Don’t Quit Part Four

“Three performances!  We’ll never get that many people.” Church choir members blurted out their opinions on expanding our Easter presentation to more than just two church services. “We’ve never had that many people here for anything.”  “We’ll be too tired out after all that!”  “People outside our church don’t want to come to our stuff.”  This vein continued for a couple minutes until the quiet coyote (yes, I use that with out of order adults and students alike) regained quiet and order.

In those few moments, my resolve wavered.  Two years prior, quite a hullabaloo erupted when we moved to two performances at Christmas.  The last Christmas event packed our sanctuary to the gills.  The music leadership team and church board decided we needed one more performance.  The transformation of the community around the church prompted the decision.  Once surrounded by farms, it now sat on the growing edge of large subdivisions.   Research showed that many of these households were unchurched.  Leadership believed outreach to be strategic.

Nevertheless, in this moment, half my choir loft presented frowny faces. Never great at receiving criticism back then, I wanted to quit and say, “Fine, two it is,” in a curt tone.   In my head, I figured I’d show them when we had standing room only at two performances.  The Holy Spirit expressed his displeasure with my attitude quickly and stiffened my spine a bit.

He put a story from Ken’s childhood into my head about what it was like growing up in a non-Christian home, with several churches in his nearby neighborhood.  Not once was Ken ever invited to anything by a believer until he was seventeen years old.   Within weeks of that, he became a Christian.  I watched some faces soften as I continued to share the vision but some remained put out.

We filled two presentations completely and the third was half full, way too many people to squeeze into the other two.  Three to four performances became our norm and we watched souls enter the kingdom through these special events.

When I think of how close I came to allowing the criticism of a few to derail the vision of many, I am ashamed.  I’m also sad when I think of the hours and hours I’ve wasted in my life, mulling over useless criticism, things said to me with no redemptive value and no attempt to be righteously constructive.

I’ve backed off plans and even cancelled some things due to criticism. I’ve taken too deeply into my heart critical comments and allowed those words to shape my beliefs about myself more than what God’s word says about me.   I don’t do that so much anymore.

As I mulled over this concept of abandoning dreams due to criticism this weekend, I was delighted when my pastor, Sam Rijfkogel, preached an outstanding sermon yesterday concerning critical spirits.  Let me share some of his wise counsel with you.

  • Criticism is a reality for everyone. The only way to escape it is to be nothing and do nothing. Luke 6:26 even says it isn’t good if everyone speaks well of you
  • Criticism reveals my insecurities.   If someone criticized me as being too short,  I’d laugh. I know that isn’t true.  However, if someone said I looked a little wide in the hips……. well….
  • Criticism should only be taken to heart if it comes from people with pure hearts. Does this person genuinely care about you and are their motives pure?  Additionally, do they express it in a humble way?  Family members can be some of our largest critics and dream killers.  Look at the rotten things Miriam said about Moses’ wife for goodness sake.  Sometimes family and friends who know our weaknesses and flaws say ungodly things to us, unable to see the potential God has placed inside of us.
  • Reject criticism when it comes from the chronically critical. There might be a nugget of truth in what they say but it’s buried inside harsh words and an ungodly attitude.

We shouldn’t allow criticism to assassinate dreams God places in our hearts.  Constructive criticism may help refine the dream and work it better, but it shouldn’t annihilate your self-esteem and goals.

This weekend I also listened to a dynamic motivational speaker named Kris Mathis, author of the book “Success to Significance.” If your dreams seem to be tattered and covered in dust, I highly recommend this book.  It’s a short read and allows you to understand the strategies Kris used to overcome some of  devastating circumstances and setbacks of his own life, to achieve his current success.

God created you to uniquely fulfill a purpose in this world.  So often we allow others to undermine our success with their rejection and criticism.  I’m praying God will revive the dreams and plans He has placed inside, if you’ve given up on them.  As my pastor says, if you’re still suckin’ in air, God has purpose for you!

Don’t Quit Part Three

My battles with impatience are lifelong.  At age five, I grew tired of waiting for mom to help clean my fishbowl. I cleaned it alone, superbly, with Ivory Dish soap, and poor fishy still swimming inside.  During my teen years in my father’s greenhouses, my speed approach to transplant work murdered hundreds of innocent seedlings, leaving gaps in flats of flowers.

Unfortunately, adulthood didn’t bring maturity. Any household task I didn’t like I simply tried to do faster and faster.  If I could get back every bag of flour, jar of spice or gob of Crisco I dropped on the kitchen floor, due to haste, I could do my own bake sale. I splattered color-destroying cleaning products on clothing and rugs because I didn’t take the time to change or move a rug.

My impatience translated into my jobs and ministries also.  When I didn’t see hoped for fruit in short order, I became discouraged, complained and sometimes quit on an idea.  Every time I submitted a proposal of innovative ideas for ministry or education that needed to go through a school or church board I chomped at the bit, fuming and fussing my way through that process. Why couldn’t they see faster how fabulous my ideas were?  “I’m a racehorse, not a plough horse,” I used to say frequently.

