When “This Kind” Can Only Come Out By Prayer

Here Are My Prayers

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:29)

The disciples had tried to drive out the demon. They had watched Jesus many times before. It didn’t seem at the time like something they couldn’t do. Jesus had said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can move mountains.”

Everyone was watching, too! What would they think if they weren’t able to get rid of this evil spirit? People might have thought less of them. They may have said, “You’re not really His disciples.” or “Look at you, you can’t do anything by yourself.” or “Where’s your faith?”.

Have you ever been afraid of what others would think about the amount of your faith?

So, humbly and privately they ask Jesus, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (verse 28)

Fair question, wouldn’t you agree? Why couldn’t they perform what seemed to be a simple task? Why couldn’t they do what they had been trained to do? What they had apparently already been given power to do?

“This kind”, Jesus said, “can only come out by prayer.”

Now there are plenty of commentaries on this passage, but what we can’t escape is the missing ingredient. Prayer.

I need to ask you to consider this next part of the post. The first part was about the disciples. This part is about you.

What are you trying to do today that can only happen…with success…by prayer?

Oh, you may be very spiritual. You may have great Biblical knowledge. You may even know the pastor personally. (Like that’s a big deal or something!) You may be a committed follower of Christ. You may have the “good attendance” pin. You may have a testimony. You know, the kind where everyone says “ooh” when you share it. You may be an example for others to follow. You may even give God the glory for great things He hath done!

But…you see — this kind — the kind you’re dealing with now — can only come out by prayer!

Today — whatever it is — no matter what people might think or say — turn it over to the God who loves you beyond your ability to understand! Let Him know you need Him and Him alone. Tell Him you realize that apart from Him you can do nothing!

PRAY! Pray like you’ve never prayed before.

Then get out of His way and let Him do His work!

You may now want to read THIS POST on prayer — Hezekiah’s example of effective prayer.

Is there something BIG that I can pray with you about?

7 Warning Signs It’s Time to be Intentional With Our Marriage

happy couple 2

Cheryl and I have been very intentional to protect our marriage. Every marriage bond can slip if the couple doesn’t recognize the signs of stress in the marriage and address them.

For us, we look for warning signs we need to take some extended time and invest in the marriage. That could be a long weekend or a day trip, or just a time where we turn off the television and talk. We have learned these mini-breaks from routine have helped us maintain a healthy marriage.

Here are 7 warning signs it’s time to be intentional:

When our relationship seems to be drifting further apart rather than closer together.  This is the big one for us. “The two shall become one”. Ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, how strong is your marriage? Is that higher or lower than a few months ago? If you try this exercise, both spouses should write the numbers on a piece of paper and share them with each other. One is usually more perceptive than the other. For me personally, if one person feels there’s a slippage in the marriage closeness, it’s time to take action. Be proactive rather than reactive.

When life has been routine for too long. I have personally learned in counseling and ministry that a leading cause of marriage troubles is boredom. We all get into patterns, habits and routines. That isn’t all bad, but over time and often for one spouse more than the other depending on the season, boredom can become dangerous. Occasionally we need to do something spontaneous, adventuresome or out of the norm.

When conversation becomes more tense or short-fused with each other. As a rule, we talk “nice” to each other. We believe that’s how marriages work. All of us can have a bad day, but when there are numerous bad days over an extended time we know we need a break from routine to address the marriage.

When too many nights go by without us spending quality time together. Strong relationships are built over time. This includes quality and quantity of time. We need time when we can talk deeper than “How was your day?”. When those conversations have become more rare, we have to intentionally plan them. (This was true before we became empty-nesters also.)

When we have pressing issues we need to discuss, but haven’t found time to have a serious talk. That could be about finances or health, the children, our marriage, or some future hope and dream. When something is on one of our minds long enough,we often have to invest extra time to address it.

