Friday, 4 November 2016
Writer Tony Miller
“Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5b NIV) Those words struck with a thud on my heart.
I hit the wall, but could I get back up? I had already seen others hit the wall and stay down. I should have noticed the warning signs. It was this deep feeling inside, wondering if I had lost my way. I was so tired and worn out. I had lost almost all joy in ministry. What was I doing? How did I miss it? Why does God seem so far away when I’m doing his work? This burden and yoke did not feel light and easy! Do I throw in the towel like I had seen others do?
When I got back from the conference I was at I ran these thoughts through my mind over and over. The question kept coming up in my head, “How could I have forgotten to abide?” Finally I worked up the courage and, in my meeting with my supervisor, I told our executive pastor, “Tom, I going to learn to abide in Jesus again. I don’t care if I get fired.” As those words came out of my mouth I wanted to take them back. In fact, I tried. Tom reassured me with a couple words: “It’s about time.”
Honestly, I didn’t know where to start. I had been so consumed with being a good leader that I missed the value of Godliness. I was reading so many books on leadership, spiritual disciplines, and how to hear from God, but I wasn’t practicing the most important parts of it. I’ll share my journey as a simple and practical way to hopefully encourage others to start their own journey into experiencing the fullness the Father has for us. By no means was this easy. I had to relearn some old things and I had to learn some new things. I had to make small shifts in my thinking to put myself in a better place to find the joy of ministry again. But these small shifts had massive impact.
Shift 1: Why Not Ask For It?
If I didn’t know where to start, why not ask God? What if it is that simple? If I have lost the hunger for God’s word then why not ask him to give me a hunger for it? “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13) This, I believe, was my first and most important shift to be able to get back to the right place.
I had tried before to be disciplined to read the word, but often found myself distracted by so many things. I desperately needed the Holy Spirit to give me a new desire and hunger. I had lost a hunger for God’s word and was consumed by the desire to be a good leader. What if I can begin this new journey the way I began the journey at the beginning? I needed complete dependency on God. So that is where I started. I went back to the beginning. My prayer was, “God help me, and give me a hunger for your word.”
I had allowed the idolatry of leadership to consume me and those books became a priority over his life giving word. This brings me to my second shift.
Shift 2: Pursue Godliness Over Leadership
I had become accustomed to a leadership mindset that encouraged me to just work harder at it or get better at it. If you don’t have something then just work harder at it. Don’t have enough leaders? Recruit better! Lost your passion? Pray harder. I was often told the next struggle I faced was another opportunity to grow in my leadership development. But what happens when I shift my thinking looking at my next struggle as an opportunity to grow in godliness?
I can tell you this changed so many things. Instead of looking for leadership principles to guide my decisions I looked for Godly principles found in his word. The people I asked advice from began to change as well. I looked for Godly people and it didn’t matter what they were leading. If I didn’t have enough leaders I asked God for them. After all Jesus said, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:38) I think one of the key points in this passage is that it is his harvest field! That leads me to my next shift.
Shift 3: Practice Humility
The idea that some people are humble and others are not is a myth. We must learn and practice humility. I have learned the hard way that it’s not ‘my ministry’, it’s God’s Kingdom! It always was, it always is and it always will be. He is simply entrusting us to lead it. We are simply stewards of his Kingdom.
Maybe that’s the reason David was considered a man after God’s heart. David new the kingdom was never his. He could have taken it from Saul but never did. He could have stopped Absalom from trying to take it but didn’t. In both situations he waited for God to take care of it. David didn’t try to handle it himself.
That shift helps me practice humility. It helps me keep the perspective to ask the Father for help and for wisdom. This reminds me that I must not work for him but I must work with him. The best way to remain in the place of humility is for me to be before the one who owns everything regularly.
Shift 4: Set Boundaries And Stick To Them.
Someone once said, “You can’t give people what you don’t have!” I had flexed my boundaries in an effort to be a good ‘servant leader’. I would meet people whenever and often sacrifice the time in the morning I should have devoted to hearing the voice of God. I would check emails and respond to things on the weekends. As I began this new journey I had realised I wasn’t serving those I lead very well. I was actually trying to get them to serve me, and my vision and dreams.
When I began to set boundaries and not have meetings before 9am, it changed the way I approached my meetings. I began to invest in those I lead with a more caring and encouraging approach. I shared with them what I was learning in the scriptures and was transparent about my journey. I left the outcomes up to God. After all, he does control the outcomes. I started (and still am) learning what a real Sabbath is. I love what Alan Fadling writes, “What happens to our sense of identity if we stop our activity to observe the Sabbath? If I am what I do, who am I on a Sabbath day when I do nothing productive?”1
The struggle we feel is that there is always more to be done. There is always someone who needs us. Jesus and the disciples faced the same things. “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:15-16) If Jesus, God’s own son, had boundaries then shouldn’t we? I stopped checking emails on the weekends, I guarded that time in the morning, and I guarded my time with my family.
If we are ever going to have sustainability in ministry I believe we must have a different view of things. These small shifts I’ve made have had a profound impact in the way in which I work. I’m not consumed by results and outcomes. I am rooted back to my true identity as a child of God first, then his servant. I was working as a servant but forgetting I’m his kid. When I do find myself getting stuck in deadline mode or focusing on results I must remind myself again and again of these things. “The greater need we Christ-followers have is to walk at his pace. We want the activity of our lives to bear the holy and rich fruit of communion with Christ. May we avoid the kind of frantic busyness that bears little resemblance to the pace and focus of Jesus’ life and ministry.”2
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:5-11 (ESV)) ●
1 Alan Fadling (2013) An Unhurried Life, InterVarsity Press, p 115.
2 ibid, p84.
Originally published in YVQ13: RNR.
Written by Tony Miller. Tony Miller is the National Director for the PAIS movement in Australia. He is married to Julie and they have three children, Claire, Owen, and Stella. Moving from the USA a year ago they hope to help spark a discipleship movement with youth in Australia that impacts the world
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