HAVE YOU CAUGHT YOUR BREATH LATELY?

There’s a tender phrase in The Message version of Psalm 23 that we leaders need to hear. It says, “You let me catch my breath.” I can just picture Jesus seeing how hard we’ve been working, and saying, “Slow down. Take a break. Rest for a while.”

We’re in an unusually full stretch of months at the ministry where I serve. At a recent Body of Christ time—where we gather for an hour to engage with God and each other—the staffer in charge read Psalm 23. She invited us to share ways Jesus shepherded us during the previous weekend. Several people shared, and then she gave us time to ponder it more deeply.

A few obvious things came to mind, but what rose to the surface were several times when I chose to rest instead of work. I walked right past the dirty laundry on my way to sit with my husband on our deck. Same thing with the dishes on the counter. And the overturned flower pots on my front porch that the wind blew over.

It was freeing to be okay with undone chores, and to follow God’s lead as I rested and enjoyed the weekend. I realized I was experiencing God’s “unforced rhythms of grace.” That’s another great phrase from The Message, in Matthew 11:29-30—

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out? 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.”

 

3 Ways to Catch Your Breath

  1. Pace yourself. Who’s driving your schedule? Is there some overzealousness at work—either outside of you, or coming from within? Identify it, address it. And then keep pace with Jesus—walking when He’s walking, running when He’s running. You’ll accomplish your work in His time.
  2. Take enjoyable breaks. What recharges your batteries? Make sure to do the activities God designed you to delight in—whether for a minute, an hour, or a day. If it means a few projects or chores are delayed, that’s okay.
  3. Get away with God. True rest is always found in the presence of God. Ask Him to lead you in spending some special time with Him, and go for it! It will be worth every moment.

Leaders are famous for working hard. But how often have we heard that on their dying bed, no leader ever said, “I just wish I would’ve worked harder.” God is not a controlling task master with a whip; He’s a comforting Shepherd with a rod and staff. Leaders who live and die without regret have learned to keep company with God and live in His unforced rhythms of grace.

 

How are you learning to catch your breath and live in God’s unforced rhythms of grace? Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comment Section below.

 

ARE YOU ON AUTOPILOT?

As Christian leaders, we know God called us, loves us, and empowers us for the work of the ministry. But even though these truths are the wind beneath our wings, we sometimes take them for granted and lead on autopilot. How do we stay engaged with God and lead vibrantly?

When my husband was first learning to fly, he came home with tales of instrument-rated (IFR) pilots who read books while flying, did Sudoku puzzles, and even took naps! Just the thought of it gave me the willies, and I was grateful Ron was content to be a visual-rated (VFR) pilot.

3 Signs of Autopilot Leadership

  1. Boredom. Does it feel like you’re going through the motions? Have you settled into a blasé routine? Is there no new mountain to climb?
  2. Diminished joy. Do ministry advancements and life transformations that once swelled your heart, now have little effect?
  3. Lack of zeal. Is your conviction-level dipping? When you talk about the ministry, does it feel a bit rote?

I’ve been reading Ephesians lately, and noticed three ways Paul stayed strong in the Lord. The first two are contained in Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians, and the third is a prayer for himself. It’s clear from Paul’s writings that he knew how essential it was to stay connected to his Life Source.

3 Ways to Be Zealous and Effective

  1. Press in to know Jesus more. Paul prays that God will give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, and that our hearts will be enlightened so we’ll more fully realize the hope and glory and might of God. Begin praying Ephesians 1:17-23 for yourself, and ask God to open your eyes to see more of His goodness and grandeur.
  2. Experience more of His love. In Ephesians 3:16-19, Paul prays that God’s Spirit, in our inner being, will strengthen us so we’ll be rooted and grounded in His love and come to know its immeasurable vastness. Ask God to empower you to comprehend and personally experience His extravagant love.
  3. Be spiritually meek and dependent. This one surprised me. In Ephesians 6:19, Paul requests prayer that he’ll receive words in order to open his mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel. You’d think that Paul—an apostle who’d personally encountered Jesus—would never lack for words or zeal. But he was human, he recognized his spiritual need, and he requested prayer that he’d fulfill his life mission.

