Honoring God through schedules

I have been thinking, teaching and writing about scheduling time lately, and I thought I would share about it here as well. Many of you know how much I love time management, schedules and order since it is a frequent theme on this blog. However, I have rarely talked as much as I should about how schedules allow for more freedom and how much God appreciates it when we honor Him with our time.

This week, I have been reworking my schedule for the summer. As part of my scheduling process, I always block out the time I spend in prayer. Because of the call I have on my life to be a contemplative pastor, I spend 20+ hours in prayer each week and I love to do it first thing in the morning. There is just something right in my spirit about giving God the first and the best.

Well… Praying at 6am certainly gives God the first, but it doesn’t guarantee giving Him the best. I work up one morning earlier this weeks and was absolutely dragging. No energy, no focus…nothing. I meditated on this awhile and came to the very simple conclusion – I needed to go to bed earlier. Part of me giving God the best entails getting enough rest. It was sort of a “no brainier” conclusion, but it helped me remember that all parts do my life are interlinked. I rest so I can work and i work so I can rest, each has its own place in the rhythm of life and I need to fully commit to each so I can fully commit to the other. That was far more philosophical than I intended, fun.

I love the inglorious way we get to love God with our time. Getting up early to pray isn’t glamorous, flashy or even possible in all seasons of life. But it is something that God receives as a gift, and that makes it worth it to me. It is the day in, day out remembrances and recognitions that are most valuable in God’s sight. Loving God on a Tuesday is more romantic than on a Sunday because there aren’t the cultural obligations associated with it. Now, Sunday mornings are great, but loving God the rest of the week is even better.

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Sabbath: Required Religious Duty?

I have the privilege of preaching this coming Sunday about the Sabbath. Our text is Mark 2:23-3:5. I love teaching, preaching and researching about the Sabbath – it is probably one of my favorite topics altogether (along with the Holy Spirit and End Times). I’m the guy who will read straight through Leviticus and love almost every minute – not because I enjoy loads of rules, but because I love the heart behind them.

The Sabbath is, perhaps, the most defining feature of Judaism – it is certainly the most regularly observed. Sabbath recounts all of the great stories of Jewish history; it reminisces creation, when God rested; it reminds them of the Passover and their exit from slavery; it remids them of the works of Power God did on their ancestor’s behalf; shoot, it even reminds them of their disobedience, exile into captivity and eventual return. No doubt about it, the Sabbath is a central part of the Jewish faith.

It is easy to see then, why the Pharisees get so upset with Jesus when He starts messing with their rules. But for all of their ritual observance, the Pharisees missed the whole point of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for human beings, to give us opportunities for rest, enjoyment, worship and fellowship.

I want to be absolutely clear on something – Sabbath observance is a required part of Judaism for it is part of the Law. However, as Christians, we have been freed from the Law. Therefore, we are no longer required to rest one day a week or tithe 10% of our income. That is all part of Moses’ Law and we are under Christ’s Law. We could develop that thought a lot further, but I want to get to the punchline: sabbath (rest) is an optional, but highly beneficial practice for us to adopt.

Since we are free from the Law of 6 days work and 1 day rest, well, I suppose we could rest all 7 days or work all 7. In Reality, I think we are called to do both.

You see, rest is an internal attitude of the heart as much as it is an external state of the body. Is it quite possible to be doing some task and still be at rest in one’s heart. I have a card in my office that reads “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” That is exactly the attitude of Sabbath that we should carry with us as messengers of God’s Kingdom.

Now, there is a time when actual Sabbath rest needs to be taken. For instance, it is beneficial for land to lie fallow for a year to regather nutrients. If the land is allowed this year of rest, then there will be a heavy harvest the following year. In fact, it was failure to observe the Sabbath that sent the Israelites into slavery, among other things (see 2 Chronicles 36:21). I think our businesses and lives would be far better off it we embraced the Sabbath experience – we would be far more happy, joyful, prodective and peaceful… all good things for the people of God to be.

