Despite never having run a marathon I think I experienced what marathon runners call “hitting the wall” last week. That is the point where you feel its so tough to keep going that you wonder whether its worth it and your motivation begins to evaporate. I think I shared with some of you that there was a Scottish word that sort of summed up how I was feeling. I was “scunnered.” Scunnered is a great word, there is really no single English word that covers it. Its about being fed up, feeling down, feeling annoyed and upset about a situation. Well Covid 19 and the lockdown had me well and truly scunnered. Scunnered about staying at home. Scunnered at what was happening to people and feeling I couldn’t help. Scunnered with the talk I had videoed that I wasn’t happy with. Scunnered about feeling I was ineffective in what I was doing and what we as a church were doing. To sum it up I felt thoroughly ineffectual and inadequate as a leader and I didn’t feel much better as a disciple. I was finding it hard to concentrate to read my bible and the heavens felt like brass. I wonder if anyone else is feeling that kind of stuff? That you don’t know what to do and what you do seems to make little difference or impact?
You feel that this situation is going on endlessly and you aren’t doing well in coping and responding either in terms of your work or your relationships, or both. Well if you are feeling that way, now you know you are “scunnered:” To mix my metaphors “scunnered” is about hitting the wall and not having the motivation to climb over it or thinking you don’t have the ability to get over it.
Then on Monday morning I looked at my email inbox. I noticed there was an email from a leadership website I had subscribed to. I was about to delete it. I thought the last thing I need at the moment is a load of positive thinking clichés (I did say I was scunnered remember) or a list of bullet points on how to do future strategic planning etc. However, before I hit delete, I felt I should maybe read it.
As I read a paragraph stood out to me like it was double underlined in read and highlighted in yellow. “So much in leadership is a mental game—an important game. What you think ultimately determines what you do (or don’t do). And if you think that’s just talk, I promise you that every day there are leaders who hold back, scale back and even quit entirely because they feel inadequate, when in fact, they were very much up to the call. And that plays right into the enemy’s hands. If you take yourself out, the enemy won’t have to. He’s already won.”
It was that last line that nailed me “If you take yourself out, the enemy won’t have to. He’s already won.” Suddenly I saw the irony of having prepared a talk about how in challenging situations that how we respond can either strengthen our faith or weaken our faith. I realised that the Evil One I had talked about on Sunday had almost got me to “take myself out.” Believe me when I tell you that I usually have to hear what I preach more than anyone else.
If you are feeling like giving up or giving in right now with what you are facing, don’t do the devils work for him and take yourself out.
I spent a while praying or probably what is better described as venting at God. Complaining about all things I can’t do or I don’t feel I do well or I am not sure how to do. Last week in the prayer course we talked about listening to God and I confessed that I am not very good at stopping talking long enough to listen. So, I thought “ok James time to shut up and listen. Lord I’m all ears what am I supposed to being doing right now?” I can’t say I heard an audible voice but three words definitely came into my mind, faith, hope and love.
Those words will be familiar to you if you have read much of the New Testament because they often come together as a summary of what is to characterise our lives as followers of Jesus. When Paul wrote about what he remembered about the Thessalonian believers for instance this what he said “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As I thought about this, I remembered that a friend, Erwin McManus had written quite a lot about these three words and their implications for the church and living as Christ followers. I googled *Erwin Mcmanus, faith, hope and love.” I came across a tweet from Erwin, he tweeted these words because he was getting some criticism about his ministry and the church he leads. This is what he said
“My life mission is to live by faith, to be known for love, and to be a voice of hope Doing my best”
In one of those “God moments” when you see something with unusual clarity I realised that yes there are many things I can’t do right now, many things I don’t know how to do, many things I simply don’t know BUT there are some things I can do, that aren’t hard to do, that God has called and empowered me to do and so I can do my best to do. Namely to
- LIVE BY FAITH
- BE KNOWN FOR LOVE
- BE A VOICE OF HOPE
In the face of the COVID Crisis and everything it brings, I am going to live by faith. The challenges we face as a church are big, but I am going to face them with faith in a God who is bigger. I want us to plan not just to survive into the future but to be and do things as a church in the future that will only be explicable by the intervention of God. I don’t know what that will look like right now, but I know it means more than believing and praying simply that Westlake will still be around at Christmas. Later on, in that leadership email the writer said something else I needed to hear “The challenge ahead of you should always be bigger than you. If it’s not, where do faith and trust come in? There should always be the sense that you’re doing something bigger than you, in a cause that is far bigger than you: the kingdom of God. That will also greatly improve your walk with God as you turn to him daily for strength.”
In my less than stellar moments I want to be known for a whole series of things, known as a good leader or a good preacher etc In 1 Cor 13 we get these three significant words coming together like this “ And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor 13; 13 That verse reminded me of the primacy of love and that if we are going to build a reputation for anything in life as followers of Jesus it should be for love. I want to be known for love. I am sorry if love is not the first word you would use to describe me. I want us to live as a community of disciples so that when people think of Westlake they think of love at the same time.
The problems that we face as a world, as a country, as a church, as spouses, as parents, as employers seem so huge at the moment. Frankly they look and feel intimidating and insurmountable. Yet we know with God nothing is impossible because our God is in the hope business. Hope is meant to be part of our DNA as followers of Jesus. We are meant to be the people who inject hope into every situation. Even in the face of death we have hope. Our hope is meant to be irrepressible and its not just positive thinking either,. Our hope flows from the nature and promises of a powerful and faithful God. I want to be a voice of His hope in this current crisis. I want to share the hope that only the Gospel can bring. People are searching for hope right now and I want to point them to its source.
Do you remember that moment in the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE films where they get their mission? Well I want to us to have a MISSION POSSIBLE moment. I really believe that in the midst of everything we are experiencing and facing God has a mission for us as a church and as disciples. There are three things He fundamentally wants us to do and will empower us to do. Remember Erwin’s words?
“My life mission is to live by faith, to be known by love, and to be a voice of hope”
“Doing my best”
Will you do your best to …“to live by faith, to be known by love, and to be a voice of hope?”
- in your family?
- in your marriage?
- in your friendships?
- in our church?
- in your community?
- in your workplace?
- on social media ?
I am no longer scunnered, I am energised and excited. Where is that wall ? I feel with God’s power and purpose I could vault over it.