From time to time, at my full time day job, I have to work a shift that necessitates that I work until 8pm. Obviously, no one would consider this to be an ideal shift, but I have found that there are some benefits to working these hours. When I work this time span, I start at 11am. This means that, in theory, I could sleep in and enjoy a longer morning before heading into my workload for the day. I have kids, though. So, this naturally lends itself to chaos and an early wake time regardless.
Last week, I had a late day and had the opportunity to spend time with my daughter. My son was at school and my wife decided to go on a walk with her friend. I asked her what she wanted to do, and she chose to play with baby dolls and make shadow puppets. We had a great time, and there was a lot of laughter and smiles from both of us. It was so fun, and she led the play time as if she had been planning exactly what she would do if she had alone time with Daddy. Everything was calculated, and the game rules she made were well thought out. I could tell she was in her girly element.
At the end of this play time, Mommy came home and it was time for me to go to work. My little girl hugged my neck and kissed me goodbye. It was a tender moment and I loved the look in her eyes as she focused her attention on me.
To understand the reason why this day was significant, it is important to understand how my daughter has behaved lately. She has experienced behavioral issues and general disobedience. Part of the problem is the fact that she is 3, but there were times that it went beyond a typical 3 year old general disobedience. There has been something missing, and my wife and I have been frustrated because of it.
Before you make assumptions, I want to clear the air and say that I regularly play with my kids, and make it a point to show them a great time (I also discipline them as needed). I can probably admit that I tend to spend a larger quantity of time with my son because of his age and certain things that we do together, but not so much that there is favoritism shown.
This impromptu playdate with my girl brought about a realization in me that I had been hypothesizing for a little while. Her behavior was kind, sweet, and loving for most of the day after I left for work. She obeyed more, and even kept her focus (for the most part).
I realized that she needed me to “fill her tank” from time to time. The times when I have taken her on dates, or focused my attention on her alone has always made a significant difference in her day. Often, she runs on empty, and I have the power and the spiritual obligation to fill her with life and call out the girl she was made to be. I am her closest male connection to God here on Earth. I know that sounds extreme, but I take personal responsibility for the spiritual wellbeing of my family, and I am the leader when it comes to helping my kids understand God and His faithfulness in their lives. I don’t take that lightly.
So, it has come to my attention that I need to take more time to fill the spiritual and emotional tanks of my children (also my wife, but that is another blog post for another day). I thank God that I did not wait until they were older to find this out.
My daughter needs me, and I need her. God is growing me through loving her in her own unique way. Her behavior is not perfect, but I can see glimpses of change from time to time.
My princess needs her king.
I can only imagine how the disciples and the extended family of Christ followers felt sitting in a poorly lit room 7 weeks after Jesus ascended into Heaven. They probably felt defeated and completely drained of all hope. When you think about it, the only instruction they had was to “go back to Jerusalem” and pray. This would have naturally seemed counterproductive, but then again they have seen amazing things happen because of time spent in desperate prayer. But…Jesus was gone now…and it seemed unlikely that anything memorable was going to happen.
They remembered the good ‘ol days when just 12 disciples and their supernaturally gifted rabbi healed, preached, and interacted with individuals with the obvious power and authority of Yahweh. 12 followers grew into thousands of families who longed to be affected by this man who seemed to fulfill all the requirements of the long-awaited Messiah.
The remnant of followers reorganized themselves and scraped together the last set of believers to pray as instructed. Then, something amazing happened. The Holy Spirit came and empowered this marginally talented bunch of commoners and the masses came to faith in Jesus. They simply prayed and then were faithful to what God led them to do. Each person had a role and a small amount of people impacted the world. The events of Pentecost in Acts 2, created a domino effect that has changed the course of history. God’s power was shown and people repented of their sin. The world was beginning to reconcile with the Creator; one person at a time.
There have been 2 movies lately that have impacted my view of God’s call on my life. They have been used as an illustration for my divine purpose.
The first movie is Schindler’s List. If you have ever seen that movie, you know that the main character, Oskar Schindler saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the brutal reign on Adolf Hitler in World War II. He spent all of his wealth to employ these men, women, and children from death at the hands of the Nazi party. At the end of the movie, Schindler was stricken with grief because he realized there were still things he could have sold to have the money to rescue more Jews. He could have sold his car, his gold lapel pin, etc.