Devotion or Defection?

I find myself frequently writing about, and reflecting upon, time. There are only 24 hours in a day and I am sleeping for a third of them, so why is it so difficult to use the remaining 16 well?

Whether I like it or not, my life is lived in time and space; they are the materials given to me by God, they are my constraints as well as my freedoms.

As we have been meditating on the First and Second Commandments (New Testament versions) as a community, I have had to come face-to-face with how I use my time as a way of loving God and people. In fact, my love for God is frequently tested in how well I love God’s people. As I am fond of remembering, ‘every day is a test for eternity.’

I want to be intentional in the way I use my time. I don’t want it to be frittered away in meaningless activity, but neither do I want to neglect the magnificently mundane things of the here and now. I want to be firmly rooted in the Word of God which is living and active only as it finds a home in the lives of people who live in time and space. I want to be intentional, I want to be fully present, I want to be aware of God’s creative action already at work in the lives of the people around me. I want to join in to God’s work, I want to co-labor with Christ in the lives of His people.

For me to be able to do this, I can’t be busy.

Busy-ness is an internal reality far more than an exterior one. I can be hard at work for long hours and not be busy. Conversely, I can have absolutely nothing filling my date book and be the busiest person in the world. Busy-ness is how I carry my heart, how distracted my mind is with all of the goings-on of my life. Too frequently I find myself mentally living in the future, missing God given opportunities to act in the present.

This is not a good thing. Busy-ness is not a sign of devotion to God, but, as Eugene Peterson calls it, “a defection.” Busy-ness is not how I show affection for God, it is my way of showing how firmly entrenched I am in the Enemy’s camp. God is not against work, God is against idolatry. When I get busy on the inside I am worshipping the idol of self, presuming that I can shape others and the world around me into my image and to my liking, rather than humbly inquiring of the Lord and asking what He is up to and what He would like me to do.

I, we, need to get “unbusy.” We need to slow down and quiet our inner turmoil. We need not retreat from the world to achieve quietness and contentment, rather we need to submit every thought to Christ. Unbusy people have the time to talk. Unbusy people don’t assert their own importance by telling others how busy they are. Unbusy people are willing to have their schedules rearranged by the Holy Spirit.

Unbusy people realize that God is already at work and the purpose of their life is not so much to “do” as to “be.” Unbusy people realize that the primary purpose of their lives is relationship and partnership with God. They are successful to the extent that they interact with Him and love His people, not how much they produce or accomplish to the accolades of the world. Busy people tend to value “things” – jobs and projects. Unbusy people tend to value people – relationships and compassion. Of the two, things and people, only that latter are eternal – what are you spending the majority of your time on?

At ease with the work of pastoring

Every once in a while I will have an interaction with someone that reminds me that I have a different definition of happiness than other people. Our cultural definition of happiness leads one to think that only overly energetic and/or sickeningly positive people are truly happy. I suppose that the Bible would use the term “joy” to describe my understanding of happy, but no one really understands what that word means nowadays.

The best way to describe my understanding of happiness is found in the title, at ease with the work of pastoring. This is a nod to one of my role models, Gene Logsdon, who wrote “The Contrary Farmer” and whose insights into life and culture continue to give me hope for the future.

Pastoring is inconvenient work. Life happens wether or not it fits my schedule and it is my joy and privilege to care for God’s people in those moments when life doesn’t seem to make sense. Being at ease with the work of pastoring, happiness as I understand it, is not grumbling or complaining when people come to call on me, but being flexible enough to meet their needs without sacrificing my own health, the health of my family or my relationships.

I am so militant about schedules because having a rigid schedule makes it possible to be more flexible, if that makes any kind of sense. Perhaps an example would be more helpful. If my wife knows that every Tuesday is “her” day and I diligently guard that time from any distraction, she is more likely to be favorably inclined whenever a crisis situation comes up and I need to leave to minister to someone. She knows that I have set aside time in the past to be with her and that I will continue to do so in the future, this is a “one time” situation.

