I’ve got a question for you. An important one. Really important.
You’ve heard of a BHAG, right? But how about a BHAQ? A big hairy audacious QUESTION.
Here it is: Is it possible to be more passionate, more energized, and more productive for the Kingdom…a year from now?
Read it once more.
Just between you and me, what’s your knee-jerk reaction to the question?
Truth be told, my gut response the first time such a question was tossed over the fence into my backyard was a combination of “are you crazy?!” and “what are you smoking?!”
If you dim the lights, close the blinds, and run the game film of my life, there are a ton of seasons where simply SURVIVING seemed like success. And if you replayed countless conversations with those whom I have teamed with through the years, my counsel has often been about creating a SUSTAINABLE approach to life and leadership.
Which leads me to my mea culpa: I was wrong.
Here’s the deal. In God’s economy, He calls us beyond mere survival. He calls us beyond scraping together a life that is simply sustainable. He call us, better yet, He invites us into what I like to refer to as a RENEWABLE RHYTHM of life and leadership.
Need a little convincing? Need to kick the tires? If so, sit in and soak up the words of Jesus Himself. Consider reading these words slowly…and audibly.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
How do you respond to the words of Jesus? If you are like me, it is something along the lines of “Yes! That’s it. That’s what I’m talking about. Sign me up! I want to learn to live freely and lightly. THAT’S the rhythm of life I’m seeking.”
One of the themes of my personal journey is to lean more and more into THIS way of life. And in this current chapter of my life, as I walk this pathway, I have an ever-deepening friendship with three faithful companions—three spiritual practices. At the end of the day, these practices are creating the space for God to school me in how to live more fully in a renewable rhythm of life and leadership. (And even as I write those words, I am compelled to stop and say “Thank You, Father, for what You are showing me”).
So allow me to introduce you to my faithful friends, and then to unpack them in more detail. Deal?
Meet SABBATH. In a word, Sabbath is the spiritual practice of taking one day a week that is set aside to God for the purpose of rest, renewal, and relationship.
Meet SOLITUDE. Solitude is the spiritual practice of taking a block of time where you are intentionally absent from people and things so that you can be fully present with God.
And meet CALLING. Calling is the spiritual practice of discovering and living out your unique part in God’s grand story. It’s the “one thing” that gives platform and purpose to all you are and do.
So let’s talk about SABBATH.
It will be good to start with a definition, making sure we are on the same page. While Wikipedia offers a few helpful ideas, let me roll out a description of Sabbath that I have been tinkering with over the past several months that I believe gets to the core. It goes like this:
Sabbath is the spiritual practice of taking a weekly 24-hour period of time that is devoted to God for the purpose of rest, renewal, and relationship where things that you’ve “got to do” give way to things you “get to do”.
I’d like to unpack this definition, but before I do, can I make an observation? In the circles in which I run, I find the practice of Sabbath to be more the exception than the rule. Do you? I found it quite revealing while leading a workshop on this topic a few months ago, to learn through an anonymous survey that less than half of those in attendance—all of them ministry leaders—had an established pattern of Sabbath.
I don’t think this is what God had in mind…
A quick study of the Bible will reveal that Sabbath-keeping is more than a suggestion; it is a directive, a commandment. (If you need a little convincing, check out Exodus 20, where you will find this truth tucked away with nine other non-negotiables).
In celebrating Sabbath, I look for that which renews and restores, being careful to avoid any checklists or templates. This can include a wide range of engagements. Some of my favorite Sabbath activities include reading on a variety of topics, taking a long walk, or pursuing a couple hours of solitude where I take the time to listen for the divine whisper. It also includes spending unhurried time with my family (especially my wife) and close friends, simply enjoying the gift of their presence. No agenda to accomplish. No schedule to keep.
But what I am discovering most about Sabbath is the SPIRIT that attends it. In many ways, Sabbath is a short and sacred window of time where the “got tos” of life surrender to the “get tos”. It is a time when the ever-present, ever-pressing demands of life are stacked on a shelf that simply reads “NOT today”.
Do you have Sabbath factored in and featured in your life? Does it occupy a RESERVED section on your Outlook calendar? If not, I challenge you to give it a two-month test drive. At the end of that time, I guarantee that you will start to discover for yourself that there IS a renewable rhythm to life and leadership. And that you can honestly say, I DO believe that a year from now, I can be more passionate, more energized, and more productive for the Kingdom.
Let’s move on to SOLITUDE.
To get us going, let me tee up a working definition: solitude is the practice of being absent from people and things for an extended time so that I can be present with God.
Stating the obvious, we live in a world of noise—noise that comes at us from all directions. Some of it unpreventable. Some of it self-imposed. A vast majority of it distracting. And so much of it soul-numbing. Traffic horns that announce impatience. Flat-screens that decorate the walls of public spaces with never-ending news feeds. Podcasts that echo endlessly in our ears. You get the point.
And in the middle of all these moving parts, God’s gift, His antidote to the buzz and chaos of life, is solitude.
