Leading In The Midst of Disappointment

Truly we are living in the midst of unique and challenging days. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it very real difficulties, trials and suffering. Death, disease, unemployment, anxiety, and depression are all real challenges right now.

One of the lesser-talked-about challenges of these days is disappointment. As we are encouraged to stay home, and so much of our regular activates and schedule have been cancelled or shifted, I continue to hear stories in which people are facing the reality of disappointment. These are only some…

  • My daughter missing her kindergarten friends and still not understanding why she can’t go back to school and see them.
  • Friends of mine have had to cancel or attempt to reschedule planned trips in which they were looking forward to spending intentional time with their spouse or family.
  • Ministry teammates had to cancel their trip to visit and encourage dear friends who are missionary partners overseas.
  • Couples are having to cancel, postpone, or change wedding plans.
  • Local high school and college seniors are going missing out on special days and events with their friends that they had looked forward to for years.
  • Pastors and leaders are trying to care for those they shepherd and lead with limitations in communication and presence.

I was recently listening to a podcast in which the hosts discussed this reality. In their conversation they addressed the disappointment many student athletes are feeling in knowing they can’t complete their season with their teammates. One of hosts remarked something to the effect of, “Yes – but in the grand scheme of everything going on those kinds of things aren’t really that big of a deal.”

I’m sure the host meant well. There is a partial truth in his statement. In light of many of the great challenges and difficulties of our day, a high school student not finishing basketball season with their teammates does not seem to have much significance. However, it does have significance to the student who is having to wrestle with very real disappointment of something that mattered to them being taken away.

In the midst of these unique days it would be unwise of us to minimize the very real disappointments the people around us are facing.

The gravity of some challenges ought not to cause us to ignore the disappointments of others. 

If we are going to lead well, whether in the home, workplace, or church – then we must take steps to lead well in the midst of disappointment. We can do that by…

  1. Creating Space to Be Present

A core, necessary practice of leadership is being present. And yet it seems it has never been harder for leaders, especially in the church and workplace, to do this. Leaders and employers are having to be increasingly innovative and virtual in order to connect with people.

In the midst of this, leaders should consider “creating space” in virtual meeting times to check in with team members and staff. Churches are utilizing technology – phone calls and video conferencing (like FaceTime Zoom), to have leaders check in on the people of their church. Many of them are facing very real challenges and disappointments, such as job loss, new stresses and strains at work or home, and even family members or friends that have been tested positive for coronavirus. This crisis is pushing the church to be innovative in order to be present.

For companies and organizations that usually have team members in a physical space together (such as an office building) the regular “water cooler” time that was valuable for connectivity and conversation is no longer available. I recommend that when you do meet virtually, to create space within your meeting time for you to be present and hear how your people are navigating some of the very new, unique challenges and disappointments in their roles and jobs.

For families there is a temptation to take the mindset in which our goal is to “just survive” as we navigate new rhythms of homeschool and working from home. However, in the midst of overseeing school projects and trying to fill our kids’ attention with activities, parents – may we create space for conversation in which our kids can express themselves. We can ask our kids how they are doing, feeling, and who and what they miss from school, their sports team, etc. May our kids understand that we are not only with them physically, but are available to them relationally.

2. Listening Well

Often when someone we lead expresses the disappointment they are feeling there is temptation for us to want to “help” by sharing some type of advice or anecdote that we hope will somehow miraculously qualm the tensions and pain that people are feeling. I must admit that is can be bad habit I’m trying to kick myself.

It would be wise of us to listen well. In a time where people are now together less, there is also less opportunity for individuals to share and express the tensions and disappointments they are feeling. Let’s not take away what little capacity they have left to be heard by not stilling ourselves and listening well. This is true for those that we lead – our families in the home, friends at church, and peers in the workplace.

I recently told a friend and co-worker, “We are currently facing the crème de la crème of situational leadership.” Each day leaders, pastors, and employers are having to face new information and make difficult decisions. I’m convinced we will make better decisions and will leader people better when we take the time to be present and listen well.