 When you sense you’re on autopilot as a leader, make a commitment to engage more deeply with God and His Word. Press in to know Him more. Cry out for a greater revelation of His love. Pray for what you need to carry out your mission. Be vulnerable with others and ask for prayer. Your God—who is able to do far more than you ask or think—will respond, will empower you, and will be glorified (Eph. 3:20-21).

His divine power

has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,

through the knowledge of him

who called us to his own glory and excellence.

2 Peter 1:3

 

When you feel adrift as a leader, how does God help you passionately stay the course? Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comment Section below.

 

HOW TO HAVE UNSPEAKABLE JOY

In the rush and rigors of leadership, it’s important to have regular encounters with God that cause our souls to soar. While these moments can’t be manufactured, we can position ourselves to experience inexpressible times of joy with God that characterize our lives.

A few years ago, I had one of these moments with a treasured friend. We’d been on a meaningful spiritual retreat together, and afterwards debriefed over generous slices of chocolate cake with peanut butter icing. In between delectable mouthfuls, she said, “I love you, Lisa Hosler!” It was unplanned by her, unexpected by me—and swelled both of our hearts. It became the capstone of our time together.

4 Elements of Memorable Encounters with God

  1. Togetherness. If you aren’t consciously spending time with God, you’re unlikely to experience the joy of His presence. Make time and take time to be alone with your Father.
  2. Communication. Interaction with God can happen in many ways—praying out loud, praying silently, journaling, etc. Most of all, remember to listen.
  3. Feasting. Think about it—food is often part of the equation when friends gather for fellowship. Even better than chocolate cake, the food of God’s Word is “sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10b ESV). Devour it and savor it.
  4. Intimacy. As you fellowship with God, express your love to Him and receive the outpourings of His love toward you. Some will resemble Niagara Falls; others will be like a droplet of rain. Either way, God’s affirmations are supernaturally replenishing.

This morning as I sat outside to be with God, I noticed the mist across the fields and the way it dimmed the distant trees. The birds were quieter than usual. Everything seemed hushed, muted. I had a big day ahead of me, and its components started to clamor in my mind.

Just then I sensed the Lord saying, “I’m right here with you, Lisa, enjoying the morning.” A simple declaration of His presence with me, His desire to be with me. And a subtle reminder to “enjoy” before embracing the responsibilities of the day.

It’s easy to become frustrated in the fray of leadership. But leaders who commune with God have an uncontainable wellspring of joy deep within their souls.

Although you haven’t seen Jesus, you still love Him.

Although you don’t yet see Him, you do believe in Him

and celebrate with a joy that is glorious and beyond words.

1 Peter 1:8 (VOICE)

 

In the Comment Section below, share about a simple experience of inexpressible joy as you spent time with the Lord.

EXPERIENCE GOD OUTSIDE THE BOX

Good leaders have a steady relationship their heavenly Father, which brings peace and stability to the organization they lead. But a consistent walk with God doesn’t have to take on routine-like qualities. He’s a master at keeping things fresh.

At the beginning of a workday set aside to be with God, He led me to our back deck. Initially, it was sensory overload—with all the outdoor sights and sounds. But soon, my soul quieted down, and I was able to focus on things one by one. The cabbage moth in the field, the sun warming my shoulders, the airplane’s trail across the sky.

I started writing in my journal, noting each unique thing.

I kept being drawn to the highest branches of our neighbor’s evergreen tree, where sparrows were gathering. First one, then two, soon four. I went inside to get my camera, but by the time I returned they were gone.

More observing, more note-taking, more soul-stilling.

Off in the distance, a larger bird perched atop another evergreen tree. I reached for my camera and he flew. Hmmm… I thought. I guess photography isn’t part of this experience.

 Eventually, I found myself taking in the whole of the evergreen tree. I noticed its stature, its stability, its symmetry, its strength, its beauty. I thought about its ever green branches—even in Pennsylvania’s freezing cold winters. Scriptures filled my mind; tears filled my eyes.

