Working To Our Capacity Not Others’ Needs

Other people’s needs are unlimited. Our capacity to meet them is limited. That’s the painful tension that we all face, especially those of us in pastoral, counseling, and care-giving callings.

If we plan according to other people’s needs, we will never satisfy everyone, we will never feel satisfied ourselves, and will eventually burn out. No matter how many people we visit, counsel, phone, email, evangelize there’s always more need and there’s always more we could do.  No matter the size of the congregation, big or small, there really is no end to the work that could, and even should, be done.

We can work 12 hours days six or seven days a week, and still feel guilty when we go to the gym, go fishing, watch some sport, or just play with our kids.

There is a way out of this though and it involves a mind-shift away from the focus on unlimited human need to our limited human capacity. Let’s take the pastor as an example (although the principles apply to every calling)

If a pastor works according to others’ unlimited needs, he will work a hundred hours a week, never meet all the need, and eventually crash and burn. Or he will work a more reasonable 40-50 hours a week, never meet all the need, and never feel at peace, never have any sense of “I’ve done a good week’s work.” Both lifestyles are miserable experiences.

If he works according to his capacity though, there’s the very real and hopeful prospect that he will meet the biggest needs, work without burning out, and have the great blessing of inner peace over how much he has accomplished each week. Here’s how.

Pastoral Visitation
Every pastor should discuss his personal capacity with his elders. For example, the pastor might look at his congregation and say to his elders: “I have eighty families or eighty homes represented in my congregation. I believe I have the capacity to visit one evening a week and each evening of visitation, if well-planned, can cover two families. That means in the course of each year, I will visit every family or home in our congregation once.”

Sick and Senior Visitation
Then they might discuss the housebound seniors and the sick. If there are, say, about ten seniors or sick people in the congregation at any one time, then perhaps the pastor might propose that he visits them one afternoon a week; and each afternoon he will visit one or two housebound seniors and one or two sick people. These visits will be briefer because more regular and because some of them will be hospital visits. But it will mean that he will visit the sick every week or so and the housebound seniors every month or two.

Depending on the nature of the church situation — church plant or established church — the pastor should set some evangelism targets. Maybe start at even just one or two evangelistic conversations a week. It doesn’t matter where it takes place — over the fence, at the game, in the coffee shop, etc. Even if this is all that is accomplished, that’s fifty or so witnessing opportunities a year.

Committees/Evening Meetings
Pastors are under constant pressure to join committees and attend various meetings in the evenings, most of them very good and worthy causes. I know some pastors who are out every evening of the week for weeks on end without a break. That is unsustainable. I would suggest that the commitment amount to no more than two weekday evenings a month, especially if there is already a midweek meeting in the church for Bible Study.

Lunches and Breakfasts
Perhaps a pastor might talk to his elders and deacons about providing expenses for him to meet members for lunch or breakfast. Again, I could fill every morning and lunchtime if I accepted every invitation or request. Instead, I aim for 2-3 breakfasts or lunch meetings a month. That means over the course of the year I can meet with perhaps 24-30 different people.

How many people could you and your wife have over for a meal every month. One, or maybe two? Maybe one midweek supper and one Sunday dinner? Again, over the course of the year you would be providing hospitality for about 24 singles, couples, or families.

Agree an appropriate number of hours a week on counseling problems and discipleship- Maybe 2-3 hours, or one or two people a week.

Agree a reasonable number of average hours to work on each sermon. Sometimes it will be less or more, but if they average out at the agreed amount, you can leave your desk with a good conscience.

How many people in your congregation can you reasonably pray for each day? Three or four families/homes? That works out at twenty or more a week. Perhaps use the Prayermate App to track this.

I set myself a time limit on my admin each day. It doesn’t matter how much more I have to do, how many emails are still screaming for an answer, I reach my time limit and say, “Done!”

The Benefits of Working to Personal Capacity

I could go on, but I hope you see the difference it might make, setting yourself various objective targets in these different areas. The benefits are:

1. You work within your limited capacity rather than according to unlimited needs.

2. You have objective measurable targets. For example, 80 homes visited a year, 160 senior/sick visits a year, 36 lunches/breakfasts a year, 24 hospitality events a year, 100 counseling sessions a year, prayed for each individual in the congregation ten times a year, and so on.

