This is a presentation from LDC 2014. To learn more about the LDC, please visit LDC.io.
Most of what I’m going to be sharing with you today isn’t coming from any kind of a theoretical, academic, philosophical perspective. It’s going to be pretty much just my story and some aspects that came and are coming out of that. My wife and I met in high school. I didn’t know her, but she knew me. I was a senior and she was a sophomore, and we were in the band together. I was a trumpeter and she was a clarinetist. If you know anything about bands, clarinets and trumpets don’t usually get along. And, of course, I kind of lived up to being a brass player, being loud, boisterous and a senior who was living that out. My wife is much more mellow, steady, and she didn’t like me at all. So we met that summer – I had known her brother – and we worked together at a nursery. Not a nursery for children, but a nursery for plants. So, I knew them and they were great guys – good Christians. I met her through a friend and, immediately I thought, “Boy, this is a young lady that I really like and I’d like to develop a relationship with.” Little did I know that she knew me in band and didn’t think much of me. Beyond that, she was very Baptist and I was very Methodist. And being younger, her mother asked her pastor if it was okay if she were to go out with me on a date. The pastor gave the word, and he said, “Yes.”
Now, the rest of the story is that that pastor not only ended up being the one that married us, but he also has become a great mentor in my life. I worked as his associate for nine years. Then I ended up leaving the church that he had led and left. So in God’s timing, it was just interesting in the midst of everything. I have been wonderfully married to the same woman – Betty is her name – for 41 years, and we’re looking for another 41. I have had a very blessed life, so it’s kind of interesting what I’m going to share with you today. I did not expect to ever go through some of the dark times of life that I’ve gone through, and still, at times, wrestle with. So that’s where I’m coming from, and I want to give you some background on that. I’ve been in ministry since 1975. I was intending to be a band director so I went to school and got a music education degree. I played the trumpet – still play.
That’s who I am as far as background. God had other ideas. I taught music for one year, and he put me into teaching general music – kindergarten through eighth grade – for my start. That was a good way to get me out of music teaching, especially the seventh and eighth-grade general music class. Oh my! But anyway, I ended up meeting a pastor at a youth retreat. We were doing some youth ministry part-time. I took a young person to a retreat in Maryland and met this pastor. They were looking for a youth and music minister. I had no Bible training, no church leadership training, although I’d been a Christian since I was 14 and had been actively involved in church and youth groups. And so they, by faith, hired us. I was probably 24 years old. Ernie Hummer was the guy, and he’s still my mentor today. As it turns out, all of these things connect. He eventually became the leader of China Outreach Ministries, which is the group I lead now. So you can see how, in God’s timing (he had suggested to the board that I be a candidate 13 years ago, and the board had other ideas) they eventually asked me if I would be a candidate, and I said “no” three times. Finally, the fourth time, I thought, “Well, something must be in this.” My wife and I prayed further about it, applied, and they said, “Oh, well, you’re not the candidate we’re going to look at.” So we said, “Oh, good. We did what God wanted us to do and that’s over with.” But then they came back and said, “We just aren’t real sure we’re going in the right direction. Would you come for an interview?”
And so I’ve been privileged to be the leader of China Outreach Ministries for the last 13 years. All of those pieces of life, of course, make us who we are. But I think one of the greatest pieces of life that makes me who I am today is what I want to talk about today, and that’s the whole issue of our emotional health. We talk a lot about spiritual health; we talk a lot about physical health. I think it’s good to try to stay healthy physically and exercise and eat right. My wife’s much more focused on eating right than me, and so she keeps me in line. But I exercise, do all those kinds of things. I don’t know how this would be worldwide. But in American church experience, there’s not been a lot of openness, as a Christian, to talk about emotional struggles. My perspective, growing up and even in ministry for many, many years, was that if you’re a Christian, you shouldn’t have emotional struggles. I mean, you have Jesus and the Holy Spirit and everything should be good. The fruit of the Spirit is love, right? I think I’m going to get them right: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, self-control. It’s interesting that it’s always in there as a list. I grew up in a very good environment – I’m an only child of two Christians, very active Christians.
