Grace-Paced Life Links

Here’s a round-up of articles to help you live a grace-paced life in a burnout culture. I’ll be discussing these articles in a Facebook Live video at my Facebook page on Friday at 1pm ET. If you have any questions on this subject that you’d like me to answer, please leave a comment below or post it on Facebook


The Other Woman

Christian men are often warned about the danger of having an affair at work. What about the danger of having an affair with our work? That’s the danger Samuel James highlights in The Other Woman, with a special caution to those in ministry.

If a man is working long nights and weekends so he can spend time away from his family and with a female coworker, he would be (rightly) rebuked. But if he’s working long nights and weekends just because he derives from his career a peace and identity and thrill that home cannot match, what do we say then?  If you want to get really uncomfortable, go back to that previous sentence and replace the word “career” with the word “ministry.” The temptation for celebrity pastors to put their spouse and family on autopilot must be sore indeed when there are so many book deals and conference invitations to be gained.

And it’s not just “celebrity pastors” who are at risk. Ministry is often so inherently enjoyable that working 50 hours a week instead of 60-70 is sometimes an act of self-denial.

The 100 Hour Error

While we’re on the subject of long working hours, I couldn’t agree more with Michael Hyatt who gives three reasons why overwork is a productivity killer in Elon Musk and the 100 hour error. While acknowledging that Musk may be a genius, Hyatt warns “he’s also a workaholic who proposes untenable work habits.” Musk once said:

If other people are putting in 40 hour workweeks and you’re putting in 100 hour workweeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing … you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.

Hyatt agrees that’s great advice…for a robot! He goes on:

In survey after survey, Americans say that they are overworked and struggling to get any sort of clarity about what they ought to be doing better. It’s a damaging situation, and the last thing we need is encouragement to drive even harder.

Overworking like Musk recommends costs us in three primary areas: our relationships, our health, and our productivity. If you want scary proof of what it’s cost Musk and others, read the rest of Hyatt’s article here.

Calvin the Multi-Tasker

One of my greatest frustrations is the way we often hold up Christian ministers and missionaries from the past as models of how long we should work, study, pray, etc. “Spurgeon preached an average of 932 times a week….Luther prayed eight days a week…and so on.” What we’re never told is how often they died young, or lived with serious ill-health, or sometimes had tragic marriages and messed up kids. Thankfully, Kevin DeYoung’s 15 Lessons From Calvin’s Biography provides some rare balance. His fourteenth lesson is “Work hard, but don’t neglect the body. Calvin’s punishing routine and recurring illnesses aged him and put him in an early grave.”

The Second Most Important Question in the World

If the most important question in the world is “Who is God?” the second most important question is “Who am I?” It’s that important because our answer to the question has such a massive influence on our whole lives: our self-image, our view of the past, present and future, our relationships, our confidence or shame, our spirituality, our ethics, and so much more. Over recent years, I’ve increasingly noticed how many counseling problems are rooted in a false sense of identity. In an honest and transparent post, Digging Deeper: Who am I? Kate Doezema reveals how God has been teaching her about who she is and discusses the surprising effects of this in helping her pursue holiness:

It is important that I know who I am at center. When I peel away all the lies and deceits the devil has worked so hard to have me believe about what I need and what will make me feel better/ happy, when I look beyond all that, I see a little seed which God has instilled in me when He regenerated me….

Who am I? By the grace of God, I am His child, who has a new man at center which does not sin. I strive to live out of my new man and put away the old. I no longer fill my time on earth feeding my fleshly desires. I do not indulge in the movies, concerts, and entertainments of this world, filling my mind with things of this earth. I will be as God calls me in 1 Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Self Care for the Suffering

Spiritual battles take a toll, especially battles against deep-seated injustices such as racism. At the Reformed African American Network, Branden Henry points to Jesus to highlight the need to “frequently break away from ministry to engage in a time of restoration with the Father.” He therefore argues that “Retreating for a time of rest is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of wisdom,” and then provides biblical instruction for self-care, along with eight practical strategies to use during times of stress. Notice especially his explanation of a “timeout.”

It takes your brain and body about 20 minutes of doing something else to flush out all the stress-induced chemicals. During this time, I would encourage you to drink a pint of water, as dehydration can often look like anxiety. You need to be doing something that is relatively distracting, but not taxing (like Twitter). For instance, I like to shoot hoops when I get a chance as it takes my mind off what was stressing me, but is not so overwhelming that I become absorbed in it or triggered by it.

Want to discuss these articles further or share your own experience and advice? Join me tomorrow (Friday, 1pm ET) for a Facebook Live at my Facebook page.


Check out

Blogs

The Curse of Cognitive Load
If you need further motivation to simplify your sermons, read this article.

9 Lessons I’m Learning in Transition – LifeWay Pastors
A pastor’s experience of God’s grace as he transitions to a new church:

“Change is difficult, harder the older you get and the longer you’ve served at a place. But God is faithful, teaching valuable lessons and providing bountiful blessings in the process.”

