The First Things
Everyone is waiting for something. Right now, we’re all waiting for that moment when we can leave our houses and live our lives freely again. But, when we get to leave, we’ll still be waiting for something. Some will be waiting for that next paycheck, a new job, a wedding, a divorce, a graduation. Maybe some are just waiting for that moment when they’ll find joy and contentment again.
But, what are we doing in the waiting? Are we wasting our time? Are we only dreaming? Are we using every day, every minute that we are given, or are we just siting around complaining, glued to our television, the computer, or the cookie jar?
Friends, I want to encourage you to do something in the waiting! And, our first goal, our first thing if you will, is to spend some time in God’s Word. Philippians 4:8 says, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” And the ultimate truth, the ultimate good thing is God and His Word.
Here are some practical ways to fix our thoughts on what is true, honorable, pure, and lovely:
Complete a Devotional or Bible Study
Take a couple seconds and think about the bookshelves and drawers in your house. Do you have any unfinished devotionals or Bible studies lying around? I know I do! Those Bible studies I bought with good intentions and never finished because…who knows? (I’m lazy). Now is your chance! Pick up where you left off and get your money’s worth. If you don’t have any Bible studies, I”m sure you have daily devotional books that you could read through.
Right now, I’m working on The Bible Study by Zach Windahl which is reading through the entire Bible in a year, answering questions, etc. I am extremely behind (again, I’m lazy) so I’m trying to catch up. I also decided that if I do catch up, I’m just going to keep going! Reading the Bible in less than a year is not a bad thing.
If you absolutely don’t have anything at home that you can complete, I would encourage you to Google free devotionals or go to Amazon to look for something to purchase. There is a lot of stuff out there, and authors and companies are being pretty generous during this time so see what you can find!
YouVersion Reading Plans
If you don’t have any incomplete Bible studies or devotionals, I want to encourage you to find a reading plan on YouVersion. If you are not familiar with YouVersion it’s an excellent Bible app with TONS of reading plans based on books of the Bible or topics. You can even check off as you go or read with friends. It’s also pretty user-friendly so don’t worry if you don’t consider yourself tech-savvy. If you don’t have the app, search and download it on your Apple or Android mobile device.
Journal & Pray
For our final “first thing”, I am putting journaling and prayer together because I am assuming most of us know that we should be praying during our waiting season, but I know it can be hard to focus! If you are struggling with distractions and setting aside time for prayer, I want to encourage you to add journalling to your process. This has helped me immensely over the years. When I tried to pray, I would find myself randomly making a grocery list in my mind, thinking of everything I had to do, or just plain getting distracted. Once I started writing out my prayers in journals, I found my prayer time to be so much more focused and I got distracted less. I challenge you to try this method!
You also don’t need to go purchase a fancy journal. Look around your house and see what journals or notebooks you have. Don’t be a waster! Any half-filled notebooks or old journals will do. God doesn’t care; He is just happy that you’re spending some time with Him!
I hope these ideas will help you focus on what is true and bring you encouragement during the waiting.
And while we wait, God is good, faithful, and right beside us.
"But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law." James 2:9
Sometimes, people can be so mean. They say awful things about you to others, to your face, and just make life difficult. It can wear you out. It can wear you down until all you want to do is just yell right back at them with some smart comment that will put them in their place. But, yelling at mean, or meeting them at their level, will not make you feel any better. God tells us that being kind only to certain people is sin. We need to have consistent kindness. How you are treated is irrelevant.
Trust me, this is easier said than done! Maybe when a non-Christian says something rude or mean, it's easier to remind ourselves to be a good witness. This topic could be an entirely different blog. But, it's a little more difficult when it's a Christian brother or sister. When someone who is supposed to be supporting you and uplifting you, announces to everyone around that you are doing a terrible job, or passive-aggressively tells others things that undermine all of your efforts, the last thing you want to do is be kind. But, you must. You must be kind. You must forgive over and over and over.
During some conversations, being kind takes all of your willpower and energy. It takes every ounce of you to be strong and not retaliate. However, other times, you might be in such shock that you stand there with a nervous smile plastered on your face while someone spits insults at you. This is usually me. Still other times, you might get a tiny bit of strength and clarity of thought, and you could ask that person to pray for you. This is usually a good way to transition out of the conversation and find safety. Whatever your response, you must be kind.
Why do I emphasize consisted kindness? Yes, God commands it of us, but also, you never know what will happen. That person who gossiped about you or yelled at you, might come up to you one day with a smile on their face and encouragement on their tongue. You will be pleasantly surprised, and you will be extremely glad you never were unkind. They may never apologize or even realize how awful they treated you, but you kept yourself accountable. You were kind. You were strong. You were obedient.
Do you have some people in your life that are just completely mean to you whenever they see you? Do you know of someone who regularly gossips about you? Pray for them right now. Ask God to help you forgive and be strong. Pray for your next encounter with them. Pray that no matter what they say, no matter how bad it hurts, you will be kind. I'm praying for you!
Crawling to the Cross
"But if from there, you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul." Deuteronomy 4:29
A few summers ago, the sanctuary, and most of our church, was transformed into Mount Everest for the annual Vacation Bible School. The children's ministry leaders displayed their creativity as igloos, mountains, and trees began to pop up all over the building. It was so amazing that we decided to keep the decorations up for the following church service so that everyone was reminded of what God had done at our church that week. It was pretty neat to lead worship amongst all the decorations too!
The previous few months had been hard on me, as I experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. I had never felt so built up, ripped apart, loved, or hated. And, it was all happening at the same time so my brain was going a little crazy. "Am I failing or am I excelling at life?" I kept asking myself. One minute something would happen that would send me to the mountaintop, and the next minute something would happen to hurl me into the valley.
