7 Reactions to Grief Which May Surprise You

Over the years I’ve walked with dozens of people through the stages of grief. Grieving is mostly associated with loss – it could be the loss of a job, a relationship, or even a life. Whenever we lose something we value we grieve. It’s natural, healthy, and expected.

I have learned no two people grieve exactly the same way. For me, for example, I’m often a delayed griever. I may not even cry at the immediate loss of a loved one, but in the days to come – as I process the loss – tears may flow at seemingly random times.

There are no rules of how to grieve. The only encouragement I give is to grieve with an end in mind. Grief should ultimately lead us to a deeper trust in God as we seek Him for comfort in our grief. But, the way you grieve will be different than the way I grieve.

I’ve also discovered there are reactions to grief which often surprise people about themselves. I’ve spoken with parents who see their children experience significant grief for the first time – and they are surprised by their actions. We really don’t know how we will respond in grief until we are placed in the position of deep sorrow. This is especially true the younger people are and the less experience they have with grief.

And, there are certain reactions to grief which we simply don’t expect. Everyone expects sadness, for example. But, some of the other emotions may catch us by surprise. That’s what this post is about.

Here are 7 parts of grief we don’t always expect:

Regret. You wish you to spent more time with the people you lost. Or done things differently when the business fails. You think of things you should’ve said you didn’t say.

At some point you must reconcile the regrets with truth. Time has past. There is nothing you can do to go back in time. “Back to the Future” was a movie, not reality, which is why Cher sang “If I Could Turn Back Time”. One of my lifetime and favorite verses is Ecclesiastes 11:3, “Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie.” The past is the past. How are you going to be in the future? There’s a valid question to work towards in grief.

Anger. At God. At other people – even unrational anger. Even at the person you lost.

I’ve known people who hold on to anger for years. It makes them miserable and everyone around them miserable. They held to a part of grief – a very natural part – but, never reconciled their pain to God. In time, the goal should be to leave all hurt at the foot of the Cross, allowing God to soften even the most angry heart.

Confusion. You can be the most together person ever and you may still struggle to understand life when wrestling through grief.

During the immediate days of grief a person should be slow to make decisions which have long-term consequences. Allow people you trust – maybe even a counselor – to help you make sense of life for a while. In time, and with God’s help, life will become clearer again.

Frustration. It seems as those some people simply don’t understand. They don’t say the right thing. They don’t come through as they’re supposed to. You can become frustrated at close family members, extended relatives, friends, even the church.

The truth, as I’ve discovered, is sometimes people don’t know how to respond. Plus, in time of grief we might have unrealistic expectations of others. We can forget others have their own issues they are working through in life. Life keeps moving, although for you it might seem the earth has stopped turning.

Comparison. When you are suffering it may seem no one has ever suffered as much as you are. And, they don’t understand the level of your pain. This is natural also in the early days of grief, but if left there we can almost respond to others unfairly, ignoring pain in their own life. It isn’t usually true we suffer alone – everyone has pain in their life, but grief is full of lots of unexpected emotions.

Actually, there can be a healthy side of comparison if we use it with the right intent. One thing I like to do as a pastor is connect those in grief with someone who has experienced a similar loss, but is further along in the process. Grief support groups can be helpful for this. In time it may be comforting to know there are those who do understand. I think this is part of what Galatians 6:2 means when it commands, “Share each other’s burdens”.

Doubt. The most faithful person can develop deep questions of personal faith. They may wonder where God is – why He allowed what He did. God is always trustworthy and always good, but our emotions can can cause us to believe otherwise in times of grief.

This one may require the assistance of others, but certainly involves saturating our hearts and minds with truth. I find the Psalms especially helpful in these moments. I love the truth of Psalm 56:8, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” God truly does care.

Disillusion. I’ve witnessed people in grief transfer some of their emotions into other aspects of their life. They may develop distrust of people they previously trusted. The point here is we transfer emotions – and because emotions can be unpredictable – we don’t always transfer them well.

Here is another one where it is helpful to have someone who can walk through these days of grief with us. A trusted friend is so important – someone who knows us well enough to encourage us – even challenge us when we prolonged too long in irrational thought.  Grief may lead us to be more wise in our discernment, but it shouldn’t lead us to a place of paralyzation to enjoying life in the future. Ultimately, even the deepest pain should guide us to a place of hope and joy. James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”

I think it’s helpful to know these may be reactions to grief. If you are experiencing some of these, you might consider whether they are an expression of grief.