Father, I’ve felt frazzled lately with an overly full schedule at work and at home. I want to be like an evergreen tree. Anchored in You. Planted. Rooted. Grounded.

I spent the rest of the day immersed in Scriptures about roots, trees, and streams of water. By the end, my soul was at rest and I had a new scriptural focus.

7 Steps to Experiencing God Outside

  1. Get out. Plan a block of time, an hour if possible, to be alone with God outdoors.
  2. Just be. Breathe. Let your soul slow down.
  3. Get a sense of your surroundings. What do you hear, see, feel, smell?
  4. Tune in. Take notice of what God is drawing your attention to. What’s stirring your heart? Your emotions?
  5. Stay tuned in to that particular thing, and begin talking with God about it. Ponder related Scriptures. Let God speak to your heart.
  6. Hold onto what God is saying to you, even when you go back inside and resume your activities. Meditate on verses. Continue to chew on God’s truth until it becomes a part of you.
  7. You won’t recreate that experience, but follow God’s lead in meeting with Him outside the box of what’s typical for you.

A word that could never describe God is “boring.” More like unsearchable and inscrutable. These words, from Romans 11:33, point to the endless discovery of knowing Him. Leaders who desire to know God in His fullness do well to step outside the box to meet with Him. Favorite chairs, treasured Scriptures, and cherished worship songs are great. But God is still greater. Let’s step outside with Him!

 

What is one of your favorite ways to meet with God outside the box? Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comment Section below.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

We’re familiar with this slogan regarding real estate, but let’s apply it to our spiritual lives. Specifically, the physical location where we regularly spend time with our heavenly Father. In any season—whether literal or figurative—let’s pay attention to where He wants to meet with us.

Our staff recently enjoyed a paid personal day with God. At the beginning of the day, I felt led to relocate from my indoor “God chair,” to our back deck. Immediately, I was engulfed by the great outdoors. I could see for miles. I felt the warmth of the sun, the gentle breeze. I heard chirping birds, buzzing insects, whirring cars (which I converted to ocean waves in my mind). There was an occasional butterfly, a large dragonfly, and green all around. And then, God drew my attention to one specific object in our neighbor’s yard. I’ll tell you about that next week.

4 Benefits of Relocating our Tent of Meeting

  1. New blessings. The Israelites picked up stakes at God’s initiation, and so should we. When we heed God’s promptings—however seemingly insignificant—we receive God’s fresh blessings.
  2. New view. Let’s admit it. A same old, same old can creep into our times with the Lord. Our Father knows that, and sometimes He’ll use different surroundings to help us see Him more clearly. (If it’s too hot, or rainy outside, try facing your chair toward a window.)
  3. New perspective. Jesus was famous for using parables about nature. It makes sense that He’d use nature to direct our thoughts toward Him in a fresh way.
  4. New direction. A simple change of location in your personal time with God can bring a whole new focus of study in the Word, wisdom to chew on, and guidance for the future.

Psalm 18:19 says, “He brought me out into a broad place.” A broad place—one that is spacious, wide open, full of freedom, and has new possibilities. God is faithful to bring us to good places. Let’s be faithful to follow, even in the simplicity of a new place to meet with Him. Leaders who follow God’s promptings—no matter how seemingly insignificant—receive God’s blessings.

How has a new location enhanced your connection with God? Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comment Section below.

STRESS: A SOOTHING SOLUTION

Stress is a given for leaders—especially during peak times of busyness. But it shouldn’t characterize our days, even busy ones. God has a cure.

That’s a tongue in cheek photo! But it’s true to what happened at our headquarters recently. We had a couple of stressful days leading up to our biggest fundraiser of the year—an outdoor event with a forecast of soaking rain and chilly temps. So our development assistant sent this email around the office:

As Lois said in her email, stressed spelled backwards is “DESSERTS.” We all rushed to the kitchen to devour chocolate cake that afternoon!

