Hoping to encourage you with this video of a message I had the opportunity to share in a recent Elim chapel, “God’s Bigness in Your Smallness.” Don’t let your struggles drag you away from a life of hope and purpose. When you realize the good things that God wants to do in and through you, you can move forward with #courage and #strength!
A lot of people think Christianity is mainly about changing your behavior on the outside, that to become Christian is to be a better person (maybe implying perfect?), to learn how to be nice, to stop swearing, stop doing wrong things, and so on. “I’ll need to do this and that, and then do some more and always try and hope for the best and stop doing bad things, and THEN I can be a Christian.” “But on second thought, I can’t do all that. I’ve tried and failed, so forget it.”
Well, I have good news: that’s a wrong view of what it means to be a Christian. Such thinking is void of the true power of faith in Christ, which calls a person to turn away from wrongdoing and to do good ONLY AFTER receiving what is necessary on the inside—FIRST. Putting outer behaviors before inner change has taken place is getting it totally backwards!
Friend, the outside behaviors follow a changed and transformed life of love and power from God on the inside. When you receive Christ into your life through faith while confessing your need for forgiveness of your sins, you experience change from the INSIDE-OUT – you get filled up with the love of God, you get a source of peace and joy found nowhere else (and I mean nowhere), you get the Holy Spirit—God residing in you, and THEN you have POWER to obey the commands of Scripture and live more Christlike, but now you get to do it with JOY. It begins on the inside! And it’s the best thing going!
Like the greatest upgrade there could ever be, the Christian life begins with a download from heaven itself.
2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
Lord Jesus, if it wasn’t for your horrible cross, I would have no forgiveness of the sin that once dominated my life. Because of you, I am made clean. When I sin again, I can be clean again by confessing my sin and turning away from it. Lord Jesus, because of you I can resist sin’s continuing temptation. Because of your Holy Spirit in me, I have the power to say no to sin and to live in the joy of holiness. Though I’ll never be perfect this side of glory, through you my sins are washed away and I am clean in your presence. I am a royal child of God, loved forever! Amen.
Acts 4:31 31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit..
We just kicked off the Spring ’17 semester at Elim Bible Institute and College. In addition to the start of classes and regular college activities, the first week of a semester includes a series of special events designed to give students fun and engaging environments that get them going in the new semester. We call it “Welcome Week.”
On Friday evening of Welcome Week, the student council of the freshman class hosted a 2-part event that featured a prayer & worship service followed by a pancake party. It was named “EHOP,” which stands for “Elim House of Prayer/Pancakes.” The pancake party was a fundraiser for an organization that fights human trafficking. Amazingly, an anonymous person paid for all of the pancakes with a large donation (without eating any), which almost doubled the expected funds they were able to raise. The whole EHOP event was wonderful, but the reason I am writing this post is to tell you about something that happened during the prayer service.
The prayer & worship time was held in the auditorium of Elim’s “Tab” building (pictured at the top of the post). There were four students on the platform leading us in a short time of worship with a selection of songs expressing love and devotion to Jesus. After the singing, we broke into small groups to pray for one another. During the small group time, I felt an unusually strong sense of the moving of the Holy Spirit. A student and I spent time praying for each other, and then I decided to get up and take a few pictures of the various small groups spread around the room. At this point, it seemed as though the very air in the room suddenly changed.
As I was walking back to my seat, I felt a sudden heaviness fill the room. It wasn’t a heaviness that was a “downer” of any kind, not that kind of heaviness. It was a heaviness I have come to know as the manifestation of the presence of God when the Spirit of the Lord begins touching people in unusual and intense ways. I could feel the tangible power and presence of God moving over me, and an indescribable sense of peace and love for God flooded my heart and mind. I noticed that a number of students in the same area of the Tab I was in were suddenly being overcome in prayer. There was the sound of intensifying prayers of earnestness and hunger for God, and the sound of students weeping before the Lord.
The presence of God was so heavy that I laid down flat on the floor. The worship team continued with their beautiful love songs to the Lord. While I was lying there, I received a filling of the Holy Spirit like I have not known in a long time. Waves of anointing power swept over me, and the joy and faith exploding out of my heart made me unable to do anything but speak a few feeble words of prayer and worship mixed with broken sobs as I poured out my heart to God. I don’t know how long this went on, perhaps for 10 to 20 minutes. When I finally returned to my seat I noticed that the hour planned for the prayer service was just about up. The students hardly moved. Many of us remained for another 30 minutes as the worship team continued to play.
A student who just started attending Elim this Spring came over and sat down next to me. We talked quietly about the anointing and presence of God in the Christian life. Then he said something about the meeting that I think all who were present would agree with—“I wish the Lord always felt this close!” The sense of the presence of God in the room was just too good to hurry away from. We were all sitting with Jesus together, and it was wonderful. As the student and I continued to talk, I was able to share the story of the first time something like this had ever happened to me when I was a freshman at Elim just like him, and how it scared me at first but changed my life and Christianity forever.
I am thankful for the heritage and vision of Elim and how God has used its people and leaders to shape so many lives, including my own. If you are a praying person, please pray that God will continue to pour out his Spirit on us and help us to train up future leaders and influencers who will choose to put Jesus first, and walk in the fullness of His Spirit all their lives.
We’re having an arctic invasion in western NY. The wind and snow bite your skin. If you step outside without enough warm clothing, the wind will whip right down your neck and send shivers from head to toe. I used to dread this kind of thing. Part of the reason was that I would try and brave harsh freezes without taking the time to protect myself properly and let hurry and busyness keep me from putting on extra layers of outerwear. Once I got into the habit of protecting myself properly, the elements didn’t seem nearly as harsh, and the feelings of misery went away.
Before stepping out this morning into the season’s first arctic chill, while it was still dark, I put on two heavy coats, puffy snow pants, and my hat & gloves. When I got outside, I felt just fine! I was so protected that I stopped for a moment just to take in the wonder of my surroundings on such a blasting winter day. The air felt crisp, the bright moon was mesmerizing, and the whipping snow looked beautiful, and a little scary! Layers made all the difference. If I were to get stuck somewhere, they might even save my life.
There are other kinds of harsh elements that you and I will be exposed to, and they’re a lot worse than a spate of cold days. These elements aren’t of the same “natural world” so to speak, though they do seem to come so naturally to us. Things like fear, temptation, selfishness, bitterness, and other life-draining, spirit-killing forces that can overcome people who do not protect themselves correctly. Like advancing cold fronts, they march into our lives and shake up our environment.
Thankfully, there are also other kinds of “layers” of protection that we can put on, and they make all the difference when we face exposure to these nasty elements.
What are these layers? In short, they are faith, hope, and love. They are readily accessible but easy to ignore. Too many step into the day without them.
The first is faith. Through faith, I have gained spiritual protection. By this, I mean a biblical faith in eternal life through Jesus. I believe in the Bible’s teaching that God himself came in Jesus to rescue people from their most dangerous exposure to sin and eternal separation from God after death. I put my faith in the significance of Jesus’ cross and resurrection, and I asked him to be in charge of my life, instead of being my own boss. I am told in Scripture that this brings me into his eternal protection and I believe it.
I also seek to layer my life with hope. I believe in God’s continual presence and care for those who have chosen to follow Jesus, and this means that no matter what I might face “out there,” I am never alone in difficult experiences and personal pain. This hope inspires me to pray, which is another layer we can “put on” that adds all kinds of courage against the harshness of fear and insecurity. Hope in God’s presence and care also means I experience peace, though my circumstances aren’t always resolved, and situations don’t always settle the way I want them to. Hope born of faith is a powerful force against these internal elements which can be so destructive in the lives of the unprotected.
Then there is love. When I choose love above all else, it shapes and reshapes the way I look at other people, including the people I encounter first at home, when I am the most prone to tiredness, grumpiness, etc. It also shapes how I view others who have done something that I felt wronged by. Somehow, the love of God at work in me enables me to choose love and forgiveness towards those who haven’t treated me the way I want or believe I should have been treated.
Letting the love of God work in me also means letting other people in. I have learned how important and also how freeing it is to open up about my life with certain people and look to them for things like advice as well as pastoral accountability for my personal life and choices. I don’t have room in this post to express how much of a sense of peace and safety this has added to my life.
