Posts Tagged ‘stress’

Sometimes it’s the early morning phone call or the Sunday afternoon text when you’re settling down with the family. A crisis is at hand and you’re the one being called to deal with it. Emotions conflict. Is it an emergency? Can somebody else do it? Can it wait until tomorrow? I’ve noticed that when I’m on my “A – Game” (and feeling fresh and relaxed) then I’m more inclined to make a good decision. I am more decisive and alert. In three days time I am going for my yearly summer break and I am absolutely worn out. I feel it when somebody is talking to me and I am barely listening. I feel it when that person at church who I find particularly difficult to love is winding me up. I find it when listening to somebody’s story of abuse and chaos just rolls off my back without any sense of emotional attachment or empathy. I am tired, I am a little unwell, I am stressed and I am in need of my break.

Yet, this is almost my perpetual state in this ministry. I have a church to pastor, sermons to prepare, meetings to attend and pastoral counselling sessions to engage in. I have a team to train and motivate, a vision for planting in schemes to develop, evangelism to engage in and Bible studies to run. I work hard, I laugh hard and, when I go on holiday, I will rest hard.

I am not alone in these emotions. Working in our types of areas is extremely taxing in so many ways. So, how do/should we cope in these difficult times when we are feeling under enormous stress? Here are some pointers:

1. Work hard at maintaining your personal spiritual disciplines of reading, meditation and prayer. All is lost if these go out of the window. They will ground you and keep you in step with God’s Holy Spirit.

2. Write a “to do” list and work from that. Just do one thing at a time and then you won’t feel so overwhelmed by it all.

3. On your list include time with friends (not ministry related). Force yourself if you have to but don’t cut yourself off and retire to the “study” (unless necessary of course!). Make sure you spend some time with somebody who will encourage your soul and not drain your spiritual resources.

4. Find a good book to read that will raise your spirits. I have just finished reading “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. It was immensely stirring and encouraging.

5. Try to find time to exercise. I have recently started going to the gym three days a week with a new believer. I use the time to encourage/disciple him but it is also helpful to my physical and mental well-being.

6. Ask people to pray for you specifically during difficult times. It would be a good idea for your life to try to find 100 people who will commit to you in regular prayer. It is something I am going to encourage my team to do this coming year.

7. Don’t make any big decisions when feeling stressed. Sometimes I find that I hear about certain “job offers” from other, larger, easier sounding churches (and/or organisations) and I wonder if a change of ministry will improve my situation. It won’t.

8. Don’t engage in any church discipline and/or respond to negative emails until you have slept on it. The tendency to have a knee jerk reaction increases when you feel tired. Firing off a salvo may make you feel better for a millisecond but the inevitable regret and guilt will come.

9. Try and talk to a mature, trustworthy believer about how you’re feeling and seek their counsel. They don’t have to fix everything. Sometimes, at least in my case, just chatting with someone is a helpful release.

10. Repent of your God complex. You can’t fix everybody’s problems. You can’t make it all better. That’s not your job. Point people to Jesus – that’s your job. Don’t stop doing that.

11. Remind yourself of the glory of the gospel again. It is a beautiful thing that Jesus did for us. It is a wondrous thing. Share it with yourself again. Remind yourself of the power of grace in your life.

12. Take regular breaks. Try and find at least one reading/prayer day a month.

13. Write a journal (or a blog). I find that doing so relaxes me.

14. Remember Paul’s word to the church at Galatia in chapter 6, verse 3: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

15. Keep working at number 1.

That’s it. If you follow these 15 steps you will have a long and healthy ministry in housing schemes/council estates! Oh, how I wish it were so! Keep going and keep trusting in the Lord. He is our strength.

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By Andy Constable

Life in schemes can be tough at the best of times. It is, sometimes, an extremely face paced, intense ministry. I know today as I woke up that I felt tired and distracted. The business of the next couple of weeks clouded my mind. Now at this point I could (a) get on with the day and get as much as done as possible but keep stressing. Or (b) I can commit these things to the Lord and refresh my soul for the day ahead. Now a lot of people will tend to do the former, get their heads down and batter through life’s problems. However, that’s not healthy at all. If we keep doing this we will burn out very quickly. We need to find a spiritual oasis in the middle of this stress. Here are some things I was reminded of as I spent time with the Lord.