3. Affirming & Empathizing

There is an oddity to these days. There’s no book called “How To Navigate The Disappointments Felt During A Pandemic For Dummies.” I know this because I checked on Google and Amazon. However, none of us want to feel odd or emotionally isolated because we’re not sure how to process unique disappointments in a unique time. 

As we listen – a simple, “I hear you…”“I understand why you feel that way”“I’m so sorry to hear that” helps people to be heard and cared for. May we empathize with others when we feel some of the same disappointments or challenges of having to navigate such unique circumstances. Our empathy may not change the circumstances, but it often helps people to not feel alone in them.

A word of caution for the Christian: When someone is very much struggling with disappointment, we must be careful not give an ill-timed spiritual or scriptural anecdote. We might mean well, but this kind of response at the wrong time might only add to someone’s pain. Rather, may we first be committed to being present and listening well.

Let us heed the words of Proverbs 25:20 (ESV), that says: “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.”

4. Not Forgetting About Grace

Small Group Leader. Parent. Pastor. Educator. Leader.

Whatever role you are in – don’t forget about grace. 

First – Don’t forget to give yourself some grace. As a pastor friend of mine said recently, “This is once in a lifetime crazy.” The reality is that none of us are going to make perfect decisions or are going lead others perfectly in the midst of these unique days. So, when you don’t – give yourself some grace. 

Second – Give others, including those that lead you, some grace. I repeat: “None of us are going to make perfect decisions or lead others perfectly.” Don’t put that expectation on those that lead you. Every day our church leaders, employers, educators, government officials, and other leaders are having to approach new information, challenges, and decisions. Sometimes, we might not agree with their decisions. Christians — may we lead well in the way we respond when we don’t agree with others. If ever there was a time for a Christ-like example of this, it is during our time.

Third and finally – rest in His unchanging grace. 

The God who created the heavens and the earth… Who commands the sun, the winds, and the rain… And made a way for salvation, even when there seemed to be no way…

His grace is sufficient.

It was sufficient at the cross… It will be sufficient for eternity… And it is sufficient for these unique days.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

"God Is Our Hiding Place" – A Purposeful Activity For Families

Families — While we “hide away” at home and wait out these days of the coronavirus pandemic I hope that you are finding ways to have purposeful fun, interaction, and conversation as a family. I wanted to share a great resource that will help you do this. 

A friend of mine, Marc Shields, put together a family meeting and activity guide that will help your family have some intentional fun together as you talk about how God is our hiding place. I hope you use and enjoy this great resource… I know our family will!

*Marc Shields is the Family Ministries Pastor at Lifepoint Church (Westerville Campus) and has been serving with kids and families for years!

5 Family Prayers In The Midst of Coronavirus

Our families and children are experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime historical event. There are lots of changes, questions, and new realities we are facing. In the midst of all this change we have the opportunity to point our kids to an unchanging God, who is our source of peace and hope. As you navigate the coming days as a family, below are five prayers (based on Biblical truths) that you can pray together in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

A Prayer of Worship

“Dear God… We know that you do not change. Even when the world and what is happening around us changes – you do not. You are still perfectly good, kind, loving, and just today as you were yesterday. And you will be the same tomorrow. We worship you for who you are. You were still good when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. You were still good when Jesus died on a cross. And you are still good now, and you will always be good. Help us to not view you differently because of what’s happening around us. Instead, help us to have confidence in who you are, always.”

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

“Dear God… We know that you use everything for your glory and for the good of your people. While we can’t understand why certain things happen, or everything that you are doing – we are thankful that you do. There are lots of changes happening right now and lots of stories about sickness throughout the world. We might not understand everything happening around us, but we are thankful that you understand. We ask that you would give us peace and patience in the times that we don’t understand.”