Making all of this practical & doable usually means that I have to put these things on first thing in the morning, just like I do with outerwear when preparing for a cold day. I get up, make conscious choices to turn my heart & mind over to God, read Scripture & pray, and then lead my own thoughts into the day by thinking and speaking with hopefulness and faith, which helps remove or simply adjust discouraging and fearful thoughts. I also know that I have to choose to prefer others, and show love with my actions and words.
You’re going to face exposure to the harsh elements of things like sin, fear, discouragement, and selfishness too. My question for you is, are you covered like you need to be? If not, I think it’s time you start protecting yourself. Faith, hope, and love- the kind that really make a difference and last- are accessed through the transforming power of the love of God that is given to people who follow Jesus. Following Jesus is where it starts. Then, you’re invited to follow him each day and enjoy all that he offers to cover and protect you against the harshness of a life exposed without his love.
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:12-13
Anyone who knows my mother knows that she lives her life in total devotion to her Savior Jesus. Whenever she tells stories of experiencing God, it seems to me that the room we are in fills with sun rays of faith and love. If you asked her where her deep commitment to her Lord comes from, her answer would not be about the home she was raised in (it wasn’t a loving Christian home- not at all), and it wouldn’t have anything to do with having had an easy life (she hasn’t). No, her faith isn’t due to emotions, or a happy-go-lucky personality, or any other easily identifiable thing that might make someone think “Aha, this is the reason she is so ‘into’ her beliefs.” The reason my mother is so passionate about her faith is because of encounter. She has met Jesus personally. This is the story, in her own words, of when she met him for the first time.
She wrote this version of her story for a publication used for outreach to Jewish people, and the terms Yeshua and Messiah, which are references to Jesus, are a reflection of both the aim of the publication as well as the Messianic (Jewish-Christian) nature of her life story.
* * *
In 1970 I met Messiah.
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1950 to Allan and Lillian Friedlander. Later we moved to Canton, Ohio where we began attending a local Synagogue. I attended Shabbat school weekly and learned more about my Jewish faith and customs. I grew up proud of my Jewish heritage, enjoying the traditions, the holidays, the Feasts, and being part of the chosen people of God. I believed in the one and only God of Israel but didn’t know Him personally as my heavenly Father.
Throughout my high school years I felt a great sense of dissatisfaction and loneliness even though I had good friends. I thought maybe in college I would find satisfaction and answers, but that also proved to be untrue. I lived a fairly upright and moral life following the Ten Commandments to the best of my ability and attending Temple. Because of this, I believed God should have rewarded me with happiness and fulfillment, so I blamed Him for my lack of it.
Then one spring evening at my parents’ home, we had a terrible argument, and I spoke very harshly to my father. I went to the bedroom, locked the door behind me, sat down, wept, and told God that I despised Him.
I do not remember falling asleep, but that night the Lord Himself appeared to me in a vision in my sleep. In my dream, I found myself alone in a small, empty room and there seemed to be a violent storm brewing. I heard thundering and became very frightened!
Suddenly I heard the voice of God. He spoke to me, convicting me of sin in my heart and in that moment I realized that I was wrong in my thinking and that my attempts to obey the 10 commandments would never be enough to satisfy God’s demand for perfect righteousness. I saw that no one could follow perfectly. I immediately began to cry out to Him, weeping in tears of repentance and asking for His forgiveness for my sins against Hm..
The next moment in this dream, I found myself sitting in the living room of our home with my parents and a few friends. I began to experience the incredible peace and presence of God filling the room. I looked to one side and saw someone standing there filled with this incredible brilliant light shining brighter than the sun in it’s strength. My parents ran from the room, but my friends remained. I went to find my parents but they refused to return with me. As I turned to walk back into the room, the Lord completely surrounded my entire being in His incredible light. And out of Him, in His brilliant light, came His Blood that started to pour into and through me, completely cleansing my heart, mind and soul.
All at once, I awoke with both of my arms and hands over my chest. I continued to experience the presence of God filling my entire being. He was filling me with His love, joy, and peace beyond anything I could ever have imagined.
I knew that it was Yeshua’s blood that completely cleansed and transformed me. In wonderment, I called a friend who reminded me of what the Hebrew Scriptures said about the Jews sacrificing a lamb and the high priest would take the blood and sprinkle it over the altar for the remission of Israel’s sins.
This foreshadowed God’s future plan of sending our Messiah to shed His blood as the perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins. Leviticus 17:11: For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.
In Deuteronomy 21:23 it says, “cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.” Yeshua became a curse for us when He hung on that tree 2000 years ago. He bore my sin and punishment as Isaiah chapter 53:5,6 so clearly states “that He was pierced for our transgressions and the Lord laid on Him the iniquities of us all” He overcame death as verses 10, 11 state “ though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering He will prolong his days, he will see the light of life and he will justify many and bear their iniquities”
Yeshua came to me and revealed that He is the promised Messiah. He will reveal himself to you also if you ask him with an open heart. He promises in Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me when you seek for me with ALL your heart”.
This post is part 2 in a series on navigating life transitions. In the first post of this series, I shared insights to help you process decisions about ending something big in your life (like a job or relationship) before you make the decision to end it. In this post, I am sharing thoughts on the painful struggle that often follows a significant personal or professional change. My writing on the topic comes out of some of my recent ministry and research aimed at helping Christian leaders experiencing a difficult transition. Though the needs and experiences of leaders are unique in certain ways, I have found that much of what I have prepared touches on the personal experiences of others who are navigating a difficult life transition, regardless of background or profession.
The process of moving on after a big change is what we call transition. Nearly everyone one of us will eventually encounter a serious struggle during a life transition in our career, health, or family. The hard thing about transition is that is usually involves experiences of personal pain, especially if the change affects something meaningful to us. Sometimes, the “pains” are multiple and long-lasting, and amount to what I refer to as a transitional crisis.
I like to compare the experiences of a major life transition to what some of my friends and I went through when we climbed Mt. Marcy in the Adirondacks many years ago. To this day, it remains in my memory as the most exciting and rewarding outdoor adventure I have ever had. But it wasn’t a wonderful adventure the whole time. The hike up was a rush of adrenaline and excitement as we climbed higher and higher up the highest peak in NY State. It was also a lot of intense work. We enjoyed the team effort, and the feeling of sharing in something so amazing made the physical strain of the climb seem like nothing. During the long journey upward, we had only one thing in mind: reaching the top. Finally reaching the peak was exhilarating, and the views were incredibly beautiful. Talk about a “nature high!” When we started down however, the experience turned into three hours of painful, jarring knee-banging and slamming as we traversed around boulders and drops. My muscles took such a beating that I started to lose feeling in my legs. I became completely exhausted and I couldn’t wait to get it over with!
Major transitions in life are like this. They are often a bumpy, rocky, knee (and head) banging descent from a period of personal fulfillment. Most of the time, we’re only thinking about the work of the climb to reach a destination, and not the necessary (and difficult) process of coming down from it. Eventually, we all must come down.
Gaining more clarity about the pains of transition can help someone in a difficult spot move forward more confidently and intentionally. It helps to know that others have experienced similar pains while in transition because it means that we aren’t alone in our difficulty. It also helps to more clearly recognize the symptoms of our struggles, so we can more effectively care for our needs. I hope the following descriptions of transitional pain bring some of this clarity and confidence for your next step forward.
Common Pains of Transition
- Fleeting Euphoria. When someone begins a transition there is often an initial wave of euphoria. This is especially true when transition brings a sense of liberation from a problematic situation. In most cases however, euphoric feelings of freedom and relief from previous responsibility or commitment turn out to be short-lived, and hollow. Soon, the reality of what has taken place sets in, and relief can quickly turn to worry and distress. If you’re experiencing an emotional roller coaster ride after a big change has taken place, you haven’t lost your mind- you’re completely normal. Emotional highs and lows will likely begin to level off as soon as you start settling into a new routine of work and relationships. Of course, that takes time.
- The Pain of Loss. If I were to use one word to describe the pains of a transitional crisis, it would be the word “loss.” The losses a person experiences when moving on from a position, relationship, or other significant thing in life can be huge. There is a real grieving process over transitional losses that needs to be expressed with honesty and realness. Just because the loss did not involve the death of a loved one does not mean that it doesn’t mark you, or that it is somehow unfitting to struggle with bouts of depression or anxiety over it. These too are normal experiences of people struggling with the losses of a transition.
