You Have To Be Tuned In To Yourself

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I had a great time on the Thriving In Ministry podcast with Kyle Willis while his podcast partner Dace Clifton was on sabbatical.

From all of the podcasts and interviews they had done, Kyle shared with me how so many pastors find it difficult to take a Sabbath break. Kyle noted that a pastor’s day of rest seems to bump into everyone else’s day of work. 

I’ve found this to be true for anyone in leadership, even if they’re not a pastor. It seems that a leader’s work is never done, making it very easy to try to maintain a 24/7 availability. If you feel like rest is a difficult thing to maintain, you’re in good company because Jesus had the same struggle. 

That passage in Mark 6 that I mentioned is instructive for leaders in a couple of ways. First, Jesus was looking out for His teammates. He saw that they were tired and He called them to a place of rest. Good shepherds are always tuned in to the needs of the flock around them. As David said in Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd knows when to lead us to quiet pastures and still waters. 

Second, I see that Jesus was also tuned in to Himself. Even though He was trying to get to a quiet place, He took time to minister in teaching and food to a crowd that was described as “sheep without a shepherd.” When this time was finished, Jesus took time alone to pray (Mark 6:46). 

I think sometimes leaders have sabotaged their own health and effectiveness by saying things like, “This is quitting time” or “This is my day off.” Instead, we should listen to the Holy Spirit giving us insight like, “Take a break now. It’s time to go to a quiet pasture. It’s time to recharge in prayer.” 

Leaders, don’t stick rigidly to your schedule but stay tuned in to yourself. Listen for the unmistakable voice of the Holy Spirit giving you wisdom. I have a section of five chapters in my book Shepherd Leadership that deal with every aspect of a leader’s health. Please pick up a copy today.

I’ll be sharing more clips from this Thriving In Ministry interview soon, so please stay tuned. Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple.

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? My Patreon supporters get behind-the-scenes access to exclusive materials. ◀︎◀︎

The Best Laid Plans

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” 

This is a line from a poem written by Robert Burns in 1785 called To A Mouse. The story behind the poem is Burns had been plowing his field and destroyed a nest that a mouse had been working all day to build. His poem was written as an apology. The famous line from the Scottish poet actually is written like this—

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
     Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
     For promis’d joy!

That phrase “gang aft agley” means often go awry. 

Do you ever feel this way? Like your perfectly planned agenda got derailed before you even finished breakfast? Or that your To Do list never quite gets “To Done” by the end of the day?  

I had a great time on the Thriving In Ministry podcast with Kyle Willis while his podcast partner Dace Clifton was on sabbatical. We had planned to discuss how to help pastors get some rest so they could be at their optimal health, but our best laid plans definitely “gang aft agley”! We had multiple technical issues before we could even start recording, and then just as we talked about how pastors could find a way to rest, well, this happened…

Ah yes! Plans gone awry, indeed! 

But here is an important principle for all of us to remember. The Bible says this: We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps (Proverbs 16:9). That means the thing that I call “an interruption” may be something or someone God has sent my way. 

I used to really struggle with this, saying things like, “My plans never work out.” Until one day I heard the distinct voice of the Holy Spirit ask me, “Whose plans?” 

Right—I plan, but God directs. 

And He directly perfectly. 

So now I write the initials I.T.L.W. on the top of my well-crafted daily To Do list. That is shorthand for “If the Lord wills” which I took from this passage—

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15) 

Pastor, look at the life of Jesus. He often tried to get away for a time of rest, but people with needs showed up. His well-laid plans appeared to go awry. But He had compassion on them because He viewed them “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34). Jesus then found time to sabbath later. 

Don’t view people with needs as an interruption or as something that derails your plans, but thank God for sending them your way. Then listen to the Holy Spirit showing you how and when you can get the rest you need to be energized to accomplish the rest of the items on your agenda.

I’ll be sharing more clips from this Thriving In Ministry interview soon, so please stay tuned. Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple.

