ARE YOU TRYING TOO HARD?

ARE YOU TRYING TOO HARD?

The well-known verse, “Be still and know that I AM God,” could be paraphrased, “Stop trying so hard. I’ve got this.” (Psalm 46:10). Pastors are hard-working. The ministry demands it! But sometimes, we need to slow down, take a breath and stop trying so hard. Wise pastors develop a lifestyle of stillness, trusting God for the outcome of all things.

“Stillness”. It’s all around us. Life thrives in it, nature defaults to it and the human soul is nurtured by it. When stillness is disrupted, it’s only temporary. Planets collide in massive explosions; gigantic storms pound terrestrial surfaces and flood waters roar, crushing everything in their path, but by default everything returns to stillness. If nature had a voice, it would only whisper and occasionally sneeze loudly. Down through history people have always enjoyed the whisper of starry-nights, gentle breezes, lapping waters or the sound of a trickling stream; the rustle of leaves, the screech of an eagle or songs of a Meadowlark; the fragrance of flowers, sagebrush or wet earth. Today, the whispering of creation continues to please our senses, because creation is wrapped in stillness.

Beyond what we see, smell or hear, it’s the stillness itself that produces God’s best for us. Quietness causes us to slow down and be more at ease. Endorphins are released through the body to relax the brain, restore clarity of thought, rationality and simple joy.

You can survive without stillness, but your soul won’t function as well as God intended. “Be still and know that I AM God…”. This is not a suggestion, especially for shepherds. Stillness and knowing God are inseparable. As pastors, if our goal is to convey a personal knowledge of God, then that revelation is often delivered to us in a quiet place.

Many pastors burnout for lack of stillness. They try too hard. A pastor can long deeply to please God, but neglect being with God, and the result is leanness of soul, loneliness and unbearable burdens. Each generation of pastors had their own unique set of temptations. The modern pastor has his set of temptations in the form of screens- televisions, computers, smartphones, livestream, sound quality, stage appearance and search engine optimization. They all make him look smarter, more presentable, and available to wider audiences. But it all comes with a price. He sacrifices his peace.

A pastor who practices stillness is happier, and he’s better. He stops trying so hard. He’s a better spouse in marriage, a better preacher in the pulpit and a better shepherd to those he leads. He is mentally sharper, able to focus better and is more stable. He isn’t easily panicked or acts rashly. Stillness with God produced comfortableness around people. Stillness aides him to live thankfully, waits more patiently and brings out the best in others.

Simply, stillness, not effort, makes everything better.

Stillness was a part of Jesus’ routine. “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place, and there He prayed.” (Mark 1:35). In those quiet moments alone with His Father, Jesus watched sunrises over the Galilee or desert places. It did something for Israel’s Messiah that was irreplaceable. Stillness offered Jesus and a layer of protection in a world full of threats. Just three chapters laters in Mark’s gospel, we clearly see the benefits of stillness and the consequences when stillness is lacking.

Life Without Stillness
In Mark 4:35-41 Jesus and His disciples cross the Sea of Galilee while “a great windstorm arose and waves beat against the boat.” Life is like that. Uncontrollable circumstances suddenly arise and threaten our world. The disciples fought for their lives while Jesus slept in the stern. What was the difference? Long before this storm hit Jesus had a habit of stillness, while the disciples knew little of its value. When Jesus was awakened, He rebuked the storm and a “great calm” came over the sea. And then He asked His disciples two important questions: “Why are you so fearful? How is it you have no faith?” Jesus didn’t need an answer, but His disciples did. And what is the answer?

“We become what we behold.” If all we do is watch the storms run their course in our world news and make them our focus, no wonder the souls of pastors have no rest!

“Be still and know that I AM God…” (Psalm 46:10) This is not a suggestion, especially for shepherds. Stillness and knowing God are inseparable. As pastors, if our goal is to convey a personal knowledge of God, then that revelation is often delivered to us in a quiet place. Never sacrifice your stillness.

