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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.

Feeling Guilty? Why We Should Embrace the Gift of Guilt

Cross On the Wall

Regret stinks. It’s an awful place to live. None of us like to feel guilty. So here’s some good news and some bad news about guilt.

The bad news is, you’re guilty. As I am. As everyone is. The Apostle Paul made it pretty explicit, quoting the 53rd Psalm,

As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one. Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with lies. Snake venom drips from their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. They rush to commit murder. Destruction and misery always follow them. They don’t know where to find peace. They have no fear of God at all.”

– Romans 3:10-18 NLT

And that’s humanity. That’s all of us, and each of us, caught in our sin and depravity. Guilty.

Here’s the good news. God wants our guilt to take us somewhere. Somewhere redemptive.

One of the Bible’s greatest heroes – King David, who beat Goliath, captured Jerusalem, and led Israel’s flourishing for four decades – was also a guy who committed adultery, conspired to have a man murdered, deceived a nation, and then covered it all up for a year.

When that year ended, David came clean and later wrote about it:

Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment. For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory.

– Psalm 32:1-7 NLT

God’s purpose for guilt is that it leads us to confess and repent, which means to come to fully agree with God about our sin, own it entirely, and to turn away from it to find refuge in his forgiveness and grace. In other words…

Feeling guilty over my sin is a gift from God and should lead to repentance.

The Bible proclaims,

But if we confess our sins to God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away.

– 1 John 1:9 CEV

That verse is sweet. It means that if we agree with God about our sin, own it, and confess it honestly, then he will always, every single time, forgive us and release us from our sin’s debt. Every. Single. Time. And furthermore, he cleanses us from it. He removes the impurity of it from our lives.

THAT’s good news!

But here’s a little more bad news. We still carry guilt, even after God has forgiven us. This is what I call “guilt gut.” And it’s not healthy. It’s not right. It’s not necessary. Here’s why…

So those who are believers in Christ Jesus can no longer be condemned. The standards of the Spirit, who gives life through Christ Jesus, have set you free from the standards of sin and death.

– Romans 8:1-2 GW

Read that first sentence again… So those who are believers in Christ Jesus… can… no… longer… be… condemned…

Other people will condemn you.

Satan will whisper accusations and reminders of your past in your ears.

You will struggle with regret.

But from God’s perspective, when you’ve owned your sin before him, confessed it honestly and have turned from it, you are forgiven. Once. And for all. Forever. Never to be condemned again.

He will never bring your sin up again.

He won’t throw it in our face.

He won’t remind you of who you were.

He simply honors his own nature and his powerful promises. The best news of all about guilt is that once we embrace it as a gift and let it lead us to the cross where Jesus died for the guilty… once we have received him as the Leader and Forgiver of our lives, our guilt is gone forever as far as God is concerned. Or to put it another way…

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

– John 8:36 ESV

Are you free from guilt yet? If not, confess your sinfulness to God, believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is the one and only payment God requires for your sin, and receive the gift of his forgiveness and grace.

And once you’ve done that… walk in freedom.

photo credit: Cross via photopin (license)

How God Responds When His People Turn Back to Him

Repentance is a word that carries a lot of religious baggage with it. We usually define repentance as merely confession, or merely sorrow and guilt, or merely as changing our behavior. The truth is, it’s all three. Repentance is changing our minds about sin, self and God so that we agree with God about our sin and commit to truly changing direction. It involves confession, conviction, and change but it’s all three.

Hosea gives us a really beautiful picture of how God responds to the repentance of His people.

Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us.
He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds.
In just a short time he will restore us,
so that we may live in his presence.
Oh, that we might know the Lord!
Let us press on to know him.
He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn
or the coming of rains in early spring.

– Hosea 6:1-3 NLT

It must be pointed out that this passage concerns itself with people who claim to belong to God. It’s not a “salvation” passage, though it certainly has truth for nonbelievers as well. Hosea makes the argument that God Himself has punished us for our sins, yet longs for us to repent so that He can respond lovingly. He makes three promises to those who would turn back to Him.