Be Disciplined

We need to be disciplined in making time to spend time with the Lord. Some days we won’t feel like getting up early and reading our Bibles, but it’s so necessary. Paul, in his qualifications for deacons, says this in Titus 1:8: “Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” Discipline is key when you’re feeling stressed because it’s so easy to be lazy or to get distracted by business. Make that time to read your Bible and keep it regular.

Meditate on scripture

Christians in general are bad at spending time taking the Word of God from their quiet times into the rest of their days. We tend to read some verses and then forget about them as soon as we walk out the door. The Psalmist however said that he “meditated on God’s word day and night” This means that he spent time studying the scriptures, processing them and reflecting on them. The psalmist actually spent time taking God’s Word to heart and applying it to his life. This is something that is important for refreshing our souls in ministry. We need to fill our minds with as much scripture as possible in order to find peace, contentment and renewal of mind in the middle of stress.

Leave your worries with God

We need to spend concerted time committing our cares to the Lord. 1 Peter 5:7 says: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” God cares for us and we need to know this in the midst of ministry difficulties. However, what we need to watch out for is that we don’t commit our worries to God and then take them back again. It is important to commit them to the Lord and make sure they stay there. There can also be a tendency to think that God doesn’t want to hear about our silly stresses. We think “oh I’ll sort that out by myself because God has more important things to think about.” This is not the case as 1 Peter reminds us. Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you!

Remind yourself that you are not God

One of the things that every Christian is tempted to do is play God. In our pride we think we can do things in our own strength. Yet, it is wonderfully liberating in ministry to remind ourselves that God is in control of all things. He saves people, not us. He transforms people’s lives, not us. He works everything out for the good of those who love him, not us. The question is do we believe this? Or are we functionally playing God and trying to sort out all the mess by ourselves. This is both foolish and dangerous.

Remember there is an outside world

I think lastly its good to remember that this is a big, old world we live in. Often when we are stressed we focus on ourselves and think that we are the only ones grafting in ministry. It’s important to get our heads up and pray for those who are struggling all over the world to bring the gospel to their people. This gives us perspective. This reminds us that we have a great and powerful God who is Lord over ALL creation and ALL people!

It’s important if we want to survive in this ministry to put these things into practice. I could have ignored my time with the Lord this morning, battered on with the days activities and ignored Him.  But, instead, I took 30 minutes to be disciplined, meditate on scripture, cast my worries on the Lord, remembered that God sits on His throne, and prayed for some outside gospel ministries. This refreshed my soul and I found a little oasis in the middle of stress.

Yesterday we looked at the issue of stress and burnout. We looked at some of the ways in which over tiredness can affect us and those around us. Today, I would like to offer some practical tips to help us.

Rest is such a hard thing to achieve in our frenetic culture. Finding things to do for the sheer pleasure of doing them is difficult. I read a report recently that suggests 10% of our working time should be spent on ‘self-care‘. Doing things that recharge the batteries. So, if we work a 60 hour week then 6 hours of them should be doing ‘recharging’ activities whether that is a sporting or something more sedate like reading. As leaders we should be modelling this stuff for our churches but, sadly, too many of us are modelling the so-called Protestant ‘work ethic‘ as the supreme example of a Christian service. Or, at least, a very twisted and sinful version of it. Many of my friends are tired because they are working in environments that celebrates long working hours and any sign of stress is frowned upon as somehow unspiritual and weak. The mere thought of ‘recharging your batteries’ is anathema at worst and frivolous time wasting at best.

