When You Find Life Difficult, Beware of these People

This life is often difficult.


Maybe that is why I have always identified with the people in our congregation and the community who often find life to be tough. For a lot of people, life is very hard.

Marriage is sometimes difficult. My wife and I have a good marriage but that has not come without hard work at times. I love our two daughters. However, rearing our two children was challenging at times. Yes, there were plenty of fun and gratifying moments. These years, though, were not pain-free.

  

Do you sometimes find life difficult? If you do, beware of the following people:


1. Beware of people who pretend that it is spiritual to talk as if everything in life is always wonderful. These people can create a level of expectation that causes those who struggle to conclude their spirituality must be lacking. There are good people who suffer with chronic excruciating pain. I think of the woman in our church whose pain was so intense one Sunday morning that she went to her car and rested in the back seat.

2. Beware of people who see themselves as some of the very few who “get it.” They are often condescending to those they perceive as lacking in insight. These people spend much time and energy evaluating and critiquing others in the body of Christ. What happens as a result? As a result, many people in congregations no longer express honest thoughts, real feelings, and honest doubts. After all, who wants to be critiqued, evaluated, and talked to condescendingly?

3. Beware of people who are so focused on themselves that they really have little interest in anyone else’s life. When you talk with such a person you may feel as if he is not really present in the moment.


Why is it that some of us go to great lengths to convince one another that our lives are almost perfect,

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without struggle? What is our fear? What impact do we have on those who are really struggling when we communicate that our lives are almost without struggle?


I like what Randy Harris says in Like a Shepherd Lead Us (p. 31) — in the chapter entitled “Spirituality for the Busy, Frantic, and Overwhelmed.”

Glenn Hinson argues that what the church needs most are saints — people who have truly placed their lives under God’s will and control. We don’t just need leaders with greater skill, we need leaders who are deep people. Do you hear the call to lead out of your own deep spiritual life?

If we learn to pray the way Jesus prayed, read the Bible in a transforming way, practice God’s presence in the everyday routine of life, and catch the vision of the God who works in all things, we can be the deep leaders the church needs. And in the process we will discover that true spirituality is not one more activity to add to overburdened lives but a way of living that drives our drivenness away. Then we discover the blessedness to lead without guilt and that the promise of Jesus rings true — the yoke is easy and the burden is light.

(Harris, Like a Shepherd Lead Us, p. 31)

The Key to Having a Lasting Impact on the People You Influence

Most of us have an influence on someone.key.jpg

  • Your spouse.
  • Your children.
  • Your grandchildren.
  • Your parents.
  • Your co-workers.
  • Your employees.
  • Your church.


But — will you have a lasting impact?

I once had a very sobering conversation with a minister who said to me, “We know what to do, we just need to do it!” He went on to suggest that all of the books, conferences, etc. were basically useless because it all came down to “doing it.” I knew this man. He seemed to be in a perpetual state of exhaustion. His marriage was strained. He was quick-tempered. In the midst of his good intentions, there was a hollowness that came through.

Later, I had a conversation with another man who was quieter and less active. He seemed to try very hard to communicate that he knew more than the people he was with. I felt as if I was always being critiqued and evaluated when I was with him. He saw himself as being one of the few who really “got it” and it was his mission to communicate to others what the “deeper life” was all about. Yet, to be in his presence did not seem either joyful or encouraging.

I mention both of these people because I think I understand these tendencies. How easy it is to be something other than Jesus. For many years, I saw myself as primarily a person who was doing things for God. Whether I would (or could) have articulated this or not, my faith was basically centered around doing the right things — an ever increasing number of right things. As a minister, my ministry was about doing the right activities. I lived with a constant sense of guilt and inadequacy. The goal seemed to be seeing how much I could get done. I eventually realized this was a dead-end street.


The key to having a lasting impact on others is to stay true to what is at the center of our being — who we are in God.