Any you would add from your experience?

5 Helpful Questions When Attempting  to Discern God’s Will

When options are plentiful

I am often asked how to know if the plans we make are God’s will for our life. I’m not referring to which cereal to have for breakfast. For the most part I think God would simply say choose your favorite (and, like a good parent, try to steer you to a healthier option). I’m talking about those life-altering decisions, such as career choice, relationships, or decisions requiring huge steps of faith.

Most of us want to do God’s will, and yet, as I view Scripture, God seems to give us a tremendous amount of freedom to choose the paths in our life. If you’re like me, you’re fully capable of making a mistake. I’ve made many doing things my own way.

It seems easier for me when I have some sort of structure through which to process a decision. Years ago I began to ask myself questions when facing major options in my life.

Here are 5 helpful questions I often ask myself to help discern God’s will:

Does what I’m doing (or planning to do) conflict with Scripture?

Always start here, because God’s Word will never contradict what He’s asking you to do. God is always true to Himself and His Word is always true and relevant. We may differ in interpretation of a passage, but if it’s clearly spelled out in Scripture, then we clearly know His will.

Does what I am doing conflict with the counsel of others?

God uses others to confirm His will. I am thankful for the people in my life, including my wife and sons, who have helped shaped the path of my life. Often they see things I can’t see or believe in me when I can’t believe in myself. God sends the body of Christ to encourage, challenge and strengthen the body. (Don’t be confused, however, with times God calls us to go against the grain of life and walk by faith when everyone is saying we are crazy. See Noah for an example of one of those times.)

Does what I am doing conflict with the spirit within me?

God sent the Holy Spirit as a helper. He guides us with an inner peace or a holy unrest. If Christ is in you, He will not leave you to make a decision completely alone. Often God provides a peace or a lack thereof when He is trying to confirm His will.

Does what I am doing conflict with my life experience?

God uses our experiences in life to teach and mold us to His will. Often it isn’t as unusual of a path when we look back over our life experiences. Again, don’t be confused, because He usually stretches us out of our comfort zone also, but consider the life of Joseph. God continually used his past experiences to shape his future.

Does what I am doing conflict with my passion for life?

God tends to work with the things which fuel our fire. He loves when we are energized for the tasks He calls us to. When I look at Bible characters like Abraham, David, Peter or Paul it appears their calling matched their wiring. Paul was zealous for whatever he did. God used his passion for good. What’s your greatest passion? God may work within it to confirm His will.

Try those questions together and see how they line up to help discern God’s will as it relates with your the options before you.

I should encourage you in closing with this – I fully believe God works all things for good even when we miss His will in individual decisions. You can make a bad decision, but God retains the right to finish your story His way. Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

You may want to read 7 Ways to Distinguish God’s Voice from the Circumstances of Life

I Am a Pastor – And, I May Be Suffering From Burnout

What Now?

Pastor burnout is a common problem in the church today. I hear from pastors on a regular basis facing the stress of ministry. 

Here’s a common scenario, which can cause burnout to happen. These may be some of the more common ones I hear. Perhaps this is your story.

  • The church gets to a certain level.
  • Things start to slow down.
  • The church stops growing.
  • Maybe even slides backwards for a while.
  • Money becomes tighter.
  • People are complaining more.
  • Everyone is asking the pastor “What’s next?” “What do we do now?”
  • You’ve done everything you know how to do.
  • You feel stuck – trapped – afraid – paralyzed – confused – overwhelmed.

And, this is just one scenario. There are so many others. It could be the church is still growing – even rapidly, but the pastor is doing more now than previously. There never seems to be an end to the growth. People are demanding more and more from the pastor – there’s pressure to continue the increases – but, it feels like life is always going to be running out of control.

Pick your own scenario, but I know this – if not careful, the stress will quickly cause the pastor to:

  • Become more sensitive to criticism and stress.
  • Stop reading and learning techniques and strategies.
  • Quit taking risks – for fear of messing something up.
  • Become protective – maybe even isolated from others.
  • Develop excuses for every challenge.
  • Respond defensively to every challenge.
  • Begin to question your abilities.
  • Work harder, but not smarter.

No doubt, even if only a few of these are true, these are impacting every area of your life – including your family. 