That Sunday morning, as I was sitting, praying, and waiting for the rest of my worship team to come, my eyes rested on the giant cross on stage amidst the mountains and tents. "That's my goal," I thought to myself, "striving for the cross. No matter how I feel, I will continue to reach for the cross."
Maybe it was the mountain scenery, but as I reflected on this goal, I imagined myself standing center stage with a backpack on, determined to get to the cross. But, in my mind, I didn't stay standing for long. An unknown weight took my cute flowery backpack and shoved me to the ground. I wanted to get back up, but knew I was too weak. I couldn't get to the cross! "Get up!" I kept telling myself, "Get up!"
As my frustrated imaginary self just kept lying there, I sensed the word, Crawl. "What?" I thought to myself. "I need to get up. I need to be strong. I need to get to the cross. But, I don't know if I can." So, I stopped pleading with myself to get up, and found peace in this word. Crawl. Then, I reached my hand out to the cross, and started moving, inch by inch.
When you can't run, and you can't walk, Crawl. When the weight is too heavy on your shoulders, Crawl. When no one else is around to lean on, Crawl. No matter what obstacle or mountain is in the way, Crawl. When you are so tired, and have no energy, Crawl. When all you want to do is weep and give up, Crawl. Crawl, crawl, crawl. Inch by inch by inch.
I think sometimes we need to be reminded that crawling is okay. God doesn't expect us to always be strong. He doesn't expect us to be sprinting through life. He expects us to be seeking after Him no matter what, even if it means one hand after the other.
Maybe you are at a point in your life where tears are blinding your eyes, and you can hardly see the cross ahead. Or, maybe the weight is so heavy on your shoulders, there is no way you can stand up. Keep going! I am hesitant to say that if you keep crawling, you will eventually stand because maybe you won't, or maybe it will take years. Maybe you won't stand until you get to heaven, but the point is that you are doing everything you can to seek after God and trust Him with your life. Keep crawling and obeying.
Some of you may be reading this, and everything is great right now. You are standing up strong and maybe even running to the cross. But prepare your heart and your mindset for those times when you will need to crawl. Don't take for granted the strength that you have right now! And don't let yourself be too shaken when the time comes to crawl. God is still God, and the cross is still there, so just keep crawling.
Protect Your Pastor
"Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what hey say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they a accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit." Hebrews 13:17
I want to preface my words by stating that this message has been on my heart for months, not just because [I am] married to a pastor! I've had a lot of eye-opening moments while being in ministry, and it's helped me realize the pressure, privilege, and responsibility of being in a pastoral role.
Ministry is a bizarre business. Where else would employees or learners even consider bringing a complaint to their boss or expect their suggestions to be considered? I would assume that if a manager or supervisor was approached with a complaint stated with anger and outrage, they would probably just point to the door. Or, if students in a classroom whined and complained about how things were going, the teacher would respond with, "Okay, that's nice," and continue on with the lesson. It's interesting how this all changes when it comes to church and what congregants think is acceptable communication.
The pastoral and church staff are not only stretched mentally and physically, but emotionally and spiritually. They spend countless hours each week studying God's Word, preparing sermons, leading small groups, and counseling in addition to their home responsibilities of providing for and spending time with their families. Most of us get to leave our work at work when the final bell rings, but oftentimes, pastors take their work home, maybe not intentionally as they are consumed by wanting just the right words for their upcoming sermon or replaying a recent conversation in their minds.
So, knowing all of this, let's imagine a Sunday morning. The pastor has just spent hours preparing a message, and he's excited to share it with his congregation. He's in the hallway on his way to pray with the elders and other staff, and here comes Mr. Pessimist prepared to relay his current preference complaints. The pastor, being his pastoral self, stops to say "Hi" kindly and is caught off guard, verbally attacked with a laundry list of things that just aren't "right" with the church. Then, after listening, the pastor turns, continues on his way, and must preach the Word of God to hundreds after scraping himself off the ground.
Since we know these unfortunate encounters exist, what if we took an intentional offense of protecting our pastors on Sunday mornings? We should be praying for them of course, but what if we took it a step further? I'm sure there is more, but the following are practical ways we can protect our pastors.
Five Practical Ways to Protect Your Pastor
1-Watch Your Words and Tone It doesn't matter what you are talking with your pastor about before the sermon, but you should watch your tone and the words you say. You may have a joking relationship with him, but sarcasm or silliness before the sermon may not be best. Whatever you say or how you say it, should not put any doubt in his mind about anything.
2-Observe Others Keep open eyes and ears while you are walking through the church hallways. If you see Mr. Pessimist walking with a mission towards the pastor, stop him! You might have to listen to the laundry list, but at least the pastor will not. Or, you could make a beeline towards your pastor and start a conversation and hopefully avoid a negative one from starting.
3-Be Willing to Interrupt Maybe Mr. Pessimist has already beat you to the pastor and you can hear him saying what he doesn't like. Be willing to interrupt! It may take a little boldness and tact, but do what you can to cease the current conversation. Rescue the pastor from any further discouragement.
4-Wait For Certain Conversations Some conversations can wait. might have a question for the pastor and not a complaint. However, if you know he already has a lot on his mind in preparation for the sermon, don't add to it unless it is absolutely necessary. Ask yourself if you need an answer immediately or if you can wait until Monday. If it doesn't have to do with the service order, you can wait.
5-Say Something Encouraging My final suggestion is just be intentional about saying something encouraging if you see your pastor. It doesn't even have to be sermon/church-related, but a smile and positive conversation can go a long way.
These practical ways could also be helpful to anyone else serving in ministry at your church; children's ministry director, Sunday School teachers, worship leaders. They are enduring more pressure than you know so help protect them. They need some love, encouragement, and protection!