The irony is not lost on me.
In the latter part of 2018 I’m going to help write a spiritual disciplines series for our church. But here I sit, on a plane, mentally exhausted, frustrated, somewhat bitter, and if I’m honest – tired of people.
I’m on a plane because I need to get away. Not away from people or ministry or leadership or tasks and responsibilities, those are all good things. I need to get away because I’m not myself. Well not completely.
How did I get here?
Don’t worry, this isn’t the place I go all self-loathing on you, making you trudge through paragraph after endless paragraph wishing the plane I’m on would just hit you already. I just want to talk about what it means when you don’t take care of yourself ‘spiritually’. Let me clarify first.
It’s not a mystical, wee small voice that I’ve been missing out on that I’m talking about. It’s not an incense infused meditation time on the back of a Llama that I need. But it’s also not simply head knowledge and being disciplined about reading my Bible every day. That’s useful and necessary but not the whole issue. In fact I’m not offering a solution at all in this post. This is about the effects of being undisciplined – essentially how bad it can really get.
So let’s talk about the effects of neglecting spiritual disciplines. What happens? Since I’m a leader, and I’m guessing you are to some degree, I’d like to put this conversation in the context of leadership. Someone other that just me will be affected if I slack off on my spiritual disciplines. We’ll deal with what these spiritual disciplines are in later posts, but for now, let’s look at the consequences.
We lose ourselves when we don’t look for God. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 16:25)
It all starts here. I wouldn’t be here without God. I wouldn’t have my unique personality, a purpose or have anything to look forward to without Him. My value and existence is only possible because of God. Scripture says we can’t do anything without Him, at least not anything good or valuable, we’re literally dependent on Him. I can’t be loving, forgiving, compassionate, or have the best interest of others at heart if I don’t seek Him first. In fact were told to seek him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. All the important parts of us must be directed to seeking him.
Our society places a high emphasis on self-identification, which seems not only subjective but almost an oxymoron. A thing is not allowed to define itself, only something (someone) else can. In a way that only Jesus can do, He turns our our search for identity on its head. It’s not about looking within, searching without or being true to ourselves – whatever all that crap means – Jesus says simply we must lose our life in order to find it. Our life isn’t ours in the first place. We can’t find out who we are by looking at who we are, we must look to God. Our purpose and meaning and identity are in God because we’re only here because of Him. I don’t know about you but that relieves a lot of pressure, not having to define myself and my value. I thought I was just a pale ginger. Turns out I’m God’s pale ginger. Major upgrade. Great beer name too. I need to write that down.
We lose our love for people. “Love the Lord your God…and Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lk 10:27)
When a leader neglects the loving God part – the discipline of seeing God as good, loving, the giver of truth and the ultimate authority in their life even in the midst of tragedy or tough times – the latter naturally follows. Love for others comes from a love for God. In fact I’m convinced that a private life devoted to God fuels a public life devoted to people. And we do need the fuel. People are difficult, sometimes needy, selfish, gossipy, and downright rude. And those are the exact people God calls us to. Just super, right?
As Christian leaders we don’t get to choose the type of people we lead and seek out for the gospel – it’s everybody. And that everybody includes people who are initially loveless, unloveable, or intolerable. They’re the ones that need God’s love the most! Love turns people around, and back to God. But we can’t show them God’s love if we don’t discipline ourself to love God first. We’re expected to reflect God’s love for the world and to be the gospel for others. The fact of the matter is that before people begin to look for God, they usually take a good long look at us. Do we look like we love God? Do our people see an example of truth, love and grace in us? If not we’re in big trouble.
We lose our focus on what’s important.
This may sound odd, but I get a lot of tasks done when I’m frustrated – especially ones that I can do by myself. Why? Tasks are easier to deal with. People are messy. People require attentiveness, care, love, validation, direction, guidance and pastoral care. This email just needs to be sent. Write some directions, delegate something, add a smiley face, push send. Leadership exercised. Stuff is getting done.
Of course that’s ridiculous. Relationships – and leadership specifically – always require personal interaction with at least one other person. Giving information is not leading, completing tasks is not leading, delegation is not leading. Tasks are important and stuff should get done, but they should never overshadow our investment in others. I’m pretty fast when I’m focused. I can get a lot done myself. People require time and energy and training, moreso than the average task. It’s much harder to disciple someone than to simply complete a task. But here’s the rub: Either I can go fast alone, or I can go far with others. Practically speaking if you want to do more than just get stuff done and have a real impact – people not tasks are the way to go. Heck, buy them a Pale Ginger and discuss goals and ministry together.