In a well-lit corner of my office hangs a hand-sketched sign, cryptic in nature, but oh-so-familiar to those in our work. By placing the sign where I have, it conveniently appears just above the head of anyone who sits across from my desk.
That confusion created when one's mind
Overrides the body's desire
To choke the living daylights out of some jerk
Who desperately needs it.
We're all familiar with stress. It's that jarring pothole that, when hit, sends reverberating shock waves throughout, often distracting our focus and derailing the wheels of ministry.
In an effort to forewarn my pastoral fraternity, I'm offering the following pastor's stress test to determine the severity of your pothole.
1. Do you have Dial-a-Prayer on speed dial?
2. Is your congregation confused because you're preaching through clenched teeth?
3. Does your personal communion consist of the bread, the cup and two Tums?
4. Does your sermon prep include a yoga class?
5. Have your staff members arranged their schedules to work on your day off?
6. Have you mistakenly used your resignation-in-waiting as a bulletin insert?
7. Are you looking forward to retirement … and you're only in your 30s?
A yes to any of these questions might indicate a stress problem. Despite its public persona, pastoring is filled with stress. It's an ecclesiastical toxin that saps our strength; a stubborn pimple on the face of the church; a mental battering ram that beats on your office door. At times our stress is dressed in sheep's clothing, pretending to be an ally; but often, it's just sheep being sheep. Either way, it's a workplace staple and the single biggest drain to our personal joy.
However, dealing with stress may produce the greatest sermon we ever live. Want proof?
Ask Moses. His 40 years of leading God's people in the wilderness was a constant battle against popular opinion. Never should a leader have to endure his load. Yet, Scripture labels him "the most humble man on the face of the earth."
Ask Samuel. He had the unenviable job of cleaning up the priesthood corruption brought on by his mentor's reprobate sons. Nepotism had run amuck! Yet Scripture says, "The Lord let none of Samuel's words fail."
Ask Hosea. His home life was a train wreck. Dishonored by his wayward, runaway bride, he bought her back at a local slave auction. Together they became a biblical metaphor of God's unquenchable love for His people.
Ask Habakkuk. His faithful service to a rebellious nation seemed fruitless. In frustration he demanded answers from God. Then, God responded. With that, Habakkuk's complaints turned into worship.
Ask Jonah. Though he was a prophet of God, he had no heart for saving Nineveh. Those deplorable Ninevites deserved the wrath of God, not His forgiveness! Yet when this reluctant prophet obeyed, the largest city in the ancient world was saved.
Ask Paul. Whereas he was a great church planter, he was also a real troublemaker, causing riots in at least 10 cities. Though he usually faced his accusers alone, he declared, "The Lord stood with me, and strengthened me."
A quick scan of Jesus' ministry reveals His own timeless stress management techniques: His goal was the finish line, not the hurdles. He ran the race to please the Father, not the fickle grandstand. He used the potholes as venues to do His work. He would not be deterred by the crisis du jour, including the crisis of the cross. He was focused on one thing: "I have finished the work which You have given Me to do."
A mentor of mine, the one who gave me the sign hanging in my office, also gave me a great stress management verse:
Thank God it didn't come to stay.