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8

A Prayer of Hope

“Dear God… We know that Jesus is our hope. He came and lived the perfect life we couldn’t, died the death we deserved, and rose again to make our future hope secure. Whether our circumstances seem good or bad, our hope is always in Jesus. Nothing will change his love for us and the hope of heaven we have in him. One day there won’t be sickness, pain, tears, or even death… because of Jesus! We look forward to that day! Until then, please help us to remember the hope we have in Jesus.”

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12

A Prayer of Learning

“Dear God… Because you are a good, heavenly Father you are always teaching us. You are even able to use the current difficulties to teach us, change us to be more like your son, and to give us strength for each day. During these uncertain days we ask that you would teach us. Help us to cherish, read, and understand your Word, the Bible. As we do, we ask that you would make us more like your son, Jesus. Help us to love and serve both you and each other in a way that would make your heart glad.”

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

A Prayer of Mission

“Dear God… There are a lot of people near us who have, or are going to have, different kinds of needs. We know that you have chosen to use your people, the church, to love and care for those in need. Help us to see what family members, friends, and neighbors need, to help them where we can, and to share about the hope of Jesus with them. Help us to find ways to especially care for and love those who are facing significant challenges in the midst of this sickness – the elderly, people working in hospitals, and people who serve our communities.”

“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’” Mark 16:15

3 Ways To Be More Thankful

When you were young did you ever receive a present that you didn’t necessarily like or want? Is a particularly ugly outfit coming to mind? Maybe you asked for a certain toy but got something completely different? And the only thing that made this gift worse was looking over to your parent and seeing them mouth the words to you, “Be. Thankful.” 

Honestly, I’ve actually had moments where this is the kind of response I’ve given God. 

“Really – this is what you’ve giving me right now? But what I really wanted was this…” I’ve thought my circumstances should be a certain way, when they were another. I’ve thought I deserved something better (at least, better in my mind) than what I had.

I wrestle with a thankfulness problem. We all do. God is always good. He always knows what He’s doing, even when I don’t necessarily get what He’s doing (Isaiah 55:8-9). So how do we combat our own lack of thankfulness? Here’s three ways to be more thankful…

1. Ask God to give you a thankful heart.

You and I cannot will ourselves to be more thankful people. We need a heart change and God is always in the business of changing hearts (Psalm139:23-24). Prayer is simply talking to God. So, talk. Ask Him for a thankful heart.

2. Read the Psalms.

The Psalms are full of beautiful poetry and songs that give us greater view of God, what He’s like, and how He works in our lives. Often in the Psalms we see the writer both calling out for God’s help and yet expressing thankfulness to God for who He is, even in the midst of troubling circumstances. This is a good model for us as we grow in thankfulness.

3. Sing. And no – I’m not kidding.

Listen, even people who can’t carry a note find themselves singing along to their favorite kinds of songs. Some folks like cheesy, country tunes about drinking ice tea while fishing with their high school sweetheart. Some of you are ready to sing Christmas music as soon as the temperature outside is under 50 degrees. 

The Bible encourages us to sing about God and be thankful! So, today – find a song that helps you be thankful to God… and sing! Both I and your hairbrush microphone know you can do it.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.Colossians 3:16-17

Integrating Faith And Work

Whether in the marketplace or in the church, there are often times when it can be difficult to find a greater sense of meaning and purpose to our labor. But how might we see our work as more than just… work?

In a 2018 report, Barna Research Group partnered with Abilene Christian University to study Christians At Work. In their research they defined a group of people they call Integrators, employees who enthusiastically connect their faith and work, seeing their labor as purposeful and as a good fit. 

But what are the markers of these Integrators? In a survey, Barna Research noted 5 trends and attitudes that characterize their approach to work:

1. They Regard Work As Spiritual

Integrators acknowledge God as having a role in the work they do… and 89% agree strongly that God has given them talents to use for His glory.

“For every job included in the survey – from entertainment executives to school janitors – they are more likely to see its potential as a calling or a chance to contribute to the common good.”

2. They Set The Bar High

Holding high standards of professional integrity, Integrators “require more of themselves – as workers and as people of faith.” In fact, they feel a deep sense responsibility for contributing to the culture of their workplace. They build friendships with non-Christian colleagues and want to be an “instrument of common grace for the common good.”