My mother always was the church organist. I was in church before I was born, sitting on the organ bench with my mother. My father was the lay leader at the church. I always went to church. I tried to not go sometimes – I had a headache or something. And my parents’ idea was, “Okay, if you’re sick in the morning, you’re sick all day, so you’re going to be in bed all day.” I knew that didn’t work, so I didn’t want to do that. That was my environment. I was the only grandchild on my mother’s side and so I was the center of attention. Christmas time, everybody came over. My grandparents, my aunts, and uncles, and watched me open my Christmas gifts. I had a really good life. I had a lot of good things. My parents did try not to spoil me, but it’s kind of hard not to do that with only one. I was the focus of things. But I think in all of that goodness, there also was a challenge that I wrestled with, and never knew it till later in life.
The challenge was I was kind of “it,” and I had to perform. And so life became sort of a performance. Performance was a key part of being a musician. In college you had to audition for every group, and I had to do a senior recital and all those kinds of things. Performing was a big part of life. I still am a performer in lots of ways. You think I’m probably pretty calm up here – I’ve done this a lot in my life, so it probably feels sort of natural to me. But inside me, there’s still a lot of anxiety. There’s still concern about how this goes. I think that’s normal. I think the more I talk to people about these things, the more I realize we all deal with these things. But we don’t talk about them a lot. So, I was cruising through life. We had three children and I’d been in ministry – moved into an associate pastor position. I’d been down in Tennessee doing music ministry. And then I just sensed that God had more of a pastoral ministry for me to be involved in, along with music. So I ended up working with this pastor that had told my wife’s parents it was okay for me to date their daughter.
It’s interesting that the things that I perceive relate to this whole emotional issue, are often not reality. I told you I was from a Methodist background. This pastor was a very conservative Baptist. But from a Methodist perspective, that was a very different type of environment, so I had kind of perceived him in a tight box, a Baptist box. I had a lot of questions when they interviewed me to work with him and even had some reluctance in going. But it turned out my perceptions were completely wrong. He was a wonderful man of God and still is a wonderful friend. When I went to that church, I thought I was going there to minister as his associate pastor, which I was. But it was God’s moment for me to get some emotional help that I didn’t know I needed. I was wrestling with being able to think clearly. My emotions seemed to be up and down. I couldn’t understand it. I was wrestling within myself about our decision to move.
Then, as suddenly, I was deciding saying, “Oh, well, this might not be a good idea. Do we need to go back?” My wife was wrestling with me jumping back and forth, not being able to make good decisions. We didn’t know what was going on. Then I got to the church and I was really kind of sad most of the time. It was hard to get going in the morning, and people were asking my wife, “Why is your husband…?” And she said, “Oh, he’s just tired.” All this was going on and I was wrestling with feelings of being lost, really – questioning my salvation. Probably even more than questioning, being sure that it wasn’t true, and all of those kinds of things. It was really dark.
But I couldn’t tell anybody. I was a pastor. I had to be on top of things. Pastors don’t get depressed. At least that’s what I thought. So as it turned out, my wife said to me one day in the kitchen – I still can see this scene. She said to me, “You know, I just can’t live like this anymore. You’ve got to get some help. Everybody is asking me. I’m telling them you’re just tired.” I thought, “Oh, my. I can’t lose her. If I lose her, I lose everything.” That was God’s moment. It wasn’t a pleasant moment. I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant for her to say that, but she needed to, and it got me off of dead center to a place where I made a phone call to a group up in Akron, Ohio called Emerge Ministries, which was led by Richard Dobbins (not Dobson). He was an Assembly of God pastor, whose wife had gone through postpartum depression, and the church didn’t know how to deal with that.
There were a lot of attempts to deal with it in more of what we would call the prayer spiritual realm, and it wasn’t working. And so he realized, eventually, that she needed some other types of help and they got that. Then he went back to school and got his Ph.D. in counseling and developed this ministry. So I called up there, and they said, “Well, it’s $90 a session,” and I said, “Oh.” I was making “big money” back then, probably $20,000 a year, and that was probably my whole package so I said, “Well, that’s too much and I probably can’t do that.” They said, “Well, we’ll take insurance too.” But I said, “Well, we have a big deductible and I don’t think it’s going to work.” Then I said, “By the way, I’m a pastor,” and praise God, you know what they said? They said, “We don’t charge pastors.” So I went. Well, there’s a lot more to that – I won’t tell you all that. But I was really mixed up; I really was. So I was really afraid to go. I was afraid of a lot of things.