When either of us is at a point of “stress overload” for an extended period of time. This is usually work involved, but may be due to a health situation for one of us or even situations involving our extended family. When our boys were still at home, it often involved something in their life. We have learned that stress on one of us — or both of us — as individuals will always impact us as a couple.

When one of us sense in our spirit that we need to “Get away!” We are both believers — spiritual people who have a relationship with God. It could be that there has been a weakening in our individual spiritual lives that is causing tension in our marriage. When one of us senses that we just need some intentional time together, we take that seriously.

The bottom line for our marriage is that God has called us to invest in the lives of other people. We know we can’t continue to pour into others until Cheryl and I pour into each other and allow God to pour into us. That takes intentionality. Plus, we both know, from experience, that the enemy is always looking for holes in our marriage. We must guard our hearts and our marriage.

Now here are a few disclaimers.

All of these may not apply to your marriage. You may both love routine. I would want to make sure you both do as much as you think both of you do — as in you – the one reading this. However, that may not be an issue for you like it is for us. And, you may have other warning signs unique to your marriage.

You’re marriage may need more intentionality than I’m suggesting here. This is more about maintenance for a good marriage. If you’re beyond that, get help. A good marriage is attainable when two people are willing.

Also, we don’t have children at home anymore. That gives us some unique advantages. We have learned we tend to fill our time either way — with children in the house or not — but the point is clear we can be more flexible if we need to be. (It’s a good season.)

I also should point out that being intentional doesn’t mean you have to “break the bank” to do so. Some will pushback that they can’t afford to travel out of town for the weekend or that they can’t afford childcare. I understand. So, find other ways to be intentional. You could trade time with another couple where they watch your children one day and you watch their children another. The key is to break the routine to address the marriage — not to spend extra money.

Finally, I realize this is especially difficult for marriages that are apart frequently, mostly because of work. I spent most of my life in a military town where this type post is much more difficult to apply. Most of us can make the extra effort to invest in our marriage if we choose to do so. For those with unique situations, I admit you’ll have to be even more creative. Even if, however, your intentional time together is via Skype – it would be better than allowing the marriage to drift apart.

What are some warning signs you need to be more intentional with your marriage? Are you there now?

One Way to See a Successful Change

Chalkboard with text Changes

Here is one key to successful change. 

Try replacing one something with one something else.

The problem with change is that people fear losing something they’ve grown to value…something they’ve grown comfortable with in their life…something they love. 

One key to successful change is to replace the thing your changing with something they’ll love even more.

You can’t do it everytime. Sometimes you just have to let things go. And, even with this change is never easy. But, when possible, give them something better rather than nothing at all. You’ll help them better embrace the change long-term and help build a culture more conducive to change.

Try it. 

7 Simple Ideas to Strengthen Your Marriage

man woman talking

I’ve shared recently about ways we injure our spouse without even knowing it. You can read the husband’s post HERE and the wife’s post HERE.

A common request after those posts is that I should share ways to strengthen the marriage. I should note that I’m hesitant to offer what appears to be therapy by list, because a good marriage is far more than a formula. Actually, all of life is, including leadership. Any area of our life where people are involved — which is pretty much all our life — can never be reduced to 7 steps or 7 suggestions. Plus, just being honest, it’s always easier to point out the problems than to fix them.

So, you’re naturally wondering, why I share so many lists. I’ve been called the “list king”.

Well, for one, that’s the way I think. I also know, however, that one reason some enjoy my blog posts is that I give lists which people can easily identify with and apply to their own life. finally, lists can be effective. I may post more about this idea later, but I don’t believe we can always determine outcomes, but we can often determine the things that stimulate or encourage outcomes. (Again, I may post more about that later.)

Basically, using that idea, I can’t force my marriage to be better. I also can’t change my wife. (Not that she needs changing — but for discussion purposes.) But, there are things I can do which can help my marriage improve, and often those things don’t start with my spouse — they start with me — they start with things I do or we do together.