Here are some of the things that are commonly lost (and grieved) during a transition:
- Financial stability. This is perhaps the most obvious upset that can occur in significant transitions, and usually the first on people’s minds. Life must be financed, and a transition that brings an end to a source of income is unsettling to our life situations and puts feelings of uncertainty out in front of us.
- Close relationships. Whether its career related, or a major change in a family, transition usually means a break in close relationships. Some of these may have involved deep bonds built over many years. In some cases, it may mean losing the only close relationships a person (or family) has. Loneliness often dominates the feelings of leaders who have recently been in a transition, as leadership already tends to be isolating, and stepping away from a leadership role usually means the loss of the few (local) confidants a leader has.
- Home – both a building and a location. This is almost always the case in career changes that involve a move. Moving means we become a fish out of water, for a time. Moving for a homeowner also means leaving behind the most important material possession most people will ever own, a house. Sure, a new house can be bought or built, but the feeling of being “home” takes a long time to rebuild in a new location.
- Platform. Transition often means stepping away from a place of influence in people’s lives, gained through years of hard work, and the trust people give over time. This is especially painful for ministry leaders as stepping away from a role means the loss of the place where ministry giftedness (spiritual gifts, leadership gifts, etc.) was expressed on a regular basis. Unless the transition involves moving directly into a similar position, having no “automatic” outlet for a person’s gifts and talents means the person is going to feel frustrated and bored, and maybe even find himself or herself in an identity crisis. I’ve been there! Occupational “unfulfillment” is tough!
- Going from “Somebody” to “Nobody.” A person who lives, works, and serves others in a particular location or role begins to carry “weight,” or influence, in the lives of people, and in the organizations that he or she serves in. The more weight that is added to a person’s influence, the more he or she can move things, make things happen, and lead the charge! Leaving that place or position means leaving much of the influence and renown. Suddenly, it feels as though life purpose has been stripped away. I think this one alone (and maybe the “platform” issue too) are reasons that some people who actually need to leave a place or position resist doing so, because of the fear of losing one’s sense of meaning and purpose in the world. It’s scary to let go, and no one wants to become a “has been.” But let go we must, or we risk failing to open up and embrace new and changed influence elsewhere.
Things you can do if you’re feeling some of these pains:
1) Embrace the letting-go process. Easier said (and written) than done. The internal work of letting go of things we’ve already lost is an integral part of the healing process in grief. It’s also a requirement of readying ourselves for moving on to new things. Embracing the letting-go process means embracing the pain of a loss, this is why it’s so hard. Acknowledge the hurts you feel about your losses and the struggle you are in to release what once was. You must let go before you can truly move on.
2) Talk to someone. I make this suggestion in various forms whenever I try to encourage people who have found themselves in a tough situation. A caring and listening ear is a precious gift that prevents us from being totally alone in our struggles. You were made to live in community, and community can be a lifesaver.
3) Write about it. Writing about our problems is a helpful and healing way to process difficult times. This is true for the letting-go process as well. Buy a journal, or make a computer file folder where you can make entries about the things you’re feeling. Write a couple of paragraphs early in the morning or perhaps just before bed. Writing about problems is like letting an anxious bird out of its cage- it brings moments of freedom. If you’re like me, things have to get really bad before you’re willing to listen to this suggestion and actually take the time to do it. I wish I wouldn’t have waited so long before I started expressing my struggles in writing. Once I started, it seemed that the fog began to lift.
4) Talk to God about it. Something that has repeatedly brought me to a place of awareness of my need for God, and for his love and power in my life, has been experiences of personal pain. Being a Christian, and more specifically inviting God into the most personal areas of my life, has changed everything. I have found that bringing personal weakness to God through prayer and Scriptural reflection has led me to places of new and greater strength. The problem is that I have sometimes caught myself feeling ashamed for being in a place of brokenness before God. But the more I have learned to fully believe in God’s all-encompassing love for those who belong to him in Jesus, the more I have been released to walk with God by faith, with honesty and transparency.
Here are a couple of suggestions for taking spiritual steps during your struggle.
- Consider that God is mysteriously working things out in your life to accomplish good purposes for you, though for a time it all seems so unclear. Try meditating on Psalm 16:5-11 for a number of days (linked here). It’s my favorite Scripture passage for re-firing my faith in the loving sovereignty of God over our situations.
- Pray with complete honesty about the way you feel. Be specific about the situation, and allow yourself to “be yourself” in the place of prayer. Let it all out! The Book of Psalms, which is like the prayer book of the Bible, is filled with gut-wrenching honesty and expressions of distress. It’s also filled with declarations of faith and hope in God, who carries his children through times of trouble. An outstanding example of this and a great one for reading and reflecting is Psalm 42.
If you are experiencing a crisis of transition, let your struggle translate into an invitation to draw nearer to the One who has good plans for your future. God wants to use everything in our lives, including the unwanted losses, pressures, and delays of transition, to shape and mold us into people who have learned to orient all of life completely around him.
In Christ’s love, Nathan
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How glad I am to know the Maker of it all.
Or maybe it’s that he knows me.
In truth, the more I experience the life of faith the more I feel
that I have only just begun to know this Mystery.
I have been graced by the faith of others
who planted the Living Word along my path.
I have experienced mercy beyond belief- I am loved, perfectly, in spite of me.
I have been transformed by the Presence that has touched and remade my being.
How I long to know more about the One
who longs to be revealed and known in us
Until we all have eyes set on eternity.
* * * *
Words that began as I witnessed the sunset pictured in the post, and as I thought of the words of Paul the Apostle in Philippians 3:10-12 (NIV):
10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Last week I had the privilege of speaking to a group of returning overseas missionaries on the subject of transitioning after the end of a ministry role. Thanks to the organization that sent them overseas, instead of “jumping ship” they were entering into a healthy process of a planned preparation for change. They were beginning a major transition from an intense time of ministry and life in a foreign country, back to a stateside life. I was there to help prepare them for both the struggles and opportunities that come whenever we step away from something that once took up a big part of our lives.
The topic of ministry transitions (and caring for ministry leaders during them) is one that has occupied much of my personal and professional life in recent years. I experienced an extended period of “transitional distress” after I resigned from a fulfilling role as the pastor of a church that I led for almost eight years. I needed a lot of encouragement and input during that time. Later, I started noticing that other ministry leaders were experiencing the same kinds of trouble after an ending, and I became burdened for them. I decided to make the topic of Christian leaders in transition the focus of my culminating doctoral project, which led to an immersion in related literature as well as a period of practical application with leaders who were currently experiencing a difficult transition. All of these experiences have given me an understanding of the common kinds of crises people can experience when they enter into a major life transition, as well as ways to navigate them.
Ministry transitions certainly aren’t the only kind of difficult life transition. You might be reading this because you are facing a different kind of career or life transition. Transitional distress, which includes a whole spectrum of personal and situational problems, is common after significant changes in work, family, health, and even age, just to name a few. The late Dr. William Bridges wrote, “Change is an event, transition is a process.” Change is what sparks transition. It’s the part that follows change that gets most people. I like to say that the struggles of transition aren’t something you simply need to try and “get over.” Instead, transition is something you “get through.” Transition is or will be a huge part of all of our stories, regardless of our background or career. It’s the unavoidable process of moving on from something big that once marked our lives but has now come to an end.
Some endings that lead to a major transition happen outside of our control, and we are required to respond whether we want to or not. As I mentioned before, the missionaries I was with were experiencing a transition that was pre-planned and healthy. Supportive structures were in place to assist them in their journey home. Many of you reading this blog post will experience a significant transition of some other kind in a less caring or structured environment. Someone may have already made a decision to end something for you, and you have no choice but to figure out how to move on. Or perhaps there has been a crisis that has led to your need to make an ending. Others of us will experience a significant transition because of change that we initiated, of our own will and volition.
When you sense that a big change is needed
Eventually, it happens. You realize that your heart is moving away from something you once felt in tune with, called to, even blessed with. Perhaps this change of heart comes mysteriously and foggily, but you begin sensing that a major shift needs to take place, somehow or in some way. That “something” was heretofore a big part of your life story, but now it seems to be in the way of something else, yet you’re not quite sure of what, or how. When this happens, one of the questions we naturally begin asking ourselves is if these feelings are signals that we need to put that something behind us. Should I quit the position (or resign)? Do I need to end or change a relationship I have with someone? Should I move? Should I leave the group I once felt so at home with?