Contrast this with a theoretical example where I never scheduled time with her and we only had date night sporadically every couple of months. Our schedules never meshed and the only time she could count on with any regularity was the 10 minutes before bed when I am weary and only half paying attention. Now lets say it is a Tuesday and we are planning on being together that day, but something comes up and I get a call. Can you see where bitterness might set in? How many ministry families have suffered this fate?

I advocate schedules because they allow me to regularly invest in my most prized relationships. But the truth of my profession is that people may need me at inopportune times. Having relational capital built up allows me to make a “withdrawal” without seriously endangering my relationship with that person.

I love my job. I love “my” people. Being able to minister to them and be fully present, knowing that I am not jeopardizing my health, family or relationships, is, to me, what being a happy pastor is all about.

A Tale of Two Doctors

I would like to end this week of talking about time with a modern day parable, adapted from a story I heard years ago.

Once there were two doctors, Dr. A and Dr. B. Both were highly intelligent and skilled and each cared deeply for the wellbeing of their patients.

Dr. A absolutely loved his job. He would come in early and leave late and all the while would be at his patient’s beck and call. His bedside manner was impeccable and he was dearly loved by all of his patients. When Dr. A had to go home, he would often leave his cell phone number with his patients in case they needed anything.

Dr. A was so devoted to his work that he rarely had time for anything else. He would eat food on the go or not eat at all. He was so fully devoted to his patients that he even came in on his “off” days, just to make sure everything was O.K. Every once in a great while, Dr. A would run into his long-time school mate Dr. B.

Dr. A harbored a certain level of distain for Dr. B that is hard to explain. Dr. B appeared so lazy and disconnected from his patients. While Dr. A was scarfing down his cafe food in 10 minutes, Dr. B took an entire hour to eat food that he had prepared at home. When Dr. A was in the midst of hurrying from one patient to another, Dr. B was taking a forty-five minute break to go exercise. Dr. B never came in on his off days and only rarely gave out his cell phone or house number. Whenever there was a family emergency, Dr. B would rearrange his schedule. Whenever it was date night with his wife, Dr. B wouldn’t make appointments and would decline to see anyone else. Dr. A saw this as totally unprofessional and frequently reminded his wife and children of how important his job was and how these people needed his help. Whenever someone needed to be seen, Dr. A would clear his schedule of any and all previous appointments so that he could meet with the person. Dr. A felt superior to Dr. B in almost every way.

There was just one problem, Dr. B seemed to be just as good of a doctor looking at the patient’s recovery. Even though Dr. B was there for fewer hours, he was fully present. He wasn’t distracted by the previous patient or the one coming up. He cared deeply for his patients and gave them his full attention.

This carried on for several years, each doctor doing their own thing until something dreadful happened – they each lost a patient. Dr. B took it very hard, he hated losing patients, even though he realized that some people were simply beyond his help. He grieved for several days, but with the help and support of his family and friends he soon recovered. Dr. A, however, was devastated. He constantly bemoaned this loss and saw it as a personal failure. Not wanting to wrestle with his inner turmoil, Dr. A through himself into his work with even more vigor. He worked longer and harder hours, trying to prove to himself as much as others that he was still a good doctor.

But the pace was unsustainable and shortly thereafter, Dr. A burned out. He left the medical profession condemning it as too taxing, consuming and invasive. He switched careers but frequently battled frustration and un-fulfillment.

Dr. B continued his work as a doctor, retiring only after giving 50 years of his life in service to others. Over the course of his career, Dr. B saved hundreds of thousands of patients and was instrumental in the training and education of a new generation of doctors. His legacy survives him in his students and patients… and he never did miss a dinner date with his wife.