One suggestion someone offered as a way to improve a marriage is to consider the opposite of the ways we injure our spouse. Just take the 7 points in each of the above referenced posts and do the opposite of them. That’s good, but I thought I would add some more. Another list of stimulants.

Do you want to strengthen your marriage? No, there’s not a formula. But, maybe some of these ideas can help.

Here are 7 simple things you can do to strengthen your marriage:

Share calendars – It seems simple, but it gives Cheryl great comfort to be able to follow my schedule throughout the day. I know many spouses, probably especially some men I know, reject this idea as too intrusive, but for us, it has strengthened our relationship. Cheryl knows who I’m meeting with, what the key stresses of my day are, and usually what time I should be home so we can eat together. (Or if we have dinner plans.) She loves living life with me. For most wives, they go through their day thinking about the people they love. (Not that men don’t, but it’s different for most of us. We tend to think only about the thing we are concentrating on at the time, whether that’s work, our hobby or our family.) By sharing a calendar there are fewer surprises for Cheryl (and me). Sure, everyday is full of things we didn’t plan, and we can spend the evening talking about those, but it helps us feel a part of each other’s day when we have a general idea of what we are doing.

One tip: Spend 30 minutes today sharing each other’s calendars for the next month.

Plan regular escapes together – Periodically we place an escape on the calendar for a few weeks or a couple months from today. We both live stressful lives and our best times are often when we purposely get away from everything and everyone. It could be for a day trip or a couple days, but we need to know the “catch up” time is coming. The more stressful the season the more this is needed.

One tip: Look a couple months out and plan an escape. Put it on the calendar you now share. Do it today.

Have a date a week – At least once a week we need time for just us. Every week. Even as empty-nesters we’ve learned how critical this is for our marriage. We have a tendency to fill our schedules with lots of activities and we need some time to slow down. This goes on our calendar. Every week.

One tip: Find one night (or one day) and put it on your calendar for the next couple months — until it becomes a habit. Then keep it there.

Increase communication – Cheryl and I can usually tell when we haven’t been communicating enough. We start to miss details about each other’s lives. We have to repeat ourselves to each other. It’s usually when one or both of us has the heaviest agendas and we are running at full speed. It’s easy to get into routines and have surface conversations. In times like this, we will often discipline ourselves to take a walk together, go for a drive, or even go to the mall together. It takes us away from the routines, phones and television and forces us to simply be together — and talk. Communication is the fuel of a healthy marriage.

One tip: Tonight — put your phones down, close the laptop, cut off the television, and for at least 30 minutes, talk. Bonus health points to take a walk together. (If you’re old enough — like us — you can even power walk the mall. :) )

Communicate better – It’s not enough to spend time talking. We’ve got to learn to communicate more effectively. We all need to practice our listening skills and the gestures and body language we use. Often these are heard louder than our words. If you become as conscious of how you are saying something as much as what you say, you’ll find yourself injuring the other person less and causing fewer conflicts. It’s important to ask each other questions that spur deeper discussion and get to the heart of an issue rather than surface talk.

One tip: Come up with a series of open-ended questions, 3 to 5 total, of things you’re curious about your spouse. (Such as: What’s your favorite memory of our first few dates together? Be creative.)

Spend some time dreaming – Dreaming stretches the heart and mind and there’s no one we should dream with more than our spouse.

One tip: Make a dream grid for each of you and for the couple. It can be one grid combined if you prefer. For each spouse and for the marriage, list 2 or 3 dreams you have. If there were no limitations, what would you like to do? Where would you like to go? Who would you like to meet? Place this somewhere in your house you’ll see often.

Pray for one another – Did I really have to list this one? But, would you be honest enough to admit almost all of us are weak in the area of prayer at times? And, who more important to pray for than the one with whom we are to be becoming one?

