My Spiritual Director, at the beginning of our time together, asked me to stop while I was praying. He said, “stop praying and listen to what God wants to say to you.”
As I did, I felt that God was impressing upon me, that my work as a missionary in Uruguay had become an idol. The obvious question came from my Spiritual Director, “Ron, “what does that mean to you?” With a few tears forming in my eyes I responded, that “I love my ministry more than God.” This was one event among several that helped me to realize how I was moving toward ministry burnout.
Over the next several months several verses began to grip my heart and my spirit that were instrumental in assisting me to move toward a spiritual realignment. I started writing out Matthew 11.28-30 from different translations and paraphrases in my spiritual journal. I learned that Jesus was wanting to teach some valuable life lessons, not just about work, but about life. I needed to start from a place of rest in Him. I needed to minister and work from His heart and not my agenda. I needed to develop skills that would allow me tp listen and follow his direction.
One person God brought into my life, challenged me one day “to find Christ’s Rhythms for my life.” The Rhythm of life theme kept coming to me from different directions.
The rendering from The Message helped me begin to see that “rhythms of grace” can happen in my work life as well as the rest of my life.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11.28-30 The MSG.
In the months that followed, Jesus began to lay out a path for me that not only corrected my idolatry to work, but set me free from an addiction that was steeling joy from my everyday life. I began to listen with more sensitivity, trusted more clearly, and abided in Christ with a renewed vigor and rhythm.
One of the most positive steps that I started to build into my life was to have a mini spiritual retreat every two weeks. I tried to have it around the first and the middle of the month. This practice helped me to have a spiritual, emotional, mental checkup. I would make necessary course corrections to get back on track. These mini-retreats would only last two – three hours, and became anchors for me to guard against burnout. These hours were invested in evaluating the last couple of weeks and making rhythm adjustments for what was coming ahead. I developed a keener since of being still and listening. Waiting and resting became more of a natural part of the flow of my connectedness and abiding in Christ.
- What rhythm changes might be necessary for you to make?
- What burdens are needed to be entrusted to the Lord?
- What practical step (s) will you take to renew your faith walk?
- What is your main rest disturber and how will you let Christ speak into the situation?
One of the ways that God has chosen to impress his truth in my life is through word pictures. They are like modern day parables that always come with a life lessons. The most vivid of these came on the front end of my quest for boundaries and God’s rhythm for my life.
In the word picture, I was part of a traveling circus that had several acts. I was the juggler who was keeping seven spinning plates going on top of tall sticks working franticly to not let any of them fall. I was the lion tamer facing different dangerous challenges that caused me to strive to remain alert at all times, so I would not make a mistake. I was the tight rope walker using a long balancing rod to keep me from falling to the ground several stories below. I had to stay focused and concentrate on only what was ahead of me and not listen to the noise of the crowds around me. Finally, I was the trapeze artist swinging by my knees catching one after another who relied on me to catch them so they would not fall. I could not fail; nor could I rest. The application to ministry in each case served as a wake-up call for me.
There were multiple choices to make that affected the lives of others. The needs for ministry were endless. Leading pastoral support groups, I was wanting to be there for those whose lives needed someone to walk along side of them. Just living the word picture over in my mind alerted me to the fact that without rest I was in danger of hurting myself, those around me and naturally the ministry that I had been called to in the first place.
What happened next was one of the those game changer moments in my life. My momentum, motivation and outlook did a complete turn around. Jesus added another life altering part to the word picture He gave me. This time He took me by my hand and he and I walked to the circus together. I was a young toddler. As we found our seats he put me in his lap and I started to watch the circus acts, the clowns and the animals. When I looked at Jesus, he was looking at me. I did this several times and then I realized. He is looking at me, and not the circus. There is all of this excitement going on and he is interested in me. “I am Jesus’ Circus.” The Life Lessons I took away were:
“Without me leading you, your life becomes a never-ending circus.”
“You are not a performer, Ron, you’re my child.”
“God, you take delight in who I am, not for what I may accomplish.”
During my spiritual retreat when I received the Circus Lesson, I was in a prayer chapel. I remember singing the hymn, “I am a child of the king.” I read it too. During this season of prayer, I actually got up to leave. I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit to remain and that was when the second part of the circus story above came to me. I have thought many times; how important it was for me not to have left before He took me to the circus Himself. This word picture became a tremendous tool to lead me away from the burnout situation I was heading toward. But also, it has become a rhythm reminder to call me to enjoy being with Him. Am I too much the performer? A crowd pleaser? Am I moving toward enjoying being His child, receiving His love, comfort, direction, care, assurance, joy, and hope?
- What distractions are taking you away today from hearing from God?
- What sounds, attitudes, actions are keeping you from being still and knowing that He is God? (Psalms 46:10)
- What are the worries, attitudes, cares, that are keeping you from resting in Christ who is there to care for you? (I Peter 5.7)
- What does the rhythm you are living now say about your Kingdom priorities? (Matthew 6:33)
“God does not have favorites, but he does have intimates.” This is a quote I heard from Waylon Moore. I remember saying to God that I was ready to recuperate my intimacy with Him. Not having this spiritual intimacy was definitely part of my moving toward burnout. Looking back, in trying to find His Rhythm for my life, without a doubt one of the mayor verses of Scripture was Psalms 46:10. “Let be and be still, and – know and understand – that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” Amplified Version. Easier said than done, right? In time, I developed what I call a Psalm 46:10 prayer perspective. It has been a game changer.
