Clarity In The Midst of Darkness...

This has been a tough week.  No way to sugar-coat it.  The first few days were downright gloomy.  I think I described them in my last blog as being in sort of a "fog."  The feelings of sadness, feelings of confusion, and worst of all, anxiety, were just not fun at all.

There was an upside to all of this, though.  I did a LOT of praying, soul-searching, and crying out to God.  That fog started to lift on Wednesday.  I have several people that I know that I can talk to about all of this (and I do), but had been praying that God would send someone along to speak wisdom into my life from a fresh perspective.  I was in my office working, when a man from my church stuck his head in to see how I was doing.  I know him well, and I could tell that this wasn't just any old visit to my office.  We sat and discussed things for about 45 minutes.  He was able to point out some things from a perspective that I had not thought of before.  His walking in my office was the beacon I had been looking for.  He told me that he felt impressed by the Lord to come by.  Hmm... I love it when God works that way!

Thursday, early in the morning, I was again in deep thought and prayer about all of this.  The wheels in my mind had been set in motion by the previous day's conversation.  God finally saw fit to open my eyes to some of the issues that seem to cause so much anxiety in my life.  Things tend to make better sense when you begin to see the bigger picture.  Let me try to explain.

I am a fixer.  Those that know me well, know that this is my nature.  I have always been that way.  If I have it in my scope of abilities or resources, and you have a need...I'm going to do my best to try and get it taken care of for you.  I thrive at this...maybe too much.

For years, as a pastor, I have used this "gift" to drive ministry.  Everything from counseling to helping needy folks get food...falls right into this category.  Of course, there is nothing at all wrong with that, but the problem is that the needs FAR outweigh my own abilities.  Obviously, I know this, but a large part of my anxiety comes from trying to take the weight of all of the need I cannot meet, and carry it myself.  A good example of this would be my desk at work.  On a normal week, I can clear my desk of most of the tasks that come across it.  However, when I'm in the midst of the busiest time of the year (usually the summer), things that are not of immediate importance tend to pile up there.  At some point, I have to come back to that desk and begin to work through the pile.  Sometimes that can be an overwhelming task.  When the needs of others outweigh my ability, I tend to keep a mental stockpile of that need with me at all times.  That leads to my next point.

I have a bit of a perfectionist streak.  Now, I'm not an ultra-perfectionist at every little thing.  I don't line my pencils up on my desk in perfect fashion, or anything like that.  However, growing up on the farm, my dad and grandpa always instilled a "do it right the first time" work ethic in me.  Often times, that meant staying at something until it was done, even if that meant staying up late into the night.  So, there are certain things in life that my mind tells me that I have to keep at until they are finished.  The problem is that while ranching has some similarities to ministry, working with people isn't quite as cut and dry.  Fixing a fence is easy.  You just follow the steps, and it works nearly every time....job done, move along.  You simply cannot have that attitude in ministry, as these are PEOPLE we are dealing with...not farm equipment.  But, just like one should always fix the fence right the first time, I feel like I should keep at people's problems until they are taken care of.  The problem is that people do not often "fix" so easily.  The ones that can be helped quickly are far fewer than those (including me) that seem to take time to help.  So, my mind becomes littered with these "unfinished" things...much like my desk in the summer.  My perfectionist streak wants to see ALL of them to conclusion... but my finite mind/body does not allow it.  And thus, the anxiety begins to mount.

The answer to all of this is that even though I'm doing ministry, I'm depending WAY too much on my own abilities and power.  If you notice, there was a lot of "I" and "me" going on, and even though I was praying and seeking God... I had forgotten that it is not me that truly helps people...but it is Jesus.  I am reminded in the last few chapters of Job about who is really in control of everything.  God does not NEED me... but chooses to allow me to be His hands and feet to the world.

I am in process.  God is continuing to stretch and mold me.  He is continually reminding me of just how much He loves me, and those that I minister to.  The words of John 3:30 ring loudly, "He must become greater, I must become less."  No, this is not a new concept for me...I just needed to be reminded of it again.  I confess that I mess up... a lot... but thank God for His love, for my family, and for Godly friends that speak into my life.

I pray that these words will encourage you this week.  I was reminded of them by a missionary friend in Whales this week.  Wonderful encouragement here:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." -- Matthew 6:25-34 (ESV)