Chronic Fatigue & Messy Love: How I Choose To Love My Husband

My husband, James has battled Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) since the age of 14.

At 14, when he was diagnosed with CFS, he was told that he wouldn’t finish high school, get married or achieve many of his dreams. The best option would be to lower his expectations in line with what his body could handle. At the age of 23 though, I had the privilege of marrying him.

Chronic Illness Love Husband

Today, my husband is not completely healed of CFS but can do what he needs to most days. There are still many days that he can’t get out of bed but most of the time, you wouldn’t see any visible differences between him and someone who doesn’t have a chronic illness.

Most people I talk to don’t understand what this illness means for our marriage, especially when I explain that he is tired all of the time. It doesn’t make sense. Aren’t we all tired?

Chronic illness is defined as a disease lasting three months or longer. At this stage, we have that beat by about eleven years.  An estimated 0.2 to 2.6 per cent of people around the world have CFS, which is defined by profound tiredness and fatigue, muscle and joint pain and impaired memory and concentration. My husband often explains it by asking people to imagine “the very worst illness you have had. Now, imagine that is the best that your body will feel all day. That is what living with CFS is often like”.

Why I Hate Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Living with my husband is not easy at times.  When every single day the answer to a question like “how are you going?” is “I’m tired” and that impacts every single interaction you will have, it is hard to show grace.

My inclination is to think about what I deserve, because I am tired too and that doesn’t mean that I can shirk on my responsibilities. However, being tired is not a choice that he makes. It’s the default setting his body has prescribed him.

Having CFS means that my husband sleeps less than I do, needs more rest than I do, finds it harder to concentrate and make decisions, has a lack of energy most of the time and often has to say no to events at the last minute. We have missed out on a lot of parties to stay home and rest on the couch.

My lofty expectations of my husband are often not met and this often leaves me sad, frustrated and upset at what things could have been like if he did not have CFS.

Why I’m Still Glad I Married My Husband

Being acutely aware of the many losses that come with being married to someone with CFS, I am left with the daily opportunity to choose to either accept him as he is, or live wishing things were different.

In our marriage, my self-centered nature rears its head on a regular basis. Instead of being sympathetic, understanding and patient with him, I choose instead to be rude, self-seeking and demanding. I know that most of my anger is really about our situation, but you can’t be angry at a situation so James gets the brunt of my anger. Then I feel guilty, and beat myself up for being angry at him.

If I had to actually sit with these feelings for too long- the sadness, the fear and the longing for how things could have been – I might just cry for hours.  I’d rather feel angry and frustrated than sad.  I know that the James I fell in love with is there most of the time, but sometimes he is not.

However, instead of sitting with these feelings I would rather apply the gospel to my own selfish heart. In marriage, we are called to lay down all of our ‘rights’ and place our partners needs above our own.  I am called to love him in the same way that Christ has loved me, unconditionally. 

Unconditional love doesn’t come from nowhere. It requires grace, patience and humility and to be honest, the kind of grace, patience and humility that James and I need only comes from Jesus. It’s only in Jesus that we find a perfect man giving his life in service for the broken, so that on the last day they could be lifted up with him. In the same vein, I try to follow Jesus and choose to love my husband even when it is difficult.

Being married to James means that I get to see him on his best days and on his worst days. I get to stand beside him in his proud achievements and in his darkest hours. I have the privilege of being there to see them in his soaring and in his plummeting. I get to hear every question, every thought, every disappointment and every fear.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being with my husband. We laugh together, we love each other deeply and we spend time planning adventures and our future together. There is no-one I would rather spend my life with than James, but sometimes, living with him is difficult.

I need constant reminders of God’s grace in my life, so that I can extend that very grace to my husband, even when I feel that my rights aren’t being addressed. Marriage isn’t easy, but that is why it’s the perfect platform for learning how to extend the grace that Jesus has shown us. 

Recently, I wrote a song about these feelings and emotions and how I’m learning to love James in the middle of all of it. It would mean the world to me if you would listen.


Made For More: Following Jesus Is More Than Attending Church, Reading Your Bible & Comfortable Monday Mornings

There has to be more to life than this. 

The pervasive feeling that we are created to be more than what we are has left a mark on my life for a long time. It was the catalyst behind quitting Facebook, starting this blog and continually challenging myself towards higher accomplishments, in the hope that I could become more through various feats of strength, determination and will.

made for more following jesus

The truth is that none of those things really soothed the feeling that there was something that I was missing out on.

C.S. Lewis describes this feeling magically.

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

We are all chasing something that we think will satisfy us. The magical destination that once we arrive at will complete all of our aching desire for more out of our finite lives. I know that I am not alone in this, almost everyone I have ever met has this desire for something more.

Have you ever felt that you were made for more?

Enter Jesus

Jesus is the most famous person in history, whether you identity as Christian or otherwise. For many, he ranks up there with great leaders and thinkers in every age. However, in comparison to them, Jesus is famous because of one specific claim.

That is, that he was a man who claimed to be the son of God, who lived at a specific time in human history, who lived a perfect life, died on a roman cross, and then had numerous people, after his apparent death, claim that he rose from the dead, ascended to heaven and continues to live there today. 

After his resurrection, his discouraged, disheartened and scattered followers had a miraculous turn of heart, turning from a fractured, mourning community into a dynamic movement that has literally changed the world. They had one message: Jesus is alive and it changes everything. 

You might ask, what does this have to do with me? How does this change my life? What does it have to do with the feeling I was made for more? 

Jesus not only knew that we were made for more, but in fact, He created us to be that way. We were formed in such a way that we would only be content when following him. He invites us to experience all that more entails. He invites us into an adventure of faith and love that radically transformed, and transforms, anyone who follows him.

The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be … It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own” – C.S. Lewis

What Does It Mean To Follow Jesus? 

It’s when we start following Jesus that we discover who we really and why we were created. Every single feeling that we were made for something more is true, yet we weren’t made for a life of decadence or selfishness. We were made to follow Jesus and worship God.

This is not something we have to settle for, but the original radical life. It is something that affects us to the core of our being, an entire identity change where we discover who we truly are and what we were created for. That is the Christian life.

Growing up, I thought I had a firm grasp on what it meant to be a Christian. If you believed that God exists, read the bible, prayed a lot, went to church and did the right thing, whatever that meant, you were in.   That was the Christian life my parents had, or at least the one I saw.

I wonder what Jesus would say to the question though?

He would probably say something profound, deeply moving but at the core of it would be an invitation to follow him. Not to live the life that Jesus lived. That has already been done – and we could never be perfect as Jesus was, let alone die on a cross for the sins of the world.

The purpose as Dallas Willard says, is to learn to live your real, present life with all its responsibilities, relationships and roles as Jesus would live if your life was his. To follow Christ is to be a little Christ in the world.

I love this quote from Scot McKnight:

“Acceptance of Jesus and reading the bible, having a personal prayer time and going to church are all good Christian things. Make no mistake about that. But Jesus did not frame things this way, and it is important for us to get back to how Jesus did frame things.