But as delicious as cake is, God has an even more satisfying and sustaining stress-buster for us. A good friend of mine, a leader of a non-profit ministry, describes it this way: “In the days leading up to our big events, I began noticing a pattern of frustration and stress among my staffers. Everyone had lots to do, and things weren’t going smoothly. So we changed the atmosphere. We began playing worship music in every administrative office. Now, God’s truths are filling our minds instead of stress, and event preparation is much more efficient and enjoyable.”

4 Keys to Finding Stress-Relief through Worship Music

  1. Choose well. Tune into the status of your soul, and ask God to direct you to the music He has for you. Find a long-playing YouTube worship segment on your computer.
  2. Set the volume. You know your work-style, and whether you like quiet background music or something a little louder. Make sure it’s loud enough to hear, while keeping your co-workers in mind.
  3. Tune in. Every so often, you may find yourself drawn to a particular song—whether it’s the melody or the words. When that happens, take time to stop what you’re doing, turn up the volume, and allow God to speak to your heart.
  4. Respond. God may prompt you to sing along, to watch the YouTube video for awhile, or to turn to a Scripture passage. Pausing to actively engage with God—in the midst of your workday—is a wise and worthwhile practice.

When I experience stress, it’s as though my mind is tuned into a static-filled channel on a radio. Instead of peaceful, flowing thoughts, I hear mind chatter—those niggling, negative thoughts about what someone just said, or the myriad of papers strewn about my desk, or the mountainous project just ahead. When we tune into God through worship, though, our minds are soothed with timeless truths about the greatness and goodness of our Abba Father.

May the words that come out of my mouth and the musings of my heart
meet with Your gracious approval,
O Eternal, my Rock, O Eternal, my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:14 (VOICE)

 

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

Psalm 34:1 (ESV)

 

How do you incorporate worship music into your work days, and what impact does it have? Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comment Section below.

HOW TO VALUE EMPLOYEES AS WHOLE PEOPLE

As leaders, we can have tunnel vision when it comes to our employees – primarily focusing on their time at work. We want it to be effective for our ministries and life-giving for them. But employees are whole people, with lives outside of work, and family-friendly policies will go a long way in showing them you care.

I recently sat down with an employee to hear her feedback on the ministry. We had a great conversation and she shared many ways she’d been blessed by serving with us. At the very end she said, “I don’t know if it’s appropriate to bring this up, but I wondered if you would ever consider prorated holidays for part-timers.” She’d received this benefit from a former employer and explained the hardship a holiday presents for a part-timer. “When a holiday falls on my normal work day, I don’t work that day, but then I try to make up the time during the pay period so I don’t get behind in my work and so my paycheck is consistent.”

Our leadership team discussed her request and saw the wisdom in making the change. Not only would it alleviate pressure in her personal schedule around holidays – it would bless her family because she’d be available to them instead of squeezing in additional hours.

3 Family-Friendly, Budget-Neutral Policies

  1. Prorated Paid Holidays for Part-Timers. If a part-time employee would normally work six hours on a particular holiday, allow him to take the day off and pay him for those six hours. Trust that productivity will be ensured through the normal ebbs and flows of the workload.
  1. Sick Days for Family Care. Allow employees to use a portion of their personal sick time to care for family members who are ill or in need of some type of health intervention. This can be extended on a case-by-case basis.
  1. Sabbath-Break between Christmas and New Year’s. If it’s feasible for your organization, close from Christmas Eve through the federally observed New Year’s Day holiday. Give your employees this entire time off with their normal pay – whether full- or part-time.

3 Biblical Principles about Valuing Employees

  1. God treats us as children, not commodities. He sees us as people – sons and daughters – not slaves. He cares deeply for our well-being and wants our lives to have a good balance of fulfilling work and replenishing rest. Let’s follow suit in our employee policies.
  1. An employee’s life is 24/7 kingdom. The work employees do for our organizations isn’t in a category all its own – as far as its impact for God’s kingdom. Their time spent with family, friends, church commitments, and leisure is all part of how they’re living for God. Let’s honor this reality.
  1. God ordained families. By God’s design, families are the primary crucible of intimacy and security for individuals. Work is also designed by God, advancing His kingdom and enabling people to provide for their families. But let’s develop policies that acknowledge the God-given role family plays within employees’ lives.