Before you act:
We’re all going to find ourselves in spots where either the urgency of our situation or a growing discontentedness in our hearts compels us to act in some way. Before you say or do something big, I recommend doing the following:
1) Consider whether or not your decision to make an ending is a good one.
When you have a say in the matter, I suggest that it’s crucial to step back and carefully examine the situation as objectively as possible. Give careful consideration to the outcomes, the risks, and the possibility of wrong motives or misperceptions you might have about the situation. It is important to carefully examine what’s happening inside of you because even good endings, done with right motives and supported by the counsel of others, have significant after-effects not only in our personal lives but also in the lives of others around us. Sometimes, the after-effects bring losses and upheavals that are hard to recover from.
Deciding whether or not to put something big behind us is one of the hardest choices we will ever face. The following questions need to be asked- and eventually answered with clarity.
- Is it the right timing?
- Am I ending/resigning/leaving for good reasons?
- What are the consequences, and risks?
- Am I going about the process in the best and healthiest way I know how?
2) Don’t make the decision alone. Ask for input from others you trust.
Usually, we cannot sort through our deep inner longings, fears, and decision processes on our own. Resist the temptation to think that you can make the right decision on your own. Whenever I am sensing the need to make a significant personal or professional change, I ask for help from wise, trusted people who can offer caring but also careful and objective counsel, even if it’s not what I want to hear. More than 20 years of adulthood, leadership, parenting, marriage, and ministry have taught me that there are times when I am going to need to listen to the perspectives of others who weigh in on my situation. When I was pastoring, there were several occasions where I experienced intense feelings of wanting to move on to a different ministry. I sought counsel from people who had a proven track record of navigating the challenges I was facing. Each time, I decided to stay the course. Some of my biggest breakthroughs as a leader came on the other side of those tough seasons. Conversely, just before I resigned, I was struggling to understand why I was beginning to sense that my time at the church was done while at the same time attempting to uphold a commitment and loyalty that would prevent me from leaving. It was a confusing and emotional time, and a pastoral counselor helped me to see the situation more clearly as well as the rightness of the timing for my resignation.
You WON’T regret doing the following:
- Pick two or three people you believe would offer you well-informed, experienced counsel.
- If you are feeling hard pressed, call or email them TODAY. If they aren’t available right away, let them know what you’re facing and ask when they can meet.
- Consult a family pastor or other church leader known for his or her wisdom and care with people and families. (If you can’t think of one, one of your Christian friends will likely have suggestions.) Christian leaders usually have lots of experience with helping people navigate difficult choices.
The Bible has a lot to say about choices. Here are just a few of its insights:
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)
For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers. Proverbs 11:14 (NIV)
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 (NIV)
I am convinced (from experience!) that God is at work in people who seek him. He can shape and mold your desires and make them more of a reflection of his, and his are always best. And thankfully, our desires are not always wrong, nor are our needs ignored. Those who seek the counsel of the Lord can expect help and rewards along the way.
Ultimately it is you that must decide, but you will do yourself (and many others) a great disservice if you make high-cost, high-risk choices based solely on the impulses and drive of your own heart. Certainly, I believe that our feelings and desires are important elements in our decisions, yet I also firmly believe we cannot trust them alone. Sometimes, we need to be protected from our own selves. Wise people who can speak into our lives are nothing short of divine gifts waiting for us if we have the courage to look for them, and make room in our hearts (and our pride) to trust and receive them. When an ending is necessary, this kind of help can go a long way towards an ending that is as healthy as possible for all instead of a “jumping ship” scenario.
3) Be willing to delay your decision.
Emotions are powerful forces, and when we’re feeling driven by them, we might want to hurry a decision just to get it over with. It’s better to delay major decisions, if even only for a little while when the situation allows for it (and many do). Wait long enough to 1) step back and consider all of your options, 2) get the counsel you need (including godly counsel), and 3) see how things pan out with a little time. It’s amazing what a few days of delay can bring as far as new perspectives. To help stave off feelings of anxiety about a major decision in front of me, I go to my calendar and schedule a day and time (or multiple times on different days) when I will sit down to look things over, and maybe jot down thoughts and ideas.
4) Remember that you process best when you’re feeling rested and refreshed.
Many years ago I heard someone say something that I always try to keep in mind when I am approaching a major decision: Never make a big decision when you’re overtired or discouraged. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, don’t trust the feelings and perspectives you have in that exhausted, negative-minded state! Wait until you’re having a good day, and see how you feel about it then. Write down your thoughts and perspectives when you have a sense of grounded positivity about your situation. You’ll be surprised at your new clarity, and hopefully, your willingness to listen to the input of others.
COMING SOON: Pt. 2: “The Pains of Transition,” where I will help you put words to some of the common struggles, or pains, you may be feeling if you are in the midst of a difficult transitional season in your life.
If this post has helped you in some way, or if you have something to add, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below. Thank you for reading.
In the boundless love of Jesus, Nathan
Have you ever wrestled, for days or even months on end, with accepting an undesirable situation that is out of your control? Have you ever struggled to find a deep and lasting satisfaction in your present circumstances that are less than what you hoped for, or think you should have received? I’ve been there MANY times. If you’re there now, perhaps this short excerpt from a 500+ yr. old book will help you as it has me. The reading is from The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a’ Kempis (1380-1471). It’s one of the most inspiring and painfully honest books I have ever read. I have returned to his prayer near the end of the section (in bold text below) over and over again when I’ve struggled in these ways. A’ Kempis’ work is a spiritual writing and is best used slowly and prayerfully during a quiet break or moment in your day.
* * *
MY CHILD, this is the way you must speak on every occasion: “Lord, if it be pleasing to You, so be it. If it be to Your honor, Lord, be it done in Your name. Lord, if You see that it is expedient and profitable for me, then grant that I may use it to Your honor. But if You know that it will be harmful to me, and of no good benefit to the welfare of my soul, then take this desire away from me.”
Not every desire is from the Holy Spirit, even though it may seem right and good. It is difficult to be certain whether it is a good spirit or a bad one that prompts one to this or that, and even to know whether you are being moved by your own spirit. Many who seemed at first to be led by a good spirit have been deceived in the end.
Whatever the mind sees as good, ask and desire in fear of God and humility of heart. Above all, commit the whole matter to Me with true resignation, and say:“Lord, You know what is better for me; let this be done or that be done as You please. Grant what You will, as much as You will, when You will. Do with me as You know best, as will most please You, and will be for Your greater honor. Place me where You will and deal with me freely in all things. I am in Your hand; turn me about whichever way You will. Behold, I am Your servant, ready to obey in all things. Not for myself do I desire to live, but for You — would that I could do this worthily and perfectly!”
From Book 3, Ch. 15: HOW ONE SHOULD FEEL AND SPEAK ON EVERY DESIRABLE THING, in The Imitation of Christ.
Often times, when a person is in crisis and deeply distressed there is a tendency to feel ashamed of the struggle – especially for people of faith. An inability to “get over it” in a hurry is reason for many Christians (and Christian leaders) to begin crumbling under the weight of secret feelings of inadequacy and unsuitability; that one’s spirituality or inward strength is somehow proven to be a failure because the struggle has become so overwhelming. It’s no wonder. We live in a world that glorifies only the unbreakable and always-happy and successful person. Sadly, this has invaded much of popular Christian thought in our day.
But then there is the almost shocking contrast of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Son of God, in agony and distress, overwhelmed “to the point of death.” Witnessing again the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” in emotional and spiritual turmoil allows us to believe more fully that God graciously accepts his servants who likewise cannot remain fully composed in times of great distress. Be encouraged today. The Savior knows about your struggle and has been in that place of weakness. He doesn’t reject you on account of it, and there is healing available in his loving presence.
Painting: “Gethsemane,” by Adam Abram
Have you ever doubted the things you believe? Or maybe you’ve wondered if it really matters all that much when you see so many non-believers that seem to be getting along just fine without faith or church?
My own experiences of doubt regarding faith and spirituality have helped me to understand those who don’t share my beliefs, and what’s more, reflecting on my times of doubt have helped me begin thinking about the drastic changes happening right now in people’s values and attitudes towards things like church and Christian living. There’s a massive earthquake going on in the world of faith and spirituality as we’ve known it in the western world, and Christian believers and leaders are finding the need for big changes to the typical modes of sharing faith and being the church.
