Optimal Spiritual Health

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 200churches podcast with Jeff Keady. 

Jeff and I spent a good chunk of our time talking about the health of pastors. I think it is very important for shepherd leaders to be wholly healthy because we cannot give to our flocks what we don’t possess ourselves. 

One of the things that is very interesting to me is the parallels between maintaining our physical health and maintaining our spiritual health. When it comes right down to it, our physical health can be optimized by getting a handle on four key elements: (1) proper diet, (2) regular exercise, (3) appropriate rest and recovery, and (4) regular times of evaluation and adjustment. 

Our spiritual health is optimized with these same four elements. 

As my friend Josh Schram reminded me, “Health is not just a big one-time choice. Health is small daily choices.” Jesus made these daily choices to eat well, exercise regularly, rest when needed, and make the adjustments His Father spoke to His heart. He set us an example for healthy spiritual growth that will keep us in a place to grow our shepherd leadership capacities. 

I have found that we are much more likely to make and stick to a plan to get physically healthy when we have a workout friend or someone who is holding us accountable. The same is true for our spiritual health. So pastor, don’t try to get and stay healthy on your own, but get a trusted friend or two working out alongside you. 

In my book Shepherd Leadership, I have five chapters that focus on a leader’s mental, physical, spiritual, and relational health. I hope you will pick up a copy to help you operate at peak healthiness. 

If you want to catch up on some of the other clips I’ve already shared from this interview, you can find them here, and I’ll be sharing more clips from this 200churches 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. 

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Recovering Mentally

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 and Dace Clifton. 

Kyle asked me a question about how I recharge myself mentally. A key verse in the Bible for me is 2 Corinthians 10:5 where the the apostle Paul counsels us to capture our thoughts. This is extremely hard to do when we are physically or mentally drained. 

In my younger years, I used to try to “do nothing” as my recovery time. As I matured, I realized that top athletes had a different way to help their body recover, and I began to adapt those practices to my time of mental recovery. Dace also shares a very helpful tip for his mental recovery time. 

In my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter I make the case that in order for the sheep to be healthy, the shepherd has to get healthy first. The principle is simple: You cannot give to others what you do not possess yourself. I hope you will pick up a copy of my book to learn how Jesus taught us to be wholly healthy leaders.

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.

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Heart Rate Recovery

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

A few years ago Mark Schultz wrote a song about someone living a go-go-go, overly-busy life and he entitled the song “Running just to catch myself.” Ever been there? 

There’s a Hebrew word that shows up 70 times in the Bible (mostly in the Psalms) that, sadly, many English translations of the Bible have relegated to a footnote. That’s too bad because Selah is such a powerful word. Unless we want to live our lives “running just to catch myself,” we all need a take time to Selah. Look how some have translated this word:

  • “Stop there and consider a little” (Matthew Henry) 
  • “the sacred pause” (Charles Spurgeon) 
  • “pause and calmly think of that” (AMP) 

Whether it’s a planned exercise time or just something that frightens or excites us, our heart rate is designed by God to increase—this is how we prepare for fight-or-flight. Doctors say that one of the most vital statistics they now look at to gauge overall cardio health is heart rate recovery (HRR). Doctors want to see a significant increase in HRR after exercise, fright, or excitement. 

A few of the factors that boost HRR:

  • Regular, planned exercise 
  • Getting the proper amount of quality sleep 
  • Reducing stress 

Respond-and-recover is part of a health-building cycle. But if we’re “running just to catch myself” all the time, this time of recovery isn’t happening. Not only are we not recovering well, but we are not properly prepared for the next time our heart needs to start beating faster.   

This HRR is just as vital for us emotionally and spiritually as it is physically: We cannot always be stressed or always be “on.” We need a Selah—a time to stop and consider, a time to take a sacred pause to calmly think. 

This is what David teaches us in Psalm 68. Check out the “bookend verses” where he reminds us that when God arises His enemies are scattered, and that God is awesome and He gives power and strength to His people (vv. 1, 35). And look a the middle verse where David says that when God ascends in victory He gives gifts (v. 18). 

This tells me two things: (1) God is sovereignly in charge (not me or anyone else), and (2) In His love, God delights to use His sovereign power to bless His children. 

The question is not IF I’m going to be confronted by difficult things or difficult people, but HOW will I recover from these confrontations? 

May I suggest a 3-step process to increase your spiritual HRR? 

  1. Acknowledge your situation—don’t try to cover it up or justify it 
  2. Selah—pause to take a deep breath  
  3. During that breath, redirect your thoughts from the difficulty to your awesome God (see 2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:4-8)

Look at David’s example in this psalm:

Reflect Worship
God defeats enemies (vv. 1-2) Be glad, rejoice, sing (vv. 3-4)
God is a Father and Deliverer (vv. 5-7) Selah (v. 7)
God is sovereignly in control (vv. 8-18) Praise and Selah (v. 19)
God defeated Death (vv. 20-23) Join the procession of worshippers (vv. 24-27) 
God uses His strength to care for His people (vv. 28-31) Sing praises and Selah (vv. 32-35)

As you breathe deeply in this worship of recovery, think on this: “Your sigh can move the heart of Jehovah; your whisper can incline His ear to you; your prayer can stay His hand; your faith can move His arm.” —Charles Spurgeon 

Our Selah pause leads to proper perspective, which allows us to recover more quickly. That, in turn, helps us to be better prepared for the next time we’re confronted by difficulties. 