Ruth Haley Barton expresses this well:

A sobering truth about life in leadership is that we can be very busy and look very important, yet be out of touch with that place in the center of our being where we know who we are in God and what he has called us to do — that place where we are responsive to the voice of God above all others. When this happens we are at the mercy of all manner of external and internal forces, tossed and turned by other’s expectations and our own inner compulsions. This inner emptiness then becomes the source of frenetic activity that is un-tethered from any kind of grounded-ness in God. This is a scary place for a leader to be.

Christian leaders in particular can have a hard time distinguishing between the work we do for God and time to be with God, resting in him and enjoying his presence. Over time Scripture can be reduced to a textbook or a tool for ministry rather than an intimate personal communication from God to us. Prayer can become an exhausting round of different kinds of mental activity or a public display of our spiritual prowess.

(Ruth Haley Barton, “You Say You Don’t Have Time for Retreat? Think again!“)

7 Steps That Will Make a Real Difference in Your Future

The following are seven steps that will make a real difference in your future. Whatever happens to you and wherever God leads, these steps could be incredibly important. They have certainly made a difference in my own life.

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Grow up.

It is sad when a woman discovers that she has married a guy who refuses to grow up. This boy/man is immature and primarily interested in playing while his wife has to be the adult and responsible. He assumes that she will take care of the kids, prepare the meals, etc. so he can do what he wants. Meanwhile, real men seek to be mature. Maturing people still have fun but they refuse to do so at another’s expense. Maturing people take responsibility for their emotions and actions. They grow up.


Start now.

Stop waiting for the perfect circumstances. Stop waiting for everything to fall into place. If you know what you need to do, take a step now. Perhaps the next step seems small. But at least you’ve taken a step! Far too often, I have waited for just the right circumstances. “Some day, I’m going to. . . .” Instead of taking a small step, I waited and sometimes missed the opportunity to make a difference. I have learned that quite often the perfect moments never come. Again, rather than waiting on perfection, take even the smallest step.


No excuses.

Many people attempt to explain away their circumstances in life by making excuses. “I never got any breaks.” “I didn’t have much help from my parents.” “No one gave me a chance.” “I didn’t get to go to graduate school.” “I had to work during college.” The Bible is full of people who had many obstacles in their lives and yet learned to trust God and live a life of faith.   


Be authentic.

Authenticity means that you want to be the real deal. You are not simply concerned with what others might think about you. When I first began my ministry, I felt a tremendous pressure to somehow make people in my congregation “happy.” (Whatever that is.) At times, some even verbalized that a good minister tries to make people happy. This is ridiculous and a sure way to prematurely end what might have been a long ministry. Authenticity is about being the right kind of person and doing — not for the approval of others, but because it is right.


Work graciously.

Don’t just get by. Don’t just put in your time. Don’t just live for the weekend. Know the joy of working hard and doing what you were meant to do. Yet, working graciously is more than staying busy or keeping your nose to the grindstone. Working graciously is about doing what matters in a manner that blesses others and makes a difference. Working graciously is about valuing co-workers and treating others in a way that makes them glad to work with you.


Give care.

Give care to the people in your life. Be a good steward of these relationships. Honor and nurture the relationships that you have with your husband, wife, children, etc. I am married and have two grown daughters and sons-in-law. Charlotte and I both have jobs. We each have certain tasks and responsibilities at work. Meanwhile, our children live in other states. It takes intent, time, and effort to stay connected emotionally with them. This doesn’t just happen. However, there is great joy to be found in staying connected and giving care to the people who matter most to you.


Trust God.

Do more than give God a polite nod. Trust God by yielding the control of your life to him. Many people say they trust God, but they seem to be speaking philosophically rather than about a trust that impacts daily life in a meaningful way.


Question

Which one of these steps has been especially important in your life? What difference has this made?



Replenish: Leading From a Healthy Soul

Last week, I read a very good book entitled Replenish: Leading From a Healthy Soul by Lance Witt. The Foreword was written by John Ortberg. The book is a great discussion of what it means for a leader to be attentive to his/her own soul. The following quotes come from the book and hopefully will give you a taste for this important discussion.


