Do you ever feel like you are worn out? Do you ever feel as though you are on your last leg?
I know we all feel this way sometimes, but I really have to believe that most of the time, we can do something about it. I think there are some lessons that can be learned about how and why we feel like we are wearing thin. As much as anything else, I believe that we affect our own perception reality by training our eyes on things that are either causing us to be stagnant or causing us to grow.
Much like the plant in the picture above, we sometimes feel like there is so little life left in us. We look around and all we can see is the deadness of years gone by. Maybe those times were good, and maybe they were bad, but the fact is, the majority of what populates our lives is made up of bones of yesterday.
The more we look, the more depressed we get. We try to grow, but we cannot find a way out of the tangled mess that has covered our path. Each step is navigated through a web of potential failure. A decision to move here, date her, love him, or work there inspires doubt about our ability to make decisions that could possibly have a positive effect on our lives. Our future seems to have already been written, and the outlook is as dismal as our past.
Some of us may even try to make cosmetic changes in our lives in order to convince ourselves that we are not actually doomed. We write ourselves encouraging messages that are intended to inspire life, but all they really do is shed light on the darkness of our heart. We surround ourselves with things that are, “Supposed to be true about a Christian,” but fail to realize anything promised in their words.
We make great efforts to:
…but all we seem to be doing is saying words.
So, how do we actually change the way we are living?
First, we must recognize that the things written on the walls of our house are not alive. We don’t live in the past, and we don’t live in the present. We live in the eternal nature that has been given to us by our creator. The carcasses of our past are of no real significance when we recognize that the body of the Christ will not be found among them. We will not find the bones of Jesus because he was the first to be raised. Our resurrection may still lie in the future, but it is confirmed in His.
So the process of gathering our past, both good and bad memories, and removing them from our daily experience becomes a task that is empowered by the Living God that we serve.
Identifying our past, removing those corpses from our lives, and letting the tangled web of doubt and fear slip away from our lives can be a hard process, but it will reveal the true nature of our condition. For most of us, we will survey the landscape that is left after our lives have been detangled, we will probably find that much of our former soil has been taken away as well. These gaping holes may seem daunting and may seem like problems until we realize that we are not the ones that have to fill them.
Though we have to make ourselves available for the Master Gardner to restore our lives, it is not the creation that must bear the weight of restoration, but the creator who is able to redeem that which was lost.
For many of us, our foundation must be restored. Not the whitewashed walls of the current vessel in which we reside, but the actual foundation of our existence. We need the Holy Spirit to engage our hearts once again so that our next step can land on a path toward hope, instead of doubt.
We may even feel little lonely in the middle of this freshly cleared landscape, but the fact of the matter is, we are finally able to breathe. Our lives are no longer being sucked dry by past mistakes. We look out toward the future with hope and resolve in the idea that we are not clean because of what we have done, but because of the assurance that is offered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We must also be reintroduced to the filling of the Holy Spirit who gives us daily sustenance through the water of the Word. Not only does the Holy Spirit restore us, but also empowers us. He offers us the ability to be rejuvenated daily. Each day that we accept his provision is a day in which we can grow. Each day of growth opens the door for us to accomplish the primary responsibility of every believer. We approach the day in which we bear fruit. Not just the fruit of the gospel, but also the fruit of the Spirit. We are given the ability to Loving, Joyful, Peaceful, Patient, Kind, Good, Gentle, Faithful, and Self-Controlled.
Now all we need is the constant light of the Father. Probably the greatest insight that we can derive from this element of growth is this, the light is the one thing over which we have no influence. We can only stand in its presence. It rises when it chooses, and it sets according to its pattern. But don’t forget, the plant with shallow roots, or a field that isn’t watered regularly will wither in the sun. The plant that hopes to thrive in the sun is the one whose roots are both grounded, and watered. Without rich soil, and plentiful water, any plant will perceive the rays of the sun to be oppressive and harsh, but when a tree is planted near a flowing river, the sun’s beams become a blessing.
When we grow upon the foundation of our faith in Jesus Christ, the daily provision of the Holy Spirit, and bathe in the light of the Father, we will realize a far more fruitful existence; an existence that is known by the evidence of life, not what we write on our walls.
There are a great many failures that I have made as a minister, but when I look back at my ministerial life, I am confronted with a few overarching themes that derailed the work of my church. I look back and notice that some, if not all, of these failures corrupt the message of the gospel. It is with that in mind that I try to illuminate these failures, and shed light on the truth of the gospel. It is in my weakness that Christ is revealed to be strong. I’ve ranked these in order of the level of destruction I have seen as a result of them being made.
