August 4, 2020

iMonk Classic: Keep Going

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A classic Michael Spencer post from October 2009.

More self-indulgent thoughts on my life. Skip if that annoys you.

In the middle of this week, I heard some seriously bad health news about a good friend. Yesterday, I had to turn down an opportunity I really wanted to accept. Last night, I got a confusing and frustrating work-related letter. Today, I’ve really struggled to relate to the three worship experiences I’ve been part of. Tonight I received an email from a major blogger bluntly telling me about the depths of my “self-absorbed” character.

I could drive myself bonkers thinking about spiritual warfare on days like today. When I was a young Christian I imagined the devil tormenting me with all these difficulties while God stood by waiting for me to do the right thing, i.e. pray some prayer, take a bold stand, rejoice….something.

Now I believe this is simply life in the fallen world. It’s being human. It’s being 53. It’s being in relationships. It’s working with people. It’s writing. It’s just a day. In fact, this collection of blue days is so much better than most people’s lives it’s embarrassing to think about it.

In Galatians, Paul warns us not to grow weary in doing the right thing. If that’s the case, it’s also true that we should be on the watch for growing weary in the daily grind, the problem relationship and the unsolvable, uncomfortable problems that come along with staying with things.

And that’s right at the core of things. Staying with it.

I’ve stayed in ministry, and that means I’ve stayed around to see a lot of people be sick, suffer and some die. Hopefully, if I stay around for the whole show, I’ll see them again in much better shape and in much better circumstances.

I’ve stayed at one place for 18 years, and that brings the inevitable personal conflicts that simply won’t be resolved. I can waste my time explaining things for the 100th time, trying to fix things or I can just do my best, live, learn and keep my hand to the plow. There are a LOT of ways to look back when you are in long term ministry, including by looking forward or away. Don’t give up, even when the people around you are always going to be who they are without real change, and some of them just can’t like you and never will.

I’ve stayed with worship leadership and worship attendance when every ounce of my strength has told me to walk away for my own survival. So there are days that I am drowning in what evangelicals call “worship,” but that’s because I have chosen to stay and not quit. Not give up. Sometimes it’s a long time between gasps of air, but I’m still afloat.

I’ve stayed with writing and earned a place, opportunities and an audience. Along with that comes the feedback of people who don’t know me. The more I write, the more readers will write to me to say whatever they think. That’s the deal. Mentors tell me that it’s time to stop reading the mail. I don’t want to be an addict in a medium that thrives on addiction. But it’s hard to be that person who says “I don’t care what anyone thinks.” We’ll see. It’s not easy.

Staying the course doesn’t get any easier. Not at work, church, writing, life or family.

I’ll get up tomorrow and read my Psalms. Then I’ll share this prayer with my prayer group. It’s John Wesley’s “Covenant Prayer.”

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by you or laid aside by you,
Enabled for you or brought low by you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
To your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are mine, and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

Stay the course. Walk the path. Boast in the cross and the crucified one. Don’t look at what you’re gaining or losing today. Be determined to gain Christ in the end.

Love where you can. Forgive as you go. Humbly admit your errors. Seek other pilgrims.

And keep going.

Comments

  1. Michael’s last sentence is the best.

    I struggle with the rest. It makes me feel something like a battered woman who is told by her Pastor to abide in abuse and not to seek a way out.

  2. Life.

    It’s not for the faint of heart.

    It’s a battle.

  3. Tim (Bridge Keeper) says

    I so identify with Mr. Spencer’s thoughts in this post . . . and yes, like Tom, the last line could become a mantra for living the Christian life. Thanks for sharing this – I needed it today.

  4. Very helpful today. Thanks

  5. Thanks for the classic post. I needed the encouragement today.

  6. Michael’s introspection and humility in this piece is, dare I say it, divine. Great words for us, and a great lesson, too. Thanks for sharing it, iMonk team.

  7. I dunno. There are times to tough it out and there are times to shake the dust off your sandals and move on. It seems important to discern the difference. I knew when I was coming up on fifty that I couldn’t keep doing the work I had done for twenty years, working with guys in their twenties and thirties complaining that they were too old for that kind of grueling labor. I’m now coming to the end of a twenty-five year stint that should have been twenty by any reasonable standard, and I’m not home free yet. I’m on marriage #3 and determined to tough it out this time, but it really doesn’t seem to me that God’s best design for a successful life involves gritting your teeth and clenching your fists from beginning to end.

    Retuning to the Master Pattern, I imagine much of Jesus’ life on Earth involved toughing it out. But he apparently got to party some along the way, enough at least to make it thru and cause tongues to wag. Paul, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have had much time for parties, making up for past mistakes. I would have much preferred hanging out with Jesus, but he demonstrated pretty much the ultimate in toughing it out at the end.

    I wonder if Michael’s dogged determination, taking no prisoners in self-mercy, didn’t help write his final chapter. This is hard to sort out. The only rule of thumb might involve staying open to the Holy Spirit.