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? My Patreon supporters get behind-the-scenes access to exclusive materials. ◀︎◀︎

Interrupted But Not Discouraged

…I will…if the Lord permits… (1 Corinthians 16:5-7). 

Paul had a desire to visit certain cities to share the Gospel, so he made his plans. But he was careful to add, “if the Lord permits.” He knew from personal experience that God knows best the where and the when.

In fact, the first time Paul came to Macedonia, it was only after he had been blocked from his original plans—

They tried to go to certain regions of Asia, but they were prevented by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6).

They headed toward Bythinia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there (Acts 16:7).

While at Troas, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia, so they concluded that God was calling them to preach there (Acts 16:9-10).

We must know that we know that God has green-lighted an opportunity for us. Where God opens opportunities, satan is sure to attack (1 Corinthians 16:9). We don’t want to then assume that the attack means that we are in the wrong place at the wrong time, or even in the right place at the wrong time.

Paul made his plans, but he also remained interruptible.

When God said, “Go!” Paul could endure any opposition because he was assured that God had called. And when God said, “No” Paul could rest peacefully because he was assured that God knew the best place at the best time.

The same principle is true for godly leaders today—

A mark of a godly leader is one who is interruptible without becoming discouraged.

This is part 39 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Am I Interruptible?

Time after time, Jesus was on His way someplace when someone “interrupted” Him. But was it really an interruption? Do we ever hear Jesus saying, “Not now, I’m busy with someone else”? No! 

Jesus said that every step He took during the day was directed by His Father, so Jesus is our example for dealing gracefully with any “interruptions” by those who need help.

If I pray as Jesus taught—“Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—then the people He sends my way are never interruptions. Instead, they are people who also need to experience God’s kingdom for themselves, and since God has allowed them to cross my path, that means that God entrusts me with the privilege of showing them God’s kingdom love.

If I am God’s servant, that means I must be interruptible by my Master. 

A servant doesn’t get up in the morning and sit around waiting for the master to tell him every single task to be done that day. The servant gets up and gets busy with what needs to be done. 

But neither does the servant put off the master’s request because he’s busy with a task. The servant doesn’t respond, “I’ll get to that request after I finish what I’m doing,” but instead the servant responds immediately to the master. The master’s requests have priority. 

So too with me. I get up and get busy, but my heart is listening for my Master to “interrupt” me (although it’s not truly an interruption!) with someone who is in need. 

May my heart always be ready to say an immediate “yes!” to anyone my Master sends across my path today. 

Buster

Every once in a while I need to be reminded of this truth: “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”

Yesterday my plans were set. They were planned down to the minute. Here was my agenda:

  • Leave home early for a meeting in Kalamazoo.
  • Swing by the office to pick up a key.
  • Head to a house in downtown Kalamazoo for a meeting.
  • Complete the meeting in about an hour.
  • Drive to my parents’ house to change into a business suit.
  • Then head to downtown Grand Rapids for another meeting with some key business and ministry leaders in the inner-city.

Instead, on my way to Kalamazoo, I had the following phone conversation:

“Sorry, but I forgot to drop the key off on Friday. Can I meet you at the house to give it to you?”

“Sure. I can meet you there.”

“I need to ask another favor. I’m running late. Can you just find a coffee shop somewhere and meet me about 30 minutes later than we had planned?”

“Okay,” I said not too assuredly since this was starting to throw off my “perfect” schedule.

I pulled into a McDonald’s in downtown Kalamazoo, right across the street from the Greyhound bus station. I sat in my car for a couple of minutes, and then felt the need for a fruit and yogurt parfait. After making my purchase I had a grand total of $7.94 left in my pocket.

I walked to the restroom.

Just as I walked in, a man motioned to me. He wanted to say something quietly to me. Given the neighborhood I was in, I was expecting the usual “Can you help me out with some loose change” plea. Instead…

“Um, can you help me out,” asked the man that would later introduce himself as Buster.

“Sure. What do you need?”

“I had an accident and I need some clothes to change into,” he said quietly.

