4 Critical Areas that Need Your Investment

attentionOne of the greatest resources that you and I have at our disposal is our attention.  There are many demands for our attention.  Yet, every day far too many of us squander this valuable resource due to our own distraction.

We have difficulty giving our full attention to what really matters and being fully present in the moment.  Many of us skim along the surface of most any experience, like a bass boat speeding down a river.  We are in perpetual motion but our lives never get beyond the surface of the moment.

Consider what clamors for our attention:

  • A text appears on your phone.
  • You have a new e-mail message.
  • The phone rings.
  • Someone wants to Skype.
  • You are invited to be a member of a committee.
  • Your child is invited to be on a team.
  • You see a new Tweet from someone who interests you.
  • Your friend updates her Facebook status and you want to respond.
  • You watch television and are bombarded with advertisements.

Each day, somebody somewhere wants your attention.  If you are not intentional about where you direct your attention, others will likely get your attention simply because you are living passively instead of proactively.

Burying Those Feelings Never Works

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

There is often a high price to pay when you bury your feelings.

Feelings exist.

I may not like these feelings.

I may not feel comfortable with these feelings.

I may be very uneasy by what I am feeling.

I can try to bury my feelings but they will not stay buried. At some point in time, they will surface again. Quite often when they do surface, they impact us in negative ways.

Consider:

*Your father dies of cancer. A few months after his funeral, you lose your job. Then, to top this off, your daughter files for divorce. One day you say to a close friend, “I don’t think that I have really begun to grieve the death of my father. So much has gone on in the last few months. There has been so much loss.”

*You are a minister in a church. You are so tired. It seems like there has been loss after loss. You have done one funeral per month in the last twelve months. A few of these were people you knew well and loved. You really don’t feel as if you ever grieved any of these deaths. You were too busy trying to deal with the conflict in your church. You’ve experienced conflict before in churches but this was particularly hurtful. You learned that a man you thought one of your best friends in the church was being openly critical toward your ministry and was accusing you personally of lacking integrity.

*You dated this girl while both of you were students at the university. To this day, you can’t figure out why you stayed together so long. She was manipulative and untrustworthy. Again and again, she cheated on you with other guys. Now, several years later, you find yourself in a similar relationship. You wonder what you are doing to attract these kinds of people. Some very negative feelings are starting to surface that you thought long ago were buried. You never went to counseling after this traumatic first relationship or even process these feelings with another person.

Feelings may be buried for a time but eventually they will bubble up and surface.

Don’t Ignore the Obvious

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

I really don’t want to ignore the obvious, and yet I do at times.

I graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in business. I recall taking a variety of classes including some in business management, accounting, business law, finance, statistics, etc. Yet, in spite of these courses, I ignored the obvious.

I actually paid very little attention toward thinking about the kind of work that I might do for the rest of my life. I am not suggesting that I should have known exactly what I was going to do. I am saying that I did not even give it very much thought. Oh I knew what I was going to do when I graduated. I had been working for UPS while in college and I knew that I would be driving and then going into management with them. Yet, beyond that, I gave my future little thought.

Maybe the following is obvious to you. Yet, I need to be reminded to not ignore the obvious.


Am I thinking ahead?

1. In five years, I will be somewhere doing something.  In five years, do I want to be able to say that I have invested in my growth and maturity over these past five years? What will that mean TODAY in terms of the practical decisions that I need to make?

2. At the end of this year, I will be somewhere financially.  If I continue to spend money the way I am currently spending money, what will be my financial condition in January 2010? Do I need to make a change TODAY in terms of the way I spend money?

3. As I begin my week, I am going to make choices about the way I invest my time. Who needs my attention and time this week? Are there significant people in my life who have not been receiving the time or attention the need? Do I need to make a decision TODAY regarding this?

4. In front of me is an unread book.  I can easily say, given what I already have scheduled, “I don’t have time to read a book this week.” Yet, could I carve out thirty minutes each day to read? Could I carve out fifteen minutes each day to read? Do I need to begin this TODAY?