Yes, yes, yes. Jesus wants us to believe in him deeply and make much of him. Yes, Jesus wants us to read the bible and pray. He wants us to go to church and he wants us to evangelize. But, Jesus wanted people to know the bible – what we call the Old Testament – so that they could follow him more closely and know him more deeply and live for him more completely. In other words, he wants people to follow him. 

Jesus often met people with questions. They wanted to know how to have a meaningful life. They wanted to love others deeply and authentically. They wanted to know how to connect with God. They wanted to know about death and eternal life. They wanted to experience God’s forgiveness for their failures and their sin. They wanted to understand how to pray, how to worship and how to understand the words of Scripture.

To such people Jesus offered a simple invitation: “Follow me”.

This is the crucial question for every professing or potential follower of Jesus. Will you follow Jesus? Do you believe that he is worth following? Do we believe that Jesus is so good, so satisfying and so rewarding that we will leave all that we have and all that we own and all that we are on our own, to find out who we were made to be in Him?

If you have the feeling, just as I did, that you were made for far more than you experience then it is simple. Start out on the adventure of following Jesus and find out how you were made for more. 


The Art Of Leading Yourself: Self Care as a Christian Leader

A leader, in my books, is anyone who guides the thoughts, beliefs and actions of another through relationships. You work out where you and your team need to head, you make a plan and empower those around you to achieve the plan. Along the way, you go first and pour yourself out for the team, watching out for them as often as you do the destination.

But who takes care of your own soul?

leading yourself care leader

Leadership is a stressful occupation. Most leaders I talk to are feeling frayed at the edges, with the pressure of leading a ministry or an organization doing a number on their passion and drive. You work hard, long hours. You are always trying to guard your heart from the latest discouragement or disappointment, but some things slip through. You’re so busy caring and thinking about other people that you forget to care about yourself.

If you sat down and asked Christian leaders how:

  • They care for themselves mentally and emotionally?
  • They care for their walk with God?
  • How often they care for themselves?

I would dare say that they themselves would not be happy with what they wrote down. As a group, we aren’t great at taking care of ourselves. What would you say? 

A recent survey of American pastors was pretty discouraging reading:

  • 90% stated that they are fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and daily basis.
  • 77% felt that they did not have a good marriage
  • 75% felt unqualified and unequipped to lead and manage the church or to counsel others
  • 71% stated that they were burnt out, and battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even daily basis.
  • Only 26% said they had regular devotions and felt fed spiritually.

Last night, I sat down with my wife and just said: I am overwhelmed and out of time. I don’t feel like I am doing anything well at the moment, and feel worn down. Now, I’ve bounced back today after getting some decent rest and debriefing with my wife, but the truth is, I need to learn how to lead myself better.

How Can Leaders, Lead Themself?

Leadership author, Dan Goleman, who wrote the best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence spent time analyzing why some high-potential leaders succeed when other high-potential leaders fail.

His conclusion?

The difference maker between leaders who lead others well and those who lead others poorly comes down to how they lead themselves. He called it emotional self-control. 

Even Jesus, the ultimate leader had a pattern of intense ministry followed by time set aside for reflection, prayer and solitude. This didn’t just happen once, but time and time again. Jesus practiced the art of leading yourself. Jesus invested regularly in walking with God, keeping his calling clear, avoiding burnout and keeping temptation at bay.

The challenge as a leader is clear:

If we want to go where God is calling us, we need to lead ourselves.  Leaders are no good to the people they lead if they spend the majority of their time feeling empty, discouraged and spiritually dry. We need to care for our own walk and our own emotional state if we want to lead others.

How Do You Start Leading Yourself?

Carey Nieuwhof, an excellent pastor and writer has created an excellent list of 10 healthy options to start leading yourself better that I have reposted below. This is a great start to leading yourself better:

1. A great daily time with God. Whatever method you use, time with God matters. And your personal walk with God is often a casualty of ministry. Why is that? Shouldn’t be!

2. Exercise. Being out of shape physically means you will never be in top shape mentally or emotionally. I don’t like exercise either, so I invested in a road bike. I bought it used (1/3 of its original price). It doesn’t have to break the bank.  And yes, I love it!

3. Healthy diet. You are what you eat. Dumping the processed foods for whole foods can make a big difference.

4. Proper sleep. If I don’t get 7-8 hours semi-regularly, I feel it. Sadly, sometimes others do too.

5. Intentional white space in your calendar. You can schedule time off and down time in the same way you schedule meetings. Just do it! (I wrote a post on time management that links to many time management tips here)

6. Healthy friendships. Ministry can be draining. When was the last time you hung out with a friend you didn’t need to ‘minister to’? Who makes you laugh until you cry? Go hang out with them. Regular doses of life-giving relationships can make such a difference.

7. Margin. I am at my most kind when I have the most margin, space to breathe. This is true in terms of my calendar, but also true of finances. How can you be generous if you spend all your money on yourself?

8. Hobbies. Writing and blogging are my hobbies these days. You can be much more interesting than that. Take some pictures. Take up hiking. Get crafty. Study the constellations.

9. Family Time. Take a road trip, go out for dinner. Have some fun! Play hockey in the driveway or shoot hoops.

10. Coaching and counseling. For about 10 years I’ve had coaches and counselors who have helped me get through road bumps and life issues. Invaluable. Yes I pay them money, but it’s an investment in my family, my church and my life. I’m different and better for it.

I would add to this, that if you are in the middle of depression or burnout, it is unlikely to be as easy as reading your bible more, or getting some exercise. Seek some professional help, talk to someone and be honest with where you are at. Don’t try and do it alone, even leading yourself well is not a cure for depression.

This is more of a continuous lifestyle that leaders should engage in to protect themselves and to set them up to lead well. Over the next couple of weeks and months, I’m going to commit to taking care of myself and leading myself better.

If you’ve been challenged, or feel tired, exhuasted and spiritually dry then you should take up the challenge with me. Leave a comment, send out a tweet or share it with your friends. 


 

10 Marks of a Healthy Youth Ministry

What does a successful, healthy youth ministry look like?

I’ve been looking for the answer to this question for the last two years since starting a new youth ministry in the west of Melbourne in 2014. The truth is that both success and health are defined differently by different churches and different leaders. It makes it very difficult to have one marker or metric that points to the health of a youth ministry.

10 Mark of a Healthy Youth Ministry

Through this personal searching and profiling, I came up with a series of 10 marks that I critique my youth ministry against to know whether we are healthy and growing. In some way, I hope that these marks are helpful for you and can start some discussions in your friendship circles and ministry teams.

Mark #1: The Gospel

When it comes down to it, the Gospel of Jesus is all that we have in our tool kit to transform lives. What is the Gospel specifically?

  1. That Jesus Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scripture.
  2. That He was buried
  3. That He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
  4. That Jesus is alive!

The message of Christianity is not a philosophy for living. It is a message about Jesus and the events surrounding him that happened in history in front of many eye witnesses, that happened in accordance with the scriptures that prophesied that he would come and be pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 52:5) and that he would rise again, defeating sin and assuring our salvation. It’s the promise of a renewed relationship with the God of the universe.

