Saturday, September 27, 2014

Longevity in Ministry ~ "Habituate yourself" ~

Thomas Jefferson once said: 
"Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself..."

Several weeks ago, I started a series that I'm hoping will be both a challenge and encouragement to you, based off of a sermon by the senior pastor at my sending church
    In my last post, I identified seven priorities that are absolutely essential for me- ones that protect me from burnout and the temptation of sin, ones that give me direction and hope for the future, ones that remind me from whence comes any measure of progress and success. Those priorities are:
    1. Growing an increasingly intimate relationship with the Lord by consistently, daily and throughout the day, seeking Him; 
    2. Praying without ceasing (steadfastly, continuously, patiently, powerfully); 
    3. Striving to maintain a good balance between personal growth and service or ministry; 
    4. Welcoming accountability; 
    5. Committing to marriage and family; 
    6. Choosing to be teachable even in difficult circumstances; and 
    7. Determining to be a genuine team player.
    Today, I want to consider what may seem obvious...

    ...but it is so critical that its importance cannot be overstated. 

    Absolutely key to a longevity on the mission field (or in ministry... or in life) that pleases the Lord is a continual seeking after and dependence upon Jesus - a persistent devotional life characterized and a consistent, continual seeking of His wisdom as the guide for not only our big decisions, but our day to day actions... even our very thoughts and mental meanderings.  We've got to walk with Him daily -  all day, every day, every moment of every day. "The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm." (Proverbs 13:20) Usually, we hear this verse applied to our choice of friends and acquaintances - you know, those people we hang out with on a regular basis and who we allow to influence what we think and believe.  Yet as I was reading those words recently, I had another thought strike me, and I believe it is supported by Scripture.

    Who is the wisest of all?
    • Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways!  (Romans 11:33)
    • This grace was given to me — the least of all the saints — to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of the Messiah, and to shed light for all about the administration of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things. This is so God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens. (Ephesians 3:8-10)
    • which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
    • We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. (1 Corinthians 4:10)
    • You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
    • For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts. Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom, because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1: 18-26)
    God is the THE Wise one. If we want to walk with the wise, we must first be walking with Him. He has to be my first and most important companion of choice - above all others. That is hard, sometimes... because the others are often tangible.

    What does walking with God look like? There are some examples in the Biblical account, those to whom we can look, to discover qualities of their lives that we can imitate, so that we can walk with God. Consider:
    1. Enoch. The Bible teaches that Enoch walked with God and was no more. The statement is repeated, as if to confirm and then emphasize that fact, that in a very corrupt time, one man walked with God. In his walking with God, he pleased God and was commended for that fact. And Jude tells us that Enoch faithfully prophesied of the Lord's coming.
    2. Noah. He, too, is described as walking faithfully with God, blameless and righteous during the time in which he lived. We have a few more details about the life of Noah. He listened and obeyed when God spoke to him. He risked and received the disapproval of his peers. He was clearly called out and separated by God to accomplish a specific and difficult task. He brought his family along with him.
    3. Micah 6:8. "He has made it clear to you, mortal man, what is good and what the LORD is requiring from you— to act with justice, to treasure the LORD's gracious love, and to walk humbly in the company of your God."
    4. Amos 3:3. "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?"
    It is so obvious, so simple - to increasingly grow in intimacy with God, we must walk with Him. It must become my habit: 1) a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up, as well as 2) my regular dress or attire.

    Yet the practice of this priority, in the typical tyranny of urgent that literally attacks with vehemence every day, often lacks. I almost added, "particularly in ministry" to that last phrase... but perhaps more truthful is "particularly in life." Personally, I tend to experience seasons or cycles of success. I've not yet mastered long-term consistency. With that said, here is what helps me:
    • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. When I adopt a casual attitude and forget the proper respect and reverence due an infinite, holy Sovereign, I become casual about spending time before His throne. (Proverbs 1) I want to approach God with humble confidence and boldness, never flippantly or with arrogance and pride.
    • God's Word is truth and it sanctifies. It offers wisdom and the continual reminder of just with Whom I am seeking to walk. (John 17:17, John 15) His Word has everything I need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)
    • Reading good devotional books, blogs, or articles that draw my mind to the things of God and encourage me to reflect on Him while teaching me more about Him. Confirming through Scripture that the things I'm learning through those books are true. (2 Timothy 4:13) 
    • Making sure I'm regularly hearing quality preaching and exposition of God's Word - while once again verifying that what I've heard conforms to what God has already declared true. (Romans 10:17)
    • Choose to be motivated, look for encouragement, remain focused. In my life, that means finding a good friend or two with whom I covenant to be transparent, who will hold me accountable, who will confront me when necessary and who will, when I can't, encourage my heart in the Lord - just as Jonathan did for David.
    • Writing and sharing through that forum what God is teaching me. It helps me think and I tend to process life with my fingers on a keyboard. It also keeps me accountable because I tend to share what I'm learning most readily through the written medium.
    What about you? What is critical practice for you as you seek to walk with God?

    We all know that this is so key and so straightforward, but for most of us, it is always a struggle. Why do you think that is the case? What most distracts you from walking with God?

    Series: Longevity in Ministry

    Please note: 
    Italicized words are from my notes or from the guided notes in the church bulletin
    and are, to the best of my recall, actual content from the sermon.
    The rest comes from my continued study and meditation prompted by that sermon.

    To listen to the actual sermon "Start, Run and Finish Well," click here.


    1. "Reading good devotional books, blogs, or articles." This is key for me -- discerning what is good and helpful for my spiritual walk, and what is merely distracting. This summer was full of good learning for me in several areas, one of them being conflict resolution, and the other being distractions. I'm slowly learning what is distracting and unhelpful for me spiritually. (I am a really slow learner. Takes me forever to realize WHY a situation is not working, and how I have contributed to it.) Anyway, the thing I've realized is that not all blogs are created equally. Some are helpful to my spiritual walk, and some are not. The ones that are not are usually the controversial types, where people discuss big, touchy issues and can get really intense and rude. Yes, it's important to know what I believe about things. But I can do that without reading wild, inflammatory blog posts that take me down the rabbit hole. Like I said, it's been a slow realization, and I've had to make boundaries for what I will and will not read, so that I can focus on what God is telling me to do. (Missions blogs still fit into the "helpful" category :) )

      1. great point, elizabeth. occasionally i'll read some of those blogs, but it is easy to allow iron sharpening iron debate to turn to debacle and to get sucked into the argumentativeness which brings a desire to win, often at all costs. i cringe sometimes when i think how i've jumped into that realm and then not been careful with my words or the things i've said have not even attempted to meet the criteria of phil 4...

        so personally, i try and apply the principles from phil 4... the whatsoever things... when i look at what i read, watch, listen to (and i just realized i totally neglected the watch/listen side of things in this post... because that's not my preferred mode of intake), it has to direct my thoughts towards the true, the worthy of reverence, the honorable and seemly, the just, the pure, the lovely and lovable, the kind and winsome and gracious, the virtuous, the excellent, the worthy of praise... it is on that which i want to fix my mind. when i'm fixing my mind on things of that nature, that tends to more easily flow out through my keyboard, my mouth, my action... if that makes sense.

        i paused long and prayed hard before i published my most recent piece on ALOS... but as one who's been the fallen colleague in the past, it scared me how critical i had become and i felt it was important to share that story. i was very thankful the discussion didn't turn... but that tends to be a fairly safe place to "talk." and it is one of the things i love about this space. :-)

        thanks for jumping in and participating. always love to hear your thoughts.