To be still is to remain in a state of expectation, rest, hope, and confident trust. The opposite of being still for me is to have a hurried and cluttered mind and a divided heart. Being still is an unnatural rhythm for me, that is why I needed to develop a Psalm 46 prayer perspective. It is a prayer perspective, focusing on what I like to call “expectant connectedness.” It is an exchange of my anxiety, agenda, and wants, while I adopt a priority of reflective listening using Scripture and prayer.
This prayer perspective has helped me to move toward a better balance of “Being,” and “Doing.” Praying with stillness, is worth the effort. Let stillness, move you to pray!
Some of the main areas for me that hinder my being still and living as one of God’s intimates through the years have been:
- The most obvious one is sin. Sin interrupts my stillness and is replaced by excuse making, and guilt. Positively, conviction moves me toward repentance and forgiveness. The concern becomes getting right again with God instead of being still and enjoying being with Him. Sin becomes a dark cloud over stillness. When I am having, trouble being still, I ask the question, “Is there a sin in my life that is hindering my stillness?” Sin can invade like a mighty-destructive storm, replacing all the tranquility in its path.
- Priorities that are out of balance cause me to replace stillness and my contemplative listening time with hurried, go through the motion, legalistic type of a devotion with the Father.
- Worry chokes out stillness. The spiral down the worry trail has to be cut off for me to regain the stillness perspective. This is when I Peter 5:7 becomes more than a verse to memorize, but a prayer of action to realize.
- Perhaps the most destructive barrier that keeps me from being still is when I go into what I call my “fix it, at all costs mode.” Like waves one after another my plans, ideas, ways of fixing a certain problem, crisis or interpersonal relationship conflict over powers like a tsunami my stillness approach to meeting with God. If gone uncorrected, it is like God is crowded out and my “fix it with my own strength mentality” trumps stillness and listening for God’s perspective, heart and wisdom about the issue being dealt with.
This Psalm was written to a nation at war. It is a call for the nation to see all that God was doing in spite of the confusion, doubt, fear, and battle torn reality they were living. It was not hard for me to move from the physical battle the Israelites were facing to my own personal spiritual battles. It is in stillness that we capture the second part of the verse that says, “know that I am God.”
Too many times we want to Know God, but we are not willing to be disciplined in our hectic schedules so that we can participate in “expectant connectedness,” which has to happen, in order for the last part of the verse to be realized. Praying in this manner is not about us, but it is about exalting the Father among the nations in all the earth.
Let Stillness Move you to Pray today with an intentional focus on becoming an intimate with the Father. Perhaps being still could take on one of the dynamics below in your life today:
- Be quiet, and aware that God is at work regardless of the headlines.
- Be meditative, and acknowledge that God is still on His throne.
- Be focused on listening and available to hear what God wants to tell, ask, show or be with you.
- Be restful and approach life with the rhythm that He desires for you.
- Be still and let your life announce how God can be exalted among the nations.
- Be a sensitive listener to the whispers of God so the noise of the world will be drowned out.
Discovering and maintaining His Rhythm requires an ever-refreshing Intimacy with the Father. A single drawing was one of the concepts that moved me back into intimacy. This illustration helped me to capture life disciplines necessary for intimacy. I I used it like a roadmap to recapture the intimacy I had lost with Father God. Nourishing my soul, mind, spirit, and even emotions all worked together to restore what busyness had tried to corrupt. The drawing, in my spiritual life journal became an often-visited reference point.
The drawing was based on the tree in Psalm One verse three. I drew a root system and labeled them: Prayer Life, Bible Study-Meditation, Living by the Spirit, and the Body of Christ. I had key passages of scripture to remind me that these were to be foundational priorities in my life. The trunk was represented by Christ living in me and John 15 was the main go to passage. The principles of abiding in Christ and bearing fruit, with the foundational disciplines, allowed me to grow in the areas that covered the rest of the tree. In the branches, I put my wife’s name, my three son’s names, different aspects of my job and ministries at the time. After a few weeks, I realized that there was not a branch with my name on it. This reminded me that I need to build time into my life for my own soul and rhythm balance. In Psalm one it talks about bearing fruit and the reality that the Psalm one tree does not wither but continues to prosper.
The drawing became like a compass helping me to find and maintain my true north. Intimacy returned as I learned to give attention to abiding in Christ once again and allowing the disciplines to determine how I was going to live. My priorities of the day were determined by my time with the Father and listening to His Heart. Instead of my work being the main driving force determining my schedule, “The Tree” concept was used to discern who, and or what were to be the priorities of the day. Intimacy with the Father clarified His rhythm for me. “ My agenda,” started with finding out what was on God’s agenda for me in the areas of Being and Doing.
