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5 Ways to Recover Your Passion for Pastoral Leadership

Passion

I’ve been there. I’ve been burned out and depressed, discouraged and defeated. I’ve led in atmospheres where every creative idea was smothered by questions rooted in fear. I’ve been distracted by secondary interests. I’ve given into my own emotions and have isolated myself from healthy, life-giving relationships.

And I’ve recovered. That doesn’t mean I’m where I need to be – I’m still on the journey and have a long way to go. But I’ve learned the hard way how to bounce back to passionate preaching and leadership in the local church. From my own past and my own painful experiences, let me shoot from the hip with five big ways you can bounce back from burnout and be a passionate leader once again.

  1. Repent of sin. Dig it out of the depths of your heart – the secret recesses where no one else sees but God and own your sin, especially the seven most life-stealing sins: pride, lust, laziness, envy, unholy anger, gluttony, and greed. If you’re hanging onto these, it’s no wonder you’re feeling defeated. You’re living as though victory isn’t already yours in Christ.
  2. Read the Word. Let’s be honest. Most of the time, when we’ve given into feelings of distance from God and others, we play the victim and pout in the corner, acting entirely uninterested in the things that matter most to our deepest relationships. But God has spoken and this blog post doesn’t even compare to the re-igniting power of the eternal word of God.
  3. Practice the discipline of prayer. Set aside thirty minutes to just pray. If you run out of things to say, sit silently and listen, but don’t cut the time short. It doesn’t always have to be thirty minutes, but start there. I know you don’t feel like it. You’re not even sure God is listening anymore, but deep down you know the truth. So re-join the conversation.
  4. Love people. Get in touch with friends, serve others, and pray for people in pain. Talk about your issues. Isolation is deadly. You have to fight to beat your desire to retreat. The best way to climb out of the misery of self-focus is to intentionally become others-focused. Spend some time praying for others, then see how you can serve them.
  5. Feast yourself on the lavish love and unfathomable depth of God’s grace. Stop living by performance, the to-do list, and the tyranny of the inbox. You can’t work hard enough to make God happy with you. You simply must rest in the assurance that He’s pleased with you in Christ. His grace is always, always, always sufficient!!

Here’s the thing. I like books, blogs, and seminars about leadership and church growth. They give us ideas, inspire us to lead better, and equip us with skills we couldn’t otherwise possess. But none of those things will bring healing like a deepening relationship with Jesus. And that comes through the humbling work of prayer, Bible-reading, repentance, reliance on God’s grace, and ministry to others through acts of love.

You know what to do. Let Jesus become bigger and more glorious in your eyes than ever before.

My Greatest Desire and Biggest Goal for the New Year

Prayer

I need to lose weight, work out, and rest consistently. I want to be a better husband and Dad. I need to read more books, save and give more money, and share my faith more. But if you want to know the single most important goal I have for the coming year, it is this: to have a more consistent, continual and conversational prayer life with God.

I agree with John R. Rice who wrote in his book, Prayer: Asking and Receiving, that “all of our failures are prayer failures.” Why is this so? Because God is faithful to answer our prayers as we adjust our prayers to the desires of God’s heart. And we’re only capable of praying more powerful prayers as we spent more time practicing at it in His presence.

Think about it. If my prayer life were more consistent, I’d have the power, wisdom, and will to eat better and be healthy, improve my relationships with love and grace, read more, give more, and tell others about Jesus more. If you’re with me, let me offer some suggestions, some tools, and some challenges…

Study prayer.

Start with Jesus’ model prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Then read the other prayers of Jesus and then the prayers of the saints in Scripture, particularly Paul’s example of praying for others to be brought closer to God. Then, read good books on prayer, such as:

Study the Bible as part of your praying.

Bible study and prayer aren’t really two separate things. They are one. Our prayers are fueled and informed by the Scriptures, and prayer is the way we really apply what we’ve learned and worship the Author of the Word. So, use The Bible App with its dozens of reading plans to stay on a steady diet of God’s Word as you pray.

Meditate.

No, don’t hum and clear your mind. Instead, fill your mind with truth and then focus your thinking on what you’ve studied at quiet moments during the day. This is biblical (see Joshua 1, Psalm 1, etc.).

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Keep a daily journal.

This has always been a little too random for me, but in the upcoming year I hope to consistently write out a prayer every day as part of my time in God’s Word. I’m using the DayOne App, which works on my Mac, iPad, and iPhone and syncs across them all. It’s super simple to use. I keep it somewhat brief, but I write four elements each day, based on the SOAP acronym:

  • A Scripture.
  • My observations about the text, historical, grammatical, etc.
  • Some application(s) to live out from the text.
  • A prayer that includes praise, embracing God’s purposes, confession of sin, and a prayer for provision and protection.

Pray for others.