3. You can feel a sense of accomplishment as you look back on your week, your month, and your year, and say, “I aimed for x, y, and z, and by God’s grace, I accomplished that.” That should shush your conscience and increase job satisfaction

4. You have accountability with your elders. You agree your capacity and what that looks like practically and then report to them on how it actually worked out. Some adjustment up or down may be needed.

5. If you have requests for visits or a lunch, a committee meeting, or a counseling session, you can look at your schedule and (unless it’s an emergency) say, “I’m sorry, I’ve reached my capacity for this week, but I can fit you in next week or the week after.” The vast majority of cases are not emergencies that need to be added to the week, but routine that can be added to the routine wherever there is a gap

Everyone’s situation is different, and space must be left for exceptions and emergencies, but working according to our limited capacity rather than according to other’s unlimited needs is the pathway to good working habits, efficient prioritizing, God-glorifying productivity, the quieting of an oversensitive conscience, the enjoyment of downtime, and the modeling of a good example of self-management to others.

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The Ingredients of Inner Peace

While we all crave inner peace, and recognize that the Holy Spirit is its only source (Isa. 32:15-17), we often fail to really grasp how it’s produced in the soul. Yes, the Holy Spirit gives peace, but He uses means; He uses different ingredients to produce this inner tranquility, ingredients that can be cultivated and mixed together, some of which are identified below.

The peace of forgiveness instead of guilt. Forgiveness quietens the disturbing dread of just judgment for our sin.

The peace of friendship instead of fear. God used to be a terrifying enemy to us, but now He is our Father and even our best friend.

The peace of acceptance instead of rejection. Before faith, no matter how hard we tried to please God, we were rightly rejected and resisted. But after faith, we are 100% accepted in Christ. The striving and struggling is over.

The peace of doing what I can instead of doing what I can’t (Mark. 14:8). I can stop trying to be a Martha and enjoy being a Mary (Luke 10:42). Instead of spending life rushed off my feet, I can sit calmly at Jesus’s feet.

The peace of God-glorifying instead of self-seeking. Calm comes when we give up on self-promotion and aim only at God-promotion.

The peace of love instead of hate. Before regeneration we are full of malice and ill-will. But love stills that ugly storm and sends gentle ripples through the soul.

The peace of peace-making instead of vengeance-taking. No longer do I have to get even. Vengeance is God’s — I give it all over to His repayment department.

The peace of contentment instead of envy. When I never have enough, I never have serenity. When I am content, I know peace that passes understanding.

The peace of presence instead of loneliness. No matter how alone I am, I am never lonely, because God is with me everywhere.

The peace of patience instead of impatience. We no longer get agitated and annoyed at every delay, but rather wait calmly on God’s better timing. His clock is more accurate than mine.

The peace of trust instead of worry. I don’t need to worry about tomorrow, or the next day, or the next year. I don’t need to worry about what I eat, drink, or put on. Father says, “I got this.”

The peace of purpose instead of aimlessness. Instead of zig-zagging, tacking, chopping, and changing my way through life, never knowing what I should do, I now have a God-given purpose, aim, and significance.

The peace of obedience rather than rebellion. Disobedience results in chaos. Obedience results in harmony.

The peace of identity rather than confusion. In a world that cannot even tell the difference between male and female, I can have the peace of a God-given identity in Christ.

The peace of submission rather than control. When my kids, my work, or my church don’t go according to my plan, I don’t fight it but rather I hand it all over to God and submit to His much better plan.

The peace of optimism instead of pessimism. I look ahead and hope instead of panic, because God holds the future in His hands.

The peace of kingdom-focus rather than republic-obsession. When I am obsessed with politics I am stressed in my heart for the future of the nation. When I am obsessed with God’s kingdom I see that this kingdom will come and His will, not my will, will be done.

If you want more inner calm and tranquility, put more of these spiritual ingredients in the mix and ask the Holy Spirit to bake peace into your soul.

