Music Monday: You Can Trust That He Knows

No matter what you’re going through, celebrating, struggling with, Jesus knows. In our weakness, He is strong, In our uncertainty, He is the Rock. He comforts our pain. He gives peace among chaos. He doesn’t just fix; He journeys with us. His compassion, mercy, and grace reaches out to us and ministers to us in ways we cannot even fathom.

Because He knows.

When Ministry Isn’t Fun

“I have to work hard enough at my job—and I get paid for that. Volunteering for ministry shouldn’t take that much effort. If it’s not going to be fun, I’m not going to waste my time. I have more important things I’d rather do.”

It’s the new epidemic of faulty reasoning about serving in the local church. A previous generation often served sacrificially out of obligation or guilt, sometimes at the expense of joy. But too many today refuse to serve if the task doesn’t bring them excitement or at least pleasure. “No one can make me. I make my own choices. God wouldn’t want me to serve without excitement.” This if-there’s-nothing-in-it-for-me-I’m-not-doing-it attitude can weaken or even paralyze Christ’s body.

If we are a part of Christ’s body—the local and worldwide church—self-centeredness has to go. It’s not about whether or not we get paid. It’s not about the effort we expend. It’s not about the people we have to put up with. It’s not about the things we’d rather do. We have choices to make. Let’s look at a few.

Where Should I Give My Best Efforts?

When we’re receiving a paycheck for doing a job, we need to do the best we can, but not because we’re being paid. Whatever we’re doing deserves our best because (1) God equips us to do the work as we yield to him in obedience, and (2) we honor God as we steward well the gifts and talents he’s given us.

If we apply our best efforts only when they bring money or other tangible rewards, our efforts are more about us than about God. “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

How Can I Rethink Relationships?

God can use any relationship to develop his character within us.

We often assume Christians should be easier to get along with because they’re, well, Christians. People in the church shouldn’t create issues—just people outside the church.

But we’re all sinners. Instead of becoming frustrated with those within our church families, why not consider what God wants to teach us through those relationships, even when they’re difficult? Maybe he’ll prepare us for challenging relationships outside the church as we work through difficult situations within the church. Maybe he’ll use the fertile soil of our church family relationships to cultivate his characteristics, developing the fruit of the Spirit so that it is easily seen in our relationships outside the church as well.

What if we’re missing out on some of the best preparation he has planned for us by avoiding difficult relationships within the church? Is it possible we see relationships outside the church as easier because we don’t feel the same pressure to demonstrate God’s character with non-Christians? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22, 23).

How Should I Spend My Time and Energy?

It might come as a shock, but the 24 hours we have each day aren’t ours to control; they’re ours to yield. They’re a gift from God. No matter how good our worthwhile activities seem, if they aren’t in God’s will and timing, they aren’t God’s best.

Family is good, but God wants us to keep family in perspective as his gift to us and realize family is under the umbrella of his will, care, and provision.

Service is good, but God wants us to keep it in perspective in his leading and timing.

Nothing and no one trump God. Everything and everyone he gives us are actually his, and when we begin to wrestle for control and management, we are no longer fully yielding. Our time and energy are his to give and ours to steward. When we mismanage them, we suffer, our relationship with God suffers, and the health of Christ’s body suffers.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).

Serving isn’t optional. As we struggle with it, we can make any excuse we want and try to project the blame onto leaders, other individuals, or the church as a whole. But excuses indicate a heart issue. God isn’t nearly as concerned about our excitement level as our commitment level. He’s not nearly as concerned about what we can get out of serving and building relationships as what he can give us.

It’s our choice. We can make it about choosing how to spend our time and energy. We can make it about what relationships we prefer to cultivate. We can make it about our own enjoyment.

But it’s really about God. Are we yielding to him with our choices?

Originally published at ChristianStandard.com.

The Dangers of Giving Your Life to Ministry

The time and energy ministry takes can infect your family, friends, and, to be honest, just about every aspect of your life. You can burn out, get angry and resentful, and walk away from the faith that originally spurred you into ministry.

