination of army backpack and bohemian sling bag. Why I lusted one day for a purple Coach purse in the window of a Texas outlet is still a mystery to me. That light-lilac suede was so impractical. I didn't even wear much purple, but I am sure it symbolized something to me about another world I could live in if I wanted.

I was at my son's soccer game when it was stolen. Someone shattered the window in my car and snatched it a few feet from where I stood. I should've panicked about the credit cards that needed to be canceled or the cell phone I could've used to call for help or the pictures of my children I carried in my wallet. But I immediately started grieving the loss of the purse.

After making some police reports, I went home and commandeered my nine-year-old daughter's dress-up purse and used it for the next month, knowing soon I would be flying into the United States and could replace it with something more practical. I vowed never again to the purple purse.

I flew into Cincinnati, Ohio, weeks later and had only one hour before a speaking engagement, so I searched a nearby strip mall to see if I could quickly pick up a new purse.

My only option was a luggage store. I stepped in and saw a rack with cool leather backpack purses, a bit of a hybrid between my earlier choices and the Coach. I had never heard of the brand, but it looked nice and sturdy, so I took it to the counter.

"That'll be $276," the lady said, ringing my purchase into her cash register.

My eyes went wide at the price, I muttered, "No, thank you," and left the store. I didn't think about it again, as now I was late to my engagement. I pulled into the place where I was meeting the others, grabbed Emma's ratty purse, and told the Lord I understood my roots.

I knew he didn't value or care about purses, and neither would I.

Finally, the evening's event was over, and I headed to my mom's house, where I was staying for a few days. I settled into my childhood room and looked over mail accumulated since our last visit. I'd had a birthday since my previous trip to the States, and I sat on the edge of the bed, reading cards. At the bottom of the mailbag, there was a package from my college friend, who had remembered my birthday and sent a gift to my mom's house. I thought fondly of her as I opened the box, and then threw my hands to my mouth when I saw what was inside.

It was my $276 leather backpack purse. Exact. Same. One.

A flood of thoughts came over me as I held it.

She and I had never exchanged gifts so generous before.

She didn't know about the theft, did she?

Is this for real? God picked this out for me before I wanted it today?

I was so sure he didn't care about designer purses. I had spent a month disciplining my thoughts so I wouldn't grieve something as silly as a purse. Yet here he was, reintroducing me to himself all over again. I care about everything you care about, he seemed to say.

That night, before I fell asleep, I thought about all the wasted time I had spent wringing my hands over something God already had in the works to redeem. What if when I didn't like what was happening (a lost purse, broken relationships, poor health, traffic accidents, unexpected bills) I prayed in anticipation of the Lord's hand, confident of his sovereignty? What if instead of second-guessing him, my prayers sounded more like Amen. So be it. This happened. It's all good. I'm yours. Change my heart. Take captive my thoughts. AH I have is in your hands. Bless the thief. Dear Jesus ...?

In this case, I can stretch and pray for the person who took my purse or remind myself mentally of my blessings. I can stretch and be grateful I wasn't assaulted or trust for future provision. What do I gain from worry or, worse yet, fury?

That night, I committed to Jesus that I would rest in the God of Amen.

From now on, I would start our holy conversations by anticipating his hand.

"Amen," I began before any other words followed.


Back to Israel. Our guide, Bible teacher Ray Vander Laan, took us to a hill where we watched sheep graze under the careful eye of their shepherd. Ray invited us to make observations, and some immediately mentioned the straight line the sheep walk in. They looked like they were playing follow-the-leader. He told us the root word from which we derive the phrase path of righteousness is the same root word describing sheep walking in a line. Sheep literally walk along the path of righteousness.

Others commented on the goats that were running around, trying to make their own way and staying off the path of righteousness. Finally, I asked why the shepherd was tending his sheep on a hillside without grass. Everywhere I turned, it seemed brown and rocky.