A World of Distraction
You can be easily distracted by today’s wealth of knowledge and preoccupied by your technological devices, because both make you look good in the pulpit, but drain you of all that is necessary for longevity in ministry. Many pastors burnout for lack of stillness. A pastor can long deeply to please God, but neglect being with God, and the result is leanness of soul, loneliness and unbearable burdens. Each generation of pastors had their own unique set of temptations. The modern pastor has his set of temptations in the form of screens- televisions, computers, smartphones, livestream, sound quality, stage appearance and search engine optimization. They all make him look smarter, more presentable, and available to wider audiences. Pictures, information, entertainments and details into the lives of friends and celebrities keep him fixated and occupied with worldly matters. But it all comes with a price. The pastor sacrifices relationship.

He sacrifices stillness.

There was a time before screens when people simply enjoyed one another’s company, sitting around a fireplace, campfire or porch talking, singing, telling stories or playing games. Relationships with friends and family can so easily be replaced with technological devices that daily distract us with make-believe worlds and false realities that can potentially hurt our effectiveness. Without a doubt, the greatest price paid is our intimate relationship with God.

Americans are very busy people. They race to-and-fro looking for purpose, significance and simple happiness, but it alludes them. The increase of prosperity has made happiness all the more elusive. Is it any wonder Americans are experiencing more mental illnesses than ever before? Roughly one in five, or 61 million Americans take some sort of medication to help them sleep or maintain mental stability. And why is that?

Stillness with God is no longer valued.

A Necessary Rest
Stillness produces a transcendent rest that comes only from God. It’s celestial. And because of its origin, it remains undisturbed by the chaotic conditions of a terrestrial world. And therefore, the maintenance of God’s rest should not focus on the results of rest but on its origin. In other words, God’s rest is less about the pursuit of comfort and more about the pursuit of connection. It’s not about doing less, but doing more of the right thing.

We all make the assumption that vacations offer rest, but not necessarily. Vacations offer change that is often refreshing, but there’s no guarantee of rest or reconnection with God. For years I returned from vacation more exhausted than before I left due to over activity, too much food consumption and lofty expectations of pleasure that never fully materialized. Sometimes I returned home from vacation overwhelmed by the outlook of yet another year of exhaustive deadlines and demands without the satisfaction of true rest or the depth of soul obtained through a daily connection with my Savior.

Similarly, I’ve always looked forward to a day off, or a day of “doing nothing,” assuming that “doing nothing” would produce rest. Instead, if I chose not to connect with God, I was left with the anxiety of thinking there must be something I should do or accomplish, and by choosing to do nothing, I only caused myself more anxiety. It took me a couple decades to learn it’s not about doing less, but doing more of the right thing. It’s taking pleasure in God’s Presence.

“Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to come short of it… Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:1&11) God’s rest is the benefit of our stillness. The whole chapter of Hebrews 4, suggests we must be intentional in our pursuit of rest, and without intentionality, we can fall short, as did the Children of Israel. Falling short of God’s rest is a form of dangerous disobedience.

The word, “Rest” Katapausis (Gk), infers, “A dwelling place to cease; a time to pause; a heart that resets.” It’s use in Acts 7:47-50 further suggesting that it’s God’s place, “not made with hands.” The rest mentioned in Hebrews is less, “a state of being” and more, “a place where God dwells.” Simply, it’s the place where you and God spend time together; a place to reset your heart by lingering with Him. Thus we must be intentional and deliberate to enter the place where God dwells more than our places of ministry, education or entertainment. If not, we can fall short of it, and consequently, knock on the door of disobedience.

In Hebrews 4, the “example of disobedience” refers to the wilderness-wandering Hebrews who were delivered from Egypt. Psalm 106 summarizes this dreadful example of disobedience by highlighting God’s mercy to deliver, to cleanse, to provide, to protect and to guide them. But, “They soon forgot His works; they did not wait for His counsel but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness and tested God in the desert. And He gave them their requests, but sent leanness into their souls.” (Psalm 106:13-15)

It seems possible to have God’s provision without His blessing; to have a thriving ministry while lacking His rest. Could this woeful state be possible for pastors?

Pastors are notorious for wanting more people, fatter offerings, better property, glitzy programs, impressive presentations and happy families. And how often God has given pastors their requests, but deep inside, pastors gnaw for something more; something satisfying and fruitful that lies just beyond their reach? Outwardly, many successful leaders appear to have everything, but inwardly they are ticking-time bombs waiting to explode. Is it any wonder why so many dear brethren are so anxious, and why so many mature Christians are still carnal? Without stillness and God’s rest, victory over lust, anger, resentment, depression and other ailments of the flesh is hard to obtain.

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