To check out the other lessons we’ve learned in our ongoing series called Selah, please check out the list I’ve compiled here.

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Getting Back Up When Life Has Knocked You Down

The Bible never presents life as some sort of pie-in-the-sky, walk-in-the-park, everyday-is-always-rosy picture. If it did, we would reject the Bible because our experiences would immediately tell us otherwise. Instead, the Bible realistically portrays the challenges, and the pain, and the heartache, and the disappointments of life. But as it does so it also shows us that God’s way is the only way out of our sorrow and into His joy!

In our P119 Spiritual Workout series, we saw the bookends of the section daleth (Psalm 119:25-32) are:

I am laid low in the dust (v. 25) → You have set my heart free (v. 32).

How do we get this freedom when we are knocked down and laid low in the dust?

The Jews saw the Hebrew letter daleth as a door. Specifically, a door through which humble people stepped into a greater realization that He is God, and I’m not … that He has the answers, and I don’t … that He is in control, and I’m not. So part of going from down in the dust to a free heart is humbly acknowledging that you need God’s help!

In verses 26 and 27, the psalmist recalls his past history, and in so doing he is reminded that God has always been there. God has never left him nor forsaken him, so here’s what the psalmist resolves to do:

  • Teach me = I learned something before, so let me learn again.
  • Let me understand = help me to discern, distinguish; tell things apart. This word is used for things that are divinely disclosed; in other words, they’re things you and I cannot figure out on our own.
  • Meditate = talk with my soul about these new things the Holy Spirit has disclosed to me.

In verse 28, the psalmist says that his soul is weary with sorrow (or as the King James Version states it: my soul melteth for heaviness). The only way to overcome this is to ask for God’s help to energize us to go forward.

In the final four verses of this section you can sense the psalmist’s strength returning as he makes these bold statements:

  • keep me from deceitful ways (v. 29a) = keep me from lying to myself (NLT).
  • be gracious to me (v. 29b) = give me the privilege of knowing Your instructions (NLT).
  • I have chosen (v. 30a) = I have determined (NLT).
  • I have set (v. 30b) = I am long-sighted (on God), not short-sighted (on my problems).
  • I hold fast (v. 31) = the KJV says I have stuck to it!
  • I run (v. 32) = I will [not merely walk, but] run the way of Your commandments (AMP).

So when you are sad/disappointed/injured, run TO God. Don’t cling to your own (old) ways of thinking. Let Him take you from I am laid lowYou have set my heart free.

If you have missed any of the messages in our P119 series, you can access them all by clicking here.

Overloaded Recap

We all have times that life feels overwhelming. Like there is too much to do, but not enough of us (or our time, or our money, or our willpower, or…) to accomplish what we need to. In a word: we are overloaded.

I just finished a 4-part series about God’s ways for finding relief for our overloaded lives, and I thought this quick recap might be helpful.

If you’re feeling OVERLOADED, remember…

Less Is More

When the “less” is stuff, the “more” is relationships.

Off Makes On Better

A day OFF (a Sabbath) helps you appreciate ON more.

Study To Be Quiet

Tune out all the noise so you can tune in to God’s voice.

Trust God First

Give God the first 10% of your income and enjoy His blessing.

Square One

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride. There is a scene about halfway through the movie where Inigo and Fezzik are reunited:

[Scene: Outside a hut. Inigo is sitting, nursing a bottle]

Inigo:      I am waiting for you, Vizzini. You told me to go back to the beginning. So I have. This is where I am, and this is where I will stay. I will no be moved.

Assistant Brute:    Ho there!

Inigo:      I do not budge. Keep your “Ho there.”

Assistant Brute:     But the prince gave orders.

Inigo:      So did Vizzini. When the job went wrong he went back to the beginning. Well, this is where we got the job, so it’s the beginning. And I am staying till Vizzini come.

Even though Inigo was slightly the worse for alcohol, he gives some sage advice. When we run into problems—when we get off track—it’s good to go back to the beginning.

After his ill-advised trip to Egypt, Abraham returns to square one. He goes back to the last place he heard from God.

He moved on from the Negev, camping along the way, to Bethel, the place he had first set up his tent between Bethel and Ai and built his first altar. Abram prayed there to God. (Genesis 13:3-4)

When I seem to be on the wrong path, I must go back to the place I last heard from God. Perhaps it’s significant where Abraham’s tent and altar were set up. Between two cities:

  • Ai which means “heap of ruins.” It comes from a root word meaning “bend, twist, distort.”
  • Bethel which is made up of two words beth (house) + El (God) = house of God.

This is my life: always between two options. I can have a distorted/twisted view that leads to a heap of ruins, or I can live where God dwells.

I can have my way or God’s way.

I can have blessing or ruin.

When I find what I’m doing is a mess, it’s time to go back to the beginning—to go back to square one—to go back to the last place I heard from God.

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