“What depletes your energies for God?” Here are my top ten energy-depleters:
You’re doing something displeasing to the Lord and you know it. The guilt lingers and weighs you down. When you try to read your Bible, pray, or worship, the fog is so thick you could cut it. God seems far away, and you know without being told it’s because you moved. (Isaiah 59:1-2 comes to mind. “Your sins have separated you.” Confess them and move back closer.)
The discouragers around you are constantly pointing out that you cannot do this, you are not the Christian you ought to be, the Bible cannot be understood, your prayers never go beyond the ceiling, and your pitiful offering amounts to nothing. To make matters worse, sometimes that negative voice hounding us is our own. You lose heart and want to give up. (Psalm 103:1-5 comes to mind. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Speak to yourself words of faith. Believe your faith and doubt your doubts.)
A family member, a colleague in the office, or a so-called friend has taken it as their personal calling to remind you of your failures. Of course, he tells you this for your own good. You leave your friend’s presence feeling worthless and hopeless. (Philippians 4:8 comes to mind. “Whatsoever things are true, think on these things.” Choose where your mind will land and come to rest and what it will feed upon.)
As I type this article I am watching the winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. As I watched the athletes I was reminded of the lonely path they must walk. Sure, there is glamour in what they do, especially if an athlete has the good fortune to win a medal. However, think of the demanding regimen of training, special diets and difficult workouts they must endure. In addition there are occasions when they miss family events or pleasurable activities to stay faithful to their training. Some athletes even move to locations that present better training opportunities. These unique demands are not glamorous.
The lonely path is the destiny of many Christians, especially those who faithfully serve Jesus in ministry. I include pastors, missionaries, deacons, elders, Sunday school/small group leaders, musicians and others who walk a similar path.
As I consider this thought my mind races to the times when God's servants walked alone, as recorded in the Bible. Abraham walked alone when he offered Isaac as an offering to God. Moses walked alone when he ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the revelation of the Ten Commandments. Esther walked alone when she represented the Israelite people before King Ahasuerus. Prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah walked alone. The ultimate example of walking alone was Jesus. He walked alone when He was tempted. He walked alone when He prayed in the garden. He walked alone when He hung on the cross.
“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy.” (Col. 1:9-11)
Nicole had just been wheeled into the air ambulance helicopter. Her 30-minute ride from our city to the medical center was under way. I stood numb and speechless with her mom and dad in the parking lot as they gathered courage for their car ride to the hospital. A week earlier their daughter had been a picture of health; now Reyes Syndrome had filled her with toxins that were eating at the very fiber of her life.
Another friend came over to offer encouragement. “She’s not going to die,” he said, “She’s going to be all right.” And then he left.
I wanted desperately to concur. Two options were alluring. Perhaps I could promise a miracle, or at the very least say a pastoral word that would help them to deny their excruciating reality. I found words for neither. She died the next day.
On another occasion we arrived at little Sarah’s house to pray with her and her parents. A special shipment of drugs had just arrived from a specialty cancer treatment center, and they had asked that we pray for Sarah again, and ask God to add his blessing to the new treatment she was about to receive.
The sturdy carton sat next to us on the floor as we knelt at Sarah’s bedside. Her strength had ebbed to the point of little responsiveness. Her discomfort had worn her out to bland resignation. The pain of her family was obvious in their drawn faces.
I wanted desperately to help them all escape. Perhaps I could promise a miracle, or at very least say a pastoral word that would help them deny their excruciating reality. I found words for neither. We held her memorial service last week.
Eugene Petersen has got me thinking again. This time the book is Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. In the chapters on Lamentations and Ecclesiastes he deals head on with the pastoral temptations to avoid hard realities or to deal with them inappropriately. Neither, or course, is an acceptable alternative to living through the real thing. It is not that God cannot do miracles; He can and He does. I have witnessed it myself. But sometimes He says no, and then it is left to pastors to hear, accept and affirm His “no” even when there is congregational pressure and inner temptation not to do so.
Several weeks ago, while visiting Sears, I received a simple but profound message from a line that separates parking spaces. When I parked there was no car on either side of mine. However, when I returned to my car there were cars on either side. The car on my left was parked especially close to me. When I saw the close proximity of the car I became a little agitated. I thought to myself “how dare that driver crowd me?” I could barely squeeze into my car.
After closer examination I discovered I was the one who parked over the line. I was at fault for the close parking conditions. The other fellow was innocent. As I contemplated that incident I considered the lessons God had in store for me, a minister.
First, I should be careful about judging others because I may have a log in my eye. “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye?” (Matt. 7:3-4) When I preach or teach or talk, I should be careful in judging others without recognizing and confessing the sin in my own life.
Second, I should beware of my pride. As I work with others I may make quick judgments that are totally wrong. That was certainly true at Sears. In working with people it is easy to place blame on others when I need to look in the mirror myself.
Third, the Sears incident reminded me that I am a work in progress.
I stood there staring through a sliding glass door watching the rain fall and wondering how things got to this point. I had just heard the news from a deacon friend that several of the deacons wanted me to resign. “For what, and why?” I asked. He thought for a moment and said, “Not for any particular reason and I’d rather not say.” He added, “I think you should resign.” I replied, “I don’t feel like it is time for me to go. The Lord has not released me.” I have invested three years of my life, I thought, in the community, church, and the unchurched in my community. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I thought of my wife and kids.
The reason for these accusations was unclear. The only thing of which I was guilty was loving people. I work hard visiting, reaching out and preparing a word for the people. I asked the deacon, who bore the bad news, “Do I have your support?” He responded, “Yes, but I don’t want a church vote.” “It shouldn’t have to come to this,” I replied. I sat through a week of tense meetings, where I was drilled for any and every flaw. In one meeting seven to ten people verbally ridiculed me for three hours.
Over the next few weeks all I could do was cry, pray and cry. My heart was crushed. I felt broken. I had truly loved the people who were out to get me. I had spent hours visiting, drinking coffee and ministering to these people. Now they were shooting me down. I felt utterly alone. My hands would tremble from stress and people would say, “Bro Tim you are losing weight.” I felt like a walking shell. I didn’t lock myself in my house or office, due to some helpful advice. The lights were on in my heart but no one was home. My spirit was broken and missing in action. I was numb.
Finally, I was given a list of the things of which I was accused. I felt like the list was put together by a group of junior high kids. The list included: using non-deacons for the Lord’s Supper, letting dogs in the church building, not asking for permission to secure a revival speaker and borrowing toilet paper without permission. Yes, toilet paper!