Tuesday, March 15, 2011

OK, problem revealed… so what?

Burnout seems to start with me and with my own sin, honestly, the sin of thinking I am necessary. It seems that as I repent  of my sin (Psalm 51), the prescription for getting back on track is hidden within Psalm 50.

Sacrifice thank offerings.

Then obey. Then call on God. But first and foremost, honor God with thanks, because He is my Shepherd, the one who saves me and the one who saves those that I care about.

Having a thankful heart reorients me to who God is and who I am in Him. It’s hard to be self-righteous, proud of what I have done when God is the give-er of all that I have. It’s hard to maintain a frenetic pace of saving the world without taking rest when I remember that God alone can redeem (Psalm 49).

In Psalm 50, God basically says, “Your sacrifices are OK, but you wouldn’t have a cow to offer me if I didn’t give it to you. All of the world is mine, and I let you borrow it in order to bless me.” (verses 9-13)

The only thing that we can offer that is truly a sacrifice is our thanks, acknowledging God as our shepherd and provider. God gives us our strength, our finances, our time, the things that we might ordinarily offer to him. But He refuses to coopt our heart – He wants us to give that to Him freely.

Diagnosing the issue is one thing. But I honestly don’t know how to cultivate this thankful heart; too many “elder brother” years, I guess. However, I’ve learned enough to know that I need a shepherd, One to show me the way to thankfulness. I also know that fully repenting of my pride, of my “necessary-ness” will not happen overnight.

But here are steps that I am taking: Regular sabbath is part of repentance. Taking a monthly day away to be with the Lord (and having Diane do the same) is an act of repentance. Setting up a third cell-line so that I can be “off” from email and texts from church on Friday and Saturday, and be present to my kids, is an act of repentance. Practicing God’s presence each hour, remembering His primacy in my life is an act of repentance. Learning to say no (remembering my that I am not necessary), is an act of repentance.

And as I turn from self, I know I will see God. Seeing God will bring thankfulness. Then my obedience will flow from a heart that honors God. And I think joy in the margins will return.

Monday, March 14, 2011

So what’s all this got to do with burnout?

My family and I certainly don’t want for anything, but I would not say that we are rolling in the money. So I am not sure that trusting in my financial wealth is going to be my downfall.

But I do think that I can trust in my wealth of attaboys, my wealth of people liking me for doing the right thing. In the right circles, you can get a lot of props for being a pastor and living missionally in a run-down part of town, and I am often tempted to believe my own hype. I am tempted to believe that my obedience and my faith earns me favor with God and that favor should equal my getting all the trappings of the good life. I am tempted to believe that I deserve a break, that I deserve things more than others who do less for God.

And if I can’t have the stuff I want, then I can begin to live for the praise of others, doing the right thing, but beginning to think that I am making it all happen. Salvation and transformation becomes my job, and I become my own shepherd.

If my wealth and my worth are tied to my performance, there is little to no room for rest and Sabbath. Who can rest when there is so much work to be done, so much that God needs me to do?

I have been doing the right things. I have been offering the right sacrifices. I have been obedient. But thankfulness is far from me.

I have been obedient. I have been faithful. I have sacrificed for God. And yet other people get the blessings that I want? And yet my life feels so hard and frustrating? And yet I feel like nothing I do is ever enough? (see a theme here?)

Jealousy and criticism had become my companions, self-righteousness my comfort for the disappointment I have felt. And a lack of rest and Sabbath led to physical and spiritual exhaustion.

In many ways, I have believed that I am necessary, and if I am necessary, I have taken the Shepherd’s place.

And being the Shepherd in  charge is exhausting.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Psalm 51, Part 3

It’s interesting that David says, “Against you and you only have I sinned” (v. 4). Um, didn’t David sin against Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab, his people? Certainly, but the root of all that sin was a heart that trusted in itself instead of in God, a lack of thanks which led to disobedience which led to not calling on God.

He asks God to create a clean heart in him. What new heart does David need? A heart of thanks, a heart that esteems God as God, God as the King and shepherd of his life. This heart cannot be achieved through going through the religious motions. Psalm 51:16-17 says that God doesn’t delight in the sacrifices and burnt offerings that are divorced from a heart yielded to God and thankful to Him.

As I read these Psalms over the course of a day last week, the dots began to connect for me. Trust in myself leads me to exchange shepherds (Psalm 49). I can still go through religious motions, still look like my life is OK, but inside my heart’s orientation has been changed from one of thankful dependence to one of self-righteous independence (Psalm 50). Obedience divorced from thankfulness leads to anger and entitlement. It leads to jealousy over what others have that you deserve, and you begin to think about how you might make that happen for yourself (Psalm 51). A thankful heart honors God, places Him in His rightful place on the throne of our life. And the proper response to the realization of our sin is repentance and asking for the mercy of God to reorient our heart.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Psalm 51, Part 2

The Lord, however, does not approve of David’s sin, and he sends Nathan, the profit to confront David. After telling David a made-up story about a greedy landowner robbing from a poor peasant, inciting David’s anger at the injustice, Nathan unloads the punchline – You are that man! You are the greedy man who robbed from the poor!

And why did David sin like this? What was the root of his slip from blessed to blundering? A lack of thankfulness. Read what he says.

7This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’ The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. 2005 (2 Sa 12:7-10). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Nathan recounts all that God had given David, blessing upon blessing with more to come. And yet it was not enough. David was not thankful. He had begun to believe his own press, to believe that he had earned his victories and his throne and the love of the people. A lack of thanks had led to trust in himself, which led to Death Shepherd leading the way in David’s life.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Psalm 51, Part 1

This psalm was written by David after his affair with Bathsheba (and subsequent murder of her husband Uriah), the low point of his life.

