I have been a pastor by training and vocation for 30 plus years. I have seen and experienced much in both my faith journey and in the journey of others. I have known those moments, as a pastor, when it seemed like I had an open heaven. The power of God was very present as lives were touched, people healed and real change took place. The fruits of those changes were still evident many years later. I have also known those moments when it seemed like heaven was brass and ministry very hard and almost arid. So what makes the difference? I have pondered that question many times and still come back to the same answer: relationship.
Relationship. It may sound rather simplistic. Yet it is central, even foundational to a believer’s faith journey and effectiveness in ministry. Relationship with God and others that is growing and full of vitality will bring forth emotional and spiritual health. Yet it is often the small things, sometimes overt, sometimes covert that can diminish and even destroy relationships.
We have ash trees on our property, that from external appearances, look somewhat healthy, at least in the upper branches. Yet the lower branches are either dead or dying. They have ceased to both receive life from the trunk or reproduce life in the branches. Within these trees, unseen to the naked eye, are insects that have become embedded. These small insects are killing these majestic trees by slow, insidious growth that has destroyed life.
I have worked with people who were spiritual giants in the faith, mentors to others and full of spiritual vitality. They were people that one wished to emulate, to pattern one’s life after. But as the years moved forward something seemed to take away their vitality. They seemed to be drifting in their faith, even neglecting the disciplines that once brought this spiritual edge to their lives. I have seen too many lives, full of promise, simply drop to the sidelines of ineffectiveness or even completely discarding that which they once held so dear.
How do I know this to be true? Because it has happened to me and if we are honest, there are those moments when it has happened to you. We find ourselves drifting, going through the motions and even though we may be there physically, we find ourselves distanced from God and others. We know it within ourselves. It really is not long before those who are attuned to us also notice.
I have a friend who watches over my soul and in a kind way, let’s me know what I already know, that the canker worm is at work, bringing not life but destruction.
Pastors can be effective administrators, tireless visitors and able teachers yet find themselves distanced from what Jeremiah calls, “The fountain of life”. But they are not alone. We also can easily be afflicted with the tyranny of the urgent and neglect the things that are most important. We can find ourselves busy about life’s work but spiritually living on the beaches of our faith when our calling is to explore the deeper places in our faith journey. Those who have ears to hear know what I mean. “Deep calls to deep” as the Psalmist would say.
What is the key to spiritual and emotional vitality? It is relationship that is honest, open and transparent. How is it between you and God these days? Or with you and your spouse or children? Don’t wait until the canker worm has done its work. Jesus said that He came to bring life and life to the max. What a great place to start.