As our ministry has grown in God’s wisdom and ways, we’ve grown in His life-giving rhythms of Sabbath rest. When our employees received the unexpected news of these family-friendly policies, there were whoops of joy and tears of gratitude. One employee said, “This is just one more beautiful expression of the way this ministry values life. Thank you!”

When you develop family-friendly employee benefits, you create a win-win-win for your employees, their families, and your organization.

 

What impact have you witnessed or experienced from family-friendly employee policies? Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comment Section below.

 

CREATIVE MEDITATION

The thing about meditation is it takes so much time. And the thing about leaders is they’re prone to feel short on time – and consequently a bit ragged. But creative meditation is an easy, fun way to let God’s truths slowly mend your frayed soul.

Last week I ventured into Ephesians and decided to do a verse-by-verse study. I was captivated by Ephesians 1:3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

If you read last week’s blog, you know I was intrigued to learn that the first “blessed” in that verse is a special Greek word used only in relation to God. He’s in an eternal state of being praiseworthy, and there’s a distinct form of the word “blessed” to describe this. I dug around in the Greek, looking up the other words in that verse, and was struck not only by God’s unending worthiness to be praised but by His outpouring of commendation toward us!

What an incredible God our Father is!

We get to worship Him!

 He is constantly speaking well of us!

The next morning, I was tempted to move on to Ephesians 1:4. That would be my Type A, fast-paced leadership style kicking in. But Ephesians 1:3 was still strong in my spirit, and I sensed God nudging me to linger. So I stayed put. I pulled out my pencil crayons and spent the next 15 minutes writing the words in different colors and sizes, adding a few designs for emphasis. All the while, reveling in what I’d studied the day before.

And God’s Spirit touched mine all over again.

And now I have another way to reflect on Ephesians 1:3 as I page through my journal. Seeing that image is a great reminder of the verse’s deep significance to me.

7 Easy Steps to Creative Meditation

  1. Be willing. Even if you’re a self-declared “non-creative,” you’ll be surprised what happens when you take a few minutes to ponder as you write and draw.
  1. Tune into God’s Spirit. Is there a verse, or a word, or a phrase from a worship song that’s hit your spirit lately?
  1. Find a writing instrument. Pencil crayons are great, but magic markers will work fine, or even just pens and pencils.
  1. Begin writing. As you write, emphasize key words by making them larger or using a different color or shape.
  1. Add flair. Decide how you want to illustrate the meaning of a key word with an image or design. Or simply underline or circle certain words.
  1. Look it over. Are you finished? Is there anything else you’d like to draw attention to?
  1. Praise God. As you look at what you’ve created, smile, laugh out loud, praise God for His revelation to you.

Meditation is one of God’s gifts. The feeling of not having time to meditate is one of Satan’s schemes. They both know the benefits. Open God’s gift of meditation today, and let His rejuvenating truth and love saturate your soul.

 

How do you like to meditate on God’s truth? Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comment Section below.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS – MATTHEW 22 STYLE

It’s in the air. As we look at the blank slate of a new year, we’re inspired to make some changes in our lives. If you’re a Type A leader, you’ve already honed and polished your list. If you’re Type B, you’ve long since abandoned such lists. Let’s look at a biblical template.

   

We can each recount our mile-long lists from the past: 1) stop eating junk food, 2) keep my desk clutter-free, 3) spend an hour a day with God, 4) exercise five times a week, 5) read the Bible three times this year, 6) reach out to my oddball neighbor, 7) drink eight glasses of water a day, and on and on they went. And we can each remember coming up short and crumbling up the list by mid-January.

But the issue isn’t really the lists. The issue with New Year’s Resolutions is their source and their sustenance. Who or what inspired us to change, and how are we going to sustain it?

The Source of New Year’s Resolutions

Romans 11:36 says this of God: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” God is the sole source of all true inspiration. So if we want to know how He’d like to change us, let’s ask Him. Let’s look into His Word. Let’s wait on His leading.