Healthy Youth Ministries let this truth saturate every single thing they do, from the way they welcome new comers to the way that they teach and equip mature Christian leaders. They find every way they can to keep the gospel on repeat in their ministry. 

Mark #2: Clear Vision, Mission and Goals

In the first two months of building a new youth ministry in Caroline Springs, we spent a long process of working out how the churches mission and vision could be lived out in the youth ministry, as well as some introductory goals. We spent time talking with God and waiting on him, looking through the bible, looking at our context and looking at our strengths and weaknesses to put together a strong step forward.

Many people felt that we spent too much time strategizing instead of getting our hands dirty with the work of ministry, but the preparation you do on mission, vision and goal-setting is crucial. It allows a space for God to show you what he is calling you into and gives you a razor-sharp focus to carry it out.

Healthy Youth Ministries and their teams can tell you exactly what they are doing, why they are doing it and the goals they are working towards accomplishing to bring that about. If they cannot, they are in very real danger of walking away from what God is calling them to and never even realizing it.

Mark #3: Friendship

Youth Ministry has always been about relationships and friendships. Teenagers who grow up will rarely remember the programs you run, the sermons you preach or the bible studies you lead but they will remember all the times you showed up in their life. They remember the football games, the family dinners, XBOX tournaments, dance recitals, school concerts and before-school coffees. I know that I did.

Healthy Youth Ministries are filled with leaders who open themselves up, walk into the messiness of teenage life and build deep and authentic relationship with young people.

Mark #4: Conversion

Much of the conversation in youth ministry in the last 5 years has centered on the pressing question of teenagers walking away from the church. Recent(ish) statistics in Australia point to almost 50,000 teens walking away from their faith every single year.

There is a very simple reason about why so many walk away: they are not converted. They might be good kids, they might be smart kids, they might be kids that we love and appreciate but they are not converted Christians and that is why they leave.

Healthy Youth Ministries preach, talk and ooze the gospel to their teenagers, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Where the Gospel is preached faithfully, and God moves powerfully in the lives of teens to bring about full heart transformation, there will be no such thing as a nominal, cultural Christian.

Mark #5: Discipleship

Christian leaders have a very clear purpose in this world:

Make self-denying, cross-carrying, gospel-heralding, grace soaked in, sin-repenting followers of Jesus Christ, also known as disciples. 

In Healthy Youth Ministries, discipleship is not a buzz word but a lifestyle. If we don’t do the work of equipping our teens to pray for their friends, share the gospel with them, disciple a new believer on their own and countless other actions that can make up following Jesus then we have not done the work that Jesus Christ himself left for us in the great commission.

You only have to look at the churches and youth ministries that do this work of discipleship well. They are filled with leaders who grew up in youth ministry, saved in their teens but had mature Christians walk along them and do the hard work of equipping them.

Mark #6: Equipped & Empowered Parents

The Bible is clear that the passing down of faith is a God-given responsibility to families. Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to: Love the lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind (Mark 12:30) but that commandment was originally given in the Old Testament, followed by a direct encouragement for families to share this truth with their children wherever they walked and wherever they went (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

Statistically, no-one has more an influence on the faith development of a young person than their parents do. This is true regardless of culture, religion, family make up and social class. If this is the case, then we need to equip and empower parents to put into action what they believe.

In Family Ministry Field Guide, Timothy Paul Jones writes that there are two reasons why parents don’t disciple their children:

  • Lack of Time
  • Lack of Training

Healthy Youth Ministries don’t just partner with parents, they equip them to be their first line of disciple makers. 

Mark #7: Intergenerational Community

This line from Kenda Dean inspires me:

Only in the church do young people begin to see themselves through the eyes of people who try to see them as God sees them: beloved, blessed called. 

Healthy Youth Ministries allow this crucial identity and spiritual formation to happen by having one church community, rather than several splintered ones. In an interview on Carey Nieuwhof’s leadership podcast, Kara Powell defines what intergenerational community is beautifully:

What has often happened is that we put children in one part of the church, youth in another section and adults in the main room of the church. As a result, high schoolers graduate from the youth ministry and don’t know the church, they’ve never experienced the church. (from 9:30 in the podcast)

It’s not even about getting kids in the same room as adults, it’s about the relationships that are built. We learnt in our Sticky Faith research that there is a difference between multigenerational ministry and intergenerational ministry. In multigenerational ministry, we have everyone in the same room but what happens is that all the senior adults sit together, all the middle-aged adults sit together and the teens sit together but they never talk to each other. 

It’s a placebo for what we ultimately want which is intergenerational community, where people of all ages know each other, pray for each other, know each others names and are connected (from 13:44)

Intergenerational community fosters and builds up relationships between people of all ages and stages, where the oldest member in your congregation is praying for your youngest one and the business leader invests in finding out how the rowdy teen with messed up hair is going with his trouble at school.

There is a place for being and learning in age-appropriate contexts, but when that becomes the main context for worship and community for youth then the entire church misses out on fellowship.

Mark #8: Leadership

Leadership in any ministry is vital, because leadership ultimately comes down to character. In their excellent book Credibility, James Kouzes and Barry Posner argue that people follow leaders because they see a quality of character and a credibility worth trusting in. It is this quality of character that people respond to. 

If this is the case, leadership in healthy youth ministries is less about what you do and more about who you are. It means that Christian leaders are not called to a place, a role, or a ministry. Instead, they are called to live their lives in such a way that it points people to God, wherever they find themselves.

Healthy Youth Ministries have a strong focus on character in leadership, holding each other accountable for who they are and how they are living their lives. They also build and encourage these character traits in their leaders and those desiring responsibility.

Mark #9: Personal Faith

Healthy Youth Ministries are filled with leaders passionate about Jesus and committed to cultivating a relationship with God. That relationship is the single most important aspect of being a youth pastor or leader.

Jesus himself said:

Abide in me and I will abide in you, as the branch can not produce fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4)

Healthy Youth Ministry starts with you and God, waiting on him, praying to him and being led by him. God does not need us, he wants and desires us and that is a huge difference. Outside of his influence and power, there is nothing that we can do in the lives of teenagers or in fact anyone.

Teens need role models to look up to and follow even as they follow Jesus himself. Just as Paul said “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1), teens need to see what it looks like to pray, what it looks like to read your bible, what it looks like to love the community around you, what it looks like to share the gospel and what it looks like to follow Jesus even when you feel disheartened.

One of the most discouraging things for a teenager is for them to have their eyes and hearts opened by God about what it means to follow Jesus, only to find that no-one is walking ahead of them as a guide. In many occasions, they will either fall in line, or run from the hypocrisy. Neither is healthy.

Mark #10: Longevity

The average youth pastor in America will last three years and it would not be surprising to hear that in Australia the statistics are similar. Growing up, I had 6 different youth pastors or teams that led the youth ministry in my 8 years as a youth and as a youth leader.

One of the best things about the bible is that it is brutally honest, it pulls no punches and leaves no rock for people to hide in. In Jude, we find one of the most honest descriptions of leaders who do not last.

