Intentional self-care

Pastors…do well to be intentional in pursuing what makes for their care and support.  Given the numerous pressures we face, it cannot be left to chance.

Peter Brain in Going the Distance: How to stay fit for a lifetime of ministry.

I bought this book years ago, back when leading a church was only one of those God-promises that had been spoken and not fulfilled.  In fact, as I remember, I bought this book round about the time when I was beginning to think that I had heard him wrongly.

You see, within a year of my coming to faith, Peter and I had a powerful experience of God together, one which had been prefaced about two days before by me hearing a most unexpected call to long-term Christian leadership through a preach at a CICCU reps’ training event.  And that experience of God which we had together, only a few months after we started going out, was a clear call to church-based ministry for both of us.  It also appeared to be a call to some form of ministry beyond that, though I still struggle to make sense of what I thought I saw that day.

Anyway, time passed with nothing happening, as it does.  (At this point, any good charismatic starts seriously to question whether what they heard or saw was prophetic or just plain delusional.  I confess that, with my rationalistic tendencies, I usually waver towards concluding for the latter interpretation!)

And, in this case, six years of time passed.  Nothing happened even though I had really expected it to by then.  Not even the faintest whisper of a hope that this apparent word of promise might be fulfilled.

Thus, by the time I bought this book, I’d sort of given up.

I know the story would sound so much better if I could say I never doubted.  But I totally did.  I thought I’d have to be a lawyer forever.  I thought I had totally misheard God, that he had forgotten me.  Yet, in the midst of all the confusion, I was still buying and reading books about a future that I thought would not be mine.

With their opportunities for reading and experiences of apparent spiritual desolation, those years were more a time of preparation for ministry than I knew or would have dared to hope.  And this book is one that I’m glad I read then.  I don’t think anyone in leadership can ever start too early with learning about self-care in ministry.  Even when you keep it at the forefront of your heart and mind, it’s been my experience that you can still somehow mess it all up in the area of self-care.  (As you know if you are a regular follower of this blog and have thus been subjected to many posts about my constant struggles with drivenness!)

The issue of self-care is also one of those conversations that I seem to have most often with others in Christian ministry of whatever kind.  It’s as if we are so caught up with the magnitude and glory of this task in which we are privileged to be fellow-workers with God that we don’t dare believe that, even so, we are more important than the work.

I’ll say it again: you are more important than even such a great work.  He loves you.  He desires intimacy with you more than he wants your hard work.  Read John 15 and you’ll see!  Fruitfulness flows from intimacy.  The only way to do the work which brings him pleasure is, paradoxically, first to engage in the soul-care practices of giving yourself entirely to the relationship with him that refreshes your heart.

So, friend, take your Sabbath.  Waste away the hours in prayer and worship.  Dwell long in the precious text, not only to preach it but because you love the One who wrote it.  Study hard because before you can feed another your own hunger must be satisfied.  Say no as often as it takes to say the right yes.  Love your family.  When you find friends who will love you and pray for you and laugh with you, don’t ever let them go.  Live not for the church or the elders or the ones who pay your bills; live instead for the One who is above all.

And then, maybe then, we will live long in the land that the Lord is giving us.  May it be so.

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