I told you they were an Assembly of God. I didn’t come from an Assembly of God Pentecostal background. So I had in my mind what I would consider maybe strange ways of dealing with someone who’s having emotional problems. I could just picture people getting me down on the floor or doing something – I had weird ideas. So forgive me, but for me at that time, that was a big deal. Well, it wasn’t that way at all. Again, there were lies I was believing. I didn’t know they were lies, but they were. And so I got involved in that ministry. I met with a psychiatrist, got on some medication, met with a counselor. We began to work through things.
By the way, from my experience – I’m not a doctor, but I’ve talked to a lot of doctors, I’ve talked to a lot of counselors, I’ve listened to a lot of radio shows and done a lot of reading. And my perspective is, if you’re wrestling emotionally and need help, that a combined medical and counseling therapy is often the best help for us. I’ve had friends who tried to just take medication. I’ve even done that at times, and that has helped some. But the counseling therapy is also very helpful. I believe it’s a discipleship process. I really do. I believe that God uses Christian people – by the way, I really believe in Christian counselors – Christian people to help you think through things and to talk. In a culture where it’s not easy to have those kind of relationships where you can open up and be honest about yourself, particularly if you’re in leadership, God uses that. That’s been my experience. So I’d like to be able to tell you that was 30 years ago and I’ve been just great ever since. But I can’t. My psychiatrist said, “You know, this is probably a part of who you are, and you’ll probably wrestle with this to some degree the rest of your life.” Well, I did what I usually do in life. I said, “Yeah,” but I didn’t really believe him because I thought I knew better than he.
Well, you know what – he was a smart man! He really did know what he was talking about. And so, I’ve had some bouts here and there, but not bad. I’ve learned a lot in the therapy and the counseling as far as things that were helpful and not – trying to take a little bit better care of myself and exercise more, and different things like that. And I did pretty well. All through the senior pastor times and coming to COM the first few years, I did pretty well. Then it got to a point where it seemed like I was having a little bit of struggle again. I went to the medical doctor and I knew what I had taken before, so she prescribed the same thing, and I just took that. But I didn’t take my own advice and go for therapy too. So that got me through. Well, about two or three years ago, it just started – the darkness started to come in again, and I started to have the same feelings I had before. I’ve been in a Doctor of Ministry program for a long time. I really started the process about 25 years ago, but I’ve been in the program about the last four years. I think that brought some pressure into my life that was additional, that I hadn’t had before. And that, plus the pressures of leadership, plus a lot of other issues – I can’t say it was family. Our marriage is good; the kids are doing well. Again, it kind of came to a point of saying, “Why am I having this problem? Life is good in lots of ways.”
So I’m not saying that I had major issues, although I do know that can happen. You lose loved ones; you have health issues. There are things that can lead to emotional stresses. But in my case, it seemed to be more of just not dealing with stress real well, getting too busy and not really listening to myself and what God is telling me through myself. God often speaks to us when our bodies start to react to things, and we tend to excuse them instead of acknowledge them and really begin to take some action. So about a year ago – really, it’s only been about a year – I realized that I was kind of back to where I was before, and that was not good. Again, I was having all of these feelings of being far from God and that He was angry with me, and a lot of guilt from things way in the past, too. It’s amazing how things come up. I really do believe as the Scriptures say, “Satan is the accuser of the brethren,” and he does dredge up stuff. Richard Dobbins said one time at Emerge, “When Satan reminds you of your past, remind him of his future.” I always liked that. But when you’re in the dark times, it’s hard to take that confident approach. You often need somebody to help you.
And so I again submitted myself to the medication. I’m still taking medication. But the difference this time is that I don’t think I went quite as low because I began to talk to my wife more about how I’m feeling. I began to talk to my staff in my office that I work with. I began to talk to some other friends and meet with different people and say, “You know, I’m struggling.” I was concerned, and always have been concerned, that I wouldn’t get neurotic and just bug everybody by telling them how messed up I am. Being a pastor, I’ve seen a lot of that type of thing. People, instead of trying to get better, just want to feel better and they just say what they’re saying, and that’s dangerous too. But I don’t think I’ve gotten to that point. I tell my wife and my co-workers to warn me. I thought, “Well, who am I going to go see for counseling?” I told my board, too, so I was very open this time. Age has a way of helping with that, by the way. I learned that my hiding things is not going to help me or anybody else; we’re in this together. Thirty years ago, it was tough to be upfront. Maybe it was cultural, maybe it was me – I don’t know.
