Keeping Your Fire and Passion Hot in Ministry (Part 1)
For the last 25 years we have lived in a big 130 year old farm house. We bought the house when it was on the verge of falling down, and over the years have restored it. We raised all eight of our kids in the house. It is 2,600 square feet and has only one source of heat - a woodstove in the corner of the living room. It takes about six cords of firewood each year to keep us toasty warm during the winter, and one of our family projects during the summer is to cut, split, haul, and stack that wood. There always is something very comforting about seeing all that wood stacked up and ready to burn at the end of the summer.
Getting the wood in is a family project, but starting the fire and keeping it going so that the house is warm and comfortable is my job. Because of the size of our house and because of the fact that it is old and easily leaks cold air in from the outside, it is super important to not let the fire go out for very long. It takes a long time to warm up a cold house. Over the years I have become very good at keeping the stove hot and the house warm.
An inner fire and passion that is hot, and stays hot, is vitally important in ministry. It seems like many pastors regularly go through long periods of emotional and spiritual fatigue when their fire, passion, and vision gets cold. During these times, ministry is a major drag, not much if any fruit happens, and many just quit. It seems like this occupational hazard is becoming more and more prevalent. Learning how to build our own fire and keep it stoked and hot is a very important skill that must be learned if we want to persevere in ministry and bear much fruit. Some think it is more temperament than anything, but it is a skill and a discipline that anyone can learn.
Over the last 40 years of preparing sermons and preaching God’s Word I have realized that energy is one of the key ingredients to life-change happening in those who listen to me. Not my physical energy, but the inner passion and fire that work to motivate those I am teaching. There seems to be sort of energy transfer take place between me and them. The “want to” and desire to actually do the principles in the sermons and obey God’s Word is much more caught from me than taught.
I recently stood before an audience of about 50 pastors who were all tired, discouraged, and burnt out. The reason I know how they felt is because this particular 90 minute session they were attending was advertised for those who were in that condition in ministry and wanted to know how to fix it. I began the session by saying that I was 65 years old and had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, but in spite of that, I presently had more passion, fire, and enthusiasm for ministry than I had ever had in my 37 years of pastoring. (I could tell by the looks I received that they were skeptical.) The reason I could make that statement was because I had learned from others the basic principles and skills of building the fire in me and keeping it hot all the time. There are seven of these basic principles that I practice almost every day.
1. I faithfully practice the basic disciplines of the Christian life. The particular disciplines I am referring to would be those that would be classified as “God time”. Isaiah 40:29-31 says, “He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” My take on what it means to “wait on the Lord” is to choose to be in His presence.
Spending time reading my Bible as an act of seeking God is very important. I spend at least one hour every day reading the Bible devotionally (not for sermon preparation), but as an act of listening to God’s voice. This time spent reading is not aggressively looking for information, but is rather relaxed reading; sort of like when I read a Louis L’Amour Western on a long airplane trip.
I also spend at least 15 minutes every day memorizing Bible verses so I can meditate on those verses all day long. I especially choose to set my mind on the verses I have memorized if I feel myself getting stressed about anything. I do this very routinely and systematically. Because I have found such personal success in keeping my inner drive hot through scripture meditation, I am working at doing this discipline for a full 30 minutes each day.
I faithfully discipline myself to spend one hour every day in private prayer with God. I pray about anything and everything that is important to me. I maintain a prayer journal and I write and read in it during my prayer time to keep my mind from wandering and to stay focused while I pray. Most find it extremely difficult, almost impossible to pray for one hour at a time, but I have found this time to be super-effective in eliminating virtually all worry and anxiety and stress from my life. Philippians 4:6-7 promises this, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Most think they can claim the promise of this verse with five minutes of praying. If I don’t have perfect peace all the time, I pray more.
2. I regularly set challenging goals for all areas of my life. October 27th is my birthday. On that day I very ceremonially begin the process of writing my goals for the next year. During this process I pray, asking God to help me identify His will for my life. I think, I ponder, I write and rewrite and by January 1st I have completed my goals for the next year. These include family goals, spiritual goals, physical goals, ministry goals, personal dream kind of goals, fun hobby goals, and financial goals. I write one goal for every year old I am. This year I wrote 65 goals. At least one of my goals will be under the category of doing something I have never done before. Another will be to learn something I have never learned before. Also to go someplace I have never been before. I faithfully read these goals every day. It really is quite amazing how energizing it is to daily read my goals. Some might think that it would get boring or routine, but I have not found that to be true unless the goal itself is boring. I try never to write a boring or unchallenging goal.
3. I exercise strenuously at least five days a week (and I usually aim for six days). My goal is to exercise at least a full hour each day, but usually I do 90 minutes. I run/walk, ride my bicycle, swim, and lift weights, rotating those through the week. Monday I swim for an hour in the morning and then I lift weights for 30 minutes later in the day. Tuesdays I just run and walk for an hour either outside or on my treadmill depending on the weather. Wednesdays I ride my bicycle for an hour either outside or stationary depending on the weather, and later in the day I lift weights. Thursdays are the same as Tuesdays and Friday the same as Mondays. If I exercise on Saturdays it will usually be riding my bicycle or running longer distances for at least two hours. I listen to good preaching on my I-phone while I am exercising, except when swimming. I enter into racing events to keep myself motivated. I will participate in an Olympic-distance triathlon in June each year with my two sons. I will usually run two half-marathons and sometimes a full marathon each year.
A first response that I get from pastors when I talk to them about my disciplines is how much time it takes. The issue really isn’t if you have enough time, but if you have enough energy to do all that you want. If you don’t have enough energy it really doesn’t matter how much time you have. Exercise is an amazingly effective emotional energy producer.
These are three of the seven disciplines that I faithfully practice; Stay tuned for the follow-up article to describe the remaining four. If this article has been helpful you can look for the next one, and if it hasn’t you can skip it. I am 65 years old and my prayer to God is that the next 10 years of my life will be the most productive of all the previous years put together. That should be a natural result of the years of growing and learning and experience that I have had. It would be a sad waste of all those years of mistakes to burn out now.