The second movie is a newer one; Hacksaw Ridge. In this movie, Desmond Doss (who was a conscientious objector in World War II) was a medic who saved many men who were injured on the battle field. He single handedly dragged these men and lowered them down a cliff face to safety. Some estimate that he saved over 100 people (true story). While his hands, back, and arms ached heavily as he lowered them to where they needed to be, Doss kept repeating a simple prayer to help him gain strength. “Lord, just one more”, he said over and over. He wanted to save people so desperately, and he knew he didn’t have the strength to do it on his own. He wanted to rescue “just one more”.
There is a theme running through these scenarios. God has shown me that my purpose in life is not to put more butts in church seats, but to help create a traffic jam at the gates of Heaven. I have fervently prayed that God will give me “just one more” person to minister to, and impact for the gospel of Jesus Christ. My heart’s desire is to see people transformed by Jesus. I know I can’t do this on my own, but I can do what I have been told to do.
Can you pray that prayer with me? Can you pray that God will continue to put people in my path to love, serve, and grow with?
If you follow Jesus…I will pray the same for you.
Love you all.
I am a young pastor, and I do not presume to think that I can offer up much worthwhile advice and encouragement to a new generation entering the ministry. I do think, however, that any amount of experience has its own level of anecdotal instruction that can be offered to anyone willing to listen.
This week, I have thought about what I have learned in my decade of formal ministry (volunteer and paid) and I think there are some things that are worth sharing. Some items being shared in this blog are a result of frustration that has helped to grow me as a minister. Other points are simply things I that have come to mind. Just know that none of them are meant to demean, discourage, or demonstrate anger. I just feel these things need to be said.
I love learning. Sometimes the learning involved pain, and other times it was a result of great joy.
Today, I want to share 5 Things I Have Learned As a Pastor.
People prioritize what matters
Sunday after Sunday pastors all over the world work their hardest to preach, teach, and display the Gospel in their lives. Their families often feel the brunt of the time and effort they put into sharing vision, meeting with those in need, and attending business meetings. Sometimes a pastor will give their all for a congregation who seem to look at the idea of worship as “something they will attend if they have nothing else to do”. Don’t get me wrong. Pastors are thankful that anyone shows up for worship, but we now live in a Christian culture that has prioritized other things over meeting together as was commanded of us in scripture.
Discouragement is only temporary
I’m going to let you in, behind the scenes, for a moment on what pastors talk about when they are together. Sometimes we talk about how things are progressing with the church. Other times we talk about how discouraged we are in a particular area of ministry. For some people in ministry, short seasons of discouragment end in resignation. It is easier to quit than to persevere. When discouragement comes, and it certainly will, it is always vital to lean into God and rely on His promises. The seasons of discouragement do not last forever. They can just be painful. When we tap into God’s resolve, then we find times of great spiritual wealth and ministerial progress.
There will be resistance
No matter what God has asked a person in ministry to do, resistance to that call is inevitable. Sometimes there is resistance because the author of lies is creating unnecessary conflict in the church. Other times (I am speaking to myself here) it is because personal pastoral agendas are forced and God’s will is not taken into account. Pastors are not exempt from being stubborn or having human thoughts, emotions, or actions. A consistent prayer life trains the mind and heart to more readily pick up Christ’s signals and gentle nudgings.
Lives matter to God
When looking at scripture, it is apparent that God has spent a lot of time showing humanity His love. Sure, there are times of discipline, but the way He guided the Israelites out of captivity, restored them multiple times after their transgressions. sent Himself to die, and gave us the Holy Spirit, no one can deny the energy that has gone into God’s affection for us. He calls pastors to be distributors of this love and grace. Christians in general have this call on their lives as well, and are compelled to share this message with the world. So, when someone comments that a pastor’s focus is “all about numbers”, they are actually somewhat correct. Every person matters to God, and He came to die for every single one. A pastor’s job is a response to this concept.