I still think there are taboos about this whole thing and it’s hard. But I knew for my own health, I had to be transparent. Holding it in was not helping. Trying to deal with it in my own thoughts didn’t help. So I went to see a lady called Lois Dodds. She’s the head of Heartstream Resources, which is a missionary care organization in central Pennsylvania. But they do things all over the world. She’s one of the gurus in member care for mission organizations, and helped develop a program for that at Columbia International University, training people for staff care. So I thought, “If I go to somebody, I want to talk to somebody who’s at the top. And Lois is a dear.” I didn’t know this, but she had gone through deep depression on the mission field and that’s what led her to get her doctorate in Psychology at one of the University of California schools. What’s so cool about it is her doctorate is on “The Holy Spirit in Counseling.” Get this. This was a secular university and she’s doing her Ph.D. on “The Holy Spirit in Counseling.” She’s a great lady. But she told me that when she was doing her doctorate, those were the two darkest years of her life, dealing with depression.
God used that to speak to me because I’m in the midst of that –in about two weeks I have my final defense on the dissertation. So anyway, Lois has been a big help. I met with her for a while, and she said to me, “I really think it would be good for you to come to our two-week intensive.” Like God works – I had already talked to my board about being off for a month last October to work on my dissertation, and it just so happened that the two-week intensive was during that one month. So I talked to the board, and I said to Lois, “I’m working on this.” She said, “Well, I think you’ll have time when you come up here to still work on that.” So she was real open to that, and so I talked to my board. “As a matter of fact,” they said, “We’ll pay for it.” It was $1500 for two weeks, which is a great deal by the way because that’s lodging, food, counseling every day, and group sessions. That was a great two weeks. It was basically very relaxing – we were away from everything else. They encourage you not to be on your email and all that stuff.
Every morning Lois led devotions. We had worship and praise. Then she would do a teaching and then, in the afternoon there were individual counselors, counseling sessions, but free time when you weren’t in a session. At nighttime, the staff, the first week, shared their stories, and then we prayed over the staff. The second week, anybody that was there in the program had the opportunity to share their story and then they had prayer. I can honestly say I still remember two people praying over me and the Scriptures and things that they said. God used that, and is still using that in my thinking. So let me get to what I’m learning and have learned. That’s kind of my story. There’s more to it probably, but that’s my story. The medicine is helping. I’m not under counseling care right now, but I’ll go back to it if I need to. And my kids have been a big part of it – I’ll tell you about that in a minute.
But they said, “Dad, don’t get off the medicine.” Even when you think about it, I had a hard time with that because, to me, taking medicine again is an acknowledgement that I can’t handle this and maybe I’m not spiritual enough and all that stuff. But I know what the answer is. I know what I would tell somebody else. By the way, I think one of the things in dealing with our own emotional health is, “What would you tell somebody else?” and then counsel yourself that way, because often we don’t counsel ourselves like we would counsel somebody else. We’re a lot tougher on ourselves. We’re a lot darker with ourselves lots of times.
We tell ourselves maybe what our parents told us when we were being scolded. I know that’s been one of my things that I’ve had to think about. But we need to tell ourselves different things than that. So, things I’ve learned and am still learning – we’ll just go through these. First of all, we are all weak and fallen. Growing up being the only child with two perfectionistic parents – my mother is an excellent musician; my father is artistic, but he has an oil heating business that his father demanded that he take. He wanted to be an architect, so he always wrestled with that. My dad grew up in a very abusive situation. My grandfather was unfaithful to my grandmother. She knew it. Thirty years it went on. She refused to divorce him although she could have. When she died, her Bible was all marked up around the passages related to husbands and wives, and that type of thing. So she lived through that. My grandfather, eventually, really came back to the Lord before he died. But my dad grew up in an environment, I’m sure, where he wrestled with whether his father really loved him. I think he made a big change for me, and I know he loved me. But I also know, in growing up, there were times when I wondered about that because he was wrestling with that himself.