Then, I finish my prayer by switching over to a text file I keep. I use the Notesy App to keep a simple text file synced across my devices that includes a list of people I’m praying for. I’ve divided the list up into categories and I read through the names, picture the faces, and lift them before the Father. My categories are:

  • My family (wife, kids, and extended family).
  • My men (a group of guys for whom I pray daily about spiritual growth and leadership development).
  • Spiritual needs (people I know that need salvation, healing, recovery, etc.).
  • Physical needs (people I know that are suffering physically).
  • My church staff.
  • My small group.
  • My church’s small group leaders.
  • My “other” church (Saddleback’s staff, some friends, and my old small group).
  • My world (missionaries and church planters I pray for).
  • Influencers (government leaders, influential Pastors, etc.).

I don’t spend as much time on the list as it may seem. I just use it as a trigger to remind me of the people in my life that I need to be supporting with a ministry of prayer.

Move into conversational prayer.

What I’ve described so far is an organized, systematic approach to having a quiet time every day. But the way in which I’m really interested in growing this year is in moving from that appointment time with God into the all-day, everywhere-I-go conversational kind of prayer. That is, I want to be consciously aware of God’s presence throughout my day and make prayer my first go-to when I need help.

And lastly, don’t get legalistic. Prayer isn’t a duty that we check off a list to earn God’s favor. It’s a delight, a freedom, something we get to do rather than have to do. And it’s life-changing.

photo credit: jurvetson

Dream Bigger – Ask More

“You do not have, because you do not ask.” (James 4:2 ESV)

James the Apostle had the spiritual gift of bluntness. We’ve received the benefit of his brutally honest thoughts, such as when he answers a common question with such a common sense answer. Why don’t I have? Because I didn’t ask. And he goes on to point out that often when we ask, we’re doing so for selfish reasons.

I want to challenge you today to do some pretty important things.

Dream Bigger

Whatever it is you feel is God’s will for your life, think bigger. It’s a virtual guarantee that God is already thinking bigger. His vision trumps ours every time, so it’s a good challenge to try to keep up with Him.

Consider God’s Glory

As you dream, dream for His glory. The purest motive possible is the motive of the nations being made glad in the light of the glory of God. Why are you dreaming what you’re dreaming? For a nicer home? A bigger reputation? Or the glory of God?

Sometimes when our dreams don’t align with God’s will, we expect Him to adjust His will to our desires. We ought to be thinking just the opposite – how can we adjust our desires to His will?

Ask

The most common word for “pray” in the New Testament literally means “ask.” In fact, the word ask is a more literal translation, but pray came to us from old English and we’ve hung on to it as a religious word. So dream in a way that is aligned with God’s will, then ask Him to bring it to pass in your life.

Do

Ever heard that phrase, “Plan your work, then work your plan?” I believe that we should join God in what He wants to do in, around, and through us. We have the privilege, by grace, of cooperating with the actions of God.

So get started.

Are We Still Praying for the President?

Polls indicate that most Americans don’t trust our chief governmental leader right now. He’s pushed through an unpopular piece of legislation with potentially damaging effects and its rollout has been an all out blooper reel. At times, he seems unbending and arrogant – unfazed by the barrage of criticism leveled his way. But we know better, don’t we?

Any of us, in his shoes, would be dying on the inside. Our family life would be battered by the side effects of a Dad whom the entire free world is against. We’d wonder if there would ever be a way out of the mess and out of the misery and loneliness of being in trouble at the top.

Imagine, when facing such a crucible of stress and pressure, someone from the crowd placing a hand on that guy’s shoulder and saying, “Mr. President, I’m praying for you, and I’m sorry you’re having to bear so much heaviness.”

You may want to comment about how he volunteered for the job, about how he needs a stiff reprimand for his decision-making, and about how the future of our country’s soul is at stake. Fine. Over coffee, I might just agree with a lot of your points.

But be human for a second. Think like a redeemed sinner for just a moment. Put on your extra-dose-of-grace cap for just long enough to realize the power of an encouraging word in such a dark moment of a leader’s soul.

We live in times of cynicism and sharp tongues. I don’t think that’s new. I think it’s politics and culture. It’s the system. It’s how things work. It’s… the world. But I’m not really that in love with the world anymore and I so often want to know, as a citizen of a different kingdom, how I can bring God’s grace to the people of the planet around me.

Barack and Michelle Obama, I don’t always like your policies. But however things shape up, I’m praying for you and your family. Right now. The Father and I are having a conversation about you, your marriage, and your kids and I’m asking Him to sustain your strength and get you through this.

Mountains Will Move

Jesus said some pretty radical things, and one of our favorite things to do is weaken and water down His message. For example, when Jesus said,

“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”

– Matthew 17:20 (NLT)

We assume that He probably wasn’t being literal, He was probably exaggerating, and He probably meant something deeply spiritual that requires little to no change in the way I actually think or behave.

But what if He was serious? Could we really, literally move a mountain by our faith? I would answer with a “Yes, but…” Yes, He was being literal. He was challenging us to believe in Him in huge ways. He meant that mountains would move. But, He’s not interested in doing magic tricks to impress people.

In other words, while there may be little point at all to shifting Mt. Everest a few miles east, there is a huge point to watching enormous obstacles fade before a faith-filled believer or group of believers. He meant it. When diseases disappear, hardened hearts melt, and relationships on the rocks are rescued, it’s safe to say that miracles greater than moving dirt have occurred.

We don’t have enough faith. We need a tiny bit more. Mountains will move.