These days you can’t make plans more than a week out. Ask any educator preparing for the school year. Things change daily, even by the hour. This leaves life feeling chaotic and uncertain.
So how do we go about our work?
Is it worth all the effort?
Should we make plans, or just throw up our hands?
I’ve been dwelling on Psalm 127. “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Ps. 127:1) This Psalm re-frames our perspective on work and planning when our work seems in vain.
In response to Psalm 127, here are three practices that I think capture its spirit. They put us in the posture of proper work and planning.
I wrote this in 2016. These days, every day might be a "tenth day." Maybe you can relate.
"How are things going?" I'm asked.
"Every ten days I want to quit." I've given this answer a few times in recent months. Am I really going to turn in my keys? Probably not . . . but maybe.
Anything of significance is worth sacrificing for. And anything worth sacrificing for will leave you with a "tenth day." Nine days can be good, even great. But about every tenth we are sobered by harsh reality.
Impeachment debate and acquittal.
Kobe helicopter crash.
Iowa caucus (debacle).
State of the Union Address.
These are headlines from the last few days. The volume of significant (and heavy) events invading our head (and heart) space is overwhelming. The news cycle is like a carousel spinning out of control. If our only reading material is the endlessly urgent front page, we are trapped in a myopic moment.
I prefer the enduring over the instant. A bit of marinated wisdom instead of a tweet vomited in a moment of impulse.
Here's an actionable step. Limit the reading of "headlines," the new, urgent, up-to-the-minute. Make space to read what is "old," tested, and true. There is C.S. Lewis's classic quote on reading old books:
Even if I knew that tomorrow the whole world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree." - Martin Luther
Is it worth all the work?
How much difference does it make?
What do I do when I want to quit?
Sometimes I don't feel like being a pastor.
There are some Sunday mornings at 6:00AM when I don't want to preach.
Sometimes I dread walking into a meeting.
Sometimes I walk into a crisis situation already emotionally exhausted.
Sometimes everyone is looking at me for direction and I don't feel like talking.
Serving Christ can be agonizing. Jesus said it himself, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake . . ." (Matt. 5:10).
Especially for those working in called ministry positions, there is a weight. A burden. A cloud of pressure derived from spiritual forces under responsibility which has eternal consequences.
You've asked, "How much difference am I making? Should I go on? Should I give up? "
Here is some help from 19th century English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The following is from his Lectures to My Students.
I was watching 60 Minutes on Sunday night. (Yes, I'm an old man.) There was a segment on an upcoming documentary about Pope Francis. 60 Minutes interviewed the unique choice for this project, German “art house” director Wim Wenders.
Wenders is a lapsed Catholic. He’s known for his eclectic body of work which includes U2 music videos and “Buena Vista Social Club,” a documentary about a group of aging Cuban musicians. I was interested in Wenders' perception of the Pope, for he would not be enamored like a devout Catholic. Nor did he seem to bear the stinging criticism of an anti-religious secularist. He made two observations of Pope Francis that struck me.
We've seen enough failed leadership - self-centered, corrupt, inept, greedy. Where can we see genuine leadership? Power used for others, not self?
As Christians, we are drawn to the cruciform posture of leadership. In Christ, power, authority, and influence are used in selfless ways. He exemplifies servant leadership. More than just a model for us to follow, he offers forgiveness for leaders - for all - who falter and fail.
In a follow up post from last week, here are five more of my top leadership quotes.
We are confronted daily with failed leadership. It seems that every morning, there’s a revelation of another powerful man who abused his influence and authority. (See my post on this here.) We’ve been let down by politicians and producers, presidents and prime ministers, pastors and priests.
What examples of genuine leadership do we have? Rather than stating “what I’m against,” I’m determined to focus on “what I’m for.” I look to mentors who demonstrate leadership in the positive, not the negative.
Here are my top leadership quotes. They give me focus in an era of floundering leadership. I’ll share five this week, and five next week.
One year ago I was nearing the end of writing a book. I had invested 500 hours into it, and I was about to scrap the whole thing.
I took out a loan for $12,000 to self-publish. I was afraid of the debt.
I was weary after months of writing in the dark hours of the early morning.
I suffered from self-doubt. "It isn't really that good. No one will read it."
I felt naked with the choice to be transparent in my story-telling.
I had writer's block near the end. I couldn't find an effective conclusion.
It was like standing at the end of a dock on a lake. Should I jump in? The water is so cold. I was about to hit "delete" on the whole project. But first, I went for a walk. And the words on this note card came to me.
With these words, I was possessed. I had to keep going. This line became my prayer for the remainder of the process: "Lord, I'll just keep writing and trust that you will give the words."
So I jumped. Writing became an exercise of faith. To leap without knowing where I'd land. To walk without being certain of the path.
Today, I'm approaching 5,000 copies distributed. For a little self-published book, all expectations have been exceeded.
Every week, I hear from strangers around the country. Loved & Sent is being used in small groups and book clubs. For leadership development, new member classes, and sermon series. See a list of churches and organizations here.
The book has been used to raise thousands of dollars for causes. An immigrant and refugee agency. An urban after-school ministry. Christian Camps.
A pastor in Wisconsin wrote me, “I gave gave the book to a truck driver that kept coming to me with questions. I encouraged him to read it. After the chapter on grace, he asked me about baptism. He was baptized last Saturday night.”
What's your dock? Is it time to leap? Why aren't you jumping?
"Progress always involves risk; you can't steal second base and keep your foot on first."
"Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light; faith's rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her great Guide." - Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Major props to these people for their love and encouragement.