Jacques Barzun’s 20 Principles for Simple and Direct Writing | TGC
My advice for advice like this: Take one tip and work with it for a week, then take another, and so on.

15 Lessons from Calvin’s Biography | TGC
Not especially #14: Work hard, but don’t neglect the body. Calvin’s punishing routine and recurring illnesses aged him and put him in an early grave.

BibleX: The Center of the Old Testament
Here are 50 different suggestions for the central theme of the Old Testament.

Digging Deeper: Who Am I?
I’ve become more and more convinced that identity issues are at the root of most counseling problems:

“Do you know who you are? If you asked me this question a year ago, I most likely would have said “yes!” and given a list of things I like or stated something about my personality. All those things listed might be true, but this display of facts would only have given you a surface definition of who I am, and not gotten to the deeper meaning of the question. Recently, God has brought me to know myself better and thereby Him as well, through a discontentment which He has placed in my heart concerning how I spend my free time.”

The Jihadi Who Turned to Jesus
A conversion story in the New York Times!

Seven Habits of Long-tenured Pastors
Thom Rainer has ben watching pastors for years. Here are seven patterns or habits that have appeared consistently in the lives of long-tenured pastors.

Kindle Books

When Your Husband Is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded Heart by Vicki Tiede $2.99.

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More? Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior $1.99.

Video

Introducing the ESV Devotional Psalter
This is a beautifully produced volume.


Check out

Blogs

Detox your soul
Four spiritual truths from the Psalms.

The Grace of Becoming Less
“Christians face the dreaded dangers of comparison, discontentment, and self-promotion in a variety of ways and in a variety of places. One arena where this subtle temptation lurks is the church, and it extends to both ministers and members. While it extends to both, it is a temptation that leaders do well to face. The focus of the temptation often centers on gifts and ministries.”

What to do when you find yourself over-committed
Michael Hyatt shares seven strategies from his own experience of overwhelm.

Being Professional in Ministry
Nick Batzig argues asks for a new book to be written:  Brothers, We Could Be a Little More Professional.

A Time For Confidence
Have a look at this new teaching series (including free first video from Ligonier’s Steve Nichols.

Kindle Books

The Next Story by Tim Challies $2.99.

Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story by Michael Horton $3.99

The Pastor’s Ministry: Biblical Priorities for Faithful Shepherds by Brian Croft $2.99.

Video

Nature’s Greatest Artist


Are we victims of sin?

One of the keys to the Christian life is getting the right balance between confessing personal sin and lamenting the universal consequences of sin. This is especially important in the area of suffering. Too much emphasis on personal sin and we blame everybody for everything. Too much emphasis on the corporate consequences and we blame nobody for anything.

In Depression, Sin & Self-Reformation Byron Yawn contrasts these two emphases when comparing pietism (which he equates with American evangelicalism) with reformed theology. He says:

While [pietism] fully confesses the concept of depravity on the individual level, it pays little attention to the universal consequence of Adam’s disobedience upon his posterity. On the other hand, reformed theology (covenant framework) pays equal attention to the universal “misery” of mankind.

He works this out over a number of excellent paragraphs which he sums up by saying, yes, we are morally responsible for our sin and we must fight against it; but we are also victims of sin (my emphasis):

Sin is also a general condition. In this sense we are victims. We are victims of our general context. We are the victims of Adam’s sin. We are the victims of death in all its ugly forms. We are victims of the curse and its effects upon our human frame. We carry the weight of sin around in our persons. It is our misery.

Yawn wants Christians to understand this larger category of human misery in order to break down an overly simplistic approach to Christian life and its problems, and he concludes with an important application to depression.

Before quoting some of his closing words, I want to say that I do believe personal sin, for which one is morally responsible, can result in depression. This is especially so when here has been a stubborn pattern of willful sin that is deliberately persisted in and not repented of. Some of Yawn’s expressions seem to deny or, at least, play down that possibility. However, his words are still a helpful corrective to the idea that all depression is the result of personal moral failure. I’d recommend you read the whole article for context, but here are the important closing paragraphs:

Everyday numbers of Christians suffer depression to greater or lesser degrees. In certain cases it is possible for a born again Christian to be paralyzed by the effects of clinical depression. Depression may be brought on by any number of factors such as trauma, stress, or chronic physical pain. Or, it may result, not from one event, but the accumulative effects of numerous events over a period of time. At other times, there is no explanation for its presence. Some people are simply predisposed to melancholy and fight against it their entire lives. Generally, the effects of depression are both physical and emotional. This is why anxiety often accompanies depression. The ability for reasoned responses to normal life circumstances is lost under the duress of certain stressors. Panic sets in when there is no apparent reason to panic. Since we are not Christo-Platonist we realize sin has affected our immaterial part in the same way it affected our material part. Our emotions are as fallen as our bodies. It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that part of our struggle would exist in the arena of emotional health. How could it not? Depression is part of this our fallen reality.

