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Enlarging Your Steps

June 6th, 2017

Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip. (Psalm 18:36 KJV)

Here is a promise for us that was an experience for David. Twice in the Holy Book he described his experience in these terms: God enlarging his steps. In his psalm recorded in 2 Samuel 22:37, and in Psalm 18 above.

The modern translations tend to say that this means, “You have broadened my path,” always trying to find the dynamic equivalent. Yet the original is clearly steps, and not path. God does straighten our paths (Prov. 3:5-6) and broaden them on many occasions. In His grace the rough places become smooth (Isaiah 40:3-4). That is stated in His Word. But David was describing something different here - not that the path became level but that he himself became stronger. His steps were enlarged so that he stepped over the rough spots.

Does not God do this for us? Is not this His plan as much as smoothing the path is? Children cry over the slightest of hurts, but a grown person knows these things are not worth crying over. Immature people fight to get their way, or erupt in fear over the slightest upsetting of their hopes, but mature people trust God in all things and know the difference between a major issue and a minor one.

Sometimes God does this through giving us a bigger problem. A few weeks ago I flew to Asia where we lived for twenty years. My knee was giving me such problems that I considered cancelling my trip - I am scheduled for knee replacement surgery next week. But I decided to go anyway, and while I was there I came down with shingles - a much more serious concern. Suddenly the knee pain seemed as though it was nothing, and God has often done things like this in my life.

The bigger problems seem sometimes to be easier for us to give to Him than the smaller ones, and perhaps that is why God allows us to have them. Cancer we will give to God, knowing we cannot handle it alone. But a sore toe we will nurse ourselves and complain and whine about. But all matters we can place in His hands and learn to stand in His grace and strength.

Our child’s studies may disturb us and cause us to worry if they will apply themselves, until they have a serious sickness. Then, in a matter of seconds, everything is put into a different perspective, and God has enlarged our steps to handle the harder matter. If we can step over a dangerous illness, then we also learn that the minor frustrations of life are really nothing at all to worry about.

Sometimes God does this by giving us a larger vision. We are often worried about how we can reach one person for Christ, when we ought to have entire cities and whole nations on our hearts. We trip over many stumbling stones in service and witness that are practically nothing at all. The Christian must learn to take great steps for God and not become disheartened over one little rejection.

Poet Sam Walter Foss, perhaps unknowingly, spoke of this spiritual enlargement in the hearts of Christians when he wrote:

Bring me men to match my mountains.
Bring me men to match my plains.
Men with empires in their purpose.
And new eras in their brains.

We need people who are not afraid to dream dreams with the Holy Spirit, to let the Spirit enlarge their hearts and enlarge their steps as well.

The vision of one single man from Macedonia got Paul and his companions to go there and begin work, but once he was there he realized a whole continent that needed Christ. Baker James Cauthen, speaking to newly appointed missionaries, spoke of this matter of a vision and the experience in living out the vision.

You have visualized the need, but in your place of service you will discover that the vision was smaller than the need really is. When you tackle the responsib.ility, the size, weight, and extend of it will make you feel your need of God that you may “be strong and of good courage.”

You will find that even though you have prayed about your mission task and carefully planned for it, the results you long for may not come as readily as you desire. You will need to be strong in your readiness to let God’s results come in God’s time - knowing that he will bring his word to fruition if you trust him. You have to be strong in your faith that when you share God’s word it will not come back empty.*

Our steps, if they are enlarged must also have the pace of God behind them, that we do not panic or become discouraged when things do not happen when we wanted them to. Large steps endure difficulty, maintain hope, see the mountains to which they are headed, do not stumble over the little pebbles in the way. They keep pace with the Spirit of God and trust Him in all things. This strength comes from God and we have no reason to boast in it on account of ourselves.

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*Baker James Cauthen, Beyond Call, Broadman Press, 1973, pp. 11-12.

Dealing with Difficulties, burnout, encouragement , , ,

Burnout, Part 10 - Final Thoughts

January 4th, 2017

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:1-7 NIV)

Burnout is a stage in Christian life and ministry where it is revealed to us, and often to others, very plainly that we have somehow or another gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick in living the Christian life. Most often our motives have been for ourselves, our means have been our own strength and determination, and our methods have excluded the power and life of God moving in us and through us. We have replaced our legacy for God’s glory, our wits for God’s Spirit, and our ways for God’s ways. And we have done this in the name of Christian ministry, often cheered on by others, until we have reached the limit of our power.

The great symptom of burnout is simple apathy, where we no longer care for the work, for the people, for anything.

There are some who burnout because they have given in to others, because they thought the secret of Christian life was pleasing others and making them happy. Co-dependency is the word used in recent years to describe people like this. Anger is the dominant emotion of those who are determined to achieve things through their strength, but fear is the dominant emotion of those who think that life is all about pleasing others. The first says, “I will be successful if I get everyone to do what I want them to do.” The second says, “I will be successful if I can do everything that everyone wants me to do.”