One tip: Buy a notebook of some kind and make it a prayer booklet. List new prayer requests and update old ones at least weekly.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. You’ve got ideas. Remember, none of these are fool proof. There’s no secret formula to a good marriage. It takes commitment, intentionality and hard work. And two people. But, two people working together can take actions that can spur a healthier marriage.

What tips to you have to strengthen a marriage?

Read THIS POST on some cheap date ideas.

12 Common Mistakes in Ministry Leadership

Erasing Oops !

I had the occasion over a couple months to ask some senior people in ministry the same question. Some were long retired. Others had 30, 40 even 50 years experience, but are still serving today. All would be considered to have finished — or be finishing — well.

Here was was the primary question:

Looking back, what were some of the biggest mistakes you made in ministry?

If you had it to do over — or you were advising me and others — what advice would you give?

The answers were so similar. I found myself putting check marks beside some of them. The wisdom was timeless. Even profound. Yet simple.

Here are 12 common mistakes in ministry leadership:

Failing to delegate.

Not seeing beyond yesterday or today.

Ignoring the real problems.

Refusing help when I needed it the most.

Not protecting my family enough and/or not continuing to date my wife.

Sacrificing my personal time with Jesus for my working for Jesus.

Celebrating only the spectacular.

Pretending everything is amazing.

Dreaming small dreams…or having no dreams at all.

Creating poor systems or having no systems at all.

Having too much structure or not having enough structure.

Not being vulnerable enough to a few close friends.

It was amazing to me how many of these are themes I consistently write about today. There is truly “nothing new under the son”. It was also encouraging what you can learn if you’re simply willing to ask. I’ve been a wisdom seeker all my life and I highly recommend it. Feel free to try this experiment at home with more senior ministers you know.

Of course, all of these have a story associated with them — as all good principles do. You could share your own. In fact, why don’t you?

What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made — or are making — in ministry?

How a Man After God’s Own Heart Responds to Naysayers

charge

Those who seek my life lay their snares;

those who seek my hurt speak of ruin

and meditate treachery all day long.

But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,

like a mute man who does not open his mouth.

I have become like a man who does not hear,

and in whose mouth are no rebukes.

But for you, O Lord, do I wait;

it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.

Psalm 38:12-15

Contrary to some leader’s advice, I listen to critics. I understand we have to lead with those who believe in the vision, but I always feel I can learn from everyone — even those who disagree with me. I allow those I’m supposed to lead to cast objections to my plans and open myself up for correction — and yes, sometimes it hurts.

King David seemed to lead this way. We see several instances in his life where he was open to correction and criticism. He allowed those he was leading to speak into the situation and challenge his plan in 1 Samuel 23. Totally rare in those days. In 2 Samuel 16, David appears to take being cursed by another man, a man named Shimei, like a man — like a man after God’s own heart. Kings in those days — especially with the power of David — didn’t have to allow others to correct them — especially not with such violent accusations.

As a leader, David did not shelter himself from criticism or correction.

But, there’s a reality in leadership we can’t ignore. David, a “man after God’s own heart”, must have understood it.

Leader, you will never make everyone happy.

Some of us will try. Some of us take it personal when everyone isn’t happy with us. Some of us dislike conflict more than others.

But, the truth is, some people will always disagree with the decisions you make, because they disagree with you. They can’t buy into your vision, because they haven’t bought into you as the leader. That’s natural. It’s normal. It was even true for Christ in His leadership.

We should be open to input of others — even negative input. We should build collaboration as much as possible. We should do all we can to bring people along. We should make sure what we are doing is honorable.

But, at some point we move forward. And turn a deaf ear to the naysayers.

Because — in the end, David was leading for an audience of one. That’s how a man (or woman) after God’s own heart leads.

Thank you David for that gentle reminder.

We need it. Often.

7 Ways to Make Bad Decisions

hiding mistakes

I’ve made lots of bad decisions in my life. That includes my time in leadership — both in business and ministry, but I’ve also made plenty of bad decisions in family and personal situations. None of us set out to make bad decisions, but sometimes the way we make them can significantly increase or decrease the chance the quality of our decisions.

