Welcome to the new year! As I sit down to write this we are heading into week two of 2017. January is such a strange time of year. As a pastor, I’m coming off the rush, busyness, and joy of the Christmas season. We’ve had our special services, extra services, and additional programs and ministries. Along with that, as a husband and father, we’ve had time with family, extended family, church family, and good friends old and new. It is certainly a beautiful time of year, and it is also a very, very busy time of year. That said, it is also a very structured time of year. Advent is pretty consistent; we know we have weekly readings and a Christmas Eve service. There’s usually something like caroling, a Christmas concert, or some kind of community outreach. Details may change from year to year, but generally we know what to expect and what is expected of us. It’s busy, but we saw that coming from July. Then there’s January…
January is the turn of the calendar and the expectation of newness. We set new goals, make new commitments, and attempt to form new habits — personally and in ministry. It can also be a very busy and demanding time, but for very different reasons than the previous month. It gets to be a challenge to remember that the turning of the calendar is not what makes all things new, Jesus is, and he’s been working all along with no regard to the numbers on our calendar. We can easily overburden ourselves with our efforts to “do great things for God,” and wind up stretched thin, burned out and missing him altogether. We tell ourselves that we have to find balance in our lives, but I would suggest that this idea can be harmful. In fact, in a sense, we may need to keep ourselves off balance.
Sometimes we will find things that require 100% of our attention and effort. Other times those same things will require 0% and we’ll need to give some attention to something else, and effort to yet some other things. There are times where our families are well taken care of and ministry needs our attending to. There are other times, however, where family needs us fully invested while ministry can wait. We don’t need balance in our lives. A 50/50 split at all times is unjust and uncaring, taking no account of real needs. We don’t need balance, we need discernment. We need the ability and clarity to see when something is important, or merely urgent. Urgent things are loud and laden with crisis and drama, but they aren’t necessarily important. Important things have value. Our family went to the snow last week in South Lake Tahoe. On the way up, chains were required so I put them on and continued on our way. Along with the chattering of the chains there was a loud “tap tap tap tap tap tap” as we drove and it made me nervous. I pulled over, inspected the chains and found them secure and continued on. The tapping continued. After three inspections I was convinced everything was safe, that they were just tapping against the wheel and eventually my only alarm came when the tapping stopped. The tapping was urgency. Having the chains on was important. When I gave enough attention to the security of the chains, I could let the urgency of the tapping go.
There are things tapping in your mind now. “Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap!” Maybe it’s ministries you think you need to start, criticisms you feel compelled to answer, changes you feel pressured to make, or the needs of others piling up that demand you meet them (whether they’re really yours to meet or not). Give it a check and determine if it really needs attention, or if it’s okay. There is a great article from Focus on the Family’s Thriving Pastor blog (if you aren’t subscribed, I highly recommend it. It’s a great, free resource!) on guarding your schedule and prioritizing life and ministry decisions. You can read the full article here. I pray that 2017 will keep you off balance and dependent upon God for discernment, courage, and strength. I pray that he will empower, inspire, and increase your ministry and service to the Kingdom for the glory of God.