The backstory for this Psalm is in 2 Samuel 11, David at the height of his power. Everything he touched, he conquered. Everyone loved him; He was God’s king. And then the cheese starts to slide off his cracker. Verse 11:1 says that in the spring when kings would go out to war, David sent his troops out and stayed behind. Instead of trusting in God, walking in obedience, David has begun to trust in himself (Psalm 49). This trust in himself in terms of his kingly duties begins David’s exchange of shepherds. The man who wrote “the Lord is my shepherd” is now shepherding himself. So he see Bathsheba bathing, finds out she is married, and decides to sleep with her anyway. He’s the king, right? He’s in charge, he can do what he wants.

Then Bathsheba gets pregnant. Here is the perfect time for David to seek counsel, to seek the Lord, to stop being his own shepherd. But instead he persists in the self-trust of Psalm 49 and decides to "handle it” by trying first to deceive Uriah and then having him killed in the line of duty. And he tells his general Joab, who had Uriah killed, not to worry about it or feel guilty.

At this point, virtually no one in David’s kingdom knows anything about his sin. And for months, David might feel like he has gotten away with it. Bathsheba is pregnant, gives birth to a son, and David is going about his business, probably attending worship, and God has not called him to account. He’s living out Psalm 50:21 – he’s taking God’s silence over the course of 9 or 10 months as approval.

He’s about to find out that he is badly mistaken.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Psalm 50

In this Psalm, God is calling Israel to account for their sin, but it’s not for the sins that you might expect. In verse 7 He says that He will testify against His people, but then proceeds to tell them that the sacrifices that they have been bringing to Him were fine. “I bring no charge against you concerning your sacrifices or concerning your burnt offerings.” They are doing the right things, practicing right religion.

So what does God tell them to do? Three things:

1) Sacrifice thank offerings 2) Fulfill your vows 3) Call on God.

Be thankful. Obey. Trust.

This is the hinge on which the psalm and God’s judgment swings, because He then addresses the wicked. Their problem? They are showing up to worship, reading their Bible verses, saying the right things. But their lives don’t match it. In short, they don’t practice what the preach (v. 16-20). The psalm ends with a key corrective to the wicked – thank offerings honor God.

Why is thanksgiving elevated above obedience in verses 14 and 15? Why are the wicked rebuked for their lack of thanks?

The answer lies back in Psalm 49. The problem in this psalm was trust in self, exchanging shepherds. Those who trust in themselves, in their own abilities, are going to lack a thankful heart. There’s no need to be thankful to God. They have produced the results. They have produced the wealth. God has become a means to an end – say a few verses, show up to service, and voila!

A thankful heart reveals that we understand who our provider is, who our shepherd is. A thankful heart drives obedience motivated by love. A thankful heart leads us to trust the Lord as we see Him as the source of all things. The wicked of Psalm 50 lack this heart.

The tricky part is that a thankful heart can only be seen by God.  So we can have a life built on trust in ourselves and still look pretty on the outside, deceiving ourselves and others.

In Psalm 50:21, God says, “When you did these things, I kept silent, you thought I was exactly like you.” See? Deceived. We get fooled into making God in our image. And before we know it, we are in over our head and way off track, which brings us to David’s life and Psalm 51.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Psalm 49

The Psalms are not just a random collection of poems, shuffled and thrown together by whim. There is purpose in their order, though discerning that is not as obvious as when reading a story a letter. The Psalms can actually build on one another, telling a story of a Godward life with all its ups and downs. Some psalms are more famous than others (think Psalm 23 and Psalm 51), and the rest just seem like random filler. But what if  told you that Psalms 49 and 50 are essential to a proper understanding of Psalm 51, which we tend to read on its own, out of context with the Psalms that precede it? Stick with me as we start in Psalm 49 and begin to unpack how these psalms speak to our lives (and even to my burnout).  (you may want to open it in your browser or read along in your Bible).

The overall theme of Psalm 49 is this: if you trust in yourself, you will come to ruin. So much ruin that you exchange the Lord as your shepherd for Death as your shepherd (v. 13-14). To trust in yourself means you try to save yourself; trust in your wealth means that you do not trust in God’s resources.

The problem is that no one can save themselves (or anyone else for that matter), no matter how hard we try. God alone can save, God alone redeems. How does this connect to Psalm 50? Stay tuned.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Where’s the joy?

I have felt burnt out over the past few months, overwhelmed by work, by home, by Glenwood, by things to do and things undone. I had also discovered too many “elder brother” thoughts lurking in my heart, jealous of others, feeling trapped by commitment and far from the pleasure of the Father’s heart. There has been little joy in the margins for me lately.

And I began to wonder if living in Glenwood had finally gotten the best of me, if leading GUPY and working for Grace was proving too much. Maybe the answer was moving out of Glenwood, living less missionally; it’s not the first time I have had that thought in the past 8 months.

But I am beginning to believe that the problem that I thought was the problem is not really my problem. Glenwood and GUPY have been taking the brunt of my anger, scapegoats for burnout, but I think the issue is deeper than geography. I think that I have developed a fairly marginless life, and therefore, the stresses of my neighborhood and loving the urban poor quickly zap the life from me.

I’m piecing the puzzle together, not only why I’ve ended up in this place but also a possible answer as to the way out.

Over the next few posts, I’d like to invite you on a journey through Psalms 49-51 and the life of David, looking for the answer to my weary heart and a possible key to fresh life and ministry. Maybe it will refresh you as well.