Monday, September 24, 2012

When You Don't Feel Spiritual At All

We’ve all been there . . . so don’t beat yourself up.  You don’t feel spiritual.  You don’t care about anyone but yourself.  And the last thing you want to do is pick up your Bible.  You’re in good company; even the giants of faith had bad days.

Elijah hit an all-time-low after achieving his all-time-success.  I Kings 18-19 records this powerful prophet of God’s rise and fall.  It began with Elijah’s back-to-back victories during a spiritually dark period of Israel's history—he confronted a wicked king, called down fire from heaven, killed 400+ prophets of Baal, ended a drought, and physically ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way to Jezreel (a distance of 20 miles). 

After these extraordinary victories, does the enemy leave him alone?  No way!!! Jezebel, the king’s evil wife, threatens to take the prophet’s life. 

Physically and spiritually exhausted, Elijah ran for his life, found a place to hide, and asked God to let him die.  God didn’t condemn Elijah for his lack of faith.  Instead, he sent an angel to comfort and nourish him.  Then, he “benched” Elijah for forty days.  During this time, Elijah didn’t prophecy; he didn’t heal anyone; he just walked alone to Horeb, the mountain of God. In the end, Elijah was quieted to a place where he could hear God’s whisper, and he was given his next assignment.

When we’re physically and/or spiritually depleted, it’s not the end of the world.  But something’s got to give. By failing to slow down, we put ourselves in a vulnerable place. 

For me, the lowest times of ministry are when I’m physically sick.  Usually this follows a “high”—an outstanding event, a successful outreach, a speaking engagement, etc.  Maybe this has happened to you . . . you’re blowin’ and goin’ and BAM!  You receive a knock out punch and you’re down for the count.  Benched.  Sidelined.  Momentum gone.

I’ve found this is the way the enemy usually attacks me.  A broken toe, tennis elbow surgery, knee surgeries, infections, anxiety, things too embarrassing to mention—these are just some of the physical issues that tripped up my forward motion. 

During these times, I struggle to want to pick up my Bible.  All I want to do is climb in bed and watch endless hours of TV.  Escape from the pain, escape from disappointments, and just enjoy a dull, mindless day blanketed in self-pity—this becomes my to-do list. 

As a producer, I think many times I get in a mindset that if I’m not producing, I’m not valuable.  The same goes for being a pastor’s wife—if I’m not reading my Bible and praying, then I’m not worthy to be in ministry.

Sometimes I think God “benches” me because I have to remember the world can go on without me.  I am reminded that God loves me even when I’m not feeling spiritual or being productive. 

Perhaps God, in his mercy, allows me to feel broken and experience my own humanity for my own good.  I regain some necessary leadership qualities like humility, compassion, and gratefulness.  And doesn’t encouragement take on a whole new meaning!  One person texting or calling saying, “I missed you today” means the world to me.  I am reminded that when I check on a sick friend with a Facebook message, text message, or phone call it does make a difference.

When I’m in my “mover and shaker” mode, I can become frustrated with (what I see as) other people’s lack of commitment.  People drop out, get sick, lose steam . . . it happens.  And guess what, it happens to me too!  Suddenly, I stop judging others because I’ve taken a look in the mirror and—big shocker—I’m no different! 

Thank God for these times on the sidelines; let God “reboot” you as a leader who walks in love and understanding.  And just as He did for Elijah, let Him whisper words of life in your ear.  Whether you’re “benched” for 4 or 40 days, you’ll be ready for your next assignment.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Would My Life Inspire a Movie?

As the guest segment producer on a TV show, I happened to meet three people this week whose lives inspired movies.  Sometimes when I meet well-known people, I’m disappointed by how they really act behind the scenes.  But these 3 did not disappoint-they were warm, kind, enthusiastic, and larger than life.  It’s as if each one left an imprint of inspiration on me.  It got me thinking, would my life inspire a movie?  As I reflected on my encounter with each, I started to see common themes in their lives.

First, let me briefly introduce you to these extraordinary people:

Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger is the real Rudy from the movie –you guessed it—Rudy. Rudy dreamed of playing football at the University of Notre Dame despite his small size, his poor grades, and his family discouraging him.  After overcoming great obstacles to get into Notre Dame and on their football team, he was finally allowed to play in the last game of his senior year.  I won’t give away the best part.  The movie Rudy is ESPN’s #4 best sports movie of all time. 