Giving your life to ministry, whether it’s paid or unpaid, church or mission, home or overseas, is full of contradictions. You give your life to ministry and feel like you lose control. You agree to be set apart, then feel isolated. You’re overwhelmed, yet claim to trust a sovereign God. So, which is it? Are you willing to give your life to ministry, or do you want to hang onto your life? Whether you’re about to take the leap or you’ve served most of your lifetime, take a moment for a heart check.

Living in a Bubble

When you commit to ministry, you develop a routine. It doesn’t seem like a routine much of the time, because the demands are different every day. You’re constantly being interrupted and inconvenienced, but after all, isn’t that what being available to serve involves?

Throughout the variety of day-to-day changes are trends of consistency. You find yourself increasingly involved in some things and less committed to others. You gravitate toward . . . people in need, people outside the church, other people in ministry; it differs for each of us because of our calling, passions, and needs, but as you say “yes” to some people and tasks and “no” to others, you inflate a bubble.

Saying “yes” and “no” are good things, but we can easily let our habits determine our decisions instead of our discernment of God’s will. Just because God led you to serve in a specific area or reach out to certain people does not mean he wants you to take up permanent residence there. He might tell you to stay there for a long time, perhaps even a lifetime, but you need to check in with him on a consistent basis in order to know for sure.

Just because something is comfortable and familiar doesn’t mean it’s God’s will for you in this season. Just because something is difficult and challenging doesn’t mean it’s God’s will, either. The only way to know God’s will is to . . . ask God.

When you put yourself in a bubble, you’re not just keeping some things in and other things out. You’re keeping God in (or out) of the bubble, too. If you feel he’s close to you, so he must be in the bubble, you might fail to see him working in areas outside the bubble. That’s a problem, because you lose a kingdom perspective. If you feel God is distant and disinterested in what you’re doing, well, that’s a problem too. God is personally invested. Always. You are not the exception to his character.

Putting yourself in a bubble is a control issue, which is exactly why it is a danger of ministry. Giving your life to ministry is about giving up control. Yes, God still gives you choices every step along the way, but choices and control are two very different things. Control might give you a sense of security, which might feel better than vulnerability, but that’s exactly why God wants you to give him—control. He’s the only one who can give true security. Vulnerability isn’t a bad thing in your relationship with him. It makes you more sensitive so you can see his perspective more clearly and anticipate what he can and will do when he uses you for his kingdom work.

Overspiritualizing Everything

When you’re in ministry, everything seems to have purpose. You find lessons in everything. Whether it’s an encounter in the fast-food drive-through or car problems on vacation, you find examples and applications. And you usually can’t keep it to yourself. It’s not like you’re preaching to everyone; at least, you don’t see it that way. You’re just observant, and you want to share.

Why wouldn’t everyone around you want to hear your insights? Isn’t that one of the reasons you’re in ministry, to share?

Well, yes, but not everyone is exactly where you are. Not everyone has your background or education. They don’t share your passion or needs. God pours into you, encouraging and challenging you in everyday situations, but that doesn’t mean the lessons he has for you are the best fit and timing for everyone around you.

Thinking you must teach, share, and apply everything is another attempt at control. The goal isn’t to make mini versions of you. God isn’t trying to replicate you. People are created in his image, not yours. The flow of lessons doesn’t go from him through you to others all the time. Pay attention to what he’s teaching you, and realize, many times, those lessons will flow from him through others to you.

That’s not to say he doesn’t want you to share, but he doesn’t want you to decide what is right and wrong for everyone. He has justice figured out. He knows where he placed lines of morality, and he knows the battle lines you are to stay within and the ones you are to cross.

We can get so caught up in managing ministry that we become as legalistic as the Pharisees. We take up a mantra similar to a popular reality show, and assume the authority to proclaim: “You’re either in or you’re out.”

If we encounter people lining up with God’s Word (or our interpretation of it), we affirm them with a high five. If not, we drag them (sometimes kicking and screaming) into God’s Word to make sure they see what we are confident they must accept at that very moment.

We’re not in charge of the “yes” and “no” of other people’s choices. We don’t even know the critical timing of the choices God is giving them. But we certainly have choices of our own. We have the choice to listen to him. And it’s only when we choose to listen that we can know when to stand up, sit down, speak up, and shut up.

Is It Worth the Cost?

Jesus taught on the importance of counting the costs of giving our lives to him (Luke 14:25-35). So, how much is too much? How do we know when we need to pull back and give less?