Four Ways to Take a Vacation Today


Take a free vacation today.Vacation.jpg

Yes, free.

I once read an interview featuring a busy business executive. He spoke of his work, his responsibilities, and the stress that came with his job.

In the interview, he said that during his busy, hectic day he might call a longtime friend. For a few minutes, they might talk about a river they planned to raft or a football game they wanted to see. These conversations with friends were brief, but for him they were a breath of fresh air in the middle of a busy, stressful day.

These conversations can be mini-vacations. For a few minutes, they allow you to get away. Such conversations can be a refreshing pause in the middle of a day that is draining.

There are other ways to take a mini-vacation.

I have spent a few moments reliving last summer’s vacation. My mind doesn’t know the difference between these memories and the actual vacation. I have found this to be relaxing.

One person I knew would pause during the day and for a few minutes work a crossword puzzle.

I once knew a guy who watched old movies during his lunch hour.

Some people work out at the YMCA or another gym during lunch.

These are endless ways people have found to refresh themselves in the middle of the day.

You have your own ideas about what might be a mini-vacation for you. You might consider trying this. I am not talking about a long period of time. Try doing this for two minutes. Two minutes. Spend two minutes thinking about a pleasant hike, a nice vacation, or an evening you recently enjoyed. You might be surprised at how long two minutes can feel.

Yes, like most anything—this could be abused. One could stay on a mental vacation and only occasionally come to work mentally.

For so many of us, however, these breathers can help bring clarity and perspective to our day. When I am behind in my work, my tendency is to get more intense and more focused. Of course, this kind of focus can be useful and can spur on productivity. However, doing my work with this level of intensity day after day only makes me weary. I don’t feel creative or energized.

These mini-vacations can be very helpful. They can restore and motivate. They remind me that God has created me to be a whole person. I am mind, body, soul, emotion, etc. I am a social being. One of the greatest gifts I can give the people I love the most is to take care of myself. Selfish? No. Self-care is about being a good steward of what God has given me.

Suggestions:

1. Call a friend with the intention of talking about a subject that is very pleasant to you both. Do you both like to fish? Do you like to compare coffees? Spend a short time talking about the subject.

2. Sit in your chair, close your eyes and relive one of the most enjoyable experiences of a vacation or special trip. Seek to remember the sounds, smells, and sensations of the place.

3. Cultivate friendships with at least a few people who will talk with you about something other than your work, your responsibilities, etc.

4. Look for opportunities to laugh. One woman used to cut cartoons from the newspaper and put them on her refrigerator for her family to see. She believed her family needed to laugh more. There are days when I eat lunch at my desk in the office. I will sometimes watch a few You Tube clips that I know are very funny.

Interview With Trevor Hudson (Part 2)

The following is part 2 of a recent interview that I did with Trevor Hudson. (You can find part 1 here.) Trevor lives in South Africa. He a minister HudsonBook.jpg and the author of a number of books. Most recently, he has written a wonderful book entitled Discovering Our Spiritual Identity. I think so much of the book that I am about to teach through it at our church on Wednesday evenings.

I encourage you to savor his words below. Very important.

(If you would like to be eligible to win a copy of Discovering Our Spiritual Identity, leave a comment below or tweet regarding this post.)


Many pastors/Christian ministers have left their congregations at a low point in their lives. Marriage problems. Use of pornography. Power plays within the congregation. Some are exhausted and burned out. What can pastors and other church leaders do to practice better self-care before such a crisis becomes a part of their lives?

Seek to keep our love for God alive in our hearts! I really believe this is the deep secret of caring for our own souls. It is so easy for us as pastors to become religious professionals and forget our amateur status as followers of Christ. We keep the love of God alive in our hearts by consciously opening our hearts and minds to Jesus Christ on a daily basis. We need to find, with the help of good friends along the Way, practical ways in which we can do this. The other helpful thing for me personally is keeping myself open to the joy of God in the midst of my daily work as a pastor. For me this means enjoying special moments with Debbie (the person to whom I am married), chilling with my adult children Joni and Mark, hanging out with friends, going running, watching my soccer team and just loving life as it comes. Pastors need to be the most joyful people around, even in the midst of our very painful contexts. This is a daily challenge for me because I am someone who can easily get overwhelmed by the pain we encounter as pastors each day.


