In a moment of discouragement, a friend on staff told me, “You’ve got to be easier on yourself. You were at your last church 12 years, and you’ve barely been here 12 weeks.” And she was right. My discouragement was fueled by an unfair expectation I had set for myself. That moment next to the coffee maker sparked a train of thought which has caused me to embrace several principles I believe God has taught me over these last 12 weeks, my first 12 in my new ministry job. If you are in a new season of life, perhaps you will find these truths helpful. If you’re not, maybe there is a nugget of wisdom God can give you to apply to your own every-day.
Give Yourself Grace
Society has a way of giving a badge of honor to those who “push themselves the hardest.” The person with an internal motor that just doesn’t quit. It is he or she who is seen as most valuable. The “self-made-man” (or woman) is often championed as someone we could all aspire to be like. The person with all the right answers, seems like the smartest one in the room, can think of things before they happen… But, what happens when you are too hard on yourself? Unfair expectations can be one of the greatest thieves of joy. Yes, we should honor God with a healthy work-ethic. Yes, God is glorified whenever we do all things with excellence. And (not but) a closer look at Colossians 3:23 – an often quoted passage on work – teaches us to, “[…] work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men […]” God promises that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Why? Because every expectation – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – of being an awesome human being, has been achieved by Him. Then, recognizing our sin nature and inability to achieve on our own, God extends us grace (Ephesians 2:8). If our work was dominated by the standard and approval of man, we’d have every reason to be discouraged. But it’s not; we don’t ultimately work for men. We are to work heartily unto the Lord – who is a God of grace. I’m learning to give myself grace. Grace instead of self-imposed unfair, unrealistic, expectations.
Put Down Your Phone
I know this has become practically a cliché. In fact, you are likely reading this article…on your phone. What I’ve learned is regarding the unnecessary. Is it really necessary to look at your phone every spare minute? For many of us, we are so addicted to our phones we don’t even wait until the next spare minute. Now I ask you, how can you ever be a person who engages the world around you unless you stop to truly see and hear the world around you? What blessing might come your way while you’re waiting in the drive thru line. Who might you be divinely appointed to meet while waiting for that prescription to be filled? When you are unnecessarily committed to your phone screen, you disconnect yourself from the world around you. This is the world God created and the place in which He put you. Not only are you missing out on the blessing of His gifts to you, you are missing out on the calling of His plans for you.
Ask Lots of Questions
My dear friend Rachel Brawner once told me, “It is a real tragedy whenever we treat people around us like either decorations or machines.” And she’s right. The barista at my new favorite Starbucks. Do I engage him like a real person? Or do I just treat him like a machine who makes my Flat White? Are the front desk receptionist at the church where I work just decorations? Like a pretty painting I pass by hustling on to my next appointment. Or do I value their lives, treat them as humans and not decorations? The best way I’ve learned to combat this temptation is to ask more questions. Hear the stories of those around you. Put a life with a name, human value with a face – a daily practice of the sanctity of life. When was the last time you asked someone their favorite artist? Their favorite Bible verses. Their most precious memory. All followed with the most intriguing word in the English language: why? Those three letter words open up a whole new world of relationships and human experience. Deep, authentic relationships will not happen overnight and they will never come if we do not stop to listen more than we talk.
Hebrews 9:27 teaches us that everyone is going to die. Even if you do not own a Bible or believe the author of Hebrews, a recent study shows, 100 out of every 100 people who are born…die. Humans have a 100% mortality rate. It’s true of you. It’s true of me. So ask yourself, is what you are doing with your life, what you want to be doing with your one life? You don’t get to try again. You don’t come to the end of your days and sayd, “Yeah, that was okay. But now I want to try to do this with my life.” The speed with which many of us live our lives is so reckless, it is harmful. Speed is the enemy of depth. The faster a boat goes, the more shallow the hull – speed boats practically skim across the water. Are you living life so fast, your schedule so full, your days so demanding, that you cannot drink deep from the waters in which God has placed you? Do you manage relationships more than you engage in them? Are you barely getting by? Yes, it is a little bit easier to make changes to the quality of your days whenever you start a new season of life. But things worth doing are rarely easy. No matter how difficult, evaluate your life. Examine your days. It is possible to do everything and accomplish nothing. To be productive without being fulfilled. Proverbs 16:9, The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Are you allowing the Lord to guide your life? Or have you just mashed the metal to floor and white-knuckled the drive? God created us to work from our rest, not work until there’s nothing left.
It is likely you will chalk this post up to, “easier said than done.” And I understand. There are some days I struggle to embrace these principles. But I’m convinced, as God has taught me, if we will learn from these principles, and those like it, our lives will be much more fulfilling and ultimately, God-honoring.