The Source of Refreshment

sandypt_sunrise.jpgI once had a very sobering conversation with a minister who said to me, "We know what to do, we just need to do it!"  He went on to suggest that all of the books, conferences, etc., were basically useless because it all came down to "doing it."  I knew this man.  He seemed to be in a perpetual state of exhaustion.  His marriage was strained.  He was quick-tempered.  In the midst of his good intentions, there was a hollowness that came through.

Later, I had a conversation with another man who was quieter and less active.  However, he seemed to try very hard to communicate that he knew more than the people he was with.  I felt as if I was always being critiqued and evaluated when I was with him.  He saw himself as being one of the few who really "got it" and it was his mission to communicate to others what the "deeper life" was all about.  Yet, to be in his presence did not seem either joyful or encouraging.

I mention both of these people because I think I understand these tendencies.  How easy it is to be something other than Jesus.  For many years, I saw myself as primarily a person who was doing things for God.  Whether I would (or could) have articulated this or not, my faith was basically centered around doing the right things — an ever increasing number of right things.  As a minister, my ministry was about doing the right activities.  I lived with a constant sense of guilt and sense of inadequacy.  The objective seemed to be "How much can I get done?"

I eventually realized that was a dead-end street.  Ruth Haley Barton expresses it well:

A sobering truth about life in leadership is that we can be very busy and look very important, yet be out of touch with that place in the center of our being where we know who we are in God and what he has called us to do — that place where we are responsive to the voice of God above all others.  When this happens we are responsive to the voice of God above all others.  When this happens we are at the mercy of all manner of internal and external forces, tossed and turned by other’s expectations and our own inner compulsions.  This inner emptiness then becomes the source of frantic activity that is un-tethered from any kind of grounded-ness in God.  This is a scary place for a leader to be.

Christian leaders in particular can have a hard time distinguishing between the work we do for God and time to be with God, resting in him and enjoying his presence.  Over time Scripture can be reduced to a textbook or a tool for ministry rather than an intimate personal communication from God to us.  Prayer can become an exhausting round of different kinds of mental activity or a public display of our spiritual prowess.

(Ruth Haley Barton, "You Say You Don’t Have Time for Retreat?  Think again!")

I sensed that what I was missing was time to simply be with God.  Time to be with him when I didn’t have to be "on."  Time to be with him when I wasn’t thinking about what I needed to teach someone else.  Time to be with him to enjoy his presence.  Being with Jesus creates servants not just activity directors.  Being with Jesus creates a person who others find refreshing.  There is nothing refreshing about feeling as if you are constantly being critiqued.

Is activity important?  Of course.  There really are practical implications to being a "servant" (for all of us as Christ-followers).  Yet, this activity takes on a whole new meaning when I take the time to be with God.

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13 thoughts on “The Source of Refreshment

  1. Jim,
    A big fat, gigantic, huge AMEN!  I mentioned to the church Sunday that the first 2/3rds of my work in ministry was performance–doing.  I, too, was hollow.  But then I sought depth and came up shallow.  It’s taken the Spirit several years to get me to a place where I even begin to sense some balance.  I was shocked at how many people indicated they’d been feeling the same way.  Our doings cannot be in contrast to our innerness without either learning to fake it or eventually hitting the wall.   As Basil Pennington would say, we need "centered living."  (centered in Christ, deeply, personally, and consistently)

  2. I have heard many describe the first "doer" personality, but this is one of the first times I have heard the second "knower" personality described so well. It’s so easy to fall into one of these roles or the other. For me at times it is a challenge to even visualize the optimal  "balanced" personality… let alone be it!  But trying not to be the "doer"  or the "knower" is a good start. Thanks for that.

  3. Hi Ben,Your comment should have been a part of the post! :)You said it so well.  "I sought depth and came up shallow."  And– I like what you said regarding performance.  Eventually we end up faking it or we hit the wall.  That is so true!  

  4. Why does it take us so long? I think most of us in ministry can identify with this process … a near-life long process at that. Now that I’ve finally figured out how to avoid those potholes and have, to some extent, hit a stride in my ministry, I find my focus turning to a new profession altogether. Hopefully I’ve learned enough to short-cut the process this time around.

  5. Thanks Jim, What a great post. I especially like "Being with Jesus creates servants not just activity directors" I think there is really a profound truth within that for pastors, and aspirers like myself.
    The wisdom you display through this post really enriches my view of FT ministry, Thanks alot.

  6. Greg,I don’t know why it takes so long.  (Such a good question).  I just know that life is so messy and it seems to take us a long time to get a handle on life. (Or maybe I should say that it takes me a long time)As you say–the process certainly does seem to be "life-long." 

  7. Liam,Thanks so much for what you said.  While I have been in ministry FT for many years, I continue to learn.  I also continue to learn from someone like yourself who is much younger and who expresses  ideas in ways at time that helps me think.Thanks. 

  8. Jim, Yes. That reminds me of Mark 4 where it states the apostles were first with Jesus.
    How easy to fall into those tendencies. I’m sure I’ve been there, and can slip into them again. Though the older I get the more I just want to rest and walk in God. And just find my place. Good to think about. Thanks.