Ok, Trevor, you just touched on something very important. What do you do when you are overwhelmed by the pain of others? What do you do when you are overwhelmed by a sense of your own failure before God? (You may wonder if there is any use in continuing on with Jesus!) What have you found helpful?

Being overwhelmed is an experience that many of us can identify with. We can be overwhelmed by personal grief, the information that comes at us from all sides, the demands of our work, personal relational pain, the immensity of the needs around us and the list just goes on and on. I have found it helpful first to name my overwhelming. Naming things is a powerful act. Then I find it helpful to share my sense of overwhelming with God and at least one other human being who I can really trust. This means I am no longer isolated by my overwhelming but connected in community. Lastly I have learnt that hidden in my overwhelming experience there is often an invitation to attend to the shape of my living. Often when I am overwhelmed my life is knocked out of shape. So I need to give attention, usually with the help of someone wiser, to how I can intentionally live a more gospel-shaped life. Perhaps I can quickly add that not all “overwhelmings” are bad. We also need to open ourselves to those joyful “overwhelmings” of beauty and music and goodness that lie all around us–and above all, to the experience of being overwhelmed by the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for each one of us in Christ.


Some ministers really struggle with developing some kind of daily/weekly routine in their ministry. How can a person who works with a congregation address this issue in his/her life?

I need to be clear about what tasks lie at the heart of faithful pastoral ministry and intentionally build my days around these things. I find it very helpful to do this with my leaders so that they can encourage and support me in my intentions. In my 35th year of pastoral ministry, I am also more aware than ever of my need for “hidden preparation” for public ministry. Sometimes leaders in the congregation are not aware of this and so this need must be carefully explained. In order to do what I need to do “on the spot” as a pastor, I need “off the spot” moments to freshly prepare myself for whatever it is I must do.


Many ministers feel totally overun by the needs of the congregation and quite often, the expectations of the congregation. What can ministers do to better pace themselves in their ministries?

I don’t think I am a good person to ask when it comes to this question! Overcommitment has been my number one sin as a pastor. Consciously I desire a more leisurely way of being a pastor yet I keep sabotaging this intention by taking on too much. Reflecting on this contradiction with some good friends, and asking God to shine some light on the hidden motivations of my heart, is proving to be very helpful at the moment. Maybe this is where we need to begin if we want to pace ourselves better—with the kind of confession before God and others that leads us to attend in new ways to the shape of our living. This is what I am learning at the moment. Hopefully I will better be able to answer this question in a few years time!


Interview With Trevor Hudson (Part 1)

Trevor Hudson lives in South Africa. He is a Christian minister, author, and encourager to many. I have mentioned his latest book Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved on this blog.

I recently asked Trevor several questions that might be of interest to Christians in general and ministers in particular. The following interview will appear in two parts. I will be giving away one copy of the book just mentioned in a drawing. To be eligible, please leave a comment below, on my Facebook page, or post a link on Twitter.

Hudson.jpg


Trevor, I have just read your book Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved. I enjoyed the book greatly and have been recommending it. What was behind the writing of this book?

Thank you, Jim, first of all for your warm affirmation of the book. It is very close to my heart! What was behind the writing of the book? I am deeply aware that we live presently in a historical moment characterized by a profound searching for a vital and life-giving spirituality. In the midst of all this searching there is a critical need for careful discernment. Many expressions of spirituality doing the rounds within Christian congregations can only be described as foreign to the spirit of the crucified and risen Jesus. Often they are obsessively absorbed with the meeting of personal needs and reflect minimal concern for those who suffer. Alternatively, a spirituality of social struggle and involvement is frequently endorsed which avoids the biblical imperative for personal conversion and deep inner change. I wrote the book as a modest attempt to describe a spirituality that is centered in Jesus Christ, faithful to some of the treasures of the diverse streams within Christian Spirituality, accessible to those in the local congregation and responsive to the deep suffering all around us.