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John Newton on Christ in the Old Testament

In his Review of Ecclesiastical History, John Newton provides a glimpse for us into his Christ-centered view of the Old Testament. To summarize Newton’s teaching:

  • After Adam’s fall, both he and his posterity were corrupt, depraved, and sent into a perpetual state of misery.
  • God immediately after Adam’s fall revealed the remedy to this desperate situation.
  • The Lord Jesus was promised as the “seed of the woman.”  He would come as the great deliverer who would repair the breach made by sin and rescue God’s children from their ruin.
  • In the OT, this revelation of a Savior was veiled under types and shadows.
  • This revelation was like the coming dawn; it became brighter and brighter as the time of Christ’s manifestation drew near.
  • Though this revelation was veiled in types and shadows, it was always sufficient to sustain the hopes, and purify the hearts of all the true worshippers of God in the OT.
  • In this sense, all the patriarchs and prophets from the OT were Christians; their joy and trust centered in the promised Messiah.
  • This was the same faith in the same Lord as ours as demonstrated in NT passages such as Romans 6; Galatians 3:16-17; and Hebrews 11.
  • Throughout the OT, God’s grace always preserved a spiritual people whose faith in the Messiah to come taught them the true meaning of the Levitical law and all the other shadows and types.
  • The future advent of the Messiah had been revealed from the beginning and a remnant in every generation had faith in that revelation.
  • The OT saints beheld Christ’s day from afar off and rejoiced in His name (John 8:56; see also, 1  Peter 1:10-12; Hebrews 11:13).

Newton demonstrates that the time of the coming of Christ, after many centuries of shadows, types and prophecies, was not arbitrary. Rather, Christ came at the perfect time—a time that had been frequently predicted with increasing clarity and precision.

The coming of Christ was a wise and gracious appointment that put the truth of the depravity and helplessness of man, the mercy of God, and the truth of the Scriptures in the strongest possible light. It was at the time that most glorified Jesus Christ as the only remedy for sin and as the great Savior foretold through the ages that so many had already placed their faith upon.

So why, with Newton, should we be committed to seeking Christ in the Old Testament when He is so much more accessible in the New? Let me give you seven reasons to encourage you in this direction.

It strengthens our apologetics: Christ and His Apostles repeatedly used the revelation of Christ in the Old Testament to prove who Jesus was and why He came to this earth. They use the powerful argument that this Messiah was predicted with great frequency and precision long before His birth in Bethlehem. If we neglect this ammunition, we are defending our faith with one hand tied behind our back.

It encourages Christian devotion: When Christ showed himself in all the Scriptures to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the effect was “spiritual heartburn.” One reason why so much Christianity is so cold and dead is because we know so little of the spiritual warming that results from finding and enjoying Christ in the Old Testament.

It honors the whole Bible: If we neglect the Old Testament or never preach or teach Christ from the Old Testament, we are unwittingly undermining the Bible. It looks as if the New Testament is inspired by God and useful, but the Old Testament is really quite irrelevant or mistaken.

It exalts the sovereign wisdom of God: The most common response I’ve had when preaching Christ from the Old Testament is that it moves people to be in awe of God’s amazing wisdom and power in having the same plan in both Old and New Testaments, rather than Plan A in the Old and, when that didn’t work, Plan B in the New.

It unites us with Old Testament believers: If they were just theists who mixed up some faith with some sacrifices and some doing their best, we can have no fellowship with them. They are just a bunch of superstitious legalists. But if we understand that they were saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, then we are going to be comfortable sitting down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11).

It gives us an extra teaching tool: Many pastors and teachers are drawn to doctrine that is presented in logical, systematic, and dogmatic form (e.g. the Pauline Epistles). Although the Old Testament teaches the same doctrines of grace as the New Testament, it does so with pictures, poems, songs, narratives, and ceremonies. These often reach and connect with many people who are left cold and untouched by all our structured arguments.

It has many helpful precedents: We’re not doing anything novel by seeking for and preaching Christ from the Old Testament. Apart from following in the footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles, we can also follow the example of great men of God in church history. Newton’s  Review of Ecclesiastical History is one such example of a work that provides a number of biblical presuppositions to help us approach the Old Testament in a Christ-centered way.

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