First, He promises to heal us and to bandage our wounds. We’re all walking around wounded whether we realize it or not. To one degree or another, we are somewhat defined by our hurts, habits, and our hang-ups. Often real repentance involves opening our wounds, exposing the root cause, and allowing God’s healing work to begin.

Second, He promises to restore us to His presence. When King David repented of adultery he asked God to restore the joy of his salvation. He hadn’t lost his relationship with God, but he had certainly failed to enjoy the benefits of that relationship when he held onto his sin in a stubborn refusal to confess it. And in repentance, the joy and power of God’s presence is restored. Our closeness and intimacy with God does not come as a result of our great performance, but rather of the deep work of His grace and forgiveness in our souls.

And third, He refreshes our lives. Repentance is not some masochistic exercise in which we do penance, as though our suffering could somehow pay the penalty of the sins we’ve committed. Instead, it is a pathway to life and to refreshment. Repentance is that moment in which we allow God to open the deepest, darkest parts of who we are so that He can shine His light there and restore new life to us.

We need repentance daily and desperately. And as long as we live in pride and self-sufficiency and self-righteousness, we’ll miss out on the blessings of God’s healing, restorative, refreshing work. I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve tried it on my own. I’ve gone lengths of time without allowing God into the depths of my soul and my sin, and it results in misery. I will instead proclaim my absolute dependence on God’s forgiveness and grace and freedom. I discover joy when I depend on Him in repentance.

This might be a good moment to stop reading and start praying. God delights to hear from you and waits for you to return to Him right now.

When You Don’t Feel Like Running to God

Running

When you least feel like running to God, that’s when you really need to run to God. And when you feel the least lovable, the least acceptable, that’s when His mercy shows itself strongest. King David once cried out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble… Oh, how great is your goodness, which you have laid up for those who fear you.” (Psalm 31:9, 19 NKJV)

David’s language in this psalm is a lament over His own errors. He has strong words for those who ensnared him in some kind of trap, but he also expresses the pain and suffering caused by his own choices. He declares, “For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; My strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.” (Psalm 31:10 NKJV) I believe David is likely referring to the mental and physiological toll that our minds and bodies take because of sin, its guilt, and its effect of distancing us from the God who provides the center of our identity.

Our tendency is to shrink in shame when we’ve messed up, which only perpetuates the cycle of our sin. What if, instead, we trusted that God still loves us as much as He did before, that He is still as good as He has always been, and that His grace that saved us in the past is still as strong and available to keep saving us forever.

When you sin, confess it immediately. When you feel distance with God, close the gap without delay. When you feel that He should probably be angry at you over your faults, run to Him in His mercy and trust that He is true to His nature and His promises and that He offers the refreshing renewal of grace and forgiveness.

When you don’t feel like running to God, it’s the optimum time to do so.

photo credit: tpsdave

Living In Continual Repentance

The Protestant Reformation’s beginning is usually marked by the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenburg on October 31, 1517. He began the document with these words,

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

A life of repentance? Really? Doesn’t that seem… sad? Not if we understand what repentance really means. Repentance isn’t sorrow, though it certainly includes sorrow over our sin. And repentance isn’t confession, though confession of sin is often the immediate fruit of repentance.

Repentance is change. Literally, it’s a change of the mind. And there is a sense in which repentance happens in a moment of time, but there is also a posture of repentance, of continual change into what God wants us to become. It’s a continual changing and shaping of the mind, the heart, and the will of a person.

This kind of repentance isn’t sad. It isn’t oppressive. Instead, it’s freeing. It’s liberating and life-giving. It’s grace-welcoming and light-seeking. And for the believer who wants to leave behind the former self and embrace the character and identity of Christ, it’s the only way of life worth traveling.

photo credit: thoughtquotient.com