What do you suggest to congregations in which members desire to stay centered in Christ, but find daily demands and the needs of others around them are exhausting? How does the average Christian begin to see his/her way through?

I would say to congregational leaders, “Please be careful not to exhaust your members more than they are already!” As a pastor I want to be very respectful of the daily demands that those in my congregation face everyday. I would help them to see their daily lives at home and work and in the community as the primary place for their formation in Christ. They don’t have to be in the church buildings more in order to do mission. I would explore in our moments together very down-to-earth ways which help us remain mindful of Christ’s active presence within our daily lives—ways of turning our minds towards Christ on a regular basis, inviting him into our daily activities, remaining thankful, recognizing him in those we encounter and trusting him with outcomes. The promise of Jesus is that, as we learn to walk with him in our daily lives, we will live more lightly and freely. It is a wonderful thing when we in our local congregations can discover the reality of these words in our own experience.


(More to come)

Strengthening the Soul (10)

This morning I read a fine article by Gordon MacDonald in the November 2010 issue of stethoscope.jpg Leadership (print). The article is entitled “Your Regular Checkup.” Basically MacDonald says that if a yearly physical exam is important for people then so is a periodic “spiritual exam.”

Sometimes, after one has a physical exam, the physician will make that person aware of a health issue that had gone unnoticed. Likewise there may unnoticed issues of the soul within us that we may not be dealing with. MacDonald writes:

I have become increasingly aware of the enormous amount of activity inside of me that I neither understand nor fully control. Impressions, attitudes, urges, motives, and initiatives bubble up and out of that darkened space, and not all of it is noble. It’s similar to all the physical activity deep inside my body that I don’t know much about either. it just happens with or without my conscious consent. (p. 76)

MacDonald suggests that if one were a physician giving a “spiritual exam,” the following areas might be addressed:

1. My patient’s conversion story. After hearing this story, MacDonald would ask about this person’s current relationship with Jesus.

2. Memory. Reflect on attitudes that could be present in one’s life: “Resentments, anger, unresolved conflict, or regrets that need examination and resolution? Behaviors, attitudes, desires that are costing you the respect of your spouse, your colleagues, your constituency? How about one’s forgiveness capacity, one’s readiness to repent?”

3. Motivation. Consider your motivations. “Why are you doing what you’re doing in leadership? Do you have a sense of calling from God–a call affirmed by others who are close enough to see the Spirit of God in you? Is whatever your call is getting you out of bed in the morning with a reasonable degree of enthusiasm and anticipation? Or has your call degraded into a job, slowly sapping you of your vitality?”

4. Discipline. Finally, MacDonald says that he might ask the following question: “What are the things you systematically push yourself to do because they don’t come naturally to you but which are necessary in order to make you a more effective person and leader?” MacDonald suggests that the following categories of discipline might be considered: “physical, intellectual, financial, time management, emotional, ego, worship.”


Question:

What would you add to these reflections on spiritual health? What has been helpful to you in accessing where you are?

Strengthening the Soul (2)

I really needed to slow down. In fact, I needed to tendingthesoul.JPG stop.

Just two weeks ago, I was in Ruth Haley Barton’s class, “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership” at Wheaton College. The class was not only lecture but included times for prayer, worship, and silence.

It was an opportunity to slow down. In fact, it was an opportunity to stop.

After all, it is very, very easy to stay really busy. Have you noticed this?

  • Phone calls, texting, e-mailing, tweeting, and updating the Facebook status
  • Meetings (even meetings to plan the next meeting)
  • Projects
  • Talk and more talk
  • Squeezing in several activities in one evening

Yes, most of us are very busy. I certainly am.

Yet, I have have found that constant activity day after day can leave me feeling empty, cold, energy-less, and even resentful. This busyness is all about doing and achieving instead of living, really living from the inside-out.

