2 Tips for Living Victoriously (After You’ve Blown It)

Picture for a moment the barrenness and bleakness that happens in a life when compromise occurs. It doesn’t come immediately. At first, there’s some zip, a little excitement; there’s a measure of thrill and pizzazz.

Victory
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But inevitably the fleshly investment starts to yield its carnal dividends. And when that happens, you suffer as you’ve seldom suffered before.

Perhaps the words very low paint a picture of bleakness that describes you at this moment. Even in ministry, the burden of struggle takes it toll. You have ignored God’s warnings and pushed your strong convictions aside as you trafficked in unlived truth.

But now you are at the end of your rope. You’re discouraged. You have failed miserably. You’re thinking, What a terrible way to live!

The Secret of Stability

You may be facing what could be an unsolvable problem. You alone know what it is. If so, let me encourage you this week. Often the situations with no human answers form the basis upon which God does some of His best work—even in the lives of His messengers.

Decisions
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This is illustrated beautifully in the life of Job.

I know, I know . . . we’ve all preached on Job. Personally, as pastors, we tend to flip the page when his name comes up. We’re too familiar with his story.

The account of his misery has become common and—may I say it?—boring. I mean, what else does this sad, suffering saint have to teach us?

I’m Third

Occasionally, when Cynthia and I attend a party, she’ll say to me, “Let’s not be the center of everything. Why don’t we just sit on the side and listen for a change?” That’s a great reminder in our narcissistic culture, and especially for pastors who are expected to exhibit a servant’s heart.

This reminds me of a story that always makes me smile. Imagine the scene: James and John approached Jesus one day and asked Him to write them a blank check, to do whatever they asked of Him. When Jesus inquired about what they wanted, they said, in effect, “We don’t want to be the center of Your kingdom, that’s Your place, but we want to sit right beside You, one on Your left and the other on Your right.” Can you imagine?

Obviously, the other disciples, who heard this exchange were . . . well, ticked off! The selfishness of James and John in wanting to be first was more than the others could stand.

That’s when Jesus gathered all the disciples around and talked to them about being servants. “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:42–43).

Ready for a little advice? Work on servanthood—genuine humility—and you’ll find people respecting your leadership. It melts away resistance. All we have to do is follow Jesus as our model leader. The only reason we have the positions we have is to give and to serve. Not to be seen, not to be heard, not to be quoted, not to be in the center, but to give and to serve.

One of our granddaughters returned from Kanakuk Kamp wearing a button that illustrates this beautifully. It read: “I’M THIRD.” Naturally, there’s only one question to ask when you see a button like that. I loved her reply.

“Well, you need to know, Bubba, Jesus is always first, others are second, and I’m always third.” She got it right!

Remember that phrase in our narcissistic culture—“I’m third.” No matter how much money you make, what your title is, how influential you may become, how many people know your name or applaud you, or how many wonderful letters you receive—keep reminding yourself, “I’m third.”

—Chuck

Humble Yourself

Rather than racing into the limelight, we need to accept our roles in the shadows. I’m serious here. Don’t promote yourself. Don’t push yourself to the front. Don’t drop hints. Let someone else do that. Better yet, let God do that.

Today would be a good time to resist going through life and ministry trying to live according to your own understanding—thinking if you can just climb one or two more rungs, you’ll be there. Then you’ll have what you need. Your family will be (what’s that word we like to use?) . . . comfortable. You know what your family needs most? They need you to be right with the Lord. That takes humility . . . especially as pastors.

If God is pleased to expand your ministry, trust me, the word will get out. You’ll be found . . . in God’s time. If you’re necessary for His plan, God will put you in the right place at just the right time. God’s work is not about us. It’s His production, start to finish. So back off. Let Him pull the curtains and turn on the stage lights.

Or He may choose you to be one of the nameless, lesser-known individuals who make the difference for someone else. View either path as a privilege . . . because it is.

Your part, pure and simple: humble yourself. Go there, my friend, and stay there.

—Chuck

Stepping Out in Faith

Stepping out in faith always brings clarification of God’s plan. When Ananias went to see Paul (then Saul), he received additional information (read Acts 9:10–21). As Saul submitted himself to the ministry of Ananias, he found out more about God’s plan for his life. You’re “a chosen instrument of Mine.” I’m going to use you “to bear My name” (9:15). Saul hadn’t known that before. (He had never read the book of Acts!) He knew nothing of what was in store for him until Ananias took that initial step of faith. Both men discovered that God Himself chose Saul to be His instrument and that intense suffering would mark his ministry. That’s the way God operates.