Today I had the opportunity to give an early morning “sit-down” chat session with a group of students, and these questions were a part. Our topic was one very close to my heart- Christianity’s place in a Post-Christian (or officially, “Post-Christendom”) world; a world that no longer understands the faith, or the way of life that Christians live by. As always when opening things up for a discussion, student contributions helped to enrich the content of the discussion and enhance the things I had prepared in advance.
If you’re interested in these issues or if you’re a searching doubter/skeptic, or you’re trying to understand how to be a Christian in a VERY non-Christian world, you will probably enjoy the rest of my thoughts on the topic below. I would love to receive feedback with your reaction (good or bad), your questions, and further insights.
One thing I find myself thinking about constantly is the way that contemporary western society no longer understands Christianity and the church, and vice-versa, the way that Christianity (and much of the church) in contemporary western society has often failed to understand this lack of understanding! By “understanding” I mean much more than just a list of information or beliefs. I’m talking about a whole system of values, approaches to life, self-understanding, and social connectedness. It’s worth noting that this growing gap is mainly a western phenomenon right now, especially when looking at the past hold of the church as a cultural pillar of western society. That pillar has long since been taken down.
Most people in western cultures simply “don’t get it” anymore. It’s not that they are antagonistic towards faith or church, or purposely avoiding belief; I truly believe that many are searching and open, but the modernist (i.e. certainty-without-question, as an expectation) approach that Christianity has taken in recent decades is no longer as effective as it once was. It tends to turn people off. People react against someone telling them that the authority on truth comes from a source outside of themselves – it’s a tough thing to analyze or describe in only a few words, but it’s the new normal. And people of faith need to understand this reality.
The values of Christianity are also increasingly foreign to our culture, yet wise and experienced leaders know that the visible church that meets together must somehow retain visibility and functionality as the “Body of Christ” in the world, because powerful and transformative things happen when believers meet together! One of the big questions for forward-thinking leaders is, “How?”
Even if people know the beliefs of Christianity and actually find some merit in them, today’s generations are so far removed from orienting their lives around faith, and things like “going to church,” that walking someone into the Christian way of doing life is like taking someone for a ride to the moon. I should add that such a ride to the moon is a very good ride to take! Indeed, my whole life has been transformed through the things that have happened to me as a believer in the Jesus Christ of the Gospels and New Testament. But that doesn’t mean that I have never struggled, questioned, or doubted my faith, or the expression of that faith visibly and corporately. I have taken dives into all of that, even when I was pastoring!
In the long run, uncertainty about what I believe has helped me to understand the world outside of my faith bubbles, and caused me to dig much deeper and harder to find out why I believe the things I profess to believe. As a result of these searches my faith has grown, and I have found higher and more solid ground to stand on.
If I were to summarize the thrust of what I’m hoping to pass on to people (and with God’s help, model myself) it’s this:
In a world where Christianity is foreign, people need to see it lived out for real in the lives of everyday believers, and then feel it in the warmth of Christian love and the presence of God in the life of the church.
If you’re also thinking about the things I’m thinking about you will probably have some things to share. You might even have your own blogs or favorite places to go and read on the subject – it’s a big discussion about a very important need, and this short post barely scratches the surface.
But we have to start somewhere.
I would love to hear from you here in the blog commenting space below.
Thanks for reading!
A Year of Forgiveness. Maybe this is what you need in 2015. Has someone hurt you deeply? Maybe the wrongs were truly wrong – really mean-spirited, or maybe someone unknowingly crushed your hope under the weight of his/her words or actions. The weight of your hurt, and your anger against the person, drags you down on a day to day basis. Forgiving a person who wronged you does not mean that you need to trust the person again. There is good reason NOT to trust them, at least for now, and you’ve learned that the hard way. Forgiveness means you emotionally, mentally, and “spiritually” release them from YOUR demand that they right the wrong, or get paid back for what they have done. Easier said than done, I know.
I’ve been enjoying the fruit of forgiveness in one part of my life story for some time now. Over the last couple of years I have found myself missing the very people who once hurt me deeply – and I mean really missing them, their smiles, their hugs, and their strong faith in the Lord. I had grown extra close to them as their pastor and friend. We shared genuine Christian love and fellowship. Countless hours together in church, in our homes, and over grand meals. Years of mission and family and laughter and joy! They held and kissed our babies, they opened their lives and their homes to me and my ministry, and we were all growing in Christ together as friends. Then, major differences came about regarding the direction of my leadership, some things were said and relationships were broken, and for a time it was best that we did not speak. The cost to my emotions and to the stability of the church was huge. For a time, just the thought of them was like a hot iron being pressed on my head. Somehow, as time passed and my wrestling in prayer towards forgiveness seemed to make progress, I realized how much I truly love them, still! Over the last couple of years I have longed for their presence, and my heart is warmed just at the thought of them. They are subjects of many wonderful stories and fond memories that we recall with our children. We celebrate the goodness of God in allowing us to have known them. One of them remains a hero to me!
And I try to remember that they have had to work at forgiving ME.
I am wary of the sneaky growth of bitterness that results from unforgiveness, spreading through our inner being slowly enough that we don’t notice. Kinda like the roots over rocks in the picture (from a hike on Bald Mt. in the Adirondacks). Eventually, they overran the whole scene. Unforgiveness is like that.
“See to it.. that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” From Hebrews 12:15, in the Bible
Forgiveness is not easy for anyone really, except maybe little kids who had a Jolly Rancher stick stolen before lunch. When someone’s wrongdoing (perceived or actual) has cost you something big, like emotional wellness, or relational connections in family or work, or a big chunk of money, the kind of pain and hurt (and loss) that follows the wrong is no small thing. Some of your losses may take years to recover – some may never be recovered. But you can still forgive. My short blog here won’t give you power to do that, but I know someone who will. He gave me the power to forgive. I have also learned, through trial and error, some practices that have helped me move forward on the tough road of forgiving people. Here are four things I do when I feel hurt or wronged by someone:
- Prayers of blessing: When I feel hurt or wronged by a person I have learned that the most powerful thing I can do is to begin praying for that person, right away (the same day, and continuing for a few days). I take him/her before the Lord, asking God to pour out his love and mercy, to bless the person, to fill him/her with the Holy Spirit, to reveal himself in the person’s life, and to pour out blessings that cannot be contained. For real. I don’t know exactly what or why this happens – but almost every time I have done that, I have literally felt a change taking place in my own heart, and I feel as though the very things I pray for that person also end up coming to me! And if that weren’t enough, the weight of my hurt feelings lightens, and genuine love starts to fill in the holes. I believe that this is the most important step of them all.
- Seek wise counsel: I have found that my own hurt blurs my ability to make good decisions about how to respond to that person (or persons) regarding the situation. Should I tell them about my hurt? Should I confront the person? Should I refrain from saying anything? (I have done all three in different situations.) The counsel of wise leaders in my life has been a great help in finding the best response with a person who has brought a significant hurt in my life. My advice: Don’t act in a situation where you are really hurt until you have spoken with a trusted counselor or mentor in your life, like a pastor or relative who just seems to know what to do in tough situations. In some cases, perceived wrongs are just that – perceived (and not real), and the voice of another can help you see the situation more clearly.
- Control my tongue: I think this might be the hardest thing for some readers. When we get hurt, we are compelled to tell others. There is healing in the telling, and there is vengeance in naming the person that did it. One of the great disciplines of a person of integrity is the ability to refrain from blasting people who have brought hurts – and this includes seemingly innocuous naming in conversation with people who should not be privy to the situation. The important thing is to determine who should be informed of the person and situation, and who should not. Most likely, nearly all of the people you want to tell about it should not. But in some cases, there are reasons to go into confidential conversations to discuss the situation and people. Even in some of those meetings it isn’t always necessary to name the person or people. I have worked hard at this over the years and I am thankful for many occasions when I kept my mouth shut. I also regret a few when I blasted someone because of what they did to me. I later went to those I dumped on and asked for their forgiveness for my wrong.