But when you’re a child, you don’t know that. And so that’s been a part of our family. There has been a lot of anger in the men in our family. And that was a part of me. I didn’t realize why. As I look back now, I can see all those parts. So I took myself very seriously. I was the only child, I was the pastor, I was the A student, I was the first trumpet. And it was, again, performance. I knew that it wasn’t my works that saved me. I knew that. I knew that it was the death of Jesus on the cross. When God really touched me was when I had a vision of Christ on the cross for me and my sins being upon Him, and I needed Him. I still can see that. I knew He had been good to me.
But I also knew how many times I’d failed Him. And that’s what, as a perfectionist, I often thought about a lot. I’m supposed to be this ministry person, and how can I lead other people when there’s such a mess in me? But yet, when you’re younger you can kind of squelch a lot of that. I think, as you get older, it kind of bubbles up more unless you deal with it. So we are all weak and fallen. And I’m still working on this – don’t take yourself so seriously. It’s good to laugh at yourself. It’s good to have friends you can share with and laugh about even your failures and your weakness, to be honest and authentic and open with, if they’re helpful. It’s interesting in leadership – transparency in leadership is not often encouraged in history.
I think there are more and more changes in that area, even in the secular leadership world. But usually we don’t look to leaders to be vulnerable. We look at them to be strong and to grab the sword and jump on the steed and go into battle and to take it on. Well, that’s a good part of leadership. But I also think that, in godly leadership, if we’re really talking about the fact that God uses weak people to do amazing things, then being vulnerable and transparent about weakness – like Paul said, boasting in his weakness, “so that God’s power can be seen” – is appropriate.
I don’t think it’s easy. I think it demands death to self and humility. And by the way, I’m not saying I have all that. But the dark times have pushed me to that. I had a friend recently say, “Did you ever think about depression being a gift?” I think I can start to say that now, but it’s taken a while to get there. Painful times can be gifts. But being honest and authentic and open with my staff has been an amazing thing. They feel a lot better now because there were times when I wasn’t and I was uptight about things, and they didn’t know why. They thought I was mad at them.
I have a pact now with some of them. I say, “Now, tell me, am I starting to act goofy again?” One of my staff came in, and I got a little bit feisty about something. We have a joke now. You know what he said? You might not think this is a good thing, but I do. He said to me, “What do you want to do, have a fight?” And you know what? It was so good that he felt comfortable enough to say that in my office. You know what I did? I laughed! There was a day I might not have done that. But I laughed, and so we still laugh about it. He’ll say something now, and I’ll say, “Oh, you want to have a fight.”
It was an open moment and we’ve really become brothers, not just fellow workers, and support each other. That wouldn’t have happened without some openness and transparency. Anybody ever read Patrick Lencioni, one of the gurus today in leadership in the secular world? He’s a consultant with Southwest Airlines. He’s written a lot of books on boards and all that type of thing. This is one of the things he talks about. The leaders need to be vulnerable and transparent. The point is that it opens up the whole world that you work in, so your people that God’s put you with are free to be themselves too. And also, to trust you, to know this is who you really are, and not to hide.
The second thing that I’ve learned is that Jesus really understands our situation. I’m learning, by the way. I knew that. I know that we have a High Priest that knows all of our weaknesses, who’d been tempted in every way as we are, yet didn’t sin. But the Lord really has spoken to me, particularly about a year ago, when I was really in a dark time and basically spent hours by myself at Columbia International University. I spent a lot of the private time just on my face on the floor, which, by the way, is not a bad idea. It wasn’t fun, but it was good – seeking the Lord, crying out to Him.
We’re encouraged to do that in Scripture. David cried out to the Lord – some of it’s pretty wild. Talk about being open and transparent. And in the midst of that, I just had some sense of Jesus and His understanding. You know that Jesus understands the darkness of the soul. “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Weeping in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying, blood dripping from Him like sweat drops because He was facing that which was so painful – not only the pain of crucifixion, but the separation from the Father. For us, and He didn’t deserve it. I do, but He didn’t. I thought further about that, and I thought, “As He walked this earth in human flesh (which, of course, the struggle for us isn’t to fully understand the incarnation) that He was fully divine but fully human, too. And fully human means He really did experience the depths of emotions.”