If this is your story, I have a few words of encouragement:

  • Get help now. It might be professional help or not, but ask for help today!  You wouldn’t encourage the people you lead to do life alone – so why is it a good idea for you?
  • Surround yourself with people. Not the opposite, which can be a usual response to times like this – especially it seems by pastors.  Find people who love you – they are there if you look.
  • Find your center of gravity again. (Most likely this is Christ, right?)
  • Get back to the truth you already know.  You may start by reading 1 Kings 19 for another time one of God’s servants fell on difficult times. Read the Psalms. 
  • Renew the passion for your vision. God called you to something. He never said it would be easy. God-given dreams rarely are. Let whatever fuels you most fuel you again. This may mean you have to stop doing a lot of other things – even things people expect you to do – so you can better concentrate on what God called you to do. And, I assure you it wasn’t to please everyone. Plus, some of the stuff you are doing someone else probably needs to be – it’s could even be what God has gifted them to uniquely do. 
  • Start doing something towards a goal.  Inactivity never solved anything. you may need to rest – I’ll cover that too, but you may need to see progress towards something new to refuel your tank. Again, this doesn’t mean doing more. It means doing something better with your time – and trusting others with some of the things you’ve been doing. It means getting better as a leader – a Jethro counseled Moses type of leader. An Acts 6 type of leader. 
  • Look for some small wins.  It will help rebuild your confidence.
  • Stay faithful in the small things. Those disciplines you once had – such as reading your Bible everyday – but, you may have gotten distracted from them – they are even more important now. 
  • Discipline your Sabbath. This is huge! God didn’t give this command for seasons when everything was “caught up” and there were no more immediate demands. Those days never come! God knew what He was doing when He commanded a regular Sabbath – and, when He demonstrated it for us in His Creation. So, certainly a day a week, but if you need more it would be better to quit for a quarter than be out for the rest of the game.

Thanks for serving – even when the serving gets difficult. I am praying for you.

(You can make this post better if you share resources you know of to support pastors who may be facing burnout.)

 

Habakkuk, Chapter 1

A message for our time too?

We don’t know a lot about Habakkuk, but we do know about the day in which he lived. It was a day where the world was increasingly growing darker. There was injustice, immorality, violence and corruption.

Almost like our day. Almost like sitting with a bowl of stale popcorn and watching CNN or Fox News all day, everyday.

Habakkuk is the story of a man who trusted God, yet was very perplexed. He wasn’t happy about all he was seeing. Habakkuk was a bold prophet – and, so he presented his plea to God.

Habakkuk Chapter 1 from ron edmondson on Vimeo.

5 Tips for Amateur Prayers

People like me

Lord, teach us to pray… (Luke 11:1)

I don’t know about you, but I often feel like the disciples. I am still learning to pray. The fact is I have more knowledge of prayer than I have substance and practice of prayer.

Just being honest. But, I do have some suggestions.

Here are 5 suggestions for amateur prayers – like me:

Be respectful

You’re talking to the Creator, God. He is worthy of all our praise. He’s the Holy Father. He puts stars in the sky. At the same time, He paints the belly of a Lady Bug. Never take for granted the privilege of prayer.

Be yourself

Along with being respectful, it is important to be who you are. Don’t attempt to make your words pretty as much as you attempt to make your heart pure. Just as you want your children to be respectful, yet still be themselves, I am convinced God wants that for His children. We are told to call Him “Daddy” (Abba). He wants us to fall in the comfy chair of home in His presence.

Be honest

God knows already, yet He loves to hear His children talk – just like we do as parents. He wants to know what’s on our mind. We can tell Him if we are angry and still be respectful. Speak truthful when talking to God.

Be open to His voice

Spend intentional time listening – with your Bible open. God most often speaks through the already written Word. But He also speaks through the still small voice like the gentle breeze. Over time, and with lots of practice, you’ll begin to know and hear His voice.

Be consistent

Pray as much as you want and need God’s involvement in your life. How much is that? For me, it’s fairly constant. I pray far less than the need I have for Him. Have a daily routine. Start a prayer list. Do it daily – but mostly, do it as a part of lifestyle more than a part of routine. Prayer is part of a relationship.