Perhaps that’s not the issue at all. Maybe we’re already giving less, and it’s time to give more. Not more time, effort, organization, resources, or teaching. We can’t imagine giving anything else, because we’re spent. But maybe we’ve used those things we can count and manage as a crutch. Maybe we haven’t fully given what’s most important: ourselves—our pride, preference, comfort, control, understanding, agenda, and goals.

What are you hanging onto? When you identify it, you will find the most dangerous part of ministry for you. It’s what is holding you back. It’s the stumbling block. When you give it some thought, giving your life to ministry might be the very thing holding you back.

Jesus doesn’t ask you to give your life to ministry. He asks you to give your life to him. Ministry simply comes out of the life you live for him. When you give up your life—and any delusion that you are in control—you start living.

“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33).

Originally published at ChristianStandard.com.

Lessons from the Produce Aisle

aisleI often work with and write for churches and ministries. Sometimes, lessons and reminders come in some odd places…like the produce aisle. Walking through the store’s produce aisle can be filled with a variety of colors, textures, and aromas. However, not every color, texture, and aroma is pleasant. Let’s take a stroll together and perhaps learn something about ourselves, our ministries, and the people we live and serve alongside.

The Mushy Apple. Sometimes fruit is picked too early or left on the shelf too long. The result is a tart, grainy, unpleasant fruit that is past its prime. In ministry, people live and serve in their prime when they’re in the center of God’s will, but it involves constant vigilance and adjustments. Discovering who God created us to be is a continual process. Even when we know the gifts He has poured into us, God will often instruct us to use them in different ways with various situations and people. Life in ministry isn’t predictable, because God wants us to rely on Him through an ever-deepening relationship.

The Limp Lettuce. Sometimes fruit is mishandled. When attention isn’t given to the proper temperature, storage, and transportation, the end product isn’t as excellent as it can be. In ministry, something similar happens when we mishandle people, including ourselves. Even good intentions of forming teams can negatively affect the outcome when we quickly assign people to roles without listening to their passions or when we fail to consistently evaluate and make necessary adjustments. We must be disciplined in the process of ministry, and we must be intentional in disciplining people.

The Infested Plum. Sometimes fruit is exposed to something that feeds and breeds on a vulnerability. Once fruit flies find the fermenting sugar in a piece of fruit, they quickly multiply and infest the entire box, crate, or shipment of fruit. In ministry, even the slightest vulnerability can attract a small issue that initially goes undetected but soon multiplies out of control. In order to avoid infestation, we must commit to vigilant examination. Focusing on spiritual health involves detecting anything that’s potentially unhealthy. Early detection is key.

The Leaky Watermelon. Sometimes fruit is damaged but still looks good on the outside. A hard bump against each other might create a small crack in the rind. It looks fine at first, but with each jostle along the journey to the produce shelf, the crack slightly shifts until the inside begins to leak. In ministry, people often look fine on the outside, but bumps along life’s journey can create problems when undetected. Just because someone looks okay on the outside doesn’t mean the inside is okay. We need to pay attention to and care for people around us.

The Baseball Peach. Sometimes fruit hasn’t been given enough time to develop, so even when it’s on the produce shelf, it’s not ready to be savored. In ministry, we need to trust God’s timing. We often want to be ready for something more quickly than God’s timing. We sometimes want to put off something longer than God intends. We don’t’ decide God’s perfect timing. We simply respond in obedience every time.

The Grape Cluster. Sometimes fruit seems to multiply. We don’t find just a single grape hanging on the vine. Grapes grow in clusters. When a vine is damaged, an entire cluster of grapes suffers. When the growing conditions are excellent, the entire cluster of grapes is scrumptious. In ministry, we need to cluster with others. We need to pay attention to how those around us are doing, because we affect one another. The growing conditions we’re in are similar to the growing conditions of those closest to us. We want to grow healthy together.

The Needy Strawberry. Fruit needs tender-loving care and attention. Strawberries are time-intensive fruit. In ministry, we tend to label time-intensive people as “too” needy, yet in reality, each of us needs time, tender-loving care, and attention. God knows the perfect growing conditions for each of us, and we can trust Him through the process. Being needy isn’t necessarily bad. When we trust God for our needs – and for others’ needs – we grow in His timing and care.