Busy-ness

So much of healthy pastoring is learning how to be “unbusy” as Eugene Peterson calls it. It is the ability to minister from a place of sureness, identity and peace. Richard Foster would call it otium sanctum or “holy leisure” – the ability to slow down and be fully present in everyday life. This slowness, this timelessness, is the distinguishing feature of a saint who has lingered in the presence of the Loving Father. There is no need to rush, no compelling need to prove oneself to others when you are grounded in Reality.

So why are we (pastors included) so busy? I like what Eugene Peterson has to say in “The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction.” On pages 18 and 19 he says:

I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself and to all who will notice — that I am important… I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.

I am busy because I am lazy. I let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. It was a favorite theme of C.S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us.

I would add to Peterson’s insights, I am busy because I am afraid. So often busyness becomes an anesthetic. When I am busy I don’t have the time for self-awareness and evaluation. When I am busy I don’t have to think about or deal with my past hurts and brokenness.

Silence is the bane of our age it seems, for in silence, in unbusyness, the Holy Spirit begins to speak, gently bringing to mind all of the things He would like us to turn over to Jesus. But we are uncomfortable with such an intimate and invasive God who earnestly desires every aspect of our hearts – so we drown Him out with iTunes or find something more “productive” to do. But we stunt our spiritual growth, and greatly jeopardize those under our care, when we refuse to slow down and surrender our schedules to God.

Have you ever met someone who embodied holy leisure? What impact did that have on you? Can you imagine what life would be like if you let God rearrange your scheduled priorities?

Yearly Schedule

Continuing with the idea of Sabbath, we need yearly breaks as well as weekly ones. In the Old Testament we find the notion that every seventh year was supposed to be a year of rest for the land, the animals and all of the people. God promised to sustain the nation during this time if they would be faithful not to work. We don’t have any biblical record that this actually happened, but we know that God thinks it is a good idea.

My current schedule has me taking a one week vacation in the spring followed by a two week vacation right before the school and church year pick up in the fall. I haven’t been in ministry long enough to have my seventh year completely off, but I think scheduling sabbaticals is a brilliant idea. I would think that after 6 years of ministry a three to six month sabbatical would be a wonderful thing for the church as well as the pastor. The church would find that it can maintain and even grow in the pastor’s absence and the pastor gets a chance to seek the Lord in an intense and rejuvenating way.

What do you say? Have you ever taken a sabbatical? How was it and will you do it again?

Weekly Schedule

Yesterday we talked a bit about breaking up the day into thirds – 1/3 sleep, 1/3 work, 1/3 re-creation. This has always been a helpful mental model for me, but it doesn’t account for the realities of life. Thus, we will examine some critical components for a balanced and healthy schedule.

I was always taught to schedule the most important activities first, because if I don’t make specific time for them, they never get done. So the first thing I schedule in my week is rest. Yes rest. I schedule time where I don’t do anything work or church related. This is my sabbath, a time to be with my family and “recharge” my emotional batteries. You must guard this time as your top priority. No one else is going to guard your time for you, so make it a point to not schedule anything during this time. It sounds crazy, but it is so valuable once you get into the rhythm of it.

My next important piece is solitude (can you tell I am an introvert!?). I schedule a whole day to just be alone with God. Whereas my sabbath is family oriented, by solitude is God oriented. I read the bible and pray a lot. I sit and think. I don’t listen to music or the radio, I simply “be”. In the words of Blaise Pascal, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Cultivating silence and solitude is essential to effective and healthy ministry. As pastors, we must be ground in the Reality of who we are before God, we must be “unbusy” as Eugene Peterson calls it. Pastors must minister from a deep well of identity and peace or else we are liable to be swept away by the emotional currents of our congregants. Solitude and silence are where we hear the “still small voice” of God.

Our week is quickly diminishing and we still haven’t “done” anything yet! You see, when we orient our lives around the values of the Kingdom of God, the lions, tigers and bears of our culture come out. American culture values people by what they produce. Kingdom culture values people because of who they are. To quote the old cliche, “We are human beings, not human doings.” Therefore, our next order of business is prayer.