“We will never grow healthy churches with unhealthy leaders.” (p. 12)


“We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul. Our concentration on skill and technique and strategy has resulted in deemphasizing the interior life. . . . We’ve all witnessed the carnage of leaders who’ve had to leave ministry (at least for now) because of moral failure. The headlines are always about the scandalous and shocking behavior, but rarely mentioned is the back-story.

“It is the story of a neglected soul and mismanaged character. Of a slow drift into relational isolation. Of being seduced by ambition. These leaders didn’t intend for it to happen, but somewhere along the journey they stopped paying attention to what was going on inside of them.” (p. 19)

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“We may be better leaders than we used to be, but the evidence seems to say we are not better pastors or husbands or Christ followers.” (p. 20)


“A good place to start is acknowledging that many of us in leadership feel like we have a hole in our soul. Ministry drains us, sucks the life out of us, and the result is we are running on empty.” (p. 24)


“But there certainly have been seasons through the years when I lost that clarity. My ministry became my identity. My ministry became my first love. My ministry consumed all my spiritual passion. My ministry (not Jesus) was my life. The unintended byproduct during those seasons was a slow disconnect from Jesus.”

“When this happens, you begin to do ministry in the flesh. You begin to think serving God is all about working hard, being strategic, developing leaders and executing vision. You fundamentally begin to believe that it’s up to you.”

“When you have become disconnected from the Vine (Jesus), ministry will become joyless striving and stressful pushing.” (p. 29)


“It’s about making Jesus your life and then letting the ministry flow out of that relationship.” (p. 32)


“Image management is what we begin to do when our inner world becomes separated from our outer world.” (p. 35)


“In ministry, the perfect storm for a personal disaster is also the convergence of three elements: ambition, isolation, and self-deception.” (p. 46)


“Whether you use the word approval or applause, here’s the bottom line. I was living for people and finding my worth, value, significance, and identity in what others thought of me. . . . You run decisions through the filter of ‘What will people think?’ rather than ‘What’s the right thing to do?’” (p. 50)


“For some reason, in our culture we have swallowed hook, line, and sinker the lie that busyness equals importance.” (p. 61)


“Your busyness will damage your soul. Over time you will develop a hurried spirit. And even when your body is still, your soul will be racing. Your busy spirit will constantly remind you of everything you need to be doing.” (p. 62)


“One of the spiritual health questions every ministry leader must answer is, ‘Am I willing to serve in obscurity?’” (p. 88)


“In the earlier days I didn’t realize it, but I had a belief system behind my performance mentality: Work hard, be responsible, perform well, and people will love you. Work hard, be responsible, perform well, and God will love you.” (p. 110)


“The disciples find him and say, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ Music to the ears of codependent ministry leaders. The feeling of being in demand can be intoxicating.” (p. 133)

6 Important Qualities that Children Possess

Just the other day, Kathryn gave me the picture that you see on the right.

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I was impressed. Kathryn drew this in watercolor. She gave it to me and it has been in my office ever since. This picture is a keeper. What a thoughtful gift!


Children often give the most valuable gifts.


One Sunday morning, two children (a brother and sister) came into our church building on their way to Bible class. When I saw them, I greeted them:

“What’s going on?”

The sister, about age 8, said “hello” and her brother, about a year younger, just smiled without saying anything. As I passed them, I heard the brother say to his sister “What did he ask you?”

She replied “I don’t know. He says that every week.”

Isn’t childlike honesty great?


Think for a moment about the childlike qualities which may have been a part of your life at one time. As a child, you may have possessed qualities such as:

  • Playfulness.
  • A lack of self-consciousness.
  • An open expression of affection.
  • Delight that is expressed without reservation.
  • Transparency about your feelings and thinking.
  • An open sense of dependency on the care of the adults in your life.

As I read this list, I realize that these wonderful qualities are often dismissed by adults who live in the “real” world. Yes, the world is complicated, unsafe, and at times, unpredictable. At the same time, maybe we have lost something valuable that we first learned at children.


Question:

Is there a particular quality that had as a child, that you would like to recapture?


