I saw a shooting star tonight!

I’ve never seen a shooting star before and I wouldn’t have seen it this time except that I was walking up a rickety wooden pier in the lake and just happened to turn my head to the right, in time to see a brilliant downward flash of light which disappeared only a second after my mind understood what it was. I’m so grateful that I saw it, and all because I was taking the time to do nothing much except give my soul a rest.

I’m in Australia right now, and I’m taking a few days off from ministry and family time to stay by the water in a little chalet, cosying up with my Bible and my laptop – a great combination. I’ve been walking, sleeping, reading, writing, sleeping some more, and generally relaxing. I’ve found myself talking more to the Lord about stuff that’s been at the back of my mind than I’ve done for ages. Praying isn’t hard, but praying about things that sit under the surface of your thinking only generally happens when you take some time out. That’s what I’m doing right now.

The problem with people in ministry, (I am one, and these are the people who form many of my relationships) no matter what type of ministry (because ministry isn’t only the domain of those on the platform), is that we run around like headless chooks sometimes (an Aussie expression… I’m getting back into it) and we rarely take the time to get under the surface of our thought processes to find out what we are really thinking about what we are thinking… sound confused? Well, it’s not really……if you just take the time. Often, under the cluttered schedule of things to do and deal with, there lies another strata of thoughts that can remain undealt with even for years, if we don’t give ourselves the time to take them out and look at them.

In March this year, well-known Baptist preacher John Piper announced he was taking 8 months off to ‘re-examine his soul’. This will be his first leave of absence in 30 years. Many Christian leaders have commended the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota for his courage and honesty, saying that his decision to take a reality check on the state of his heart and his ministry is a great example for other leaders.

I don’t think it’s too strong to say that the health of the Church depends on the state of the hearts of its people, and the hearts of the people too often follow the hearts of their leaders… as the leader goes, so go the followers. You only have to look at biblical examples of the kings and leaders in the Old Testament to see that God’s people rise and fall in faith, integrity, power and holiness by following their leaders. That’s an awesome and fearful responsibility. Those of us whose role is to influence others need to be very aware of the power of what we say and do.

James 3:1
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly.

This scripture shouldn’t turn us off being influencers for the establishing and building up of the Kingdom, but it certainly should encourage us to make sure that what we say and do is, to the best of our understanding, according to what God is saying.

I think we’re all heartily sick of seeing leading and influential Christians falling over into behaviour which both robs the Church of its reputation for Christlikeness and also disempowers those who have trusted their leaders to follow Christ in a way that enables people to follow them. Whether the issues be sexual sin, power plays, or just plain bad attitudes in which anger, self pity, self righteousness and dishonesty are allowed to corrupt otherwise good ministries, we all need to examine ourselves rather than start pointing and accusing those around us. This is one of those occasions when it needs to be ‘all about me’.

So, it’s a great time for me to get down to business with God, and to make the decision to do it more often. Time alone with the One who has the capacity to strip us down to the bare bones of our heart’s cry is the most powerful remedy for the kind of busyness that prevents us from being totally honest with God. It’s too easy to believe your own publicity, to take the measurement of who you are from the opinions of the people around you (both good and bad). Whatever others think of you, it’s only God’s opinion that counts, and it’s hard to discern what He thinks unless you take the time to stop and let Him tell you.

Like God, we are triune beings, made up of spirit, soul and body. Each of these aspects of our self needs equal care. We need to spend time with God, talking with Him and hearing from Him. In that way, our spirit becomes strong, clean, healthy and mature, and it can’t be just about the ministry that are involved in. Our first area of need to relate with Him must be about me, because He has an opinion about me, and the things I need to talk with Him about. That will make us strong spiritually, able to walk in authority and deal with the stuff that happens that would otherwise bring us down.

Just relax
However, there are two other aspects of our ‘self’. Our soul needs care too. It needs to be nurtured, rested, challenged and given room to express itself, whether that’s through painting, gardening, building, writing or taking long walks along the side of a lake. If we don’t allow our souls to be renewed by having time alone, away from the madding crowd, we will end up making wrong decisions and maybe even lose the relationships which are most valuable to us – not necessarily through immorality, maybe just through neglect and the irritation that arises from not enough time to rest.

Beyond that, our bodies need a lot more care than most of us feel we have time to give them. No time to cook proper food, no time or energy to exercise, or take the stairs instead of the elevator. Quick sugar fixes that not only don’t fix anything, but actually contribute to making us feel worse. If my soul and my spirit are in good shape but I don’t care about my body, my own little trinity will be brought down. I know many good godly people who struggle to get the strength to do what they’re called to do, just because they’re not taking care of the tent they inhabit.

It sounds a bit like a lecture, doesn’t it… and maybe it is, but it’s primarily aimed at my self… and if the shoe happens to fit you as well, by all means, you can wear it too. Isaiah says it well in 30:15 when he tells Israel what God has said to them:

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘in returning and rest, you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength’.

Isaiah goes on to say – but you were unwilling.

I don’t want to be unwilling to take the rest God so strongly advises. How about you?