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I have been a Christ follower for more than 45 years.  Even as I stare at those words, it is hard to believe.  I remember the moment I had my first inkling of a life in ministry.  It was a weekend retreat in Glorieta, New Mexico.  I was a seventh grader and it was my first ever student retreat.  One night after the evening session we were divided into groups to go and pray together.  I was put with a couple of high school seniors and a friend they brought who didn’t attend our church.  I remember the four of us sitting around the base of a tree about 10:30 at night.  It was a perfect fall evening with a bright moon.  I was both intimidated and excited to be grouped with these high school kids.  Before we prayed, the two high school seniors from my youth group began to share the gospel with their friend.  The Holy Spirit had obviously prepared his heart, because he immediately embraced the idea of becoming a follower of Jesus.  Right there, that tree became his altar and he gave his life to Christ.

I can still remember that moonlit night and how it felt to see somebody’s life changed by the power of the gospel.  My concept of ministry at that point was limited to my small church, but I remember thinking “I would like to help other people experience the power of Christ’s love.”

My love for Christ was pure, naïve, simple, passionate and wholehearted.  It was about five years later I sensed a call from God to give my life to ministry.  Again, I didn’t fully understand all that I was signing up for, but I couldn’t imagine giving my life to anything else.  And for more than forty years I have tried to live out that call.

Like any other relationship, my walk with Jesus the last four decades has had a lot of ups and downs.  Those words that described my adolescent love for Jesus don’t always describe my relationship with Jesus through the years.  My love hasn’t always been pure; I have at times been driven by some motives that were more about me than Jesus.  My love for Christ certainly isn’t naïve anymore.  Forty plus years of ministry down in the trenches will shatter your rose-colored glasses.  And I don’t know that I would call my love for Christ simple these days.  Ministry complicates your love for Jesus.  What started out as simple love for Jesus morphed into love for ministry and growing the church.  It was years before I realized that loving ministry and loving Jesus are not necessarily one and the same.  As far as my love for Christ being passionate and wholehearted, there have certainly been seasons when those words would accurately describe my love for Christ.  But the truth is, there has been other seasons where my spiritual life has been stale, stuck and disconnected.  There have also been seasons where my loyalty and love have been divided.  Sometimes my people pleasing, ambition to succeed, fear of man, lack of faith, insecurity about finances, and compulsive busyness have chipped away at my wholehearted devotion.

There is nothing worse than trying to inspire people to be passionate about God when you have little or no passion yourself.  There is nothing more empty feeling than trying to connect people to God when you feel disconnected from God.  To me, it’s like going to church when you and your wife have had a fight.  You put up the facade and pretend everything is ok, but you walk away from church knowing that everything isn’t ok.  What you portrayed publically isn’t what your experiencing privately.  

I think at this point in life I have a more realistic, seasoned-by-life view of loving Jesus.  If you have been in ministry more than a week you know that serving Jesus isn’t always filled with kumbaya moments, Holy Ghost goosebumps or prayers of salvation on a moonlit night.  

I can relate to Henri Nouwen’s words as he speaks of his own spiritual struggles after years of ministry.  “I began to experience a deep inner threat.  As I entered my fifties and was able to realize the unlikelihood of doubling my years, I came face to face with the simple question, ‘Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?’  After twenty-five years of priesthood, I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much pre-occupied with burning issues.  Everyone was saying that I was doing really well, but something inside was telling me that my success was putting my own soul in danger.”  

While the specific symptoms of spiritual struggle might be different, his question is worth pondering.  As you get older and serve in ministry longer, what is the trajectory of your soul? are you getting closer to Jesus?  That is a sobering and convicting question for me to ponder.

The truth is, for much of my ministry, personally getting closer to Jesus wasn’t on my radar much.  I was pre-occupied with growing my church, impacting our community, managing the budget, preparing my sermons, and developing as a leader.  Biblically I certainly knew that loving and knowing Jesus was to be my highest priority. But if you examined how I spent my time, what I thought about, what I read, what motivated me, and what I talked about, it would have been obvious that a deep and loving relationship with Jesus was down the list.  An honest audit of my life would have revealed that my deepest longings were about ministry success.

So, let me encourage you to take a few moments to reflect on your own personal love for Christ.  Is your love for Christ deepening?  And, what is the trajectory of your soul?

Lance is the founder of Replenish ministries and is often referred to as a Pastor’s Pastor.  He is also the author of the book Replenish, which is dedicated to helping leaders live and lead from a healthy soul.  Before launching Replenish, Lance served 20 years as a senior pastor and 6 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church. 

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