On Friday, I awoke early. I read the “practice” section of chapter 2 from Ruth Haley Barton’s book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership .

Take at least ten minutes to sit quietly in God’s presence with your growing awareness of what is drawing you into solitude at this time. Allow yourself to experience the hope that comes with knowing that there is a safe place for you to acknowledge what is true about you and to wait for God’s action in your life. (p. 45)

I went upstairs to our den and then outside to the little balcony overlooking our backyard. I sat still in the darkness, staring at a brightly lit moon. I sat in silence before God. After a few minutes, it became very clear what was weighing on my heart/mind. I brought this before God.

The point?

There is no substitute for tending to my soul.


Question:

Consider your own life. Now think about others who are around you. What is the constant (and even frantic) busyness doing to us?

Strengthening the Soul (1)

Last week, I was in Chicago for a three-day class at Wheaton College with Ruth Haley Barton, author of Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. busy.jpg

The class was great.

It was an opportunity not only to listen to Barton but to reflect on my life and relationship with God. There were wonderful times of silence, teaching, prayer and conversation. One of the blessings of the week was getting to be with the four wonderful people at my table.

Much of her material came from her book. What was incredibly helpful was the opportunity to spend time in another setting thinking my life and about my ministry.

The following are several statements that she made in class that were significant to me. (The quotes here are directly from the book.)

  • If Jesus were speaking to us today, he might also point out that when leaders lose their souls, so do the churches and organizations they lead. (p. 13)
  • These cries are gut-wrenching and consistent: there has to be more to life in leadership than many of us are experiencing. In all this listening to my own life and to the lives of others, I have become convinced that the more that we are looking for is the transformation of our souls in the presence of God. (p.14)
  • Truly, the best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our own transforming selves. (p. 19)

I once knew a person in a church who routinely referred to the ministry of the church as “business as usual.” He spoke as if this were a good thing! Listen, business as usual is what is killing churches. In far, far too many churches, good, well meaning people are incredibly busy with church activity and yet experiencing no real life. They are simply doing what their leaders are doing. Their leaders are often good people who also are incredibly busy with church activity.

Barton is right. The best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our own transforming selves. There is something powerful about a man or woman whose life is open before the Lord and who is experiencing real transformation into the image of Christ.

I came away from this class this week resolved to do several things:

1. I want to spend more time in solitude and silence tending to the needs of my own soul. I have just not been as attentive to these needs over the past year as I have been in previous years. I really became aware of this in this class.

2. I want to spend less time on things that just do not matter. I really enjoy this time of life. Yet, I want to spend my physical and emotional energy on things that matter. Yet, so much of the busyness of everyday life often involves doing things that just don’t matter. I find myself thinking: “Why am I doing this? How did I get in the middle of this?” So I am really giving some thought as to how I am spending my time.

(For the next few weeks, I will be posting a series each Monday entitled “Strengthening the Soul.”)


Question:

Do you sense that many people around you live with a parched soul?

What has busyness cost you?


What Story Do You Tell Yourself?

This morning I readSeth Godin’s blog and really liked what he said.

He asks a very important question:

What story do you tell yourself about yourself?

I know that marketers tell stories. We tell them to clients, prospects, bosses, suppliers, partners and voters. If the stories resonate and spread and seduce, then we succeed.

But what about the story you tell yourself?

(Read the rest of the post here.)

After reading this post, I continued to think about this. What story do I tell myself about myself? How about you? What story do you tell yourself about yourself? The stories we tell ourselves will impact what we conclude about ourselves. For instance, because of these stories some of us conclude:

  • “I can’t.”
  • “It can’t be done”
  • “I know something bad is about to happen.”
  • “I never get a break. You wouldn’t do any better if you had been through what I’ve been through”
  • “You can’t expect much from me. I am a victim.”
  • “If it wasn’t for ______, I would have done much better.”


Question:

What is your experience with this? What has been the impact of the stories that you have told yourself?