I thought about the fact that when He was walking this earth, He knew what was ahead the whole time. It really was not just in the garden. He saw how people really thought about Him and about God. And He wept over the city of Jerusalem because people wouldn’t believe. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Now, I think He knew how to enjoy life too. I like Phillip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew. Some of that is about Jesus being a lot of fun. So, He knew all the gamut of emotion. I didn’t always think about Jesus that way. He relates to me; He relates to you wherever you are. He really does. He doesn’t say, “Get it together.” One of my favorite verses is James, Chapter 1 where it says, “If you lack wisdom, ask of God.” But read the rest of it. “He will give it freely without finding fault.” Isn’t that a great verse? It’s not like God says, “It’s about time he showed up and asked.” I would say something like that, probably. But He said, “Oh, I’m so glad you came. I have a gift for you. Let’s go forward. Believe Me; don’t doubt.” I’ve done that. Okay, so Jesus understands.
The third thing that I’ve learned is the need for inner strength. I can’t trust my feelings; I need to hear from God. I know that, but when I’m in a moment of darkness, it’s so hard to get away from believing that my feelings are real, that that’s the truth. So I need to go somewhere where I do get away from them. And, of course, the Word of God is the truth. I’m not the truth. My thoughts and feelings aren’t the truth. What the devil says isn’t the truth. What I sometimes think other people think about me isn’t the truth. Where is the truth to be found? It’s to be found in God’s Word; that’s why He’s given it to us. Now, ultimately, of course, Jesus is the Word and so we find Jesus in the Word which is the best part. But I need to start every day. And you know something? Being a Christian since 14, it’s not any easier for me to have devotional time and quiet time than it ever was. Sometimes I think it’s harder. There’s always somebody that wants to meet early in the morning or this type of thing. Or if I look at my email first … I do that too, and it’s such a dumb thing to do.
You get off track. I need time with the Lord in the morning. And we all need to do our own thing. I’ve had mentors that have helped me so greatly in this area. I have three books right now that I’m using in my personal time. This one, Daily Light on the Daily Path is a collection of Scriptures for each day: one section for morning and one section for night. They’re based on a theme. In the book, as I read through these, if there’s something that is really going on in my life, I’ll write it down if the Scripture verse speaks to it. I have here, “God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” In 2003 on this day, my daughter was engaged to be married and the engagement was broken and she was going through a very dark time. And then there are some others. Okay, 2013 – that’s last year –you know what I have here? “Struggling emotionally.” The passage is, “Your God will come. He will come to save you.” You know what that does for me? It reminds me that our God is faithful to His Word. He got me through and He’s still with me today. He could do that.
These are all similar. These aren’t real deep Bible-study types of things; they are definitely devotional, relational things. We give this to our staff. It’s called Handbook to Prayer, by Ken Boa. You might have seen it. He’s written a lot of different things. This is Praying Scripture Back to God. You know, I have trouble praying sometimes. My mind goes all over. I’m sure I’m ADHD somehow, and I need something to help me stay on track. But also, I need to be confident that I’m praying the right things – I can get distracted on other things. Praying Scripture – if it’s what God says, it has to be right. And so He helps you each day to pray Scripture; it’s in thematic format with adoration and confession and thanksgiving and supplication and all of those elements.
I recommend it – we give it to all our staff. And the other one, I just picked up again recently. I used to use this quite a bit. But Faith’s Check Book by Spurgeon. Now, you can go online and read this every day. I found it on the online spot and it comes up for the day so you can read it. This is an old book, of course, because it comes from Spurgeon. But did you know that Spurgeon wrestled with depression? By the way, I’m finding out more and more of some of the great saints did – Martin Luther, John Wesley. Spurgeon had a terrible time. Between Sundays, he could hardly get out of bed often; just very dark.
I was just reading a book called Serve Strong by Terry Powell, and he was referring to Spurgeon’s depression and the wrestling with that, and relating to the emotional parts of our lives and how it seems to be opposite sometimes of the spiritual dynamics. So I picked up this book again and started reading it. It’s a daily devotional. And it’s been more refreshing to me because I’ve been realizing these things. He’s writing it from a life of wrestling with depression. That speaks to me where I’m at. I would say if you can find some writings that relate to some of your struggles with people that are going through those things, I think it can be helpful.
