Grace in Activity

graceSo be very careful how you live. Do not live like those who are not wise, but live wisely. Use every chance you have for doing good, because these are evil times. So do not be foolish but learn what the Lord wants you to do. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

Ponder It.

  • On a scale from one to ten, how busy would you rate your life to be?
  • What is something you have done recently that was obviously rooted in God’s guidance?
  • What is an area of your schedule or responsibilities that hasn’t recently been filtered through God’s hands?

Receive It. Grace can permeate your schedule, but God won’t crowd into spaces you haven’t created. If you imagine an appointment book, consider grace as the very pages of the book. Anything that you write on the pages is founded in grace. Everything is filtered through grace. Nothing can be separated from grace. But is that how we actually approach our schedules? Grace isn’t something to be handled lightly as a convenience. It’s not something we can block in a designated amount of time. It must be given priority in our lives, both long-term and short-term. We often run from one activity to another. And we’re often doing good things, but doing the good things isn’t good enough. Doing the good thing must be set aside and replaced by doing the God thing. Sometimes the two look very much the same, but our motivation can be different. We can do the good thing because we think it’s what God would want, but is it, really? Have we checked with him? Have we relied on him to guide us? Even doing something that is within his general will doesn’t mean it’s part of his specific will for us, because his specific will includes his guidance in timing. What requires our yes at one point may require our no at another point. God has no intention for us to do, do, do…even in his name. God intends for us to be, be, be, which includes doing but only when it is filtered through his name and the timing and guidance he gives. We access God’s grace through our relationship with God, which requires regular reliance on God. We must sacrifice our own assumptions and preferences, including in our schedules, to his will. As we do, his grace abounds in and through us.

Live It. Check your calendar or to do list for the next 24 hours. Have you intentionally filtered absolutely everything through his will? Ask him what needs to be removed, changed, or added.

Prayer Flares

“Hey, God, I need some help here!”

“Please, God, if you do this, I promise…”

“I can’t do this on my own. Help me get all this done!”

God wants to hear from us no matter what is going on in our lives, but we need to pay attention to the patterns of communication we set. We lead such busy lives that we don’t always think we have the time we need to foster the prayer lives we truly want. But we reach out to God when we’re overwhelmed and desperate. We need His help to accomplish and manage all that we’ve scheduled and determined, especially when anything extra tries to squeeze its way in as an interruption.

Often, we send up prayer flares–calls for help–but we want help in accomplishing what we want, not paying attention much to what God wants for and from us. We send up prayer flares not to change our pace but to maintain it. It’s more about our pace and priorities than God’s.

Prayer flares aren’t bad. But God doesn’t just want us calling out to Him in emergency situations, especially when we’re not really asking Him to rescue and provide for us in His way. We want Him to meet us where we are but we’re not as willing to go where He then wants to take us. We want His assistance in living our lives instead of wanting to live the lives He purposes for us.

Music Monday: Slow down, and just breathe.

It’s Monday.

Not just any Monday.

It’s the Monday of Christmas week.

In the middle of your consuming to do list, in the middle of the pressures you feel right now, in the middle of the anxiety you have about what is to come, slow down. Take a moment.

Breathe.

Simple Organizational Tips to Try Right Now

It’s a busy time of the year. For some, it can feel overwhelming. Then comes a new year, just around the corner, when we’re exhausted from the end of year push yet determine to change some things. In many cases, we then overwhelm ourselves with pressures to make changes.

If we’re overwhelmed or feel pressured to change (often from ourselves), there are some simple things we can do. Baby steps. Sure, we want to live a more organized life. We want to be better connected to friends or family. We want to serve more, prayer more, learn more, grow more. But there are no easy buttons. Only steps we can take. Here are a few you might want to try. Today.

