What Do You Treasure? On Deception, the Heart, and Ministry

Before I entered full-time ministry, it truly was not a struggle to spend time with the Lord daily. That sounds crazy, I know, but it’s true. Even when I was working crazy hours on Capitol Hill and volunteering part-time with The Gathering, I still reached for my Bible and gave it my full attention at least once a day. I rarely missed a day. But this season has been different. Full-time vocational ministry is full of daily struggles and victories and is more spiritually challenging than anything I have experienced before. This dichotomy pushes me to spend time in the Word every day and to be more like Christ, so that I can be a more effective minister of the Gospel.

However, I often struggle to balance investing in others while also investing in myself and my own spiritual life. I also struggle to delegate and equip others rather than just doing everything myself and in my own power. Now, all too often, I am distracted by yet another need or task and have to remind myself frequently that I need to put my time with the Lord before everything else. He must be my first priority! My two years in vocational ministry have taught me that ministry absolutely must be driven by the overflow of Christ in my heart. If ministry is driven by my will, rather than by my love for Him, it is meaningless. Likewise, I have also learned that my passion for ministry must be exceeded by my passion for Christ Himself. Jesus is not only my motivation; He is my treasure.

Just as the man who found the treasure hidden in a field in Matthew 13 and sold everything he had to buy the field, I want to live my life in passionate pursuit of Christ, regardless of the cost.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
(Matthew 13:44-46 ESV)

While these verses reference the kingdom of God, the Lord has used them recently to show me much about my own heart. It is so easy to think that just because I’m pouring out my life in ministry, that Christ Himself is my treasure. When you sacrifice much for ministry, it’s easy to point to your clear prioritization of people as prioritization of the Lord Himself. Unfortunately, I’ve found that in the midst of rushing around to accomplish things and do ministry, it is simple to begin to treasure the ministry above Christ.

It’s a slow transformation.  One day you wake up and realize that your identity is completely wrapped up in your ministry – how successful you are, the ministry’s growth, and even how your leaders are doing spiritually themselves. Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

I’m thankful for the discipline of the Lord. I’m so grateful that He is willing to pursue and recapture my heart and redirect my attention back to Himself. I’m thankful that He is a jealous God and that He will not allow my heart to be satisfied outside of Himself. Don’t allow ministry, even great ministry, to replace Christ’s position in your heart. He, and He alone, is your treasure. Cherish your people. Treasure your God. Don’t allow the lines to be blurred. 

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Communication and being known

I’m a such a verbal processor – whether it’s by chatting, venting, journaling, or blogging – I seem to learn and grow and understand life and myself and God better by talking or writing everything out. Many times when I’m stuck and don’t even know what to pray or how I really feel, I find that if I grab a pen, the prayer just begins to flow out of my heart as my pen flies across the page.

There’s just something about having a blank piece of paper or a friend willing to listen and help process that seems to fulfill one of my deepest needs as someone who craves quality communication and to be known. I think that’s what secretly I’m the most afraid of – that one day I’ll wake up and I’ll find again that no one really knows who I am. I promised myself several years ago that I would never wake up to that realization again, but I think that the lesson I’m learning now is that there’s a flip side to that coin.

Knowing and being known is one of the most precious experiences we can have as human beings. There’s so much comfort and emotion just wrapped up in that idea and I think it fuels me to live life transparently – the way I have for so long now… only there are times like this week when all I want is to be somewhere quiet… somewhere where I can be alone… somewhere where I can listen to only a single voice.

Tomorrow’s going to be one of those days. A retreat of sorts. I’ve been planning and looking forward to it all week. Usually the very last thing I want is alone time or an adventure by myself. But tomorrow I’m setting out to find a beach and I don’t know exactly where I’m going. I’m just going to set out to find a little bit of sand, a lot of water, and God Himself.

The beach is my favorite place to go because it reminds me of how small I am and how big my God is. There’s nothing outside of His control. He’s sovereign and He’s good and I’m His. Communication with Him is all I need and there’s nothing about me or my future that He doesn’t know. It’s been a rough week and only God Himself can bring some order, some sense, and some peace to my world. Only communication with Him really matters.

I’m taking comfort in this today:

Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you…”

Psalm 139:1-18 – “O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.