"Look under the rocks," he encouraged me. "The dew from the morning gets caught under them, and there are small grass clumps that grow. See how the shepherd is walking among his sheep? They know his voice, and he's pointing out to them where the grass is found."

I located the thickest tuft of grass, and it was still smaller than a human fist. Do you know how long it takes to bite, chew, and swallow a small tuft of grass? From our observation, about the time it takes to go three or four steps. Then the sheep has to listen for where he can find the next bite. The sheep stay on the path of righteousness so they are within earshot of a shepherd who is actively pointing out where they can go to get what they need.

I started to think about Psalm 23, and our guide pulled out his Bible. As we talked about the imagery for this passage, we agreed our idea of being led to green pastures conjured up images of waist-high grass, careening in a gentle wind, as far as the eye could see. But my picture of a field of grass represented my total independence. I could eat however much I wanted, whenever I wanted, wherever I wanted. I could tell God thanks beforehand, but all other factors were in my control. David, however, was on hillsides like this rocky one when he penned those words. His idea of God's leading us to a green pasture places us in a posture of dependence, looking more like what I was watching that afternoon. God's way puts me in a position where he might provide only what will sustain me for the next three or four steps. Then, dependent on him for more, I stay on the path within earshot and listen for his leading so I'll find what I need. Listen. Bite. Step. Repeat.

God knows I need to hear his voice more than I need the field of grass. Surrendering to a life of so be it is about discerning the difference, holding a posture where I am wholly reliant and deeply committed to believing his voice is the door to provision.

* * *

Today, amen is most often our sign-off to a prayer or a testimony of agreement, but it was designed to be so much more. Its intent is to describe a spiritual position before God. Nehemiah explains it as: "Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, 'Amen! Amen!' Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground" (Neh. 8:6).

This is amen: hands raised, faces bowed, hearts at peace. There our metaphorical spiritual buckets get filled, and there is plenty to offer each other. Unity is felt among the church, and communion is a reality. Here, in this posture, I am always surprised by what God has for me.

If I could pray no other word ever again, I would be okay. Amen speaks affirmation and commitment. It says yes to a lifestyle where he is to be trusted and I can rest in him.

When I talk to God, I start with amen, and, with it, we communicate intimacy and a sense of knowing.

I know he's got this.

He knows I'm letting him have this, whatever in the moment "this" may be.

As amen permeated my life and prayers, I noticed a newfound confidence in my faith. I woke up one day along my journey and sensed a fresh boldness in my faith. It wasn't a result of new head knowledge or better self-discipline. It was simply a longing for miracles and revival; I wanted to see God be God. I developed a craving for intimacy with him. This idea of amen, or surrender and submission, opened doors of restoration in my relationships — and in my soul.

But be warned. Narrow is the path that leads to righteousness. Developing a faith rooted in amen doesn't come without its roadblocks and diversions. Sometimes it was my sin (and, honestly, sometimes it still is); other times it was another's. We have an enemy, one who seeks to get us as far away from God as possible, to have our lives ruled by chaos and decay.

The way of amen always starts with the Savior, the one who entered through the sheep's gate to make a way for reconciliation with the Father. Because he sacrificed himself, we can say amen. Because he showed us what unflinching obedience looks like, we are capable of the same.

God intended this word amen to be a moment of intimacy, drenched in reverence, replete with peace — a moment when you rest in him and are rejuvenated by him. He wants to give us so much more.


God gave up his rights long before the week of Palm Sunday. In Genesis 15, he laid the groundwork for which gate he would one day enter. In order to secure a promise he made to Abram, that he would give him as many children as there are stars in the sky as well as the land in which they would dwell, God made a blood path covenant with him.

Blood path covenants were long the tradition between two parties making a pledge to each other. The Lord could have just said his promise and then expected Abraham to believe it. But he used a practice familiar to Abraham in his cultural context to give him the faith he would need. As was the custom, Abraham would take several animals and split them in half, creating a small, bloody river between the carcasses:

So the Lord said to him, "Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon."

Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. (Gen. 15: 9–10)

Then the two parties would walk through the blood path, committing to one another and to the witnesses, "If I break my end of this deal, I will pay the price with my blood." There are all kinds of nuances in these arrangements, but the most important piece is both parties must commit. God knew, however, that Abraham couldn't keep his end of the deal, so the Bible says, "As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. ... When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces" (vv. 12, 17).

God walked through the blood path on behalf of himself and Abraham. He was in essence saying, "I will keep this covenant, and if I don't, I will pay the price with my blood. You will keep this covenant, and if you do not, I will pay the price with my blood. I would rather my life be divided than break a covenant relationship with you."

The story of which gate Jesus would one day metaphorically enter was put into motion when he walked through the blood path. Theologians call this story a Christophany: the appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. Before they even knew who Jesus was, his people were set up to understand that someone would pay for their sins in mercy.

Throughout Jewish history, it has been the custom of priests to offer sacrifices on the altar twice a day, at 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. We read the instructions of this practice in Exodus 29 and in Jewish literature.

The 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. ritual would have been active on Good Friday, when Jesus entered into the city as the sheep and not the king. Mark 15 tells us Jesus was put on the cross at 9:00 a.m. — when the first sacrifice was being made.

There he hung for six hours.

This doesn't make any sense. If I were Jesus, I might have said, around 1:30 in the afternoon, "Enough! I will still die and resurrect, I will still conquer death, and I will still have people tell my story, but not one minute more!"

Instead, in Matthew 27, we see a Savior who held out until orchestrating his own death perfectly at 3:00 p.m.

God does not deal in coincidences. He was proving a point. He was fulfilling a promise he had made long before.

This is a God who is always perfectly on time. This is a Savior who shows what a life of amen means — unflinching obedience and power in sacrifice. His life has long been defining what keeping a promise looks like.

So why do I doubt him? Why do some days I pout over something not happening fast enough, knowing full well that he is actively working so those details will unfold perfectly in his time? I doubt because in that moment I have not surrendered. I might pray, but they are words strung together designed to manipulate a holy God to adjust to my will. I will finish the prayer with amen, but I don't mean, "So be it." I mean, "So do it."

Amen is the verbal equivalent of hands raised. It can be translated as "So be it" or paraphrased as "It is as you say." It's more than our modern understanding of "uncle" or "I give up." It is surrender in a spirit of "It's up to you; you do it," and "I made the promise, but only you can fulfill it." So I whisper, You sell the house. You move her heart. You heal that body. You open the door. You provide. You go before them. Amen. So be it. In your time. I trust. I surrender. Amen.

And this one word reorients me, calibrating me with a God whose covenant he will never break.


Excerpted from Start With Amen by Beth Guckenberger. Copyright © 2017 Beth Guckenberger. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prologue xv

Chapter 1 So Be It: The Posture of Amen 1

Chapter 2 Position of Proximity: The Benefit of Amen 17

Chapter 3 Breaking Up Fallow Ground: The Restoration of Amen 43

Chapter 4 Sleeping with the Frog: The Barriers to Amen 63

Chapter 5 Climbing the Mountain: The First Steps to Amen 79

Chapter 6 Sin Is Crouching at My Door: The Challenge of Amen 97

Chapter 7 Burn the Ships: The Opposite of Amen 113

Chapter 8 Mephibosheth and a Generous King: The Confidence of Amen 127

Chapter 9 It's Better to Give Away a Life Than to Build One: The Lifestyle of Amen 143

Chapter 10 In the Name of Jesus, Back Away: The Boldness of Amen 157

Chapter 11 Rebuilding of Walls and Ruins: The Result of Amen 171

Chapter 12 Dear Jesus: The Community of Amen 185

Acknowledgments 203

Endnotes 205

About the Author 207

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