Do you ever feel like you’re climbing out of a pit when you get out of bed in the morning? I felt like that yesterday. I had two minor setbacks that threw me into a tailspin. The setbacks caused me to feel somewhat despondent and discouraged. I spent about half of my day in this pit and then God began to help me climb from it.
A number of different causes can send us to the pit: Monday morning blues, rejection by others, failed plans, a sermon that fell flat, conflict at church, burnout, family issues, just to name a few. The causes vary but the result could be the same - the pit. How do we climb out of the pit? I share the following resources that I have found over the years.
Pray - This resource should be an obvious choice for Christians, but many times it isn't. Pits can be a major inspiration to our prayer life. We tend to criticize people who turn to God in times of crisis. However, is it not human nature to pray more during times of trial? All of us are more spiritual when things are difficult. God desires to use such times to grow us.
Get out of your cave - When trials come, it often feels as if we are in a cave. I remind myself that caves are dark! Thus, it is good to get out of the cave. Visit a friend! Help someone else! Visit someone in the hospital!
Pursue fresh ideas - I find that fresh ideas refresh my spirit. Browsing a magazine, reading a new book or sharing ideas with another person always motivate me.
Share with others - When I got out of bed feeling despondent I didn’t know what the day might hold. Two ministry visits helped to change my focus. I visited a friend who had hit a deer while riding his motorcycle. After that I had lunch with a pastor friend who was struggling with church issues. This visit seemed to be a God ordained contact. That feeling always makes me say WOW!
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)
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.
While talking with a young pastor a few days ago, I asked how he was doing. He gave a canned answer that all of us use. He said something like, “I am doing fine.” From that point he shared how busy he had been and hard he had worked. He proceeded to share how we are called to pour out our lives for Christ. I admire his enthusiasm and dedication. He is a hard worker.
The previous discussion started me thinking. When are we pouring our lives in dedication to Christ and when are we foolishly managing our emotional reserves? Failure to discern between these two concepts could have devastating consequences.
First, we are called to pour out our lives in service to Christ. After all, Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
Our hearts are stirred by great saints who poured out their lives for Christ. I am reminded of William Tyndale who was burned at the stake for his efforts to translate the scripture into the common man’s language. I am reminded of William Wilberforce who struggled for years with insult and persecution as he sought to eliminate the slave trade in England. I am reminded of Lottie Moon, the Southern Baptist missionary who died of malnutrition and exhaustion as she served the people of China. I am reminded of the great saints listed in Hebrews 11 who poured out their lives in service to Christ.
I share a couple of simple observations. People who pour out their lives for Christ seldom see themselves as making a sacrifice. Their surrendered life is a part of their identity. People who pour out their lives for Christ are like a galloping horse who is hard to reign in. Their passion is their life.
Last week my wife, Judy, and I stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Our car has a hard time passing a Cracker Barrel! As we sat waiting to place our order I noticed two men being ushered to the table next to us. As I watched I thought to myself, “If I were a betting man, I would guess those two men are preachers.” My assessment proved to be right. (Please understand, I am not judging these men. They may have been totally Godly men, as far as I know.) This is not the first time I have made such an accurate assessment of preachers, simply by looking at them. This assessment occurred before these individuals ever opened their mouths. After they were seated their conversation proved me to be right.
The thought raised in the previous paragraph caused me to do a little soul searching. I wondered if I look like a preacher. If my behavior and conversation cause people to raise an eyebrow out of respect, then I praise the Lord for such a testimony. However, if people evaluate me negatively by my dress, demeanor, carriage and manner of speech, then I should do a little soul searching.
When the Lord called me to preach I rejected His call because of a stubborn heart. However, there were certain perception issues which encouraged my procrastination. These issues were based on the naïve heart of a teenager more than on actual fact. I list several of my issues: I thought all preachers wore Sunday clothes all of the time. I thought all preachers were loud and arrogant. I thought all preachers were gluttons and had huge bulging stomachs. There I said it!
Do you remember a time when a gift you gave lit up the face of a child or someone special? During the holiday season we are given the opportunity to repeat this action a number of times. As a believer it is my prayer that I would always remember the joy of giving.
During the Christmas season I am reminded of several gifts that should be shared at Christmas and throughout the year. First, there is the gift of unconditional, unsolicited love. All around us there are people crying out for unconditional love. I think of Jesus' love for the social outcast, the leper, the demon possessed, and the unlovely. He displayed the grace and unconditional love of our Heavenly Father.
