Spiritual disciplines are activities that are in our power and that enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort. We cannot transform our ideas and images, or even the information in our mind [in other words, our "heart"], by direct effort. But we can adopt certain practices that, by indirect action, will increasingly produce that effect.
Even in cases where, through no fault of my own, there must be a struggle between me and others, there does not have to be a struggle within me. I may have to resist others, for some good reason, but even so I do not have to make things come out right. I am not the one in control of outcomes. I do not have to hate those whose course of action I resist, or even get mad at them, and so I can always be at peace within myself as well as toward them.
This question from a book I'm reading caused me to give some thought to what living with God really means to me. What is my vision for life with God? Here are some of my thoughts:
Living with God means:
- Walking in conscious awareness of his presence and free-flowing conversation.
- Being ready to do his will moment-by-moment.
- Quick repentance when I become aware of my wrong choices and sin.
- Worship for every grace and gift I encounter throughout the day.
- Breath prayers, acknowledgement of my need and trust in difficulties.
- Creating “God moments” throughout the day.
- Refusing “self” to prefer God and others whenever aware.
- Cooperating with God through spiritual disciplines that shape my heart: Scripture, prayer, self-denial, journaling, fasting, etc.
As I enter my 50's I'm becoming more and more aware of the challenge of letting go of power and position. Because I'm part of a staff that is mostly led by pastors in their 40's and 50's, I'm witnessing the season where the baton must be passed to the next generation. It's quite interesting to see how some people struggle with that season far more than others.
Some are passing the baton gracefully and intentionally, nurturing younger staff and giving them support and encouragement to lead on their own. They are finding their own sense of fulfillment in the success of their young counterparts. They are sensing the blessing of Paul passing the baton to Timothy and the joy of knowing their influence will live far beyond their presence. That is exciting to watch.
Others struggle with the season of change. They have allowed their identity to get too tightly woven to their position, their power or their recognition. For them, passing the baton means loss of self, loss of purpose, and they can't envision how ministry can still be great without them being in their accustomed role. The danger is that a tenure of excellent ministry can end badly simply because of the inability to overcome insecurities.
What makes the difference? Let me make some general observations. People who are able to pass the baton with grace and strength are people who...
- have a healthy self-identity within and outside of their ministry responsibilities. "Who they are" transcends what they do.
- are no longer trying to "prove themselves." Their expertise is already established and they are able to assume new challenges.
- have an authentic humility knowing that God doesn't work because of them, but through them.
- appreciate that all their education, talents and experiences are the gifts and the grace of God. Passing those gifts to the next generation can be their greatest legacy.
- love the church and desire more than anything to see her sustained and effective. They see the "long view" of life and ministry.
- know that God is able to make tomorrow as exciting and fulfilling as yesterday, if lived with open hands.
As I'm sitting here at lunch enjoying some leftover cassarole, I was thinking about the people and circumstances I've interacted with today. So many times we'd like to hand out advice to people, but for all kinds of reasons-- some legitimate, some not-- we don't. Anyway, as a way for catharsis, here is the advice I would like to have shared today:
- Hold on to power and position with a loose grip.
- Dont manipulate things to create your own outcome.
- Invest in someone else's success.
- Be grateful for every small blessing.
- Create God moments.
- Lead the way you would want to be led.
- Put more work into the front end through planning and preparation so that you won't have to work so hard on the back end.
- Slow down and see people.
- Say "yes" more than you say "no."
- Recognize the difference between "nickel" problems and "dollar" problems.
Quick answer? A new 18,000 sq ft Preschool/Nursery building. I'm the point person for the capital campaign and the construction. Busy days!
I've been off the grid for awhile as I enjoy some serious downtime with Kay. Can you guess where we are?
As we move from one stage [of spiritual formation] to the next, we gain understanding and cultivate new virtues that strengthen us for the rest of the journey. Each stage also involves certain temptations. Yielding to these temptations disorients us from the path, but conquering them takes us ever closer to God.
I believe in the axiom that says you grow at the edges. What that means is that you are most likely to grow through the excitement and contagious exuberance of the people who are newest to your church. They are the ones most likely to invite their friends to come and enjoy what they are enjoying. These are people who have been around for one or two great Christmas Eve services, not 10 or 15; people who saw the Maundy Thursday service for the first time this year, not the seventh. These are the people who are more likely to have unchurched friends than the ones who have been around so long that all their friendships are rooted in the church.
Here are five implications to consider:
- We should spend as much time in our “newcomer” event listening as we do talking. Asking great questions and getting good feedback from the most enthusiastic and motivated peole among us is a good idea.
- We should make sure we have great “entry points” that help people on the edge to invite their friends. Since they likely still retain most of their network of unchurched friends, we want them to have natural and relaxed opportunities to bring those close to them.
- If we see we are losing people at the edges, we should be very intentional in finding out why. Is there a disconnect helping new people find their way? What is the retention rate of the church? If it isn't healthy, i.e. >25%, the church will miss the natural evangelism that happens at the edges and will struggle to grow.
- When filtering out people’s complaints, and every church does, we mustn’t dismiss people because they are new. People who are new bring a fresh perspective. Find ways to engage them.
- Our first impressions and connecting ministry must get first priority. If any of our systems and teams needs to work smoothly and be healthy, it's those that make our first impressions on the fringe.
Throughout the five books of the Psalms we journey through every human emotion and circumstance – grief, lament and suffering, persecution and conflict, sin and guilt, joy and prosperity, victory and success, love and friendship, security and peace. The list goes on and on! Yet, at the end of it all, once human life is considered in all of its seasons and experiences, God remains God and is always worthy of our praise.