  • Purge your incoming emails. As you receive one from an organization you really don’t want to hear from anymore, take a few seconds to scroll down and click that “unsubscribe” button, usually at the bottom of the email. If you stay attentive and take action on just a few emails each day, it won’t take long before you’ve considerably cut the volume of your emails.
  • Make space in your phone and/or other device. While you’re waiting in a checkout line, at a doctor’s office, or some other “few minutes’ pause,” free up some space by deleting or reorganizing photos, files, and more. Even if you get rid of a few at a time, it’s a few less you’ll have to go through later, when you’ll have accumulated even more.
  • Clear the clutter around you, whether it’s in your office or home. Each day, get rid of ten things. It can be junk mail, clothes, toys, books, or whatever. If you get motivated one day and clear out more, or don’t get around to it one day, keep the next day’s goal at ten. It will become a habit, and before long, you’ll have to search items to clear out…and be more intentional about what you bring into your space.
  • Try a new food or bake a new dish this week. You might be in a food rut. Keep your expectations realistic. Try new things one at a time with some “regulars” in between. Then, slowly but surely, you can incorporate the new items that work well.
  • Replace what you take away. Anytime you take an unhealthy habit away from your life, it leaves space that will fill with something. If you’re not intentional, that space will often fill with something equally as unhealthy. Sure, you curb a bad habit, but you invite another one. Choose well.
  • Invite (the right) others into your life. Ask someone trustworthy to hold you accountable. If you want to pray more, study more, smoke less, drink less, exercise more, eat less, clean more, pursue God more, or work less, tell a trusted friend. Touch base regularly through a quick call, text, or a private Facebook group.

Know what (or who) you’re pursuing. You can leave some things behind but still spin your wheels without an intentional pursuit. Grow. One step at a time. One moment at a time. Once intentional choice at a time.

A Call to Courage

I’ve noticed something lately that deeply troubles me: a lack of courage among church leaders.

Hear me out. I’m not saying church leaders aren’t godly people. I’m not saying I’ve lost all respect for church leaders. But as I talk to people around the country about a variety of situations in their churches, my uneasiness grows as I see a common thread. I’m sure it’s not new, but I’m confident God has brought several situations to my attention, so he could whisper something in my ear: “Be on guard.”

After listening to a youth pastor’s accusations behind closed doors for months, church leaders confronted the senior pastor with allegations of wrongdoing. Leaders did not have private conversations with the senior pastor before confronting him, nor did they encourage the youth pastor to confront the senior pastor and deal with the issue privately and interpersonally.

After hiring several new staff members, church leaders failed to ensure that everyone was working together effectively and efficiently. Job descriptions were unclear. Some staff members were unfairly criticized, while others were unfairly praised. Punishment and recognition became moving targets.

A staff member wasn’t living up to his responsibilities, but instead of confronting him and holding him accountable, responsibilities were shifted to someone else. But that person’s plate was already full because he’s an efficient and effective worker who tends to absorb the overflow of others’ responsibilities. The overworked person was then held accountable when the added responsibilities weren’t completed.

A senior staff member was weak in an area, but he had been around for a long time, and he was friends with church leaders. No one wanted to hurt his feelings or make him feel inadequate, so no effort was made to strengthen the weakness.

Church leaders decided to be united in a decision. However, once they left the meeting room, they talked one-on-one with each other as well as with friends and family. The second-guessing and rehashing of their decision raised questions, created doubts, and increased anxiety levels.

The Culture, Not the Leaders

The truth is, I have great respect for most church leaders. In fact, of the church leaders I know personally, there are few I don’t respect. I know the individual struggles and situations that make church leadership difficult. My husband and I have both been involved in various ministry leadership positions, so we know the challenges firsthand. My issues aren’t with individuals; it’s with a leadership culture.

For the most part, I don’t believe church leaders intentionally say, “Let’s not be courageous. Let’s choose the easy way.” Leaders are busy. Many issues and concerns must be prioritized and considered. In the process, some get set aside. When a concern is repeatedly raised in an elders meeting and then set aside, it becomes like a pesky fly. It gets shooed away and shooed away until, at some point, the chairman or the group has finally had enough and ends the irritation, once and for all with a hasty, thoughtless swat.

When a concern is swatted aside—even for valid reasons when other issues are more pressing—the concern becomes more irritating as it resurfaces again and again. Church leaders get tired of dealing with it, when in reality, they haven’t dealt with it at all—unless you consider an irritated flick of the wrist “dealing with it.”

The courageous response isn’t quickly to smash the irritant. People will get hurt unnecessarily in the process. The courageous response is to recognize much of the irritation comes not from the issue in and of itself, but the pressure of time and energy to deal with it fully. It’s difficult for leaders to find the right balance between coping with crises and developing long-term strategy. But here’s the truth: balance is part of leadership.

Biblical Leadership Roles

Consider a short list of leadership roles the apostles fulfilled.

