In your ministry, what kinds of pressures do you face, and what types of people need your help? Perhaps you can identify with and find encouragement from the ministry of Jesus Christ.
In His ministry there were all kinds of people who needed His help. There were lepers to be healed, demons to be cast out, food and practical care to be provided for the needy, and good news of the kingdom of God to be preached. There were lessons to be taught, people to be discipled. There was the growing stress, eventually incessant, from those who were literally trying to kill Him. The demands of the crowds who surrounded Him endangered any normal sense of health and well-being, and His ministry risked a continuous cycle of "burnout" for Him and His disciples. Perhaps it was sheer exhaustion, known to so many in leadership responsibility, that caused Him to be asleep in a boat while a violent storm raged around Him.
Jesus and His first love
If we are to not only survive but have a sense of power and God-given blessing in our ministries, we must discover how Jesus prioritized His time. When it came to allocating His time, Jesus' first thought appears to have been to spend time with His Father. We read of Jesus: "In the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed" (Mark 1:35, RSV). The biblical records indicate that this was the regular habit of His life, characterized by a sense of captivation with and enjoyment of the presence of the Father, with no sense whatsoever of a perfunctory obligation. The Father was drawing Him into intimacy and fellow ship, and the Son enjoyed these times of close trust and communion so much that often He missed His nightly rest for these times of refreshing.
Appointments with God
What period of the day or night do you set aside for consciously communing with God through worship, prayer, meditation, or reading His Word? "Oh," you may say, "I don't have to write down those appointments. Those are just things I do. They are habits that I have." That may be true, but if you don't write down such time commitments on your calendar, how will you keep track of the ones that you have missed? Shouldn't your calendar reflect the most important commitments that you have, the very special ones?
When we break an appointment with another person, either intentionally or unintentionally, we usually immediately think about when we can make it up, reschedule it. But too often we never think to make up time with the Lord!
If you are a member of one of the civic clubs, such as the Rotary, you are aware that if you miss a meeting, you must make it up at some other time. If you miss too many meetings, you are automatically dropped from membership. It is assumed that you are not interested! Why should we consider our appointments with God any less important than club meetings? Could it be that right now you need to schedule an entire morning or an entire day that would be given to goals He would have you set to be more conformed to His will?
Marriage and our relationship to God
There are certain similarities between a marriage relationship and our relationship with God. There are, of course, differences as well because of the special Person we are getting to know and serve in the Lord Jesus Christ. But let's focus a minute on the similarities.
Jesus speaks of our becoming one with Him and the Father, and the marriage relationship is referred to as two becoming one. New depths of honesty and continual vigilance in communication are required if our communion with both God and our spouse is to grow. As with His first disciples, Jesus longs to call each one of us His friend, and certainly deep friendship should be present in a marriage. Further, goals are needed for both of these relationships to flourish and blossom.
My wife, Dorothy, and I have been married for more than 40 years, and we often remind each other of goal commitments we made even before our marriage, and often renewed in the early months: that we would never end a day without the assurance that the lines of communication were open between us, and that, as best we knew how, we would never let the sun go down upon our wrath. Obviously, there have been tensions, healthy arguments, disagreements. I am a scrapper; she's a conciliator. I am feisty, much of the time in a hurry, a perfectionist; she is cool, collected, even-tempered. We're a good match. Our goal has always been to be not only lovers but best friends, and we have achieved it.
As the children came along and grew into adulthood, we agreed to seek to model this relationship to them. We haven't said, "Here's our goal," but we have been aware of it and trusted osmosis--and the Lord--to reveal it and hope fully transmit it.
Many of these skills and goals of marriage relationships can and should be transferred to our relationship with God. One way to help assure this is through being held accountable for the growth of this all-important relationship.
Many years ago I heard a friend of mine, Pastor Ray Stedman, talk about a special group of men he had gathered around him to meet with him on a weekly basis. These men were not members of his congregation, but were close friends who held each other accountable in their spiritual walk. He said his experience with those men was one of the most meaningful experiences in his life.
After thinking about it and realizing the need for such accountability in my own life, I talked to my pastor about it. Dr. Ray Ortlund was interested. He expressed similar deep needs and feelings, so we met a couple of times to discuss the concept. Then we invited several men to meet with us. Some of the original group dropped out, but ultimately there were six of us who met together for more than 10 years in a local restaurant. We called it the 2/4/6 Club, indicating that there were six of us who met on the second and fourth Friday mornings of each month for breakfast. We met at 7:00 a.m. for approximately an hour and a half.
It was not a prayer group, although we did pray together. It was not a Bible study group, although we did look in the Word together. It was a time of meeting and growing together, appreciating one another and sharing our individual spiritual pilgrimages. There was no appointed leader and no agenda for the meetings. We met to share experiences, to laugh, to weep. We rejoiced together in our successes. We also shared and wept together over our failures.
Those meetings proved to be a tremendously significant experience in my life, and I highly recommend such meetings of Christian leaders. Presently I meet with another group on a monthly basis. One of the most important activities we have done in this newer group is to each develop and share with the group a strategy for personal spiritual development. I carry in my wallet what has become a tattered yellow card listing my personal strategy for maximizing spiritual effectiveness.
Three of the six strategies I listed are particularly relevant to the matter of maintaining a warm, intimate relationship with the Lord. Here they are:
1. I deliberately place myself daily before God to allow Him to use me as He wills (Rom. 12:1,2).
2. I isolate a known point of spiritual weakness and work with the help of the Holy Spirit to correct and strengthen this area of my life.
3. I ask God at a specific time daily to reveal His strategy and will for me that day.
In addition to utilizing certain skills and goals learned in marriage in my relationship with God, I have found that accountability to one or more trusted friends, for developing intimacy with and obedience to the Lord, is one of the most practical ways to maintain a healthy devotional life in a busy schedule.
Pray for strength
Ellen G. White
"Remember that prayer is the source of your strength. A worker cannot gain success while he hurries through his prayers and rushes away to look after something that he fears may be neglected or forgotten. He gives only a few hurried thoughts to God; he does not take time to think, to pray, to wait upon the Lord for a renewal of physical and spiritual strength. He soon becomes weary. He does not feel the uplifting, inspiring influence of God's Spirit. He is not quickened by fresh life. His jaded frame and tired brain are not soothed by personal contact with Christ.
"'Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.' 'It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.' Psalm 27:14; Lamentations 3:26. There are those who work all day and far into the night to do what seems to them must be done. The Lord looks pityingly upon these weary, heavy-laden burden bearers and says to them: 'Come unto me, . . . and I will give you rest.' Matthew 11:28."-- Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, pp. 243, 244.