Yawn critiques pietism’s tendency to over-spiritualize depression, likening the search for a sin-cause to medieval superstition rather than biblical spirituality. He then moves on from depression to PTSD to make the same point (my emphases in bold):

Let’s imagine for a moment a Christian who is a soldier in active duty. He has spent months on the frontline of active combat in the Middle East. While overseas he prays and reads his Bible everyday. And, at the same time, everyday he is exposed to the horrors of war. He sees things no human being should see. After returning home, the effects of Post Traumatic Disorder begin to set in. Among the symptoms are depression and anxiety. Let’s say he’s your close friend. In a moment of honesty opens up to you about his pain. What do you tell him? Do you tell him that his depression is a sin and he needs to repent? No. Of course not. That would be ridiculous and unkind. His depression is not a spiritual failure. It’s reasonable physical, mental and emotional reaction to the unbelievable traumatic experience of war. The absence of sympathy in this situation would be a form of unspeakable cruelty. Such is the typical response within pietism, “Get better.” This mixture of categories is a fatal flaw of this system and where pietism fails in its view of the Christian life. There is simply no action to take. Trust, time, compassion and common sense are the needs. There are seasons when everyday life takes its toll on good and godly people. It does not take active combat to wear a human being down.

I’d urge you to read the whole article, and pay attention especially to the last sentences. As I said, in correcting one error, he sometimes overstates his case. But it’s an excellent example of how theology impacts our practice, and how important an accurate hamartiology (doctrine of sin) is for our anthropology (doctrine of man).


Check out

Blogs

How to Master Audience Engagement When You Present | Duarte
On the importance of introductions from a presentation guru.

If you want to engage your audience in a presentation, you have a little less than 9 seconds to make it happen. Recent studies show that the average human attention span is 8.25 seconds—if you don’t get listeners engaged that quickly, there’s a good chance you’ll lose their focus to their phone, laptop, reading materials, daydreams, etc.

Suffering Opens a Door for the Gospel | Desiring God
“It’s illegal to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims in Tehran, Iran. So when I think of gutsy women I think of Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh.”

Opportunity amid Secularism by Collin Hansen
“The rise of the nones and secularism, along with the decline of the mushy middle, poses a challenge that many American evangelicals have never before faced. In a culture that broadly reinforced Christian values, purity did not need to distinguish the church. And if we didn’t think of ourselves as outsiders to the culture, we didn’t need to reflect on how our dignified behavior would set us apart, either.”

Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age | TGC
Erik Raymond fills in the backstory to his book Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age:

The story for this book was painfully sweet and stitched to my soul. A couple of years ago I was enduring a particularly difficult season. It seemed as though God had allowed affliction to hover like a rain cloud over my life. Pastoral ministry was especially trying even as I encountered a number of new health problems. This, along with the regular stiff headwind of living in a fallen world, had me weary. But I was more than weary. I was restless. And, upon further review, I was discontent”

Here’s my commendation of Erik’s book:

“Does any word better define our culture than ‘chasing’? Does any word better describe what’s missing in our culture than ‘contentment’? By pairing these seemingly contradictory words, Erik calls us to end our pursuit of more and to begin our pursuit of enough. Read this engaging and enjoyable exploration of Christian contentment and decide, as I did, that this chase is well worth the effort.”

You Cannot Raise Snowflakes in Jesus’ Name
An excellent word to snowflakes and their parents from David Prince:

A mildly teased child is not a victim, but rather a human being learning how to interact with other humans in a sinful world.

An FAQ on The Collected Works of John Piper (3 Million Words over 13 volumes + an Index Volume)
Required reading for anyone who wants to fully understand the rise of New Calvinism.

To read all of Piper’s published writings individually would require the acquisition of more than one hundred volumes, along with tracking down dozens of older articles and reviews in obscure publications. By editing, assembling, and standardizing these volumes in one definitive set, we hope to provide convenient access to the work of a proven and trustworthy teacher. We also hope that the hundreds of pages of indices—tracking every Scripture passage, author cited, and subject matter—will be a helpful too for preachers and all students of God’s Word.

Violent Peace | Gentle Reformation
“Peacekeepers often demand silence.  They will ask you to act (pretend) like everything is okay.  They will change subjects, misdirect conversation, formulate incoherent narratives.  They will sometimes make ungodly compromises to keep the illusion of peace. Peacekeepers are self-protective instead of other-protective. Peacemakers will fight for truth.  They will disrupt.  They will say what is uncomfortable, what may cause friction and even pain if it seeks that which is just and right in God’s eyes.   And they will often be vilified and labeled as trouble-makers.”

Kindle Books

The Money Answer Book: Quick Answers to Everyday Financial Questions by Dave Ramsey $1.99.

The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between by Gregory Koukl $3.99.

Faith Alone—The Doctrine of Justification: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters by Tom Scheiner $3.99.