Of the many things that I am learning about solitude, perhaps none is as important as this: In solitude I find it extremely hard to be dishonest with God. That is, any serious attempt to spend extended time with God is ultimately going to lead down the pathway of deep personal reflection—getting down to the issues in my heart that most of the time I opt to avoid.
Let’s take that a step further. I hadn’t been to the Los Angeles Zoo for years (make that decades!), but now that I have grandkids, I’m a regular—as evidenced by my annual pass! Upon arriving at the zoo, my grandkids will begin calling out what animals they want to see. After hearing their requests, I quickly find the ‘campus map’ that identifies the location of the Asian elephants, the Masai giraffes, and the Sumatran tigers. And thankfully and most importantly, the map notifies me of one vital slice of info: “YOU ARE HERE”.
You are here. That’s exactly what happens in solitude. You discover where you are. You get your spiritual bearings. I like to think about it as ‘game film’ time. Time to study the nooks and nuances. Why did I react with such intense anger in that situation? Why did that seemingly small circumstance illicit such deep sadness? Why do I find it so important to always have my ideas prevail when participating in a leadership setting?
Solitude gently lifts the lid on the stuff below the water line. Henri Nouwen in his must-read book, The Way of the Heart, puts it this way: In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me–naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken—nothing.
In this current season of solitude, I am finding a question that seems to anchor my conversation with God. It goes like this: “What do You want to say to me about me?” And then I lean in and listen.
And I listen some more—for that still small Voice.
I made you a guarantee about Sabbath-keeping, and now I want to make you a guarantee about the practice of solitude. Here it is: if you want to make serious strides in allowing God to transform your life, then solitude must find its way into the matrix of your life. It simply is an essential part of building a renewable rhythm to life and leadership.
And last, but not least, let’s talk about CALLING.
What is “calling”? If you punch in “calling” at Dictionary.com you get a laundry list of definitions. Soup to nuts. Some of it helpful. Most of it not. So what are we talking about here?
Allow me to lead up to a definition by telling you that I am a student of “calling”. I study it. Read about it. Reflect on it. Believe in it. And in many ways I could serve as the proverbial poster child for it. (Just ask me what the discovery of my calling has meant in my life’s journey).
Now when it comes to definitions, I might be more than a few points off the standard deviation. Truth be told, while some folks collect coins, I collect definitions. (A well-worded definition shoots a rush of adrenaline straight through me!). So in my studies of CALLING, the best definition comes compliments of Erik Rees in his book SHAPE. It goes like this:
Your Kingdom Calling is way more than a career. It is a special commissioning from God to make a significant difference on this earth.
Every Christ-follower has a calling—a special commissioning from God to make a difference on this earth.
As a teenager, I read a book that carried the title For This I Was Born that had considerable impact on me. The author of the book was a man by the name of Louis Talbot. Born in Syndey, Australia in the late 1800s, Dr. Talbot was one of the senior pastors at the historic Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles, CA—the church where I grew up. He was the second President of Biola College (its seminary would later be named after him—Talbot School of Theology). He was a pastor and friend to my family, dedicating my parents as infants and speaking at my grandfather’s memorial service. AND he was a man who knew his CALLING as evidenced in the title of his book, and more importantly, by the life he lived. Louis Talbot had no doubt about God’s call on his life.
To know your calling is to know your “sweet spot”. Your sweet spot is simply the intersection of God’s PURPOSE, your PASSION, and your PROFILE. Let me unpack that in brief.
God’s PURPOSE is described in Christ’s wrap-up words to His followers in the final chapter of the book of Matthew. This purpose is pretty straight-forward: make disciples. That is to say, the job profile for every Christ-follower (not just those in vocational ministry) is to be proactively engaged in both introducing people to Christ and helping them grow in Christ.
Your PASSION is what uniquely fires you up. What energizes you. What makes you mad. What makes you weep. What makes you say, “this cannot stand!” I have a friend who is passionate about coming alongside orphans in his country of origin—providing shelter, education, and the hope of Christ—and is leveraging his many years of legal and financial capacity to make a difference. His passion orders his daily decisions.
And your PROFILE is that wonderful and customized blend of your gifts, strengths, talents, personality. It’s the experiences and challenges you have encountered in life. It’s all the things that God has purposefully poured into your life. Like a strategically placed signpost, your profile will point the way for HOW you will be most effectively make a difference in the arena of your passion.
This sweet spot, this calling is what I give myself to—without reservation. It is MY part in GOD’S grand story. And when I’m living in it, I experience unmitigated joy and fulfillment. And energy.
(By the way, practically speaking, the discovery of your calling is a journey of many steps and more importantly, one of many conversations with the Author of the One who formed and fashioned you. In taking this journey, I have found Tom Paterson’s book, Living the Life You Were Meant To Live, to be very helpful).
I close this article with one more money-back guarantee: lock on to your CALLING, add in the practices of SABBATH and SOLITUDE, and I guarantee you that a year from now you WILL be more passionate, more energized, and more productive for the Kingdom.