The Sustenance of New Year’s Resolutions

In Zechariah 4:6, God says: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit.” So, as we’ve each experienced, willpower never cuts it. The only power that cuts through the strongholds in our lives is found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We experience that power as we abide in Christ.

Matthew 22 Style New Year’s Resolutions

Let’s look at Matthew 22:37-39 for a biblically-based challenge for 2017. Jesus said,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

  1. Love God. Read Matthew 22:37 a few times in different versions of the Bible. Talk with God about how He’d like to empower you to love Him more actively in 2017.
  1. Love others. Ask God who He’d like you to intentionally reach out to with Christ-like love in 2017. Jot down the name or names that come to mind. Begin praying for opportunities to do so, and follow the Spirit’s promptings as the year unfolds.
  1. Love yourself. Satan, as the accuser, is constantly looking to tear you down. Ask God how He wants you to live like you’re a completely loved child of God in the New Year.

God knows it’s a New Year, He’s Lord of it, and He’s Lord of you. He made you a new creation in Him, and He wants to transform you into His image with ever-increasing glory. If God is the source of your New Year’s resolutions and His Spirit is the sustenance, He will transform you from one degree of glory to another.

And we all, with unveiled face,

beholding the glory of the Lord,

are being transformed into the same image

from one degree of glory to another.

For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18

 

 

Has God led you to any New Year’s resolutions this year? Feel free to share one or two in the Comment Section below.

 

 

YEAR-END SABBATH REFLECTION

Have you taken your year-end Sabbath yet? Have you stolen away to be with the Father to rest and reflect on the year with Him? If you haven’t, there’s still time!

Even God paused to reflect. Besides instituting a day of Sabbath rest within each week, He took time at the end of each day of creation to look over the work He’d done. He found great enjoyment in what He’d made, declaring it good.

Jesus did the same. I’ve been reading Luke this month and have been struck again by Jesus’ custom of pulling away from the hustle and bustle to talk with His Father. “…great crowds gathered to hear Him… but He would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” (5:15-16); “He went out to the mountain to pray, and all night He continued in prayer to God.” (6:12); “… Jesus was praying alone…” (9:18).

So with just a few days left in 2016, let’s pull away with our Father and reflect on the year. Here are some ways I’ve done it through the years.

7 Ways to Reflect on the Year

  1. Remember Each Month. As much as you’re able, try to remember the progression of the year month by month. What stands out to you in January of 2016? How about March? June? What was hard? What was wonderful? Ponder these things with God.
  1. Gather Your Journals. Page through your prayer journals – written or spoken – to review what you prayed about and how God spoke to you. What were the highlights? The lowlights? Is there anything to continue processing with God?
  1. Review Your Photos. Pull up photos on your phone or computer, and see what you found picture-worthy – the people, the places, the experiences. How has God used them to shape you? How did He use you in others’ lives?
  1. Trace Your Scriptural Journey. You may find this noted in your journal, or ask God to remind you what He led you to read in Scripture throughout the year. What insights did you glean? How have they played out in your life and ministry?
  1. Capture the Lessons. Think through the standout lessons God taught you. Jot them down, and see if they’re related, or if they build on one another. How are you different because of God fashioning you this year?
  1. Praise God. Whether your year’s been horrendous or momentous or a combo, God’s been with you. His faithfulness has surrounded you, and He’s upheld you with His love. Let His goodness swell within you and praise Him out loud! J
  1. Receive Perspective for 2017. Ask God for His heart and direction for the New Year. Is there an overarching theme for your ministry? What’s His Scriptural focus for you? Are there new Sabbath rhythms He has for you?

From the dawn of creation, God instituted days, weeks, months, seasons, and years – for our sakes. He never wanted our lives to be one non-stop blur of activity. God designed a rhythm of rest and reflection for our good, for our relationship with Him, and for His glory. Let’s take Him up on it.

 

What do you do to reflect with God at the end of each year? Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comment Section below.