Granted, I’ve learned from every bad decision I’ve made. And, I’ve even repeated a few of them a few times — and still learned something. But, as much as I can, I want to make better decisions — the first time.

In my experience, there are a few common factors that lead to me making a bad decision.

Here are 7 ways to make bad decisions:

Make them too fast – I’ve learned that haste does indeed make waste. I make lots of decisions each day. I would be a poor leader if I couldn’t make most of them quickly. I’d always be stalled from my potential. When the potential outcome is significant, however, the more time I can give to it the less likely I am to make a mistake — certainly the ones that could have been avoided with more thought. Learning when to wait, seek God, the counsel of others and for better personal discernment is part of maturing, but can help us avoid some of the more costly bad decisions.

Make them too slow – Equally true, there are times when a fast decision is easy; even prudent. If I know the right answer — if it has a Biblical basis, for example, or my conscience is clearly convicted — but it is simply hard to implement, I’ve learned that waiting seldom makes the decision easier and often only complicates the process. I’m more likely to make a bad decision the longer I wait.

Make them to keep people happy – The right decision is seldom the popular decision. People pleasing as a decision motivator rarely accomplishes matters of worth. It often makes the worst decision of the options available.

Make them when angry – I don’t know about you, but I don’t think clearly when my emotions get in the way. If I’m angry — or emotional in any other way — I tend to overreact or under react. Emotionally based decisions, especially immediate decisions, are often ones I tend to regret later.

Make them alone – “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22) A part of leadership involves standing alone at times, but rarely are we really alone. We should always walk in the counsel of God’s Spirit, and, in my experience, even when I have to make the decision seemingly alone — if I’m making wise decisions — it’s not really that I’m alone. I’m just ahead of where others know we need to go, but haven’t yet been willing to go. Building a collaborative environment as much as possible helps me avoid bad decisions.

Make them reactionary – Ultimately we want to work from a plan. We want to make decisions before the decision is needed. We want proactive decision-making. That’s obviously not always possible, but in my experience, I’m more likely to make a bad decision when I’m reacting to a situation, rather than having thought about the scenario and my response beforehand.

Make them out of fear – We are called to walk by faith, yet fear is often a more powerful initiator. But, I’ve learned, when I decide because I’m afraid to — or not to — do something, I almost always make a mistake. Following my faith gut, even when afraid, is part of leadership. And, part of life.

I’m sure there are many other ways to make a bad decision. These are some of my personal examples.

Which of these get in your way the most in making good decisions?

What are some ways you end up making bad decisions?

5 Thing I Have To Do, But Don’t Like Doing…as a Leader

leadership

A friend asked me once to name the things I do as a leader because I have to do, but don’t necessarily like to do. He even had a term for it. He called it the “underbelly of leadership”.

It was a great question, so I decided to share my answer here.

Here are 5 things I have to do as a leader, but don’t always like to do:

Managing – I much prefer leading a vision to managing the process of accomplishing the vision. I love big pictures, but stress over details. Part of my role, however, as a leader is to insure that the vision is actually accomplished and not simply painted. Many start. Few finish. Leading often starts very well. Managing effectively gets it done.

Correcting – I would rather receive the “Best Boss” award by being “Mr. Nice Guy”. Part of the leader’s responsibility, however, is to offer constructive criticism — and sometimes correction — so that the team gets better and the organization continues to improve.

Waiting – I know patience is a fruit of the Spirit, but it is the fruit I struggle with the most. I want accomplishment and I want it quick. I have to recognize, however, that fast is not always best and that others on my team are wired differently from me for a reason. They balance me well.

Submitting – I would rather have it my way. (Did I just admit that?) The fact is, however, there are smarter people than me on our staff about some issues and if things are only done my way we will be limited to my strength and not the strength of the team.