They are like wandering stars, for whom the blackest darkness has already been reserved (Jude 1:13). 

Leaders like this are shooting stars, streaking onto the scene with excitement but just as quickly fading and disappearing for good. They show short-term gains but the long-term health of the ministry becomes compromised quickly.

Healthy Youth Ministries know that strong relationships build over long periods of time and they stay the distance. They don’t talk about being there for a couple of years, but for an entire generation. They encourage their leaders to have friendships with teens as long as they can, leaving legacies instead of train wrecks.

These are my 10 marks of what makes a successful, healthy youth ministry. What would make your list? What have I left out? 

How to Survive The Busy Stretch & Inject Margin Into Your Life

A friend called me earlier this week, with the familiar question that begins most conversations: ‘How have you been?’ The truthful answer was busy, very busy.

In the last three weeks, I have presented at a Christian conference, attended and live blogged at another conference, preached twice, had four intensive classes, went to two weddings, organized a youth event and somehow spent time with my wife in between. For sure, it was a busy stretch but it was still a surprise to hear him say that the first words out of my mouth every time we spoke in the last couple of months was some variation of the word busy.

stressed out lady throwing paper

What I had been missing is margin. 

Margin is the portion of a page that you intentionally leave blank. Without it, books and magazines would be readable but they become messy and hard to digest. Similarly, when we live lives without margin we can make it work, but our lives become messy and unsustainable.

People are doing more than ever before, but the consequence of constantly being busy is burnout. People cram their schedules so full of activities and busyness that their emotional, physical and spiritual health suffers dramatically. 

I love how Richard Swenson, describes margin:

If we were equipped with a flashing light to indicate “100 percent full,” we could better gauge our capacities. But we don’t have such an indicator light, and we don’t know when we have overextended until we feel the pain. As a result, many people commit to a 120 percent life and wonder why the burden feels so heavy. It is rare to see a life prescheduled to only 80 percent, leaving a margin for responding to the unexpected that God sends our way.

I know from personal experience that when my calendar starts to fill up, I struggle to spend intentional time with God. Added onto that, the things you do to stay healthy, such as eating right and exercising go out the window in the quest to get things done.

That said, margin is important.

Mark Batterson writes:

“You need margin to think. You need margin to play. You need margin to laugh. You need margin to dream. You need margin to have impromptu conversations and you need margin to seize unanticipated opportunities.

Having margin helps you make good decisions, makes you more pleasant and less grumpy. Most importantly, margin increase the chance that you will hear the still, small voice of God when he is speaking to you.

HOW DO YOU INJECT MORE MARGIN INTO YOUR LIFE?

I do a couple of things with every team that I lead, and one of them is to run them through an exercise called a perfect week. It’s a simple tool that Michael Hyatt put together several years ago that I have added to with my own stylings to maximize its potential for creating margin. I’ve created a simple PDF for you to download here, print and work off in your own time. There is also an downloadable excel sheet if you want to make it pretty or color-coded like I have done below.

There are four steps in creating your perfect week:

Building Margin Tip #1 – Fill out your current week

The first step in creating margin is to have a sober assessment of your current levels of space. Often, this is a revealing look into how the idol of business and work can slowly, but surely take over your life without you even realizing.

On the first page, fill in your last week, to the best of your ability, using whatever tools you commonly use to capture dates and time schedules. For me, this is either my phone or my diary.

Here is an example of my last week.

My Current WeekBuilding Margin Tip #2 – Define your priorities, plan rest periods and space for God to act. 

Now that I have a sober assessment of how I am doing, it’s time to make a positive step forward and carve out some margin for yourself. I do this asking three questions:

  • What are my top three priorities for this calendar year?
  • When am I going to plan my rest?
  • How am I leaving space for God to work?

When you have your priorities, you can easily see the things that take up too much of your week. If your priority is your health or your study, and you spend all day playing video games then you have an easy culprit to cut out.

Secondly, when you plan your rest, it actually happens. Too many times I have looked back over a week, only realizing too late that I spend either no time resting or too much time resting in things that don’t give me energy. Rest is life-giving pause in your life. Make sure you plan yours.

Finally, work out how you are leaving room for God to act in your life. Whether it’s giving space for him to whisper to you or simply time where he can use you, leave room for God to move. God can move and act regardless of how packed or free our schedule is, but I have found that when we have a packed schedule, God will break something – either us or our schedule – to move in our life.

Building Margin Tip #3 – Make a Perfect Week

The third step is to put all the information you’ve gathered over the last two steps and build some space for yourself. You do this by planning out your perfect week – the week you would have if you could control 100% of what happens. There is one trick though:

Lock in priorities, rest and time with God before you add anything else.

Personally, I find it helpful to color co-ordinate my three priorities, rest periods and time with God so I can keep track of visually how much time I have given to the important things in my life. Otherwise, I find less important tasks and values getting way too much of my time.

Here is an example of what my perfect week looks like at the moment.

My Perfect Week

Now you have instant margin added into your life.

Building Margin Tip #4 – Adjust and Re-align. 

The key to building margin that makes an impact is to keep looking back at it, adjusting and re-aligning according to your goals and schedule. We often don’t have control over our weeks, and so most of the time my week doesn’t look like a perfect week but when I do have control, I know what is important and when it should happen.

At least once a month, I go over my perfect week and current week to make sure they match up and if they aren’t, what I need to cut out to regain some space and sanity in my life.

Hopefully this can help you build some margin into your life. Let me know how you go below in a comment. 

HAEMORRHAGING FAITH 2015 // DAY 2 //

Yesterday, I recapped the first day of the Haemorrhaging Faith conference which has been running in Melbourne this week.

The first day of the conference was spent wrestling with the data of the Haemorrhaging Faith study and whether it was true in an Australian context, whereas the second day was a focused response to finding stepping stones for churches and ministries to start to transfuse life into the Australian church.

10959402_797393816962716_7207272649126117731_n-640x237

How do we move forward in a landscape where teenagers and young adults are leaving the church? Many of us have preached that faith is personal, but it has been picked up to the point that many people have made a distinction between Jesus and his church.  The church has not done a good job presenting our faith as one that is attached to a ‘body’ that impacts everyone.

Furthermore, there was also a very real experience for many young adults of an unexperienced God, unanswered prayers and unfelt presence of the Holy Spirit. What do we do with these experiences and all of this data? 

// KEYNOTE 4 – DAVE OVERHOLT // 

How do we respond to the research. Out of the 2000+ responses completed, researchers discovered four common barriers to church attendance and the factors that motivate Engagers to attend and grow in their faith.

PARENTS: ENGAGED OR DISENGAGED?

The faith commitment of parents has an enormous impact on the faith and church participation of their children. If parents attend church but don’t model what they believe, it is far more likely that children will not take part in church when they grow up.

If parents prayed more than just at meals, talked freely about their faith and the bible, served together at church, worshipped openly and could wrestle with tough questions, the children were more likely to live their faith out and attend church in their adult years.  Most Engagers had parents with high levels of spiritual disciplines. 

