You could compare your spiritual life to a balloon. You could also compare the church to a balloon. My boys love them and fight over them when we go somewhere that has balloons, like restaurants. They like balloons that have regular air in them, but they LOVE the ones with helium. They float. The ones with air just fall.
There is a dangerous tendency to assume that our spirituality has to always be floating, that we need to be soaring on wings like eagles, living on the mountaintop, staying fired up for God…insert any Christian cliche here that will suffice. You get the picture. I even received an email from a youth pastor recently who asked me what advice I could give him to help keep his kids on fire for Jesus. His heart was pure, but his perspective was wrong. I had no advice for him but to scrap the whole idea of being fired up and replace it with abiding in Christ, walking in the Spirit, and living by faith in the gospel.
Nobody ever plans to fail at life. I've never met a single person who made it their life goal to be a loser, die young, and go through life all alone and depressed.
Yet people do these things everyday.
The lives of people we love are plagued with addictions, bitterness, shame, loneliness, depression, and maybe worst of all...regret.
I've been asking myself lately what failure would look like for me. Not mistakes. Not mess-ups. I'm talking about utter, unquestionable failure. Because if I don't actually know what failure would be for me, then it will be most difficult to avoid it.
It’s Monday morning and I have been awake since 5 AM. This is common for me so don’t be alarmed. But I am not alone.
Thousands of pastors join me in sleeplessness, either waking up way too early or staying up way too late. Why? Because it is part of paying the price to do what God has called us to do. The excitement and adrenaline, as well as the difficulties and discouragements of ministry often times make it next to impossible for us to enjoy the natural rythms of life that others experience.
There is no denying that ministry creates situations that lead to stress, pressure, depression and anxiety. (If you question that statement, then you are not involved in pastoral ministry or full time church work). The key is not how we AVOID these situations, for the only way to avoid them is to QUIT THE MINISTRY. The key is to see them coming, prepare for the impact, and weather the storm.
"So how are you today?" they ask. I respond, "I am blessed ." Almost every single time, they will look up from what they are doing and actually make eye contact with me. They usually seem dumbfounded by that response. Boom! I have their attention. As soon as their eyes lock on mine, I then say, "I am doing so much better than I deserve."
There is another secret weapon I need to share with you that is really no secret at all. Most of us know we should do it. Our parents tried to instill this practice in us when we were kids (at least they should have). But we seem hard-wired to fight it no matter what our bodies tell us.
If my big secret is GET UP EARLY, then my other big secret is...GO TO BED WHEN YOU GET TIRED.
If you just made an exasperated sound when you read that, you are probably the very person who needs to take this advice.
As a leader, pastor, dad and husband, I want to know all that I can to make me better at what I do. I also want to experience all I can to make me a more effective minister of the gospel, a more faithful friend, and a more dedicated disciple of Jesus. So when I see someone who has gone further than me or been faithful longer than me, I make it a point to ask them about lessons they've learned and mistakes they've made in hopes that I can glean this knowledge from them in a more streamlined fashion than having to go through a lengthy process myself.
In other words, I would rather learn from someone else's mistakes than to make them myself.
After 25 years in ministry, I am no expert by any means. But I do have TWO BIG SECRETS and I want to share them with you, because I know that if you apply them, they will greatly increase your chances of being a lifelong, faithful follower of Jesus Christ. Here is the first one.
Growing up with my father meant that I observed and assisted him in numerous repairs, both around the house and at his motor shop. He was adept in all fields; mechanics, plumbing, wood working, and electrical. During one of our "repair missions," my dad explained to me how important it was to open up the release valve on a particular apparatus in order to avoid an explosion that would destroy things and hurt people.
Looking back, there is no greater analogy that ministers and leaders need to understand than this one. If we do not have a release valve in our lives, we will eventually explode, and we will destroy things and hurt people in the process.
If you struggle with fear, anxiety, panic, depression or discouragement, I have a word for you from 1 John 4: 10-18.
Fear is not a tennant you tolerate. It is an enemy you expel. We lose against fear when we cease to fight it.*
When fear of rejection, the unknown, the past, or the future cripples you and takes you hostage, treat it like a war, a battle, a fight, and do some things Biblically to break the stranglehold that has rendered you helpless.
When you find yourself growing anxious or fearful about a situation, a conversation, or a confrontation, the seed of that anxiety is always something unknown in the future.
For example, you assume that the conversation you must have with a co-worker or your spouse will go badly. You assume that they will not see your perspective or that they will be difficult to communicate with. So you create a scenario in your mind and begin to imagine that things have already gone badly. You work yourself up for days before the conversation actually takes place.
Our selfishness plays a dastardly trick on us.
It lies to us and promises us that if we will keep, hoard, and protect all our resources, possessions, and money, then those things will make us happy.
This is a BIG FAT LIE.
If you want to prosper in this life, the secret is to be generous. Good, old-fashioned generosity in the form of giving; giving your time, your encouragement, your money, your heart. According to Proverbs, we are refreshed when we refresh others.