Lean Into the Finish Line

Intend to finish.skate.jpg


Intend to finish strong.


No, that doesn’t mean that you live with tension, stress, and anxiety regarding your life. In fact, it actually means that you need to know what the race is about. You need to be prepared. If you are prepared, you can actually relax in the freedom of the Gospel, while you live a Christlike life in the world.


It is possible to relax and enjoy the passion and commitment of marriage.

It is possible to relax and yet press on with the difficult.

It is possible to relax and enjoy taking care of your body/soul.

It is possible to relax and enjoy mature and godly relationships.

It is possible to relax and enjoy your identity as God’s beloved.

It is possible to relax and enjoy the security that is found in God alone.

It is possible to relax and enjoy working hard as you live out your life as God’s steward.


You may want to ask, are you always relaxed? Of course not. But, I am much farther ahead than I used to be. I have found a way to live with far less tension, stress, and anxiety than I used to. For many years, I was a waiting recipient for someone else’s anxiety. I guess I thought that ministry was taking on another’s anxiety so that they would feel better. Yet, I really wasn’t helping anyone.

Real freedom and real joy can be found when my life is anchored in the grace of God.

To live this way takes preparation. The preparation is ultimately found in solitude as you spend time preparing for the race. Henri Nouwen says this well in his book The Way of the Heart (p. 13-14):

Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self. Jesus himself entered this furnace, and there he was tempted with the three compulsions of the world: to be relevant (“turn stones into loaves”), to be spectacular (“throw yourself down”), and to be powerful (“I will give you all these kingdoms”). There he affirmed God as the only source of his identity (“You must worship the LORD your God and serve him alone”). Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter — the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.


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.

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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)

Trevor Hudson: God Has Stepped Into Human History

Each Thursday, I will be posting a brief video (1:41) of Trevor Hudson’s reflections on what it means to know God and be formed into the image of Jesus. Scot McKnight said the following regarding regarding Trevor’s recent book, Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved.

Trevor Hudson is one of South Africa’s contemporary spiritual masters. The book in your hands contains the wisdom of a gentle pastor guiding each of us into a deeper walk with a God who heals. If I had one person I’d choose to be a pastor to my children, it would be Trevor Hudson.

Experiencing Life Without Becoming Cynical


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I never, ever want to become cynical.


You know the cynic. The cynic has a way of seeing the negative in most everything. The cynic doesn’t trust anyone. In the eyes of this person, everybody has an angle. No one really is sincere. Everyone is looking out for themselves! As a result, this person rarely if ever experiences joy. No, if joy shows up one day, this person has the capacity to suck the life out of joy with his/her suspicions.

Yes, I know there is much disappointment in this life.

Our parents may disappoint.

Our spouses may disappoint.

Our children may disappoint.

Our ministers may disappoint.

Our elders may disappoint.

Our churches may disappoint.


Sometimes, we even feel disappointed by what God seemingly has done or has not done in our lives.

Yet, I don’t want to become a cynic. A cynic has the capacity to discourage and dishearten. More importantly, cynicism has a way of causing one to focus on what is wrong instead of the God who has the capacity and desire to work in mighty ways.

I certainly don’t want to become one more bitter, cynical minister. Many of these are good people who have been hurt deeply and now are disillusioned and cynical. This is sad.

Refusing cynicism is not about refusing to face the facts. Nor is avoiding cynicism a blindness to the realities of life. No, one can tell the truth, as ugly as it may be, and still refuse to become a cynic.

  • Instead of cynicism, I choose
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    to encourage. I would rather be a part of building someone up than to participate in draining someone’s energy and hope.

  • Instead of cynicism, I choose to lean into God’s promises. Think about the Christian story. The best is yet to come. I don’t want to get so bogged down in the mess that I experience at times that hope becomes only a word instead of reality.
  • Instead of cynicism, I choose the joy of God which is a fruit of his Spirit (Galatians 5:22). I don’t say this glibly or naively. Rather, I say this as a choice.


Question:
What have you done to avoid cynicism? What has been helpful?