Better one handful with tranquility
than two handfuls with toil
and chasing after the wind.—Ecclesiastes 4:6
Like many Christians, I have more than one Bible. I have several in my office that I use for study and sermon preparation, and I have a nice, slim, clean one that I use just for Sunday mornings. But at home, I have a Bible that isn’t nice and clean. This is the Bible I use for my personal devotional times, and it’s a mess, tattered and full of old notes. In this Bible, I have a folded piece of paper that I update every January, which is a personal guide I’ve created to remind myself to pray for certain things, and certain people, either daily or weekly.
On this paper are the names of family members, long-term prayer requests that haven’t been answered yet, and other things like that. There is also a section where I’ve written prayers that I want to become a habit, things like reminding myself of God’s love, of the cross and the Gospel. I have a section of prayer directed to the Father, another to the Son, and another to the Holy Spirit.
This piece of paper is personal; I created it for myself as a tool to use in my own prayer life. I’ve never shown it to anyone. But I want to share with you a small piece of it. When our family moved to Susanville almost 3 years ago now, I felt led to make this a regular prayer. It’s found in the section where I pray to the Holy Spirit:
“Make me sensitive to your leading in any new thing you wish to do in my life. Help me also to recognize those burdens you are not calling me to carry, and give me power to live my life to please God alone.”
At the time I wrote it, this was a new thought for me: God, help me to see when you’re not calling me to do something, and give me the strength to say ‘no.’ Part of the reason I knew it was time to leave my previous church was that as the church had grown, I had become far too busy. Churches get to a certain size and it’s unrealistic to ask one man to both run the church (the administrative tasks) and lead the church (the spiritual responsibilities). Here at Community Church I’m grateful for Rick Floyd, our Executive Pastor, who carries much of the burden of running the church, giving me more freedom to focus on the spiritual leadership tasks of preaching and teaching, leading our staff and elders, and so on.
Still, the battle against busyness is constant. Our church is blessed to be so busy that there is always more than enough to do. And over the course of the last 3 years of praying this prayer, I’ve come to see more clearly that real problem isn’t with the church or with other people; the real problem is that I take on more than I should. I do it to myself.
In this past year or so, I’ve had some lessons in learning to distinguish between a good idea and a God idea. We’ve had several ideas for ministries we could do that sound really good, but we just didn’t have the time or personnel to pull them off, which probably means that God was never leading us to do them in the first place, or at least that now is not the right time. As I think about these things, I still feel like they were really good ideas. But they weren’t things God was actually calling us to, and if we had tried to force the issue all we would have done was make ourselves busier.
As a staff we’ve been talking lately about what this means not just for our own schedules, but for the people of Community Church. There is a tension, a healthy balance to be struck. On the one hand, many people probably need to take a step upward and increase their level of commitment and involvement in the church, not for the church’s sake, but for the sake of their own growth. Growing as a follower of Jesus involves more than just hearing sermons and singing worship songs. It’s important to put yourself in places where you’re serving, and where you’re getting to know and be known by other believers. If all you’re doing is attending on Sundays, we would encourage you to find a place where you can plug in at a deeper lever, whether that’s a men’s or women’s Bible study, a small group, serving with children, or something else.
On the other hand, we don’t want people’s weeks to be so full that they’re living at a pace that’s hard to sustain or enjoy. If there’s no time to be hospitable to your neighbors or simply relax with your family, that’s not good and it’s probably not from God. If the expectation is that a man will be attending Honorbound AND a small group AND volunteering with Awana, it’s a recipe for burnout. So even if it feels like the church or certain individuals are pressuring us to live that way, we need to remember that there’s only One person we’re really trying to please. What is He really calling me to? He’s probably calling me to grow, to stretch myself and get out of my comfort zone (read: off the couch) more than I naturally would. But He’s probably not calling me to turn my life into an exhausting scramble from one activity to the next.
Even though I pray for help in this area on a regular basis, I still fight the tendency to say ‘yes’ to something because I imagine that other people expect me to, or that it’s what a good pastor would do, or something like that. The truth is that usually no one has those expectations, and it’s just me listening to the wrong voices in my head again. I want to get better at hearing God’s voice. And I want to be a part of a church that is in tune with His Spirit and finds a healthy balance, working hard because we love Him, but resting in His grace because He loves us. May His Spirit lead us into the things He is truly calling us to do, and may we find great joy in obeying Him.