ACTION POINTS

  • Equip Parents: If we care about our young people, we need to create and take ministry to parents very seriously, encouraging them to model their faith at home. There are two reasons that parents fail to disciple thier children, lack of time and lack of training (Timothy Paul Jones). Churches, don’t let lack of training be an issue. Disciple your parents.  
  • Pray First: Whenever there is a time of stress, anxiety, pain, celebration or joy pray first. Make sure that the first response is to pray, whether that is in response to good news or bad news so that youth can see we believe that God is moving.
  • Email Out: During the week, email parents associated with your ministry all the positive things that are going on, how god is moving in their teenagers and questions to ask them that go beyond ‘how was church‘. Set parents up for the win, and everyone wins.
  • Mentoring: The reality is that many students grow up without Christian parents. Mentoring becomes key, the need to see real faith lived out, outside of programs and church is huge. Involve key secondary adults into teenagers lives.

GOD: EXPERIENCED OR UNEXPERIENCED?

Dave put forward that this generation recognizes truth from their experiences. If they don’t experience God, then for them, he does not exist. For many, God did not exist because he did not answer their prayers as expected. This was particularly true when the young adult had experienced relatives dying or friends who had committed suicide. Their perception was that God had not come to the rescue. 

ACTION POINTS

  • Write Down Prayers I think this is a great point. Encourage students to write down their prayers so that when they look back, they can clearly see how God is moving and working. God doesn’t just answer prayers positively, he can also answer them negatively. Celebrate when you can see God moving. 
  • Make Sure You Tackle Problems: Dave encouraged every ministry to have at least one night every year, if not more when you tackled the issue of ‘When God Seems Like He Is Not There”.  It’s important that students know that God doesn’t have to be felt to be followed. I’ve tackled this before here if you wanted some starters.
  • Encouragement Circles: In your ministries, have an encouragement circle where you share how you see God moving in your life and in the life of others
  • Ask Better Questions: Rather than asking the typical questions, like how your relationship with God is going, ask deeper questions. How are you being faithful to God? How do you see God moving? How is God being faithful to you? 

COMMUNITY: ALIVE OR DEAD?

For many teenagers, God is not the problem, it’s the community of believers. Young adults have grown up with friendship and intimacy as some of their top values and if the community of faith falls short, it is proof that the church is not for them.

Young adults see hypocrisy and being inauthentic  as a sign of a dead or dying community. They know we are not perfect, but if we make a mistake, we need to admit it and apologize. Many young adults felt like there was no place for them. There were no places for them to get involved and in many churches, it would take a short lifetime to gain the trust to do any significant ministry there.

This is huge, because Dave hasn’t seen anyone keep an alive faith without being connected to an alive community.

ACTION POINTS

  • Create Culture of Acceptance + Vulnerability: Work with influence leaders in the group to grow them in the areas of acceptance, vulnerability and purpose. Deal quickly with abuses of these values. Share life stories of your people that build up these values.
  • Have Young People In Places of Significant: The front of church is a place of power. Ensure you have teens and young adults in the front of the congregation engaged in significant ministry. Young adults need to see that they can be used in ministry and are valued. Get at least one teenager to do something significant in church every week.
  • Build Cross-Generational Relationships: Have prayer partners where older members in the church pray for younger members. Introduce your youth to people who have been faithful for more than ten or twenty years. Get mature disciples to tell their stories.
  • Actually Like Your Church: Dave asked a really good questions,  would you attend your church if you weren’t paid to be there. Young people see hypocrisy, and if you don’t want to be there, why should they? Make your community somewhere that you would actually want to be if you didn’t have a job there.

TEACHING: EMPOWERING OR RESTRICTIVE?

Many young adults leave the church because they believe that what the church preaches is repressive and behind the times. There are several topics that young adults feel the church is being left behind on.

These include topics such as, but are not limited to:

  • Sex
  • Porn
  • Marriage
  • Homosexuality
  • Gender Roles
  • Post Modernism
  • Ultimate Truth

Unfortunately, the church has recognized that people disagree with them and in many instances, shied away from confronting them head on. Young adults want the church to say what it means, and mean what it says. They also want teaching to have a real-life application, something to actually help you live out your life today. Stories with real life scenarios are a reason to come back to church.

ACTION POINTS

  • Talk About Tough Topics: Own what you believe, say it with grace and conviction and allow for true debate and discussions. Don’t shy away from difficult subjects just because some people will disagree.
  • Applications: Ensure that your messages have specific actions to tack. If, at the end of your talk, someone can still ask “How do I do this?” you have not applied it.
  • Questions are King: Have a number or system by which people can text in their questions to be asked. Sermons are fantastic conversations starters and can lead to deep one on one conversations.

// KEYNOTE FIVE – DAVE MIERS//

The keynotes ended with City On A Hill Pastor and prolific blogger, Dave Miers encouraging us in a landscape of haemorrhaging faith to keep the gospel on repeat. Here are some of the main points:

The first two missionaries to the islands of Vanuatu, within minutes of getting off the boat had been clubbed, boiled and eaten alive.  In the years that followed, there were many missionaries who went to talk about Jesus. More missionaries died, and yet that collection of islands is now dubbed by the Lonely Planet as the happiest place on earth.

Due to the work of missionaries who gave their life for the nation of Vanuatu, the vast majority of people in Vanuatu are now Christians. The great danger for Vanuatu is no longer whether you will be eaten or not for preaching Jesus, the great danger is that complacent cultural Christianity will move into their landscape like it has so many others.

How does complacent cultural Christianity arise? 

  • Generation one preaches the gospel
  • Generation two assumes the gospel
  • Generation three neglects the gospel
  • Generation four denies the gospel 

In a constantly moving faith landscape, how we do we avoid losing the gospel?

KEEP THE GOSPEL ON REPEAT

Christianity is not about new things, new ways or new ideas. It’s about rehearsing and going back to the old things again and again. There is not a soul in the world who doesn’t need to hear the message of the gospel. 

In the midst of all this bad news, it would be a tragedy to forget THE good news. In our desire for a silver bullet to fix our churches, fix our youth ministries .. we need to know that in the gospel God has given us everything we need.

What is the gospel? 

  1. That Jesus Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scripture.
  2. That he was buried
  3. That he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
  4. That Jesus is alive!

The message of Christianity is not a philosophy for living, it is a message about Jesus and the events surrounding him that happened in history in front of many eye witnesses, that happened in accordance with the scriptures that prophesied that he could come and be pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 52:5) and that he would rise again, defeating sin and assuring our salvation.

Do not fall into complacent cultural Christianity. Keep the gospel on repeat, for the gospel cannot be preached enough, heard enough, grasped well enough. Our primary task as ministers of the word is to keep the gospel on repeat.

We are only one generation away from denying or rejecting the gospel, but we are also only one generation away from changing the entire world. 

KEEP THE GOSPEL ON REPEAT.

Those are my reflections on the second day of the Haemorrhaging Faith conference 2015 in Melbourne.

HAEMORRHAGING FAITH 2015 // DAY 1 //

The Haemorrhaging Faith Conference has been run over the last two days. Inspired by Dave Miers, I’ll be writing a few blog posts across the two days summarizing some of key content and one responding to the content.