Yet, how many people are we losing to attrition in the ministry. Yes, many people work just as long and as hard as we do in other jobs but that does not make it right, does it? All of us, whatever our profession, need to look at what our attitude toward ‘work’ is doing to our lives.  Isn’t this one area we should be seeking to (a) redeem and/or (b) be ‘counter cultural’. I am impressed by the growing number of young men who are taking a stand in their workplace by not ‘going the extra mile’ for the boss in terms of overtime and weekends. Instead, they place a premium on quality time with their wives and families and if that comes at the cost of a promotion or career advancement then they are happy to pay the price.

Church planters in areas like ours need to intentionally build ‘rest’ periods and ‘recharging’ times into their working week as individuals and as a team (vitally important) or face meltdown. We wonder why so many are burning out so quickly or why so few want to enter the ministry and it is because men (like me) make it seem almost heroic to work ourselves to death – ‘in the name of Jesus brother’ – when, in reality, it is sinful, pride filled fear of man that is driving us and not a desire to honour Christ.

Here are some tips to help us if we are struggling in some of these areas. Can I stress that these are not in any particular order of importance!

1. Tell somebody how you feel quickly before things really spiral out of control. Please do it with a mature believer who will help you out in a biblical, prayerful and practical way rather than with your ‘pal’ who will agree with you that ‘everything and everybody in that church suck’.

2. Earnestly seek God in prayer and lay it out before Him. Many times we don’t have because we don’t ask. Wisdom is a great thing to ask for because it can stop us from making foolish decisions that could wreck our ministries and our lives (James 1:5). Incredible though it sounds, many of us struggle because we have not really asked God for His help. ‘You do not have because you do not ask’ (James 4:2). Because many leaders are natural ‘problem solvers’ or ‘problem ignorers’ we think that our problems can be ‘sorted out somehow’ or even magically ‘disappear’. How many times have I told myself, ‘it will be OK if I just get through this week/month/year?’ Too many. Meditate on the promises of Matthew 7:7-11.

3. Look at your weekly diary/programme. What immediate changes can you make? Maybe you have to hand things over to others? Maybe you have t stop doing some things.

4. Use Skype if you haven’t got someone close to help you and counsel you.

5. Make sure you build regular days off/weekends off/weeks off into your routine. Be as single minded in taking them as you are in your working life.

6. Make your private devotional life a priority. We need to keep ‘filling the tank’ on a regular basis. We can’t work on fumes forever. it will damage us in the long run.

7. Find a hobby that relaxes the mind and brings you some peace. Make sure that you physically leave the place/area/scheme where you work.

For leaders specifically – repent of your pride and arrogance that says we can do all things. That’s God’s job.

a.  Repent of your hypocrisy – be as watchful for your own soul as for those in your care.

b. If you are in a team keep an eye on your people. Send them home if they look like they need some time out. A few days off now is better than a few months off later. Have fun together as well as work.

c. Have fun (if you have a team). How much of your life together do you relax with one another? Life is stressful enough without everything being super professional and super serious.

c.  Remember our acceptance by God rests in what Christ has already done and not on what we are achieving right now. He cannot possibly love us any more than he does. That should be freeing.

d. James 3:1 should be a bigger motivation for us than what our members think of us and about what we are ‘doing with our time’. We will give account to one person only, so we work for His glory and not our own reputations.

That’s it. There’s loads more I am sure. I realise that I have written for those working in teams and not the many who work on their own. I still think the principles can be contextualised. If that is you then I would suggest you cultivate a good relationship with at least 6 people outside of your context and get them to support you in prayer and through accountability. Regular personal contact with at least one person outside of your context WHO WILL ACTIVELY, BIBLICALLY ADVISE YOU, not just listen to your gripes, can make a massive difference.

Feel free to contribute any and all I have missed. This article is meant as a help and not in any way self righteous. I struggle and it all comes in ebbs and flows. Community is the key and a complete reliance on the Lord Jesus. He loves us more than we say we know. Press on.

This is a short article from resurgence (here) on taking a break to avoid burnout. I have to confess that I am almost useless at doing this. If I have a spare hour or two in the day I have to fill it by reading or doing something ‘productive’ because I find it so difficult to switch off. Any ideas?