My holiday arrived right in the nick of time this year. A week ago I wrote,
“I’ve lost something vital in my heart since my burnout season this Winter. Not just something, someONE. MySELF. Hue-bert, “Bright-heart,” that’s me, or is supposed to be. So I haven’t been myself.”
Not only that, I wasn’t sure how to get it back.
I think I’ve always known that it’s possible to go through the motions in your walk with Christ and not know you’re doing it. But to be honest, I don’t think I’ve really believed it. I’m a pastor, remember, so I see people sleepwalking all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. And I can say with all sincerity that I have never been one of them… until this year.
And I didn’t realize I was doing it.
Ironically, in prayerful hindsight I think I know the precise moment I stepped off the path of the Spirit onto the parallel track of the flesh. First, though, let’s talk about the fleshly path.
It doesn’t have to be obvious sin. In fact, it rarely is (we’d notice that, and correct ourselves). It’s a subtle slide into death. For me, it happened on a Saturday night this past Winter when a boy in our church got seriously, life-threateningly ill and I knew I needed to go visit him. I was already beyond exhausted that week, and to cap it off, just before Shauna and I jumped into the car to bomb off to the hospital God told me to scrap the sermon I’d prepared that week and start over with a new one. This is Saturday night, remember. So here’s how it shook out:
1. I experience trouble. I call out to Jesus. So far, so good.
Shauna and I spend a precious few hours with the family in need that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But I can feel my strength bottoming out. I begin to panic.
2. I begin treating Jesus as more of a lifeline than my Lord.
I hammer away at the new sermon late into the night, praying for help more than guidance. God gives both anyway. Sunday morning arrives, and I already feel like the shell of a bleached out nut on the beach, waiting for the tide to come in. But get this: With half an hour to go, the powerpoint stuff I prepared, which my new message was dependent on, crashes—forcing me to whip up a new presentation, which I finish with literally minutes to spare. All strength gone, I feel myself crumble inside. Literally. I can remember the spiritual recoil from the snap as I broke.
What do I do in that moment? Surrender? Allow myself to be broken? Fall apart? Let go? No, no, NO!!!
3. I suck it up, pull myself together, and act on my own steam—assuming this is what God wants me to do.
I preach. God blesses the message, and gives me just enough energy to make it through. But I’ve also stepped from the way of the Spirit into the way of the flesh. And I didn’t suspect a thing. A day later I could barely walk a set of stairs because my body was shutting down. I’ve been tired before. Exhausted even. This was different. This was downright scary.
It just so happened that I didn’t have to preach the next few weeks, which enabled me to catch my breath. I was able to recover a little and make it through the next few months, until here I am today, wishing I’d just have let myself crash and let God do what he wanted me to do. Realizing that I’ve been going through the motions for four months, doing what good pastors do, truly meaning well, but not empowered by the Spirit because I’ve been depending on myself instead.