10959402_797393816962716_7207272649126117731_n-640x237

Not only does the conference give an excellent opportunity to network and talk with some of the best youth pastors in Melbourne, but has a vital topic in “revealing important research into why youth and young adults are leaving the church and what we can do to arrest that trend”.

Haemorrhaging Faith started as a sociological study in Canada which investigated why young people raised in the church decide to either continue in their faith, or leave the church. Dave Overholt is one of the lead minds behind the study and was taking the keynote presentations during the day, alongside Rowan Lewis and Dave Miers from Australia responding to the content.

Here is my summary of the keynotes for anyone interested in youth ministry, research and the church.

//KEYNOTE 1 – DAVE OVERHOLT//

Currently, 12% of Australians and Canadians go to church two or more times per month. That means that Canada and Australia are closer together than for instance, America, where almost 30-35% of the population attends church two times or more per month.

Whilst this statistic is fairly constant, faith in teenagers is slowly fading away across both nations with statisticians recording ‘under representation’ of teenagers and young adults in comparison to the general population. This is especially problematic because youth ministry is one of the key drivers for mission in the nation. Many small group leaders, campus pastors, worship leaders (etc) start off as youth group leaders or youth worship leaders in their youth groups.

The Youth and Young Adult Ministry Roundtable in Canada commissioned a report into why teenagers and young adults were leaving the church in Canada and some of the data that came out of that was fairly alarming. 

For people who grew up in the local church, by the age of 30 about 70% of them will have left the church. If they do not come back to the local church by the age of 35, they do not come back despite what a number of people expect. The number that comes back with their children is only 2%. One Anglican Bishop said that ‘my whole denomination is waiting for their congregation to come back .. and they are not’. 

Interestingly, different denominations had different figures of youth and young adults leaving. The Catholic Church recorded 80% of their students leaving and never returning, Mainline Churches (Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian etc) recorded about 60% leaving and not returning whilst the Evangelical Church reported that only 30% of their students who would leave the church and never come back.

The Haemorrhaging Faith research interviewed 2,049 young people and identified four kinds of spiritual orientations in students and young adults. They are summarized below:

1. Engagers (23%)

Engagers are those who are active in the church and open to God

For the most part, rated very highly on various measurements of faith. Most attended church ‘weekly or more’ (71%). Almost all had personally experienced God’s love and believed that God answered their prayers (99%). Many strongly believed that they had experienced emotionally healing in the local church (79%) and most believed in heaven (97%) and hell (89%)

INTERESTING STATS + QUESTIONS?

  • Roughly, 70% of all engagers are women.. why are so few men engaged?
  • Only one in five will read their bible regularly.. what is sustaining them?

2. Fence Sitters (36%)

The statistically largest group, tend to have religious affiliation but have not claimed it as their own. 

In the report, Fence Sitters did not come to a conclusive answer on many of their questions. They did not ‘strongly agree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ on anything. Most of them say that they have experienced God through His love (67%) and answers to prayer (68%). Fewer have experienced a real inner change of emotional healing (22%). A large proportion find the lifestyle demands of the church unrealistic (66%)

In many of the Fence Sitters, there was a cynicism that had bubbled up, almost like they were saying that “Christianity overpomises and underdelivers”. 

INTERESTING STATS + QUESTIONS?

  • 76% of Fence Sitters believe that attending church is hypocritical.. why is it that walking in the door is akin to subscribing to the churches beliefs?
  • Only 40% believe that leadership are able and willing to answer their questions about Christianity .. why is that?

3. Wanderers (26%)

Wanderers are those who have Christian heritage through being involved with the church as a child, but would not now describe themselves as Christian. 

Most of them do not attend church, think Christmas and Easter. Very few of the Wanderers have experienced God, even to a moderate degree (10%). The same is true with experiencing any answers to prayer.  12% of Wanderers believe in a literal hell.  Most of the Wanderers believe that the churches lifestyle demands are wholly unrealistic (89%) and that attending church would be hypocritical (93%). Most (67%) believe that the Church is not making a difference in the community.

In general, the Wanderers do not consider themselves Christians. They do not attend church and cannot remember experiencing God.

INTERESTING STATS + QUESTIONS?

  • Wanderers experienced almost a 60% drop on experiencing God through His love or through answered prayer when compared to Fence Sitters .. why is that?
  • 14% of Wanderers believe that Church Leadership can help them with their toughest questions .. how can we get better at this? How can we know their questions?

4. Rejecters (15%)

Where Wanderers have a positive view of Christianity despite not being Christians, Rejectors have a strongly negative view of the church and have completely rejected the church. This group is mainly made up of Atheist, No Religion and Agnostic people. 

Most of them strongly disagree that they have experienced God (87%) and most strongly disagree that they have ever had an answered prayer (88%). Most strongly disagree that they have received any kind of emotional healing through the church (93%). Rejecters don’t believe in heaven (94%) or hell (99%) or that right or wrong is a personal opinion (66% agree) and the lifestyle demands of the Church are unrealistic (86%).

INTERESTING STATS + QUESTIONS?

  • 51% of Rejecters feel that their contribution to the church went unappreciated .. how can we make youth feel significant at church?
  • Many of the Rejecters had personal reasons for leaving the church (youth pastor had an affair, grandma died when I prayed for healing etc) .. how can we sit with them through this pain?

// KEYNOTE TWO – DAVE OVERHOLT //

What were some of the surprises of the Haemorrhaging Faith research?

Researchers discovered that the greatest drop in students losing their faith was between primary school and high school, and all noted drop points were in times of transitions. Dave noted that of all things, transitions should be of utmost importance in helping the faith of students.

Two types of key transitions were identified:

Grade Transitions

Simply put, between grades six and seven, and year 12 and university are some of the largest transitions where youth drop off. Early teenagers are establishing their autonomy from their parents and older teenagers are thinking about university and full-time work. How can we love them during this phase?

Staff Transitions

Youth Ministry is at the heart, a relational ministry. Youth workers and leaders build relationships with students and share the gospel and encourage each other on the marathon of faith. It’s no surprise then that when youth pastors (specifically) leave, that many of the students leave as well because the relationship that was pulling them in the youth ministry.

What were ways to slow down the ‘drop points‘ of transitions?

  • Build Anticipation

Make sure there is something to look forward to for your students. If they are receiving the exact same format time after time through children and youth, they have nothing to look forward to if they are not engaged. 

Dave mentioned ideas such as having a youth leadership team made up solely of students in year 10 and above, having a retreat for those in year 7 and year 8 and similar practices to build anticipation.

  • Reach Down One Grade Level

Help those who are in lower year levels by reaching down one grade level. Use your year 7+8+9’s to teach in children’s ministry so that when younger students get to high school, they already know a majority of those around them. It isn’t as intimidating to walk into a room when you know and like half the students there.

  • Ask Yourself The Question .. DOES IT WORK?

In a world where Google can give a million answers to questions, experience seems to trump rhetoric. How can we show the fruits of the spirit and the life change of faith to students so that they can experience it for themselves?