Failure #3: Trying to separate Discipleship from Evangelism.
For whatever reason, I believed in my early years of ministry that a message was either Evangelistic or Discipleship oriented. I thought that to share the story of the cross of Jesus was to engage evangelism and to dive into the depth of the Christian walk was discipleship. But that is simply not true.
The truth of the matter is that we cannot separate Discipleship from Evangelism. We cannot separate them because Jesus didn’t make a distinction between them. When he spoke to his disciples about what it meant to put their faith in him, or what it would look like to follow him, he spoke of both of these activities as if they were synonymous. He made statements like, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
Jesus doesn’t talk about having to pray a prayer, then get baptized, then start to follow Jesus. He says that the daily activity of the follower of Jesus is to intentionally follow Jesus.
So how is this a bad thing?
The problem comes from my distinction between people I thought were Christians, and those that I thought were unbelievers. I made a distinction about people based on things I could see, not things that only God could see. I began to tailor my lessons based on what I thought a person or group needed, not what the Lord would have me to say. Instead of teaching the whole word, I taught simple fragments of scripture that were less than what they could have been.
Failure #2: I thought my private life could stay private.
Oh what a fool I was. If anyone has ever been in a leadership role in the church, you can attest to the fact that our personal lives have an enormous impact on those who follow us. If we are unfaithful in one area, we will be seen as unfaithful in another. The standard for Christian teachers is high because we are given authority over the flock. Authority that comes from the Father carries a demand for righteousness as well. This isn’t to say that a teacher/preacher/minister can be perfect, but that a person’s desire to war against sin is as important as their study of the scripture.
When students hear the lesson and it is brought from a heart that is broken before the Lord, the Holy Spirit is faithful to see good work being done in the hearts of those who hear. However, when a wicked heart attempts to convey Godly thoughts, the ear of the listener will be shut up by a God who will not be mocked. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve delivered a lesson/sermon that should have been effective, but it wasn’t. It had great foundation in the scripture, it was carefully and clearly delivered, but because my heart was corrupted by sin, my message was weak and without Spiritual Power.
The solution is simple. I must always be on guard to make my personal life as public as possible so as to deny the evil one the ability to take hold. I must make my heart open to my students, and show them what it means to fight against the flesh and battle against darkness. Only then will they see that this life we are called to live is one of victory. Not on our own merit, but on the actions of our Christ.
Failure #1: Thinking it was about me.
This is almost self-explanatory, but I’ll try to elaborate. I’m sitting in my office on a Thursday morning looking over the group I have signed up to go to an event. Youth Camp, Mission Trip, D-Now, a Retreat, or whatever event was coming up, and I look at the number and my heart begins to sink. It sinks because I allowed Satan to link a number to my value as a minister. I let him determine the focus of all of the work that had been put into the event. I let him convince me that the success or failure of the event was a direct reflection of me.
I find myself in my office agonizing over the decision that one of my students made recently. He/she chose to continue to act in a way that was unhealthy, and they are now paying a serious price for that decision. I think, “If only I’d done more…” (or some other self-centered statement) I let Satan convince me that I can save a kid. No need for Jesus. I Got THIS!
I notice that the room is sparsely populated one evening. A few faces pass by the window and I immediately think, “They think I’m doing a bad job. I better come up with an excuse for the low number…Oh, I know. I’ll remind them that the school is really busy these days and we have kids who are very active…yea…that’ll work.”
I notice that on one particular Wednesday evening I don’t have enough chairs. They weren’t removed from the room, we just have enough kids to fill them all and more are coming in the back. By the time the lesson starts, the room is packed. Smiling faces are everywhere, and we’ve hit a new record attendance. A few faces walk past the window and I know they’ve seen how many kids are here. I immediately start thinking, “That’s right! Who’s the man??? Bet you’ve never seen this many kids here at one time before, huh! Guess somebody needs a raise!”
When I make ministry about me, I rob God of the glory he deserves. I make success or failure about me, not about him. The fact is, a group of 2 kids are as important as a group of 200. We struggle to believe this, but it’s true. The success of a church/ministry is not tied to a leader, it’s tied to Jesus.
Ministry is a hard thing, and I don’t do it perfectly. But these are some things that I am actively trying to combat. I want to make sure that the Lord has complete control over our direction, our lessons, and our activities. If I am to be the man that God wants me to be, I must be willing to get out of the way and yield to his direction.