- Space: It’s important to have space from someone that has brought hurt into your life. In extreme situations that space may need to be permanent. But in most, hours/days, or maybe a few weeks (or months?) will allow for a whole lot healing of the wounds that came to you, and one day you might find yourself wishing you were near again. Space can be virtual or real. Social media and phone connections may need to end for a while. And of course, it might need to be in-person connections that pause for a bit. You need time to calm down and think more clearly, and space is an important way to allow for that.
Forgiveness is not quick, and never easy. If you are carrying a load of hurt this New Year, I pray that in the reading of this post you have found something that gives you hope for healing. In Christ’s love, Nathan
P.S. Do you have any insights from a personal journey in forgiveness? Maybe you noticed a gap in my post that you feel is important to speak to? I would love to hear from you in the comment section below. You can also reach me through Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.
It’s almost Father’s Day. Here’s a short blog on the power dads have in the lives of their children.
I believe that it’s possible to be “super dad” without being perfect as a father. I’m definitely not perfect! You don’t need to be a perfect dad to raise your kids well. When my children were all very young I was struggling over something in my relationship with my son. A friend knew me enough to recognize my tendency toward perfectionism in certain areas in my life – trying to be the perfect dad in this case. He said, “We don’t need to be perfect dads. We just need to be good ones.”Those words were very freeing. Good dads – the kind that invest themselves extensively into the lives of their children, imperfectly even – have tremendous power in the lives of their children. Here are some of the biggest sources of power I am working on in my role as a dad.
The power of being PRESENT: Just today I needed to take our youngest to a dental appointment to get x-rays, something that multiple hygienists and the dentist had unsuccessfully attempted to do with her many times in the past (the uncomfortable brackets always brought the show to a close). This time dad would also be sitting in a dentist’s chair – at the exact same time. Little did my daughter know that my reason for being there was much more extensive (and much more uncomfortable!). But in her little world, the pep talk I gave her just before we went in was all she needed for a successful visit, finally. Meanwhile, dad was just across the commons area in another chair getting stuck and drilled for three small cavities that suddenly appeared (never had one before turning 40, what’s that all about?). Dad was the most anxious today, but my daughter had no idea, she just knew I was in the other room supporting her and believing that she could do it.
Dads, your kids think you are fearless. They have no idea that you also have to battle fear and build courage in life, and for things a lot more significant than just a dentist’s drill.Your children are going to face all of the same fear-producing circumstances that you did (and do), and your presence in their lives is a source of courage and strength, even when you’re not aware of it. I remember how the whole world seemed to change after my dad died. It seemed as though it suddenly became more threatening, more unstable. When dad was around it was easier to overcome intimidation and fear. Over the years since then I have grown in my ability to deal with those things apart from him, but I now realize that having him around until I was 30 gave me thirty years of his backing and support. Fathers have the potential to be one of the greatest sources of strength in the lives of their children, and much of it happens simply because you take the time to show up, hang around, and give your children the gift of your time.
The power of TIME: One of the greatest gifts you can ever give your children is your time. Yeah, that means that some dads need to learn how to cut back on their favorite activities, not entirely of course, but for some, significantly. Hey, your kids are only in your home for about 18-20 Christmases, and you already know how fast those fly by. Be there, even when your mind might be elsewhere because of some stressful thing or problem at work. They just know that you’re there.
One of the areas I am growing in most when it comes to spending time with my children is using the time I give them to really connect. I love activity and doing things and going places, and before I know it, a big family weekend is over, and the truth is, we did a lot of stuff but we didn’t really connect. I’ve learned that I need to slow down, look my children in the eyes, listen to them, and respond to them warmly and affectionately whenever possible. I believe one of the most important expressions of your love for your children is the giving of your time. This makes them feel loved.
The power of WORDS: Shortly after the passing of my biological father, someone that I consider in my life to be a father figure and mentor was responding to my email regarding a very difficult situation in our church. I had just made some decisions as a leader that were unpopular and had really rocked the boat. He gave me wise counsel, shared some Scripture and maybe a prayer, and closed with these simple words: “I’m proud of you.” Wow. My courage went through the roof!
It is my conviction that my words to my children have almost the same power in their lives as the words of Scripture. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about “equal weight” or longevity. I’m talking about the power they have in forming the self-concepts and esteem in our children, while they are still in our homes. This definitely means there is need for carefulness when we’re upset and needing to discipline. But at least equal to that is the need for dad to speak words of affirmation. “Son, you are a wonderful person, and your mother and I are so thankful that we have you in our lives. We love watching you grow, and we know that you have been made for a purpose. Good things are planned for you.” Kids need to hear words like that on a regular basis. I heard one statistic that over 70% of our thinking is negative. I’m committed to being one of the most positive forces in the lives of my children, and I know I can do this best through words.
Dads, you’re really powerful!
Have a great Father’s Day!
The tree pictured may look rather common and boring to you, but if you’ve seen it in part 1 and part 2 of this blog series, this picture is anything but boring! As the glory of summer sets in, the rich green foliage is energizing the whole plant system as it soaks up the sun’s rays, and the roots are drawing water and nutrients at a rapid rate. Words like thriving and robust come to mind. But just a couple of months ago this tree was bare and asleep in winter dormancy. We generally don’t like dormancy very much. We long for the warmth and brightness of summer in the natural world, and similarly, we long for fruitful, fulfilling, and productive seasons in our professional lives of vocation and work.
When the Creator designed trees, they weren’t made to peak out at dormancy, that’s for sure! They were made for fullness and productivity, bringing forth beauty and enrichment to the earth. This is true of people, too. We were made to fulfill our divinely-given vocation, bringing forth the good things that grow from our giftedness and calling in work and relationships. But just like the seasons outside, there are times in our lives when we will find that we have lost the glory and fullness of certain expressions of our vocational calling; most often felt when we step away from a job or career (or period of life) that was highly fulfilling, and find ourselves doing something that is far less than the robustness we once knew. This is what I call vocational dormancy. I introduced the topic and told a bit of my own struggle in part 1, and offered helpful insights and hidden opportunities during such a season in part 2.
The good news is that “off” seasons don’t last forever. If you are in a period of vocational dormancy, you need to know that it is only a matter of time until your personal efforts, responses to the situation, and acceptance of divine appointment will once again lead you into a new season of fruitfulness. You were made for a purpose. With time, alignment between your work and vocation can come. But even as you await a brighter and more productive season there are some things that need to begin emerging in your life right now, to get you moving.
Things that helped me begin breaking from dormancy: One of the most important things I learned (by listening to the advice of others) was that I needed to act now, even though I didn’t know what the end of the shut-down period would look like. Here are some of the most helpful things I did:
1. Explore new horizons. Reframe your down time as an opportunity to explore new horizons, and maybe even reinvent yourself professionally. The quiet anonymity experienced by leaders who step out of the lead provides a rare opportunity for exploring, and re-exploring, the desires in your heart, what you feel called to, and what may have been forgotten or put aside in a previous season of busyness. It is likely that there are certain things about your life story and calling that need to be recaptured, and a dormant season is a perfect time to make the connection. For some this means finishing or going back to school. The opportunity to do so may never come back again. This is what happened to me. As I was sensing that the time for change was coming (I originally hoped it would be one year, but it was almost two), I remembered that I had once believed the time would come for me to get a doctoral degree. With the full backing of my wife I enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program at Northeastern Seminary, and I have been floored by the experience of having my eyes opened to a much larger world of Christian faith and practice as compared to what I had previously known. This is just one part of my new openness to exploring new avenues for the things I believe I am called to do.
Maybe it’s time to let go of past successes and fulfillment. One of the biggest and most important questions I was asked during my shut-down was “Will you return to pastoring?” I can hardly overstate the attachment I had to that title – years of fulfilling, challenging work as the spiritual leader of a Christian congregation became deeply written into my whole life story and sense of purpose. I had a hard time imagining myself finding that same level of fulfillment doing something else. But the question needed to be asked, and I believe even more importantly, I needed to be willing to accept that divine appointment in my life could very well mean something different in my future. In short, I had to arrive at a place of being willing to say “no” to what previously marked my life and had given me purpose.
The process of letting go of attachment was much harder than I expected. It required some serious “deep diving” in contemplation and prayer. The question that needs to be asked is, “What else might I be called to do with my life?” The answer to that scary question could be the key that unlocks a whole series of events leading to your new season of fruitfulness. Are you willing to let go of what you are known for? I expect that for some of you, the whole of your next season hinges on your willingness to be open to separating away from familiar pathways of work and career. I remain open to the possibility that I will one day pastor or plant a church, but this idea does not have a hold on me like it once did.