The What-Do-I-Do-With-This? Some fruit is lesser known and used: goumi, loquat, rowan, medlar, guarana, and so on. Fruit doesn’t have to be “common” to be delicious. In ministry, we often limit ourselves by the best-known programs, people, and approaches, but God’s creation is rich in variety. He gives purpose, beauty, and taste to everything He creates. Explore the variety among and within the people around you, including yourself.

A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. (Luke 6:44)

The NAGigator

I’m a good navigator, but if I don’t watch out, I can be pretty good as a nagigator, too. nag

How about you?

Even when our goal is to help someone get from one place to another, our encouragement, reminders, and direction can go from simple to complex-and-twisted-with-accusations-and-impatience with a single wrong turn. And I’m not talking about someone else’s wrong turn. I’m talking about our own.

In case you haven’t caught on yet, I’m also not talking about helping someone navigate a driving route. I’m talking about leading others through life. Ministry, parenting, friendships, mentoring, and so goes on. In any situation you have an influence on someone, and that person trusts you to guide him or her well…what starts as a respectful, helpful relationship can turn into…

What are you doing?

Why aren’t you listening to what I say?

You’re making this a lot harder than this has to be!

Maybe you haven’t said those exact words, but does the tone sound familiar? Does it match an attitude you’ve had, regardless of how you’ve masked it with your words?

Leading well isn’t about nagging well. People need help. They need encourage. They need to try and fail and get back on track. They need to know they’re not the only ones who get disoriented. They need to know you’re going to stay beside them.

Are you beside the people you lead? Really? Maybe you should consider what it looks and sounds like from their perspective.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

Recipient vs. Participant

How well do we provide for others?

For those who “do” ministry, we can struggle from time to time with this one. We want people to get involved, to participate, but there are so many who seem to be content to receive. We want to be generous. We want to be loving. We want to be giving. But, really? Can’t people step up and take responsibility?

Well, yes, they can. It’s not a simple if/then equation, but we need to consider what we’re doing that fosters people to receive instead of participate.

helpIt’s not just about church attendance. In fact, lets widen the circle for a moment and consider how well we serve people in need. I’m not talking about our numbers or programs, the how much and what of our service. What about the how well?

I have had this conversation multiple times at ministry events, especially among churches and organizations who are especially known for their focus on identifying and meeting needs in both short-term crises and ongoing support. But what are we supporting? Are we simply providing without equipping? Are we giving stuff and time but taking away something even more important, like dignity?

Let’s get a bit more personal. When you give away clothes or furniture because someone needs it, what is your attitude? Do you give away your best? Do you engage the person? Do you listen to their story? Do you insist on receiving nothing in return even when they really want to give something to you? Do you follow up? Do you care? Do you invest?

We like to solve problems, so if we have something or can buy something someone needs, we feel good about our generosity. We’re helping, and who doesn’t get warm fuzzies by helping others? But are we sure our giving is the best option? Have we even explored the options? Do we know the situation well enough to explore the options?

Let’s broaden the circle even wider. When we become aware of a need in another country, we often begin collecting what we think will solve the problem. We often avoid thinking about how our solutions might create more problems. For example, clean water. We want everyone to have it, right? Let’s pay for and install water pumps in every village so people have access to clean water. Sounds great, right? What if no one local is trained to fix the water pump? What if parts are not easily, affordably available? Are there other, better, longer-lasting options?

What if we donate all kinds of things because we have easy access to them, but in the process, we eliminate someone’s only way to make money in that community? For example, when we send cases of new shoes, what happens to the man who has repaired every person’s shoes for decades? I’m not saying we shouldn’t donate and provide, but I think it’s important to think through the how well of our service.

We accomplish something when we give and someone receives. But what if we focus on developing participants instead of recipients? What if we give dignity, ownership, and responsibility with our service? After all, it’s not really about us. If we care that much to invest in others, we need to make sure our how well is our best for God.

The Doubt and Confidence of Your Calling

Today’s guest post is from my friend Gloria Lee. Enjoy!

393290_10150363917819007_140620465_n“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-12

I turned 41 this year. I have never been married. I don’t have children. However, God called me to be a children’s pastor.

