We often speak of balance as if it is something you write out on paper and then have attained for life. The truth is, maintaining life balance takes constant adjustment. Like a sailor who is constantly analyzing the wind and adjusting his sails to reach an intended destination, balance for a spiritual leader requires sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and a willingness to make changes.
Over the years, I’ve learned that, at times, the pace at which I do the work of God can hinder His work in me. But since Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light, I have tried to periodically step back, pray, seek counsel, and adjust for the next leg of the journey.
These are the kinds of questions I ask myself at these times:
1. Who do I fear?
So often, when we evaluate our commitments and balance, we begin by assessing our schedules.
But an overcrowded schedule may have deeper roots than too many commitments. It may relate to fearing the perception others have of us more than we fear God.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10) while “The fear of man bringeth a snare” (Proverbs 29:25).
If you sense that your schedule is unsustainable, but you don’t know how to change, ask yourself, “Who do I fear?”
A pastor friend once asked me another version of this question: “Who has the gun to your head?” In other words, “Who intimidated you to overcommit?”
Why don’t we change when we know that we need to? Because we fear the approval (or loss of approval) of others. Other people will not always understand your sustainability decisions. That’s okay. When you fear God, His pleasure is all you need.
2. How is my tempo?
When I first started my paper route as a boy, I remember how fun it was on that first day whizzing down the hill in San Jose, California, on my bike. That is, it was fun right up until the moment I realized I was in for a crash landing.
Sometimes we begin ministry excited, but soon the thrill of serving gives way to a sense of impending doom. When this happens, we are wise to evaluate our tempo—our pace. Is it sustainable?
There is a verse in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth that perfectly expresses what every spiritual leader with a shepherd’s heart has felt: “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you….”
We don’t enter the ministry to save our life, but to spend it. Furthermore, we don’t mind spending and being spent for those we love and lead.
But the level of emotional and spiritual expense in ministry can only be sustained if we are refreshing ourselves in the Word of God. We can’t constantly expend in spiritual warfare without regularly replenishing in God’s Word.
If I am too busy to have quality time in God’s Word, I’m too busy. If my only “devotional time” is sermon or lesson preparation, my tempo needs to be adjusted.
3. How is my courage?
This is a question I ask myself more now than I did thirty years ago. When you begin in ministry, it’s almost reflexive to dream big and want to accomplish great things for God. When you’re in your twenties, William Carrey’s famous quote—“Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God”—is incredibly inspiring.
But when you’re in your fifties, it is easy to slip into a coasting mode. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to “play it safe” just because I’m older. Thus, as I approach each new season of ministry, I ask myself, “How is my courage? What great things am I currently attempting for God?”
We know Hebrews 11:6, but sometimes we apply it more to past victories than to present goals: “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
You see, managing your tempo isn’t about eliminating risk. A life of faith will always include risk. Managing your tempo and working for balance is simply about counting the cost and pacing yourself to be able to fully invest for the long haul.
So if I am to have the courage to attempt great things for God, it will require that I have the courage to schedule properly. I can’t say “yes” to every opportunity, and I must intentionally say “no” to some things.
4. How is my spiritual discipline?
When we get busy doing the wrong things, the first areas of our lives to slip are the unseen spiritual disciplines. It’s not because we don’t care about our walk with God. It’s just that everyone will know if you don’t have a sermon on Sunday, but virtually no one will know if you don’t read your Bible on Tuesday.
Jesus didn’t let His devotional life or his spiritual discipline get crowded out by the demands and needs of others: “And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).
It takes time and a quiet heart to hear the Lord. It takes time to pray. It takes discipline to invest in the spiritual exercises of fasting, waiting on God, intercessory prayer, studying Scripture, giving, and worship. But it is time well spent.
Paul told Timothy, “Take heed to thyself…” (1 Timothy 4:16). Are you living a spiritually disciplined life?
We’ll continue with the final six questions in the next post. But could I encourage you to take a few moments right now to prayerfully evaluate these four?
- Who do I fear?
- How is my tempo?
- How is my courage?
- How is my spiritual discipline?