3. They’ve Never Truly “Made It”

Most people who integrate their faith and work well never feel as they are done growing. “Ninety-one percent — compared to 61 percent of all Christians – agree that they are always looking for ways to improve.” They are willing to embrace both life-long learning and different kinds of possibilities.

4. They Embrace Curiosity & Risk

Most Integrators are curious about the world. Curiosity has been linked to a number of positive effects on person’s ability to improve the workplace and society: resiliency in relationships, handling conflict well, less political polarization, and others. 

Integrators are less fearful of taking leaps of faith than the average Christian, and aren’t afraid to put themselves out there in both the workplace and in life goals and projects. Perhaps this is because they are more likely to regard faith as the foundation of their identity.

5. They Don’t “Bury Their Talents”

Those who integrate their faith and work well want to use their giftedness for the good of others. This may reflect “their strong belief that these talents are given by God to use for His glory.” 

This generosity extends to their finances as well, as they serve God with their money. They are also more likely (than the average Christian) to express their generosity through serving and volunteering.

For more information on the Barna report, Christians at Work, click here.

The Religion Of Self-Will

You see it on t-shirts and instagram. You hear it on podcasts. And you definitely read it in a lot of popular books. It’s the religion of self-will. It’s proponents would never call it a religion but, make no mistake, it’s a set of beliefs by which people orient their lives.

This religion is often preached by a cluster of tweetable quotes propped up by the same basic premise: “If I just believe in myself and my efforts enough then I will find the life, peace, and rest I’ve been searching for.”

However, when measured up against the Gospel, I’ve found this premise with its coffee-mug-imprinted-sizzle seems to, well… fizzle.

Here are three examples of how the Gospel debunks the religion of self-will…

1. The religion of self-will says: “You are enough”

The Gospel says: “No — I’m not enough by my own merit and because of my sin I can’t earn the approval I’m looking for. If I was, and if I could… then Jesus wouldn’t have had to die. But he did, for me, because I’m that valuable to him. I have God’s approval because of who He is and what He has done for me.” cf. Romans 5:1-11

2. The religion of self-will says: “Just work hard enough and you’ll have the life you want”

The Gospel says: “I can’t manipulate my future and I don’t have to. Jesus holds my future, both here and in eternity. Until then, I can set aside personal idols that fade for Kingdom treasures that will last forever.” cf. Matthew 6:25-34

3. The religion of self-will says: “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps”

The Gospel says: “Even youths grow tired and weary. But my living Savior’s feet (and hands) have holes that tell me he was plenty strong enough to carry my burden of sin to the grave and he’s plenty strong enough to carry me to glory. When I’m tired, discouraged, or without all the answers I am never without hope or security, because my hope and security are found in Christ.” cf. I Peter 1:3-9

In conclusion: The religion of self-will tells me to exhaust myself by trying harder to be better. The Gospel tells me I’m free to place my confidence in who Jesus is and what He’s accomplished on my behalf.

I choose the Gospel.

When It’s Tough To Pray

Ever experienced a time when it was difficut to pray? I have.

Maybe you had so much on your heart and mind, that you weren’t sure where to start? Been there.

Or maybe you’ve found yourself struggling to block out all the noise and settle your mind to pray? I can relate. We live in a noisy time, don’t we?

Even when our minds aren’t settled, our hearts are heavy, or God doesn’t feel especially close… He is present. He is ready to hear. He is often ready to speak. 

Here are four tools I’ve learned help me when it’s difficult to pray. I hope one or some might help you.

1. Not sure where to start? Start with what Jesus taught.

Maybe lost in all the tradition and repetition of “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13) is the fact that this is how Jesus taught His followers how to pray.

It’s a prayer that is both simple and rich. Jesus is able to pack worship, mission, repentance, and requests for both physical and spiritual needs into this short prayer. #JesusIsAGenius

Suggestion: What if you tried praying this prayer in your own words?