The gift of encouragement is also needed. All around us there are people who need encouraging-- the single mom seeking to raise children by herself, the lonely senior adult who receives few visits from family, the recently released prisoner who is trying to rebuild his life, the cancer victim who struggles with the insecurity of the future, the widowed/widower who faces the first Christmas alone. All of these individuals need the gift of encouragement.
The greatest gifts are not necessarily those that can be wrapped in a package. Some gifts require extra effort and extra thought to process. It is easy to love when it is expected or the love flows along family or friendship lines. Jesus said,
"For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don't even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don't even the Gentiles do the same?" (Mt. 5:46-47 HCSB)
The words that stand out to me in this passage are the words "out of the ordinary." As a Christian and a minister, am I willing to go beyond the call of duty? Am I willing to go beyond the ordinary?
Some time ago I heard a story, on the morning news, about a young American Marine who went beyond the call of duty. He went beyond the ordinary. He took a bullet and died in a valiant effort to rescue a medical doctor who was being held by Islamic extremists in the Middle East.
As ministers and Christians there are certain things we are expected to do. We are expected to fulfill our responsibility to the church. We are expected to maintain a Godly character. We are expected to support our families. These are all noble and commendable actions. My prayer is that during this holiday season - and throughout the year - we will fulfill what is expected but also perform those actions that are beyond the ordinary. Such actions will bring us an extra special level of the "Joy of Giving."
Do you ever find yourself preoccupied, encased in your own little world? Today I was considering the times I have missed ministry opportunities because I was in my own little world. “Missing a ministry opportunity,” this is a strange statement coming from a minister. We are surrounded by ministry opportunities. If anything we cannot keep up with the ministry opportunities, or we are exhausted from ministry overload.
Let me explain my statement, “missing a ministry opportunity.” There are ministry opportunities that come with our job. They are somewhat expected and/or demanded of us. Then there are the exciting opportunities that God lays in our lap. We might slide by if we miss the first type of opportunity. They are routine and accompany our vocational calling. However, those God-given opportunities involve a different story line. They stimulate a little more excitement. They are characterized by an air of intrigue! Questions such as, “What is God up to?” come to mind.
This discussion reminded me of the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). The part of this story that disturbs me the most is the description of the two religious leaders. “A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” (vs. 31-32) All of us have heard sermons, studies and read commentaries about this passage. The priest and Levite may have entertained religious reasons to pass by without helping. They might have been in a hurry. My current thinking prompts me to ask, were they preoccupied? Were they so busy being ministers that they did not have time to minister? This challenges me to ask several questions:
Last week I watched a football game in which the star player for one team was tired and slightly injured. The coach took the star out of the game, had him checked, and placed him back in the game. Do you ever feel like you are tired and injured and need to be taken out of the game? You are not alone!
In Exodus 5 we find Moses wondering if he should be in the game. After a season of struggle Moses reluctantly accepted God’s call to go into the game and lead the Israelite people out of Egypt. After embarking on this task Moses faced an immediate trial. He came against Pharaoh. As he came against Pharaoh things got worse instead of better. Instead of Pharaoh allowing the Israelite people to go free he increased their burden. Not only did he keep them in bondage, he required them to make the previous quota of bricks. In addition, he made them collect straw with which to make the bricks. Collecting straw had not been demanded in the past. After this encounter we find Moses’ words in Exodus 5:22-23. “So Moses returned to the LORD and said, ‘Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all.’"
In this encounter Moses faced several negative emotions.
1. Moses was discouraged. He asked why God had “brought trouble on this people.”
2. Moses doubted. He asked, “Why is it You have sent me?”
3. Moses was basically defeated. He said, “neither have You delivered Your people.”
The title of this article represents a disturbing thought. It is especially disturbing for those who serve in ministry. You would expect a non-believer to be too busy for Jesus. You would expect a back-slider to be too busy for Jesus. This thought is disturbing and might even be offensive to faithful followers of Jesus Christ. However, the fact is, there are times when we are too busy for Jesus. One passage comes to mind.
In Luke 10:38-42 we find the story of Mary and Martha. In Luke 10 we read, “But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, ‘Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.’” (vs. 40 HCSB) Martha was doing good things. She was even doing good things for Jesus. However, she was too busy for Jesus. Mary took the time to sit at Jesus’ feet. (vs. 42 HCSB) Jesus said, “Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.” (vs. 42) Making time for Jesus is a choice.
The choice to be with Jesus is discussed in Peter Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. The sub-heading of Chapter 5 is “Stopping to Breathe the Air of Eternity.” By his own testimony and admission Pete discovered the consequences of not taking time to be with Jesus. He almost lost his marriage and his ministry. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality shares the lessons learned on his journey.