And He’s always with you, so take advantage of the closeness you can have through Christ. If you’re sitting at a stop light – pray. If you think of a friend – pray. If you begin to worry – pray. It can be a paragraph, sentence or a couple words. (I’ve prayed “Help me God!” many times.)

Don’t overcomplicate it. Just pray. Talk to God. What a privilege I can encourage you in this way. (Hebrews 4:16)

Of course, all this begins with a belief in Christ as your Savior. This is what makes you His child – a family member. Prayer is ultimately part of a relationship. If you’ve never believed in the One whom lived, died and rose again three days later – begin there. He loves you – just as you are now – and wants you to know Him!

7 Vital Components Needed for Church Revitalization to be Effective

It has been four years since I entered church revitalization after two church plants. I had done something similar previously in ministry. My first church after entering vocational ministry needed revitalization.

I fell in love with the energy of starting something new in church planting. At the same time, I continued to be concerned for churches like the one in which I was raised – the church which has seen better days. I became more convinced we need new energy in both.

This experience of church revitalization has given me the tremendous blessing and opportunity, fueled by this blog platform, to speak not only to church planters (who I still love by the way), but also those who are attempting church revitalization. In the process, of these four years I have learning some things – lots of things.

There appear to be some vital elements for a healthy revitalization to occur.

Granted, the Holy Spirit must show up and God must be glorified. And, we know this can happen with a room of donkeys, but in general terms, working with normal church people (whatever normal means in church work) there are components, which I believe need to be in place to see a church revitalize.

Here are 7 vital components in church revitalization:

Admitting you need to revitalize

This is hard, isn’t it? I remember shortly after I arrived a senior member of our church visited another church which had undergone revitalization. She saw the excitement and came back with a new understanding. Her comment to one of our staff members was, “We have to change some things, don’t we? We don’t have a choice!” The church as a whole must come to this level of understanding.

Letting go of right to control

This is what makes or breaks revitalization in many churches. If the “No Change Allowed” sign is hung – or even the “but not that change” – on issues which aren’t even Biblical, then revitalizing the church will be very difficult.

A vision of something better

What’s next for this church? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? There must be a compelling vision, such as loving a community for Christ and clear avenues for people to be involved in reaching the vision.

A history worth revitalizing

This will be the toughest part of this post. There are some toxic churches which seem to have never been healthy. They’ve run off every pastor they’ve called. Many of these churches wouldn’t follow Jesus well either. They are stuck in systems and personal agendas – usually run by a few people – and aren’t going to budge. (I realize this is a cruel statement, but it is sadly a very repeated reality.)

Leadership willing to lead change

This is more than the pastor. In many cases, the pastor is only the figure head of vision and change. Change is hard. It requires trusted leaders within the church willing to step up and lead along side the pastor. There is a difference in trust and popularity as a leader. Sometimes the pastor may be popular, but hasn’t earned the level of trust longer term members have. The pastor needs these people to help guide change. Collective leadership is so important – always – but, especially in the early days of revitalization.

The tenacity to weather storms

It won’t be easy. It’s far easier to start something than to try to grow again after a period of decline. The longer the decline the longer it will take to see revitalization. Some pastors, leaders and churches have the patience. Some don’t.

A few committed people

You need some people already established in the church – not just leadership – who love the church more than their personal agenda. These might be leaders or might not. Many times newer people attracted during times of change don’t have the roots or credibility to do this. As great as they are – and even with them as a primary focus – the church needs longer term people to embrace a new future. These people have to support the pastor, speak up for the changes and create an atmosphere conducive for growth again.

Well, those are my candid observations. They aren’t based solely on opinion, but they certainly aren’t a product of extensive research either. They are derived from my experience and hundreds of conversations with other pastors and my own personal experience.

Here’s to revitalizing the church to the glory of God!

7 Words of Encouragement to the Pastor Busted by Perry Noble

I have a heart for hurting pastors. Several years ago I bought the domain name HurtingPastors.com, but have yet to do anything with it. My schedule hasn’t allowed the time, but my heart for pastors in trouble has continued to grow stronger. Over the years, and in a few different churches, we have been blessed to have some of the pastors in between ministries, or who have dropped out of ministry, attend our church while they recover.

So recently when another mega church pastor hit the news for having been removed from the pastorate my heart went out to him. And, there have been so many others in recent years. It breaks my heart, because I believe it surely must break the heart of God. And, gives the enemy a (temporary) laugh. 