I still think I’m a racehorse but I’ve learned some things about real champions on the track. The great ones and their trainers don’t quit and they pace themselves. Training a champion runner is a slow, methodical process usually taking several years. Good training involves short spurts of high energy followed by a longer period of restoration.  My impatience rode me like a ruthless trainer, not allowing time for situations to grow and me to rest.

Some of you want to quit on something right now because it’s not producing the results or working out the way you imagined.  You see a very small amount of progress but it’s so slow as to be barely measurable.   It’s possible that the fruitlessness is God’s way of leading you away from something but often that’s not the case.  In our current culture where many things come at high speed, like food and information, we start to expect everything else to speed up too.  Wrong expectations lead to disappointments.

As I consider the stories of so many saints in the Bible, quick resolutions seem to be the exception, not the rule.  Moses, Noah, Joseph, Abraham, David and so many others waited years and years to see destinies and promises to come to pass.  Jesus lived quietly, off the grid, for thirty years before his ministry began.  God does not count time as we do (2 Peter 3:8,9).

The metaphor of a farmer waiting for his crops is used throughout Scripture.  “Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return.  Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring” (James 5:7 NLT).  Two of my uncles used to farm.  They did not trot out to the fields with rulers each day.  They did not pace around the fields, fuming, during the growth period.  When it didn’t rain and crops grew more slowly, they prayed and patiently waited. Each season, their seed produced harvest, sometimes bountiful, sometimes meager.  They didn’t quit after meager years, they planted prayed and waited again.

Rather than fuming or quitting, ask God to shower your situation with what it needs to grow.  Understand that a growth process in your external life is a way in which God is growing patience in your internal life.  God inhabits praise, not complaining.  Could it be some of your crops are not doing well because they lack the showers of blessings and power of light only found in His presence?  Are you filling your environment with thanksgiving and praise or negative emotions?  It matters.

Don’t quit on something until you examine what kind of farmer you’ve been with the seed God has given you.

 

 

Don’t Quit- Part Two

Depression is a cunning device Satan can use to lure people away from their destiny.  We once knew a pastor suffering severe despondency.  He determined that his dysfunctional church caused him to fall into this state.  His solution?  Leave that church for another.  For a time after the move, his eyes sparkled again and he didn’t need to cheerlead himself out of bed each morning.

His new church loved him and initially embraced his innovative ideas and fresh energies.  However, people are people wherever you go.  Some are committed to being contentious. Challenges and conflict arose.  Sadly, within a year, this dear man suffered a nervous breakdown.

During my teaching years, I accepted a position as a high school vocal teacher rather reluctantly.  I’d taught in this field before joyfully, and served for many years as a minister of music. My heart changed, though. I still loved music but I didn’t want to teach or oversee it anymore.  I yearned to teach secondary English, my second college major, but every door I knocked on closed firmly.

After eight months of teaching music again, I felt depressed and discouraged. No longer a young woman, it appeared that my dream of sharing literature and language in a classroom would not come to pass.  I toyed with the idea of quitting, but knew that God planted me in that school.  I came soooooo close to checking out.

Shortly after I resolved to accept God’s placement for me, my principal came into my classroom one Spring day and said, “How’d ya like to teach sophomore English next year?”  Would I?!?  My excitement made it easy to use every morning of that summer to prepare lesson plans.   Those years of teaching sophomore, and eventually freshman English also, are some of my fondest education memories.   What if I’d turned in my letter of resignation earlier that Spring like I wanted to?  Near misses like that scare me.

Lest you think I’m quite the hero, I’ve quit on a few things due to depression.  Sometimes it’s been small items like a craft or interior design project.  Other times it’s more significant, like a relationship that became strained or challenging in some way.

When you are depressed, everyday troubles become magnified.  It’s climbing a mountain to perform the daily activities of life.  When you feel like jobs, ministries and relationships become additional mountains, it’s tempting to quit.   The idea of leaving something or someone begins to sound like an excellent solution, but it seldom is.

Making life decisions when you’re gloomy is a risky business.   Deal with the roots of your melancholy first.  Start with your doctor to eliminate any physical causes.  There are many kinds of depression caused by a variety of health issues.  Even though yours may be rooted in your chemistry, depression still affects your emotions profoundly, and your decision-making abilities.

If there are no physical causes and you are chronically blue, it’s even more unwise to make life altering decisions.  Depression is a normal emotion when we experience sorrowful events.  When it becomes your dominant emotion for an extended period, that’s a problem.  It might be highly beneficial for you to seek out professional help for some wisdom and objectivity.  Ultimately you may make some major life changes if indeed something in your daily life is the main source of your unhappiness.

