As I pursue God, I believe that I am becoming more and more holy. It’s really nothing that I’m doing, but rather what I’m allowing the Holy Spirit to do in me. Each season is another opportunity to take inventory of the places in my life where I’m still holding the position that I know better than God does. As I relinquish that position, I see God shaping me into the person He created me to be. One of the latest places of my submission to God has been in regard to Sabbath.
After being rejected by several churches, I threw everything I had into serving. I felt like I was spending every waking moment thinking about and planning and preparing opportunities for students to draw near to God. While I was doing everything I knew to do to be successful in ministry, I was more discouraged than ever. I was seeking validation from somebody, anybody that I was doing a good job and truly making a differing for God's Kingdom. I was in a really dark place. My temper; short. My work hours; long. My passion; waning. My family; frustrated. This was a recipe for disaster, but fortunately I had an opportunity to withdraw for a week to try and re-calibrate. I attended the CIY Wilderness retreat in Colorado, where I was able to connect with other Student Ministers and spend time with God at over 22,000 feet elevation on the side of a mountain.
I didn't know that someone could get burnt out doing ministry. I mean, I had heard the stories, but I was deceptively thinking that it would never happen to me.
It took some time to get used to the slowed pace of this week, but once I truly calmed down, I was able to listed to the still, small voice of God and He was saying to me over and over, “You need this every week.” At first, I pushed it aside, thinking, “Yeah, as soon as I get back, I have a stack of work to do that would rival the height of this mountain.” I imagined God standing over in the corner glancing at me with one eyebrow raised clearly not impressed with all the stuff I was going to do “for Him”
The challenge to spend a 24 hour period each week as a Sabbath rest was a key takeaway from my time in the mountains. I’m not perfect in doing this, but it has been a focus of mine this year. As a minister, it’s just not possible to make Sunday my day of rest. So, for my family, it’s from 5pm Friday evening - 5pm Saturday evening. It’s during this time that I actively attempt to disconnect for the sole purpose of spending time with God and Erin and the kids. As summer approaches, it gets difficult to make this happen regularly with week-long camps and events going on. But usually, each week, we make this happen.
Sabbath doesn't mean that I stop working just to get caught up on house work and errands. If this happens, we're doing these things together. However, when we're getting our best rest as a family, it's because the laundry, cleaning, groceries, etc. get done by 5pm on Friday. I used to think this was impossible, but I found that a little intentionality goes a long way toward creating a healthier rhythm of life for myself and my family.
I wasn’t sure completely how God was shaping me through this journey of Sabbath until my friend Brad told me that he was making a list of 5 of the happiest people he knew, so that he could pray for them. He said that I made the list. I was humbled to make such a list and as I reflected on that encouragement I had no choice but to turn it into praise to God for loving me and shaping me through this Sabbath journey.
Several years ago, I thought the door was opening for me to be the Preaching Minister in a local church. In most churches, the Preaching Minister, or Pastor, or Lead Minister, is the head of the church staff and serves in submission to the Elders of a church. Also, depending on church size, they may be in charge of many of the day-to-day operations of the church. This is something that I have aspired to since I began my studies at Bible College. As I mentioned, I thought the door was opening.
There were several reasons that I thought the door was opening. First, It didn't seem like the position I was in at the time was the long-term answer to fulfilling my calling. I wasn't unhappy...I guess "unsettled" is the best word to describe how I was feeling. When I'm feeling unsettled for a prolonged period (not just a couple hours, or a couple days...but several weeks)...I begin to pray and process why. I think at the core, was this nagging opportunity to one day be the leader of a church as their preacher. Second, opportunities presented themselves to go and be a preacher without me seeking them out. I received two such offers to go within a couple of weeks and before I knew it I was prayerfully sending out my resume and entering the interview process. I was all about walking through this door if it was indeed open.
It wasn't. (as you probably discerned from the title of this post)
It was an exciting time of exploration into the unknown, untapped potential of areas of my leadership. There were great phone conversations and exciting video conferences with church elders and leaders. I was really beginning to see myself stepping into this role, only to receive emails and phone calls letting me know that they were "going in another direction". While I was crushed, I completely understood why they made the decisions that they did. I was proud of myself for not responding in anger, as I had years prior to other vocational rejection. However, as much as i tried to move on from this season, I couldn't shake the reality that I had just been rejected.
Nobody likes rejection. Though sometimes rejection happens so frequently that it can make us callous to its effects. Take entertainment for example. I have friends who go to audition after audition and get rejected, but they are conditioned to know that without taking the risk and auditioning, you will never get the call. I wish I could handle rejection that way, maybe in time, I will.
I found out that rejection is a powerful scenario that, if left unchecked, can get rooted into the core of who I am resulting in a downward spiral of behaviors. An understanding of this came out this week while I was reading Genesis 39 and the account of Joseph and Potiphar's wife.
Joseph had just been sold into slavery by his jealous older brothers and he was then purchased by a man named Potiphar. Potiphar recognized that the Lord was with Joseph and over time he trusted Joseph with everything in his house, except his wife. In time, however, Potiphar's wife made frequent, blatant advances to Joseph to get him to sleep with her, but Joseph refused each time. Eventually, Joseph ran away from her as she grabbed his cloak leaving it behind.
Mrs. Potiphar used that cloak to craft the story of how it was Joseph who was trying to "make sport" of her. The power of rejection led to anger, and then hatred, and then self-preservation, and then deception. Ultimately it led to terrible consequences for an innocent party.
The analogy breaks down slightly, because Potiphar's wife was rejected for trying to do something immoral...yet the pattern of behavior after rejection is something worth examining because it could lead us down a similar path.
In the wake of this rejection, I remember a season of anger, not so much hatred...though maybe self-hatred for not measuring up. I remember fighting through self-preservation in the form of tearing down the other candidates that I was going against for the positions. The self-deception as I convinced myself that this rejection was no big deal and really not affecting me. The deception that I didn't have what it took to be a minister anymore. There were plenty of powerfully toxic thoughts in a personally painful season while I saw my open door of becoming a preacher slammed in my face.
The journey of a minister is one met with plenty of rejection...and I've found the only way that I can maintain a tender heart while simultaneously possessing thick skin is by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit. It is by regularly placing my inadequacies, and there are many, at the feet of Jesus, that I find peace for my soul and confidence to know that God isn't finished with me.
Rejection must be uprooted. The fruit of rejection is a dark plague of the soul.
I don't regret exploring the opportunity to become a preacher, because I learned a lot in the process. I learned how much larger the responsibility truly is when you lead a church instead of a ministry inside of a church. I learned how difficult and personal the process is in finding the right person to be the next preacher at a church. I would come to learn that, while God wasn't opening that door for me, he had something much better in store for me.
What have you found to be helpful to uproot rejection in your life so that it doesn't fester?