It is interesting to see which of the blogs that I write receive most feedback. Sadly from my perspective the accounts of various historical figures seem to attract relatively little! However, my post from a few weeks back- “Busy and Lifeless” has resulted in various conversations. In it I noted that a significant number of recent interactions with friends who are pastors or leaders balancing church and secular work responsibilities had revealed lots of activity without much sense of inner satisfaction- and that I often felt the same. And whilst “hard pressed but not crushed” should mark out the Christian a relative lack of joy is a matter of concern.
I had three days holiday last week which were wonderful. It probably says something about my personality that three days walking along a coastline with no human contact save for the person who sold me coffee should be regarded as bliss but that’s a topic for another post. What it did give me was an opportunity to think, pray and reflect on some of the issues that I had raised in the initial post. As I was doing that I was reading through Luke 7-8 and had Christopher Ash’s little book Zeal without Burnout alongside me. I came away from my reading and thinking with five convictions. These are completely scattergun and are really to do with my personality and situation rather than principles I’ve thought out for others. However, I thought I would write them up for the sake of my own memory and share them in case any are helpful for others.
1. Your sins are forgiven
I was reminded of this truth when reading through the end of Luke 7. The difference between a devoted lover of Jesus and a crusty old Pharisee is the knowledge of sins forgiven. One of the crippling features for me (and I suspect others) is an underlying sense of guilt. We feel guilty because we are aware of our shortcomings as church leaders and our tendency to find refuges other than the Lord in the midst of stress. However, trying to serve from guilt is a nightmare. Serving from a place of knowing forgiveness and acceptance is much better though- and is, of course, what the Lord offers us. A reminder of this refreshed my soul deeply.
2. Trying to make everybody happy is impossible.
A while back I confessed to a friend that one of my challenges is that I have an underlying conviction that the role of my life is to make everybody else happy. His response showed great pastoral sensitivity- “You are warped in so many ways.” But he was right. Making your role that of creating universal happiness has a somewhat Messianic bent to it- and that role is already taken by another better qualified. Furthermore, it is simply impossible. Whilst I was away I was reflecting on a couple of big issues in the church. As a church we know great unity but there are occasional differences of desire on strategies for the way forward and so on. It dawned on me that it is simply impossible to have an outcome that pleased everybody and so it really isn’t worth setting universal happiness as a goal. The Biblical call is to do what we can and to seek first God’s Kingdom. That is a much less crippling burden to live under.
3. Make inward renewal a priority
Christopher Ash’s book was a joy. I would simply describe it as full of wisdom. Its basic gist was that our temptation is to forget that we are dust and that there are certain things we need that God does not. Ash mentioned four- our need for sleep, Sabbaths, friends and inward refreshment. The last of these things struck me particularly. It was interesting how deeply refreshing walking and praying along a coastline was for me. Despite the fact that I was on holiday ideas for forthcoming sermons naturally popped into my head as I walked along in a way that hasn’t been happening whilst sitting at my desk recently. At one level taking time to do that felt like a luxury but actually resulted in greater productivity and usefulness. I am aware that having minimal family responsibilities makes that easier for me but it seems to me that the question as to how we make even small space for inner refreshment is relevant for all of us.
4. Rejoice that your names are written in the Book of Life
This was the final chapter in Ash’s book. He picks up the scene in Luke’s Gospel where the disciples return with great joy having seen success on mission with demons submitting to them and so forth. Jesus’ response is striking- “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your name is written in the heaven.” (Luke 10:20).
In other words, the call is to avoid looking to ministry for joy but to look to that which is more solid. I appreciated Ash’s challenge at the end- to say to ourselves that even if we never preach another sermon our names are still written in heaven. That was a gloriously liberating insight for somebody whose mood is far too dependent on how last Sunday went. It could apply to whatever the equivalent of preaching a sermon is for you.
5. Don’t let the worries of life drown out God’s Word
Having enjoyed a deep sense of refreshment over the first couple of days I was left a bit concerned as to how much would last into a return to work. On my final morning away I happened to read the parable of the sower in Luke 8 and I was struck by the seed that is choked by the thorns which represent life’s worries, riches and pleasures. I knew on returning to work that there would be worries and issues to think through heading in my direction. But I’ve been resolved to fight to ensure that whatever they are I still want to spend time diligently listening to the Lord through His Word. That matters because we don’t want to face the worries of life simply with our own wisdom and resources. It is as we spend time listening to God’s Word that we find the perspective to face the challenges.
This current week has been hard work. There have been two sermons for important occasions to write that haven’t come easily at all. But what I have enjoyed is writing from a position of a forgiven accepted son who knows his position is not ultimately dependent on how happy people are with those sermons. Even if they go badly my name is still written in heaven.
So- these are simply some scattergun thoughts that were primarily written for my benefit. But I hope one or two may help others to avoid the busy and lifeless syndrome.