Are We Too Sympathetic?

balance is the key

Have you ever felt exhausted caring for others?  Ed Stetzer reports that “90% of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis.”  Many would say they feel called to carry out the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  The word agapao (love) focuses on preference, “choosing God’s choices and obeying them through His power, a discriminating affection which involves choice and selection.”  We can choose to love ourselves the way the Lord prefers and love others in the same way!

All too often, being sympathetic to others involves feeling stressed, stimulating the “sympathetic” half of our nervous system.  Our sympathetic involvement in the frustrations, conflicts, griefs, and difficulties of our neighbors, often causes our sympathetic nervous system to be in fight or flight, standing at attention, awaiting the next phone call to action.  During seasons of “sympathetic” dominance, we may experience increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased blood clotting (which causes strokes), increased blood sugar (prediabetes), increased muscle tightness, high adrenaline (which can be addicting), decreased digestion, decreased saliva production, dilated pupils (light sensitivities), decreased lacrimation (dry eyes), and cold hands.

The autonomic (automatic) nervous system, which consists of both the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) controls most of the body’s internal organs.  When the system is out of balance, in “fight or flight” too often, it causes a multitude of stress-related illnesses.  Seventy-five percent (75%) of pastors experience a significant crisis due to stress in the ministry (Fuller Institute, 1989-1992).

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love.” The word fear is phobos, meaning the alarm of dread, or the need to flee or withdraw (flight), feeling inadequate without sufficient resources for the situation.  “But perfect love drives out fear… The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
This is a good reminder and litmus test for each of us.  Love drives out fear, anxiety, and the fight or flight stress response.  Love can help us drive out sympathetic dominance, and stimulate the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, or help us to “rest and digest.”  Here we experience increased saliva, increased lacrimation (tears), digestive enzymes are released, heart rate drops, muscles relax, pupils constrict.  When I am in the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, I feel at rest, able to love everyone.  When I am in sympathetic dominance, I am over-concerned about situations, and feel the need to fix things.   I am more confrontational and controlling because I usually feel “right.”  I’m afraid if I don’t fix this, we will be in danger.

I’m learning that when I find my hormonal system in sympathetic dominance, I’m not loving myself well, which means I can’t love others very well either.  All too often, however, I can’t get my nervous system back into balance.  The following strategies help to stimulate your parasympathetic “rest and digest” system: sleep or rest, exercise, solitude, massage, and hobbies or things you enjoy.  Specifically, I’ve been reading that Acetylcholine is the primary neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic response, so you may want to take a choline supplement.

If most of your time serving the Lord is spent in fight or flight, it’s time to find the love.  Don’t be TOO sympathetic!

Cleave This Christmas

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 “I don’t want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I need.

I don’t care about the presents, underneath the Christmas Tree.

I just want you for my own, more than you could ever know,

make my wish come true, oh all I want for Christmas is you.” -Mariah Carey

In Ephesians 5 the Bible says the relationship between a husband and a wife is a direct representation of the gospel relationship between Jesus and His bride, the church.  Recently my wife and I have asked, “what does Jesus desire for our marriage?”

In Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, and Ephesians 5:31 the Bible uses the action word “cleave” as the verb for marriage.  What does it mean for couples to cleave?  The word cleave means to cling to, join closely or glue one thing to another, focusing on interfacing, reciprocal relations.  And how are they to cleave?  The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 that we are made up of three parts, a spirit, a soul, and a body.  I believe in the marriage relationship we need to cleave spiritually (spirit), cleave relationally (soul), and cleave physically (body).

Cleaving to our spouse’s spirit may be the hardest hurdle.  We need to pray together daily and sit in church together regularly.  In a 1997 Gallup poll by the National Association of Marriage Enhancement, less than 1% of couples that pray together daily experience divorce.  Cleaving to your spouse may look like praying out loud together once a day. And if it is hard for you and your spouse, you’re not alone, I’ve read that 92% of couples that call themselves Christians don’t pray together (FamilyLife Survey, USA)! The old adage is true, a couple that prays together stays together.  Ed Stetzer suggests also that couples who attend church together only have a 10-15% divorce rate.  For those of us in church leadership positions, it’s especially important we’re praying together with our spouse at home and being intentional to sit together in church regularly.  How are we doing cleaving spiritually?

Cleaving to our spouse’s soul, their mind and emotions, may be the first one we notice needs attention.  Spending time enjoying one another is important, and we can alternate doing one another’s favorite things.  Healthy communication is essential.  Carve out time every day to connect together relationally.  This can be asking, “How are you doing today?  Schedule a date once a week to sit across a table from one another and reconnect.  One lost art of soul cleaving in Scripture is to “bless them” verbally, exhort, or give a benediction.  The Bible says to encourage one another daily.  If you would like ideas to encourage your spouse, see www.choosemercy.org and search “Encourage Daily.”  Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Advocate, and Satan the accuser.  In order to cleave to one another’s soul’s our communication needs to include blessing, encouraging, and yielding.  We will have a hard time cleaving to accusing, resentment, and contention.  Finally if one of you always has to be right or in control, cleaving to one another relationally will be especially hard.  This is why the Bible asks all of us in Ephesians 5:12 to Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  How are we doing cleaving relationally?

Cleaving to our spouse’s body only protects our marriage from Satan’s attacks.  1 Corinthians 7:5, says to married couples, “Do not deprive one another (physically), except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”  That begs the question how long is a limited time?  In Exodus 19:15 Moses asked the people to obey God and consecrate themselves for three days with no marital relations.  In 1 Samuel 21:4-5 David asks the priest for bread for his men to eat and the priest says they can have the consecrated bread if they have kept themselves from women.  And David replies, “Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy.”  While three days may be a biblical suggestion, whatever you and your spouse agree is a “limited time,” please be intentional about cleaving together physically, holding hands, hugging, kissing, and pursuing intimacy.  How are we doing cleaving physically?

Some years ago when my wife and I were in a difficult time of unemployment, a dear mentor couple gave us great advice.  They told us that in the dark seasons of life when you have no money and you don’t know what God’s plan is, you can still cleave to one another.  It’s free.  And it’s biblical.  May we be intentional about obeying God’s call for married couples to cleave together.  Let’s Cleave this Christmas!

Wives, Encourage Your Husbands Daily -Heb 13:3

  1. Your desire to lead means a lot to me. -1 Ti 3:1 If a man desires the position of elder, he desires a good work.
  2. I really appreciate that you want to do the right thing. -1 Ti 3:2 An elder must be blameless
  3. You are such a loyal man -1 Ti 3:2 An elder must be the husband of one wife
  4. I like how self controlled and kind you are. -1 Ti 3:2 An elder must be temperate
  5. You do a good job of being rational -1 Ti 3:2 An elder must be sober minded
  6. I’m so glad I married a man with the fruit of the Spirit -1 Ti 3:2 An elder must be a good behavior
  7. It means a lot that you help me have a home to have friends over. -1 Ti 3:2 An elder must be hospitable
  8. I think you’re really wise. -1 Ti 3:2 An elder must be able to teach
  9. I admire your discipline to get up every morning -1 Ti 3:3 An elder must not be given to much wine
  10. I like to be close to you when you’re gentle -1 Ti 3:3 An elder must be gentle
  11. I notice how well you get along with your friends. -1 Ti 3:3 An elder must not be quarrelsome
  12. Our marriage is the best when we’re content. -1 Ti 3:3 An elder must not be covetous
  13. You manage (this) well -1 Ti 3:4 An elder must manage his own house well
  14. Your love means so much to our kids -1 Ti 3:4 An elder must have his children in submission with all reverence
  15. You are a blessing to our church. -1 Ti 3:5 An elder must be able to take care of the church
  16. Its so cool that you’ve been a Christian for ___ years! -1 Ti 3:6 An elder must not be a novice
  17. Your humility brings God’s grace for our family. -1 Ti 3:6 An elder must not be puffed up with pride lest he fall
  18. Thank you for having a good testimony with your work friends. -1 Ti 3:7 An elder must have good testimony with outsiders
  19. I really respect how hard you try to overcome temptations. -1 Ti 3:7 An elder must overcome temptation
  20. Thank you for trying to understand -1 Pe 3:7 Husbands must give understanding to their wives
  21. I have felt so special since the day you proposed. -1 Pe 3:7 Husbands must give honor to their wives
  22. I’m so thankful you know God’s grace for each of us. -1 Pe 3:7 Husbands see wives as coequals in the grace of life
  23. Thank you for praying for me. -1 Pe 3:7 Husbands must be men of prayer
  24. I’m glad we are like minded about Christ. -1 Pe 3:8 be likeminded
  25. I’m blessed by your compassion -1 Pe 3:8 be compassionate
  26. Your love makes me feel special -1 Pe 3:8 be loving
  27. For such a strong man you are tenderhearted. -1 Pe 3:8 be tenderhearted
  28. I noticed how courteous you were. -1 Pe 3:8 be courteous
  29. Thank you for not being insulting or overpowering. -1 Pe 3:8 not reviling
  30. You are such a blessing to me. -1 Pe 3:8 blessing one another
  31. We are blessed because you are such a nice guy. -1 Pe 3:8 inherit a blessing

(see also Genesis 3, Proverbs 5, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 3, 1 Peter 3)

Husbands, Encourage Your Wives Daily -Heb 13:3

  1. You have a powerful influence of moral excellence on the people around you –Pr 31:10 Virtuous (powerful influence of moral excellence)
  2. I hold you in high esteem, you are the most important person in my life –Pr 31:10 worth (held in high esteem)
  3. I trust you, you’re the most competent person I know –Pr 31:11 her husband trusts her
  4. You bring so much good into my days –Pr 31:12 you do me good all my days
  5. I appreciate how hard you work –Pr 31:13 work hard with hands
  6. I noticed how far out of your way you have to go to take care of all of us. –Pr 31:14 goes far to provide
  7. Thanks for getting up to care of us –Pr 31:15 rises early to provide for family and others
  8. I wish you didn’t have to make mony, but I’m impressed with how you do it. –Pr 31:16 earns private profits
  9. You are the strongest most steadfast woman I know –Pr 31:17 strength
  10. It makes me feel good when you perceive all is good, we’re going to be fine. –Pr 31:18 perceives all is good
  11. You strengthen me when I know hard times don’t destroy your confidence –Pr 31:18 lamp does not go out in darkness
  12. I love how you extend your hands to give to others –Pr 31:19 hold out her hands to give
  13. Your confidence is beautiful –Pr 31:21 confident
  14. I appreciate how fearless you are –Pr 31:21 not fear
  15. You look really nice today –Pr 31:22 well clothed
  16. I want to be the kind of man you respect and admire –Pr 31:23 respected husband
  17. You are so good at making ______________. –Pr 31:24 sells what she makes
  18. I just wanted to honor you by _______________. –Pr 31:25 strength and honor
  19. I love it when we rejoice together. –Pr 31:25 rejoicing
  20. I think you’re really wise and I appreciate your input. –Pr 31:26 wise
  21. I think you’re a really kind person. –Pr 31:26 kind
  22. Thank you for making our household run so smoothly. –Pr 31:27 watches over household
  23. I appreciate how hard you’re working –Pr 31:26 not idle
  24. You are leaving an incredible legacy. –Pr 31:28 children appreciate
  25. I believe in you and I’m excited about _________ (This part of our future) –Pr 31:28 husband affirms
  26. You are at the head of your class, there’s no one as gifted as you are. –Pr 31:29 excel in them all
  27. Your fear of the Lord is your most valuable quality. –Pr 31:30 fears the Lord
  28. You should praised for ____________. –Pr 31:30 to be praised
  29. I wish everyone knew how good you are at _____________. –Pr 31:31 show off your works
  30. Your gentle and quiet spirit is so beautiful –1 Pe 3:4
  31. Your love for the Lord inspires me to love Him more. -1 Pe 3:1

(see also Genesis 3, Proverbs 31, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2, 1 Peter 3)

The Success of Fruit, Feedback, and Fuel

jd-combine-cart

I was recently asked what defines ministry success for me?  Is success being liked by everyone?  Having everyone get along?  Everyone saved?  Everyone’s needs met?  Having a lot of money?  So I have spent time thinking about what the Bible says about success and I think there are three “F”s of success to consider… Fruit, Feedback, and Fuel.

Years ago I had the privilege of working on a farm.  Whether we were planting or harvesting, ultimately everything we did all year was to have a good crop.  The same is true in our organization.  The Bible says, “Every tree is recognized by it’s fruit.  People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers”  Luke 6:44.  People do not seek out prickly, upset, or hurtful people.  The Bible says we can grow in the fruit of the Spirit, becoming more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, full of the goodness of God, faithful, gentle, and long suffering.  We will be successful if we communicate the FRUIT of the Spirit.

When we were harvesting we would have to stop to unload when the combine was full. We were receiving feedback from the machine.  Some farms have a grain cart so they unload while moving.  The combine driver and the driver of the grain cart have to be able to communicate and listen to each other, and the cart has to be perfectly positioned under the combine spout or there will be grain all over the ground.  The cart driver can be confident he’s doing well, but if the combine stops for a rock and the cart driver doesn’t listen, grain will be spilled.  Often times in a position of leadership, we feel really sure we know which way to go which leaves no room to listen to others.  However God never meant for this to be a one man show.  He intended it to be a body with many parts.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “ I don’t need you!”  And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 1 Co 12:21We will be successful if we listen to FEEDBACK.

If the weather is good and we can unload on the go, the only thing that stops the harvest are the needs of the machinery.  While Air Force One can fuel on the go, our tractors and trucks have to stop for fuel.  Each morning we would spend an hour greasing and fueling the equipment.  Often late in the day we would have to take a break and refuel.  Sometimes we would have to stop to attend to a breakdown.  I’m so thankful the farmer doesn’t have to pick each piece of grain or carry it all to the elevator by himself. So he’s willing to stop and make sure the equipment has what it needs.  The Bible says God gave (church leaders) to prepare and equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith Eph 4:12  We will be successful if we take time to FUEL others, preparing, equipping, and supporting those who serve with us.

May we experience ministry success as we grow in Fruit, Feedback, and Fuel.

David Strengthened Himself In The Lord

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As a pastor I spend most of my time in one of two areas.  I serve people suffering weakness, like hospitalizations or financial needs, and I spend time responding to conflicts like  broken marriages and church disagreements.  I was recently encouraged by Dr. Zack Eswine (The Imperfect Pastor) when he shared the story of how David responded to these things in 1 Samuel 30.

In previous chapters David had been fleeing King Saul who was trying to kill him and then he was rejected by the Philistine leaders in 1 Samuel 29 who didn’t approve of him.  In the beginning of chapter 30 David and his men were raided and all their wives and children were taken.  David’s men were so upset they wept till they had no more strength to weep, and then they talked of stoning David.  And the Bible says, “David encouraged himself in the Lord.”  As we continue reading, some of David’s men were so overcome with grief they were too weak to go recapture their wives and children, so 200 of them stayed behind.  Upon reclaiming all the wives and children and plundering the Amalekites, the 400 who went resented the 200 who stayed back and refused to share the plunder with them.

And David, having strengthened himself in the Lord, was able to “manage well with all dignity” (1Ti3:4) and give grace to them all.  Those too weak to contribute were blessed alongside those who worked hard for it.  And those in conflict, who were filled with resentment, were blessed alongside those who had been overcome by love for their families.  May we strengthen ourselves in the Lord and bless those who are weak and those who are angry.

Be encouraged; God’s grace is for you.

Joggling Pastoral Transitions

joggling-michal-kapral

Recently I saw a commercial featuring marathon joggler Michal Kapral, who set a world record in running a full marathon while juggling, otherwise known as joggling.  While in a pastoral transition I could relate to the high pace of life while trying to keep multiple balls in the air.  See Michal talk about this … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDd07tyMwzA

Pastoral ministry is much like juggling while running a marathon.  There are certainly times of fatigue and endurance.  There is as much mental stamina required as physical, oh, and spiritual stamina too!  What most people may not realize is that every pastor I know, whether serving in a one pastor church, or those serving in a multiple staff churches, every pastor is running and juggling multiple things while trying not to let one of those balls drop.  And when a ball does drop, there’s the grief of people focusing on the one ball bouncing alongside rather than the successful juggling and running act being performed right in front of their eyes!  This criticizing the imperfect circus act can feel very isolating.

I find the same is true in my walk with Jesus.  Why is it that before becoming a Christian, I didn’t feel good enough for God apart from Jesus, but now that I’m in Christ, I don’t feel good enough for God with Jesus?  I’m also focused on the one ball bouncing alongside this miraculous event of the Holy Spirit functioning within me?  The Holy Spirit’s ministry in me makes me look like I’m running and juggling at the same time!

While in a pastoral transition we often find ourselves juggling a few new balls on top of the usual.  There’s the ball of insecurity that comes with a new position or the lack of one.  There’s the ball of new problems and/or new responsibilities to face.  And then there’s that big medicine ball of fear that comes with a transition.  Ever tried to juggle a medicine ball and two tennis balls?!  We have to learn to administrate new things to get this ship back to safe harbor!

When life is moving too fast and there’s too many balls to juggle, I’m reminded of the story of Mary and Martha.  Jesus says Martha is worried and upset about many things, including her project partner.  But Mary is at peace and enjoying what is most important, a forever friend.

So in joggling pastoral transitions, may we overcome the tendency to be discouraged, worried, or upset about things like our project partners, and may we enjoy the forever friends that He provides along the way.

Oh, and way to go, you juggle and run really well!