Too many of us are chronically overextended and doing more for Jesus than our inner life with Him can sustain. We have too much to do in too little time and say a default yes to requests without carefully discerning God’s will.
Overloaded and depleted constitute “normal” for our lives.
It is possible to build a church, an organization or a team by relying only on our gifts, talents and experience. We can expand a ministry without thinking much of Jesus or relying on Him in the process. We can boldly preach truths we don’t live.
I was in my early years as a Christian when I first came to grips with the sad truth that God appeared to use prominent Christian leaders whose relationship with Jesus was seriously under-developed. It was a discovery that left me confused and disoriented.
Yet, after decades in ministry, I am no longer so confused. Why? Because I have experienced what it’s like to be one of those leaders. I have prepared and preached sermons without thinking about or spending much time in communion with Jesus. I know the experience of doing good things that helped a lot of people while being too busy or caught up in my own whirlwind of leadership worries to be intimately connected to Jesus.
The great problem, however, was that my doing-for Jesus often got beyond my being-with or abiding in Jesus. One triggering event or conversation was all I needed to be derailed. So, I identified ten indicators to help me recognize when I have moved away from a centered place with him. Then, if at all possible, I stop, take a few deep breaths and retreat for a bit of silence to get back on track.
I trust some of these indicators will serve you, but I encourage you to identify and add others that fit your particular circumstances and vulnerabilities.
I Know My Doing Exceeds My Being When . . .
- I can’t shake the pressure I feel from having too much to do in too little time.
- I am ignoring the stress, anxiety and tightness of my body.
- I am concerned with what others think.
- I am often fearful about the future.
- I am always rushing.
- I am defensive and easily offended.
- I am preoccupied and distracted.
- I fire off quick opinions and judgments.
- I feel unenthusiastic about or threatened by the success of others.
- I spend more time talking than listening.
Geri and I like to say, “The body is a major, not a minor prophet.” In other words, the body often knows before the mind when our life is out of alignment with God. For example, my stomach gets knotted, my neck tightens, I sweat, I clench my fists, my shoulders stiffen, I can’t sleep, etc.
Jesus faced overwhelming pressures in His life — pressures that far outstrip anything most of us will ever face. Yet He routinely stepped away from those endless leadership demands to spend significant time with the Father. He slowed down to ensure He was in sync with God — that He was in the Father and the Father was in Him, powerfully filling every crevice of His body, mind and spirit.
In routinely stepping away from His active work, He entrusted the outcome of His circumstances, problems and ministry to the Father. And as a result, every action Jesus took was rooted in a place of deep rest and centeredness out of His relationship with God.
The question we each must wrestle with regularly is this: In what ways does my current pace of life and leadership enhance or diminish my ability to allow God’s will and presence full scope in my life?
How do I start?
To be before you do is a rich and beautiful way to live, but we have to be willing to create a protective container — the boundaries— that make it possible. Here are some guidelines to consider as you begin to create your own container.
Adjust Your Job Description and Supervision
For the first ten years of this journey, I made being with God the first priority in my job description. It read something like this: To grow and mature as a disciple of Jesus, leading others out of a deep inner life with Jesus. To be became my first work.
Practice Sabbath Delight
We stop and rest on Sabbath for a twenty-four-hour period because God is on the throne, assuring us the world will not fall apart if we stop working.
Discover the Rhythms of the Daily Office
Stopping three to four times a day to be with God has utterly transformed my spiritual life since I integrated this practice nearly twenty years ago. It has anchored me to be aware of Jesus’s presence in my doing-for him like few other practices.
Craft a Rule of Life
A Rule of Life, very simply, is an intentional, conscious plan to keep God as the center of everything we do. It is a powerful tool dating back to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and enables us to regulate our entire lives in such a way that we prefer the love of Jesus above all things.
Learn From Trusted Companions Who Are Ahead of You
Without mature companions, we can easily get stuck or fall into the trap of going down paths that are not very helpful for the stage of the journey in which we find ourselves.
Experiment and Make Adjustments
As you integrate new practices to slow down in order to balance your doing with your being, expect to encounter challenges and disruptions. After several weeks, make needed adjustments. I promise you, it gets easier as you go. After about six months, you should have a good idea of the core practices that work best for you.
Always remember: God has made each of us different. Your combination of doing and being will be different from mine. God has crafted each of our personalities, temperaments, life situations, passions and callings in a unique way.
So, I encourage you to begin humbly, seeking God’s guidance. And be patient with yourself. Learn to wait on God, anchoring yourself in His love as you begin taking the difficult steps to be before you do.
Based on personal experience over these last twenty-six years, I can promise that you will be reborn into a new place of maturity in Christ. Not only will you be blessed, but so will everyone your serve.