Be aware of the elasticity of your heart.
I’ve learned through hard lessons that a stretched heart never returns exactly the same.
The Bible says, “Above all else, guard your heart.” I think part of the reason is that once the heart stretches, it’s changed. Forever.
Let’s say you had a dream. You pursued it with passion. It didn’t work out. You failed. But, in the process you stretched your heart for something new. You’ll have to find yet another dream to fill the void you created by stretching.
You thought you had the job. You were beginning to get excited about it. You even looked at houses in the area. You didn’t get the job. Your heart stretched. You will have to refuel your passion where you are now or you’ll be miserable. Your heart was stretched.
You felt a call to ministry at some point in your life, but you ignored it. Or something happened. You’re not serving right now and your heart is empty. Your stretched heart has never been the same.
And, it works in other ways too. You looked at things online you shouldn’t have seen. Now you want more. And more. You can’t seem to find satisfaction. You stretched your heart.
Be aware of the elasticity of your heart.
My advice is to find something to fill the new space you have created. You can’t just “get over it”.
You have to fill the void left behind because of the stretching. That may require prayer, discipline, accountability, practice or even counseling. Maybe all of them.
But your stretched heart is too important to ignore.
“Above all else…guard your heart“. (Proverbs 4:23)
My zeal wears me out, for my enemies ignore your words. Psalm 119:139
The Psalmist who wrote this verse was excited about God! So excited, in fact, that he apparently wore himself out with service! There were so many enemies of God, that kept the Psalmist so busy! Oh that we would be found so faithful!
That reminds me…
I am marveled by ants. I know what you may be thinking, “What an awkward transition and how can anyone make a Biblical illustration with a bunch of ants?” Bear with me. Ants are fascinating.
Several years ago, when we still lived in the house where we raised our boys, if the weather was nice, I would sit on my back patio, drink my coffee, and read my Bible in the morning. For a period of months, I was captivated with a trail of ants that began on one side of my patio, and ended on the other side…a distance of about 30 feet. The ants marched in a straight line, two ants going one direction, two going the opposite direction. They were spaced no more than an ant’s distance apart from each other. All total, there were hundreds of ants on my patio at any given time.
Now, I have to be honest. When I first discovered there were ants on my patio each morning, I was not very excited. I tried spraying them with ant killer. I tried washing them away with the garden hose. I tried stomping on them. I even got creative by trying to place obstacles in their way. (Perhaps you can tell I was starting to have fun with this project.)
My attempt to rid the patio of ants went on for over a week. Guess what? THE ANTS WERE STILL THERE! Oh, they would disappear for awhile. I was very good at getting rid of them temporarily. I felt successful everytime I tried, but before I knew it, the line of ants was back again…bigger, stronger, more determined than ever. I actually decided I kinda liked those ants. They became my ants!
As I have watched the life of an ant, and spent time in my morning devotion, it occurred to me that just as they are diligent in their labor, so should I be in mine. Just as the Psalmist was diligent in serving God, I should be in my work. He pursued God’s enemies as the ants pursued my patio, as I should pursue God’s call on my life.
If I am called to serve a mighty God, I should serve Him mightily!
Even when I’m distracted.
Even when obstacles get in the way.
Even when the work is harder than I think I can do.
If I am asked to work for a God who is steadfast in His love for me, then I should work for Him steadfastly!
My ants taught me a lot about following God.
What are you learning about God these days?
While He was praying in private and His disciples were with Him, He asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am? ” They answered, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, that one of the ancient prophets has come back.” “But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that I am? ” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah! ” (Luke 9:18-20)
I am not sure Jesus cared what others were saying at this point. It was an introduction to a more important question. He was getting all the options on the table. I’m not even sure we heard all of the ones they listed.
But the real issue was, “Who do YOU say I am?”
In the end, as far as you should be concerned, that’s all that matters. Answering that question isn’t a group activity. It’s not a team consensus. It’s not subject to public opinion or popularity of the culture of the day.
But, it’s the most important question you’ll ever answer…
Who do you say the “I AM” is?
Who is Jesus to you?
I might have discovered a secret to the success of Jesus’ disciples.
And therefore my own ministry.
I never caught it until recently.
Read these verses and see if you see what I saw:
They were to wear sandals, but not put on an extra shirt.
So they went out and preached that people should repent. (Mark 6:9, 12 )
Remember what happened?
And they were driving out many demons,anointing many sick people with olive oil, and healing them. (Mark 6:13)
Did you catch what made them successful? Don’t miss it?
They wore sandals.
You get it. If I want people to respond.
If I want to see success in ministry.
If I want them to repent.
Maybe I need to wear sandals.
Maybe it’s not happening as much as I wish it would because I’m not wearing the right shoes.
I should wear sandals every Sunday morning. With my jeans or with my suit.
Sandals…the missing ingredient.
And, of course, I’m being funny. Or trying to be.
Okay, not funny, but I’m making a point.