“I saw a mission around the corner,” I said. “Do they have clothes?”

“Yea.”

“Okay, c’mon. I’ll walk over there with you.” And I turned to walk out of the restroom.

Buster grabbed my coat sleeve and pulled me back. “Um, he said looking at the floor, “I … I’m HIV-positive.”

“Really,” I said as I put my arm around his shoulders, “I’m Craig.”

Buster smiled.

We walked to the mission and he picked out some sweat pants, a sweatshirt, a pair of shoes, a pair of pants, and a winter jacket. Total: $7.42.

“I’m going to pay you back for this, Craig.”

“No, you’re not, Buster. This is my gift to you.”

As we walked toward the bus station, where Buster could use a restroom to change his clothes, he asked me,

“Do you ever think about dying?”

“I’m not afraid to die, Buster, but I’m not ready to leave just yet. Why do you ask?”

“Last night I got drunk. I was trying to get up enough courage to jump in front of a bus. I’m tired of living.”

“Buster, I think that would be the worst thing you could do.”

“Why? No one cares about me.”

“God does.”

“Really?”

“Buster, I don’t believe in accidents or coincidences. I wasn’t supposed to be at this McDonald’s today. But God rearranged my schedule just so I could meet you. God sent me here.”

Buster slowly nodded his head, “I believe that, Craig. I really do.”

Before I left Buster at the bus station, he asked for my phone number. I walked over to the ticket counter to borrow a pen. After I wrote my number down and turned around, a man was standing right in my path.

“My name’s Johnson. Buster told me what you did for him.”

I smiled and shook his hand.

“Why did you do that?” he asked.

I smiled again, “God sent me here. He loves Buster so much that He rearranged my schedule.”

“Can you help me,” Johnson asked, “but Buster said you used all of your money on him.”

“What do you need?”

He held open his hand with some loose change in it. “I need 50 cents more for my bus fare.”

I handed Johnson my last 52 cents.

King Solomon also wrote, “The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?”

I didn’t understand why my “perfect” schedule got rearranged. But I’m glad it did. I’m glad I got to meet Buster.

What’s Your Work?

When I’m at business functions, I along with all of the other attendees are typically walking around with the “Hello, My Name Is” label stuck to my chest. The idea is that as I shake hands with new people I can glance down and say, “Nice to meet you, uh, Bob!”

Nine times out of ten, after the initial introduction is made the very next question people have for me is, “So, what do you do?” All of us usually give an answer related to our jobs: I’m a pastor, I’m a graphic designer, I’m a teacher, I’m a blogger, etc. Yes, that’s what you do; that’s your job. But what do you work at?

I’ve been thinking about this over the past couple of days. And what got me thinking were two “interruptions” to my job.

On Wednesday night I was teaching a Bible study. I was just getting to the pay-off—the part of the lesson where the attendees would really be challenged to apply the lesson to their real-life situations—when my lesson was interrupted. A friend had slipped out of his seat and was standing at the back. All of a sudden he was clutching his chest and saying, “I need help!” Immediately my lesson stopped, I was at his side trying to recall some of my medical training, and then asking someone to call 911.

I didn’t finish my “job” on Wednesday evening, but I did my work as a friend.

Today I had planned to devote the better part of my day to preparing a message for Sunday morning. It’s my “job” as a pastor to come to church prepared with a timely, relevant message. But after talking with a friend on the phone, I could hear the heavy despondency in his voice, and I knew I needed to go see him face-to-face.

I put my job on hold to go do my work as a friend.

Bill Hybels wrote, “Keep the ‘church’ in church work.” My work—as a member of the Church, as a friend—should always trump my “job.”

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

At the end of my life, I don’t think God is going to ask me how good my sermons were. But He is going to ask me how well I did my work as His servant.

Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed Me. I was thirsty, and you gave Me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited Me into your home. I was naked, and you gave Me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for Me. I was in prison, and you visited Me. … I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40).

How’s your work going today?

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