2. A lot on your mind? Grab a pen and paper.

I’ve found that when I have a lot on my mind that it is helpful to begin writing my prayers down. Doing this helps me organize my thoughts as I pray. This practice also ends up provding a kind of prayer journal. Keep that journal so that you can look back and see how God answered your prayers.

Spoiler Alert: If you do this, you will experience awe as you look back how God worked in your life.

3. Ask someone to pray with and for you.

Yes — this means in person. As we become more connected technologically and less connected personally, this is becoming harder to do. But we’ve got to pray with and for eachother. I’m so thankul for friends who have been willing to pray with and for me, especially during times of dissapointment and difficulty.

Consider: Who is someone in your life that you could ask to pray with and for you?

4. Be quiet.

Sometimes (ok — a lot of the time) we talk too much when we pray. Prayer is not a one-way talking exercise. When God created the heavens and the earth, what did He do? He spoke. When Jesus proclaimed that His saving work on the cross was finished, He spoke. I would contend that there is nothing more powerful than when God speaks. So wouldn’t it make sense to be still, be quiet, and listen?

Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

It’s Best To Rest

Resting does not come naturally to me. Sure, I enjoy leisure: kicking back, eating some delicious Peanut M&M’s, and watching Netflix with my favorite brunette in the world.

But I do find it difficult to rest. It does not come naturally for me to be still, be quiet, and be content with the limits of my efforts and labors. But if I believe what the Bible says, then it’s truly best to rest. Here are two reasons why:

1. When we rest, we worship. When we rest we are recognizing that God is God, and that we are not. He does not grow weary. We do. He is not limited in His understanding. We are. We rest because we trust Him, His promises, and that He will keep His promises (more on this below).

When we rest we profess that our security is not a result of our work, but of God’s. When the activity (and inactivity) of our lives match the truths we profess about God, we worship Him.

2. When we rest, we are strengthened. In Isaiah 40, God promises that He will increase the strength of those who rest and wait on Him. As we worship God with both our labor and our rest, He is faithful to give us strength that can only come from Him.

It’s a beautiful paradox. We work so hard to gain so much. Yet, in all our labor we cannot earn what God offers freely. He simply invites us to rest in Him and who He is.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:28-31

The Age of Heroes

Everybody loves a hero. Our theaters, tv screens, and social media feeds are filled with stories about heroes: people who are committed to the greater good of others.

You know who really loves heroes? Kids! Visit your local Target or Walmart and you’ll see that the toy section is full of fun items promoting (you guessed it) heroes!

The reality is that our kids really don’t need to be entertained by Spider-Man or Captain Marvel, but they do need real heroes. Kids under the age of 18 make up 23% of the total US population… that’s about 74 million kids! Many of them will head back to school this fall. Every one of them (and their families) will face unique challenges.

None of us can be a hero to every kid or family. But all of us can be a hero to one or some. What if we did that? What if every one of us chose to be a hero in some way to the next generation this fall?

  • What if you served as a small group leader for kids or students at your church?
  • What if you tutored a student at your local middle school?
  • What if you asked your friends or neighbors with kids how you could help or serve their family?

Real heroes aren’t content with “What if?” They ask, “Where am I needed?” So find the need, grab your cape, and be a hero to a kid (and their family) this fall.

Disclaimer: Don’t wear an actual cape. That would be weird.

“…Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:18 

Aged Faces

Over the past few days my social media feeds have been littered with a lot of aged faces that weren’t there before. Can you relate? And listen – it’s not because I started following all of my friends’ grandparents on Twitter. FaceApp has taken over the posting world this week. 

While it’s been quite entertaining to see what many of us might look like a few decades into the future, this social media trend doesn’t only offer a few chuckles, but a good reminder as well.

James 4:14 says, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

Time comes and goes quickly. But don’t be saddened or discouraged by this fact. God has given you these days – so take courage and make them count. They are a gift given to you for His purposes. Enjoy them and steward them well!

Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12