When I first started out as a children’s ministry intern 20 years ago, I was intimidated by parents. They were all older than me. I was just getting my hands wet in ministry. I knew I had a lot to learn.

I went to seminary and received my masters in Christian education. I spent three years studying how I can better minister to children and families. I still felt intimidated by parents. They were still older than me with more life experience. I was young and timid. I knew I needed to build confidence, but I thought it would just come with age, life experience, marriage, and kids.

Approximately 10 years into ministry, I was convicted that my role as the children’s director included starting conversations with parents about being the primary faith leaders for their kids. I also knew my role wasn’t just about teaching the kids but it was ministering to the families, including matters pertaining to parenting. I started sharing with the parents separation anxiety tips when they drop off young children, resources to help parents lead their kids in their faith, and other information I had read in books and articles.

One Sunday, a group of parents started attacking me verbally. They told me that my job was teaching children, and I had no business telling parents what to do. I was completely taken aback by their comments. They continued to tell me that everything I had to say showed my lack of experience as a parent, and I wouldn’t be telling them these things had I been a parent. I was in a state of shock because I was only sharing with them what I had learned working in public and private schools for years, from reading many books and articles, and from classes I had taken in school. Confused, hurt, and shocked, I went home that night and cried myself to sleep convinced there is no way I could be called into children’s ministry as a single woman without children.

I was ready to throw in the towel. Things got worse, and I didn’t want to disturb my senior pastor with church matters during his sabbatical. I had weathered through some tough ministry times before… I had been attacked for being a female leader in the church, I’ve had to carry the children’s ministry through months of ugly leadership division that resulted in a church split, and I even had a pastor threaten to “blacklist” me if I didn’t do as I was told (his demands had more to do with my personal life than ministry such as not being allowed to have a roommate because parishioners shouldn’t see how pastors live outside the church—yes, ridiculous I know!). But this time, my confidence was completely shaken… and I was convinced I had completely misunderstood God’s calling and entering ministry was a big mistake. I must have misheard His calling.

I wrote my letter of resignation and got up the courage to call my senior pastor on his sabbatical. During our meeting, he looked at me directly in the eye and said “My wife and I trust you with my own children. You have played a big part in my kids coming to know Christ. I call you when I need parenting advice. I believe with all my heart that God has called you to minister to children and families. I want to affirm you of your calling. I have no doubt in my mind I hired the right person for the job.” Tears kept streaming down my face, but I wasn’t convinced. A couple weeks later, my pastor affirmed my calling from the pulpit. The group of parents that had attacked me left the church silently.

But the story doesn’t end here. That experience alone left a huge hole in my confidence. I found myself apologizing for not being a parent when I talked to parents. I found myself quoting authors and speakers, but not speaking from my own knowledge or experience. One day, a missionary I respect said, “How are your kids?” I answered back, “I don’t have any kids.” She said, “Of course you do. You have hundreds of them. You care for each one’s spiritual health, sometimes more than their biological parents. Your interaction and experience with hundreds of kids make you more experienced than most parents.” Her words were medicine to my soul, and I started my road to healing and regaining confidence in God’s calling for my life.

Since then, I have worked hard at connecting with other children’s pastors who have excelled despite not having their own kids. I have worked hard at being confident in my role. I have worked hard at leading and encouraging with God’s authority rather than apologizing for my status. I have worked hard at honing my knowledge and skills.

Earlier this year, I was at a gathering of children’s ministers in my area. During introductions, I caught several newbies saying “I don’t have any children of my own so I’m not sure if what I’m doing is correct.” I felt the strong urge to empower them and tell them to embrace God’s calling and be confident in their roles.

Today, I know with confidence that God has called me to minister to children and families. I have 20 years of experience in children’s ministry, and I have had the privilege of ministering to hundreds of children and parents. I am confident of what I know, and I continue to learn more. I don’t pretend to know and feel as parents do. But I know that God has given me the gifts and authority to equip, encourage, and support families.

I turned 41 this year. I have never been married. I don’t have children, AND God called me to be a children’s pastor. What is God’s calling for your life? How have YOU found confidence in His calling for your life?

gloriaConnect with Gloria on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.