Until you discover the root of your sadness though, don’t assume it’s your circumstances, job or relationships. In the case of my teaching job, it was that situation.  My unfulfilled dreams made me profoundly sad.  Nevertheless, God didn’t release me from that position because He knew good things, that I couldn’t imagine, were just around the corner.

At other times, chemical imbalances caused depression in me.   I blamed circumstances and relationships but they weren’t the cause.  How sad that I walked away from people and situations because I didn’t take the time to figure out what was truly brewing inside of me.

I’ll restate plainly; don’t quit on something due to depression.  If the problem is you, leaving won’t solve it. In fact, it may intensify your sorrow.

I know what it’s like to keep a pleasant face and work hard while all you want to do is crawl in bed and pull the covers over your head.  Doing this day after day is exhausting.  Pray.  Ask God to lead you to someone who can help you uncover the roots of your depression.  “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally…” (James 1:5 NIV).  Meanwhile, don’t run from wherever God has placed you for now.

 

 

Don’t Quit

Ken and I used to spend sleepless nights imagining different lives, rather than ministry.  We discussed re-activating our teaching degrees or opening a restaurant. With skewed vision, everyone else seemed to be happier than us.  We’d foolishly fantasize better lives without contentious people to deal with.  I know!! I’m laughing out loud reading it.

Each time we discussed exit strategies we ended at the same point. We knew we couldn’t let Satan drive us out of a place God planted us. Thankfully, God sent transparent, genuine people into our lives.  They shared their joys AND trials.  We learned EVERYONE wants to check out on their life, at some point.

We also internalized God’s truth about departures.  There’s a chasm of pain that lies between running away and being led out by God. Praise Jesus, He saved us from ourselves.  We latched onto promises He gave us for that season, worked faithfully and did not leave ministry until we received a clear word from Him years later.  Don’t misunderstand, our exodus still involved the pain of leaving the familiar but, it came with God’s blessing, favor and provision.

Isaiah 55:12 says, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace…”  That’s not just nice poetry. We left ministry abruptly, from human perspective.  In my head, I pictured my daughter’s rehearsal dinner in our parsonage backyard. I thought we’d retire there.  Instead, we leaped into God’s known and our unknown when she was twelve.  We experienced pain but simultaneously felt such joy because we weren’t running away, we were following God.  

Please hear me on this, lest you become the next Jonah, Elijah or Hagar.  Each one ran away from a painful situation only to have God send them right back into it.  When God leads you out of your current field, it will be with joy.  If you leave a thorny field with bitterness, you will struggle to find peace in your next situation.  Sorry, that’s the way God designed things.

When you follow God and leave in joy, it doesn’t mean the people left behind will celebrate also.  Some of our opposition forces probably did a happy dance when we left but many supporters felt sad, confused, perhaps angry.  They liked our ministry.  Why did we leave them?

I experienced that same dynamic with a school in which I taught.  God made it clear this assignment was short term for me.  My philosophy of education didn’t mesh with the administration. The year and a half I taught there, I subjugated my beliefs to comply with theirs and respect authority. I conversed several times, at their invitation, to those above me as I struggled to adhere to policies I believed to be detrimental to students.  Still, when I resigned, for those same reasons, disbelief and anger exploded.  “You’re doing such a tremendous job and the students love you so much.  How can you leave ?!?”  They did NOT celebrate my exit.

“Okay,” you’re sighing, “I get it. I better not leave my situation in a wrong way. I just don’t know how to be here anymore.”  I heard a profound thought years ago by author and teacher, Tony Campolo.  “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’!”  Resurrections cannot happen until there’s a death.  As we reflect on aspects of the Easter story this month I want to encourage you with two words.   Don’t quit.  If God stops you, that’s another matter, but don’t quit.

The disciple’s dreams of the future blew up on the first Good Friday.  The intensity of their emotions kept most of them away from Calvary for Christ’s final hours.  The earthly kingdom they imagined ended in the torture and death of their King.  We are not so different.  With hopes, dreams and expectations we enter relationships, jobs and ministries.  We picture scenes and events of what could be, like movies in our minds.

Then, the realities of a fallen world intrude, and we want to quit.  The principle of death before resurrection is laced throughout Scriptures and creation.  “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (John 12:24 NLT) “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38 NLT)

I don’t know what kind of Friday you’re living in. I just know Sunday’s comin’; He will bring new life. It is in His nature to do so.  “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”  (Isaiah 43:19 NIV) Don’t wallow in the puddle of  dashed expectations and miss what God is doing now.  Lost in their sorrow, the disciples teetered on the brink of missing the resurrection entirely.

God’s eternal kingdom is vastly superior to the disciples imagined earthly one.  The same is true of your broken dreams and disappointments.  God’s destiny for you is far beyond the life you’ve imagined, although it may not seem so right now.  As my former pastor, Wayne Benson, used to say, “Just keep doing the last thing God assigned you to do until He gives you a new a new assignment.”  Above all, don’t quit before God’s timing and miss the new things He has for you right where you are.