Do you have big dreams yet unfulfilled? Do you want to reach a certain kind of people, in a certain place, or start a certain kind of organization, that you were previously unable to even begin exploring? Maybe you have wanted to start a business, but your present job kept you from the freedoms you needed, until you lost the job. This special time of openness could offer the opportunity for you to make a new beginning. Seize the moment!
2. Ask yourself “The 30-yr Question,” and maybe do it on a personal retreat. If the stuff you just read makes you a little nervous (like it made me when I was there) then I need to let you know that I’m about to add even more uncertainty to your dormant season. You need to be asking yourself big questions like “What do I want to do with my professional life for the next 30 years?” For you it may be only 10 or 20, or maybe it’s 40. The turning points that happen after dormant seasons can entirely redirect lives, and there is hardly a more critical time to get in touch with long-term vision for your future – including your life, family, and work, than when you are in a shutdown season. You don’t want to miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that may be sitting right in front of you, hidden under all of the stress and process of your current season.
I think that many do miss it. The kind of contemplative “deep diving” required to go there calls for specialness of time and space, where you can focus in and listen to yourself, and to God. This is where a retreat may be a huge help.
One of the highlights of my exploration of how-to-maximize-now and what-to-do-next came when I took a personal retreat at a guest house on the campus of a nearby monastery for Trappist monks. No, I wasn’t considering celibacy or living permanently in an enclosure; I was looking for a quiet and restful place to get away for at least one night, so I could ask myself those big questions, pray, think, rest, and write down on paper where I was at. I needed (and wanted, sort of) silence and solitude. I had previously taken a group of men on a retreat in the same guest house and knew that I would be able to find the space I needed there.
Obviously, there are many great places to take a retreat. I suggest choosing a location without a TV or computer, and refraining from taking any electronic devices except perhaps your phone, but even that can become an all-consuming distraction unless you are disciplined and willing to turn the thing off. The silence and solitude of a retreat without technology was one of my best moments during my two-year struggle. I sat alone and thought, wrote, and prayed. I took long walks. I read. I took a nap. I ate meals slowly and read Scripture at the table. I took a notepad and wrote down anything that seemed to bring clarity to my situation or ponderings, and whatever I sensed as a whisper from heaven in my Scripture reading and prayer. That was almost two years ago, and I can still vividly remember some of the clear discoveries and insights that came to me!
Whether or not you take a retreat (or many other things I suggest doing), you should aim to be able to write down (or type out) clear and concise answers to at least the following questions:
- What do I really want/feel called to do with the rest of my working years?
- What can I do right now to take practical steps in that direction?
- Who do I need to meet with to talk about my goals?
3. Talk to people who are doing what you think you want to do. Even if you are not 100% certain that what you have in mind is what you’ll be doing in the future, talk to those who are doing it. I spent a significant amount of time (and money) one summer traveling to various cities in the U.S. to spend time with a world renowned ministry that was doing the kinds of things I thought I should pursue doing. Boy was I in for a surprise. Though I greatly enjoyed many of the “ministry moments” in those venues, the behind-the-scenes struggles, bothers of travel, and surface-only nature of relationality entailed with a blow-in/blow-out organizational profile helped me to realize that even though I was open to doing that kind of ministry work, I wasn’t going to be in a hurry to make it happen, and I was suddenly more fond of the local church. But my sense of call remained, and I continued exploring and experimenting with new paths, and meeting with leaders who “knew the stuff.” Though I never intended to become a pastor (and actually told people that I wasn’t called to it), I eventually began to realize that I truly believed God had called me to the pastorate I held for almost 8 years. Many years later, a new season of exploration led me into teaching at Elim Bible Institute (part-time at the time of this writing), even though I had previously told people that I didn’t think I would ever be a Bible school teacher! I continue to hold onto a whole list of desires and interests and sense of calling to additional things, and I know that a process of exploring these interests with other seasoned leaders will be necessary in the future.
4. Bud & bloom where you’re planted. Stuck in a less-than-wanted job? Even if your current situation is not what you want for the long term, it is possible to focus on the positive, and turn your attitude and outlook around by maximizing the moment you are currently in. Make it your goal to be the most positive person in the whole place. Seek to be successful at what you do, even if you’re not that excited about what you’re doing. This kind of thinking brought dramatic changes into my situation. After a few months of settling into the job I had to take after my resignation from the pastorate, I caught myself framing almost everything about my situation through a lens of negativity and lack. Were there negative things about the situation? Sure! But I was letting them dominate my mind and thinking, and it was dragging me down.
I began to prayerfully address my attitude, and I confessed my attitude problem to a friend. I started focusing on the positive things, even when they seemed few (they were many but I couldn’t see them at the time). In my job I was answering continual phone calls from frustrated customers (and sometimes, foul-mouthed!), and I decided that I was going to be “the man for the job,” even when my thoughts kept turning towards wanting to get out. I treated customers like gold, and I treated my co-workers sitting next to me (and throughout the building) as if they were God’s own treasures. (And if you really understand how God feels about people, you know they are!) It paid off. I started making friends in the cubicles around me. We laughed together and enjoyed conversations almost every day. I won happy customer awards for making customers on the phone so happy. I tacked up the awards in my cubicle and I arranged decorations and family pictures as though I was sitting in my own private office. I became more open to the gifts and blessings of the day, and I gradually slipped from disoriented and discouraged to attentive and appreciative.
I became so positive that a grumpy lady in a cubicle near mine burst out loudly one day about how ridiculous it was that I could have such a positive attitude in such a boring, stressful job. I smiled, and gently said something about the role of faith in my outlook on life. Things were taking a turn. I started sleeping better. I was soon able to wean off of the medication I was taking for depression (I share more about my experience of depression in part 2). But the funny thing is that I was still stuck in the same job and situation! The difference between the first and second year at that job was like night and day, and it was almost entirely due to attitude.
5. Make a big deal of small beginnings. When an opportunity to do something you actually want to do comes, and after evaluation you feel it’s a go – go for it. Even if it is small, and doesn’t seem to hold the promise of a connection to the things you long for, tell that negative voice to shut up, and pour yourself into the work. It is a common error to always believe that the desired future awaiting you is held in an open job slot that is “out there somewhere.” Although this will be the case for some, many will need to find small ways to make a new beginning and do what they want to do, but those opportunities will not be found in a newspaper, or behind someone’s desk. Perhaps it starts with volunteering. Or maybe a new product or side-job. Maybe it’s an outreach to people with a certain kind of need that stirs you. For me it began with teaching a single class, for which I was given the opportunity, after I had met with several key leaders, simply because the former teacher moved on to other things, and I was judged to be a right fit. Put pride aside, accept the seemingly insignificant thing that is in front of you, and make it your mission to pray over it and passionately pursue it. Little things can turn out very large one day.
For all my readers who have been willing to grunt (or weep) their way through one of these tough transitions from fulfillment into a state of actively employed “unfulfillment” (translation: you took a job you didn’t want to take), I say, “Well done!” It’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to be a miserable experience forever. And it won’t last forever. So while you make the best of now, try some of the things I have suggested in this post, and keep your eyes on the horizon. I hope this brief collection of ideas for reemergence will help you make a break into a new season of fruitfulness and fullness in your life, work, or ministry.
Thanks for reading. Please consider sharing this series with someone you know who is struggling in these areas.
Other posts in this series:
Bored, stalled, stuck, frozen, hindered – do any of these words describe your feelings about the season of life you’re in? You just might be in a period of what I call “vocational dormancy.” It’s my way of naming the difficult experience of people who have found themselves in a period of life where they are unhappy with their present work and career situation, and especially those who are now in such a season after having once been in a happier and more fulfilling place. The angle on the experience I am coming from has to do with stepping away from fulfilling leadership and ministry positions, but the essence of the experience – losing a sense of vocational fulfillment and replacing it with something less than fulfilling, is common to people in all walks of life. For instance, it is a common experience of business owners after the sale of the company, of mothers who leave the workplace for child-rearing or find themselves with an empty nest, and of course, retirees.