Jesus gave very specific instructions, but they weren’t unusual to the disciples. Just specific. The people seeing the disciples wouldn’t have thought they were dressed strange either.
Jesus’ clothing instructions were within the context of the day.
It’s a reminder to me.
The way we do ministry changes. The clothes we wear. The songs we sing.
I don’t wear sandals. To preach. Catch me Monday through Saturday, or an hour after the last service, and you’ll find me in Biblical attire.
I dress in the context of the day. To the people I’m trying to reach. Styles change.
And, of course, there are other implications of this. Not just shoes. Context changes.
Here’s the point I’m making. If we are not careful, we begin to think our practices, the ones we’ve done so long, or the one we prefer, are Biblical, when really they are contextual.
And, context changes.
But the fact that people need to repent doesn’t.
And, so we minister within the context of the day, and preach truth.
Jesus modeled that for us.
If not…we’d all be wearing sandals.
(My California pastor friends are confused. You can ignore this post and enjoy your sandals.)
This was a week (again) where the news was dominated by a natural disaster. Knowing that this blog is read by many pastors and church leaders, I felt led to address the issue many of them (us) will be considering…or at least should be.
How to respond the Sunday after a disaster in the news:
This is often a delicate issue. Unless your church is super large, and probably even then, you won’t be able to respond to every disaster with money and people. Obviously there are disasters every week. Some get more national attention than others. How do you know what to address on Sunday? How do you respond as a church?
Here are some thoughts to consider:
Determine impact on the church – Consider how much this particular disaster is on the minds of the people you pastor and how long it will take to recover from this disaster. That’s not always the same. The tornadoes in Oklahoma have dominated the news. People are saying things like, “Worst I’ve ever seen.” Obviously this one has major impact on people and will be difficult to ignore.
Acknowledge the obvious – After you have discerned the magnitude of the disaster, decide what response you will make. As for this week, considering the Oklahoma tornadoes, it will be difficult not to mention it in a service. It’s on people’s minds. People almost expect you to say or do something. Again, this is not true of every disaster, but when it impacts as many people as this one does, and when the destruction is as devastating, it merits mentioning. We placed something on our website and Facebook almost immediately directing people where they can help. These are times when the church has a specific expectation and calling to respond. Sometimes it will be obvious you need to respond. At other times, follow your heart for people, but if you need confirmation or the discernment of other people, bring a small group together to help you decide if and how to respond.
Lead people to pray – The best thing we can ever do in a disaster…really anytime…is to appeal to the One who holds the answers to the struggles of life. We need to pray. We demonstrate something to people when they see and hear us pray for a situation in the news. They realize the importance of prayer. They are reminded of God’s sovereignty. When the corporate body prays together over something we’ve been thinking about all week we are able to share the burden we’ve been carrying individually. That’s being the Body.
Allow a chance to respond – Again, depending on the magnitude of the disaster, and the way it impacts the particular church where you serve, it might be necessary for you to do more than pray. Depending on the size of your church you may be able to send people (at the appropriate time), but you can always give people an opportunity to give and serve through other organizations. Many churches assume they have to coordinate their own efforts. I choose to rely on reputable groups already on the ground of the disaster with whom we can partner. It eliminates many of the administrative hurdles that get in the way of providing real help.
Preach what God has laid on your heart – I know some who alter their message after a national disaster. When a tornado hit our community, that obviously altered my Sunday message. I knew I needed to address people’s fear and provide hope. I don’t feel I need to respond that every time a disaster happens. If God has already directed my message before the disaster, I know He is sovereign enough to know the timing of the word He placed in my heart and the disaster. I usually preach the message I feel He has already been leading me to deliver. We have to help people move forward after a disaster. While we don’t ignore the pain, we can help them process the fact that there is still much life to be lived.
Have systems in place – This will happen after the Sunday, but if you don’t have them already, use times following a disaster to reevaluate your systems of response you have. If they need improving, use this as an opportunity to do so. Connect with some agencies you can partner with in future disasters. Organize teams to coordinate future efforts. Set written procedures in place that outline how and when you will respond in the future. I have even used a “decision grid” for times like these, which helps us ask questions to determine the best decision to make at the time. It is harder to think rationally when emotions are high after something is in the news all week. Most likely your response will be slightly different every disaster, but it will help make better decisions to have systems already organized.
Keep preaching hope in Jesus – Disasters aren’t going away in this world. If anything, they seem to happen more frequently. I’m not making a prophetic statement (I’m not smart enough for that), but I wouldn’t be surprised if things get worse before they get better. And, one day they will get better. Much better. Until then, we have hope in the One who is hope. Keep reminding people of that truth. We aren’t promised a trouble free world…actually opposite. We are promised we can have faith through any storm, that God is still in control.
Please understand this is an opinion post. In fact, I hope you realize this is an opinion blog. Consider the source. Be intentional. Think through your response. Shepherd the people God has entrusted to your ministry.
I realize there are many seasoned pastors who read this blog. Let us learn from you.
How do you respond following a disaster in the news?