‘Prayer? I am too busy to pray! After all, I just spent two whole days being with God – I am ready to go!’ Oh foolish pride. Perhaps it is because of my youth and inexperience, but I am keenly aware of the fact that I have nothing to offer people on my own. I am not wise enough to counsel all circumstances and I am not strong enough to carry all burdens. This makes a vibrant connection to God the lifeblood of my ministry.

God has set a standard for me of 20 hours a week in prayer. I am not saying you need to do the same, but I am saying that you need to ask God how often you should be in your prayer closet. As for the busy-ness component… “If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer,”  Martin Luther. Prayer is unique in the way it energizes the minister. I accomplish more on the days I pray than on the days I don’t, even though I should have more time.

Next comes exercise. I can’t explain it fully here, but I minister better when I work out regularly. I have more energy and am more at peace. This isn’t a huge time commitment, maybe 30 minutes 3 times per week. I guarantee that those 30 minutes of exercise will give you several more hours of productive time each day and week.

If you have scheduled the above and are committed to sleeping 8-10 hours a night, I now release you to work and play. You should have approximately 60 hours left in your week to split between work and re-creation however you choose. Remember that prayer is part of your “work” so you already have a good chunk of work time accounted for. My experience is that you don’t need much more than 25-30 hours a week in the office to keep things running smoothly if you are diligent about raising up lay leaders and delegating. This gives you plenty of time for relational ministry, home visits and pick up games of ultimate frizbee.

Try this out for a month and let me know what you think. Best of luck to you!

 

Time

This week’s blog focus will be on time. Time is the great equalizer – rich or poor, strong or weak, we all have only 24 hours in a day. My purpose isn’t how to maximize your efficiency or effectiveness, though they are lovely by-products. My purpose, rather, is to explore and examine how we can best steward our time resources to best promote health and longevity in ministry. Remember our idiom, Healthy = Happy.

I like to break up my day (mentally) into thirds – 1/3 sleep, 1/3 work, 1/3 re-creation. I will briefly summarize below.

Sleep – I think all American’s, but especially pastors, are notoriously lacking in sleep. Below is a summarized list from webmd about loss of sleep: it causes accidents (who has ever regretted that late night email?), it inhibits thinking and learning (not good for teachers), it leads to serious health problems (heart disease, diabetes, stroke), it kills sex drive (bad news for married ministers), it can cause depression (which many of us already have) and weight gain. Eight hours a night is minimum in my opinion – I have found I am better rested, healthier and happier with 9 to 10.

Work – Yes, “work” should only take up a third of your day. Work is in quotes because most ministers don’t consider what they do “work”. An email or phone call here or there adds up and needs to be seen as what it is – caring for your people. I’m not saying you need regular business hours, but you do need to establish set times for work. When those hours are over, I recommend “unplugging” – no phones, smart phones, ipads or laptops. It you need the time, buy a watch. If you need to write a message, use a journal. Email is a life-sucking abyss and nothing that goes on at your church is really that important – it can wait. Remember that time when you forgot your phone or your laptop died and you didn’t have a charger? The church kept trucking along just fine – your people know you are busy, they will cut you some slack.

Re-Creation – What do you need to literally re-create yourself? I include meals, exercise, family and fun in this category. It also includes personal time such as getting ready, reading books or just sitting and being quiet. I don’t personally watch television, but if you do, this would be the place to fit it in. I consider two things to be absolutely vital to health, happiness and longevity in ministry – prayer and recreation and pastors rarely do either! A recent study I saw indicated that pastors only pray about 5 minutes a day – no wonder we are so burnt out! How can we have anything of value to offer our people if we aren’t connected in a vital way to our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Teacher and Guide? I include prayer as part of my work hours (see the apostles’ job description in Acts 6:4).

Obviously, each day has its own flow and some days are more work or recreation heavy than others. We will cover a weekly approach to looking at time in our next entry. Until then, how do you use your time? Do you have a similar model or something different altogether?