I introduced the issue and told some of my own story in part 1. In part 2 of this blog I am hoping to connect with you on finding ways to take the edge off of your situation, and hopefully get you to a place where you are more ready to adjust to your “new normal.” I am confident that acting upon the four suggestions I offer below will allow you to begin building hope for a fuller and more meaningful sense of life now, even when you may not see any desired changes to your actual circumstances on the horizon. Yet. At the end of this post I will list some books that really helped me. Maybe some of the good reads there will be just what you need.
As I did in part 1 of Vocational Dormancy, I again write from personal experience, mixed with observations and memories of others in similar circumstances. This means that my input, though hopefully helpful, is limited in its scope and abbreviated for a series of blog posts. Your story teaches you valuable insights. Please feel free to share the way you have found help during a time of vocational uncertainty, or just downright frustration with your job situation.
Don’t go it alone (the main theme of all of part 2)
1. Get support. If you are struggling over your current career situation and vocation, seek the input of trusted voices. Call it what you like, counsel, advice, input, etc. – it really helps. I suggest developing your very own “transition team,” as I did (unknowingly), to offer an outside perspective along with good doses of practical wisdom for your situation. When I was in the midst of my own struggle I began meeting occasionally with our new pastor, who graciously listened as I poured out my heart and struggles. His prayers and faith-born positivity about my future became a source of powerful encouragement, and helped me to walk through the transition with hope. I also began meeting with other leaders and friends who brought their unique perspectives and encouragement. I found that the encouragement was sometimes mutual, and I enjoyed knowing that my transparency with my struggles was somehow encouraging them in their own. More than anything else I would encourage someone in this kind of situation to seek out the help of a well-respected pastoral leader of a Christian church or organization (more on the faith bit later). In addition to this, there are people who work professionally for these very things, offering coaching sessions to help you navigate your life situation. It’s worth the small expense.
I am reminded of the words in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10:
9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
2. Get healthy. We have a tendency to neglect the care of our own well-being, even as we tend to the needs of our families and finances, and if you’re a leader, to the people and organization you lead. If you are experiencing some down time (even if it’s unwanted) in your own vocational goals and direction, now is the perfect time to take care of some health-related things you may have previously left unattended. This could be either physical or emotional health needs, maybe both.
Consider seeing a counselor. The counselor I saw almost immediately diagnosed depression, something that I had never felt I struggled with before, and the counselor’s awareness put words and understanding to the discouragement I couldn’t seem to overcome. It was humbling, but the counselor’s perspective also helped me to see how a series of highly stressful circumstances in my life, lasting for more than three years, had wiped me out in every way, and taken away my ability to rebound as I always had before. I was able to make sense of my troubles. I finally accepted that I was in need of counsel and medication for a season. Looking back, the decision to listen to professionals regarding my needs was critical in getting me through that first year. To be honest, at first I refused to accept that I was depressed, probably because of being depressed (!) and because of what I now believe to be problematic religiosity that was intertwined with my personal convictions and faith. It was my wife’s own concern and action that led me to begin accepting that I needed help, at least for a while. When Christian leaders avoid medicine because of their convictions (like I did), I would say that what often ends up happening is that they find ways to self-medicate, without the care and oversight of a qualified professional. This can quickly lead to addictive behaviors and dependency. More often, it just means people don’t get the help they need. I am thankful that I finally quit trying to be a lone hero survivor. I hope you do, too. Worried about people’s opinions of you if they find out you saw a counselor or took medication for a while? The kinds of people that would judge you for those things aren’t really worth keeping in your circles anyway, and you might as well find out now.
Maybe you have some physical health problems that have piled up – don’t put it off for a day when you are feeling more positive about your life. See a doctor now. My dad put off having a small spot on his side checked out until it was too late, and a few years later the cancer took his life. Get help and go see a doctor with whom you can lay it all out there. Part of the reason for the depression I experienced was due to a long battle with the effects and aftercare of a life-threatening infection I came down with in 2007. At the time I was in the best shape of my life since my teens, and suddenly, I was in need of more doctor’s visits than I could keep track of, spread out in various offices all over our area. I slowly got into an emotional slump because health had become such an issue in my life. But during that time of humbling care (maybe better to say – humiliation, and oh, do I have stories), I realized that personal health needed to become a top priority in my life. I am healthier now and weigh less than I did when I was pastoring, and am doing better with my sense of encouragement, much more so than I was when trying to handle my health needs all by myself. I learned the hard way. You don’t have to. If seeing a doctor and opening up about your needs transparently could mean adding a decade of fruitful service, leadership, creativity, etc. to your life, then please do it.
3. Relearn Rest. Learn how to rest again. The shutdown of a major career transition is a great time to reprioritize your life and schedule. If you were closely connected to leadership responsibilities, chances are that your previous season “on” took over your ability to rest properly, and I don’t mean just vacations. Take at least a full day off EVERY week, whenever possible. Rediscover the beautiful provision for rest taught in the Bible that is sometimes called “Sabbath spirituality” (not a specific day, but a way of life that utilizes a day of rest). Develop healthy rhythms of work and rest, so you can avoid burning out prematurely and getting robbed of the joy of your work. One top-leader I highly respect told me during a coaching session on handling high-stress responsibilities that whenever he has to work through what should have been a day off, he goes to his calendar and schedules an “R-Off” day, (R for Replacement) to ensure that he is getting the rest he needs. Not everyone can do this with their schedules, but pastors, leaders, business owners, and many others with flexible schedules should take note. One of the things I changed after resigning from the pastorate was my rhythms of rest and work. I rarely ever rested enough when I was pastoring. I changed my value systems (exhaustion will do that to you) and have since enjoyed consistent off time almost weekly with my family, with myself, and with God.
4. Discover (or rediscover) connection with God: The dreams and desires pent up inside of you are not an accident. I believe that life dreams can be and often are planted inside of us by our Maker. Yes, I mean God. You aren’t the uniquely gifted individual that you are for no reason. You were made for a purpose, and that purpose has been hidden inside of all of us, like latent buds of a branch waiting to burst forth into the warmth of spring. It helps to know that what you’re doing now is not necessarily what you’ll be doing later. The levels you have reached now are not the cap on the levels you can reach later. But if we base our understanding of our purpose only on future aspirations, we will fail to realize the purpose and significance of the now season in our lives. Here now is one of my favorite subjects to share on. The burning desire inside of you for more, for joy and fulfillment, for peace and significance; ALL of these things are placed there by God, I believe. I am writing this to draw your attention to this aspect of life.
Let these inner drives drive you into a pursuit of God. And not just the positive dreams and aspirations. Let the pain of transition, the losses, the confusion and tears – let all of this drive you deeper into a place of recognizing your need for connection with your Maker. Truly and in every way, more than any other action or undertaking I entered into during my transition, it was through burying myself in places of prayer and seeking God that the pain in my heart, and the pent up desires for more, seemed to meld together into a part of my story as it is being written between God and me. Peace, joy, and thankfulness came more powerfully through prayer and Christian worship than through any other thing I did, or can do now. I understand that some of my readers will have wide ranges of beliefs about God and spirituality, and I do not write this with any kind of religious hammer in mind. I humbly share with you that Christian spirituality, based upon the teachings of the Bible, and interconnected with the life of a worshiping congregation, have been for me a lifeline of spiritual power and personal freedom in all of my life, not just in struggles regarding vocation.
Perhaps the greatest help I found through letting my dormant struggle become a part of my story in God was the way that I became empowered to express my God-given vocation right in the middle of a job I didn’t particularly want. I began pastoring and leading others, almost always unofficially and without any title as such, during my shifts at work, and then outside of work as I connected with new friends I was making there. Some of those friendships – and ongoing ministry and care, continue now, even after nearly three years gone from that place. Vocation is more than a job or line of career. Vocation has to do with divine design in your life – you are uniquely gifted, and uniquely called, to express your divine call through all areas of your life, including your work. As you take care of yourself and seek help socially, physically, and spiritually, you may just find yourself being “you” right where you’re at.
Part 3 of this blog series is titled “Reemergence,” and speaks to the issue of coming out of dormancy, especially related to “budding and blooming” where you’re planted, and maximizing your moment to prepare yourself for a soon coming season of fullness in your vocational calling. You can access it by clicking here. Please feel free to add your thoughts, questions, and suggestions below.
*Great reading for someone in a dormant season:
On seasons of hiddenness and “shut down”:
On Vocation and Calling:
On self-identity and self-understanding:
On rest, health, and well-being: