Who Do You Want to Become?

Who are you? I mean, if friends were to describe you, what words and phrases would they mention?

As we transition into a new year, we are often asked about our resolutions. I prefer setting goals rather than making resolutions.

Some of us might want to rethink goals just a bit. I tend to set goals to accomplish something. For example, I want to read the whole Bible this year, using the Chronological reading plan that puts things in the order they probably happened. I also want to finish writing a book. But should I be setting some different goals?

How about goals that affect who we are? Should we be setting some goals in areas that would impact who we are, what our personality is, or how we face life?

If you want to be seen as a generous person, you could make your goal to be more generous this year. However, vague goals like that are less effective than those with more specific or concrete descriptors. Maybe we could write a list of what a “generous person” is like or what they do and how they interact with others. Perhaps you view generosity as being freer with your resources and time, for example, such as lending your tools or giving food to the food bank. Or your focus could be on buying meaningful things for people you care about or inviting more people to your home for a meal. You could do some research and find a worthwhile cause to support, financially or by volunteering, being generous with money and generous with your time. You might choose to lend your books to a friend after you read them. It’s your goal, so make it yours. You could consider reading some books or taking a course on generosity.

If being generous doesn’t resonate with you, consider a few other character goals. Think about your own life and moments of personal frustration or struggle to identify where you might want to focus your personal growth.

1. Do you want to be more forgiving? You realize you are quick to judge, quick to get angry and offended, and slow to forgive. You want to forgive more freely. Then set a character goal of becoming more forgiving.

2. You might desire to be more patient. You struggle with having to wait for anything. You could set a goal to deliberately always take the longest line in the grocery store, or when buying gas. You could find ways of thinking about other things while waiting. You could memorize scripture…so every time you wait in line you bring up the verses you are learning and go over them. Now the slow line becomes productive for you, and you are being more patient.

3. Would you like to be more creative? You could read books and take courses. You could find ways of trying new things that require creativity. Maybe you schedule in some “day-dreaming” into your day so that you can focus on your creativity.

4. Maybe you want to be more at peace and worry less. You could memorize scripture verses on not worrying. You could pray, even ask others to pray with you, that God would help you have peace in your life.

5. Maybe you want to be more considerate of other people. This is one I have to work on. I have set a goal for me to connect with at least two people who are not in my immediate family or part of the church. Personally, I want to text or visit or connect in a meaningful way with others that are outside of my immediate thought process. These are people I care about, but they may not realize it because I rarely connect with them.

I’m sure that if you ask yourself: “What is one area in my life where I would like to improve?” you will quickly come up with an answer.

Now, before we leave this, I want to suggest that some of these self-improvement goals may need some outside help. Maybe you connect with a coach, or book a few sessions with a counselor. Maybe you meet with your pastor, or a good friend. And you ask for others to speak into your life and help you think of how to improve in your area you want to grow in.

I’m thinking that a number of us probably have people in our life who are really good at the area we want to improve. At least for me, my lack shows up when I see others who are doing so well in this area. My wife is one who is great at noticing others and connecting and loving – and that is why I recognize I have some improving to do. Take time to talk with those in your life who exemplify the area you want to work on. Maybe you are doing well in an area they want to work on and you can help each other.

I encourage you to set some risk-taking goals for the year: tasks to complete as well as areas of personal character growth. Put a plan into place, to learn and grow in these areas.

I wish you all the best for 2022. May it be a life-changing year for you!!

Keep looking up!

Andy

Lower Your Expectations For Christmas

Lynnette and I were married in October 1990. I have done many weddings as a pastor, and attended many as a friend or family member. And yet, I haven’t heard of a wedding that met all the expectations that the bride had for the special day. At our wedding, we had a miscommunication with some family members and my little sister wasn’t able to perform a specific role we had planned for her. We even started the wedding before Lynnette got to the church. I thought meant she was there and ready to go. She did get there in time to walk in at the right time. With all the months of planning things still go wrong.

Christmas is a magical time in many of our minds. We have expectations of how we think it should go. We hope our kids will be home for Christmas, or that Grandma and Grandpa will come join us. We have a certain gift we have been hinting toward for six months, and we don’t get it. We want a perfect dinner and somehow the turkey isn’t quite done in time.

Everyone needs to have goals and plans and dreams. They give us hope. But we have to realize that they don’t always work out. When it comes to Christmas, we might do well to lower our expectations a little this year.

Family Expectations

Some of us have expectations that others do not even know about. I remember a seminar years ago that clearly taught that we cannot set goals for other people. This really impacted me. Some of our frustrations and even anger at people is that we have set certain expectations and never told them. We just expect them to know that “we will be opening presents on Christmas Eve, no matter who of the family is there or not.” Lower your expectations – especially the ones no one even knows you have.

We might do well to lower our expectations of what gifts we will receive. Even if you hinted to your mom for six months, she may not have understood. Or maybe the person wanted to get you that gift, but they couldn’t find it or they thought they found a much better one instead. Enjoy the gifts you do receive, and enjoy the time you have with those who gave it.

Lower your expectations about how your family Christmas will go. Again, I’m not suggesting you plan on it being a wreck, but plan on being okay if things don’t happen exactly as you wish. Be prepared that not everything will go as you hope. If one of your children and their family can’t show up till Boxing Day, don’t be mad at them but just enjoy the time you have when they do arrive.

Expectations Around Grief

Many of us forget that there are families who are grieving at Christmas time. This may be the first Christmas without that one special person. Roles in family traditions will need to change and there may be an empty place at the dinner table.

If you are suffering loss and facing this Christmas in grief, I hope you have a really good and encouraging Christmas. The reality is that you may have expectations that will not be met. There will be people, even friends, who are so consumed with their own families they forget about you and your pain. You may wish that you had some people around to share their comfort, and the realities are that unless you reach out, that comfort may not be there. What could you do? Why not reach out? Friends and family are so focused on their own activities that it may feel as though they are ignoring your experience this year. Reach out. Invite someone for tea on Christmas Eve, or take them some cookies on Christmas afternoon. Do something to connect with people, and you might be amazed at how a simple act like this reminds them of your grief and motivates them to pour out some love on you.

If you are having family events and are missing that one person, take time to grieve as a family. Share some stories and memories of this family member. Don’t ignore the loss. And don’t expect that everything will go so well you won’t remember the pain.

When the pain comes, acknowledge it, share it with someone near you, and then move on.

If you are one experiencing loss this Christmas, please don’t expect things from others and be disappointed. Look for ways to connect. On the other hand, if you know of someone experiencing loss, reach out to them and encourage them.

Pastors

I have heard of pastors who do not like Christmas: “I don’t have anything new to say after 15 years of preaching the Christmas story,” “I am not creative enough to make it exciting for people.” Yes, the Christmas story is the same story it has been for two thousand years. Yes, people know the story. I’m wondering if pastors may do well to lower their expectations a little.

Do not expect that you will be able to preach something new to your congregation. Instead, walk through the story again. Maybe you can think of the new believers in your congregation who have only recently come to know the story. Maybe you can think of the eight and nine-ear-olds who have only experienced a few Christmases they remember. Think of the incredible story again, and just faithfully walk through the story in your service. For some it will be the thirtieth or fortieth time, but for some in the congregation it may actually be the first time they hear it.

Instead of comparing your sermons and services to other churches that have live animals, choirs, and symphonies, do the best with what you have. Prepare people ahead of time, and practice whatever you do have for your Christmas service. Allow the traditions and the story to speak. And do the best you can.

Lower Your Expectations

Last year was, of course, a COVID Christmas. With all the concerns and the regulations imposed on us, our family was unable to have Christmas in our home with both our daughters present. While that is what we would have usually expected, I had to let go of those expectations, and we tried something else. We were able to meet up as a family, and exchange gifts and spend a little time together, even though it was at a different venue. Lowering expectations may allow for some creative options instead.

I hope you have a great and wonderful Christmas. We all have expectations, but unfortunately they will not all be achieved. Lower your expectations and make them more realistic. Don’t let the hype and the commercialism make you think it has to be the most wonderful time of the year when it may not be.

Have your hopes. Make your plans, but be willing to be okay if they are not completely fulfilled. You will be happier in the end.

Keep looking up

Andy

Embrace the New Year With Purpose

The New Year always brings questions about resolutions. “What are your New Year’s Resolutions? Do you have New Year’s Resolutions?” In a New York Post article, Shireen Khalil (Dec. 21, 2018) wrote, “Research conducted by Strava, the social network for athletes, has discovered that Saturday, Jan. 12, is the fateful day of New Year’s resolutions.” This was based on analyzing 31 million global online activities.

I still like the idea of marking January 1st as a new start. Make it a day where you both, look back and look ahead. Celebrate your past year, then look ahead to what is next. Instead of resolutions that often don’t make it to the end of the month, make January 1, or shortly thereafter, a day when you set goals. Resolutions can be broken quickly, and then your resolve disappears with it. Goals, instead, give you something to strive for. Instead of saying you won’t eat any apple fritters from Tim Hortons for the next year, set a goal of losing weight. If you happen to have a fritter, you would have broken your resolution, but you haven’t ruined your goal. Just consider it an infrequent event that has not destroyed your whole goal. You still have the rest of the year to keep working on it.

Goals help you to live with purpose. So what do you want to do on purpose this year?

I want to continue to grow in my relationship with God. If I make a resolution to read my Bible every day, as soon as I miss one day, I have broken that resolution and broken resolutions usually makes us quit pursuing what we were going to do. A goal to read the Bible in a year encourages me to just pick up my Bible again the next day, even if I happen to miss one.

SET A FEW GOALS

What goals would help you live your life with purpose? What are some things that will enhance your life and the lives of others around you? People often suggest setting goals in areas of personal health, or social connections, or something regarding your career or further education. If you want to accomplish a certain project – building your own canoe, or writing a book – then set that as a goal. You might want to set goals in your spiritual life. If there is something you have been struggling with and you want to overcome, design a goal around that. Don’t be afraid to set a goal that may seem out of reach, Identify sub-goals that help you get there, like planning to meet with a counselor at least three times this year to work on that habit I want to break. Choose goals that help you become who you want to be, who you believe God wants you to be.

Do not set ridiculous goals. If you weigh 350 pounds, and are struggling doing stairs, it may not be a good idea to set a goal of climbing Everest this year. But you could set that as a goal in a few years! Set a realistic goal for this year that will help you to move toward the bigger goal. Set a goal of working out regularly at a gym, and another of losing a certain amount of weight. Maybe a third goal would be to start putting aside the necessary money that trip might cost. Set a goal of getting as informed about Everest and mountain climbing as you can – maybe read a book along that theme every month.

Set goals that are realistic, but also a little risky. Maybe you can’t climb Everest this year, but you can plan on doing a 10 K run. It will give you a goal to work towards that will help you tackle Everest later.

If what you want to achieve is too big for one year, then set the timeline 2-3 years from now. Then set short-term goals for this year that will move you toward that goal.

WRITE THEM DOWN

Thinking about goals is one thing. Writing them down is a completely different thing. Writing them down means you have thought about it enough to actually verbalize it, on paper at least. Feel free to do some rough drafts. Write down things you would like to do or experience or accomplish. You may have to weed them out a bit to get down to about five goals to work on for the year. One tool that has been a great help to me is the Full Focus Planner. Look it up at FullFocusPlanner.com. It helps you plan goals for the year, and then breaks them down into quarters, three months at a time. Each quarter you write down goals that will move you toward the larger goal. And then it even helps you break it down more to work on the goals weekly. It has been a huge help to me.

Writing them down gives you something to refer back to. Post them somewhere that you will see them every day. Put them in you journal, or day planner, on your phone or the fridge, or all of these. When you see what you wrote down, you remind yourself regularly what you are working towards. You are now beginning to live your life with purpose.

SHARE THEM

Often, we need others to help us in life. The same is true when it comes to setting goals and working towards them. Share them with someone you think will encourage you in them. If you have a goal of working out at the gym regularly, you would do better to share that with a friend who is doing the same thing, rather than a friend who thinks a workout is carrying in the groceries from the car. If your goal is to write a book, share this goal with someone who thinks you can do it, and who will encourage you to do it. Sharing a goal, speaking it out loud, helps reinforce your determination to do it. Sharing it with someone who will hold you accountable to it, reinforces your goals again.

With some goals, you may even ask someone to check in with you regularly to see how you are doing. Maybe you have a friend who you can encourage toward their goal as they encourage you towards yours.

You might consider getting a coach who can help you toward certain goals. Maybe a trainer at the gym, or a life coach who can help you think through what is holding you back. Maybe you are hoping to improve your leadership or pastoral abilities as you pastor a church. Let me make a shameless plug here for Elevate Coaching & Consulting, and invite you to reach out to me for some coaching to help you live your life with purpose.

REMOVE DISTRACTIONS

Writing down your goals and sharing your goals with a friend are powerful steps to help you reach your goals. Yet sometimes there are too many other things that distract us from living with purpose as we planned.

Remove distractions. If you have goals regarding health, you may do well to remove the unhealthy items from your cupboard. If you have a goal of reading your Bible every day, you may want to get up thirty minutes earlier than everyone in your house so you can focus without others demanding your attention. You may need to remove certain events or activities from your schedule to make time for the purposeful steps you are taking. For example, you might quit your bowling league to make time to work out at the gym. You know what might distract you. You will figure out how to remove those things.

I encourage you to take some time to set some goals in the next week so you can live your life with purpose.

Keep looking up,

Andy

The Space In Between

We spend a lot of time waiting. We wait at traffic lights. We wait at the doctor’s office. There is waiting from when you first ooh and aah over the ultrasound pictures until the baby arrives. I love ordering books on line, but then have to wait two weeks or more to receive them.

Some waiting is so accepted by us that we pretty much ignore it. Waiting at a traffic light raises my stress way more than waiting for a book to arrive. Some waiting consumes our every thought; think of a soon-to-be mom who spends the nine months preparing for the new arrival.

Sometimes we wait for God to work. A few years ago I went through a time of waiting on God. Both my wife and I were convinced that God had told us to wait. I was in between ministry positions and had no way of rushing the process of what was next for us. I sent many resumes to a number of different ministry opportunities. No ministry positions came my way, but then again, God had said wait.

King Saul Didn’t Wait

That “time in between” one thing or another, that time of waiting on God is important. We can’t rush when God wants us to wait. I am reminded of King Saul in the Bible. In 1 Samuel 13: 8-9 we read:

            Saul waited there seven days for Samuel, as Samuel had instructed him earlier, but Samuel still didn’t come. Saul realized that his troops were rapidly slipping away. So he demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself.

Samuel was the priest. Saul was the king. The king was not to offer sacrifices, but he felt he had waited long enough, and he was worried because all of his men were leaving. He had to do something, didn’t he?

Then Samuel arrives just as King Saul is finishing the sacrifice. He chastises the king, “what have you done?”

And this is what happens to Saul as a result of not waiting: 13 “How foolish!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. Had you kept it, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

Saul was tired of waiting. The in between time was making him nervous. He decided to act, and God punished him for it.

The Disciples Waited

There are times that God wants us to wait, so wait we should.

In Acts 1: 4-5 we read what Jesus told the disciples just before he left this earth after his resurrection: “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So, the disciples waited. For ten days. Waiting, and praying. And then something incredible happened as the promised Holy Spirit showed up. Acts 2 describes tongues of fire and a roaring sound like a mighty wind, as well as those present speaking in languages they had not known before.

There was great benefit in waiting as they received the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised would be his replacement for them.

Faithful Waiting

There are other examples in scripture, and in our own lives, where we have been in the in between time. Sometimes we know there is something else, something better, coming. Other times we are just hoping for something better. In the meantime, we wait. In the waiting, our number one purpose is to remain faithful to God.

Maybe you are waiting for a new job or a new ministry position. You are convinced that you need to move on from where you are. Maybe you have even resigned. As you look for the next position, you are getting impatient. It seems like God is too slow. I want to encourage you to be patient, and wait faithfully for God to work.

Maybe you are waiting for something you think you deserve and it is just not happening. Maybe you are wishing you were married. You long for someone to live the rest of your life with. Remain faithful to God in the waiting. Do not look for a shortcut that will ruin your future. Continue to honor him and trust him to provide for you.

Maybe you are a parent who is longing for the return of a prodigal. You have a child who decided they wanted to live their own life, and to deliberately live it opposite to what you taught him or her. And now you wait, and pray, and try to trust God to bring that wayward child back.

Continue to faithfully wait. Trust God. Pray for your child regularly. If you have an opportunity to connect with a visit or even an email or card, do what you can, and trust God to continue to work as you love this child and long for them to return to you and to God.

Waiting is often really hard. Like Saul, we look for shortcuts. But remember how drastically that one mistake affected Saul and his family forever. God had wanted to make a kingly line through him, now that was done and God moved on to another, to David.

Be faithful to God in the waiting. Trust that he truly has the best in mind for you. That waiting time God had us go through a few years ago were not the easiest. We relied on God in a way we hadn’t for quite a while. He provided encouragement along the way. And then he began showing us that he was shifting us into a new type of ministry. The waiting was necessary to readjust my heart, to show me that I needed to go in a different direction than I had ever considered. He has blessed in numerous ways as we have come out of these years of waiting.

Remain faithful during the in between time.

Keep looking up

Andy

Enjoy a Fresh Start Everyday

I am usually the first person up in the morning at my house. I am often one of the first people up in my neighborhood. There is something special about the beginning of a new day. The “early bird gets the worm” they say. Many successful leaders are up by 5 or 6 am, to start their morning routine. More important than rising early, is the fresh start that each new day brings.

Every sunrise you an opportunity to start your day over. This is not reliving the same day like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. We get to start over by starting at the beginning of another day. It is a fresh slate. There is something really freeing about a not-yet-lived day. You haven’t made any mistakes yet.

A Sin-free Day

Some of us may need the following prayer: “Dear Lord, so far today, I am doing alright. I have not gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or self-indulgent. I have not whined and complained. But I am getting out of bed soon, and I will really need your help.”

Each new day is a day when we have not yet sinned. You know the things that happened yesterday, but today you get to start over. You know where you failed, and you know what you need to improve. If you want to, you can make a renewed effort to avoid the sins of yesterday. If you have repented and confessed the sins of yesterday, God has forgiven you. You have the privilege of relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to make it a day that honours God.

If there is a “sin that so easily entangles” you, you can make a concerted effort to avoid it. “Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). Begin your day with prayer, maybe one with a little more sincerity than the one above. Talk with your heavenly Father about your desire to be holy as he is holy. Take deliberate steps to remove anything, or stay away from anything or anyone that tempts you to sin.

A Discouragement-free Day

Some days are much harder than others. Sometimes we have more of those difficult days than we would like. There are days we wish we could forget. The benefit of a new day is no one has said anything bad to you yet. Nothing has happened to discourage you. So far, nothing has gone wrong. Oh, some of us are quick to come up with potential problems, but they have not yet happened. So don’t bring on trouble that is not yours.

I like how Jesus teaches about worry in Matthew 6:34: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Or we could say, don’t worry about today, since you haven’t lived it yet. Leave yesterday’s troubles to yesterday. Don’t worry about tomorrow. And focus on the moment and the start of a fresh, worry-free day.

So far you have nothing to feel guilty about. You haven’t brought on discouragement by falling short of a goal you had or a standard you wanted to meet. At the start of the day, you are free to enjoy a clean slate.

Maybe yesterday was not a good day. You gave in to temptations. You had things go wrong. Someone was mad at you. We could think of all kinds of things that made yesterday bad. Okay. Get up again, try again. It’s a new day. Yes, you messed up terribly yesterday. Yes, life threw everything at you that it could yesterday. Get up with a renewed spirit, a renewed energy. I like that God has given us seven restarts each week.

Daily Rituals

Start your day with good, daily rituals. Do the things you know will help you start on the right foot. This is one of the reasons I get up earlier than everyone else. I do not like missing my rituals because if I don’t do them first thing, I will not do them later in the day. I actually have some evening rituals that set up my morning rituals.

I lay out my clothes for the next day so that I will not wake up my wife by turning on the light or digging through drawers looking for matching socks.

As soon as I’m showered and dressed, I sit down in my big chair in the living room. I reach for my Bible and journal. I start with prayer journaling a conversation with God, which then leads to my daily Bible reading, and a prayerful response to what God is saying to me. Next, I open my daily planner to review how I did with yesterday’s goals and set the goals for today. Mondays I set goals for the week.

These rituals help me to start the day with the things I believe are important to me. You can develop your own rituals that work for you. Getting up early helps ensure I will do what I think is important.

Fresh Orders

One of my morning rituals is to plan the day. I do not approach this lightly. After spending time with God in prayer and Bible reading first, I want to make sure these are not my goals, but fresh orders from God for the day. Sometimes there are things that come up in my time with God that it seems God is telling me what he wants me to do this day.

Getting up early to pray is following the example of Jesus. “Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went to an isolated place to pray” (Mark 1:35). If Jesus needed to check in with the Father first thing in the morning, then that is probably not a bad idea for me.

Not only does each new day mean nothing bad has happened yet, it also means nothing good has happened yet. So I want to plan I will avoid sin and discouragement, and I also want to plan to do good and right. As I check in with my Father I get some idea of what I need to do this day.

You may not like to get up early. You don’t have to. But I want to encourage you to cherish each new day as a fresh start and an opportunity to check in with the Master for fresh orders for the day.

It’s a new day. Treasure the opportunity to start with a clean slate. May God help you fill in the day with wonderful moments where you see God at work in and through you.

Enjoy a fresh start every day.

Keep looking up

Andy

Clarify Your God-Given Dreams

I believe God has certain roles He wants each of us to fill in this world. If Jesus is our Lord, we have surrendered our life to Him. This means that all we do is out of a desire to honor him. God has certain things He wants each of us to do.

Many of us have read the directives from Jesus to all believers to: “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind… and to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37 & 39). Every believer is also challenged: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28: 19-20). We might even look at verses like 1 Corinthians 10: 31, which tells us, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

These are some of the general duties of all who love Jesus and want to live for God.

There are also examples where God called individuals in the Bible to do certain things or go to certain places.

God told Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12: 1-3).

God told Jeremiah the prophet,

I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
    Before you were born I set you apart
    and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.

On the other hand, there are times when God specifically told someone not to do a certain thing. God told Balaam in Numbers 22: 12, “Do not go with them. You are not to curse these people, for they have been blessed!” And God said to King David, “You must not build a Temple to honour my name, for you are a warrior and have shed much blood.” (1 Chronicles 28: 3).

I think that God is asking each of us to do certain things as well, beyond the general directives He has given to all believers. He gives us dreams for our lives, for our families, for our community and nation, for our church or our work.

What dreams has God given to you? Is it possible that God has a certain plan He has been revealing to you over time? It probably has to do with who you are as a person. God has given you certain gifts and talents and skills which you have learned over time. God has placed you in a certain community and among a specific group of people.

You live in a specific neighbourhood and country. Maybe you have recognized a need somewhere. An experience opened your eyes to the need in a personal way, and you just can’t shake the feeling that God wants you to do something about it. You love God and want to obey him, and you are trying to discern what God is actually asking you to do.

What dreams has God given to you? Is it possible that God has a certain plan He has been revealing to you over time? It probably has to do with who you are as a person. God has given you certain gifts and talents and skills which you have learned over time. God has placed you in a certain community and among a specific group of people. You live in a specific neighbourhood and country. Maybe you have recognized a need somewhere. An experience opened your eyes to the need in a personal way, and you just can’t shake the feeling that God wants you to do something about it. You love God and want to obey him, and you are trying to discern what God is actually asking you to do.

If you are struggling with what God is really wanting you to do, can I suggest a few options you might consider as you try to determine God’s dreams for you?

First, pray. As a Christian you are probably already praying. Don’t quit. Keep on asking God for clarity. Ask him to speak to you directly in some way. I believe that God still speaks, if we only listen. Pray as if you are in a real conversation with God. This means you present your requests and concerns, and expect him to reply. Listen to what He is saying. You might do well to invite a few close friends to pray with you.

Second, read scripture. One way God speaks is through His Word. Spend time reading and meditating on scripture. Use scripture in your prayers, and watch for what God may be saying directly to you through scripture.

Third, invite the wise counsel of trusted advisors. Proverbs 20:18: “Plans succeed through good counsel; don’t go to war without wise advice.” There is value in asking the advice of others. Hopefully you have some wise and godly older men or women you can call on.

Fourth, research. Find out all you can about what you believe God is calling you to. Are others doing similar things? See if you can pick their brain about it. Find out what the real needs are in the areas of concern you believe God is placing on your heart.

Fifth, trust God’s wisdom. God’s Word tells us in James 5:1, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.” God says that if we ask for wisdom, we should just ask and we will get it. Begin to move ahead in the direction your God-given dreams are leading. It’s okay if you aren’t clear on exactly what it will look like, but begin to move and allow God to refine your direction as you trust in His wisdom. I have had to make small course corrections along the way as God continues to direct.

I believe that God puts certain dreams on each of our hearts. Some of us have them clearly articulated while others may not and are instead faithfully doing what they can to love God and love people.

Each of us can figure out exactly where we fit, where the person we are with our gifts and skills and even our unique idiosyncrasies, can serve the needs God has place on our hearts. I hope you can find a way to never feel like a square peg in a round hole again.

Keep looking up

Andy Wiebe

Chasing Rabbits and Other Distractions

A pastor must know how to keep focused and avoid distractions. We probably all remember a teacher or professor who loved going down rabbit trails. If someone asked the right question, he would get distracted from the topic at hand and head in a completely different direction. Pastors face many distractions daily, and need to know how to keep focused on the right things.

Staying focused requires a sense of clarity in both one’s role and purpose. What is the vision of the church? What is your personal role in accomplishing that vision? What needs to be done this week or this day?

COMMON DISTRACTIONS

Unannounced Visitors  

Many pastors have methods of protecting their sermon preparation time. For example, they may have set “office hours” when they know they will be in the office and their door will be open to visitors. They may have a secretary who helps protect their schedule. The smaller the church, the freer people are to show up and wanting to talk with the pastor. Larger churches often have administrative staff or offices located in such a way that visitors can’t barge into the pastor’s office, but this is not always the case for small churches. The pastor may be the only staff, and the pastor’s office may be near the front door. There is no easy place to avoid the unannounced visitor. In these situations, the pastor could put a sign on his door asking not to be disturbed or choose to work in a coffee shop, or in their home office.

The Big Question             

When interacting with people, you may find yourself distracted by big questions. Some people love to ask their pastor specific doctrinal or theological questions. They may be wanting a real answer, or they may be hoping to just stump the pastor. You need to decide which questions need an in-depth study for you to respond, or which ones you need to redirect back to the questioner. You do not need to answer their every question.

We Should Do This          

Often a pastor will hear from one of their members, “We should have a program to do…” They suggest a program or ministry they heard another church was doing and think your church needs to do it too. You need to be clear on the vision and priorities of your church as you and your leadership have determined. When people bring suggestions, you can remind them of the priorities your church has set.

There are times, though, when someone comes with a question – or an idea and, may be speaking for God. They may actually suggest something that God would have you do. One man came to visit me at one church and asked if we had anything for single moms. His daughter and grandson had moved home and he thought they could really benefit from meeting other moms. This happened to be one conversation among a few others that made us realize God was asking us to do something. The end result was a Moms and Tots program which was very well received by both church and community moms.

Hobby Horses   

Years ago, I was in a church where one Adult Sunday School teacher would end up directing the attention of his class to “New Age” issues in every class, no matter what topic the class was supposedly studying. Recognize when members are getting hung up on hobby horses. Some pastors are like this, where everything comes back to one or two key issues. When they preach, they always have some reference to their pet topic. Beware of that, as it distracts from the message of the sermon.

Technology        

The covid pandemic, and its accompanying restrictions on meeting, has forced many churches to adopt technology they never tried before. I am amazed at how many churches were able to find a way to stream their church services to people at home! But not all technology is necessary or helpful. Sometimes we get caught up in the amazing new options out there, and spend time and money on things that make no difference to our ministry, and may even distract us from achieving our vision. Make sure that what you spend time and money on will enhance your ministry, not distract from it.

Know Your Focus

What distracts you? What trails do you tend to veer onto? It may be something mentioned here, or something else. No matter the distraction, the best way to prevent losing focus is to be clear on what you believe is important. Time spent on clarifying your vision, priorities, and strategies as a church is time well spent. This narrows your focus and keeps you from being distracted. It is a tool to help you determine if something is a distraction and how you should respond. Everything that comes up can be measured against this purpose. Know your focus and you will spend less time on distractions.

If you would like help clarifying your vision and priorities contact me.

Keep looking up!

Andy

Find Ways to Enjoy Every Season of Your Life

The yellow and red leaves on the trees are ushering in our Fall season. I love the different seasons we have in Canada. There is a clear winter, usually with lots of snow and cold weather. There is a clear summer where it can get quite warm. We had 40 degrees Celsius this summer in northern Alberta. In between we have Spring where nature around us is waking up from its long winter nap. And we have Fall, when we see the green of summer change to the red and yellow of fall, and then the white of winter. Each season has an official day of beginning and ending, but nature follows its own schedule.

Each season has certain activities associated with it. Winter means more time indoors, or outdoors if you are a fan of the cold and snow. Summer is the natural time for vacations as students get a break from school. Summer is sometimes also referred to as the “construction season”, as crews try to do road construction before the cold returns.

A TIME FOR EVERYTHING

Ecclesiastes 3 has a famous poem about seasons:

1There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Our lives have seasons, as does our work life. There are times when life slows down a little, and there are times when life is so full that we feel we can hardly think. I have been in a busy season as my wife and I recently bought a new house, I changed jobs, and began my first Transition Pastor position.

The house required a couple of inspections, a lot of work to get the mortgage and insurance completed, some additional maintenance on the house, and the actual move. We had to clean out our rental and get it ready for the final walk through. We cleaned out our storage unit and started going through boxes to see what we had and where to put it.

My job required all the usual paperwork of a new job and joining a denomination I had not been part of for almost five years. I had to have Elder meetings and develop a Transition Plan. I had to get used to how things were working at the church and how I would schedule my week with them as I am commuting 110 km to serve them.

SLOW SEASONS

Some of you may be in a season that allows you to slow down a bit. You have some time to catch up with your jobs around the house that you have been putting aside. Maybe you are able to catch up with your spouse and with friends. Enjoy this season, and do the things you have been neglecting in your busy seasons. Be purposeful during this time to pursue the relationships that matter. Even though you still read your Bible and spend time with God, and connect with your spouse and family, use this time to dig in. Take more concentrated time to just be with Jesus, reading and mulling over what the scriptures say. Take time to go on that needed vacation with your family, or that date with your spouse. Enjoy sleeping in a bit. Bears hibernate so they are ready for spring. Use this time to be ready for the busy season that is most likely coming.

BUSY SEASONS

Maybe you are in a busy season right now. You feel overwhelmed with all that is demanded of you. You recognize that your emotions are at a limit, you get angry much quicker than usual. And you wonder how you will be able to hold it all together.

If you are in a busy season, here are a few things you might want to consider, not necessarily in any order:

1. Is this a capacity issue, or are you really this busy? Some of us can handle more than others, which of course means that some of us can handle less than others. We need to know how to work at our capacity, and find ways to expand that capacity. Be diligent about scheduling and arranging your days and weeks in the way that will give you the best time and energy to tackle all you need to do.

2. Determine what is yours and what you can hand off to someone else. Sometimes we are carrying a load that we do not need to carry. It may be that you are doing things that someone else can do. At work, do you have someone else on staff, or a volunteer, who can take some of the things you are doing? Have you taken on something that isn’t even yours? Hand that off, or even just put it aside. If you are doing things that are not your responsibility at work, why? If you are carrying things in your personal life that are not yours, let them go. Some of us are such caring “people persons” that we carry loads that are not ours to worry about. Give good advice, pray for people, and encourage them to work on solving their own issues.

3. Pray. Did you ever notice how Jesus took time to pray in his busy days? In Mark 1: 35-39 we read:

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Jesus had just had some very busy day of people and ministry. Very early the next day, the first thing he did was find a quiet place away from everyone, and pray. He needed to spend time with the Father before going about the work of ministry. And…the time of prayer helped him to renew his commitment to what God’s plan was. He didn’t work to appease the crowds, but continued on with what he knew his purpose was.

So, pray. Reset yourself to see and know God as the one who is truly in charge of your day, who will remind you what your main priorities of this season should be.

We all have seasons we go through in life. Some are very busy, but make sure you continue to remind yourself of what is truly your responsibility and what is not.

May God guide you and give you joy in all seasons of your life.

Keep looking up!

Andy

13 Ways to Make Prayer a Priority

I hope I don’t have to convince you that prayer needs to be a priority in your church. If I do, just take some time to skim through the gospels and notice how many times and circumstances you see Jesus praying. He gives thanks for a lunch, teaches the disciples the “Lord’s Prayer”, prays for future believers, and on and on. If the Son of God felt the need to talk with his Father that much, then we should follow that example. If that is not enough, then search “prayer” on your Bible app and you will see the many times Paul taught about it. We know prayer is important, so, I am going to focus on the many ways you can make prayer a priority in your church, teaching it and practicing it.

1. Pray During Church Services

I visited a church, where the sermon was teaching on prayer and I could not recall them praying even once in the service. Open in prayer, pray for missions, offer a Pastoral Prayer, give a prayer of thanksgiving for the offering, and close with a benediction prayer.

2. Offer Prayer Following the service

Many churches give opportunity for people to come to the front or to a side room for prayer following the service. They may have heard God speak and need to spend some time in prayer or have a leader pray with them.

3. Preservice Prayer

I like the idea of people praying before the service, sometimes with all who are involved in the service. I have a caution though; I think it is very valuable for the pastor to be greeting members and newcomers before the service, so do your preservice prayer early enough that you are done in time to be available to greet people as they arrive.

4. Prayer Night

It might be good to have an occasional or regular night of prayer. You could teach a little on prayer, and then focus the rest of the time on actually praying.

5. Prayer Trios

Ask people to commit to pray with two others weekly for a certain extended period of time. They could meet at any time that is good for them for fifteen minutes or more, praying for a specific concern.

6. Small Group Prayer

If your church has small groups, encourage them to regularly have a time of prayer for and with each other.

7. Elders/ Leadership Team Prayer

Make prayer a regular part of each meeting you have with the leadership team, elders, deacons or board. Pray about your agenda, pray for specific programs and people each time you meet. Or have a monthly meeting dedicated to praying for the church.

8. Plan a Prayer Emphasis

There have been a few times where I led our church in a three-week prayer emphasis with preaching on prayer on the Sundays around it. I prepared special prayer guides for each person prepared to give direction as they prayed.

9. Teach on Prayer

Teach your congregation how to pray. You could even preach through the Lord’s Prayer which Jesus used to teach his disciples to pray!

10. Prayer Chain

The Prayer Chain was a staple in some of the churches I pastored. One person received the prayer request and then passed it on down the line, phoning the next person who phoned the next person. Today we can just email or phone everyone at once, but find a way to quickly inform your congregation of prayer needs. Use this often and regularly.

11. Pray with People

When you visit with Christian friends, take time to pray together. When someone asks you to pray for them, do it. Do it right then with them, and then commit to praying for them.

12. Pray Prayers of Dedication and Commission

There are many occasions of celebration, dedication, and commission in a church and each of these events are great opportunities to pray and ask God’s blessing, direction, and presence be involved.

  • Every September I invited all who were going to serve in the church in the next year to stand, or even come to the front, and we prayed a prayer of commissioning for them for the role they were taking on for the next year.
  • When we had missionaries come speak at the church, who were heading overseas shortly, we would pray for them as well.
  • I love Child Dedications and enjoy praying a blessing on the child incorporating the meanings of the child’s name.
  • It’s important to pray for those who have just been baptized to protect them from Satan’s attacks, like the ones Jesus faced after his baptism.

13. Pray for Healing

This is sometimes a scary thing to do, but pray for those who are sick. They may be healed, and they may not be healed. But scripture makes it clear, Jesus healed people in the Bible. James teaches that prayer should be part of the church, specifically calling on the elders of the church to pray. Go to those who call you to pray for them, or have times where you specifically invite people to come forward for prayer for healing after a service. Sometimes we would connect this to a Communion Service.

There are many creative ways to pray, teach prayer, and lead in prayer.. Make prayer a priority by doing it.

Keep looking up!

Andy

Ask People to Give

Reaching people for Jesus costs money. Running a church with all its ministries costs money.

The truth is, your church needs money. Bills come in regularly for the electricity, gas, insurance, and on and on. Salaries must be paid. And vision needs to be funded.

Conversations about money make some people squirm. Especially if it is about their money.

As a pastor, you can talk about money in a number of different ways, some better than others. For example, you can hammer them with Old Testament scriptures and tell them they have to give, or you can tell them they need to pay for their ability to enjoy the services, like a user-fee.

MONEY AND DISCIPLESHIP

Or, instead, you can invite them to listen to God, and give as He directs. I like the idea of talking with the congregation about their discipleship and how being a follower of Jesus means allowing him access to all areas of my life, including my money. If we don’t give him control, money can become the root of all kinds of evil. Like anything else we don’t hand over to Jesus, it can become our god.

There are many great studies and programs that churches can use to help teach their congregation how to handle money as God would want them to, and help the congregation see how budgeting can help them handle their money with purpose. Tithing is an act of budgeting, even for those who do not have an actual budget. The effort of deliberately figuring out 10% is the beginning of budgeting.

You can teach them how even a little savings each month can add up over time for when they need to make a bigger purchase without borrowing. Borrowing money, using debt of any kind, always means the costs is actually higher. Saving ahead of time means you may not have to borrow, or not as much, when that big need comes along. My wife has been slowly putting money into a separate account over the last number of years. Her money, along with a tax refund I had, enabled us to recently have enough money for a down payment on a house. We can finally own a home again because of the savings she did!

MONEY AND VISION

I like tying any conversation about money, with vision. Clearly, to do this, you need to have a vision to point to. If you have a vision for your church that you and your leadership have prayerfully worked through, then you believe this is what God wants your church to pursue. Explain to your congregation how their funding of that vision will help make the vision a reality.

If your church’s vision includes winning youth to Christ, you might point to how their giving helps pay the Youth Pastor. If your church’s vision includes providing space for local 12-step programs, show how their giving helps provide a space for the community to meet. And just maybe, when those who attend the community programming are looking for a church, they will check out yours. You could even highlight a certain aspect of the church budget once a month and show how it enables your church’s vision to be accomplished.

And you could point to how sacrifice is an important part of the Christian life. Maybe your congregation needs a challenge, and maybe a bit of sacrifice, in order to accomplish great things for God in your community!

MONEY CONVERSATIONS

Be creative in how you talk to your congregation about money and their giving.

  • I have used some video clips that were very well done and got the point across without me needing to say anything.
  • Include a verse about money and giving with other onscreen announcements.
  • Say a few pertinent words just before the offering is taken.
  • Ask some people who are willing to share a short testimony about how God has guided them in their giving.
  • And of course, don’t hesitate to preach a sermon, or even a series, on finances.
  • And feel free to share about how you handle your own money.

It is important to highlight money and giving as part of discipling your congregation. You could schedule different creative methods to be used on a yearly calendar. Make talking about money a priority. Don’t be afraid to do it.

And keep looking up,

Andy

*If you are wondering how well your church is doing in light of its giving, and would like an outside voice, I can work through a Financial Audit with your church.