“God’s been hunting me down for months.”
That was my immediate and instinctive understanding of why the Lord recently sent multiple blood clots into my leg and lungs (read about it here). Three weeks and two complications later, I’m more convinced than ever that God’s been tracking me for months, with loving arrow after loving arrow, until at last He’s brought me down to the dust. Let me explain.
Up until the last year I’ve lived a more or less healthy and vigorous life. I’m 6′ 3″ and 184 lbs. Although work has pushed out regular daily exercise for a few years now, I still ski, fish, and compete at Tae Kwon Do from time to time. But over the course of the last nine months my medical file has bulged considerably (as my finances have gone the other way). Since September, I’ve had two ongoing health issues, one of which culminated in a major (and very painful) operation in November. Did that all stop me?
Not for very long.
Then came the blood clots. Top that all off with the discovery of a genetic blood clotting problem and I’m beginning to stagger to the ground (reluctantly). So just to be sure, God sent two further medical complications over recent days (I’ll spare you the gory details), one of which will be with me as long as I’m on this earth.
This is the finger of God.
And I know that’s the main message God has been sending me through these afflictions. STOP!
My life and ministry had been getting faster and faster and faster for years. And since coming to the USA, I’ve added a turbo gear. It’s all good stuff: delivering lectures, preaching sermons, speaking at conferences, writing books, producing DVD’s, etc. But it’s been at the expense of daily intimacy with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Good things replaced the best thing.
I’m not talking so much about neglect of private prayer, Bible reading, family worship, church attendance, etc; all these things have been steady and routine – although definitely too routine. No, my problem has been more about what has not been happening in these regular spiritual disciplines and throughout the working day.
Ministry without spirituality
Let me summarize where I believe I erred: ministry without spirituality. Perfunctory and spiritual disciplines and going from one ministry activity to another to another to another, with hardly a moment to feel dependence upon God, cry for help, and seek the Lord’s blessing before, during, or after. Cramming every waking moment with “productive” activity. And certainly not a second in the day to “be still and know that I am God.”
But now, in the enforced stillness, I hear a loving and concerned God say, “My son, give me your heart.” Not your sermons, not your lectures, not your blogs, not your books, not your meetings, etc. But your heart. YOU!
In the back of my mind I knew that my spirituality was not where it should have been, but I said to myself that I would push through jam-packed March and April and then get back into a good spiritual frame. That was my plan.
At the end of April, I finished the last in that long series of speaking engagements, and settled down into my chair the next day to begin my planned soul-revival. And thirty minutes later I was in hospital. The Planner swept my plan off the table.
But why should I blog all this? Why not just learn the lessons privately? My indecision over this explains why this article has been sitting in my “draft” folder for two weeks. Then last week I read Michael Oh’s excellent warning to leaders about Fruitfulness without purity. Although that was not the pit I fell into, I thought I might be able to warn others about the snare that got me for a time: the large and well-populated pit of “Ministry without spirituality.”
And I don’t just want to warn; I want to share some helps that I believe will help others avoid it or get out of it.
1. Sleep more: I’ve neglected my body for too long and it’s started disintegrating as a result. It is the temple of the Holy Spirit as much as my soul. In other words, it’s God’s house and I need to care much better for it (1 Cor. 6:19-20). For many years I’ve slept only 5-6 hours a night, worked intensely through the day, and traveled an inordinate amount as well. Through sheer will-power, I’ve pushed my body beyond its limits I’m now paying a heavy price (in more ways than one).
2. Slow down: I’m deliberately slowing down my walking, driving, and working speed. I cannot have communion with God at Mach 3. I cannot worship God and productivity. I cannot condemn all the “-holisms” apart from the one beginning with “work-” however personally enjoyable (and beneficial to others) it may be.
3. Stay at home (more): Due to ongoing blood clotting issues, I’ve had to cancel all speaking commitments outside of Grand Rapids for the rest of the year. Moving forward, I’m setting up a small accountability group to help me pick 2-3 speaking engagements/conferences each year, probably focused in the USA and Canada. I’m going to have to steward my physical resources more wisely if I’m to have any hope of extended usefulness.
4. Serve the local church: With all my traveling over the past years, I’m afraid that I lost my focus on serving the local church God has placed me in. I’m looking forward to more time in the pew, more fellowship with the believers in my own church, and more availability to serve the Grand Rapids churches.
5. Socialize more
What’s the point in preaching around the globe picking up compliments from strangers, when I don’t have time to speak with my neighbors, keep in touch with distant family, lunch with colleagues, or just build relationships with God’s dear children in my own congregation! God’s put people right under my nose. God knows that I need them; and some of them need me.
6. Switch off: Compared to many, I believe I am very disciplined in my use of technology. However, I still believe it’s had too large a place in my life. I’m in a routine now when I check email twice a day, and blogs and Twitter once a day for a limited period of time. I’ve turned off notifications on my phone. And I’ve found that the more I’ve disconnected from technology the more I’ve connected with the Lord. Which brings me on to…
7. Seek the Lord: I’ve been taking time – 5 minutes here, 15 minutes there – to simply think about the Lord and talk with Him throughout the day. To prevent further clotting, I have to walk every hour or two which forces me to leave my desk and work behind. I’m trying to meditate then on a Bible verse, or on one of the persons of the Trinity, or one of Christ’s miracles, or a Psalm, or something I read. Whatever will build my relationship with the Lord – just like I did when I was converted 20 years ago. To put it bluntly, I’m trying to relate to the Lord much more directly rather than through ministry, and more privately rather than through public service.
A very happy birthday
Thus far, the Lord has given me a submissive spirit to His providence. I celebrated my 45th birthday on Saturday and it meant more to me than any other birthday I’ve had. It’s good to be alive. But it’s also been good to be afflicted, for I have learned so much about God and His grace through it (Ps. 119:71).
I still have shooting pain from time to time in my chest, I get tired after 5-6 hours of work, especially if it involves intense interaction with people, and medication has not yet stabilized my clotting at a safe level. However, I know more of the love of God in Christ than I’ve ever known before, and perhaps especially in the well-directed sting of a loving Father’s wise chastisement.
This is one buck that’s very thankful for the life-giving accuracy of the heavenly archer.