Failing – I like to win. I want success and progress. It is how I am wired and the desire for a win keeps me focused on accomplishing the vision through strategy and diligence. The fact remains, however, that some of my greatest growth times in life and leadership have come through times of failure. I have to allow failure in my life and in the life of our team and help us to learn ways to improve through failing.

Leaders, how would you answer the question?

What do you do because you have to do it, not necessarily because you want like to do it?

Are you a People Pleasing Pastor with your Board?

Handshake - extraversio

This is a guest post by my pastor friend Charles Stone. Charles is lead pastor of West Park Church in London, Ontario, Canada. His recent book People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership is a must read for pastors struggling with this issue or who want to lead growing churches.

Are you a People Pleasing Pastor with your Board?

Skinny, nerdy, and lacking much athletic ability, I grew up trying to get people to like me. Although I didn’t compromise my Christian values to gain popularity, I used other techniques to gain approval. Those techniques included profusely offering compliments to others, smiling a lot, and avoiding ruffled feathers. Slowly I developed people pleaser tendencies that followed me into ministry. Several years ago after I realized that I was becoming a people pleasing pastor, I began to change how I relate to my board that I’ve described below. Although I’ve made progress, I’m still in recovery.

For my just released book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I researched over 2,000 pastors and saw myself reflected in many of their stories. In one phase of on-line research pastors could anonymously record their pleaser stories. I gathered over 100 single spaced pages of stories, many of them heartbreakers. Here’s one pastor’s story that struck a chord in me.

For the first three years after coming to First Church, in the fall I would bring a list of recommended goals for the coming year for the church board to consider adopting for the church.  The third year I did it, the board asked me to discontinue this practice as they did not want the church to be a “pastor-driven” church.  They stated that someone other than the pastor should drive the goal-setting process.  This was a hard blow for me as I saw it as a rejection of me as their leader.  They wanted me to be their chaplain, but not their leader.  I honored their request and stopped bringing recommended goals to the church board.  However, I never really got over that experience and I have remained fearful about trying to take an active leadership role with the board ever since.  Perhaps this is part of the reason why I feel bored here and want to move on, but have no idea where to go next.

I felt the pain of this pastor because I’ve been tempted at times to replace my leadership role as a pastor with people pleasing. However, at my new church in London, Ontario, I have an excellent relationship with the board that I attribute to these new behaviors. I feel like I am fully free to lead yet not people please.

1. I listen a lot. I don’t assume I know it all. Having moved from the U.S. to Canada, I not only am having to adjust to a new church, but to a new culture as well. I’ve adopted a posture of listening and learning and in the first 60 days I’ve met with over 100 people in various venues simply to listen. The word has gotten out that I really want to listen. It has given me solid credibility with the church.

2. I over-communicate. Each week I send our board a quick summary of my week’s activities and learnings. I’ve also added a new feature in our weekly Sunday bulletin called, “Where’s Waldo (a.k.a. Charles).” In a paragraph I share a synopsis of what I did the week prior. An 80 year old church member told me that she enjoys reading what I’ve been doing. She said she never knew what a pastor did during the week.

3. I’ve become intensively collaborative. Many U.S. pastors have come to Canada and have failed because they’ve assumed a very dominant top down leadership style. It does not work in Canada (and probably not as well in the U.S. as it once did). I’ve  enjoyed listening to other’s ideas and incorporating their suggestions into my leadership. I’m not people pleasing in doing so. Rather, I’m honoring how the body of Christ should work together.

I still have a ways to go in my people pleaser recovery. But I’m making good progress and enjoying the journey.

What have you discovered that has helped you avoid people pleasing tendencies?

Related posts:

Are You a Pleaser Leader? Take this quiz and find out.

How Prevalent are People Pleasing Pastors?

Watch a promo video for the book here:

People Pleasing Pastor: Book Promo from Charles Stone on Vimeo.