When Cynthia and I first sensed God’s direction to leave California and relocate our Insight for Living ministry, we could hardly believe it. We had planned to stay in the same place for the rest of our lives. Neither space nor time allow me to describe the things God has shown us since we made the decision to move. Initially, very few people could grasp God’s plan for us. In fact, some firmly rejected it. But now as God continues to put the finishing touches on His magnificent portrait, what we see is absolutely beautiful. Until we took that initial step of obedience, all we had was, “It’s time to go.” It’s amazing to me, even as I write these words! Surprises always bring about clarification of God’s plan.

The Crucial Issue

What will it take to convince us that the last will be first and the first will be last? For some it will take a lifetime. For others only a few semesters in seminary.

Each May, at the end of the spring term at Dallas Theological Seminary, we have the joy of listening to the school’s top preachers. They’re nominated and selected by pastoral-ministry professors. One year a talented young man preached on that pivotal passage in John 13 where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet. After a compelling exposition of that simple text, the young senior class preacher leaned low into the microphone, looked across the faces in Chafer Chapel, and asked his fellow students, “Do you want to have a great ministry . . . or do you just want to be great?”

The packed chapel went silent. Nobody blinked. I’ll never forget his question. None of us will. I hope he never does either.

Our Calling: What We Fight For

Our calling as pastors includes fighting. I don’t mean we strap on the gloves and go toe-to-toe with our elders and congregational members. I mean, as pastors, we’re called to defend the faith.

Our Calling- 5 Pursuits to Follow After
Image from Photodune.

As time passes, we will see our orthodox faith in Jesus Christ attacked more and more. We will find that the things of God are increasingly viewed with suspicion . . . addressed with cynicism . . . and, eventually, banned completely.

When we entered ministry, whether we knew it or not at the time, we entered a war zone. The pastorate is a battleground, not a playground.

This is why Paul included in his first letter to Timothy these sober commands:

Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12–13)

Our Calling: What We Flee From

Our calling as pastors includes running. Lots of it. I’m thinking in particular of Paul’s words in his first letter to Timothy: “You, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from . . .” (1 Timothy 6:11 NLT).

Our Calling: What We Flee From
Image from Photodune.

The word run comes from the Greek term pheugo. We get our word fugitive from it. It may sound strange at first, but we who are called to minister are like a fugitive.

We should be constantly fleeing from evil.

Good Communication—The First Step

I don’t mind being called a preacher. One of my lifetime goals has been to be a good preacher. That takes hard work. You know that. Good communication is never automatic. Sometimes you may think you’re coming through clearly only to be surprised when a member of the congregation, or even your wife, without your asking, shares with you that your message didn’t come through. We’ve all been there!

Pastoring and Church Politics

I see it every night on the news. The politics of backslapping and handshaking and making sure “so-and-so” isn’t turned off—it’s maddening! (We call it “smoke-blowing” here in Texas.) It’s become a political race where the objective is favorable public opinion. Period.

If we’re not careful, we can let politics work its way into our churches. And even worse, into our pulpits. In fact, the pastorate is a breeding ground for this sort of thing—maybe more than most professions.

I love the way the apostle Paul keeps our motives clean and our focus sharp:

Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know. (1 Thessalonians 2:4–5)

People-pleasing is a very tempting allurement, especially for people in ministry, because most of what we do gets done through people. When needing volunteer positions filled—whether in the nursery, for a Sunday school class, among the ushers, or even in our music ministry—it’s easy to massage our words and say more than we mean . . . or say something other than what we mean. (That’s called a lie.) The pastor must resist the temptation to flatter. We must refuse to play both sides against the middle. Don’t go there. Why? Because once you start, it’s hard to stop.

When a pastor is a people-pleaser, he sits on the fence so as not to offend anyone. He remains neutral when he should NOT be playing it safe. He tells people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. That’s not pastoring . . . that’s politics.

Look at the apostle’s words one more time. I find myself both challenged and refreshed by Paul’s transparency: “We speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.”

—Chuck