Time away alone. I’ve been doing that at least once a year, going away for a prayer time, encouraging our staff to do so. The last two years, I’ve gone away with other international student ministry leaders for a time of prayer where we just got together and shared, not about ministry, but about what’s going on in our lives and we laid hands on and prayed for each other. That has been wonderful and God has used that in my life. You know what? It’s hard to do these things, but schedule it because that’s the only way you’ll do it. If you don’t put it in your schedule, it won’t happen. We take a day off every year in our office and we go away for prayer, and we encourage all our staff to do that.
The need for others. Being an only child, I’ve always been very independent. And I realized just a couple of years ago – and I had to repent of this – that I like people; I like working with people; I think I’m friendly with people, but down deep my basic belief was “I don’t need anybody else.” When it really came down to it – people would speak into my life and I would listen to them. But then I would go and listen to what I was thinking first. When I was in the darkest time about a year ago, some people who God brought into my life – I knew them somewhat but not real well – began to say some things, and it was really things that were, I believe, from God to encourage me and help me go forward. But I realized I wasn’t listening, that I wasn’t really hearing from God through His people. And I have a greater appreciation, I think, than I ever had about the body of Christ. If we are the body of Christ, then Christ is in His body, right? And that doesn’t mean just one of us, by the way. That means I can hear from Christ from all of you. And, hopefully, you hear from Christ from me too, and I’m a part of that. I need other people. If I’m going to survive as a Christian, and not only survive but thrive, I need other people. Now, I know that. But it’s more than just being in a Bible study together. It’s having people that you really can share openly and share alike with. If you don’t have somebody, get somebody. And not just your spouse. You need to talk with your spouse. But it needs to be somebody else too, because there are times, as a man, I need to talk to other men. And it’s not fair to my wife to put her in that position where she needs to be my accountability partner.
Spiritual battle. I try to pray that fairly regularly. Those parts of the armor: the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness. That one that’s the shield of faith, that quenches the fiery darts of the devil. What are those fiery darts? I think they are those accusations and attacks that try to destroy us. He can’t get us back but he wants to discourage us. I think that’s the devil’s greatest thing. What does God say to Joshua? “Haven’t I commanded you to be strong and courageous?” Do not be what? Terrified. “Do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
I think Satan’s two greatest weapons are fear and discouragement. The antidote, of course, to fear is perfect love. “Perfect love casts out fear.” So I need to get close to the one that loves me the most, and realize how much He does and let Him love me, let God love me. He really does. You know He rejoices over us in song. Somebody prayed that over me last year. He dances and sings over us in love. It’s an amazing passage to think about. It’s true. Again, I try to write that off sometimes in my mind. “Yeah, but not me.” Wait a minute! Does God tell the truth or not? It’s not fair for me to discredit the Holy One. I’m going to repent of that. The Sabbath principle. Take a sabbatical. I talked about that. Be still; take some extended Sabbaths. Lorne Sanny wrote something on having a day apart with God. You can go online and find it. Extending a Day in Prayer, I think it’s called. Lorne Sanny used to lead the Navigators.
Choosing joy. A lot of my recent struggles came as a result of two years ago. I went away for a time of prayer and came back feeling that God was leading us in a ministry to focus on joy, that the joy of the Lord is our strength. It didn’t seem like a great strategic plan, didn’t seem to fit with all of the leadership books I’d read. But I just sensed that that was what the Lord was saying. Focus on the joy of the Lord. “Let the joy of the Lord be your strength.” And I think some of the struggles – we’ve seen it with some of our other staff – are related from attacks that the devil doesn’t want us to live in that joy. But it is God’s will, isn’t it? 1 Thessalonians 5:17, the three things that are God’s will for you: be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances. Want to know what God’s will is for you?
Get those three down and you’ll be okay. By the way, we read a book by Mike Mason called Champagne for the Soul. Mike Mason read that Scripture, of course, about being joyful always and Paul saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” and says, “Can we really do that?” So he decided to do a 90-day experiment and this book is a 90-day devotional, sort of, of his experience, two pages each day. His conclusion was, “Yes, you can be joyful in the Lord always.” You might not always be happy. Life might not always be what you want it to be. But God is faithful if we’re looking to Him to help us to be joyful in Him.
So all of this comes out of that. I gave you a list of books there. I have one more. There’s probably many more, but one I read recently that I really liked, and this is an older book, is called Doubting by Alister McGrath.