// KEYNOTE THREE – ROWAN LEWIS //

The question that Rowan Lewis wanted to answer during this keynote:  Is Australia haemorrhaging faith? 

Lewis thinks that we are.

Although there was not the exact kind of research in Australia, there have been major research projects in Australia that point to similar findings. Lewis noted that the kind of social changes in the first couple of years post high school, in sheer number of changes is only comparable to the two-year period that surrounds the arrival of a baby.

In both Canada and Australia, 12 and 18 are the major junction point for switching off or checking out of faith. Puberty starts at the age of 12, and 18 is post-high school.  We need to find better ways to deal with these ‘drop off points’.

Major Research Projects

There were two major research projects that Rowan referenced, although he noted more.

They were the Australian Youth Spirituality Survey by Phillip Hughes, and a book written thirty years ago called Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, by John Bodycomb (Thanks Bree!)

Throughout these research there was statistics that pointed to haemorrhaging faith in the Australian Church. 

  • 15-22 is the period of most involvement in church for students and young adults.
  • There is an increasing under-representation of individuals aged 15-39 in the Australian Church. This is a significant issue
  • There are 50,000 young people who drift away from the Christian faith annually
  • Over the course of 10 years, that rounds up to a missing 500,000 students who were Christians or had Christian heritage.
  • 80% of young adults are congregating in 20% of churches.

Rowan then asked the question about how to appropriate the Haemorrhaging Faith research in an Australian context? 

Rowan pushed back on some of the research, noting that the grouping can actually have a self-fulfilling prophecy of pushing lost faith onto searching teens if you categorize people like that.

Words that would describe the Engagers include phrases such as faithful, disciples and saved whilst words used to describe Fence-Sitters, Wandereres and Rejecters would include phrases such as backsliders, unfaithful, unsaved, lost and sinners. The words we use to describe them can be of huge importance in how they feel about themselves and how we view them.

Rowan ended asking: are we sure that the engagers the ones who are close and the rest further away from the cross?

Interesting day and a lot of food for thought. I will summarize and post day 2 tomorrow and then post some of my own thoughts and response on Friday. 

True Hope In A Cliché World

I am going to be honest with you.

The last year has been difficult for me and my wife, Sarah. It has involved a lot of illness, worry, anxiety and stress on our behalf and a lot of uncertainty with God on mine.

The Last Six Months

Roughly six months ago, I started to feel lethargic, consistently nauseous and mentally absent. After getting myself into the best shape of my life in preparation for Ride Around The Bay, my health started gradually slipping and then rapidly sliding until I became a shell of myself, physically and emotionally.

It all came to a head during a particularly tough charity ride, where I started experiencing muscle cramps for the last three hours of the arduous ride. I thought with enough hydration, nutrition and rest that I could recover quickly.

That week, I threw up multiple times a day and wasn’t able to move away from the bed for the entire week. Doctors advised me that a test indicating muscle inflammation showed that I had ten times the regular amount of inflammation and that if I had pains in my stomach to race to hospital, as I would be having renal (kidney) failure.

I went from preparing for the biggest ride of my life to withdrawing from Bible College, putting a halt on most of my social life and placing significant strain on my wife to pick up the slack that I left behind. During those weeks and months, I lost a lot of hope.

The question that kept rolling around my head was always about GodWhere are you? 

The words of David, the writer of Psalm 22, became my words.

“My God, My God, why have you forgotten me?

Why are you so far from saving me, from hearing my cries of anguish”

I had done my part. I was running the race. I had stepped out in faith and listened to Gods call. I had followed.

Yet, once again, my body had started to fail on me. As someone who has had health issues since the day I was born, it is always difficult to navigate new ones. Every new issue can bring nagging doubts about God’s goodness and sovereignty, regardless of how much theology I know or the God I experience.

Another part of the problem is that it is really difficult to talk honestly about significant health issues without people becoming awkward and wanting to tie up the conversations. Many of us with health issues leave discouraged from our conversations, with an ice-berg level of submerged doubt and frustration that is often only shown in the tip at the surface.

During this time of illness, one of the most common things to happen was for people to give me cliches to try and keep my spirits up. I heard a mountain of them:

  • Everything happens for a reasons, you just need to wait to find out. 
  • She’ll be right mate, just stick in there. 
  • God must have big plans for you for you to go through so many trials. 
  • God won’t give you anything you can’t handle. You can handle this as well. 

I understand. 

Clichés are what you say when you don’t know what to say to someone doing it tough, it’s a socially accepted form of non-talk when actually not talking would be awkward.

They are also the single worst way of encouraging anyone going through any form of trouble. They last a moment; mean nothing and most of them aren’t even true or helpful.

What I craved above all else during this time was for someone to give me the good news of the Gospel because true hope lives in the truth of the Gospel. 

Hope Lives In The Truth of the Gospel

Don’t give me a cliché when I am in despair. Do not console me with meaningless words and sentences. Give me good news. 

Tell me about a prodigal God who has given the breath of life to men and women dead in their sins. How much more can I trust God with my temporary health when I know he was already done the miraculous in my heart?

Tell me about Jesus, the living and breathing Son of God who conquered death once and for all. How much more can I have hope in Jesus when he has conquered the grave?

Tell me about God’s plan to restore the broken world we live in. How much more can I have hope in this life when I know that one day he will wipe away every single tear from our eyes, where there will be no death or mourning or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Rev 21:24)?

Tell me about how God himself invaded this world and took on our pains and sorrows? How much more can I trust God when he knows exactly the feelings I have and the physical limitations of a broken body in a broken world?

True hope is rooted in the Gospel and anything less is false promises.

If you know someone in despair, give them the gospel.

If you are in despair, seek Jesus and his good news.

Please. 

What do you do when God feels distant and you feel disconnected?

What do you do when God feels distant and you feel disconnected? 

For many of us, the feeling that God is distant is more common than the feeling that he is near. I love the way one person put it, that our lives are more like the book of Esther than Exodus.  Esther is a beautiful story in the Old Testament, but God isn’t mentioned even once. When you compare that to a book like Exodus where God shows up in dramatic power, carving out an identity for his chosen people by leading them out of Egypt, it sort of seems like we are missing out.

What do you do when the sea isn’t parting for you and the invitation for a mountain top meeting with God hasn’t come this month? 

When God Feels Distant

Late last year, my church went through the book of Ecclesiastes and I got to speak on this very topic. You can have a listen to the talk here, but I wanted to work through some of the thoughts I had in this post. All of them have come from working through Ecclesiastes 5 and others thoughts on the topic.

Most of us will have had some time where God felt difficult to trust, like he was distant and we were lost. What do you do when God feels distant?

Guard Your Feet

The phrase guard your steps, in Hebrew, literally means ‘pay attention to the direction of your feet’. Unless you are unbelievably flexible, the direction of your feet will dictate the direction of your life and your passions and feelings.

When God feels distant and I feel lost, very often I completely shut down the pursuit of Him all together. I fall into some kind of weird determinism where the situation is unchangeable and I cannot change any aspect of it. I just let my relationship with God slip away until I am running on spiritual adrenalin. 