Some burnout because they have gotten it all wrong from the outset. Others have burned out because they have left God out of the difficult situations. They understood the principles of spiritual growth and spiritual life, and followed Christ and served in His power up to a certain point. Then they ran into difficulty, or their schedule got too busy and they neglected prayer, or they began to believe all of the nice things people were saying about them and thought that they were able to do this on their own, without God.

The Way through Burnout

The scriptures tell us that God disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12:6), and His rebuke to the church at Ephesus above is a message to those who burnout. In this case the entire church of Ephesus was burned out. The church had done many good things for Christ, but yet they had lost their first love, meaning that they had lost their love for Christ Himself. They had become so immersed in the work of the Lord that they had forgotten all about the Lord of the work.

Christ’s remedy to them He also says to every burned out Christian and servant:

  • Remember: “Consider how far you have fallen” - remember the way it used to be. Remember the joy of the Lord that used to flood your soul. Remember the times when you walked in the fullness of the Spirit and you only cared about serving Christ. Remember the thrill in your soul when you first realized that Christ had entrusted to you a ministry in His name. Remember the outpourings of His love into your heart and how you loved Him back. Remember how it was when you would do anything for Christ simply out of love.
  • Repent: Turn back to Christ. Turn away from pride and sin and turn back to Christ. Confess your fault, all of it. Repent of your pride. Repent fully, as James wrote, “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourself in the eyes of the Lord and He will lift you up” (James 4:9-10). When we repent fully we experience afresh His eternal presence and strength in our lives - “and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27).
  • Repeat: “Do the things you did at first” - start back where you left off living and serving properly, in His power and for His glory, using His methods. We must do some forgetting, some unlearning of wrong patterns and wrong ways, and remember and repeat those healthy patterns and ways of service.

I have known some friends in ministry who resorted to worldly ways to deal with stress. One of my friends said that he and another pastor used to go to the golf course and tee a ball up and name a person in the church that they had trouble with and hit the ball with all their might as though they were hitting the person. We might laugh at a story like that, and even sympathetically nod our heads, but this is the world’s way of dealing with frustrations, not God’s. God says to not be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good (Heb. 12:21).

Finding God in our Brokenness

The scripture teaches us that we need to die to self in order to become who we need to become in Christ. Christ said:

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:24-26 NIV)

We must cast off pride, anger, unforgiveness, and anything contrary to the Spirit of Christ and let Him fill us with Himself. This is the only way to serve Christ in His power - like a seed, to die to being a seed that God might be all that He can be in us and through us.

And this principle is true whether we have been very bad and evil or only a little careless. God’s work must be done God’s way in His power and strength.

George W. Truett was one of the greatest pastors in America. He came to pastor the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas in 1898, at thirty years of age. When he came to pastor the church had 700 members and Truett pastored the church forty-seven years until he died in 1944, and left it with 7,000 members. He was a remarkable man, someone with a great heart for God and for people. He was an incredibly gifted preacher. Yet there was a turning point in his ministry shortly after he came to pastor in Dallas.

It happened around a tragic accident, where he and two other men had gone dove hunting near Cleburne, Texas. Truett was using a borrowed shotgun and he was unfamiliar with it. He accidentally fired it and struck one of the men in the leg, and it happened to be J.C. Arnold, the Chief of Police for Dallas. Arnold was treated by a doctor in Cleburne who thought he could make the train ride back to Dallas. They returned by train and got him to his house and under another doctor’s care, but Police Chief Arnold passed away a few days later from heart failure.

The event devastated Truett, to think that he had been so careless as to cause the death of one of his closest friends. Truett did not preach for several weeks, needing the time to pray and to deal with all of this. During that time he said he had a vision from the Lord, where he saw Christ saying, “Be not afraid, George. You are my man from now on.”  When he did return to the pulpit he was a different man. The tragedy had removed from him all of his self-confidence and all he had was faith and love for Christ. He served for more than forty-five years after that, learning to stand in the power of Christ, and for the glory of Christ.

Final Thoughts

There are many smaller bits of advice that we are given when we go through burnout, such as to take up a hobby, to learn to manage our schedule better, to avoid doing certain things that irritate us, to exercise regularly, to eat and rest properly, etc. These are not bad ideas, nor useless. They are good things to do, and we are wise if we follow these bits of advice.

Yet they are not the great truths of the Christian life that we need to learn. They might, in fact, if this is all that we do, simply allow us to continue to do things for our own sake and in our own power and by our own methods.

The real secret to getting past burnout is found consistently in scripture. It was first espoused by Moses when he prayed (1) for God to go with him, (2) for God to teach him His ways, and (3) for God to show him His glory (Exodus 33:12-23). But it was later taught by Christ and stated clearly by Paul when he wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20 NIV).

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