Among some of the lessons I learned following the Tree Concept of Priorities were:
- Focusing first on building Intimacy with God, paved the way for clearer priorities
- Intimacy with God, knowing and following His heart kept me in the right rhythm
- Allowed me to focus on being obedient to God’s call of the day and less on trying to make things happen with my time table in mind
- Listening more to discern His will, helped me to grow in intimacy with God
- Fruit was more natural, meaningful, beneficial, and long lasting. Fruit was more person centered and less program oriented.
- I was receiving spiritually more consistently, so I was fresher in giving out to others.
- There was greater balance all-around of my priorities so I was moving away from burnout and toward contentment.
- Those around me were able to know I was fully present and not so overly committed that although, I was present,, my mind was engaged in a long “to – do” list.
Perhaps you are in a place today where you can celebrate knowing that your intimacy with God is exactly where He and yourself want it to be. Or perhaps you need to be reminded through the tree drawing how important the disciplines and abiding in Christ are for you to maintain intimacy with the Father. Decide today to live with priorities that bring blessing to Him and His Kingdom. Choose intimacy. Live in alignment with His Rhythm.
- What areas are you failing to abide in Christ?
- What particular “root” needs to be attended to for intimacy to grow in your life?
- When you cut a tree in half you notice the rings that show years of growth, are you in a season of growth? Why? Why not?
- As you bear fruit in your life and ministry, how will this continue to multiply by the choices you are making to grow in intimacy with Christ Jesus your Lord?
Psalms 1:1-3 NIV “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers”
Abiding in Christ is the final principle in this series of articles focusing on discovering and maintaining rhythm to avoid burnout. The fifteenth chapter of John was perhaps the main chapter of the Bible that guided me back to a healthy connection with Christ. The principles below worked together to give me a concrete example of staying connected to the True Vine. It went along well with Jesus’ teaching of being Yoked to Him also, found in Matthew chapter eleven. The spiritual checklist below keeps me honest in my quest for living with the Rhythm that Christ has for me each day. Learning to abide in Christ can be compared to oil in a car. Life may work for a while, but without the oil of abiding, a breakdown cannot be too far in the future.
THE PURPOSE OF ABIDING IN CHRIST:
A – Available, faithful and teachable, to remain connected to the VINE
15:1-6, 15-16 The Reverence of Abiding
B – “Bear Fruit,” “Much,” “More,” “Fruit that last”:
15:2, 5, 6, 8,16 The Results of Abiding
I – Intimacy through Intercession with Christ 15:7, 16 The Road of Abiding
D- Disciple others to Abide in Christ !5:8 The Reproduction of Abiding
E – Exalt and Glorify God above all else 15:8 The Reason for Abiding
THE PROBLEM OF NOT ABIDING IN CHRIST:
I – Failure to identify with Christ completely leads to instability, indifference and the inability to abide well with Christ. 15:2-6 The Repentance Needed for Abiding
N- Nothing can be accomplished apart from Abiding in Christ. 15:4-5 The Reality and warning for those who seek to live the Christian Life without Abiding in Christ
THE PRINCIPLES FOR ABIDING IN CHRIST:
C- Command of Christ to love others as he has loved us.
15:9-10,12-13,17 The Requirement of Abiding
H– Holy Spirit will be Counselor, Truth, power and authority for those who abide.
15:26-27 The Ripple Effect of Abiding
R- Radical Obedience to Christ’s commands 15:10, 14 The Rhythm of Abiding
I- Intentional joy from Christ through you to others 15:13 The Resilience of Abiding (See also: John 10:10; 14:27; 16:24; 17:13)
S- Suffering is part of the price for Abiding 15:18-25 The Repercussions of Abiding
T- Truth, God’s Word is the True North of Abiding
15:3,7,20, The Reliable Source for Abiding
Let me encourage you to walk through this chapter again and again while asking yourself:
- Am I aware of the importance of daily abiding in Christ?
- Am I needing an Abiding Tune Up?
- In what areas am I abiding?
- In what areas am I failing to abide? Why or Why not?
- How have I bared fruit in the last week to ten days?
- In what areas am I failing to obey Christ completely?
- Is there someone I need to share this outline with and ask them to hold me accountable to abiding in Christ?
- How am I allowing the Holy Spirit to assist me to abide in Christ?
- Am I convinced that apart from Christ I can do nothing? What difference is this making in my life-style?
The spiritual principles found in this chapter served me well during personal retreats and became a “go to chapter” for regaining momentum in my Christian walk. Abiding in Christ is necessary to defeat the pull toward burnout. Abiding in Christ allows us to naturally bear fruit that multiplies and last. Abiding in Christ gives us resources when: anxiety, worry, stress and even suffering enter our lives. Abiding in Christ keeps us fresh and renewed spiritually. Abiding in Christ teaches us to rely on His strength, and authority, while depending less on our own power. Knowing that we are connected and abiding in the True Vine, we can rest knowing that Christ releases His Spirit in us to encounter whatever circumstance, temptation, trials or conflict. Let ABIDING IN CHRIST, keep your life flowing in healthy rhythm.