Mediator

Church consultant

Troubleshooter

Training leader

Counselor

Team leader

Discipline consultant

Doctrine consultant

Church planter

Pastor to local church leaders

Visionary

It’s tempting to add “master juggler” to the list, but balancing differs from juggling. Juggling involves tossing many items in the air and trying to make sure the timing of catches and releases prevents anything from hitting the ground. One moment of distraction, and items are dropped. Balancing, on the other hand, involves decisions about what to carry and what to leave behind. It includes what can be held in a hand versus what needs to be set aside. Balancing takes discernment.

God doesn’t call us to “good enough.” He calls us to “best.” And only he really knows what’s “best.” After Jesus fed the multitudes, he sent his disciples ahead, and he went to spend time with his Father. There are many good things he could have done: healing, teaching, feeding—to name a few. All these he had done and would continue to do—when the time was right. For that particular moment, only one thing was right: solitude. It was essential for spiritual renewal.

Church leaders need to grow beyond “good enough.” It’s not “good enough” to keep the peace. It’s not “good enough” to start a program. It’s not “good enough” to put together a wonderful-sounding church vision that never gets put into action. Church leaders need to settle for only one thing: God’s best.

God’s Best

What does God’s best look like for leaders?

Listening to God’s voice for direction.

Trusting God for provision.

Obeying God even through the difficult.

Holding each other accountable to godly leadership.

Handling all circumstances with biblical guidance.

Choosing discernment over reaction.

Being a lifelong learner, a growing disciple.

Becoming transparent in struggles and issues.

Courageous leaders trust God’s courage instead of relying on their own reserves of strength.

Courageous leaders intentionally approach all issues, initiatives, and relationships.

Is courageous leadership possible in our churches?

God says, “Yes.”

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:26).

“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Article originally published at ChristianStandard.com.

Fields of Obedience

What I noticed as a change in the fields throughout Israel was a sign of obedience.

But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. (Leviticus 25:4)

During my first visit, I saw many lush fields, growing many different crops.

11.3.14 drive to Bethsaida
©2014 PurePurpose.org

 

This time, most fields were empty…except, of course, the fruit trees. After all, it’s difficult to tell a tree to stop producing fruit! (I learned there are “ways around” the seventh year rest for those who want to observe the laws yet don’t want to let their trees go a full year without attention.)

I initially missed the beauty of the patchwork fields. Then, I realized I had the opportunity to see another kind of beauty: the beauty of obedience.

Sometimes our lives look desolate and unproductive. We feel wasteful, as if we’re not taking full advantage of what’s around us. We feel idle and unproductive. But action and busyness do not equal growth. Sometimes, stillness is much more productive.

Obedience doesn’t always make sense to us. We want to do things the way that seem logical to us. We rationalize we’re doing it to grow and be productive, and we even infuse God’s name into our efforts, claiming to do it all for Him.

But if He didn’t tell us to do it, our effort cannot be for Him.

How is He directing and instructing you right now? How well are you listening? How well are you responding?

Obedience is beautiful. And, in the long run, it is productive and fruit-bearing.

Looks Like a Duck

Have you ever watched a duck move across the water? They move so smoothly, as if they are gliding on ice. They look calm, serene, unhurried.

Look beneath the water surface, and you will see something different: frantic paddling that propels the duck forward. What you see on top isn’t the reality of what’s going on. Is it the same in your life? duck

What do people see when they look at your life?

Does what people see differ from what’s actually going on?

Of course, we can’t share everything about our lives with everyone…nor should we. But we do ourselves, and others, a disservice by projecting a calm, serene appearance, when, in reality, we’re frantic and stressed.

Sharing our struggles helps us by releasing some pressure. We don’t have to keep it all inside. Letting someone else know what’s going on in our life lets us breathe a sigh, share the burden, and invite encouragement and accountability. Saying “I’m fine” when we’re not isn’t a good option. It might be the easy answer, but only in the short-term. The easy answer becomes a hard facade to maintain down the road.

Sharing our struggles helps others by reassuring them they’re not the only ones who experience stress. When we authentically share, we invite them to do the same. We can check in with each other. Let’s make sure we’re not supporting ourselves in ways that support the frantic pace. We can’t control all the chaos in our lives, but we can respond to it in different ways. We have choices, and we need to take an honest look at what we can change. Sometimes, we can coast and recharge through the rest. Sometimes, we can paddle smarter, not harder.

We don’t need to go everywhere we think we need to go at the pace we think we ought to go. We can let God determine the where and how fast (or slow).

For we are making provision for what is right, not only before the Lord but also before men. (2 Corinthians 8:21)