Not too long ago I was reminded of one of my favorite Veggie Tales, “Madame Blueberry.” Having watched the video countless times over the years (yes, my children were present), I easily recalled Madame Blueberry’s lament, “I’m so blue, I don’t know what to do.” Believing that “happiness waits at the “Stuff-Mart,” she consoled herself by acquiring “lots more stuff.” The revelation at the end of this cautionary tale is, of course, that happy hearts are not found in department stores, but rather in daily expressions of gratitude. For indeed, “A happy heart is a thankful heart.”
What rekindled my appreciation for that animated parable? A Facebook ‘Memory’ celebrating the completion of a nine year season in executive leadership of a national non-profit ministry.
The two and a half years since my departure have afforded the luxury of extended, honest reflection as to why I left emotionally and spiritually burned out. If I had to summarize the myriad of journal entries assessing what transpired it would be this. As the intensity of ministry increased, I became more and more like Madame Blueberry. (Profound, I know, but keep reading). Lamenting my leadership predicament, God became the spiritual "Stuff-Mart" that I "shopped" for effective ministry principles. In what Bill Johnson calls "professional intimacy," I developed intimacy with God because I was doing ministry. Selah. Pause and calmly think about that.
Can you relate?
Exploring that revelation further, I journaled these unfiltered reflections. “As the ministry pressure increased, I think I began to posture myself to listen for Your guidance - but not for You. I did want to know You... but for the purpose of knowing what You wanted for [the organization]. And, while I did grow in my knowledge of You, it was always in light of [the organization]. We were business partners in ministry. I think, honestly, You were the means to the end: a healthy organization and an effective ministry. It was religious management: a relationship that revolved around the organization. My focus subtly shifted from Your presence to my position. Ugh. I knew better than to try to lead in my own strength, so I went through You to try to lead. And, by Your grace, I received the guidance and counsel from You... but I think I bypassed Your heart. I lead fully out of the supply that You so generously gave… but totally missed Your heart. I was drawn to go to You... but it was so that I would be wise and successful in what I was doing. Why? Fear of failing and fear of train-wrecking a decades-old organization. Ultimately, You were my 'Leadership Stuff-Mart.’” Selah. Pause and calmly think about that.
Can you relate?
If your answer is "Yes," may I share what I am discovering in this journey of healing and spiritual restoration? "Nonetheless, the Lord is waiting to be merciful to you and will rise up to show you compassion..."(Isaiah 30:18a CEB). Isn't that great news? He's not mad, frustrated, irritated, offended, aggravated, or agitated. No, instead, He is waiting with extended arms of mercy and compassion. And in His outrageous love for you, He beckons, "Come to Me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest"(Matthew 11:28 CEB).
The Truth is that long before you have any job title or position, you are God's beloved. You are precious, treasured, and adored. It is the Father's heart that you, "having been [deeply] rooted and [securely] grounded in love, [would] be fully capable of comprehending... the width and length and height and depth of His love [fully experiencing that amazing, endless love]; and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself]" (Ephesians 3:17-19 AMP). (If you just flew through that Scripture, take a moment and read it again, slowly this time).
Perhaps you are saying, "Yes, but I still need the 'stuff' to lead effectively." Let me suggest that God does not want to fill and flood you with "stuff," He wants to fill you and flood you with Himself! As a leader, you don't have to "shop" God anymore. Instead, you are invited to abide in Him. Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing"(John 15:5 CEB). The branch does not produce the fruit. The Vine produces the fruit as it supplies life into the branch. The responsibility of the branch is to remain in the Vine. As you intentionally rest in the Vine, you will be "completely filled and flooded" with the life of the Vine. He will indeed provide everything we need (2 Peter 1:3-4), as we abide, remain, and rest in Him. That is the place from which we are invited to lead.
I believe that when what we do is no longer who we are, we will discover our identity. When our byline disappears, we are, just as we were before, God's beloved.
Let me end this blog sharing an encounter I had with God along this journey toward healing. It revolves around God's invitation from Jeremiah 33:3. "‘Call to Me and I will answer you, and tell you [and even show you] great and mighty things, [things which have been confined and hidden], which you do not know and understand and cannot distinguish’"(AMP). Instead of me writing it out, let me share it with you in an 8-minute video.
"Now to Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams], according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen"(Ephesians 3:20-21 AMP).