Often times, more energy is spent on lemurs than butterflies
Ok, so this one is a difficult topic to talk about. Now, I do not want to sound harsh or condescending, but this idea breaks my heart so I felt as if I needed to share. You may read this heading and be somewhat confused, but allow me to explain. I wrote another blog post a while ago that compared the personalities found in the church to animals that live in a zoo. Lemurs are animals that live in trees and eat berries and bugs. When there are no more berries or bugs in the tree they move on to another one that will suit their needs. Butterflies start as caterpillars, and camp out in trees or bushes. They are sheltered by the tree and allow themselves to be transformed. Often churches respond to God’s call to help those in need (in and out of the church), and sometimes it is the “lemurs” get the most attention. In the church, it is often the case that the ones that are the most helped are the first ones to leave. The church is a great place to seek transformation. No matter the result, though, we are called to serve.
Overall, I can honestly say that God has blessed me more than I deserve. His calling on my life to participate in the transformation of souls is something that invigorates me. Ideas keep me going, and His spirit not only makes up for my inadequacies, but moves me out of the way completely. He has also given me an amazing church family.
If you are a young pastor leading a church today, I implore you to lean on that calling. Don’t quit. It is a very difficult job, and it is not going to get any easier. You are not going to make millions and you may struggle to help grow the congregation you are in. Don’t be a “corporate ladder” type of pastor and just move to the next bigger church for the nice facility and salary package. There is a large family sitting in your pews waiting to see revival, and their souls need it. Be vulnerable, and build deep relationships. What if they leave? Well, then you will be deeply hurt, but don’t run away from being hurt. God’s call means more.
My son’s demanding shout came from the back seat…”TELL ME WHERE WE ARE GOING!!!” In my house, if we are doing something fun for the whole family, we keep it a secret from the children. This is not necessarily so we can have a giant reveal and see the look on their faces, but because of the incessant questions and whining that will inevitably occur from the time they are told our fun location to the time we arrive. My kids, when they know something fun is going to happen, tend to get really impatient.
Often we will tell them when we are in the car on our way to the exciting destination. This particular trip was not really that different. In this particular instance, we decided not to tell them until we were about 30 minutes away, due to the fact that it was going to be a two-hour excursion; which was equivalent to some CIA level torture in the minds of my offspring. As implied above, the little man who thinks he runs my house became irate with the fact that we did not let him in on the secret. So, like any good parent, we yelled back disciplinary threats in hopes the screaming would stop. It didn’t. In fact, he became so upset that he threw out a bluff. He said that he didn’t want to go anymore (with arms folded of course) and wanted to go back home. Of course we rolled our eyes and ignored it. We knew he would be elated when we arrived.
I can’t help but think of the Israelites in the book of Exodus. Over and over again, God had shown his power, faithfulness, and eagerness to accomplish His will through His people, but every time, His people slipped back into their own comfortable habits. In the journey that took place during this time, God gave them specific instructions regarding behavior and when to move after the Tabernacle was built. God would show up regularly in the form of a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day, and these forms would fill the holiest place of the Tabernacle. Israel saw the result of His glory. God then instructed the people to get up and move their camp, only when God’s presence left. They were instructed to follow cloud and fire. They never knew when they were leaving, and they never knew where they were going. They just followed.
Despite the miracles and consistent provision God gave His people, they still felt the need to complain regularly. Whether it was food, water, sickness, worship, or legal disputes…they made a full time job out of whining about their circumstances. On more than one occasion, many even threatened to find their way back to Egypt. The only reason cited was the fact that Egypt made a mean cheeseburger (paraphrase) and they missed it. In many other cases, people even fell back into idolatry as if they were chomping at the bit to get back into these old habits.
I can accuse Israel of being selfish, impatient, and ignorant all day, but I have to look into the mirror. We tend to be like 4 year olds who do not know where they are going, when God calls us to follow. That is the temptation, at least. We want to know NOW, and if we are not informed then we begin to look back at our past as a comfortable and controllable existence. Faith is the concept of believing in that which we cannot see. We can accept that cognitively, but it is so hard to act as if it were true.
If we ask God, in honest times of prayer, to guide us we must be ready for uncertainty and discomfort. Also, we must be ready to move when He does instead of complain about our lack of knowledge, resources, abilities, and influence. Just follow.
The world is a dark place. It needs us to follow. It needs us to be uncertain but resolute. It needs us to be all in for Christ. What is stopping us?
“I have since learned that the most mature believer is the one who is bent over, leaning most heavily on the Lord, and admitting his total inability to do anything without Christ. The greatest Christian is not the one who has achieved the most but rather the one who has received the most.”
― Jim Cymbala, Fresh Faith