When that happens, two things are almost inevitable

  1. I look for the miraculous or my church to snap me out of my funk
  2. I stop trusting God

Instead of doing the things that I have historically done to get me excited about Jesus, I wait for a Red Sea moment or for the perfect church service that will uplift my spirits and it just doesn’t work like that.

I love what Matt Chandler says about the Christian life:

People ask me all the time, what does following Christ everyday look like? Find the very things that stir your affections for Christ and saturate your life in them. Find the things that rob you of that affection and run from them.

My experience is that when God feels distant, I have stopped doing many of the things that make me excited about Jesus in the first place and instead wait for my church to save me. I love the church, but one thing it isn’t is my Savior.

When God feels distant, I need to pay attention to the direction of my feet and saturate my life in the things that stir my affection for Jesus. 

Listen in to God

When God feels distant, one of the most difficult and awkward things things to do is to listen. More often than not, we fill our lives with noise to distract us. We create all of this noise because it means that we never have to engage with our disconnection, that we never have to come face to face with God or anyone who will point us to God.

One of the most helpful things for me has been learning how to sit in silence with God and listen to him.

Throughout this year, I have been going through a bible year to do exactly that. Remove distractions, draw near to God and let him whisper to me through the written account of his work in history. It has been refreshing to let God talk to me in this way.

Furthermore, we live in an age of fantastic technology and although it can be one of our primary sources of distraction, it has created some truly beautiful gospel resources that allow us to draw near to God. We can use it, as pastor Dave Miers has said recently, to put the gospel on repeat.

Find God-saturated, bible-filled teachers who preach the word and listen to them constantly in the desert. Find musicians, bands and rappers who fill your heart with emotion for Jesus and let their words soothe their soul. Find podcasts that reveal God’s truth to you and let it hit you so hard that only God can put you back together.

Here are a few examples examples of teachers, musicians and podcasts that God has spoken to me through. 

Teachers

Musicians

Podcasts

Follow The Holy Spirit

When you are guarding your steps and drawing near to listen to God in prayer and the scriptures, what will often happen is that something will be spoken and will start to resonate within your heart. That is the Holy Spirit inside of you leading you to spiritual water.  You need to follow it.

The reality is that it takes a real step of faith and effort to walk out of the desert, even whilst following the Holy Spirits direction. For a lot of us, we are just going to refuse to go, and then in true to form, we will stay in the desert and then complain about staying in the desert.

I love what my pastor Jonathan Smith said in a sermon last year:

“If you feel far away from God, go to church and be with Christians. Don’t moan midweek about how discouraged you are when you are actively denying yourself means of grace. God has laid out a buffet of encouragement and satisfaction for you and you’re sitting at the table complaining of an empty stomach”. 

Boom.

Listen to the Holy Spirit and start walking towards him. 

Sometimes God wants you in the desert

The most difficult truth about feeling like God is distant is that sometimes,  that’s exactly where God wants you. There might be something that he needs to show you or teach your that can only come about by the self-inspection from wrestling with Him.

It’s out there in the struggle that we learn some of the most deep truth that God has in store for us. Truth that can’t be unveiled in prosperity and good times. The real deep truth.

In that case?

I would honestly just pray through the psalms and cling to God with all that you have in you.

Keep paying attention to the direction of your feet, draw near to God to listen to him and those who fan your affections for him and follow the calling of the Holy Spirit. 


5 Reasons To Still Love The Church (Even If It’s Broken)

If you’ve read any recent articles about the Church, you’d think it was on the cusp of being forgotten.

Young adults and youth leaving in droves, everyone is upset and pastors are clueless. I read it all and a lot of it, I understand. The church has often lost its way, but I think something that gets lost in the emotionality of the concerns is that there is still many reasons to love the church.

FS_22597

I have been heavily involved in the church since I became a Christian as a teenager. I attended the youth group and bible studies, served on worship and preaching teams and been employed as a youth pastor. This provides me a unique platform to analyse the church, because I got to see all the behind the scenes action.

There is a reason that from the time I became a Christian, I have only had a couple of months without a church. It’s not because I’ve had a perfect experience of the church, in fact some/most of the time it makes my blood boil, but there are many reasons I still love the church, even though it’s broken.

Here are my top five reasons I still love the Church.

#1: The Church is Filled With Broken People, Just Like Me

Every church I’ve been a part of is filled with broken people. Thank God. 

When it comes down to it, the Church is a community of broken people clinging onto Jesus like their lives depend on it because it does. Nothing more, nothing less.

You might have been involved in Churches that functionally practice the opposite of this, but that doesn’t mean it should be like that. Church, for me, is a place it has been OK to not be OK. It’s been the only place I ever felt comfortable talking about the darkest days of my depression, sharing my greatest defeats and talking about my brokenness. I love that.

#2: Jesus Died For The Church

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25)

One of the craziest things that I will never get my head truly around is that Christ died for the broken, the notorious and the self-righteous equally. This gathered community called Church clinging to him is precious because Jesus, the Son of God, died for them.

The Church is described in many terms in the New Testament, but it’s almost always terms of affection and it’s not like Jesus didn’t know what he was getting into, he is God. He knows exactly the rag-tag, broken-hearted make up of this community yet he calls it his bride (Ephesians 5:22) and lays down his life for her. Jesus think the church is precious and worth redeeming. 

#3: It’s One of the Last Places that People Wrestle With Great Ideas and Worldviews

In my experience, the only two places where I have heard great ideas and worldviews deconstructed and discussed is in the halls of university and in the sermons at church.

Every single Sunday, a great idea or worldview will be wrestled with – sometimes excellently, sometimes poorly – but there will always be the clash of ideas. In the past, I’ve heard quotes from the Dalai Lama, Nietzsche and Richard Dawkins put forward in the same breath, dissected and discussed in great detail and passion.

#4: The Church Often Walks in When Everyone Else Walks Out

When I was first diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as a teenager, I lost most of my friends. I don’t blame them, it was just that I wasn’t able to do anything with them anymore. Men build friendships by doing things together. I couldn’t do things, so I didn’t have many friends at that time.

I was loosely affiliated with a youth group at the time at my local church my parents attended, but I rarely attended myself. Once they heard that I had become sick, they not only made me a video with a message wishing me well, but the pastor came to my house and prayed for me and all these guys from the church came and hung out with me for hours.

When everyone else walked out, the church walked in.

#5: I Trust God With His Church

I don’t really worry about the church anymore. I trust God with it.

It has some problems, like any community that bonds over brokeness but God is both good and sovereign and because of that, I trust him.

James Gartmenian puts it beautifully by calling the church “to free itself from our obsessive focus and our faithless worry that if we don’t protect it, preserve it, reinvent it, spruce it up, perpetuate it, it will somehow just disappear and we will have failed.”

We can trust the wild and crazy ways of God to supersede our tendencies to micromanage and puff up our own self-importance in the future of the Church.

Whether the church is relevant, authentic and sexy or simply plain vanilla, once and all preserved through the ages it will persevere because God is in control of the ship, not me.

And that is why I still love the church.