 “Papa” Joe Bradford is the inspiration behind the new movie Unconditional.  Joe overcame childhood poverty, nearly died from a snakebite, and served time in prison.  Even after dedicating his life to God, his health declined rapidly and he spent nine hours a day on a kidney dialysis machine.  After the costs of a high-risk kidney transplant, he and his wife Denise were financially destitute and moved into Nashville’s projects.  While living among the poor, they began a children’s ministry, provided food to other families, started a youth choir and a drama team, and created an educational program. 

Finally, Angus Buchan is portrayed in the movie, Faith Like Potatoes.  A brand-new believer and poor South African farmer, Angus began reading the Bible and preaching to his crops.  He saw miracles—a bumper crop of potatoes during a drought, a heavy rainstorm appeared after he prayed for God to put out a fire that threatened his crops, and a corn crop destroyed by hail seemed to resurrect itself after three days.  God told Angus to start men’s conferences in South Africa, and he rented huge stadiums by faith.  Miraculously, God brought thousands of men to come hear this unknown farmer.  Today, over half a million men come to these conferences.

These are some characteristics these three heroes of faith have in common:

1)  Passion-  Angus’s passion is to raise up godly men.  

Papa Joe’s passion is caring for needy children.

Rudy's passion is Notre Dame football.  Rudy loved football and Notre Dame so much, he was willing to play on the practice team—taking the tackles from guys twice his size. In the end, he only got to play a total of 27 seconds in a real game.  Passion will empower you to continue when circumstances say you should just quit.

2)  Faith-  Rudy believed he could play for Notre Dame.  

Angus believed his potatoes would grow despite the drought. 

When Papa Joe started his feeding program, he and his wife didn’t have any food to give away. By faith, they passed out fliers in their projects, promising food on a certain day. Their prayers were answered when a large food bank promised them food, only to cancel their shipment 24 hours before the day of their food distribution called “Walk of Love.”  No problem—Joe and Denise started praying.  Within a few hours of their promised food delivery, a woman they didn’t know called and gave them $8,000.  They bought $40 grocery gift cards with the money and made their deliveries on time. 

3)  Courage-  Rudy took repeated tackles on a daily basis from guys twice his size. 

Every day Papa Joe works with children in the inner city he puts his very fragile immune system at risk.

Angus’s courage is the stuff of legends.  Hysterical with grief, Zulu tribal women came to Angus one stormy night, begging him to bring their friend back from the dead.  At first he said no, but the women reminded Angus about this “powerful Jesus” he always preached about. Convicted, Angus reluctantly entered the hut where the woman’s body was covered with a blanket.  All the women in the village gathered to watch.  Angus took the blanket off the woman and started to pray.  As he continued to cry out to God, he felt led to grab her hands and pick her up.  As he pulled her up from the dirt floor, she opened her eyes and began to breathe.  How much courage would you need to pick someone up who is dead?  Hello!!  A lot! 

4)  Just plain ol’ hard work-  Each of these three worked hard, physically worked hard:  Rudy practicing football, studying to keep his GPA up, working as a groundskeeper on his off-hours; “Papa” Joe walking the streets to deliver food, leading choir practices, directing dramas, and raising 7 children of his own; Angus building a chapel, planting & harvesting crops during harsh seasons, preparing and preaching sermons.  Nobody makes movies about lazy people.  Lazy people don’t change communities.  Making a difference is hard work.

My goal in life is not to be the inspiration for a movie*.  That would be amazing, but highly unlikely and very boring! The best stories are born out of adversity, and who would ask for more adversity? But just as these three heroes of the faith, I do want my life to motivate others to be everything God desires them to be.  I want to be a hard-working, courageous woman of faith and passion who loves people and doesn’t run from challenges.

Angus Buchan gave me a tiny pocket-size jar of mustard seeds right before his 700 Club interview.  He also keeps a jar in his pocket everywhere he goes (he said it wasn’t a good luck charm).  Angus told me it’s a daily reminder that if we just have the tiniest bit of faith we can move mountains . . .

(*If it does, I want Sandra Bullock to play my role—lol)