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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Philippians 3-4

When I was home a couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to do dinner with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade. She had not known me since I had left my hometown for seminary and was subsequently ordained. She was intrigued by the idea that her “old friend” was now a pastor.

“So what’s the hardest part of being a pastor?” she asked. “Is it having to come up with a sermon every week?”

I laughed when she said that for it wasn’t the first time I had been asked the question (or heard that anticipated response about the sermon being the hardest part of my position). Lots of folks tend to focus on the sermon and the worship leading part as the most demanding of my call. They probably focus on that area since it’s the most visible piece of a pastor’s call. But that piece isn’t the most challenging (at least for me). “The most challenging part,” I said, “is learning to live with the constant stress that surrounds you.”

“What kind of stress does a pastor have?” she asked innocently.

So I told her. “Well,” I began, “at any given moment you can be: dealing with an individual in the midst of a personal crisis; trying to sort out the challenges of operating the church in a tight budget; dealing with an individual who is disgruntled that you aren’t doing enough (or perhaps doing too much!) in any given area of the church’s ministry; trying to keep up with your pastoral visits; trying to mediate conflict(s) between parishioners; trying to do some effective community outreach... And that’s just a start. Once one area resolves itself,” I added, “you immediately move into a new area of concern/controversy and start all over. You never get much of a chance to catch your breath.”

“So why do it if it’s so demanding,” my friend said.

“Because I love it!” I said – saying something she perhaps least expected.

“How can you love it when it is so intense?” she asked.

A big part of that answer comes from a portion of today’s reading from Philippians. “Don’t fret or worry,” Paul began. “Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it,” he continued, “a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.”

Those words capture about the only way I know to engage in a sustained practice of ministry. I say that because it is humanly impossible to do even an adequate “job” in serving if you were to rely solely on your abilities. Instead, over the years I’ve grown in my ability to trust that God is in the midst of all things. Once I grounded myself in that reality, my control issues begin to dissipate and I see those words wonderful words of Paul’s – “a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down” – begin to kick in in my own life. That helps me see look beyond the stress and the worry and see the amazing blessings of being in ministry.

Of course pastors aren’t the only ones living with constant stress. Chances are you are live with a tremendous amount of stress as well. The question I would invite you to consider today is this: what do you do with your stress?

Does your stress/worry cause you to ramp up and try to assert your control over everything; or does your stress serve as a warning sign that there is something you need to let go of so you can allow a sense of wholeness to begin to emerge?

Til next time…

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