3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.

4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”

12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them,

the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.”

I’m looking forward to journaling, painting, and listening.

Rest

I’m enjoying blogging every day. I find that it helps me focus on the truths I’m reading in Scripture and that it allows me to process what God’s doing in my heart more completely.

The theme of today has been rest. No, I’m not still at home in my pajamas. But I was ’til about 2:00 p.m. this afternoon! Today’s the first Saturday in over a month that I was able to sleep in, make breakfast, and spend some time with God. I have a favorite spot for quiet times – a massive green chair in my living room that’s perfect for cuddling up in and reading my Bible.

Like I said yesterday, I set my heart last night to embrace this season of waiting and to use this weekend to rest. And really rest regardless of what my schedule dictates I must do.  So I took this morning slow and haven’t rushed at all today, even when I was running behind. I was right – this is exactly what I’ve needed and I need it far more often.

I drank several cups of coffee, listened to Jason Upton, had a long phone conversation regarding ministry with a very dear girl, and spent time this afternoon catching up with an old friend over Mexican food (we actually found a decent place in Crystal City!) and ice cream. Time spent like this is soothing to my heart and I begin to remember what relationships are about.

Rest changes me. Yesterday the rain made me irritable and tired. Today, the rain almost emphasized rest and peace. Even the torrential downpour wasn’t going to be allowed to ruin my day (I’m totally a sunshine girl). If I owned a pair of rainboots I would have taken a long walk and gone and splashed in the puddles. You see, my perspective is really all about my heart condition. Where I set my heart is crucial. If I allow my heart to grow angry and restless, I will be angry and will get no rest. If I’m focusing on God and His Word, I will have peace and rest, and my soul will be restored (Psalm 23:3).

Proverbs 4:23 says “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” I’ve heard that verse used in every sermon on relationships I’ve ever heard. And it applies there, but we need to see it as valuable outside of that context as well. I need to guard my heart against worry, stress, and insecurity. I need to be wise with my time so my heart can grow and find rest in God’s Word. If my heart’s not right, nothing I do will be right. It makes total sense.

I’m also reminded of Colossians 3:2-3: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

My life’s been hidden WITH Christ IN God. I cannot think of anything more amazing. And that should be my focus – the focus of both my heart and my mind; my will and my emotions. When all of those parts of me are in line with Scripture, then rest becomes easy.

The waiting (from 3/12/10 – posted 3/13/10)

“The waiting is to teach us our absolute dependence on God’s mighty working.” Andrew Murray, Waiting on God.

My last post was on running and focus. Today is about waiting. All day at work I watched the clock. Time is never slower than when you’re watching it (a lesson from yesterday, for sure). And that’s especially true on a Friday afternoon. And then I sat in traffic for an hour and a half on my way to see Josh. Let’s just say I am running very low on patience these days.

So yes, life is about running and running well – to reach the finish and receive the prize. But today, I realize yet again that even in all of our running, there must be rest. On Sunday I’m meeting with my mentor, Lauren. In her e-mail to me today, she mentioned that we’ll be discussing balance, rest, and finding quiet places with God.

Balance for me is something that’s very difficult. I like to be always busy, always moving, always running quickly. I think though, that there are weeks and months like these last few, that God has to walk me through to show me how very dependent I am on Him. Sometimes I cram too much ministry into my heart and life to make enough time for quality rest and time with God. I’m in the midst of a humbling process and am realizing again how very human I am. And to remember once again, that unless I’m filled, I can’t pour out. I must be full of God and His Word to have life and to give life.

This life, after all, isn’t about me – it’s all about Him. He “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25b), and “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Apart from Him I can do nothing. If I feel like I can’t breath, or I’m exhausted by life and how quickly I move, it’s likely because I’m not relying on Him or drawing on His strength. I’ve once again fallen into pride – HUGE pride – the belief that I can take care of myself, order my own life well, help people, and make a difference without being carried through all of it by the One who gives me life itself.

This weekend, I’m going to practice waiting. And it’s going to involve some worship, some sleep, some working out, and some time in my favorite chair in my living room with God. It’ll be totally worth it and I’m sure it will be exactly what I need.