But, my heart, as much as it goes out to the ones we’ve known, goes out equally to the ones we don’t. Surely all pastors are under temptation. Some more than others on any given day. 

So, I have a question. It won’t be for all my readers today, but I hope it reaches the one who needs it most – whoever you are. 

Here is my question: 

While the Christian world was buzzing a few weeks ago about pastor Perry Noble – were you sweating profusely thinking – “Wow! It could have been me!”? 

Perry was busted. Bloggers and Christian news agencies were scrambling to get a post up about his dismissal from the church due to struggles with alcoholism. Thankfully, most of the posts I read were encouraging of grace. The responses I have seen from Perry have been remorseful and, honestly, helpful to Newspring and the Body of Christ in dealing with yet another fallen pastor story. He admitted his wrong, asked forgiveness, agreed with the decision of church elders and encouraged people to continue attending and supporting the leadership of the church.

By all appearances we didn’t shoot our wounded too badly this time. Good job, church. 

(Honestly, this is one of the reasons I usually choose not to post on these stories – and, why I waited on this one. I don’t want to appear to capitalize on the downfall of one of our own.)

But, my heart goes out to the other group I mentioned. I’m not ignoring Perry. I certainly pray the best for him. I have met him a couple times, and although we are not personal friends, I would certainly help him any way I could to seek restoration. 

I just got the feeling Perry’s story probably had a far reaching impact – well beyond Perry and the Newspring family.

Because Perry was such a public figure – because his sins were made widely known – because he was removed in such a public way – there were countless others who could have been – but weren’t. The story could have easily been about you. This time it wasn’t.

Perry was busted. And, for now, there are other pastors still able to hide their sins.

Those are the ones to whom I am writing. If reading of Perry’s downfall caused you to cringe a little – if conviction began to rise in you and you felt a sweltering of guilt in your gut – this post is for you! 

If you have hidden sins of alcoholism, drugs, pornography – maybe even an affair – I want to say a word to you. If you’re caught in depression – or emotionally you are about to crash – if the weight and the secrecy of your sin is overbearing – will you keep reading? 

Here are 7 words of encouragement to the pastor who got busted by Perry Noble:

Jesus loves you. Yea, He still does. You hopefully teach this to your church every Sunday. Please, know it applies to you also. Still. 

You need help. You know this. Again, you would tell anyone in the church this who was living in the sin in which you are living. What makes you think you can do this on your own. We aren’t designed by our Creater to do life alone. Yes, you’ve probably been crying out to Him, and you should continue to do so. You should be wise to whom you confess, but God designed community for times like these.

It will be hard to admit. No sugar-coating here. I’m not pretending otherwise. Saying the first words – admitting the sin – those will be some of the most difficult words you’ve ever spoken. The hardest step will be telling the people you love the most. 

Consequences will be what they will. Yea, I know, this is the one which scares you most. And, we don’t always get a reprieve from consequences. No guarantees the mercy of God will remove them from you. Sometimes, however, our mind is capable of a worst case scenario far greater than reality. The focus in your mind should be less on the consequences, however, and more on the recovery you want to eventually experience.

It’s better to come forward on your own. It is. There is less of a scandal this way. It won’t be as messy. Control is not what you should be seeking now, but it will help you feel less out of control. 

You probably have more supporters than you think you do. There are people who will love you even at your worst. These are the genuine people. They weren’t following or loving you because you held a position of authority. They were following and loving you because you are you. And, what a blessing these people will be when they are truly revealed. And, there are those people around you. I’m sure of it. 

The other side is brighter than today. Because this side is miserable, isn’t it? Hiding. The lies. The lies to cover up the lies. The lies you even tell yourself. Not feeling you are doing your best. The hidden guilt and shame. How much longer do you want to feel this way? 

Some will disagree with where and when – and, I wouldn’t worry about this right now – but, I believe if God placed a call on your life it is still there today. Part of your recovery may be figuring out where God will use you next. He loves to restore people and use them as testimonies of His grace. The Bible we love and teach is full of these stories. Cling to them now and let them fuel you for the days ahead.

Please know my goal is to help, not produce further injury. If you’ve got coal to dump on fallen pastors – or others – keep trolling, please.  

Also, and I edited the post to include this comment, this advice applies to more people than pastors. They just seem to be the ones who make the news and our large part of my readership.